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Conservatives Leninists and the War on Terror

One long-standing hallmark of Western conservative thought is the emphasis on the rule of law.  Earlier generations of conservatives understood that, without such constraints, liberty would be imperiled and a free society would ultimately descend into tyranny.  As Lord Acton observed, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Even during the 20th century, most conservatives were wary of unfettered pragmatism, and they viewed with horror the assertion of Vladimir Lenin and his communist followers that the end justifies the means.  To the contrary, conservatives stressed that even when the goals were worthy, the use of unconstitutional, illegal, or immoral means was not justified.

In recent years, though, a troubling number of prominent figures on the political right have seemingly abandoned that standard, especially with respect to national-security issues.  Instead, their sole guiding principle appears to be whether an initiative “works”—in the sense of producing the desired result.  Whether that initiative violates fundamental constitutional or moral standards is seen as irrelevant and, frankly, a somewhat quaint consideration.  By embracing ruthless pragmatism, these individuals come perilously close to being conservative Leninists.

Signs of such attitudes began to surface during the Cold War, and they were among the reasons why I left Young Americans...

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