From the point of view of the average European, and indeed to many Americans, there must seem to be not much difference in substance between the right and the left these days. Both have more or less surrendered to a finance-heavy, lightly-regulated form of capitalism, only to slightly varying degrees. There is some separation still on the manner and amount of benefits, but usually even from the left benefits are tied to production: free college for a smarter workforce, free healthcare for a healthy workforce. (Not for more healthy soldiers as we might have seen in the past.)
But is this argument really over?
A new round of identity politics has floated its way into the front of leftwing politics despite the fanfare of Occupy Wall Street, Elizabeth Warren, despite the economic crash, despite everything. Just like the old, this supposed quest for justice is just the same old bigotry, done small time, dicing people even further into smaller groups and adjectives, justified by questionable history and sociological theories. Every single racial, gender, or sexual preference issue gets eclipsed into this nonsense. The result is that well meaning people from other groups simply ignore all of it. This is not progress.
Politicians throughout the developed world are at a loss for a grand strategy. You hear piecemeal solutions to every world event. We will bomb this group in this city. We will evacuate these people here. Events are far outpacing our leaders’ ability to react. It’s too early to say, but it may be that the status quo of international politics that has held since the end of WWII is collapsing. Too many states lack the basic component of sovereignty that is a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and worse, many have no legitimacy in the eyes of their populations. Is this too much wailing Cassandra? Perhaps. The old order has done a very good, if not perfect, job of prevent interstate wars. But it has utterly failed at dealing with civil war and the collapse of states, where numerous genocides have occurred such as in Cambodia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and Sudan. It seems incapable of dealing with the collapse of the Arab states, either.
In the US, we have a toxic mix of xenophobia, isolationism, exceptionalism, pacifism, and bleeding hearts. We want to pretend we can stay out of everything until we get carried away with emotion about something and we have to act on that, instead of having a plan. Then when we get there we don’t want to get our hands dirty because we went in to be heroes.
Americans have always known very little about the outside world. But today, we know very little about where our interests lie, and if we do understand those interests we dismiss them. Oil in the gulf? Eh, let’s just get off foreign oil. Nukes in Iran? Eh, we did fine against the Soviets.
Getting into land wars in Asia or invading Afghanistan, or whatever other quote you want to cite entirely miss the point. Never get into any war that isn’t over an important national interest, but when you do, go all in. And once the interest is achieved or defunct, leave. That would have meant withdrawing from Vietnam in 1966 after making it clear we wouldn’t surrender entire regions to the communists cheaply–this containment deterrence was the only strategic justification for that war, though it does exist in contrast to many popular myths about our having no interest at all. This would have meant never invading an Iraq that had no nuclear capacity or connections to al Qaeda and would have certainly meant a departure from Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden was killed.
But, to get back to the basic point, neither the right nor the left seems wiling or able to develop a grand strategy at all, let alone one worth following. This leaves us to chose between the same basic economic arrangement.
As someone who does sweat the details, there is no choice. In the United States, the Republican party is febrile, incapable of non-political decision making, incapable of long-term thinking, disdainful of the middle class, and utterly dominated by antiscience nationalism. For all of the Democrats’ many faults, they can still pilot the ship. They can govern, respond to problems, develop solutions, and sometimes implement them.
Where this distinction doesn’t hold, where the right-wing parties aren’t completely dominated by their loonies, such as in Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Israel, Spain, Finland, and Denmark, it’s worth asking if the nihilistic social agenda of the left doesn’t demand defiance.