Bill Kristol's Hypocritical 'Conservatism of Doubt'

He still thinks the American military can remake the Muslim world -- but lectures about delusions of rational control at home.



Eager to persuade Republicans that their inability to settle on a nominee isn't anything to worry about, Bill Kristol is embracing the conservatism of doubt:

We moderns like our roads direct, our destinations clear, our paths planned, our routes rational. But we delude ourselves. We presume to know in advance what cannot be known. We bask in the conceit of rational control when such control is not to be had. We're then disappointed, even angered, when we discover that life is in fact ​-- ​to quote those perceptive Oakeshottian critics of modernity, the Beatles​ -- ​a long and winding road. But long and winding roads can lead to worthwhile destinations. The limitations of modern rationalism don't preclude a reasonable outcome to our quest. Conservatives, of all people, shouldn't despair when the way forward turns out to be murky, and the ascent full of twists and turns. It's the modern left, after all, who are the terrible simplifiers.

Funny, when I think back on the most foolhardy and delusional oversimplification of the last decade -- the occasion when the conceit of rational control wreaked the most terrible havoc -- a leftist wasn't championing it.

Bill Kristol was.

For example, here he is in 2002 testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

American and alliance forces will be welcomed in Baghdad as liberators. Indeed, reconstructing Iraq may prove to be a less difficult task than the challenge of building a viable state in Afghanistan.

The political, strategic and moral rewards would also be even greater. A friendly, free, and oil-producing Iraq would leave Iran isolated and Syria cowed; the Palestinians more willing to negotiate seriously with Israel; and Saudi Arabia with less leverage over policymakers here and in Europe. Removing Saddam Hussein and his henchmen from power presents a genuine opportunity -- one President Bush sees clearly -- to transform the political landscape of the Middle East.

Analysis doesn't get more wrongheaded than that.

Has he acknowledged being spectacularly wrong? Or stopped agitating for more foreign wars, the outcomes of which -- given his spectacular history of bad predictions -- he has no reason to think he can know?

Nope.

He lectures others about "the conceit of rational control."

Heal thyself, Mr. Kristol.

Presented by

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

More in Politics

Just In