The Hegelian Bush: Fallujah as Jena

Slate’s David Greenberg offers a belated gloss on the Brooks interview with the Warlord.

But perhaps there’s a more charitable way to think of Bush’s understanding of history: as a Hegelian. (Scott McLemee of Inside Higher Ed, for one, has offered an intriguing Hegelian reading of Bush.) Like Carlyle, who was influenced by his work, Hegel venerated heroes who steer the course of events. After seeing Napoleon ride into battle to defeat the armies of Prussian monarchy at Jena in 1806, Hegel famously described the emperor as “the World Spirit riding on a horse”—a great individual shaping history. But Hegel also believed the battle at Jena to represent, as Francis Fukuyama stressed in his influential 1989 essay, the “end of history.” History, Hegel argued, had an inner logic, a teleology, with the unfolding of liberty as the ultimate plan. For Hegel, Great Men like Napoleon don’t just happen to find themselves as emperor of Europe; they’re driven by an inner spirit that serves the aims of historical destiny.         

The Stiftung long argued that Bush-As-Spirit-Of-The-Age is perhaps not entirely comically absurd. Christian Socialist Authoritarianism in the U.S. came from somewhere. True, the Movement’s various strands took advantage of 9/11. And true, they together routed and used the hapless Democrats as props and sock puppets until 2006. But the extent of the regime’s transformation of American social fabric, mores, politics and destiny was not wholly imposed top down. The Joe Kleins of the world didn’t and still don’t get it.

The Enlightenment was always a thin veneer in America before 2001. It’s thinner still in 2007. 

Several commenters have noted and we agree that Bush’s current political eclipse is because of perceived failure: (a) Iraq; (b) Katrina; (c) the borders/immigration to both his base and Republican Party; and (d) a general perception of incompetence. Still absent is any crystalized political meme-turned-consensus that explicitly rejects any of the Warlord’s specific policies. Even Republican critics of the Warlord personalize their disagreement with the Warlord, not the underlying political dynamic sought. And certainly the Democrats have not transformed anti-Bushism into a positive platform for purposeful political action. Yet.

One aspect of Bushism was to provide a community and a sense of order to a fragmenting society (while increasing that fragmentation). True, this “belonging” is artificial. The regime deliberately sought out a phalanx as an operational minority. But that’s how one builds politically dynamic Movements, the clear delineation between Us and Them.

The Warlord demonstrated America in the 21st century is easily ruled by a purposeful minority. When Cheney recently said all you need is 50 plus 1 percent, we believe he was not referring to the popular vote but internal control of the mechanics of power — in the Senate and House. This explains why Republican deviationism was hated far more intensely than mere Democrats.

It would be a mistake to ignore the larger lesson here — the old shopkeeper’s comment attending one of the Corporal’s Party rallies applies to America today: “I was alone until I came here.” Today, the gossamer stands of celebutantes, soccer has-beens, and anorexic movie stars are the only tissues holding together any consensus community. That way lies invitation for political radicalism.

Thus Newt’s ‘stealth’ campaign. The Movement writ large is quite prepared to write off the Warlord and even the Republican Party, its erstwhile host, as ineffective. If by doing so, it helps the Movement recoup, recover its radicalism, and return re-invigorated — without the albatross around its neck of this regime’s failures. Newt is widely seen as a flake even within the Movement and his radicalism is too overt even for some. Like his Speakership, his campaign barbs may be mere transitional moments. But this political course is precisely what many in the Movement(s) seek and want. A path to retain their objectives while jettisoning the Warlord. One should never mistake the Movement for the Republican Party. Only one is the host.

As a counterpoint, the Yearly Kos event, encouraging as it may be, is misunderstood by most of the sedentary traditional media. The netroots can be a catalyst to galvanize resistance to a resurgent Movement. It is too early to determine if they can evolve into an animating coherent ideological and philosophical force capable of capturing political power and governing. We are optimistic but that test has yet to come. Ezra Klein notes one cautionary view — which curiously seems to ignore some real political successes such as Jim Webb:

