week, in an essay titled "Iraq's
Cultural Catastrophe and Ours," Christopher Deliso
wrote, "Having almost no history of its own, America is ignorant,
almost contemptuous of that of other peoples." While ignorance
and envy certainly played a role in the destruction,
larger motives were at work, motives that go to the heart of neoconservatism.
past is a foreign country, and no foreign country is safe
with a Bush in the White House. The past wears a neon target,
though, and with good reason. It mocks grand schemes, from workers'
paradises to New World Orders. Many have commented on the parallels
and neocons, including a shared disdain for history. Still, the
Leninists were never so brazen about it. In theory, at least,
history was on their side: the past they took from Marx was supposed
to blossom as their vindication. Rare is the Marxist who can't
blather on and on about historical
materialism, but the
neocons look backwards with a sneer. They seem to have achieved
Zero when the ink dried on National Review's first
issue. If it came before Buckley, it didn't happen a strange
sort of conservatism, indeed.
don't expect the hawks with the possible exception of Donald Rumsfeld,
their resident art
historian to know this, but hatred for the past is nothing
new. Naturally, it grows fat on war. The militarism of the early
20th century, for instance, spawned Futurism,
an anti-historical art movement. Its leader, the poet Filippo
Marinetti, blamed the veneration of artifacts for his nation's
decline as a world power. Italy had been stifled, not inspired,
by its patrimony. Classical and Renaissance masters could not
be surpassed, which made them a cultural burden. More importantly,
from a political standpoint, the collapse of Rome taught all the
wrong lessons about power.
will glorify war the world's only hygiene militarism, patriotism,
the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth
dying for, and scorn for woman. . . .
on! Set fire to the library shelves! Turn aside the canals to
flood the museums!"
Foundation of Futurism," 1909
Poetic indulgence? None here. Marinetti was an early supporter
of Fascism, and eventually sat in il Duce's government. Notice
his use of the word "patriotism," which ostensibly links
a nation to its past. If the past is erased, then patriotism becomes
a commitment to the future, or, more accurately, the whims of
visionaries. In American terms: never mind Washington and Jefferson,
patriotism means Perle
the neocons can't smash the statues of the Founders. That wouldn't
play well in Bush
country. So they polish the symbols with one hand and subvert
their meanings with the other. This tactic comes from another
art movement, one born
of the world's first death-for-democracy scam. As the Dadaist
put it in 1918, with unusual clarity, "The slaughter over,
we are left the hope of a purified humanity." Dada took satisfaction
in war's assault on reason and order. Instead of literal violence,
Dadaists vandalized meaning and intelligibility, especially through
the use of "ready-mades" and "found objects."
Duchamp argued that anything one chooses to call art is one's
own creation. When he purchased a urinal
value mattered as much to Duchamp as it does to the Pentagon)
and displayed it in a gallery, unaltered, it became his original
work of art. So it is with the neoconservatives, right down to
their name. They happened upon a tradition whose values
are largely alien to their own and now they think they invented
it. That's how things work in Dadaland. Victor
Davis Hanson doesn't care who
said what in Thucydides: he who quotes it wrote it. Jonah
Goldberg thinks that if he chants "BurkeHayekBurkeHayekBurke"
often enough, it makes him the definitive voice on conservatism.
while the neos are content to merely distort our past, Iraq's
must be annihilated. It sheds too much light on the fate of empires.
Will the monuments we erect in Baghdad fare any better than Saddam's?
I doubt it. Nebuchadnezzar
of Akkad were once big shots, too. What's
left of them now?
~ Matt Barganier
Barganier works for an educational philanthropy in Baton Rouge,
LA. A late bloomer in his mid-twenties, he has only recently joined
the ranks of web punditry. He is an alumnus of Louisiana State
University and the University of Alabama.
4/14/03 – My
4/7/03 – Laughter
3/31/03 – Liberate
Guest Column from National Review
3/17/03 – An
Aural MOAB for the Middle East
3/10/03 – Woolsey's