The Messianic Maniac


It's more disturbing in a way than MoDo's fantasies or Frank Rich's tragedies. After four years of mounting, centrifugal chaos in a country he invaded on false pretenses, with no plan for victory, Bush is still "empowered" by a sense of religious mission and the aphrodisiac of the appearance of power. If you need any more convincing that Bush isn't merely not a conservative, but a tragi-comic version of what conservatism has long opposed, then read David Brooks's column (alas, it's TimesDelete). Here's a direct quote from the Decider himself:

"It's more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist."

As a very abstract theological principle, it's hard for a fellow Christian to disagree. But, of course, as a political or historical principle, this is dangerous, delusional hogwash. There is a distinction between Burke theology and politics, a distinction between theory and practice: a distinction at the core of the very meaning of conservatism. The notion that free will or even human freedom is destined to be humanity's future, and that this destiny can be achieved by a Supreme Leader, is a function not of conservatism in any sense, but of a messianic, eschatological ideology. It's the most naive form of Whiggery on half-baked evangelical steroids. It is all the more disturbing to be allied with what can only be called Bush's attachment to the Fuhrerprinzip - the fascistic notion that all human affairs can be commanded and determined by a Great Decider. Our dumb luck, alas, is that our supreme leader is a trust-fund kid with a chip on his shoulder and zero understanding of history or war.

Amazingly, David appears to be taken in by this lunacy. He says that "only the whispering voice of Leo Tolstoy holds one back." Er: how about Burke? Or Aron? Or Tocqueville? Or Constant? Or Gibbon? Or any serious thinker about politics and history not infatuated with some ideology or eschatology? How about every conservative thinker who ever wrote a sentence? Tolstoy? Here's David:

Tolstoy believed great leaders are puffed-up popinjays. They think their public decisions shape history, but really it is the everyday experiences of millions of people which organically and chaotically shape the destiny of nations from the bottom up.

According to this view, societies are infinitely complex. They can’t be understood or directed by a group of politicians in the White House or the Green Zone. Societies move and breathe on their own, through the jostling of mentalities and habits. Politics is a thin crust on the surface of culture. Political leaders can only play a tiny role in transforming a people, especially when the integral fabric of society has dissolved.

If Bush's theory of history is correct, the right security plan can lead to safety, the right political compromises to stability. But if Tolstoy is right, then the future of Iraq is beyond the reach of global summits, political benchmarks and the understanding of any chief executive.

But that is not enough. It implies that Bush's ideological and theological flim-flam is, at worst, an irrelevance. But conservatives have always argued that such delusions are far, far more dangerous than they are irrelevant. This was Burke's deepest point. Such delusions actually destroy lives, liberties, societies, civilizations. And what has this messianic maniac in the White House done? He has set loose a fantastically murderous war in Iraq, he has sacrificed thousands of young Americans with the result not of restraining but empowering our enemies, he has done incalculable long-term damage to the country's fiscal standing, he has indirectly caused the massacre of tens of thousands of innocents, he has come close to wrecking the military of the United States, and he has robbed the United States of its long and hard-won record of humane and decent warfare.

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This is not the work of a conservative statesman; it's the mark of a delusional fanatic. If you define liberalism broadly as the belief that human society is perfectible, that heaven can be created on earth by force of will, then Bush is one of the most recklesss enemies of conservatism who has ever held high office in America. It is a conservative duty to expose and restrain him from any more mischief in his final months. He has refused every olive branch toward sanity. He has balked at every face-saver. So he must be stopped. Above all else, he cannot be allowed to determine the future of this country's foreign policy in the Middle East. He has done enough damage already.

(Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty.)