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World War II, Pacifist Elites, and Tyranny

The world since World War II remains largely what America made of it. Everything it didn’t destroy in war, it modified afterward. With American perseverance and protection, Germany and Japan became democracies. The U.S. helped destroy colonial empires and became involved in protracted post-colonial wars. Above all, the Cold War shaped the world and, after a long struggle, the Soviet Union collapsed. This has not led us to a happy peace, among ourselves or with the world. American triumphs have instead led us to crisis and sober reflection.

Paul Miller gives us, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the great triumph, America’s victory, a warning that it all looks likely to happen again. He concludes:

World War II started when preexisting national grievances met economic catastrophe, which in turn led to ideological radicalization, the rise of nationalism and authoritarianism, and eventually international aggression—all enabled by the vacuum of global leadership by liberal powers.

A practicing liberal, Miller isn’t shy in criticizing the cowardice that made for world war:

Liberalism and democracy may have been unfashionable, but they were widespread and widely understood in Europe and the United States. The problem was not that fascists won the debate, or that communists persuaded the world. The problem was that liberals were cowards, their governments were miserly, their armies were underfunded, and their leaders were passive. They did not want to lead, and fascists had bigger guns. In the face of global crisis, citizens of free nations were intent not merely on putting their interests first, but defining their interests as narrowly as possible, without regard for any notion of a shared or common good that the last global war should have taught them. And the war came.

This trenchant criticism leads us to suspect that his real concern is that liberals are once again narrow-minded cowards who speak of pacifism but think only of their own privileges. I speak crassly, but not, I think, misleadingly, and do so only pressed by the necessity actuating Miller himself—his sure knowledge that our elites are now a danger to our civil peace and have abandoned their duties. It’s not geo-politics he’s interested in so much as class analysis: it’s not even politics so much as the psychology of the liberal elite, the only plausible explanation for why people with so much power and influence could be so irresponsible. Our elites are an embarrassment even to intelligent liberals.

The Limits of Liberalism

Miller’s critique hits the mark, but what he shows us means the opposite of what he would have us believe. There’s no fixing our liberal elites—they’re adults, already educated, and in power. They listen to no one who disagrees with them and have learned nothing from their recent defeats—instead, they want everyone else to listen to them and, moreover, obey. And they have the institutional powers to compel obedience, whether in the state or Silicon Valley or academia.

Miller hopes to save liberal internationalism, a doctrine he admits has dominated American—and therefore world—elites since 1945, by separating the two terms and turning it into a kind of “conservative internationalism.” But what powers has he, or anyone, to make words into realities? He doesn’t say. Meanwhile, reality is troublesome.

International cooperation may be good, but it also produces the enemies that make cowards of us. Had we turned away from FDR’s internationalism to another Roosevelt’s ideas in our foreign policy, events might have looked different: TR’s forcefulness would jealously guard the wealth and technology of democratic regimes and would not have empowered tyrannies! Liberalism is preferable to tyranny (which Miller bashfully calls authoritarianism), but tyrants have destroyed liberals before, as he admits.

So we had better become serious. If liberal internationalism is wrong, and has been dominant since 1945, the world order is in some important way wrong. Liberal confidence has been broken by China, as well as by the terrible divisions in America and even in the European Union. The world doesn’t admire, or even listen to us, anymore.

The pious lies of the previous generations have lost their power to persuade. The idea that liberalization of economics leads to liberalization of politics has been discredited by events; as well as the idea that expert elites in the right international institutions could manipulate or incentivize political transformation in the direction of global democracy; as well as the idea that redistribution of expertise or wealth to non-democratic regimes will help democracy; even the desperate idea that power is enough, that we can bomb our enemies into submission, has failed. The belief that our speeches have the magical power to transform the world—or at least the speeches of elites, at least when backed by institutions—is fading away. Liberalism is threatened not only by China, but by increasingly mad wokies looking to take revenge on the past. And wokies lack education in and concern for international politics, the struggle of great powers, or procedural institutions—they are not Model UN students about to embark on international diplomacy in the institutions of elite liberalism, but instead barbarians inside the gates.

