Saturday, December 18, 2004

# Posted 1:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REALIST SCHOLAR DENOUNCES IDEALIST PRESIDENT: Those of you who follow academic debates may be able guess who wrote this. Those of you who don't should still enjoy the purple prose:
This is the disheartening tale of a noble people ignobly led. The Administration is both author and protagonist of that tale, and to the Administraiton must be read this indictment and this prophesy:

You have deceived once: now you must deceive again, for to tell the truth would be to admit having deceived. If your better judgment leads you near the road of rational policy, your critics will raise the ghost of your own deception, convict you out of your own mouth as appeaser and traitor, and stop you in your tracks...

You have told the people that American power has no limits, for flattery of the people is "good politics": now you must act as though you meant it.

Your own shouts, mingled with the outcry of the opposition, have befuddled your mind...

You will meet public opinion not at a point still compatible with the national interest, but rather where, regardless of the national interest, a deceived populace will support policies fashioned in the image of its own prejudices.

Where a knowing purdent and determined government would endeavor to raise the people to the level of its own understanding and purpose, an ignorant, improvident, and weak government will follow its own propaganda to that low level where uninformed passion dwells. You will become, in spite of your own better self, the voice not of what is noble, wise, and strong in the nation, but of what is vulgar, blind, and weak.

The leader will then have become the demagogue; as the mouthpiece of popular passion, you will at last have forsaken leadership altogether.
This goes on for a good bit longer, so I'll cut things short right here and tell you that this was written by Hans Morgenthau. In 1951. About Harry Truman. (You can find the full text on pages 239 and 240 of In Defense of the National Interest.)

What is the significance of this surprising fact? It is hard to say. First of all, it indicates the degree to which even the best-informed scholarly opinion of the day can utterly fail to anticipate what policies will be vindicated in hindsight.

Some might read into this fact the potential for a vindication of George W. Bush five decades from now. Others will insist that George W. Bush is no Harry Truman. (Althought it might be more accurate to say that Harry Truman was no Harry Truman.)

A less partisan reading of Morgenthau's work might suggest that it points to the striking motivational power of idealistic rhetoric that invokes American ideals as well as the enduring nature of the clash between realism and idealism.

The ever-present as well as most important but hardest question to answer is which doctrine provides greater insight into the challenges of today and how, if at all, it might be possible to combine the strength of both doctrines in order to achieve an optimal outcome.
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