The Once and Future Republic
Is America beginning again or coming to the end of the road?
October 12, 2010 - 12:00 am
Sitting here comfortably in my Canadian living room and observing what is going on south of the border is like watching an Xtreme Fighting match for the championship of the world on a giant liquid plasma screen. American politics is high entertainment for those at a prophylactic distance and is crucially different from the bland predictability we are accustomed to here: a decent Conservative government prone to foot-in-mouth disease; Liberals slavering for power with a university intellectual who spent over thirty years out of the country as its leader; a socialist rump called the New Democratic Party playing the role of electoral spoiler; an absurd Green Party whose shrill clangor is in inverse ratio to its parliamentary silence, since it cannot boast a single representative; and the Bloc Québécois agitating for Quebec independence but raking in copacetic salaries and collecting sumptuous pension benefits, courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer.
Of course, the stakes are immeasurably higher in the U.S., a country struggling for its very soul and teetering on the edge of economic and political meltdown. The “culture wars” between left and right, traditionalists and post-modernists, individualists and statists, are common to every Western nation, but in America the outcome of these wars will determine the fate not only of the country but of the entire Western world. Like it or not, how it goes with America is how it goes with the rest of us.
Europe, as many believe, is almost, if not already, lost. Following the self-inflicted devastation of two world wars in which it depleted its generational stock and sacrificed its brightest minds, Europe has gradually become a geopolitical memory. It could no more resist the Islamic onslaught that is demographically absorbing the continent than it could prevent itself from returning to its authoritarian past in the form of an unelected transnational bureaucracy operating out of the Berlaymont Building, meddling in the public life of member states along the entire range of intrusiveness from imposing quantitative restrictions on imports to passing advisory laws governing swimming pools. Britain is the hollow shell of a once great imperial hegemon, studded with mosques and vulnerable to shariah creep, reduced to a condition of plebeian boorishness (as a recent police report affirms and as Theodore Dalrymple mourns in The New Vichy Syndrome), minus the slightest vestige of national pride and vigor — in short, a country whose prime minister takes paternity leave. As for the Commonwealth outliers like Canada and Australia, nothing much of consuming significance happens there or can impact the larger political theater in any pivotal way.
The fact is that the remnant Lilliputian West has long depended on the Brobdingnagian stature and power of the United States to ensure its solvency, security, and ultimate survival. Absent the United States, what we like to call Western civilization would long ago have become a diorama in the vast Museum of History to pique the interest, perhaps, of Chinese high school excursions. And this is why, naturally, everybody loves to hate Americans, those “ignorant cowboys” and “loud vulgarians” whom Europeans affected to look down upon, those “rude mechanicals” that a vanishing breed of Brit, remembering Shakespeare, might have thought, those presumably aggressive conquistadors that so many Canadians, especially under the tutelage of former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, smugly enjoyed dismissing as irredeemable barbarians and moral inferiors.
Envy and resentment of this sprawling and robust — and necessary — giant among the nations were the motivating factors. For without the brawny presence of the United States in the Hobbesian jungle of world politics, neither Europe, Britain, nor the former Commonwealth dominions, as I have argued, could have defended their Enlightenment heritage or relied upon their own feeble military resources to guarantee their longevity. Gratitude, however, does not come easily. Contempt and self-infatuation are far more attractive emotional reactions for the parochial accessories of the grand historical drama. All those in the West who picket American embassies, deplore American ambition, write anti-American articles, columns, editorials and books, and cry “Down with America” are precisely the sycophantic beneficiaries of American strength and munificence.
Be careful what you wish for, as the old adage has it. Europe, for example, responded with unadulterated joy to the election of a statist, far left American president who apologized for American exceptionalism, adopted the socialist model of governance, pledged to reduce military expenditures, and brought his country to the brink of bankruptcy. Europeans did not realize — or did not want to acknowledge — that their “advanced” socialist experiment in welfare governance depended in large part upon American military spending for the continent’s defense, which permitted a liberated fiscal surplus to be invested in social programs, early retirement benefits, and a cradle-to-grave security network.