Blood & Soil
Amongst those-who-know-better, there is a high level of angst about the rise of nationalism–nativist parties in Europe and Trumpism in America. I believe that anxiety is justified, but misplaced. What we are witnessing is the retreat of democracy, and the march of authoritarianism and tribalism around the world. These two pernicious trends reinforce each other. The new and newly empowered dictators stoke tribal feelings in order to reinforce their power.
One small state, Tunisia, has moved toward freedom. Some states that were partially democratic have reverted to dictatorship or are heading in that direction–Thailand, the Philippines, Venezuela, South Africa, Hungary, Egypt and Turkey. Russia has a new Czar and an invigorated successor to the KGB. China may be moving from dictatorship to a totalitarian regime. The thin veneer of civilization is being peeled away. We should oppose this process.
The first thing we can do is to acknowledge, celebrate and advocate for the values that are the core of our culture–rule of law, consent of the governed, limited government, freedom of speech/press/assembly, protection of private property, free movement of goods and money, protection of minority rights. In our efforts to be tolerant of other cultures, we have forgotten that our revolution was about establishing a culture we thought superior. Capitalism is a better system for allocating resources than Marxism of Xi-ism. English Common Law is infinitely superior to Sharia Law. It should not be politically incorrect to say so. There are certainly defects in our practice of our principles; we have certainly engaged in unjust behavior. We can certainly improve our performance, but our system is better than all others.
The second thing we can do is make a conscious effort to be a beacon of liberty to the world’s oppressed people. We can’t solve every problem and displace every despot, but we can advocate for those who seek freedom and democracy.
Third, we need to clarify our role as the world’s policeman. All eras in human history that were relatively peaceful involved a policeman or policemen. We have filled that role since 1945. We’ve made mistakes, but the world is infinitely better off for our efforts. Due to our $20 trillion debt and the looming demographic/entitlement crisis, we will need to scale back our efforts. Our enforcement will have to be restricted to the most egregious violators (and occasional random slaps to keep the bad guys nervous), but we should not retreat. The League of Nations and the United Nations have conclusively proven that international policing and international law are a fiasco. We need to carefully think thru our mission and its limits. It may be that a successor will emerge, but we are the only logical candidate for the role at this point in the history of the planet. Bad behavior is not going away because we wish it so.
Fourth, we are forced to do both diplomatic and commercial business with despots, but we should not enable them any more than absolutely necessary. We can continuously offer moral support to anyone under their thumb seeking freedom. In the event that an uprising has a decent chance to succeed, we should offer material support. We can’t follow JFK’s directive to bear any burden, but we can selectively bear some burdens. Despots should be on notice that we are looking for an opportunity to send them into exile.
Fifth, we need to be conscious of the unintended consequences of Nanny State regulation and “Nudgeism”. I believe that micro-management from Brussels and the EPA provided a great part of the motivation for Brexit and Trump. Freedom includes the right to be let alone in pursuit of your own lifestyle and manner of making a living. As long as you are not harming others, you should be let alone. And the concept of harm needs to be narrowly defined. Many special interest groups are using government to impose their beliefs on the rest of us.
Finally, we should seek every opportunity to “get even”. We should be alert to every attempt by the Russians to destabilize our democracy. This is not an new phenomenon; it’s been going on since the 1930s. Our media should highlight their behavior. We should retaliate with economic sanctions, disruption of their IT systems and support for dissenters. When China steals our intellectual property, we should lock them out of our markets. When they attempt to impose hiring of cadres on our companies doing business in their market, we should incentivize those companies to exit their market. When they prop up the vicious little tinpot despot in Korea, who threatens our shores, because they perceive him as a counterweight to our influence in Asia, we need to make them pay for that decision. We should do all of this consciously, in a carefully calculated and ruthless fashion, supported by advocacy.
One way of looking at the world situation is to view it as a struggle between despotism/tribalism vs freedom. ISIS, Putin, Xi and neo-fascists on one side and freedom/civilization on the other. We will revert to our tribal and violent roots if we don’t work to preserve freedom and thicken the veneer of civilization.