by J. R. Nyquist
Weekly Column Published: 01.26.2009Print
Patrick Buchanan has brought out a new book titled Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. It is a cautionary tale penned by a former presidential candidate who also happens to be a persuasive writer. Though Buchanan is dismissed by some as a racist reactionary, it is not racist to admit that men are tribal. Knowing that he belongs to a particular tribe himself, Buchanan is more of a pessimist than a reactionary. And there is nothing shameful in this position. Our Founding Fathers were pessimistic enough to set up a system of checks and balances. They were not optimists, like the leaders of the French Revolution – who guillotined one another.
The essence of political pessimism boils down to this: Men are bound to fight each other. It is important to understand that every kind of division signifies a potential war. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist, No. 6, “A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations who can seriously doubt, that if these States should either be wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other. To presume a want of motives … would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive and rapacious.”
Buchanan’s history shows how the dividing lines in Europe brought a succession of terrible wars. What was not inevitable was the involvement in these conflicts of the English speaking peoples. The British were safe behind the English Channel. The Americans were safe beyond the oceans. Why become entangled in bloody conflicts waged by ethnically divided continental peoples? The short answer is as ridiculous as it sounds: to save the world – of course!
The political optimists believe in a polyglot civilization, where nobody puts their own tribe’s interests ahead of anyone else’s. Adherence to this global project was affirmed by President Barack Obama in his Inaugural Address, with the following words. “For we know our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.”
These are remarkable words, spoken by a son of Africa who was elected President of the United States. America is proud of electing such a man. This also reassures us, and gives us hope. We prefer to think that the pessimists, like Buchanan, have it wrong; that “the lines of tribe” will soon dissolve. Perhaps mankind is about to turn a corner. But then, that wouldn’t be anything like the humanity we know – or the history already recorded. And yet we are tempted to imagine something better, as suggested in John Lennon’s song:
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
I am frankly skeptical of those who preach the equality and homogeneity of all things. Here is something grandiose, vainglorious, and empty. What does it signify? I think it signifies nothing. Consider the implied nihilism of Lennon’s words:
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
The experiment of building a world without countries or religion was called the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics. Between 30 and 60 million people died as a result of it. As much as we want history to read like a happily-ever-after story, history never bears this quality. It doesn’t play out like Lennon’s song. Rather, history tends to be tragic; and the history of the twentieth century is the most heartbreaking of all.
Consider the firebombing of German cities on Churchill’s initiative; the firebombing of Japanese cities by the Americans, and two atomic bombs that killed over 150,000 innocent people. Then there were the atrocities of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, which dwarfed the brutality of the allied bombing. Buchanan traces the great decisions that led to these horrors. He argues that it was England’s declaration of war on Germany in 1914 and again in 1939 that made them possible. He strongly suggests that we should avoid war. We should leave the world to unravel in its own good time – without losing money, men or sleep over it.
In The Federalist, No. 6, Alexander Hamilton wrote: “Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct, that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?”
Copyright © 2009 Jeffrey R. Nyquist
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