Saturday, October 08, 2011

When Moralism Isn’t Moral

Years ago Irving Kristol, the prime mover of American neoconservatism, said to me, in typical aphoristic style: “The orthodox are always right.” What he meant, I think, is that the enduring truths of traditionalism may at times be hard to grasp, but they endure for a reason. In foreign policy, it is realists who are, in Kristol’s sense, always right.

Despite getting terrible press and having more or less no explicit defenders on the American political scene today (prediction: not one Republican presidential candidate will embrace the term “realist”), realism remains the indispensable foreign-policy doctrine — or, really, attitude, since it is not doctrinaire. Without it, nothing else works. Yet Kristol’s younger neoconservative successors, baby boomers who proved susceptible to their generation’s narcissistic radicalism, have driven the approach that succeeded so well for Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush from its traditional home on the American right. Like some unrestful soul, it wanders in search of a new corpus. Alan Wolfe’s intelligent and often brave new book, “Political Evil: What It Is and How to Combat It,” is the latest sign that realism is finding fresh support on the left, or at least on the center-left.

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