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Saturday, December 29, 2007
This is why events unnerve me: they find it all, a different story:
The text will have its revenge. While Jonah Goldberg was busy working on his chapter about Woodrow Wilson, his argument unexpectedly set a trap for its author. Consider:
Wilson would later argue when president that he was the right hand of God and that to stand against him was to thwart divine will. Some thought this was simply proof of power corrupting Wilson, but this was his view from the outset. He always took the side of power, believing that power accrued to whoever was truly on God's side.
Stay with that, Jonah. Have courage! But your argument leaps off the page to rejoinder, in a subtextual whisper to your waxy, hirsute ear, "So does Woodrow Wilson's power-worship extend to his tireless postwar advocacy of the League of Nations? Was the League, then, in fact what Wilson said it was -- a new, anti-imperialist architecture, constraining the United States as it did other nations, but constructing what Wilson called 'a Covenant with power,' enabling a more sustainable, strengthened humanity and moving geopolitics beyond a zero-sum contest? Through the prism of your single, determinative theory of Wilson, how could it be anything else?"
So what does Jonah say about the League? Fittingly, nothing. He can only think himself into traps.
Update: Here's trap number two. Jonah's distaste for Wilson leads him to valorize Randolph Bourne, the great anti-imperialist and Wilson/Dewey/war critic, as a "brilliant, bizarre, disfigured genius." I'll spot Jonah my rook and concede that you can read his presentation of Bourne as descriptive and not normative. But it's still rather a unlikely characterization of a man who became, in death, a New Left apostle. (Casey Blake: "Student activists avidly read the young critic's polemics against John Dewey and The New Republic as a preface to their own attacks on Cold War liberals and the Johnson administration.") After all, Jonah believes in the Ledeen Doctrine: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." That's so Randolph Bourne!