December 29, 2005

Is Jeffrey Hart Equating Conservatism with Realism? (And Why He's Wrong if He Is)

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here's a little more on why I think Jeffrey Hart's use of the term "Wilsonian" to describe George W. Bush's foreign policy obfuscates, rather than clarifies, the debate over the nature of a conservative foreign policy. Hart states that...

George W. Bush has firmly situated himself in [the Wilsonian] tradition, as in his 2003 pronouncement, "The human heart desires the same good things everywhere on earth." Welcome to Iraq. Whereas realism counsels great prudence in complex cultural situations, Wilsonianism rushes optimistically ahead.
If Jeffrey Hart is claiming that realism is the true conservative path, then it is he, and not George Bush, who is the conservative iconoclast. Hart is certainly aware of "realism" has a very specific meaning when applied to foreign policy. If realism is conservatism, then uber-realists Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger should be counted amongst the great conservative leaders.

Students of conservatism should feel free to correct me if I'm wrong here, but I know of very few conservatives who trace the lineage of conservatism through Nixon/Kissinger. Nixon, in fact, is generally considered a major example of the non-conservative Republicanism that troubles Hart so.

At this point you might rightfully ask if it matters how conservative foreign policy is labeled, as long as people understand the ideas being discussed. But that is precisely the point. Because Hart chose to criticize W's foreign policy for being "Wilsonian" instead of being "idealistic", I cannot tell if Hart believes that there is any role for ideals in foreign policy. The praise of "realism" implies that he believes that foreign policy should be ideals-free. The fact that Hart chose to criticize a specific version of an ideals-based foreign policy, instead of idealism in general, implies the opposite.


Here is the link to Marc's detailed summary of the many facets of the Hart debate.