Eric Alterman, a nationalist socialist

A few weeks ago I watched Bloggingheads.TV which I found really amusing. Eric Alterman was in a discussion with someone named Bill Scher. I don’t know anything about Scher aside from the fact that he makes Jonah Goldberg seem really intellectual and a deep thinker (see their diavlog). But I was struck by the following exchange over foreign policy:

Alterman: “People in these countries don’t want us, they hate us, they hate everything about us, they hate the idea of democracy, it’s inconsistent with their vision of Islamic republics, which is what they clearly want. So you just like glossing over that, but I think that’s fundamental. I think the promotion of democracy in the Arab world creates anti-American terrorists.”

Scher: “Well, I mean, democracy in the broader sense, what kind of government do those people want. It doesn’t have to be Jeffersonian-“

Alterman: “I don’t want them to have the kind of government that they want. OK. I don’t want Jordan and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to have the kind of government that they want, because they will want to kill me with it!

I generally cheered for Alterman here. Whether you are an interventionist or not, the whole rhetoric about democracy and its universal appeal on both the Left and Right has gotten out of control. Whether there is a universal yearning for democratic freedom or not, its acceptance as a background assumption in the public discourse has become nearly religious. When someone like Alterman challenges it, you see a “deer in headlights” tendency. There are few counter arguments because people assume any contrary position is either absurd or immoral. These sort of dreamy tendencies are fine when you aren’t an imperial power that has to make real-politik decisions (e.g., Iceland?), but at this point bad decisions informed by fallacious assumptions can cost a lot, at home and abroad.

To make the world as you wish it to be, you must first comprehend how it truly is.

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