Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Poverty of Liberalism

In his now largely-forgotten 1968 book, The Poverty of Liberalism, political philosopher and self-described Left radical Robert Paul Wolff had the following to say about American electoral politics at the time, which I found to be particularly poignant right now:

"It is instructive to compare liberals' criticisms of the loyalty investigations with their attacks, during the same years, on the foreign policy of Dulles and Eisenhower. A great deal was made of Dulles' moralizing, Eisenhower's lack of intellectual graces, and the embarrassing failure of new ambassadors to remember the names of the prime ministers of the countries to which they were assigned. This critique of technique was put forward as fundamental analysis of policy, with the expectation that all our state department needed was to promote career officers to ambassadorial posts, learn some foreign languages, and act a bit less like fundamentalists loose in the big city. John F. Kennedy was greeted by liberals as the answer to their prayers. He was young, bright, and was married to a woman who spoke fluent French. Consequently, it came as something of a shock when this paragon of liberal virtues invaded Cuba and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. In the aftermath of the Cuban adventure, liberal ranks split into two unequal groups. The majority, confronted by the refutation of their confident faith that technique was all that American foreign policy had lacked, retreated into the brittle cold-war belligerence of the Roches and Rostows. The remainder were forced into an examination of the roots of American policy in an effort to discover where it had gone wrong. This radical turn of the American left was of course considerably aided by the death of Kennedy. Yet so suceptible is the ordinary American liberal to beguiling personalities and the superficies of sophistication that many who were disenchanted from JFK had already began to reenchant themselves with Robert Kennedy."

1 comment:

tb said...

Poignant, ln, and of course confirms that our obsession with personality over issues and worldview has a long history. "Change", like "freedom" or a litany of other words, has utterly lost meaning with this current crop of candidates. What will be next?