Why We Don’t Celebrate Our Victories

It is of great importance to us to learn how so much power has made us so weak. Were our ideas about how to succeed wrong? Is success itself dangerous? Perhaps it’s even the case that both are true, and we have many partisan opinions about who’s to blame. These tend to parade as political science or as accounts of causes and effects. Yet politics is practical. Why does no one in America, before a presidential election, offer any hopeful, enterprising, ambitious idea of the future? Why can’t we get anything done? Not only are we not achieving great things, but we’re not able to deal with the ongoing epidemic and economic catastrophe; we can’t even keep up the fantasies of previous presidential campaigns. If there’s a lie we fondly believe nowadays, it’s that we might get back to normal, not that rational expertise wielded by elites in institutional settings will lead us to the brave new world.

But our concern today is to reflect on World War II, that we may learn about ourselves and our predicament. We are unlikely to celebrate our great triumph, because we’re very unhappy, not to say scared. Nor can we agree that the great men of the conflict deserve admiration. Most liberals, alongside the wokies, would damn Generals Douglas MacArthur and George S. Patton as racist, sexist, reactionaries, and intersectionally cancel them in a heartbeat—but would America have won without them?

Not even FDR, the titan overawing the American century, is safe anymore. He’d be condemned as a racist, too. And yet we live in the ruins of the liberal order he made, at home and abroad. For all our new technology and all the institutional knowhow built through three generations, we cannot wield the awesome powers of the new American government, the empire of Washington D.C., either home or abroad.

Our diplomacy has paid the North Koreans to make nuclear weapons and our foreign policy has created horrors in the Middle East—that is, until we replaced victory and defeat with “exit strategies” and retreated. Meanwhile, China now looks more confident than America, and their elites are as arrogant as ours. Behold the result of our economic globalization. We could be forgiven for wondering: What if free markets create monsters? What if technology is essentially tyrannical, not democratic, and China will outdo us? These are the scary questions haunting us, which we dare not ask.

Sobriety about liberal arrogance does not mean we should destroy or burn down the vast liberal international institutions—but it does require we urgently destroy or discredit the education liberal elites have to offer.

We have failed FDR—we have failed the high ambitions of the liberalism that promised worldwide Progress. But perhaps we also believe those great men of 1945 failed us in turn. In turning to the false hope of perpetual international peace, they put us on a path to decadence. What if it was never possible to achieve their utopias and trying to do so has led to our failures? What if we ask too much of institutions and technology, of elites managing conflict into peace? What if it was a mistake to believe the heirs of the great liberals would live up to the expectations of 1945? This is the secret doubt haunting our elites, which might lead them to sanity, but might lead to madness instead.

The 21st Century Will Not Be Liberal

Since 2016, liberals have decided they want a redo of their great century. They’re forever warning us it’s 1933 and Hitler’s about to incinerate the world, but really, they only wish that were true. It’s a wish to be young again, to regain the moral confidence of good versus evil, and, with typical liberal arrogance, to be assured of victory in advance. Morality and science together overcoming the historical catastrophe—that’s the liberal fantasy, and we used to call it Enlightenment.

But the world today doesn’t look like the 1930s. This is why liberals prefer an easygoing fantasy of spitting on decent regimes like Hungary and Poland, or encouraging the EU to hurt them institutionally, but they’re cowards about the racist, fascist genocide going on in China, which is a reality worse than tragedy. Indeed, the problem with many of our leading liberals, as their fondness for Antifa and murderous, catastrophic riots shows, is that, far from being the next Churchill, they might be fascists instead. When vast violence erupts in cities liberals have one-party control of, they do not protect citizens or property, nor do they enforce the laws. They instead seem to encourage violence for months in Portland. Indeed, in Seattle we see the white, often collegiate Antifa who might lynch a black woman, the former police chief, who resigned because the liberal elites running Seattle’s city council wouldn’t protect her home, cut police budgets, and cut her salary in half, too. And in Chicago, the looters gleefully post video of themselves committing crimes while the authorities eagerly increase the rates at which they drop charges of murder. Promoting street violence and forgiving murder is Nazi stuff, not democratic rule of law.

