Saturday, October 16, 2010

America's international order

Tom Barnett:

[S]o if India and China continue to rise peacefully, despite all the trappings of power that would suggest the high probability of conflict, then our system is much to be credited, because we're doing what the British colonial order was never able to accomplish--peacefully integrate rising great powers

"Our system" is of course America's liberal international order that we have been building and defending since WW2. This is one of America's great gifts to the world and one of the greatest civilizational achievements. It is common to point out Britain's empire as a precursor and that is true in a limited sense. The empire is a pre-modern organizational form and Britain's empire happened to coincide with a very unique liberal moment stretching from the 17th century to the early 20th century. This era was one of the most important in human history, and not only because the American Experiment was a spin-off from Britain's liberal empire. But the pre-modern empire was incompatible with modern liberalism. It was America's founders who created the the basic format for a modern liberal order: local rule in accordance with liberal principles operating within a larger system of liberal governance. It was only after WW2 with the collapse of the pre-modern imperial order and then in 1989 with the collapse of the competing socialist order that we began to see the extension of this liberal order internationally. There is no global government, but there is governance that is provided and enforced by the US and the institutions we have created. As other countries rise within this order we need to have an overall strategy for getting them to buy into the liberal international order so that their rise is compatible with and contributes to that order. The liberal international order is the realization of the American Experiment on a global scale. But for it to be successful other countries have to accept it as their own, which requires a persuasion campaign. Unfortunately America's anti-liberal left hates this order and the American right is trapped in a narrow national framework. Both ideologies work to delegitimize this uniquely American order and this is not good for the US or the world. The 21st century requires that we think with greater clarity.

Then and now

If you believed the political rhetoric on the right these days you'd be convinced that our country is teetering on the edge of a totalitarian abyss. It is true that our governments are deeply flawed and need to be reformed but we need to maintain our perspective.

Will Wilkinson

In the age of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, it was profoundly wise to vigilantly stand guard against any possible slide into collectivist totalitarianism. But now, almost 70 years later, it is abundantly clear that the prevailing sort of liberal-democratic welfare state has no general tendency toward tyranny. David Frum is right: we are not on the road to serfdom. 

In the name of reason and liberty

Classical liberalism is not necessarily what a lot of people (including myself at one point) think it is. Many of us have used some variation on "classical liberalism = today's conservatism and/or libertarianism". But is this really true? No. Liberalism in the 19th century was a far more complex political and ideological phenomena than we realize. In the post-WW2 era, the intellectuals who created the modern conservative and libertarian movements selected those 19th century thinkers that they thought would be useful in furthering their 20th century ideological goals. Also many who would recoil in disgust at the idea of "active government" nevertheless support a very active government when it comes to national security.

Daniel Larison:

[M]ost people who call themselves conservatives do not have a “dogmatic aversion to statism,” and when it comes to war and finance they are often defenders of an activist, centralized state. This actually makes a certain amount of sense, as most people who call themselves conservatives are, when you press them, essentially classical liberals, and classical liberals did not have a “dogmatic aversion to statism,” either. By comparison with their traditional conservative and monarchist foes in the 19th century, they were advocates for centralism and the expansion of the role of the state in the name of reason and liberty. Standardization, rationalization and uniformity in law and regulation were what most classical liberals prized, which is one reason why they tended to be strong nationalists hostile to the customs and privileges of regions and local parlements. The separation of modern strands of classical liberalism from nationalism (i.e., some forms of libertarianism) is a curious by-product of 20th century American politics, and I am guessing that this owes a great deal to influence of exiled liberals from central Europe on the evolution of these strands of American classical liberalism.