I don’t point this out to poke fun at the netroots. Wonkery does my heart good. But the intense focus on the innards of public policy actually gives a more accurate impression of the netroots’ true nature than the usual examination of some blog commenter’s curse words. The netroots are disproportionately rich, educated, and technologically adept — they are, in demographic terms, technocrats. And technocrats don’t crash gates. They write memos. They are far more comfortable improving from the inside than agitating from without. Which is why the media’s habit of painting the netroots as some sort of emergent special interest, with these conventions acting as their trade meeting, has always been a bit off, but never more so than now.  (emphasis added)      

Which brings us back full circle to the Warlord as World-Historical-Figure. Other than anti-Bushism, what political figure can tap and summon forth dormant or submerged political dedication to civic virtue, fame (as described by Adair) and republicanism? Ron Paul’s emergent popularity in cyberspace is perhaps the best barometer, albeit a small and unscientific sampling. Do these invocations even resonate psychologically and emotionally with Americans anymore? Because 2008 and even 2012 are mere blinks in time — and defeating a ‘Republican’ candidate (Team Mitt? Fred?) does nothing to alter the underlying dynamics without purposeful and applied political philosophy.

In the interim, the Movement can bide its time, chastened by the failures of 2001-2007. Does anyone seriously think they will go away just because of an electoral defeat?


  1. arty kraft says

    The W-as-Hegelian-hero theme may have validity, but only as a point of historic cooincidence rather than as a conscious form of identity on W’s behalf. Indeed, for it to be true, W can’t merely be an unwitting agent; he must know and, accordingly, act with passion. This, however, is not the case.

    First, the animation for the “War on Terror” is rooted first and foremost in the Neocon movement, which Cheney has been a more zealous supporter of behind, and occasionally in front of, the scenes. He may be your cunning of reason, your World-Historical figure, seen, of course, through his own eyes, but certainly not from any truly objective point of view.

    More likely, william Kristol, who digested the Spirit of Freedom on his father Irving’s lap, provided Cheney with a Readers Digest version of the archetypal man of history. It’s in the same vein as a client relying on an ad agency to explain what the product means and how to sell it.

    You might call it secondhand ideology since the rather narrow perspectives within the Administration illustrate their limitations in terms of grasping complexities. And no wonder: They’re much too busy defending their asinine “world-historical” goals.

  2. Comment says

    It seemed to us that Tweety was picking on Ezra and purposely asking him stupid unaswerable questions – Tweety resents liberal intellectual types and glories in the chance to make them seem like helpless “propeller heads.”

    How can Tweety even make the claim that GOP pols like less spending – What a foolish thing for that sham-Dem to say.

    Also – every one is innocent til proven guilty in court – AG AG has not even been charged with a crime, so what was Tweety’s purpose flogging that red herring.

    Yes – Ezra in Adams-Morgan:
    “Hey finish up, we’re closing up …”
    “Okay – just a second (Ezra leans in) – My point, oh what’s my pount – look, oh yeah – Rawls failed to take into account the rise …”
    “Hey, I said we are closing..”
    “Okay – jez ..

  3. Dr Leo Strauss says

    She’s pretty vacant, rolling her eyes and all that. Ezra probably needs more Tweety prep — have some hyper-caffeinated American Prospect types just yell at him for 45 minutes or so before he goes on. He acted like he was sitting in a bar in Adams Morgan dispensing Opinion before closing time.

  4. Aldershot says

    Hardball now. Is it me, or is this Karen Hanretty completely obnoxious? Poor Ezra Klein is coming off as ineffectual.

  5. Armchair says

    I just read this incredibly brilliant essay by Ann-Marie Slaughter – (Dean of the Wilson school!) She holds out hope that Hillary (or Barack or maybe even the haircut guy) will restore American leadership in the next election – It was just incredibly re-assuring to see that we can go back to give the kind of planetary leadership that Bobby Kennedy called for before they shot him.

  6. says

    Isn’t technocracy, which is a profoundly modernist (legal-rational, in Weber’s terms) and rationalist project, not a bad candidate for a counter-ideology to the Movement? After all, the very essence of Straussian politics is that it is opposed to knowledge, and certainly to public knowledge.

    In the UK, there’s a sort of emerging blogger consensus that managerialism, as opposed to technocracy, was a key element in the Blair government’s authoritarianism. In a sense, what could be a more appropriate response to a Counter-Enlightenmentarian movement than acts of public enlightenment? Like marching to the Gujarati coast to make salt, with laptops.

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