Pax Americana has been pretty good for America, and the rest of the world as well. But battered and scarred by combat in inhospitable places, and with pocket book issues facing the electorate as we move ever closer to
a crippingly expensive European-style welfare state realizing the progressive vision, public men are openly predicting that a post-American world will be not merely a better place, but more of the same. Writing in the WSJ, Robert Kagan opines that the world that most of us have grown up knowing, one of relative peace and prosperity, one of “free minds and free markets”, is a historical anomaly that may not survive the removal of its foundation stone:
Many foreign-policy experts see the present international order as the inevitable result of human progress, a combination of advancing science and technology, an increasingly global economy, strengthening international institutions, evolving “norms” of international behavior and the gradual but inevitable triumph of liberal democracy over other forms of government—forces of change that transcend the actions of men and nations.
Americans certainly like to believe that our preferred order survives because it is right and just—not only for us but for everyone. We assume that the triumph of democracy is the triumph of a better idea, and the victory of market capitalism is the victory of a better system, and that both are irreversible. That is why Francis Fukuyama’s thesis about “the end of history” was so attractive at the end of the Cold War and retains its appeal even now, after it has been discredited by events. The idea of inevitable evolution means that there is no requirement to impose a decent order. It will merely happen.
But international order is not an evolution; it is an imposition. It is the domination of one vision over others—in America’s case, the domination of free-market and democratic principles, together with an international system that supports them. The present order will last only as long as those who favor it and benefit from it retain the will and capacity to defend it.
There was nothing inevitable about the world that was created after World War II. No divine providence or unfolding Hegelian dialectic required the triumph of democracy and capitalism, and there is no guarantee that their success will outlast the powerful nations that have fought for them. Democratic progress and liberal economics have been and can be reversed and undone. The ancient democracies of Greece and the republics of Rome and Venice all fell to more powerful forces or through their own failings. The evolving liberal economic order of Europe collapsed in the 1920s and 1930s. The better idea doesn’t have to win just because it is a better idea. It requires great powers to champion it.
The CO of a Fallon-based adversary squadron had an interesting take on the US, comparing it to the Roman Republic. Look around you he said, most of us have haircuts that would not seem out of place in the Roman forums. Eagles support our banners. We seek to remake the world in our own form, even as we borrow money for bread, circuses and foreign wars of conquest. Those holding political power seek to tax the productive classes unto extinction, eliminating any competing sources of power while earning the obeisance of the dependent classes.
The Roman Republic was great while it lasted, not only for the Romans.
What followed after, not so much.