Friday, July 12, 2013

Day of Reckoning

Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Greed, and Ideology are Tearing America Apart
© 2009 Patrick Buchanan
309 pages

What’s wrong with America? Change, brown people, and wars, judging by Day of Reckoning.  Published in 2009, presumably to capitalize on the election, Day of Reckoning puts forth Patrick Buchanan’s vision for America: less war, stronger borders,, protectionism, and more white babies, especially the good Anglo kind.  (Nothing is said about Saxon babies, but one assumes they’re OK.)  Although marred by stupefying sketchiness at times, and more a thought-dump than a coherent argument, Reckoning makes a couple of good points about imperialism and the perils of ideology. Even so, I would have probably passed on it had I not been curious about the 'paleoconservatives'.

Pat Buchanan might not find the lack of one dominating theme tying his book together a bad thing: coherent worldviews, especially forceful ones, are his target. Ideology has ruined politics, he writes, encouraging people to interpret everything that happens through the lens of their particular system of belief, and motivating them to change everything to fulfill their dream – whether the ideology is Leninism or Free Trade. Change is bad.  This is at the heart of Buchanan’s writing. Things that cause change, like energetic politics and mobs, are to be avoided. It doesn't matter if Yugoslavians want to break up, or that Chechnyans want freedom from Russia: stability is god.  Although I found some of his grousing sympathetic (I'm still mulling over global free trade, but much prefer a United States with factories to one without),  the evidence he presents in favor of his causes isn't exactly convincing. Did the early American and British empires, when they were strong and rising, have free trade? No, Ergo, free trade destroys empires.  Isn't that a good thing? Again, Mr. Buchanan isn't consistent. He's an impassioned critic of American misadventures in nation-building and wars on terror/drugs/etc, but he protests them not out of the principle that imperialism is malevolent, but  because these badly-managed affairs have sapped American strength.  Glory, power, empire -- all good things, but they have to be managed with great efficiency. He is a grim pragmatic: whatever is working now, keep it.

Although a healthy respect for the destructive power of ideology is warranted (witness the French and Russian revolutions),  the author's revulsion for change on principle strikes me as more reactionary than thoughtful,  and his conservatism as more or less self serving: he's fine with democracy among fine white western folk, but generic eastern Europeans and Arabs? Best to let them be managed by reasonable strongmen, like that Saddam Hussein fellow who kept Iraq in such good order until our tanks mucked things up. I'd give points for brazen self-interested honestly had he been consistent there, but in cataloging America's imperial wars, he managed to completely skip the invasion of Mexico, a fact worth nothing considering that he's staunchly against immigration.

Day of Reckoning is a book that I should have left on the shelf, I think. I will say this, though: unlike so many other political works, it doesn't feature the author on the cover, a marketing tactic I find particularly obnoxious.

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