3.4.18

THE SOUND OF A SAECULAR ORDER FRACTURING.

Tom Nichols contemplates the Trump presidency, and enunciates his own vision for Restoring America's Greatness.
By electing Trump and tolerating [foreign policy gadfly John] Bolton, we have shown that we are not a nation that can be consistently trusted with the stewardship of the free world. It’s not that Trump, in the end, will collapse NATO, plunge us into a great depression, or start World War III — although with Bolton by his side he is capable of doing all of those things — but rather that the American voters have shown the world that we are capable of astonishing selfishness and petulance. We have abandoned our civic virtue not just at home but also overseas, and once lost, that position cannot be recovered.

Perhaps this is all too pessimistic. Americans have elected men of weak moral character and shallow political commitment to office before. But not when it mattered so much, and certainly not since the advent of the era in which the president of United States — the sole steward of an arsenal of weapons that can extinguish civilization itself — became the leader and protector not only of millions of his own citizens, but of the billions of others who rely on America as a friend and ally.

The most optimistic outcome is that decades from now, the memory of the Trump years fades away, and both we and the world look upon this period as an aberration, a kind of fever or temporary insanity from which we awoke just before we lost any possibility of an American restoration. But the damage is getting deeper by the day.

Healing it will take more than just electing a new president: It will require years of painful self-examination, and calling ourselves to account honestly and transparently. Only then will we begin to earn back the presumption of trust and leadership that was once one of our proudest achievements as a free nation.
That position of leadership came after a major war with regime changes in three other world powers, only after the use of the most destructive weapons the winners were capable of creating, and that leadership also required a clear-headed understanding of right and wrong, in order that the Soviet partner in that victory renounce its delusions of being on the right side of history.

Clear-headed understanding is something in short supply these days.

Consider John Hinderaker.  "Our common culture, the foundation of Western civilization, is under attack. Those who should be defending it in most cases are not. But more fatal in the long run is that our inheritance of millennia, Western culture, is being forgotten, lost in a rising tide of ignorance."  On one level, it's a further gripe about people who should know better mischaracterizing Easter, or the Trojan War.

Dig deeper, though, and he's seeing that the people who ought to be responsible stewards of that "trust and leadership" are using their power for their own benefit.  He's not alone.

Consider Brexit.
The free trade cause, whose defense a century ago drew tens of thousands to the streets, has been taken from the people’s hands and given to technocrats. Because free trade depended on popular representation in Parliament is why technocrats in undemocratic systems, from Brussels to Beijing, have tended to choose protectionism instead. In these systems, leaders keep subsidies and favors flowing to client groups who are protected by tariffs and regulation designed to favor incumbents—and from incumbents, these elites expect support. So it is free trade that reminds us that the building block of true internationalism is the democratic nation-state itself.

Because the mercantilist alternative keeps incumbents at the top and tends to prevent the emergence of innovative challenger firms, growth is reduced, which in a developed country is largely the fruit of innovation. In Britain, regional inequality also follows, as big corporates, disproportionately in the southeast of England, outflank smaller firms elsewhere. This limited freedom and stalled prosperity has become the status quo.

So Brexit has arrived at a critical time. Global economic output has slowed and trade as a share of GDP has fallen. It is not inevitable that the world’s wealth will keep growing: we forget at our peril that poverty typifies the human experience. Through the span of human history, very few states have achieved any economic growth. Prosperity is only achieved following specific choices, which need urgently to be re-made. This means choosing a self-governing, free, and free-trading state, setting rules and regulations ourselves. If Britain, and other Western countries, do not find the confidence to do this, they will lapse back into the normal state of mankind: prosperity only for elites, who maintain their grip by curtailing freedoms.
That's Radomir Tylecote, for the Foundation for Economic Education, which skews libertarian, and he's predictably no friend of the Wise Experts and their Fatal Conceits, and what he writes about the southeast of England might apply to the Acela Corridor and parts of California in the United States, and perhaps the Lake Ontario coast in Canada.  But for Illinois's stupid tax policies and corrupt politics, it might be true here.

