Friday, November 18, 2022

"What Happened to the Pax Americana?"

"What Happened to the Pax Americana?"
by Brian Maher

"The wealth of another region excites their greed; and if it is weak, their lust for power as well. Nothing from the rising to the setting of the sun is enough for them. Among all others only they are compelled to attack the poor as well as the rich. Robbery, rape, and slaughter they falsely call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace."
- Tacitus

"Some 30 years ago the Pax Americana covered each corner of Earth. It crowned history itself - the “end of history” was how one fellow styled it. American capitalism, American democracy represented civilization’s apex. Its zenith. Its very perfection. Yet the gods are a jealous, wrathful lot. What the gods will not abide is human hubris. Mortals may not approach Olympus.

Russian political scientist Georgi Arbatov divined their wicked intentions at Cold War’s end… He sneered: “We are going to do the worst thing we can do to you.” Which was what - precisely? “We are going to take your enemy away from you.”

We hazard he was correct. As we have written before: A superpower requires an enemy as the policeman requires crooks… as the psychiatrist requires madmen… as the Church requires its devil. Absent an enemy it loses its direction. Its vigor. Its √©lan vital. It flounders - adrift, aimless and rudderless. Between world wars, berserker Winston Churchill lamented “the bland skies of peace” that vaulted high above Earth. Those same bland skies of peace overhung Earth at the Cold War’s conclusion.

Now jump ahead 30 years… after plenty of heavy weather has barreled on through… after the gods have worked their mischievous will… The Pax Americana has been reduced to a ridiculous caricature. Iraq and Afghanistan sent it heaving into history’s hellbox. Russia is presently driving the last remaining nails through the casket cover. China stands by with its own hammer should Russia fall down.

Meantime, the world has witnessed the shining jewel of American democracy these past several years. If that is democratic perfection, asks the world, may we please beg off? We would like to be excused.

They have witnessed American cities descend into scenes of riot, of mayhem, of chaos in 2020. They see Americans at each other’s throats, red-state America and blue-state America. They have seen the statues come down. They have seen segments of America call the nation’s founding myths into contempt and ridicule. They witnessed millions and millions rage against the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. These Americans believed the election was rigged and thieved, fraudulent and illegitimate.

Many Americans - though apparently fewer in number - likewise disbelieve the outcomes of this month’s midterm elections… elections which remain undecided in many instances. Are they right? Are they wrong?

We stand aloof in serene detachment. We defer judgment to you, our reader. Yet if masses of American voters no longer trust the electoral process… what is the future of American democracy? Is this the alabaster city shining on the hill that glistens in the mists? Is this the model the world would mimic? Through these veins courses the reddest American blood, patriotic blood. Yet we fear the answer is no. Even China - China! - has ventured to label American democracy a “joke.”

We did not appreciate the jest. Yet at certain times, in private moments, often in the silent watches of the night, we are seized and hagridden by doubt. We fear for the American future. In these pages we often denounce this government policy or that government policy. Some have even asked us why we maintain residence in these United States if we believe things run to such lunatic domestic settings. Why stay?

Here we take our leaf from the great Henry Louis Mencken, Baltimore’s sage. He was posed that very question some 100 years ago. His answer then is our answer now: “Why do men visit zoos?”

Below, Jeffrey Tucker wonders if a peaceful breakup of the United States would ironically represent the best method to heal today’s deep political fissures. Jeffrey’s take is certainly controversial - perhaps even heretical. Yet we believe it is worth a few minutes of your time. Please, read on."
"One Nation, Divisible"
by Jeffrey Tucker

"Sometimes the utterly unthinkable becomes a reality and, to everyone’s surprise, it works out better in the end. Such is the case with large nation-states that split up based on geography, language and political values. No disaster befell Czechoslovakia when it became the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The moving around of borders and jurisdictions is part of the trajectory of history, even if every generation believes that what exists now should exist forever.

And then suddenly it does not. We tend to think breakups happen to other countries but not here at home. And yet the U.S. is at least as fractured now as many unviable nation-states of the past. We seem to be nearing the point where a single rule for everyone no longer makes sense. So let’s just play a little game and imagine what it might look like.

Disunited America: The political stability of the United States is a particular sore point, given the 19th-century experience with an attempted breakup. There had been many prior threats to end the union but after the Northern victory, the idea of manifest destiny became entrenched and so too did the notion that the U.S. is the one indispensable nation, forever to be exactly the way it is.

