George Will's Pessimism


One more sign that the noted conservative and war supporter is getting nervous. From the April 26 issue of Newsweek:

These [nation-building] attempts are Wilsonian, expressing President Woodrow Wilson's belief that America's mission?a practical mission?is to pacify the world by multiplying free governments. Wilson, a former professor of political science, was not the last or wisest Wilson in that profession.

Three and a half decades ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an adviser to Richard Nixon, urged the president to listen to "the smartest man in America." James Q. Wilson still is that. He had been Moynihan's colleague on the Harvard faculty, and is the pre-eminent political scientist of our time.

Moynihan wanted Nixon to know what Wilson knew about such domestic problems as crime and drug abuse. Today's president is waist deep in the problems of a Wilsonian (Woodrow, not James Q.) project of nation-building in a bad neighborhood. He might profit from pondering the foreign policy pertinence of this James Q. Wilson thought about why the combination of economic affluence and personal freedom is an achievement relatively rare in human experience:

"So common have despotic regimes been that some scholars have argued that they are, unhappily, the natural state of human rule. This tendency raises a profound question: Does human nature lend itself to freedom? It is not difficult to make arguments for personal freedom, but the history of mankind suggests that human autonomy usually will be subordinated to political control. If that is true, then our effort to increase individual freedom is an evolutionary oddity, a weak and probably vain effort to equip people with an opportunity some do not want and many will readily sacrifice."

Notice that Wilson, who wrote that long before the United States began the nation-building project in Iraq, was noncommittal. He said, "If that is true…" He was not necessarily endorsing pessimism. But before rejecting pessimism, consider its pleasures. Pessimists are right more often than not, and when they are wrong they are pleased to be so.

[Thanks to Bill Eggers for the link]