[This review was published in the Summer 2008 issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp. 278-280.]

 

Book Review 

 

Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology, and Greed are Tearing America Apart

Patrick J. Buchanan

St. Martin’s Press, 2007 

 

            We have often reviewed Patrick J. Buchanan’s books in these pages.  In our opinion, he is one of the more profound commentators on the complex of problems that bedevil the United States.  He was three times a candidate for president of the United States; this is his ninth book; and he is a prominent participant in public affairs shows on television.  It has been no surprise to us that he did not succeed in his quest for the presidency, since it is not to be supposed that candor and perspicacity (as distinct from a mere appearance of those qualities) mix well with the need to satisfy multiple constituencies that is essential to political success.

            This book brings together in one place the major themes of Buchanan’s previous volumes.  In two books, The Death of the West and State of Emergency, he examined the demographic challenge to Europe and America posed by the combination of below-reproduction birth rates and massive Third World immigration.  In A Republic, Not an Empire, he flew directly in the face of the conventional wisdom that has for the most part prevailed in the United States since as far back as 1898, that America should intervene globally to rectify the world’s wrongs.  In The Great Betrayal, he reasserted the traditional American position favoring protection of American jobs and industry, arguing that the ideology of free trade (and unbridled greed) in the context of today’s globalization is leading to a hollowing-out of the American economy.  Now, in Day of Reckoning, he examines all three together.

            That he is doing so won’t necessarily be immediately apparent. The issues are spread over eight chapters, which flow along as if they were a series of articles (which they may have been); and although each subject receives ample discussion in itself, the book isn’t structured into compartments to demarcate clearly the issues from each other.  It is a good introduction to his thought (or, more appropriately, a summation), but those who wish most seriously to study the issues he raises will want to read the earlier books we’ve mentioned.

            Even though Day of Reckoning is a revisiting of important subjects Buchanan has explored before, it is not lacking in provocative new ideas.  These offer much grist for thought on matters that, in themselves, might well prove explosive.  The issues deserve more exploration than this reviewer has given them, but Buchanan’s insights are worth noting.  They add to the conventional discussion of American policy toward Taiwan, Iran and North Korea:            

            The George W. Bush administration has taken a strongly confrontational position vis a vis Iran.  What Buchanan has to say will surprise many.  He describes what Iran itself seeks, and what the United States wants from Iran, and then reports that “it is said that,[1] in 2003, after the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Tehran made, through the Swiss embassy, an offer to negotiate with the United States just such a ‘grand bargain’” [granting what each side was seeking].  Buchanan quotes the editor of UPI about the Iranians’ offer: “The bargain, as spelled out by the Iranians, offered to accept a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, to rein in Iranian support for what the United States considered terrorist groups, cooperation with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan and against al-Quida, and to join a comprehensive security agreement with the countries of the Persian Gulf.  This would include an agreement to exclude nuclear weapons… In return, Iran wanted full diplomatic recognition from the United States, along with a suspension of U.S. sanctions and an agreement to drop plans for regime change.” The U.S. response? “Dick Cheney and the neocons vetoed it.”  For his part, Buchanan says “such a bargain looks good today, especially if it included an Iranian agreement to renounce nuclear weapons and allow inspection of all nuclear facilities.” 

            Taiwan and South Korea are each flashpoints for possible future war.  For many years, the United States has served as the guarantor of both—and it may well be an atavism from the now long-past confrontation between the United States and world Communism that successive American governments continue their military commitment to each.  In keeping with his overall view that under the present circumstances the United States should not undertake to be the policeman of the world, Buchanan would have the United States call a halt to each commitment.  “We cannot be committed forever to go to war to prevent Taiwan from assuming the status of Hong Kong.”  With regard to South Korea, he argues that “half a century after the first Korean War, there is no reason U.S. troops should be the first to die in a second.  North Korea is no longer a frontier province of Stalin’s empire.  Any new conflict would be a Korean civil war in which no vital U.S. interest would be imperiled.”  He points out that “South Korea has forty times the economy of the North and twice the population.”

            For readers who like to examine critically the many shibboleths that can lead a country to disaster, Buchanan offers a provocative smorgasbord in his chapter on “The Gospel of George Bush.”  He takes ideas contained in each of President George W. Bush’s main speeches, and parses them for their truth-value.  One is the statement that Bush made at West Point that “moral truth is the same in every culture, in every time, and in every place.”  Buchanan says “transparently, this is untrue… Behind the clash of civilizations lies a clash of beliefs about moral truth.  Do we not ourselves disagree, vehemently, on the morality of capital punishment, assisted suicide, premarital sex, pornography, abortion, homosexuality, war, drug use, gambling?”

            Bush told the cadets “the requirements of freedom apply fully… to the entire Islamic world,” but Buchanan points out that “Muslims see Western tolerance of all faiths as indifference to all.  To serious Muslims, religion is a deadly serious matter.”  He adds: “Imagine the reaction among Americans if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, in defiant echo of President Bush, declared from the rostrum of the United Nations: ‘The requirements of Islam apply fully to the entire Western world.’”

            Whereas Bush generalizes that “successful societies limit the power of the state and the power of the military—so that governments respond to the will of the people, and not the will of an elite,” Buchanan asks whether it is not true that fifth-century Athens, the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire were “successful societies.”  And when Bush says “successful societies… recognize the rights of women,” Buchanan inquires: “Has there ever been a greater example of hubris by a president than to lay down the ‘essential principles for successful societies’ and cast into outer darkness every society that does not resemble America after we ratified the Nineteenth Amendment and enlisted in the feminist revolution?”  The chapter goes through many statements such as those cited here, doing much to clear away mental cobwebs.

            Buchanan doesn’t mention it, but one thing that strikes us about Bush’s universalist pretension is how totally it clashes with the “multiculturalism” that is de rigueur in today’s conventional thinking in the United States.  So far as we know, there has been no public recognition of this contradiction.  It is almost certainly true that those who preach American universalism also preach multiculturalism—and do so without sensing any incongruity.

                                                                                                                      Dwight D. Murphey

                   


[1]  Buchanan bases his discussion on “it is said that.”   A reader will want something more solid.