Death of the Postmodernist Dream
A good round-up of world events of the past month or two. Ahhh – the winds of change are on us and we’re finally starting to see the light again…
In just a few months the brave new dream world as we knew it has died — but with a whimper, not a bang.
There will be no more lectures on soft power and a Baltic-to-Mediterranean postmodern culture. Suddenly European Union expansion is dead in its tracks. The question of Turkish membership, after a decade-long controversy, has been settled without so much as a demonstration. The Europeans don’t want another Greece in their midst; the Turks don’t want German bankers running their sagging finances. A soaring Euro was supposed to reflect the sobriety of socialism; instead, it hid its profligacy, but only for a while.
So the welfare state is discredited. In the past, we used to be warned that static population growth, vast public-sector employment, early and generous retirement benefits, and high taxes were not sustainable. In recent years, those lectures were caricatured as partisan or hypothetical. No longer. The Greek meltdown — with Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain on the brink — has shown that European socialism does not work. Bankruptcy, not politics, is the final arbiter: Individuals, firms, and nations either buy particular bonds or they don’t. And a nation like Greece, in turn, either pays what it has borrowed or it doesn’t. All the op-eds in the New York Times cannot change that fact.
Al Gore will continue to channel from his Montecito hilltop the latest green consensus of the international academic community. But fairly or not, neither he nor it will be listened to all that much: He has made one too many millions off his hysteria, and professors have fudged one too many publicly funded studies. The result is that almost at once both have lost the people’s trust. A volcano, not hot weather, shut down European air travel. The Sierra Nevada is still buried under snow in late May. At least this year, a wet, cold state of California is not going to blow away, as Energy Secretary Chu warned not long ago.
It is fine and good to invest in wind and solar power, and other alternative energy sources — if for no other reason than to drain the swamp of the oil-rich Middle East — but soon Americans will be paying a fortune for gasoline and electrical power. As gas hits $4 a gallon, they will want more oil drilling, more coal mining, and more nuclear, hydro, and natural-gas energy, not less. Green mongering is not what it was just a few months ago.
Then there is Arizona. Over 70 percent of the American people support the state’s efforts to stop illegal immigration, which amount to nothing more than enforcing currently unenforced federal laws. The hackneyed charges of racism and nativism are ignored. The Left can cite California’s Proposition 187 and warn the Republicans that they will lose the Hispanic vote, but 70 percent margins reflect angry citizens of all races and ethnicities, who are tired of seeing laws ignored, their state governments bankrupted, and Mexican presidents shaking fingers at them.
I do not think the word “reset” will be used much longer to characterize American foreign policy. Reset from what to what? After all, is Iran closer to getting a bomb or further away than it was a year and a half ago? Are terrorists more or less likely to attack and kill inside the United States? Is Syria now a more or a less helpful player in the Middle East? Is Israel safer or less safe, more or less a U.S. ally? Are Putin and Chávez now more helpful players on the world scene, in appreciation of Obama’s olive branches? Does a North Korea or an Iran feel more or less emboldened to run risks in testing the status quo? Is China more or less provocative in the Pacific?
The more provocation is ignored in one region, the more it is pursued in the other. The new audacity is predicated on the universal notion that the new United States either cannot or will not fulfill its retrograde function of deterrence — or might even privately sympathize with the assorted grievances that serve as pretexts for ignoring the sanctity of the border, selling missiles to terrorists, pursuing the bomb, or aiding in uranium enrichment.
The new world order as envisioned by Obama in January 2009 was, I think, supposed to look something like the following: A social-democratic America would come to emulate the successful welfare states in the European Union. These twin Western communitarian powers would together usher in a new world order in which no one nation was to be seen as preeminent. All the old nasty ideas of the 20th century — military alliances, sovereign borders, independent international finance, nuclear arms, religious and cultural chauvinism — would fall by the wayside, as the West was reinvented as part of the solution rather the problem it had been in its days of colonialism, imperialism, and exploitation. A new green transnationalism would assume the place of that bad old order, a transnationalism run by elite, highly educated, and socially conscious technocrats — albeit themselves Western — supported by a progressive press more interested in effecting social change than in merely reporting the tawdry news.
Obama can still push that story, but more and more Americans disagree with his 21st-century vision. Stuck in the past, they instead believe that capitalism, not socialism, brings prosperity; that to reach a green future we need to survive for now in a carbon and nuclear present; that all, not some, laws must be enforced; that our country is different from others and needs to maintain the integrity of its borders; and that there are always going to be a few bad actors abroad who must be deterred rather than appeased.
We will hear all sorts of angry charges as these dreams die, but that will not mean they are not dead — even if we are lucky and they go out with a whimper rather than a bang.