Posted by: Lister | September 18, 2007

How many neocons does it take to change a light bulb?

The answer: Neocons don’t change light bulbs, they declare war on evil and set the house on fire. Such was Tomdispatch’s introduction to a discussion of American fundamentalism.

James Carroll: Well, embedded in that joke is a central idea: that what matters is not outcome, but purity of intent. A mark of a fundamentalist mindset is that one’s own personal virtue is the ultimate value. The American fundamentalist ethos of the Cold War prepared us to destroy the world. In other words, a world absolutely devastated through nuclear war was acceptable as an outcome because it reflected the virtue of our opposition to the evil of communism. Better dead than red.

[…] Better the world destroyed than taken over by communism. It’s profoundly nihilistic, which is also one of the marks of the fundamentalist mindset. An irony, of course, is that so much, then and now, is done in the name of realism, but this is such a profoundly unrealistic way of thinking.

And a discussion of fundamentalism follows. You should read it all. I quote the next bit because I don’t want to forget it.

The point here is that the initial city-on-a-hill impulse has never stopped being part of our self-understanding — the idea of America as having a mission to the world or, in biblical terms, a mission to the gentiles. “Go forth and teach all nations,” Jesus commands. This commission is implicit in George Bush’s war to establish democracy — or “freedom” — everywhere. When Americans talk about freedom, it’s our secular code word for salvation. There’s no salvation outside the church; there’s no freedom outside the American way of life.

[…] Think of that phrase — “manifest destiny.” A key doctrine in what I am calling American fundamentalism. It remains an inch below the surface of the American belief system. What’s interesting is that this sense of special mission cuts across the spectrum — right wing/left wing, liberals/conservatives — because generally the liberal argument against government policies since World War II is that our wars — Vietnam then, Iraq now — represent an egregious failure to live up to America’s true calling. We’re better than this. Even antiwar critics, who begin to bang the drum, do it by appealing to an exceptional American missionizing impulse. You don’t get the sense, even from most liberals, that — no, America is a nation like other nations and we’re going to screw things up the way other nations do.

James Carroll’s website



  1. I live overseas. I defend the American way of life every chance I get. At least I try to. I just went back to the states for two weeks and now I’m frustrated. I try and tell all my friends abroad that Americans aren’t so close-minded and arogant as the politicians they see on the news. But I go home and I hear “well, we’re the best country in the world” and “all Muslims are terrorists.” This is coming from people who don’t have passports or have never even met a Muslim. “There’s no freedom outside the American way of life.” Such a sad statement. And they really believe it, too. 😦

  2. It’s the concept that “they hate us for our freedom” that really confuses me. It works the same in religion — the idea that “they” don’t want the salvation that’s on offer.

  3. Seriously! I’ve never wanted to be thought of as one of those “softies” that thinks we should psychoanalyze terrorists instead of wage war on them, but I don’t think people are going to attack us because they are jealous of our constitutional rights.

    I mean, maybe we should be looking at why they really have a problem with us. Maybe we can solve that problem before it goes to violence. I don’t know, they might be rational people. Although, you throw religion into the mix and most rationale goes out the window. I guess I can’t say. I’ve never had a conversation with an “extremist”.

  4. Neoconservatism is a kinder gentler Naziism.
    If Jesus is GW Bush’s favorate philosopher it is only because doing the opposite of what Jesus taught feels so right for Dubya.

    Jesus said to turn the other cheek. Dubya makes preemptive strikes based on lies.

    Jesus said to help the poor . Dubya gives tax cuts to the rich.

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