"The war we fight today is more than a military conflict," said President Bush to the American Legion. "It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century."
But if the ideology of our enemy is "Islamofascism," what is the ideology of George W. Bush? According to James Montanye, writing in The Independent Review, it is "democratic fundamentalism." Montanye borrows Joseph Schumpeter's depiction of Marxism to describe it.
Like Marxism, he writes, democratic fundamentalism "presents, first, a system of ultimate ends that embody the meaning of life and are absolute standards by which to judge events and actions; and, secondly, a guide to those ends which implies a plan of salvation and the indication of the evil from which mankind, or a chosen section of mankind, is to be saved. ... It belongs to that subgroup (of 'isms') which promises paradise this side of the grave."
Ideology is substitute religion, and Bush's beliefs were on display in his address to the Legion, where he painted the "decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century" in terms of good and evil.
"On the one side are those who believe in the values of freedom ... the right of all people to speak, and worship, and live in liberty. And on the other side are those driven by the values of tyranny and extremism, the right of a self-appointed few to impose their fanatical views on all the rest."
Casting one's cause in such terms can be effective in wartime. In his Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural, Lincoln converted a war to crush Southern secession into a crusade to end slavery and save democracy on earth.
Wilson recast a European war of imperial powers as a " war to end war" and "make the world safe for democracy." FDR and Churchill in the Atlantic Charter talked of securing "the Four Freedoms," but were soon colluding to hand over Eastern Europe to the worst tyrant and mass murderer of the 20th century.
The peril of ideology is that it rarely comports with reality and is contradicted by history, thus leading inevitably to disillusionment and tragedy. Consider but a few of the assertions in Bush's address.
Said Bush, we know by "history and logic" that "promoting democracy is the surest way to build security." But history and logic teach, rather, what George Washington taught: The best way to preserve peace is to be prepared for war and to stay out of wars that are none of the nation's business.