Monday, March 2, 2015

Greg Weiner's "American Burke"

Greg Weiner is assistant professor of political science at Assumption College, Worcester, Massachusetts. He is the author of Madison’s Metronome: The Constitution, Majority Rule and the Tempo of American Politics.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and reported the following:
Daniel Patrick Moynihan thought words mattered. They were the currency of democratic exchange. They were also alternatives to weapons, and they could have the same effect: changing circumstances on the ground.

His ambassadorship to the United Nations is often misapprehended as the tenure of a neoconservative. Page 99 of my book American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan shows why that moniker is mistaken. Moynihan was appointed to the post after urging the United States to assume a more assertive posture at the world body by defending liberalism and calling tyranny by its right name.

Page 99 illustrates the prudence that underlay this position. Moynihan had criticized Henry Kissinger for failing to condemn Soviet infiltration of the Lebanese government. But it was censure Moynihan sought, not threats.
Moynihan acknowledged that his desire for a more muscular reaction could be read as hawkish, “as if, were the choice mine, I would have been sending carriers into the eastern Mediterranean. I would not have.” He had, he recalled, opposed Vietnam, and he was in no mood for a repeat. “But I wanted us to show our colors even so, to argue back. This is a form of resistance, even of offensive. It is not the least dangerous weapon a nation can wield.
Moynihan, a lifelong advocate of the binding nature of international law—a commitment stretching from his doctoral dissertation on the International Labor Organization to his four terms in the United States Senate—never sought to evangelize American ideals by force. Rather, he recognized that the United States was inevitably engaged in rhetorical combat and that it ought to fight effectively.
The point—and it distinguishes Moynihan especially from contemporary neoconservatism—is that he wanted to wage ideological warfare in ideological forums. He was confident ideas of themselves would be felt, would make an imprint on the world. . . . [M]oynihan was willing to use military strength to defend freedom, but he counseled prudence in efforts to expand it.
Moynihan’s own ideas, too, made their imprint. The book calls them “Burkean liberalism,” a strain of liberal thought that simultaneously advocates a robust ameliorative role for government and recognizes, with the British statesman Edmund Burke, the limits of politics and the complexity of society. There is no clearer instance of it than the delicate balance between assertiveness and prudence portrayed on page 99.
Visit Greg Weiner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue