The Corner

With us Or Against Us?

Several readers ask if I can reconcile this line from my post earlier “He takes the positions of zealots of all stripes that if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem” with Bush’s famous declaration that “if you’re not with us you’re against us.”

I really don’t see much of a conflict here. If I remember correctly, Bush was speaking in the context of international relations, specifically in regard to foreign governments giving aid and comfort to al Qaeda. It’s an odd Wilsonian trope that runs through American thought that we automatically translate foreign policy statements to personal and domestic politics. How many people think “self-determination” is a doctrine of personal authenticity rather than a prescription for, say, Czechoslovakia? Ted Turner, I saw recently, lamented that he wasn’t sure whether he was for us or against us when Bush said that. Leaving aside Turner’s studied asininity, this was obtusely arrogant; nobody was talking to Turner. There’s really a big difference between what we do and say in the international realm and what we do at home. The State is supposed to protect the Liberal order within our borders, which can require doing illiberal things abroad, like killing people on sight during a war. In short, it’s a category error to confuse Bush’s statement about the actions of foreign governments with the movement politics stuff we hear from environmentalists, gay activists etc when they say “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” If thought Bush was speaking for domestic consumption, I’d have a problem with that.

Secondly, I should add that I do think that sometimes the logic of “if you’re not part of the solution…” can be legitimately applied to reality. But these times are few and far between, marked by extreme polarization and politicization. In other words, extreme times can make extremist sentiments applicable. The American Revolution was surely such a moment, when people had to decide whose side they were on. The fight to end slavery was another. The fight against Jim Crow was probably another. Some conservatives believe the fight against Communism was one. And some people believe the fight for gay marriage is one. I don’t. And I think those who are trying to make it one, are making a real mistake.

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