The problem indeed, is not merely or primarily the mobs, but the elites who enable them. However successful they might be in America, their influence internationally is dwindling. Harvard, D.C., and Silicon Valley don’t really impress China. Therefore, they impress other regional powers in Asia less and less. This is as true of Russia as of India; as of Pakistan and Indonesia; and as America falters and China rises in the West Pacific, what will Japan do? Globalization is over and everything from the soil under our feet to the internet up in the skies is all about different authorities isolating from each other.

Generations of our arrogant liberals did not spend their long years of education learning other languages, studying the politics and history of other peoples, and as a result, we lack both intelligence and journalism to inform us about the important things going on abroad. We’re not scientifically ahead of events and reacting intelligently, not to say shaping events, whatever liberals might claim. We’ve ended up with arrogant, parochial elites that despise their country’s legacy. They are not the future. They do not even have a good guess about what the future will bring, except that it will be bad.

Liberty Renewed

Sobriety about liberal arrogance does not mean we should destroy or burn down the vast liberal international institutions—but it does require we urgently destroy or discredit the education liberal elites have to offer. World War II is the greatest war and deserves the most serious study. It destroyed the fantasies of pacifists, but not the pacifists themselves. After all, they went right back to fantasizing, without skipping a beat to say they were sorry or that maybe other people should run our institutions. The deluded elites (like the NYT’s Walter Duranty who allowed budding tyranny to turn into world war and the nuclear-armed Soviet Union) never had to say they’re sorry. We must not follow such elites or their ideas, but instead study human nature, and that means returning to the thought of the great men that led us through the war: FDR, Churchill, De Gaulle. And we must study the great generals who fought for them.

Instead of arrogant liberals, let us remember that it was mostly Christian and Jewish patriots without college educations who made up the armies that destroyed the tyrannies of Germany and Japan. The decadent elites of the 20s and 30s who promised liberal pacifism and diplomatic outlawing of war collapsed in cowardice. But the young men liberals today might call fascists, nationalists, racists, reactionaries, or what have you killed and died and saved their countries, civilization, and any possibility of a decent way of life. Our liberals are morally inferior to those G.I.’s and they are intellectually, not only morally, inferior to Churchill.

To conclude, we need another kind of liberty, one which accepts the tragedy of war, rejects mad utopian schemes, and respects the citizenry rather than running social experiments, through government and technology, on us. The test is simple: If our elites hate American Christians more than they do the rulers of the Chinese Communist party, we are in terrible peril. The world is not going back to the 20th century, but our liberals have never really moved past those halcyon days when they had run of the world. They still don’t want to help the rest of us and they still don’t want to harm our enemies. World War II reminds us that liberals themselves used to be far more patriotic and how new the accusation that most Americans are evil—white supremacy, systemic racism, etc.—really is, which the NYT now seems to publish daily.

If we learn nothing else from World War II’s legacy, it is that we need new, patriotic elites who have learned from the past and are willing to face our present danger.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on August 24, 2020 at 08:35:42 am

It is amazing how so many institutions that were traditionally respected by the American citizenry have in the past few years utterly squandered any pretense of integrity, sound judgment, and fealty to the Constitution. This includes (among others):
-- The mainstream media
-- Academia
-- Law enforcement (including the FBI and DOJ)
-- Foreign policy establishment
-- Far too many corporate leaders
-- Technology leaders and their companies
-- Liberal religious organizations

When the upcoming maelstrom is over, what remains of America will need institutions in which they have faith and trust, and in particular those whose voices reflect thoughtfulness and reason rather than a false narrative.

