The second derivative

The New York Times has a nightmare. "A specter is haunting Europe — the specter of Socialism’s slow collapse." And yet the denial continues. Socialism's weakness is all because those damned right wing parties have learned how to be human from the Left. An NYT source says that the Left has been weakened by its very success:

Europe’s conservatives, says Michel Winock, a historian at the Paris Institut d’Études Politiques, “have adapted themselves to modernity.” When Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Germany’s Angela Merkel condemn the excesses of the “Anglo-Saxon model” of capitalism while praising the protective power of the state, they are using Socialist ideas that have become mainstream, he said.

It is not that the left is irrelevant — it often represents the only viable opposition to established governments, and so benefits, as in the United States, from the normal cycle of electoral politics.

But Robert Smith at American Thinker believes that the left is in real crisis, facing not a temporary electoral setback in Europe but an existential crisis; that it is self-destructing at such a rate that the very swiftness of its collapse threatens to be a catastrophe in its own right.

Less than a year into his presidency, Barack Obama's world grows bleaker. Liberalism's world is bleaker. At home and abroad, liberalism, as advanced by the President, is failing. Are we witnessing the beginnings of another historic event, loosely comparable to the fall of communism twenty years ago? Now the fall of liberalism? ... Overseas, the nation's enemies, who only a short time ago feared us, now scheme to overtly or surreptitiously challenge us. Our allies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, some of whom resent our power, must confront an ugly question: What happens in a world absent sufficient projections of American power?

Smith isn't alone in worrying about the frenetic pace at which events are moving.  And it is not the change but the rate at which it is accelerating that really raises concerns. Some months ago it became evident that blunders were piling on so fast, and they were of such enormity that they fed each other, like a patient facing multiple organ failure. The Left was self-medicating itself so catastrophically, and smashing up so many things so quickly that there simply wasn't enough outrage in the world to even keep track of it. Like a vast wave toppling over, the very weight of its accumulated blunders has reduced everyone -- including its cadres and the conservatives, almost to the role of spectators. I wondered in comments last August whether it was actually safe to asssume that the Left was "too big to fail" or whether its sheer size simply multiplied the destruction it brought to bear upon itself -- and on others.

This is not to say that the Left’s dominance of the academe and the cultural institutions is somehow at an end. It is not. But it is no longer invisible and it is being openly challenged. The problem that they face is that economic and bureaucratic control cannot be substituted for the old authority because it is resource limited. It is not information based, but resource and even coercion based. It needs ever larger amounts of government solutions to fix ever large government problems. Eventually the last bill in the wallet is extracted. And there is no more. It’s like a Ponzi scheme which must grow to the ends of the earth — and come to an abrupt stop.

What I am curious to discover is what happens when it runs out of lift. Because it will. Like Fannie and Freddie, it isn’t too big to fail. There’s no such thing. I think that one of the challenges of statecraft is to prepare for the Fall of the Inner Berlin Wall; what to do when the fantasy shatters. I think on the day after we’ll be confronted with many shattered institutions, completely bankrupted, mere Potemkin shells; out of money, out of ideas, and out of excuses. I am not optimistic about society’s ability to handle it because even conservatives, I think, will have difficulty anticipating the thoroughness of it and its probable shocking suddeness.

It is events in the United States that have really provoked the crisis. European socialism was fantasy viable only while the US successfully performed the role of global system administrator. With Barack Obama crashing subsystem after subsystem, the socialist appendages are powering down. Without free energy from the capitalist system they despise, socialism is indeed doomed. What no one anticipated was how quickly the end might come. It would be really interesting if the key problem in the next few years turned out to be not about how to defeat the left, but how to survive the maelstrom left by its sinking. There is some sense in the Left that things are no longer the same. But that's a mistake. They have never changed.

Mr. Letta argues that Socialist policies will have to be transmuted into a more fluid form to allow an alliance with center, liberal and green parties that won’t be called “Socialist.” Mr. Winock, the historian, said, “I think the left and Socialism in Europe still have work to do; they have a raison d’être, and they will have to rely more on environment issues.” Combined with continuing efforts to reduce income disparity, he said, “going green” may give the left more life.

Mr. Judt argues that European Socialists need a new message — how to reform capitalism, “recognizing the centrality of economic interest while displacing it from its throne as the only way of talking about politics.”

Maybe its too late for that now.


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