America sees the world through a glass, darkly. Let’s drop the shades and see clearly!

Summery: Much of the work on the FM website examines minutiae for clues and insights about the wider world.  Today we look at this strange but revealing article (revealing about us). It suggests what where we have gone wrong, and how we can still return to a better path.

Jesus with shades and gun
This is how we see ourselves

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Elites’ strange plot to take over the world“, By Matt Stoller,
Salon, 20 September 2013

“A few decades ago, politicians hatched a Tom Friedman-esque idea to unite U.S. and Western Europe.
Did it succeed?”

This fun article holds many lessons for us. It’s in Salon, one of the new breed of online magazines with a contrarian flavor (Slate being the exemplar), providing a well-written mixture of information and misinformation designed for maximum clicks.

The author, Matt Stoller, is a well-educated young journalist, almost certainly knows that much of this is nonsense. Journalists write to their audience, and Stoller understands our fantastic idea of how the world works. See his opening:

The idea of a country seems pretty simple. … But the way political decision-making around security issues ricochets around the world, from Western capital to Western capital, is making a mockery of commonly held conceptions of national sovereignty. In recent weeks, a British parliament vote on Syria forced the U.S. president to seek authorization from Congress, while leaked documents detailed extensive cooperation between the intelligence services of the U.S. and other nations. The president of Bolivia was forced to down his plane by Italy and France, just because he joked about having Edwards Snowden on board. And so on, and so forth.

This all demands the question: Why do we hold the conception that we live in separate nation-states?

Notice the sleight of hand. Stoller says the reality of separate nations requires that nations be unaffected, even unlimited, by the actions of other nations. This confuses “sovereign” — able to make their own decisions — with domination, able to do as they want without consideration or influence from neighbors. As if nations existed not on a crowded world, but on separate planets.

Much like teenagers discovery of sex and love in every new generation, Stoller’s discovery of yearnings for a world government after WW2 — a surprise to Americans now dreaming of world hegemony — is not new. It was not new in 1648, when European nations signed the Treaties of Westphalia and created the modern international order in crowded Europe. The limitations of sovereignty were not new when the Scythians, Hittites, Egyptians, and Israelites fought in the ancient Middle East.

These  “conceptions of national sovereignty” might be “commonly held” but are quite daft. “Our own history should teach us this.  From the start, America was largely defined by the actions of other nations.  To mention just a few:

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Skull with sunglasses
This is how they see us
  • Without the Revolution’s wide support in Britain — we were fighting for the “rights of Englishmen”, the Revolution would have continued longer, probably either failing or ending with a harsher peace treaty.
  • Without France, the Revolution would have failed.
  • If Britain had supported the Confederacy and its slavers, the South might never have fallen.

These are all examples of the moral high ground proving decisive.  Not only are nations influenced by other nations, but the influences are not just power and wealth — but ideas of right and wrong. We are our brothers’ keepers and vice versa. Drunk on the power of our new weapons, the ability to kill anyone, anywhere, we have forgotten this.

My guess is that events will provide us with a sharp reminder.

The rest of the article is a good history lesson to advance an equally daft idea about “Elites’ strange plot to take over the world”, built on Americans astonishing ignorance of western history. The key points of this history.

  • American and our allies built a post-WW2 “new world order” of closer integration, learning from the failures of the post-WW1 world order.
  • Some idealists wanted far more integration, perhaps even a one-state political regime in the west.
  • They were ignored. As seen in the sharp restrictions Congress placed in the UN Participation Act on the UN’s ability to call on US troops (details here).
  • This desire for a unified western world has ancient roots, deep in our history and thinking.

The last point deserves attention. Western history has been, in one sense, a desire to recreate Rome. A unified land of a common language, free travel, and the Pax Romana. Charlemagne — Charles the Great — reignited this dream when the Pope crowned him Emperor in 800.  The Carolingian Empire had a brief life, but the dream was reborn 962 with the crowing of an Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.  Attempts to recreate Rome by diplomacy and force have continued since that day. Perhaps the European Union will eventually make it a reality.

Conclusions

The United States after WW2 was a leader in this process, building a world where nations could peacefully live together, with collective use of sanctions, and force where necessary, to keep the peace. Polls show that dream had, and has today, tremendous appeal in the west and around the world. Not just among elites, but the people.

Now, drunk on the power of being the sole superpower, we tear down what we have built. We attempt to rule as the world’s decider by use of our economic and military power. We decide where to intervene. We decide what people should die. We resent and oppose the efforts of great nations like China to play a role in the world appropriate to their size.

This probably will not end well for America. We lack the economic power, the wisdom, and the moral stature to sustain this program.

That would be an article worthy of Matt Stoller’s skills, but one unlikely to get many clicks.

For More Information

About modern war, and the new world order:

  1. War is the health of the state, 18 September 2010
  2. The Constitution will still work for us, if we’d only use it. About options for responding to our enemies., 29 March 2011
  3. Can the UN give Obama the authority to send US forces in the Libyan War?, 1 April 2011
  4. What the conflict with Iran teaches us about modern State-to-State war, 16 January 2012
  5. Recommend: Where did the great post-war dream for a new world go sour?, 30 October 2012

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17 thoughts on “America sees the world through a glass, darkly. Let’s drop the shades and see clearly!