A friend from a foreign land asked me why Hawaii is part of the U.S. The answer is obvious: conquest. Alaska was different: a commercial transaction that ended up as part of the union some 10 years into the Cold War as a security measure. Otherwise, it’s hard to make sense of these two states as wonderful as they are.

The U.S. was formed out of 13 colonies, beginning as a loose confederation with no operational central government. That came 12 years later. Generally, it has worked, and worked best when the system functions as it is supposed to: checks and balances; juridical limits on the powers of everyone, including the judiciary; and a high respect for the decentralized structure that leaves most political decisions to the states.

How much strain is this under today and what might happen? Could it break up? It’s not something to rule out. Moreover, it might be the most peaceful and prosperous path toward solving the intractable political problems in this country. It doesn’t mean war. It doesn’t mean economic isolation. It merely means a greater degree of self-governance than we currently have. Handled properly (which is of course highly unlikely) a breakup could be the best step forward.

The Technological Problem: The advent of huge nation-states has an ancient origin tracing to the imperial ambitions of much-vaunted leaders seeking to make their mark on history. The modern origins of such things has a 19th-century root in a different idea: Geographically large states are better at making wealth than smaller ones. The internal markets can be more diverse and robust with better control over the rules of the game. They can be more internally self-reliant and better protected against invasion.

Whether and to what extent that was true, technology today makes such arguments far less relevant. The problem of geographic proximity is ever less a concern in a digital world in which location is not as relevant as access to a network. This reality makes geographically noncontiguous political arrangements more viable than ever before.

In this way, it is no longer a necessity to be trapped inside the political territory of your residence. Many public services can become subscription models. And whether and to what extent those subscriptions pertain to geography as such — water, fire, ambulance — all depends on the service in question. Law and litigation need no longer be restricted by proximity.

The Schools: The rise of the gigantic American territorial state coincided with the advent of universal public schooling and compulsory attendance laws. People these days forget that we haven’t always had those. The main purpose was to instill civic values that preached the importance of compliance, unity and conformity. Not everyone went along but over time, they triumphed mightily. They might have been inefficient and often nonperforming but they achieved their real purpose.

Until two years ago. Unthinkably, they shut down. It was an enormous error even from a ruling-class point of view because it introduced the whole of America to the possibility of other options. Homeschooling was under a cloud and then suddenly it was mandatory. Parents did not like what they saw on Zoom and millions of people are now out in full force to push a change at the local level.

There is poetry here. The public schools are now under pressure as never before, which means that a central pillar of the unitary nation-state is suddenly in question. There are already many bills in Congress that would finally abolish the Department of Education. It’s way past time to do so.

The Money: Another factor in the building of large unitary states was the belief that the nation-state money would obtain more power and reach the more people who used it. This happened in the U.S. for sure, and it was in many ways a betrayal of history. In the early 19th century, all monies in the U.S. were based on gold and silver but foreign coins circulated freely. Most monies in the world have different names for the same thing. They cobbled together a central system of coinage by the 1880s and then a central bank by 1913. By 1971, the gold backing was gone.

No question that the dollar has benefited from the large state but we now have new ways of doing money and finance too and they are ever less dependent on geography. Any currency can become any other currency with a few clicks. And if crypto currency really is our future - and a private form of money circulates alongside a public one - this reasoning behind a unitary state has fallen apart. Forget about the whole FTX saga. That’s just a temporary blip and is actually healthy for cryptos in general because it’ll shake a lot of frauds out of the tree.

Not Soon but Maybe Later? The political divisions in the U.S. have become an enormous distraction from what should be the main job of individuals and communities in society: building better lives. That happens not through the game of capturing power and control from the other tribe but through finding ways to cooperate with others in the great project of finding peace and prosperity.

A nation doesn’t necessarily have to be forced. You can still feel like an American but have full citizenship in one of 20, 50 or 500 smaller states, each of which can have its own constitution, court system, legislature and chief executive. Nor would this mean the end of liberalism as it is historically understood. Peace and friendship can prevail between people of different political loyalties and attachments.

The transition from here to there could be painful, to be sure, but things are very painful as they are, as multiple tribes continue to tear each other apart in the great mission of grabbing the brass ring of power. It was not supposed to be this way. But the centralization and betrayal of the founding principles made it so.

My father was a great American patriot but he was also friendly to the Texas secession movement. I’m pretty sure that he favored it. Many Texans do, and the same with many in blue states too. The federal government as we know it is not the right technology for making a peaceful and prosperous world of tomorrow. Might it all break up? Might we all be better off as a result?"

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