One example, however, is not a proof.  Let us operate inductively.  Consider National Review's Fred Bauer.
However we want to classify the overall geopolitical constellation (as “liberal world order” or something else), it seems as though many existing international institutions, understandings, and affinities are being strained. Likewise, outsider political movements are sweeping though the body politic of nations on both sides of the Atlantic. This has, in turn, produced a counterreaction among many of those who view themselves as the natural heirs to power and influence. It’s easy to view the rise of these deplorable outsiders as the prime threat to the “liberal world order,” but we might also ask how much the decisions of the political establishments (especially after 1992) have contributed to the very strains this order faces.
Over the years, I've called out Utopian Wonkery and the Social Engineering Vice.  You could have engaged me on the logic, back in the day, or you can deal with the evidence now.
One of the great ironies of the time is that it has been supposed defenders of the “liberal world order” who have undermined this very order. For instance, Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy has done far more than “alt-right” social-media memes to disrupt the integrity of the European Union and inflame populist sentiments in Europe. The increasing extremism of the neoliberal consensus on trade, immigration, and finance has further undermined the stability of domestic politics.

In the United States and other countries, resistance to and dissatisfaction with some of the tendencies of neoliberalism have been obvious, yet policymakers have been slow to adapt. In the 2000–2016 period, the U.S. witnessed economic stagnation, foreign-policy debacles, a financial meltdown, and a host of administrative catastrophes. Wave election followed wave election as the public swung in dissatisfaction from one political party to the next. All these trends were clarion cries for substantive reform to reignite a common prosperity and reinforce civic fellowship. All too often, though, Republicans fell victim to a taker-versus-maker austerity politics; for their part, Democrats often succumbed to the siren song of “woke” identity politics, which inflames tensions among identity groups.
That's not of itself reason to rethink the international institutions or the authority of Expertise, Mr Bauer writing in National Review and presumably understanding that long-standing institutions "should not be changed for light and transient causes."
The international system developed by the United States and others has done considerable good over the past 70 years. World poverty has dropped, and “hot” war between great powers has been avoided. While exerting considerable energies to defend this system, the United States has also benefited from it. However, preserving the gains of this system might require moderating some of the utopian impulses of neoliberalism, recognizing the limits of the technocratic class, and acknowledging the importance of place and culture.

Part of this process of moderation and reform would probably involve recognizing the legitimacy of sovereignty, which Haass notes is one of the founding principles of the “liberal world order.” A true understanding of sovereignty would admit that a nation’s people have a right to sustain a certain vision for their society and to organize their politics and culture in a certain way. Thus, the project of reform might entail not so much abandoning the principles of a “liberal world order” as recovering those principles and applying them in a more imaginative way.

If the best parts of the international order are to be preserved, responsiveness might need to take the place of rigidity, and hauteur might need to give way to humility.
Yes, although what value is there in that Ivy League degree and those Davos credentials if you don't have a license to hector or condescend?

Continuing the induction, what does it say when the People's Action Blog responds to what reads like a lament for the troubles of the current saecular order with many of the same points Mr Bauer raises?
Those outcomes have not only been economic. [Council on Foreign Relations president Richard] Haass correctly points out that the postwar order has prevented another global conflagration on the scale of World Wars I and II. But the liberal world order, we are told, was to be based on the rule of law and respect for countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. Human rights were to be protected.”

Adds Haass: “All this was to be applied to the entire planet.”

And yet, under the “liberal world order,” labor leaders are slaughtered with impunity in Ecuador. The U.S. was complicit, and other developed nations were indifferent, when the Indonesian dictator Suharto terrorized and murdered as many as a million in his country. The brutal exploitation of slave labor in Malaysia was downplayed in an unsuccessful attempt to pass another trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The United States is, as Haass reminds us, “the principal architect of the liberal world order and its principal backer.” It was also, as Haass notes, “a principal beneficiary” of that order. But the real “beneficiaries” were frequently those wealthy and powerful interests who profited from its trade deals and military expenditures.

The U.S.’s role as “principal architect” of the world order didn’t prevent it from engaging in some very disordered wars, especially in Vietnam and Iraq, where its military intervention triggered the ongoing Middle Eastern conflicts that Haass chalks up to “regional disorder.”
Taken together, it's a nice arrangement for the Acela Corridor set, the southeast of England, and the regulars at Davos.
The “liberal world order” hasn’t helped competing nations get along. It has helped a small number of people, representing powerful interests in competing nations, work for their shared self-interest. It has permitted an international system of tax havens that undercuts national sovereignty and accelerates wealth inequality. And it has left most other people behind.

Complaints like these often sound tendentious and preachy to the people who lead our global system of finance and diplomacy. But the lived reality of the world’s majority contradicts the perceptions of the influential few. If they are concerned with the future of the order they have built, they will need to confront that broader reality.
When voices left, libertarian, and right raise similar objections to an established order, might that order be in trouble.

That voices left, libertarian, and right see different ways to replace that order, suggest troubling times might be ahead.

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