It's becoming manifestly clear that a very large preponderance of the institutions listed above have to be dismantled or destroyed. Every endeavor to accomplish this will be met with resistance, so it's reasonable to assume that the upcoming years will be rife with bitter conflict.

Fasten your seat belt. The next several years (at least) will be a very, very bumpy ride.

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Steve
on August 24, 2020 at 13:54:49 pm

This is to Mr. Techera and is general. From the first Miller quote, I was confused by the use of the term "Liberal." Is this to mean classical liberalism or modern? It seems to have been used more in the modern sense. E.g., "There’s no fixing our liberal elites—they’re adults, already [mis]educated, and in power. They listen to no one who disagrees with them [;] they want everyone else to listen to them and, moreover, obey. And they have the institutional powers to compel obedience, whether in the state or Silicon Valley or academia." More evidence of the modern meaning: This same class practices a "fondness for Antifa and murderous, catastrophic riots." So, is this to equate modern, controlling liberalism with anarchy? Or, regardless of the exact definition of liberal, is it to underscore the validity of alleged cowardice of those now in power? I am convinced of this last conclusion, and whether intentional or not, the result being a licentious liberalism whose cowardice has 'let slip the dogs of war.'

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John Tate
on August 30, 2020 at 09:22:44 am

We cannot regain social sanity without applying triage to the list you offer. In 1963, the teacher training schools were the most conservative institutions on college campuses. By 1973, they were the most hardcore leftist.

We need to start independent teacher training academies to produce anti-Marxist K-12 teachers. All else will follow. Without doing so, we're doomed.

Some years ago, I watched with horror as Bill Ayers was followed around the premiere K-12 educational professionals conference by wads of fawning seemingly-ordinary grade school teachers who had been taught to view him as a rock star. Countering this is the lynchpin, the primary task, and an achievable focus.

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Tina Trent
on August 24, 2020 at 11:36:34 am

Techeras's offering is the more soundly relevant of the four comprising the forum. Too little emphasis can be placed upon our knowledge of the past (Burke's famous dictum), but too much emphasis can be placed upon that knowledge as well. Knowledge alone is not wisdom. And of course one of Lincoln's addresses to Congress comes to mind::

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves,"

Of course here we are talking about an unquiet past, referencing WWII and ending now 75 years ago. But the lesson still holds. Every time requires its own measures. Too, Lincoln spoke those words 79 years after the end of the Revolutionary War, yet his focus was on the then present and future via an emphasis upon and a certain reinvigoration of the founding and the principles thereof. His focus and emphasis was not on revolution and a utopian future, it was on establishment, re-establishment, with recourse to the founding and the founding's most elemental principles. Because? Because those principles are basically sound and did not, and do not, need to be overthrown. To the contrary - and decidedly so.

Too, those principles were sound at the time of the founding, at the time of the Civil War, and they are sound presently - because they are based in nature, in natural law and natural rights conceptions that hold true today as then. (I'd have preferred a more Aristotelian-Thomist conception of natural law, rather than a Lockean/modernist variety, but that's another discussion.)

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Michael Bond
on August 24, 2020 at 12:50:47 pm

Some believe that the arc of history tends toward Justice. That may indeed be true, but it leaves open the question whether History itself is driving, or mankind is driving, or whether God is calling on mankind to make the pathways straight. Be that as it may, Techera I believe has captured an idea: Those liberal internationalists desperately want to be riding with the arc of history, but see that the wagon has gone off the tracks. How do we get back on track? Please, please, take us back to the 1930's when we were on arc! But to be part of the arc of history, one must have the vision to see, and the courage to lead. Which they do not. It is sad.

