Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rudy's Post- Machiavellian Moment

At last night's 25th anniversary of the odious Federalist Society of right-wing lawyers, Rudy Giuliani spoke of America's "mission" to save the world.
It was this nation that saved the world from the two great tyrannies of the 20th century, Nazism and Communism," he said. "It's this country that's going to save civilization from Islamic terrorism."
According to liberal blogger Glenn Greenwald, Giuliani's "messianic fervor" is an example of "the paranoid style" that Richard Hofstetter identified as a major flaw in American politics. According to Hofstetter:
The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms -- he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date for the apocalypse.
But Greenwald's analysis assumes that Giuliani actually believes what he's saying about saving civilization from Islamic terrorism. But I don't know why would we think that? Does Giuliani actually believe that Islamic terrorism is a threat to civilization? Promoting fear of terrorism as a way for politicians to get elected, forward their policy preferences, and govern in their own style is very different from believing that terrorism is that much of a threat. Giuliani's mostly trying to get elected. Instead of "defending civilization," Giuliani views foreign policy in terms of Michael Ledeen's idea that "every ten years of so, the United States needs to pick up some crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." In fact, the core of Giuliani's campaign strategy is to show off his toughness for a right-wing audience that craves belligerence and confrontation. As a result, it's highly likely that Rudy Giuliani's emphasis on "defending civilization" is primarily a way to display his carefully cultivated macho.

And how would Rudy Giuliani "defend civilization" against Islamic terrorism? Would it be through patient strategies like hunting down Osama bin Laden, finding ways to isolate jihadis from larger populations, or appealing to moderate Sunni opinion?

Not on your life!

The "Rudy" way would be to bomb the crap out of Iran, engage in more torture, maintain the "extraordinary rendition" policy, run roughshod over constitutional rights and the separation of powers in the United States, and bully Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia. Far from "defending civilization," a Giuliani administration would be an orgy of actions that defied the norms of Democratic politics, morality, and law. In other words, Giuliani wants to show his toughness through constant defiance of the political norms of Western civilization and views the war on terror as an opportunity to attack the basic institutions of Western political life. Appealing to a right-wing audience that has little more love for Western civilization than Osama bin Laden, Rudy Giuliani promises to turn his administration into a bastion of conservative counter-culture.

This brings us to Machiavelli. One of Machiavelli's major recommendations to the prince was to maintain a balance between being willing to violate those norms in practice in order to secure the state and appearing to uphold those norms to avoid being hated.
Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.
Unmoored from civilizational values as they've developed in the United States, voters on the American right expect Republican candidates to not only act in dishonest, inhuman, and immoral ways but to also appear to be immoral. In this way, the right is creating a post-Machiavellian moment (with apologies to J. G. A. Pocock).

And Rudy Giuliani is trying his best to create that appearance of immorality.

4 comments:

CBL said...

It's always fascinating how those conservatives who embody this kind of millenarianism are the least "religious" in outward appearance. Reagan and Pat Buchanan, for example, and now, Giuliani. But, I think the sense of religious mission unmoored from an actual religious context (and in this case, applied to something as vague as "Western civilization")makes it a more intensely felt calling, and makes any sort of morality optional. Kind of like Machiavelli, but without the concern for prudent action.

Ric Caric said...

Yes, Rudy Giuliani is a non-churchgoer. So is Fred Thompson. Funny how electing one of them would break the taboo on religious allegiance in American politics. One of the ironies of contemporary conservatism is their systematic rejection of tradition. Unless Giuliani is running as the anti-Christ, one could say that he's rejecting Christian tradition as well.

Anonymous said...

But again, what does any of this have to do with the crackhead you covered for, Ric?

CBL said...

I'm beginning to wonder if the conservative evangelicals are getting tired of the Republican Party and/or are running out of steam politically. Not to say that they still can't command a lot of support at the local level, i.e. organizing around the gay marriage issue, but at the national level, my impression is that they don't seem as interested anymore. I'm going to look at some polling data to follow up on my hunch.