Kingdom of Priests

The purpose of this blog is to tease out the worldview of the Hebrew Bible, with implications for everything from politics to family life to the history of life’s development on earth. Much of liberalism can be explained as a counter-force to that worldview. There’s an element of the same dynamic at work too in so-called paleoconservatism.

I’m fascinated by the way various political positions gather into distinctive ideological postures — liberal and conservative, broadly, but also sub-varieties of those two. Among conservatives you have neocons (about whom David Brooks jokes that “con is short for ‘conservative’ and neo is short for ‘Jewish'”), pro-capitalism and pro-military interventionism; and you have paleocons, who are distinguished first and foremost by hating neocons.
I was listening to NPR this morning on the way to work and the local host here in Seattle was interviewing military historian Andrew Bacevich, a prominent paleo whose book reviews I used to edit (and enjoy) at National Review. He’s got a new book out bashing “American exceptionalism.” It’s called The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Bacevich expressed disgust with the Iraq war, with George W. Bush, with neocons, with what he regards as inauthentic conservatism, with free-market economist Milton Friedman. He voiced nostalgic feelings for America’s agrarian past. The liberal host was eating it up. 
Bacevich’s main theme was that America has no business messing around with countries overseas, as in Iraq, projecting force to save foreigners from themselves. He minimized the threat to us from Jihadism and said the Muslim world would simply have to work out for itself the conflict between their faith and modernity. America’s role is to “tend our own garden,” or words to that effect. Bacevich said if God has a plan for the world, He’s keep it to Himself. So seeking to advance civilizing forces in history, such as democracy in the Middle East, is a fool’s errand.
You could write off paleos as being under the sway of a romantic infatuation with a past they never knew — when America was smaller, weaker, more countrified, and therefore more virtuous. But something else that leaps out is the revulsion at “messianism” in politics, the idea that America is somehow special, even divinely appointed, with a job to save the world. “Messianism” is the derogatory term to describe the neocon interventionist impulse.

I’m not going to get into the details of the foreign policy debate. I simply want to observe how at odds the paleo way of thinking is with the Biblical view — which is, of course, literally messianic. Does that observation justify every war America fights to right wrongs overseas? Obviously not. But the Hebrew Bible offers a vision of how the world operates that includes a challenge to humanity to work for man’s betterment. That vision tells us that such betterment is possible and that it’s part of a plan. We’re meant to do something grander than merely tend our own garden.
Just as an incompetent gardner could end up ruining his backyard garden, a country that elects an incompetent leader, committed to advancing freedom in the world, could end up doing the reverse. But the overall point still stands. There could be no book more messianic than the Hebrew Bible.
Exceptionalism, too, is a theme woven through Scripture. A single exceptional family, that of Jacob, a/k/a Israel, is chosen as the primary vehicle for God’s plan in history. People who view exceptional individuals or groups as a threat, who see the world as the arena for a zero-sum game where your advance means my loss rather than an opening for my own advancement, often turn out not to like Jews very much. The infatuation with a small agrarian past, a mediocre America very far from being exceptional, fits in well with this.
Messianism and exceptionalism are Jewish notions, though of course they can be put to wicked ends — which is how you found Jews in the last century disproportionately involved with Communist activity. The Jewishness of these two parallel ideas is the reason you find Jews associated today with neoconservatism. And it’s why paleoconservatism has a weak spot for anti-Semitism.
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