Playfully confronting the surprises

by Henry Farrell on October 7, 2007

Scott Lemieux reads my Brooks-Burke-Oakeshott-Bush piece, and “raises me one“, by finding this “astonishing outpouring” from Brooks’ 2003 archive.

Oakeshott was epistemologically modest. … But the fog didn’t make Oakeshott timid. He believed we should cope with the complex reality around us by adventuring out into the world, by playfully confronting the surprises and the unpredictability of it all. … We can’t know how Oakeshott would have judged the decision to go to war in Iraq, but it is impossible not to see the warnings entailed in his writings. … I try to reply to these warnings. I concede that government should be limited, prudent and conservative, but only when there is something decent to conserve. Saddam sent Iraqi society spinning off so violently, prudence became imprudent. … Because of that legacy, we stink at social engineering. Our government couldn’t even come up with a plan for postwar Iraq — thank goodness, too, because any ”plan” hatched by technocrats in Washington would have been unfit for Iraqi reality. I tell Oakeshott that the Americans and Iraqis are now involved in an Oakeshottian enterprise. They are muddling through, devising shambolic, ad hoc solutions, and learning through bumbling experience. In the building of free societies, every day feels like a mess, but every year is a step forward.

I fold. This has to be one of the most deeply and offensively stupid op-ed columns I’ve ever read. I don’t know whether even at the time Brooks was able to convince himself that these claims were true; they read to me as a self-consciously weak effort to cover up for a disaster in the making. As Scott says,

The Iraq War is a case in which Burkean conservatism (or its Foucauldian variants) has a great deal of wisdom to offer, and it’s advice is “it was an extraordinarily stupid idea.” That Brooks tried to turn this theoretical line into a _defense_ of the war tells you what you need to about him.