  1. I agree with Breton. Good one.
    Your sentence in the conclusion seems to be an accurate statement of our situation. “This probably will not end well for America. We lack the economic power, the wisdom, and the moral stature to sustain this program.”
    We have some of each of the three capabilities, but not enough of any of them to produce an end you’ve predicted to be “not well” to one “at least as good as now, if not better.” Many other folks have predicted the same thing. Hope is not a sufficient plan.

  2. I have faith in the kids, there is a whole generation out there who interact with non Americans on a daily basis, there are huge amounts of gamers who have direct experience of dealing with foreigners as equals. I know it sounds silly, but that’s a whole generation who are being given a cosmopolitan education right there. I can tell you that in online multiplier games nationality no longer matters, madskillz are what counts. A new virtual Rome is already being built.

    1. Merocaine,

      I agree completely.

      Progress in society, like physics, sometimes occurs one tombstone at a time.

      The bitter reactionary racist whites are at the peak of their power — top of their career ladders, peak income, still healthy and active. In early retirement they lose a bit of the first two, but gain free time. But it is all downhill from here for them. Let’s hope they do little damage to America in their sunset years.

  3. “This all demands the question: Why do we hold the conception that we live in separate nation-states?”

    I imagine that at least here in the USA, this concept has more than a little to do with the American myth of “rugged individualism” that FM has mentioned several times on this site and which seems to be on the rise within this country (serving as further evidence for the theory that we are as a nation slowly but steadily becoming ever more woefully — and wantonly — ignorant). A great many Americans insist on clinging to the images of brave settlers coming to this land in search of religious freedom (conveniently ignoring the fact that many of them weren’t really being subjected to what might justifiably be called persecution and also weren’t particularly interested in allowing anyone who disagreed with them to have religious freedom) — as well as that of supposedly self-sufficient pioneers creating and maintaining homesteads out of wilderness (conveniently ignoring the fact that they persecuted the indigenous peoples who already resided in those lands and drove them almost to the brink of extinction in contradiction with the religious beliefs they claimed to hold).

    Our continued belief in this concept also seems to be related to the insistent belief in American exceptionalism — the idea that we are ethically superior to other nations and inherently so, despite all evidence to the contrary, and therefore (paradoxically) entitled to do whatever we want regardless of what the consequences might be for anyone else. If anything, these days, the US as a nation seems to be increasingly convinced that our rights of sovereignty are the only ones that matter and that everyone else’s are of little consequence. Let’s face it…if even half of the things which we’ve done to other nations within the last century had been done to us, a significant majority of the American population would have clamored for the government to retaliate. In fact, the sheer force of our military might — as well as our growing propensity for striking back at anyone who has the audacity to simply look at us cross-eyed — is probably the only thing which has protected us from some of the natural consequences of our actions thus far. It is simply not rational for us to expect that we can ride roughshod over other countries in the manner which we’ve been doing without retribution or resistance.

  4. “The last point deserves attention. Western history has been, in one sense, a desire to recreate Rome. A unified land of a common language, free travel, and the Pax Romana. Charlemagne — Charles the Great — reignited this dream when the Pope crowned him Emperor in 800. The Carolingian Empire had a brief life, but the dream was reborn 962 with the crowing of an Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Attempts to recreate Rome by diplomacy and force have continued since that day. Perhaps the European Union will eventually make it a reality.”

    Fabius: There is, as you doubtlessly know, lots of stuff on this point. And there have been all sorts of efforts to synthesize things into one overarching order. A good illustration would be Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. It features a fusion of classical and Hebraic elements: Old Testament themes done in classical style. Supporting this picture are equal numbers of Old Testament prophets and of Graeco-Roman sibyls. It is all very geometric, ordered. I could use any number of other illustrations of this sort of synthesis, eg: Dante’s Divine Comedy. There is, indeed, lots of stuff on this. (BTW: you might want to research Dante’s politics. He was very much into the concept of empire. )

    I would suggest that George HW Bush’s “New World Order” as an effort to create a modern synthesis. Imagine a contemporary Sistine Chapel ceiling done in, say, Japanese silk screen style, supported not only by Christian saints but also Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, etc.

    But as opposed to this neoClassical order, I would pose another style, which I call “Hindu-Gothic.” It is a potpourri, a stew, of all sorts of stuff. Rather than some ordered synthesis, we have this polyglot vomiting of ideas and concepts. Sort of like what you see in the Bhagavad Gita. And I would generally pose the Subcontinent and its experience against Rome and its. As for the West, I would cite John Ruskin’s Stones of Venice and his nature of the gothic. http://www47.homepage.villanova.edu/seth.koven/gothic.html Think Hogwarts.

