I like this Zakaria piece because he seems to be in broad agreement with me. Ha. We all like it when that happens. Also, his little capsule summary of the British Empire as our predecessor is nicely done. However, as I have complained to anyone who will listen, even Zakaria fails to understand how different the British Empire was from all its land-based predecessors. The one current writer to who “gets it” on this issue is Walter Russell Mead. Mead, in his excellent recent book God and Gold: Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World discusses the “maritime order” founded in recent centuries by the Dutch, then handed off to the British, then the Trident was passed to the USA. This is exactly correct.
Incidentally, I am currently reading a truly ancient book An Experiment in World Order, by Paul McGuire, published in 1948. It was referenced by Jerry Pournelle in response to the Zakaria article. It is the best explanation I have yet read of what the British Empire was and how it actually worked. (I notice that Amazon has no used copies anymore. Mr. Pournelle’s post seems to have led to the few copies being snapped-up. There are still some available from Bookfinder.)
My main objection to Zakaria is his conclusion in this chapter. He expresses a wrongheaded belief that the USA’s main problem is its outdated and ramshackle political framework (so he says) which prevents the policy consensus of all the smart people from being expeditiously enacted into law.
The problem today is that the U.S. political system seems to have lost its ability to fix its ailments. …. Different policies could quickly and relatively easily move the United States onto a far more stable footing. A set of sensible reforms could be enacted tomorrow to trim wasteful spending and subsidies, increase savings, expand training in science and technology, secure pensions, create a workable immigration process, and achieve significant efficiencies in the use of energy. Policy experts do not have wide disagreements on most of these issues, and none of the proposed measures would require sacrifices reminiscent of wartime hardship, only modest adjustments of existing arrangements. And yet, because of politics, they appear impossible. The U.S. political system has lost the ability to accept some pain now for great gain later on.
As it enters the twenty-first century, the United States is not fundamentally a weak economy or a decadent society. But it has developed a highly dysfunctional politics. What was an antiquated and overly rigid political system to begin with (now about 225 years old) has been captured by money, special interests, a sensationalist media, and ideological attack groups. The result is ceaseless, virulent debate about trivia — politics as theater — and very little substance, compromise, or action. A can-do country is now saddled with a do-nothing political process, designed for partisan battle rather than problem solving.
Progress on any major problem — health care, Social Security, tax reform — will require compromise from both sides. It requires a longer-term perspective. And that has become politically deadly. Those who advocate sensible solutions and compromise legislation find themselves being marginalized by their party’s leadership, losing funds from special-interest groups, and being constantly attacked by their “side” on television and radio. The system provides greater incentives to stand firm and go back and tell your team that you refused to bow to the enemy. It is great for fundraising, but it is terrible for governing.
(Emphasis added.) I disagree utterly.
The words “no f***ing way, Mr. Zakaria” come to mind, or even “where is my musket?”
Absolutely the last thing we need is for all the politicians to get together, come to an agreement, stop fighting and start “governing” in the fashion that “policy experts” have agreed on. This is the kind of the thing the Founders wanted to prevent, and they have had 225 years of pretty good success.
Our 18th century Constitution is not the problem, it is the solution. It is the only thing between us and bureaucratic tyranny, which is what Zakaria is advocating, though he probably does not think he is. Adam Smith said to be wary when two businessmen got together, they are conspiring against the public interest. He was right, too. How much worse when the political parties, that are supposed to be fighting each other, get together and decide they will cooperate in dividing the carcass that used to be known as the free citizenry of the United States. Sorry, no way. I don’t want them all to hold hands, sing Kumbaya, and agree to despoil us all of what little liberty and money we have left.
The thing we need to do to solve our many problems is not to let a bunch of experts tell a bunch of cooperative politicians how to tell the citizens of America, even more than they do now, how to run their affairs. A committee of experts is the last thing that should be running a country. William F. Buckley, God bless him, had it right. Far better to be governed by a random four hundred names in the Boston telephone directory than by the faculty of Harvard.
The solution to any of our problems is 180 degrees from what Zakaria is suggesting.
The solution is to get the Government the Hell out of the way, get its leprous fingers out of our wallets. The solution is to flail the damnable thing back into the corner where it belongs, make it do the things it is supposed to do and nothing else. National defense, law enforcement and a few other functions are more than it can do well as it is.
The solution is to get Uncle Sam the Hell out of the way, make him puke out the money he currently sucks out of the economy, and stand back and let the Billion-Footed Beast which is the American people get going with millions of work-arounds and clever solutions and nutty schemes which no one can even dream of from a desk in Washington, or Brussels, or Davos, or even Cambridge, Massachusetts.
On the enduring value of our Constitution, and the need to build on it and away from the mess we have created in its place, the only guy who I find myself agreeing with lately is Ron Paul.
Ron Paul cannot be the guy who leads into the land of Canaan. He is too idiosyncratic. And his supporters are too hostile to politics. They want a glorious defeat and ideological purity. But I am hoping Ron Paul may be a Barry Goldwater-figure for the growth of a revived small-l libertarian faction within the GOP. I disagree with him on a very important point: I believe in a more expansive use of American military power to preserve the global economic order we rely on for our economic wellbeing. Globalization does not occur spontaneously. It happens when there is a dominant navy, the Royal Navy, the the US Navy. I actually believe my view on this is in line with the Founders intentions more than Mr. Paul’s, but that is an argument for another day.
On most other things he sounds a lot like the Buckley-Goldwater-Kemp-Reagan conservatism I grew up with. We need more of that, and less of the Bush family Yankee patrician noblesse oblige (with or without a Texas accent) which goes in the guise of “compassionate conservatism” and a neo-Wilsonian view of international affairs. Ecrasez l’infame.
Time to reconfigure for Conservatism 2.0. Buckley’s conservatism, founded in 1955, has run its course. It’s peak was Reagan’s 49 state landslide in 1984, and its Indian Summer was the 1994 GOP takeover of the House. It’s greatest achievement was victory in the Cold War. It was a great run.
We will create the new conservatism for the 21st century by realizing and returning to the roots of our success, not by rejecting or cutting them off.
UPDATE: I am struck by the degree of hostility the mere mention of Ron Paul provokes. I have not paid much attention to him until reading his book, which is mostly very sound. So I have missed out on all the ruckus about him until now. I will have to post on the book, if possible. Maybe I will compare it to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 book The Conscience of a Conservative, which is kicking around here somewhere … .