December 27, 2005
The Non-Wilsonian Roots of Republican Foreign Policy
The Conservative Mind is a work in progress. Its deviations and lunges to ideology and utopianism have been self-corrected by prudence, reserved judgment as an operative principle, a healthy practical skepticism and the requirement of historical knowledge as a guide to prudent policy. Without a deep knowledge of history, policy analysis is feckless.Jonah Goldberg and Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review Online, two gentlemen very familiar with the history and principles of conservatism, have serious reservations about the views expressed by Mr. Hart towards life and cultural issues.
I have a reservation of my own. Mr. Hart believes that Republicans have turned away from conservatism to pursue what he calls a “hard Wilsonian” foreign policy. Hard Wilsonianism is the term often used (improperly, in my opinion) to describe the belief that the US should aggressively promote its ideals in its foreign policy, by force of arms if necessary.
This definition -- consistent with Mr. Hart’s essay -- too broadly construes the meaning and the dangers of Wilsonianism. Wilsonians want to do more than just promote (classically) liberal, democratic ideals in the conduct of foreign policy. They want to promote those ideals using specific means -- by endowing supra-national institutions with a legitimate right to coerce sovereign governments into behaving in a particular way.
This doesn’t really describe the foreign policy of George W. Bush.
No version of “Wilsonianism” would have allowed the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government of without UN, or some kind of formal, supra-national permission. You might argue that the foreign policy of George W. Bush is overly idealistic (I would disagree), but calling it "Wilsonian" stretches the definition of "Wilsonian" beyond any useful meaning.