I used the occasion to draw spooky parallels between contemporary American interventionists and Medieval popes! Both could make geopolitical arguments on their behalf: the Crusades, after all, were a long-delayed counteroffensive against Arab jihads. But both promoted forms of “assertive multilateralism” on behalf of “regime change” in hopes of solidifying and sanctifying their home fronts while forcibly exporting their civilization. But pious intentions did not prevent the crusading knights from wreaking death, destruction, and havoc at ruinous cost, including collateral massacres of non-combatant Muslims, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Worse still, the Crusades became a self-perpetuating, transnational, political-economic system justified by “the revolutionary idea that Christendom had an intrinsic right to extend its sovereignty over all who did not recognize the rule of the Roman Church.” With high irony I suggested the audience substitute America for Church and Democracy for Christianity to imagine how our modern crusaders could spawn perpetual war for perpetual peace—like Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984—and exhaust their own countries in the process.

Walter A. McDougall Oy, okay, so most of that piece is annoying navel-gazing, self-congratulation and yammering about various factions in conservative ideology, which, if I never see the phrase “Burkean conservatism” ever again it will still be way too soon, and generally there’s no reason to read the whole thing. (I am restraining myself from just quoting the hilariously infuriating parts one by one, because I am A Good Person.) I’m quoting it for two reasons: one, it actually is a pretty good explanation of imperialism today (you guys I think I invented a magazine) in terms privileged people will understand and two, his wide-eyed wonderment at this idea.

You have to understand, he says that these views made him a “pariah” among conservatives. He also follows the above with, “Much of the audience gave my talk a standing ovation, but an angry minority did not. Some were devout Catholics who took offense that I would liken Urban II to the sleazy Clinton! The rest appeared to be earnest young Straussians in whose neoconservative Weltanschauung my Burkean conservatism was heresy.” OH MY GOD KILL ME, first of all, but the point is: this white guy comes up with this idea in freaking 1999 and then is surprised when some other white guys don’t like it, and oh sweetie it hurt his feelings. I mean. This is not a hard concept to grasp. Arabs, many poor, poorly educated Arabs as well as privileged ones, have been saying this FOR DECADES. And when they say it to a room full of white guys, they get a lot worse than Straussian Weltanschauung OH FOR THE LOVE OF LITTLE GREEN APPLES I CAN’T EVEN TYPE IT WITH A STRAIGHT FACE.

tl;dr: here, have a study in privilege with a side of a decent articulation of how history repeats itself. The Crusades still suck.

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