Victor Davis Hanson

Modern liberals - fearful of offending non-Westerners - have almost become more like old-time conservatives in their "live and let live" politics and neo-isolationism.

In contrast, some conservatives have gradually drifted away from their past realpolitik and easy detente with illiberal regimes.

Such an about-face did not start with George Bush and his now maligned neo-con advisers. It was evident earlier with Ronald Reagan. He rejected detente with the Soviet Union and instead championed religious and political dissidents, calling for the end of, not tolerance of, the tyranny of the Soviet "evil empire."

Liberals, on the other hand, have embraced multiculturalism often in guilt and as a reaction against past purported Western chauvinism. We are not supposed to judge different religions and foreign cultures by imposing our own arbitrary standards of morality.

But the end result of multiculturalism in the real world is an insidious relativism. So Jimmy Carter turns a blind eye to Hamas' street executions. Gordon Brown fears offending radical Muslims, and Nancy Pelosi flies to embrace Syrian President and terrorist enabler Bashar al-Assad.

Conservatives more often believe in universal absolutes: Some things like authoritarianism are always worse; others like freedom are always better, regardless of cultural differences.

At home in a freewheeling, affluent society, such rigid consistency may seem reactionary, unimaginative and unrealistic. But, abroad, it can translate into something different, as more Western conservatives than liberals have supported such troublemaking champions of individual rights as former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky or the Somali-born former Dutch legislator Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Finally, there is the matter of tactics. Liberals believe more in universal redemption through nonviolence. Evil is not so much innate as it is a result of poverty, prejudice or some sort of oppression. Its antidote then should be education, understanding, dialogue and diplomacy. So don't give up on an Assad, demonize Islamists or isolate Hamas.

Conservatives are more likely to believe evil is elemental, so combating and isolating it is the necessary first step in protecting the weaker from harm.

Who, then, condemns religious fanaticism, terrorists and their illiberal state supporters in the Middle East? Not necessarily, as we would expect, contemporary liberals. Instead, they now more often rail about the Patriot Act at home than the jailing or killing of innocents in places like Damascus and Gaza.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.