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cmcc_aus
on August 24, 2020 at 14:56:04 pm

It is refreshing to see the different interpretations of this fine article. In the past it would have been called scholarship. Today it is evil. There has been little true debate and discussion of our political situation in 60 years. The remnants of past wars include more than survivors of the losing side. They also include the winners. "The believers in tyranny resurfaced slowly but with greater and greater resolve. The incompetence and destruction of the communists was finally exposed in 1989. It could no longer be denied. This created a problem for its' adherents. A drive to eliminate dissent and historical research began on campus quickly began and has reached its' zenith today." Madame Defarge Gazette. Power was desired by Globalists and relevance by the academics. They currently march in the same direction. The money of one and the social influence of the other are a mighty foe defeat.

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Robert Horning
on August 24, 2020 at 15:09:16 pm

The problem is political liberalism tends to the ideological. As James Burnham pointed out conservatism is a philosophy but liberalism is an ideology. The former is by definition limited and both recognizes and champions limits on man's nature and on the possibility of political perfection of those limits.
Liberalism in its classical form makes common cause with those limits but in the end doesn't recognize their implacable nature and expects more from the limitations of government than a government made up of flawed, ambitious men can deliver. That leads inevitably to the chaos that social liberals, AKA progressives, are always pining to exploit. FDR, as a social liberal [and TR as a progressive for that matter] has no claim to his vision being distorted by today's woke somnambulists through history. They are the natural and inevitable descendants of an ideology that has no practical limits to their intentional disregard for man's imperfectable nature and the horrible history of men abandoning God and attempting to create heaven on earth. All progressives in the end and at heart are utopian zealots who invariably deem their fellow man's failure to be perfected as just cause to pour on the coal and give their fellow man the impetus he needs to be remolded in the progs image, and give it to him good and hard.
The conservative can never succeed by standing astride history yelling "Stop!" because progressive zealots never do. That is a formula for the last century of slow conservative failure as the reluctant tax collector for the trundling prog welfare state. The only method by which conservatives can truly defeat progs [and they are only temporary victories in a never ending war between the descendants of Cain and Abel] is to do what does not come naturally; adopt as policy offensively dismantling at every opportunity the prog project so that the progs are also out of their natural element; being forced to play defense. Anything else yields the disastrous glacier we've ridden since TR and Wilson. There were great improvements and accomplishments in the ride, but in the end the glacier reaches the sea and our whole political and social life threatens to calve off and melt in the ocean of every other failed progressive project that inevitably led to tyranny.
It's not an accident the Democrats now openly support avowed Marxists. They're not two unrelated streams of thought. They are two converging rivers from the same watershed. Whatever name you give it, progressivism is the old-as-man ethos of Cain wanting his brother's blessing for himself dressed up in the trappings of fake altruism. That phony altruism abides for a time but it can never really satisfy until Abel is dead; thus the gulag at the end of every prog rainbow.

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BrianB
on August 24, 2020 at 16:17:30 pm

You write as if the USA is all there was after WW2. I also disagree about the causes of WW2.
It was the UK and France, honouring their guarantees to Poland, that declared war on Germany in September 1939.
The USA sat on the sidelines for over 2 years while the UK fought Germany, and the USSR shipped raw materials to Germany.
The article reads as another in the long struggle between US progressivism and conservatism, and could have benefitted from analysis from Anglosphere countries. As far as China is concerned, they seem to be facing a demographic catastrophe. If the future is outside Europe or the US it is more likely, thankfully, to be Indian.
India appears nowhere in the article.
With best wishes

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tolkein
on August 24, 2020 at 17:14:31 pm

Agreed with the other commenters here AND most definitely with Titus Techera's fine analysis / conclusions.

"They’re forever warning us it’s 1933 and Hitler’s about to incinerate the world, but really, they only wish that were true. It’s a wish to be young again, to regain the moral confidence of good versus evil, and, with typical liberal arrogance, to be assured of victory in advance. Morality and science together overcoming the historical catastrophe—that’s the liberal fantasy, and we used to call it Enlightenment."

