Recently, I read a great book by Thomas Sowell called A Conflict of Visions. Sowell makes the case that one of the main reasons for ideological differences is a conflict between two visions of human nature. The first vision is the constrained vision. In this vision, humans have constraints on their moral and logical abilities and people are motivated by self-interest. The second vision is the unconstrained vision. In this vision, there are no limits on the moral and logical abilities of humans hence some people develop more such abilities and should have more power over the whole society.
Believing in different visions impact the different fields of public life. The constrained vision believers prefer a constitutional form of government with limits on the powers of different individuals and branches while the unconstrained vision believers prefer giving more power to the elites and the experts to plan the society.
After reading this book I realized how close are the neoconservatives and the progressives to each other. Progressives believe that the federal government experts can organize the lives of people in the United States while the neoconservatives believe that the American government can organize the affairs of the entire world. Believing in the power of experts doesn’t limit itself to the domestic or the international domains and hence we see that progressives and neoconservatives behave in the same way.
Neoconservatives believe that they have the superior moral and logical abilities to organize the entire world so when they face a domestic issue they are more likely to support a statist solution. The only reason they don’t agree 100% with the progressives is that they court the conservative voters and they have to appease them with a glimpse of liberty or free market every now and then.
Progressives believe that the government has the expertise and the moral authority to organize the lives of millions of people domestically. When they face an international situation they are as likely to interfere with it as the neoconservatives may do because they have the same blind belief in their superiority.
Historically, the neoconservative thinkers started as left-wing progressives who broke with the democratic party over that party’s abandonment of the Vietnam war in the late sixties and early seventies. They had to make their interventionist ideas acceptable to traditional conservatives, so took advantage of the cold war and branded their ideas as favoring a strong defense. But spreading the United States military all over the world to intervene in civil wars and regional conflicts that don’t threaten the United States has nothing to do with defense.
Strong defense comes from both a strong and well-trained military that can be easily deployed to defend the homeland or important trade routes and a well-functioning economy that can support waging a large scale war if needed. The experience of the United States in both world wars demonstrate that in both cases, the United States didn’t enter either war with a large military. But in both cases, it used its massive economy and human capital to mobilize and deploy huge armies under the leadership of the existing well-trained officer corps.
The absurdity of the interventionist policies was demonstrated by the failure of the experts in shaping the societies of Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq after wasting thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars in each of these wars. If we added to that the failed interventions in places like Syria, Libya, and Yemen we can see the limits of the abilities of experts to shape the events.
The true conservative position is to recognize the limits of the abilities of the government and return it to the few areas listed in the constitution. I understand that fixing the errors of more than a century of domestic and international intervention is not easy but any difference we can make is a step in the right direction. We need to speak up against every government program, every intervention, and every unnecessary war. We should not let partisan biases put us in a position to accept something we know is wrong, Republicans are as responsible for the current situation as Democrats.