In his recent syndicated column “A U.N. for the good guys,” Jonah Goldberg evokes the mindset of seventeenth-century puritanism. This is entirely understandable. Much of what the American left teaches, including its neoconservative element, resembles American Calvinism—albeit in a warmed-over form. In Puritan New England, Congregationalists—the only authorized communicants—were deeply troubled that unredeemed polluted their assemblies. Those who considered themselves visible saints were forced to break bread with those who could not properly prove their divine election. This led to a sectarian split that resulted in Rhode Island’s settlement by breakaway Calvinists disgusted by the toleration of impure religious assemblies in Massachusetts. This determined group of dissenters formed a purified congregation of the saints
In a similar way Jonah is looking for pure souls. He is agitated that Russia and China would not vote for “a fairly toothless U.N. resolution condemning the regime in Syria and calling for President Bashar Assad, the lipless murderer who runs the place, to step down.” Jonah points to a terrible spiritual defect in the governments that opposed the resolution. To him it is an outrage that the UN Security Council assigns seats to countries “because they are powerful, not because they are decent, wise or democratic.” This stems from what Jonah says is a “category error”: “There is nothing in the UN Charter…that says a government has to be democratic or even care for the welfare of its people.” The UN does something even more grievous from the neoconservative standpoint: It serves as a “counterweight to the United States” and allows morally reprehensible countries to thumb their noses at America..
Although Jonah holds back on the idea of “getting rid of the UN” completely, he says it may be possible to create a “league, or concert, of democracies” under American ideological leadership. Here the pure of heart would be able to assemble and act in concert because “good nations want to see good things done.”
A permanent global clubhouse for democracies based on shared principles would make aiding growing movements easier and offer a nice incentive for nations to earn membership in a club with loftier standards than mere existence.
Has it ever dawned on Goldberg that not all nation-states have identical interests? Some of them vote against the American government or our establishment media because they are pursuing their self-interest, at least as they perceive it. In Syria’s case, as Taki astutely points out, the Sunnis’ supporters, led by the very undemocratic Saudi Arabia, are inciting an overthrow of the present Shiite-friendly regime. Whatever replaces that government is not likely to be any nicer than what it supplants, just as Mubarak’s ousting has not led to a surge of democratic liberties in Cairo. We are talking here not about a return to Edenic purity, but about a circulation of elites. The Chinese and Russians have opted for Syria’s Alawi rulers, who depend on their Iranian connection. This leadership is being opposed by the surrogates of the Saudis and other Sunni militants, who are trying to take power from Assad.
Will any deviations be allowed? How long will dissenting members be indulged before they get booted? How closely will membership candidates have to approximate the current American regime before they are let in? Will applicants have to grant women the right to vote, and will they have to enforce what now passes for racial equality?
If such criteria are to be applied, then until recently the US would have been blackballed under its current standards. Women did not achieve national suffrage until 1920, and blacks were denied the vote in some areas until the mid-1960s. What about such democratic blessings as gay marriage? I gather they are now integral parts of our democracy, so we should insist that our cohorts introduce them as well. Will applicants be expected to protect intellectual and religious freedom within their borders—principles that our journalists complain are lacking in China and other bad places? If such freedom is to be the rule, then all Western countries that enforce political correctness against conservative Christians and arrest scholars for expressing criminalized positions will have to be excluded. But it may be such not-very-libertarian Western “liberal democracies” as Canada that Jonah would enlist for his league of “good nations.”
It is doubtful that he would judge their deficient liberty in the same way as he would judge, say, Turkey or Russia. Apparently, arresting people for questioning the Holocaust or for sermonizing about the prohibition against homosexuality in Leviticus is not the same as punishing those who blaspheme the Koran.
I noticed this double standard in looking at recent ratings regarding which countries are “free” according to the less-than-unbiased monitoring organization Freedom House. Turkey, which discourages discussions of the massacre of Armenians during World War I, was rated low for suppressing intellectual dissent. But France, which has criminalized any denial of the “Armenian genocide” and other historical events, received comparatively high ratings for intellectual freedom. What I learned from such strange ratings is that it’s OK to curtail liberties only for what Western progressives want to suppress.
But Goldberg’s “nice incentives” for moral inclusion may never reach such complexity. All that may be required for membership in his club is that a nation votes in the manner he deems appropriate.
In the meantime Jonah has a problem. He can’t seem to get the entire world onboard for what he wishes to see universally enacted. Our world is simply too damned complicated for his latter-day puritanical imagination.
Dr. Paul Gottfried is a Distinguished Senior Fellow in Western Civilization and History of Ideas at the Inter-American Institute.
Originally published at takimag.com on February 16, 2012.
The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.