…apparently I’m not enlightened enough to understand. (Yes, another “political” post. What can I say, that’s what’s on my mind.)
Back in June, here, Andy said, “many conservatives believe that it is man’s ultimate conceit that he or she can solve the world’s problems through government involvement and policy.” It is certainly true that many conservatives believe this, or something like it. Also, I somewhat agree with the sentiment expressed in that I don’t really believe that government involvement “solves” social problems. On the other hand, I do believe that carefully designed, fiscally responsible policy can mitigate some social problems, and I know that poor government policy exacerbates many problems. (In a normal universe, I think that this might make me a moderate. Go figure.)
As I understand conservative thought, this impotence of government arises from two major causes: (1) Societies are too complex for human minds to understand. (2) As a result of number 1, any attempt to solve a social problem will, through the law of unintended consequences, create more problems than it solves.
Now, over at PolySciFi Blog, Matt says, “I think Bush’s (or Wolfowitz’s) transformative vision of democracy in the middle east is a great one.” After which Jody applauds Matt for “[getting] the real purpose” of the war. This, too, is a mainstay of neocon thought — the idea that it was a good idea to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein in order to plant the seed of democracy in the Middle East. And, I agree that democracy in the Middle East would be a very good thing.
Unlike Matt, however, I don’t think the central problem is that the Bush administration didn’t plan to make the sacrifices necessary for war and reconstruction (though that is almost certainly true). I think the problem is, in fact, that it is damn near impossible to establish a new, democratic government through the application of force. I would estimate that even if you did everything perfectly (which we did not), your probability of success would be less than 25%. Why? For exactly the same reasons that many intellectual conservatives don’t think that social programs work. Namely, that societies and cultures are extremely complex, and any attempt to “fix” them will almost surely have unintended negative consequences. You can’t just setup a voting booth in a country, hold an election, and then declare it a successful democracy. Democratic societies depend on the existence of countless social and cultural norms and values. For one thing, the vast majority of people must recognize the legitimacy of the elected government. For another, some form of political process must be developed to help define candidates and issues. (And selecting former warlords and insurgents to lead the political process doesn’t work too well due to the former point — the leaders of the political process must respect the legitimacy of the elections.)
Thus, here we have two key planks of the neoconservative belief system:
Governments are impotent to solve social problems at home, due to the incomprehensibility of social forces and the law of unintended consequences.
Our government can, through the application of force, establish a whole new system of government in a region of the world where we understand little about the culture or society. (I realize that some Americans know a great deal about the culture in Iraq, but certainly not the average American or the average U. S. soldier on the ground.)
So, could someone please explain to me how it is possible to hold these two beliefs at the same time? If I attempted to do so, I think my brain would explode.