Bush Waxes Philosophical
We don’t often see “George W. Bush” and “philosophical argument” in the same sentence, let alone in the same column. So this piece by Hoover Institution’s Tod Lindberg is noteworthy:
Spreading Democracy (Washington Times)
During the remarkable round of interviews he gave to major newspapers last week, President Bush spoke often of his commitment to the spread of democracy, sometimes in startling terms. As he told the Wall Street Journal in an aside after the end of the formal interview, “I understand there are many who say ‘Bush is wrong.’ I assume I’m right. It’s exciting to be part of stimulating a debate of such significance. It really is the philosophical argument of the age.” I don’t know which is the more remarkable: An American president who thinks in terms of “the philosophical argument of the age.” Or that, well, yes, Mr. Bush is right, the question of the spread of democracy really is the philosophical argument of the age.
Go back and read that Wall Street Journal quotation again. Mr. Bush gets a lot of grief for his supposed self-certainty (often attributed, usually disparagingly, to his religious beliefs). Yet what you see here, on the contrary, is a man who sees a “philosophical argument,” which is to say, a contest with at least two sides. His presidency is “stimulating a debate” over the spread of democracy by trying to spread it. He is aware that there are those who say “Bush is wrong.” He doesn’t in turn say they are wrong. He says, “I assume I’m right” Ã¢€” which is to say, he will act in accordance with the conviction “that the philosophical argument of the age” will be resolved in favor of the spread of democracy.
That’s because he thinks democracy is the right side to be on Ã¢€” not in the sense of the “right side of history,” though he has his hopes, but in the sense that the promotion of democracy is morally right. Let those who disagree speak up.
If Bush is indeed engaged in a philosophical argument, then it’s worth noting how he arrived at his position. He became convinced of democracy promotion not through some kind of theoretical exercise but through experience: 9/11. It would be a long stretch to start invoking pragmatism or any other intellectual movement, so I’ll stop here by saying that, as Lindberg suggests, it’s probably insufficient to attribute Bush’s every major action to his faith.