I would add, (as BrianB alludes to) that the Elites NEED to believe that it is 1933 as this a) places them in the rather enviable position of being the moral Crusaders who will not only defeat totalitarianism but enable them to USHER in their Brave New World of everlasting Peace and Harmony, b) provides them with an epistemological ground (or so they would believe) that evidences their own moral and intellectual superiority and c) permits them (enables?) to maintain both their wealth and privilege.

"we lack both intelligence and journalism to inform us about the important things going on abroad. We’re not scientifically ahead of events and reacting intelligently, not to say shaping events, whatever liberals might claim. We’ve ended up with arrogant, parochial elites that despise their country’s legacy."

Clearly, "journalism" lacks intelligence and reflects only the *MAL-education* enjoyed by these elites, said education itself providing the indoctrinated "experts" with sufficient doses of self-esteem building homilies to their political and (a)moral beliefs / practices. They may thus view themselves as the intellectual vanguard making immanent the faculty lounge fantasies generated by post-modern intellectuals and ultimately transmitted, in much the same fashion as any infectious disease, to their acolytes at university and in the commentariat.

Techera has done a fine job.

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gabe
on September 02, 2020 at 20:06:38 pm

Bravo, Titus!
This article made my day. I especially enjoyed the disdainful tone.

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Skeptical1
Trackbacks
on September 05, 2020 at 01:06:45 am

[…] „Lumea postbelică este în mare parte creația Americii. Ce nu a fost distrus în război, a fost modificat după aceea de America. Sub protecția și cu perseverența americană, Germania și Japonia au devenit democrații. SUA au ajutat la distrugerea imperiilor coloniale și s-au implicat în războaiele postccoloniale. Înainte de toate, Războiul Rece a schimbat lumea și, după o luptă îndelungată, URSS s-a prăbușit. Asta nu ne-a adus pacea cu noi înșine și cu lumea. Triumfurile americane ne-au adus în schimb crize și momente de reflecție”, scrie Titus Techera, director al American Cinema Foundation și membru al Institutului conservator Claremont, cel depsre care publicații precum Slate spun că este „o mlaștină rasistă cu legături profunde cu dreapta conspiraționistă”. The Daily Beast scrie despre Claremont Institute doar că încearcă să ofere o bază filozofică conservatorismului lui Donald Trump. Revenind la autor, Techera este românul Titus Țecheră, absolvent al Universității din București și al mai multor colegii din Europa și Statele Unite, în urmă câțiva ani colaborator la ziarul Adevarul, care acum poate nu ar găzdui articolul din care am citat mai sus, apărut in lawliberty.com. […]

on September 06, 2020 at 03:40:35 am

[…] „Lumea postbelică este în mare parte creația Americii. Ce nu a fost distrus în război, a fost modificat după aceea de America. Sub protecția și cu perseverența americană, Germania și Japonia au devenit democrații. SUA au ajutat la distrugerea imperiilor coloniale și s-au implicat în războaiele postccoloniale. Înainte de toate, Războiul Rece a schimbat lumea și, după o luptă îndelungată, URSS s-a prăbușit. Asta nu ne-a adus pacea cu noi înșine și cu lumea. Triumfurile americane ne-au adus în schimb crize și momente de reflecție”, scrie Titus Techera, director al American Cinema Foundation și membru al Institutului conservator Claremont, cel despre care publicații precum Slate spun că este „o mlaștină rasistă cu legături profunde cu dreapta conspiraționistă”. The Daily Beast scrie despre Claremont Institute doar că încearcă să ofere o bază filozofică conservatorismului lui Donald Trump. Revenind la autor, Techera este românul Titus Țecheră, absolvent al Universității din București și al mai multor colegii din Europa și Statele Unite, în urmă câțiva ani colaborator la ziarul Adevarul, care acum poate nu ar găzdui articolul din care am citat mai sus, apărut in lawliberty.com. […]

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.