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November 02, 2003

Neoconservative shaman for our age

Vic Hanson has a new piece in City Journal, Why History Has No End, that ranges widely over foreign affairs and the European-American relationship. Two things that caught my eye. First:

Europeans say that sober reflection on their own checkered past has taught them to reject wars of the nation-state, to mediate, not deter, and to trust in Enlightenment rationality instead of primitive emotions surrounding God and country.

& then:

The Founders saw the café theorizing of Continental elites and French philosophers as a danger to good government, which requires not some grand, all-encompassing blueprint but rather institutional checks and balances and a citizenry of perennially vigilant individual citizens.

On the first point, I find it ironic that Victor Davis Hanson sneers at the Enlightenment. His philo-Hellenism and relative neglect of Rome and unified Catholic Christendom in the formation of our civilization falls into the classic pattern of historians like Will Durant who conceived the history of the West as a great Dark Age after the decline of Greece (specifically Democratic Athens) and before the 18th century Enlightenment. Secondly, the system of checks & balances that the founders enacted owes much to the French political philosopher Montesquieu. I assume Vic Hanson knew this-but couldn't resist the one-liner. From what I can see, even if Victor Davis Hanson is a sage whom conservatives look to to justify their policies (though he remains a registered Democrat), he certainly lacks a conservative temperament and espouses the views of mid-20th century liberal historians.

Posted by razib at 08:56 PM

Hansen is extremely interesting and has lots of ideas and also lots of issues. For example, he has a tremendous bias toward infantry and-to-hand combat (bayonets, pikes, lances, spears) and a bias against cavalry and cowardly long-range weapons like archery and other missiles. He also believes that Western ideas of equality are grounded in the Greek phalanx, as developed through tha Macedonians, Romans, Franks, Swiss, etc. (For him war is a political-existential source of meaning and order). As a reult of this, one of his histories has to jump from the last Roman battle to the early modern age (except for Charles Martel), since medieval warfare tended too much toward archery and cavalry. And while he believes that American military assertion is an affirmation of American democracy, increasingly we are moving toward a mercenary/professional military relying on long-range missile weapons and mobility -- not the kind of thing he found with the Greeks.

Posted by: zizka at November 3, 2003 07:33 AM

Checks and balances goes deeper than Montesqieu (not that I don't love Montesqieu.) This is an interesting paper on the history of "ballances and checks."

Posted by: martin at November 3, 2003 09:53 AM

Some public spirited rich guy should pay Hanson $250,000 per year to stop farming and teaching and just write, on just one condition -- that he only publish half as many words as he does now.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at November 3, 2003 01:10 PM