Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Glory Days

Let us now proclaim the end of the American dominance. China and India are rising fast while the Late Empire is entangled in a throughly botched military effort in a region centrally important for the production of a rapidly fading energy source (this sorry and futile spectacle largely financed by foreign - Asian - credit). Internally the country is being torn apart by a vigorous religious fundamentalism and a throughly corrupt political system. The economy is being kept going by a rapid succession of bubbles which are likely to run out very shortly - and one of these days the markets will make one of their temporary returns to sanity resulting in a very painful end to credit financing the various imperial adventures.

But maybe there should be a qualification: perhaps it is only the end, the strange death, of liberal America that we are here proclaiming. In an era of scarcity an openly military Empire might be able to prolong its rule however disastrous the concequences would be. The last hope is probably the emerging progressive movement that is determined to return to politics of reason and co-operation but the hostile structures of the government by lobbyists and abundantly financed and morally corrupt conservative machinery might be able to stop this return to sanity. I guess we'll see but somehow I'm afraid that we really are reaching the end of the era of American leadership. And no, I don't think it's a good thing for the values of liberty and global justice that I hold dear.


helsinkian said...

Whoa, you're proclaiming the end of American dominance! Maybe you are really talking about the beginning of the end or the end of liberal America, as you're also mentioned as a possibility. I wouldn't make any such proclamation since China and India aren't really there yet but the shift in dominance from one nation or region to another is something that is bound to happen sooner or later, anyway.

The end of British dominance was probably the best thing that has happened for Britain. India and many other countries are really better off without Britain. Yet Britain has given them and all of us an enduring cultural legacy. They're there with the Babylonians, Egyptians, Romans, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and other leading civilizations that have shaped world history to their own image in good and bad. Just like with the British, the American way of thinking will remain with us a long time after the dominance is gone.

America is deeply divided in red and blue states. These states are divided in red and blue districts, which luckily somewhat dampens the divisions. The dividing line between fundamentalism and secularism will never go between the Republican and Democratic parties, as much as that is presented as the case.

Fundamentalism is growing as a perceived alternative to individualism and capitalism. This is changing the Republican view on fiscal policy. The talk of budgetary discipline of ten years ago that gave the Republicans the edge in Congress still exists as talk but it is no longer that important.

Following the divine principles leads to challenging the laws of the market. This is not that obvious to many but a fundamentalist takeover, which will never be complete by the way, would most probably lead to a voluntary abandoning of America's economic dominance.

As much as I am critical of political fundamentalism, I also admire America's founding principle of religious freedom. I believe great many fundamentalists only want to practice their religion in peace, the reason why their forebears emigrated to America. The problem is excessive thirst for money and power among some religious leaders. Keeping corporate, religious and political powers separate is important for the future of America.

When it comes to corporate power, there is also the problem of greed that ultimately hurts the common good. When businesses are too closely entangled in politics like Enron, there are no guarantees that the markets will automatically correct bad decisions made by the corporations. In Enron's case such a correction obviously happened but the shareholders' interests are not necessarily those of the political class. This is why I tend to agree with your proposition that corruption may also turn out to be the factor leading to an end of American dominance.

Even if John Kerry was ultimately unsuccessful in getting the American voters behind him, mainly for foreign policy reasons, some of his statements about energy policy and the power of lobbyists may turn out to be prophetic. Any politician that challenges the status quo is bound to be labeled a hypocrite, maybe always with reason. I think Kerry was in some sense challenging the too tight conentration of power among a clique of too few and there are no guarantees that the next President, Republican or Democrat, realizes that America's hope is in keeping everyone accountable for what they do.

stockholm slender said...

Well, maybe we could term this as the Diamond Jubilee of the American Empire - Britain looked fairly invincible in 1897. Only with the wisdom of hindsight we can easily see the many cracks in the facade of the Empire. Now one with Niniveh and Tyreh... I am sorry to have seen the end of the liberal American world leadership but I have seen it in this administration's disastrous actions. Maybe it is only a temporary collapse but with these power structures I don't see any Democratic leadership that would be able to turn the direction around. I'm inclined to see civilizations and societies to decline and collapse due to their internal contradictions rather than external factors. I think the return of investment has beaten the Enlightenment ideals of the Founding Fathers to pulp aided and abetted by a viscious Christian fundamentalism.

helsinkian said...

