Friday, February 6, 2015

Andrew Sullivan Remembers the War

Andrew Sullivan, one of the original bloggers and more than anyone else the model for my own style, has announced his retirement from blogging. I am a bit sad about this, since it will leave a void in my online life. I keep thinking that given how many blogs and so on there are in the world, it ought to be easy to find many more that I like. But actually it is not easy at all. I have by this point spent hundreds of hours fruitlessly scouring the online world for the sort of insightful chatter I most enjoy. Instead I find mostly anger, whining, shallow humor, kittens, and insider or technical stuff. This more than anything else is the reason I keep going. If other people were posting the sort of things I enjoy, I would be happy to read their stuff, but since I can't find anything that approximates my own range of interests I have to assemble my own magazine here.

Anyway, looking back over his own blogging career Sullivan notes how much of it has been about the Iraq War:
When I look back on the stumbling, reversed, jagged path I found myself taking with you over the past decade, it is the war that looms largest. It showed me the callowness of neoconservative certainty – a certainty I drank as solace in the lost shadow of the two towers, the falling of which propelled this blog into a very public space. It showed me the wisdom of a deeper conservatism that should have recognized the utopianism of the Iraq folly from the get-go. It showed me the depth of human evil in the dark recesses of al Qaeda and Zarqawi and now ISIS. And it showed me that merely dramatically opposing this evil is not enough to stop it – and may even unwittingly embolden and strengthen it.

It robbed me of illusions – the first being that the United States never tortures prisoners.

It denied me any intellectual safe haven, as my delusions fell from my eyes in slow motion.

It revealed an ugly side to me, in the aftermath of 9/11, that I now see with revulsion and embarrassment.

It shook me out of moral complacency and shallow absolutes.
This is to me one of  the most important things about human life -- we have to keep growing and changing. Once when he was accused of flip-flopping, essayist Tony Judt said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?"

The bane of political life is people who settle on one set of beliefs and hold to them no matter what. For most of the past decade Sullivan has been waging war against people who refused to see that the militaristic policies they and he supported in the early 2000s had been a moral and practical disaster, who continued to support more wars and interventions (Syria, Libya, Yemen) despite failures that ought to have embarrassed them into silence. There are many other such stubborn fools, from the people who think tax cuts always increase economic growth to people who think more education will solve all our social problems. I think that these days most of them are on the right, which is why I find myself trending ever more leftward.

The world is constantly changing. If we wish to have any sort of wisdom, we must keep up. To do this without surrendering our core moral beliefs and core judgments is difficult, but that is the task that anyone with a mind is compelled to attempt.


Thomas said...

What he doesn't mention about that "certainty" is that it made him an absolute prick in support of the war. Lots of people are certain without being a jerk about it, but he was quick to question the patriotism of the people who argued against the war.

For this, Sullivan just never apologized enough. It's one thing to be wrong about the war. Bully for him. It was another to smear all who disagreed.

John said...

I think it's very important to forgive people who see the light, no matter how wrong they used to be. If you won't forgive them and accept them into the ranks of the virtuous then they have no place to go. And people with no other place to go will stick with their old friends, even if their hearts have changed.

I think we should always celebrate change for the better.