Monday, July 16, 2007

Can U Turn a Bad Religion Good?

This is actually a post that I thought about writing when I first started this blog in 2003. President George Bush had just invaded Iraq with the belief that he could shock and awe the radical out of Islam, and that the people of Iraq would join the world on the path to becoming a modern liberal democracy with a free market, respect for human rights and all the things that traditional America used to hold dear.

I thought the venture was dubious as I don't believe one can kill hatred out of a people. Nor do I think it possible to force people into freedom.

Winning the war of ideas is something far too subtle for an army. The war of ideas is won through reason and not force. Unfortunately, with the left still under the sway of material dialactics, there is no way our country can engage in the discourse necessary to win the war of ideas raging in the middle east.

Unfortunately, the decision of how to procede in the Middle East was a decision left up to our elected officials. Bush won the diplomatic effort with Iraq and Hussein was reducing his stockpiles of WMDs. We invaded anyway with the hope that we could liberate and liberalize an oppressed people.

Bush's decision made me deeply depressed. Looking at the map we can see that if Iraq were to transform into a liberal democracy it would mean a new age of prosperity for the world. Yet the idea of forcing freedom on people is a tenuous affair.

Unable to see a great deal of hope for Iraq, I decided to look closer to home for hope.

One reason that I had some hope for the Iraq venture is that this little Valley of Salt Lake underwent a transition from an extremely oppressive theocracy to becoming a state that appreciates the American way.

My view of Utah history is that Brigham Young had created one of the most oppressive states ever conceived. By claiming to be the mouthpiece of God, he had set himself up as the head of state, church and local military. By spouting socialism, he was able to claim people's property and he even set himself up a sugar daddy with scores of wives.

The American army invaded Utah. Using means that by all rights should be labeled oppressive, the US government put an end to polygamy and most of the excesses of the LDS theoracy that had taken hold in Utah.

With Brigham Young's grab for absolute power stifled, the Mormons were turned from the path of totalitarianism to simply being a group with a highly active church and a with a tendency to vote as a block.

Although Mormons occasionally pull nasty tricks on their fellow men, Mormons have also become staunch defenders of liberty. So, in its short history, Mormonism essentially turned into its opposite.

Although I strongly disagreed with Bush's decision to invade Iraq, I thought that if we could just get Iraq to its second election with under a hundred thousand dead, there was a chance that democracy might take root.

It is the first official peaceful transfer of power than matters most. When Bush committed our nation to war, he committed our troops to providing security at least until the second election.

People, political parties and alliances are always changing. The value of an elected government is that it creates a peaceful mechanism for realizing that change. Even when a group of people do not hold to Democratic ideals, they often become appreciative of the fact that democracy solves the problem of succession. When people become appreciative of elections, they often turn from totalitarianism.

Of course, my thesis that you can draw any correlation between the Mormon experience and Iraq is quite weak. A very large number of the immigrants who became Mormon did so because they wanted to part of the United States. The United States had purchased the land that the Mormons wanted for their country from Mexico; So the invasion of Utah was a little bit more legitimate than the invasion of Iraq.

The idea that Bush could turn a bad religion good through force becomes even more dubious when one realizes that the vast majority of people on this planet reject and even outwardly hate the ideals of liberal democracy. Go to a Democratic fundraiser and talk about the ideals of freedom and small government held by Thomas Jefferson. You are guaranteed to be tossed out on your arse.

There is a staggeringly large number of Americans (especially in the academic world) who still are deeply committed to realizing socialism. These people would reject the argument that Mormonism was a bad ideology that has been tempered with time but was a good socialist ideology turned bad.

I did not finish this post, because the idea that social engineers can force a bad religion good is too tenuous to deserve serious discussion.

Dammit, the Republicans were supposed to be the party that rejected social engineering. George Bush the first fell short of toppling Iraq after Desert Storm simply for that very reason.

There may be one case where a group of people was forced to change and they changed for the better. Yet this is not the way to win the war of ideas. In the long run, force seems to bring the worst ideas to the surface.

Look at how all of the bad ideas like socialized medicine, massive government regulation, wage and price controls, protectionism, ..., are all back on the table in the wake of Bush's attempt to change a group of people by force.

Prior to Bush's decision to invade, the classical liberals of the world had the world engaged in a dialog. It was a dialog they were winning.

Bush's listening to the neocons and invading Iraq, when diplomatic efforts were succeeding, has thrown it all into reverse.

I didn't post this idea in 2003, because I know in my heart that is actually to turn good things bad than to make bad things good.


Scott Hinrichs said...

Kevin, you have often alluded to the concept that conservatives (unlike classical liberals) actually favor social engineering — just with a conservative slant rather than a liberal slant. With G.W. Bush being a "compassionate conservative" that was supported by a strong conservative base, why should anyone think that the GOP was going to reject social engineering?

Lord Acton once said that "at all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own; and this association which is always dangerous, has sometimes been disastrous."

The concepts of liberty and freedom from the tyranny of social engineering were originally embodied in Jefferson's Democratic Party, but you can see how far that party has travelled from those ideals. I think you had it right when you said that the Reagan era brought a rare alliance of conservatives and classical liberals. Under Bush II, the 'conservatives' won out in the GOP, resulting in rampant government expansion and foreign intervention. Will the GOP return to classical liberal ideals of small government? That remains to be seen.

Your discussion of Utah's evolution from an autocratic theocracy to a bastion of liberty is interesting. Utah Mormons gave up the former in favor of the latter when all other options had been exhausted. Likewise, facist Germany and Italy, and militant Japan relinquished their despotic regimes only under extreme force that eliminated all other options.

Clearly, force can work when coupled with other efforts that eliminate all other options. Although it is debatable whether it was wise to invade Iraq, we have not prosecuted the affair in a way so as to eliminate other options. The more we threaten to dessert the area, the more the Iraqis keep themselves open to other options. It may not have been right to invade, but if we were going to do it, we should have done it right, bringing all possible efforts to bear from every possible angle to make democratic liberty to only remaining viable option. We didn't do that and we're not doing that now.

y-intercept said...

I don't think Conservatives favor social engineering. They just aren't as opposed to it as are classical liberals.

Opposition to social engineering is closer to a foundational issue for classical liberals. The classical liberal wants a very limited government concentrating on a finite set of structural and security concerns.

In the last century in the United States, the alliance between classical liberals and conservatives was quite natural since most of the social structures conservatives wanted to conserve fell outside the realm of government. The alliance was made even easier since the left wanted to radicalize the world through government institution.

There are some groups (neocons) who want to use the massive government apparatus to force social issues.

I suspect that conservatives will probably turn against the big government conservatism of Bush as soon as they realize that No Child Left Behind and other big government program are soon to become play things of the left when the Democrats complete the deck in 2008 and have the house, senate and presidency.

As for Iraq, I think Iraq is in a better position now than it was two years ago or even two months ago.

Real democracy is born out of debate. The struggle is to get to the next election; so that the the country can decide its fate through a vehicle other than violence.

The far left wants the fate of the country to be decided through violence, as that fits with Marxist theory.

If we took on the single minded goal of getting to election two, after which we depart, then we give civilization a chance.

Quite frankly, I think the fact that the world recognize the invasion as being a mistake gives the country a better chance of succeeding.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Your last sentence has provided me some new fodder for thought.