Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Conservation of War

Here's an astute and surprisingly still-relevant observation from Norman Mailer in his debate with William F. Buckley made in September, 1962, published in Playboy in 1963, and reprinted in the Presidential Papers (pages 170-1). Replace the Cold War with that peculiar vector of financial crisis and the "war on terror" that Obama inherited from Bush and the point, I think remains valid.

So long as there is a cold war, there cannot be a conservative administration in America. There cannot for the simplest reason. Conservatism depends upon a huge reduction in the power and the budget of the central Government. Indeed, so long as there is a cold war, there are no politics of consequence in America. It matters less each year which party holds the power. Before the enormity of defense expenditures, there is no alternative to an ever-increasing welfare state. It can be an interesting welfare state like the present one, or a dull welfare state like President Eisenhower’s. It can even be a totally repressive welfare state like President Goldwater’s well might be. But the conservatives might recognize that greater economic liberty is not possible so long as one is building a greater war machine. To pretend that both can be real is hypocritical beyond belief. The conservatives then are merely mouthing impractical ideas which they presume may bring them power. They are sufficiently experienced to know that only liberalism can lead America into total war without popular violence, or an active underground.

As far as I can tell, Rand Paul is not hypocritical in this sense. Like his father, he has always granted that the "huge reduction in the power and budget of the central Government" implies an enormous reduction in military spending, i.e., a reversal of imperial "total war" strategy. The larger argument, in the pages leading up to this paragraph, is worth examining. Mailer works through the budgetary wiggle room that a rollback of the welfare state implies and then introduces the problem raised by Goldwater's promise of not "economizing on the nation's safety".

Note to self: the longish post here, which saved me half the typing in that long quotation from PP, could make for an interesting engagement.

No comments: