After George W. Bush began the “war on terror,” I read and heard the word “neoconservative” and discussions of it with some frequency. The Old Right and New Left complained about the nefarious influences on the Jewish lobby on American foreign policy, and both camps alleged that the defectors from the Trotskyite Left to the American Right—those “neocons”—were really a Jewish Trojan horse for the Republican Party and for movement conservatism in the U.S.A. According to this conspiratorial view, American political and diplomatic power is manipulated for Israeli rather than American interests, and that is why we Americans constantly indulge in nation building and global meddling.
Last night, I walked in on a group’s watching Saving Private Ryan. I had never seen it before; I find stories about the Second World War unpleasant. I do not wish to dwell upon the nightmare that along with the “Great War” incarnate so clearly the West’s suicidal path. Regardless, I watched the rest of the film. Near the end, a narrator reads the letter that the mother of one of the characters receives from the Army, which includes the following line:
Reports from the front indicate James did his duty in combat with great courage and steadfast dedication, even after he was informed of the tragic loss your family has suffered in this great campaign to rid the world of tyranny and oppression.
A great campaign to rid the world of tyranny and oppression? Was World War II such a campaign? Of course, it was not. We were allied with the Soviets, after all. Yet, the American government and its civic, religious, and cultural elite used such language as a morale booster. Nonetheless, the language and the public response to it reveal something perversely ideological in the American regime—and in the American soul. Perhaps it is genetic inheritance from the Puritan fanatics, or perhaps it is the mark of Americans’ believing too sincerely their founding myths, composed in Enlightenment hysteria and political immaturity. Whether we call it American exceptionalism, invoke the City upon a Hill, or speak of the Promised Land—Americans have a messianic complex. A great campaign to rid the world of tyranny and oppression! Such a campaign is destined for failure. Tyranny and oppression will continue in this world until the second coming of Christ or until mankind has been eradicated from the earth. We are lucky to carve out parcels of land where free, virtuous men may practice the art of civilization; for that accomplishment is itself quite rare. Yet, Americans seem to think that we have a divine right and responsibility to wage a global missionary war on behalf of liberalism. This orientation toward endless ideological war does not come from the neocons, though they may have exacerbated and empowered the tendency. One sees it not only in the leftist American regimes that waged both world wars but even in the nineteenth century. Lincoln’s rhetoric during the American Civil War betrays ideological fever, though perhaps it was less virulent because it dealt with domestic concerns. Before Lincoln, though, was the Monroe Doctrine. Was it simply a matter of self interest and regional hegemony? Even so, Americans came to believe the “nobler” excuses for the doctrine—for we are ideologues. Can we blame the Jews for the neoconservative tendencies of the early republic?
From the beginning, Americans understood their nation and polity not simply as a concrete, particular place and people but as a beacon of light unto the gentiles. The Anglo-Israelism of biblically literate men who had adopted the creed of modernity manifested itself in many strange ways—and not least in the attitude that Americans have of their country. I do not thereby assert that the liberal globalism of our contemporary elite is the true “American way,” but it comes from a particular strand of our historical heritage. It is a harmful allele in our national genotype.