    As for me, I am into the Hindu gothic. In particular, I am now reading up on the relationship between Shelley and Plato ( among other things, Shelley translated the Symposium. )

    1. Fabius, if you want me to translate all this into relatively contemporary, ordinary American terms, all I can do is to quote Will Rogers:

      “I don’t belong to an organized political party; I’m a Democrat.”

    2. Duncan,

      I believe the relative degree of organization reflects a strategic difference between the complementary roles of the two parties in advancing the interests of the 1%.

      The GOP are a homogeneous force pulling the Democrats to the Right. To do this they need not assemble a broad national coalition capable of ruling for an extended time. See the Overton Window for an example of how this works.

      The Democratic Party is the emerging majority party. As such it must include disparate groups, and cannot achieve a high degree of internal discipline. But it works for the 1% by isolating the Left from political influence.

      Both parties broadly agree on national security policy, banking policy, and on the need for low taxes on capital. The 1% does not care about laws affecting who screws who, or divorce (property division in their marriages is controlled by per ups and Trusts).

    3. Duncan,

      Please explain this in more detail. My read is that the Bush Jr team was more Christian supremacy than multi-cultural, and their wars in the western colonial tradition of missionary Christianity as a cover for mercantilism.

      “I would suggest that George HW Bush’s “New World Order” as an effort to create a modern synthesis. Imagine a contemporary Sistine Chapel ceiling done in, say, Japanese silk screen style, supported not only by Christian saints but also Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, etc.”

    4. Duncan,

      That was my sloppy reading, as you said HW Bush.

      Bush Sr’s New World Order was, imo, hot air.

      Bush Jr was the real thing, one of America’s top presidents in terms of effect on the world. He shattered the post-WW2 political regime built by the US and its allies; built at such great cost of time and effort. He made the largest change in US internal domestic policy and foreign policy in our history.

    5. Fabius:

      Regarding Bush, Jr., aka Bush ’43, the drunken phoney.

      When I just say “Shelley,” I generally mean Percy Bysshe Shelley. However, there was, of course, another Shelley, Mary. She wrote Frankenstein.

      So there is plenty of room within the Hindu-Gothic to deal with paradigm shattering and other such cockups.

  5. The kids FM will be operating in a different America shaping up right now in the schools:
    http://www.theatlanticcities.com/politics/2013/10/study-almost-half-public-school-students-are-now-low-income/7287/
    Study: Almost Half of Public School Students Are Now Low-Income
    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/03/the-miserable-odds-of-a-poor-student-graduating-from-college-in-2-graphs/274250/
    The Miserable Odds of a Poor Student Graduating From College (in 2 Graphs)
    Just 29 percent of the poorest students ever enroll, and only 9 percent ever finish.

    http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/report-poor-us-students-receive-developing-world-educations
    Report: Poor U.S. Students Receive Developing-World Educations

    1. I’ve been saying for quite some time now that the ever-rising costs of higher education — and especially when combined with the dismal jobs reports over the past few years (since this plays a very big role in whether or not higher education is affordable, and it’s not for growing numbers of people) — put us at risk of eventually creating an educational caste system in this country where only the wealthy can afford college and/or graduate school for their children (and themselves as desired or necessary). This would in turn increase the likelihood that the majority of high-paying jobs would end up going to people from wealthy families since only they would have the required degrees — thus helping to create a self-sustaining, self-perpetuating, and increasingly ossified system.

      Then again, I think it could be argued that the practice of legacy candidacy (by which college applicants sometimes get special consideration if they have a parent or family member who’s a former alumnus of the school) is already an example of this. After all, especially in cases where the former alumni have donated significant sums of money to their alma mater, the last thing the school would be inclined or likely to do is bite the hand that feeds it…which raises the possibility that alumni contributions are perhaps simply another form of the system of patronage and cronyism that has taken root within our political process, and that they’re actually more of an insurance policy for the next generation than anything else (especially if Junior’s grades and test scores somehow aren’t quite up to snuff with the school’s usual baseline requirements).

    2. Bluestocking,

      The “legacy” admissions were a small fraction of overall matriculations. The drastic increase in tuition and reduced student aid are a drastic change from the post-WW2 education policy that built the middle class. You describe some of its likely effects, in general a reduction in our already low and falling level of social mobility.

      It is creation of a class system. Or rather, recreation of one — since that was an obective of public policy during the Gilded Age. Or rather, the First Gilded Age. Back to the Future.

      The same dynamic is taking place in what was “law enforcement” or “justice system”, now better described as the “security services” and “injustice system”. Three systems: High for the rich, Middle for the middle class, and Low for the blue-collar and poor.

      This is a New America, as I have been saying for years. The posts describing it are filled with outraged denials, until this year. There has been some sort of change in public awareness of the obvious.

    3. Winston,

      That is ugly data. Especially considering the increasingly limited access of lower-income people into higher-rated colleges.

      Our elites appear to be mirroring the decision of the South’s elites after Reconstruction: better to have slower growth and more control, than less control of a faster growing nation. That’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: once the desire for things is sated, status and power become the new objects of greed.

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