Man of the World
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Any discussion of America and human rights must begin with the recognition that this country was created in a revolutionary period and that the democratic revolution -- of which America is but one element -- is, by its nature and of necessity, universal," Ledeen declared. ". . . It is crucial for us to remember that the 18th-century revolutionaries and statesmen who created this country recognized that it is impossible for [democracy] to flourish if it is limited to a small corner of the world. The revolution, in other words, must be exported."
These themes resonated in the 1980s, when many one-time members of the SDUSA (including Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Carl Gershman, current president of the National Endowment for Democracy) allied themselves with the Reagan administration. The call for the United States to be at the forefront of a global crusade to spread democracy became one of the defining features of neoconservative ideology, a heady brew of American nationalism and an internationalist crusade for democracy that transcended traditional left-right divisions.
But there is another, less ringing, strain in Ledeen's thinking. "To be an effective leader, the most prudent method is to ensure that your people are afraid of you," Ledeen wrote in "Machiavelli on Modern Leadership." "To instill that fear, you must demonstrate that those who attack you will not survive."
Ledeen is especially contemptuous of leaders he regards as weak and corrupt, such as Bill Clinton. In a 1999 article in the scholarly journal Society, he warned of dire consequences if Clinton were not impeached. "New leaders with an iron will are required to root out the corruption and either reestablish a virtuous state, or to institute a new one. . .," he wrote. "If we bask in false security and drop our guard, the rot spreads, corrupting the entire society. Once that happens, only violent and extremely unpleasant methods can bring us back to virtue."
In a March 2003 speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Ledeen dismissed worries that the American public would lose heart if there were too many casualties in the then-imminent Iraq war. "All the great scholars who have studied American character have come to the conclusion that we are a warlike people and that we love war. . .," Ledeen declared. "What we hate is not casualties but losing."
The Ledeen enigma -- extolling democracy while calling for iron political discipline -- can be traced back to what he has called "the usual Machiavellian paradox: Compulsion -- or necessity, as he terms it -- makes men noble, and enables them to remain free, while abundant choice is dangerous, leads to chaos, and leaves men at the mercy of their enemies." Ledeen fears that some elements of society have forgotten the virtue of such compulsion. "The generals, the businessmen, and the athletic coaches know this, but the political leaders and journalists often forget it."
Ledeen, however, claims his own politics are perfectly mainstream. "I think of myself as a fairly typical American," he claimed in the e-mail interview. "I hate tyranny, and I dread mass movements because they often produce the worst sort of tyrannies, the ones that genuinely inspire passionate followers. I love freedom and clearly have a strong anarchist streak, which I come by honestly. My uncle Izzy Brody was a Russian anarchist who came to America in search of freedom, and found it."
Jeet Heer is a regular contributor to the National Post of Canada and the Globe. Dave Wagner's latest book is "Hide in Plain Sight," a history of the Hollywood blacklist.
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