Tuesday, June 17, 2014

No Rest For the Weary

It's an interesting enough title: "Superpowers Don't Get to Retire." But it was the subtitle that really grabbed my attention: "What our tired country still owes the world." And I kept that in mind as I read Mr. Kagan's long piece about how the United States enforced a liberal world order, because it was the only nation that was capable of it, and how if that liberal world order was going to continue, then the United States needed to continue doing it. About how the United States played the world's policeman and help bring an end (or at least a reduction) to a constant global history of conflict by having a conception of its national interests that went beyond the pragmatic and deep into the idealistic. Throughout reading the entire piece, I kept that thought in the back of my head - "What our tired country still owes the world."

But one of the things that was missing was the idea that we owed the world enlightenment. A grand and selfless vision that would mean always acting for the good of others, and not just out of an "enlightened self-interest" that postulates that the actions we take so save the world will also redound to our own benefit.

Because without it, there is always a fundamental problem with thinking that one is indispensable to others - eventually, you come to the realization that if they can't survive without you, then you must always help yourself first, even when that comes at their expense, because since you are their only hope, whatever you allow to happen to them must, by definition, be better than the alternative.

One of my favorite sayings is that the problem with good shepherds is that even they are not above wearing wool and eating mutton. This is not because good shepherds are merely wolves in human guises, but because a shepherd that has frozen or starved to death may as well be entirely absent in the first place - and then what becomes of the sheep? And while linen and beef may be available, something must still be traded to obtain them, and what else does a shepherd have? Either way, no matter how idealistic a shepherd one finds, the sheep have simply traded one predator for another - one is simply less destructive and more apologetic about it. And I think that is the issue that we have. Mr. Kagan assumes, yet never sets out to prove, that we, as Americans, are so wealthy, so protected, so powerful and so just, that we can never be perceived as predators. And that's the problem that we have now. Kagan's very point that what drove the American public to support a global role in the world was not a sense of responsibility to spread liberalism but a constant fear of Communism makes this clear. What happens when the shepherds are no longer convinced that the threat of wolves is all it's been cracked up to be?

A nondischargeable responsibility to safeguard liberalism and democracy abroad must lead to illiberalism and a lack of democracy at home, because at some point, you are obliged to strip people of the ability to chose to ignore that responsibility. This is why no single nation, no matter how nobly it sees itself, can manage such a burden forever. Because the shepherd must become the wolf to forever war with wolves.

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