When it comes to liberal American world leadership, I think there was quite a gap between Kerry and Dean last year when it came to the tradition of US political leadership. Kerry extolled the virtues of the Cold War Democrats, whereas Dean was in my view promoting a Liberal version of Pat Buchanan's isolationism.

US interventionism has in many cases been problematic but an isolationist America is to me an even greater danger.

Fundamentalism is dangerous in both political combinations. Interventionist fundamentalists speak of crusades. The Ann Coulter-style speech of "Let's convert them all" is incredibly dangerous. What the world needs is religions living together in peace. But the Pat Buchanan-style isolationist fundamentalism is very dangerous and goes so far as to question the worth in fighting Hitler.

Fundamentalists can be both pacifist and militarist. They can certainly also be pro-market and anti-market. It is in no way clear where increasing political fundamentalism will lead America.

Religious fundamentalism has an twofold impact. It is the very movement that weakened the tie between religion and politics. Yet each fundamentalism tends to strive to rekindle that tie but on the terms of one religious community only. There is only one sort of freedom of religion that works - the same freedom for everyone. A freedom that is freedom for one religion or Biblical (or Quranic, you name it) interpretaton only - maximum freedom for them to preach anything irrespective of how hateful of other people's convictions is the very antithesis of freedom.

However it may be interpreted, I like to see that there is good and bad fundamentalism. The good one respects the convictions of others and sees the value of freedom for the exercise of every decent religion. This entails the acceptance of the separation of Church and state which has throughout history been supported by many deeply religious people.

The bad fundamentalism is corrupt. It uses political power to restrain the freedom of others, domestically and globally. This is where religious terrorism of all denominations comes from. This phenomenon is so dangerous that all freedom-loving peoples should unite under the banner of religious tolerance. Not to worsen the global security crisis, every community should speak out against the hatemongers amongst them.

I think this is ultimately what you mean by liberal dominance, a world power that helps people expressing their views freely. The hatred of liberalism in all different fundamentalist communities leads to the hatred of freedom. But those fundamentalists who see religion as everyone's private business in a separate sphere from the state are actually helping to maintain the plurality of religious views that has always been the hallmark of American dominance.

helsinkian said...

Sorry for equating Dean with Buchanan; he's after all a secular kind of politican which Buchanan certainly isn't. I simply meant that Buchanan has been a leading advocate of isolationism on the Right, whereas the Dean campaign was looking for getting the isolationist camp voting Democratic.

stockholm slender said...

Maybe not yet, but I can definitely see a point where an isolationist US would be preferrable. Basically this present policy already is an America First policy only projected abroad. Many structures build by the WW2 generation still are supported but probably more by force of habit than genuine conviction. As to fundamentalism I would argue that it is an inherently aggressive worldview whether or not it leads to aggression in practice: you claim only one objectively correct interpretation for things where there cannot be any objectively correct interpretation from a human point of view. This is intellectual arrogance and aggression and no wonder that fundamentalism so often does lead to aggressive and hegemonizing politics.

helsinkian said...

I think that America working together with its allies is the preferable solution. The Clinton Administration at work in Kosovo was to me America helping out Europe in a very critical situation, continuing on a record of benevolent US leadership in Europe. America has still quite recently done things in Europe we should be thankful for. US pressure has also been important in bringing war criminals of Bosnia to justice. There are still big fish at loose but how many criminals would be loose if everybody simply minded their own business, never looking out for their neighbors?

American influence has always had its good and bad sides. The same goes of course for European influence. I can't really imagine an America that would only look inwards. Anyway I believe globalization doesn't leave the option of isolationism on the table.

We have religious fundamentalist politics here in Europe, too. The unionist community of Northern Ireland has embraced the leadership of Ian Paisley in unprecedented numbers. Most American politicians of the Christian Right are pretty soft core fundamentalists compared to him. If we Europeans concentrate on praising the virtues of isolationism, I'm afraid we are going to see more politicians like Paisley among us.