Exit Strategies

The Gospel of Ponnuru

If you are ever inclined to indulge certain masochistic tendencies, forget the dangerous new fads enjoyed only at the cost of life and limb; just head on over to National Review.

The premier magazine of the conservative movement provides a sure means of inciting incredulity and aggravation even in those of the most pacific temperament.  Looking for a heaping dose of jingoism for Washington's postmodern empire? Victor Davis Hanson has it covered. Michael Novak, the neocons' house theologian, is always available to justify the finer points of aggressive war for democratic capitalism. How about painful attempts at keeping relevant with septic pop culture? Well, hey, they've got  that, too! This assortment of conservative wisdom might even serve as a source of morbid entertainment, causing readers to laugh in despair for the country and our beloved West.

The mainstream Right has long been in the thrall of a powerful delusion -- namely, that it is in any way the guardian of Western cultural and political tradition. The leading lights of National Review and their movement followers see themselves as critical to stopping the agenda of the Left.  Never mind that the same crowd will cheer enthusiastically for similar programs to feed Leviathan and enforce manufactured diversity during a Republican presidency.

It's well established that U.S. "conservatives" are but liberals a step behind the times, given that they embrace egalitarianism, atomizing individualism, and an implicitly materialistic worldview. Nonetheless, it is helpful when the movement's leadership openly admits this fact.   In their recent essay on American exceptionalism, National Review's Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru celebrate the United States as "the spawn of English liberalism, fated to carry it out to its logical conclusion and become the most liberal polity ever known to man." But in their convoluted little document, the authors reveal much more -- that liberal democracy, like socialism, is a pseudo-religion replete with pretensions to recast the world in man's own image.

The language of Lowry and Ponnuru's exceptionalist manifesto makes it quite clear that America's drive to liberate the world demands an almost mystical faith. Here we are treated to expressions such as "a creed open to all," showing the universal aspirations of American messianism and its attendant "economic gospel."

The editors from National Review would no doubt contend that the text is in the best Lockean "tradition," and that is exactly the point. Reason, will and passion unmoored from the divine principle lead to man's disintegration, as men from Donoso Cortes to Fedor Dostoevsky well knew. The liberal system is antagonistic to true religious faith and assaults the cohesion of family, culture and ethnos; it is hostile to the Creator and His creation.

Conservatives pay lip-service to a nation "under God," a deity conceived as a far-off, non-judgmental uncle who just wants the peoples of the world to enjoy their consumer goods and the gift of democracy. A vague "religiousness" in the population therefore functions best as a reminder to America of its vocation as an agent of global revolution.

The ideology that reduces the individual to a vehicle for the assertion of desires and ever-multiplying rights in truth recognizes no authority of a transcendent nature. Yet liberal man must bow before something, so new gods are willed from the void. "Freedom," equality, "human rights", etc, reign as the unchallenged idols of our age, and National Review heads the procession to their altar.   Lowry and Ponnuru eventually address the most important element of their essay -- the quest to transform the world. The ambition to impose a global Pax Americana is pseudo-religious at its core. We are presented with the standard redemption narrative:

The missionary impulse is another product of the American Revolution, which took English liberties and universalized them... Historically, [America] has responded to attacks, whether at Fort Sumter or Pearl Harbor, with overwhelming force and the maximum plausible effort to spread our democratic system. In this sense, George W. Bush's response to 9/11 -- two foreign wars, both justified partly as exercises in democratization -- was typically American.

Through the cleansing fire of war and revolution, America leads the forces of progress into a new era, an end to history where man can at last attend to the total organization of his earthly happiness.  The new revelation of democracy replaces that of Christ, and brings peace and plenty to every tribe. If this parody of world transfiguration seems familiar, it is -- a similar eschatology was imagined by both Marx and the National Socialists. Visions of the New Earth vary among the modern political religions, but the script is essentially the same.   

Lowry and Ponnuru's American exceptionalism is a false doctrine derived from a false faith. There is no blank check granted to the United States from Providence. Social chaos, astronomical debt and wars for a global imperium will inevitably generate severe, adverse consequences. Whatever National Review might propagate, no nation can forever defy divine order and the the natural law.