Thursday, October 30, 2008

Just Another Country Now

Fouad Ajami writes in "Obama and the Politics of Crowds" about something that has been on my mind for some while now, but which I cannot express as gracefully as he. He writes of his sadness, the sort of sadness only an immigrant liberated by America's (small-r) republicanism can possess, of what the success of the Obama candidacy means. It means we are becoming European in our mediocrity, and in our pessimism:

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late Democratic senator from New York, once set the difference between American capitalism and the older European version by observing that America was the party of liberty, whereas Europe was the party of equality. Just in the nick of time for the Obama candidacy, the American faith in liberty began to crack. The preachers of America's decline in the global pecking order had added to the panic. Our best days were behind us, the declinists prophesied. The sun was setting on our imperium, and rising in other lands.

And we are becoming like every troubled land in placing our faith in men and not laws:

My boyhood, and the Arab political culture I have been chronicling for well over three decades, are anchored in the Arab world. And the tragedy of Arab political culture has been the unending expectation of the crowd -- the street, we call it -- in the redeemer who will put an end to the decline, who will restore faded splendor and greatness. When I came into my own, in the late 1950s and '60s, those hopes were invested in the Egyptian Gamal Abdul Nasser. He faltered, and broke the hearts of generations of Arabs. But the faith in the Awaited One lives on, and it would forever circle the Arab world looking for the next redeemer.

A few months back I had a discussion with one of my colleagues. I had said that one of the reasons I objected to Sen. Obama was that he did not believe in American exceptionalism - the idea that we are different, in ways that are profoundly good and important. Instead, he believes that America is out of control and behind the times in terms of "progress" - the welfare state, signing on to the carbon-hysteria agenda, etc. America, in his view, needs to be restrained by philosophically loathsome treaties in the name of the global good, and its people have to sacrifice their dreams so the state can do good. Just like they do in other countries.

My colleague didn't really believe my criticism of Sen. Obama, and I think perhaps did not understand so well the point I was making (which was probably my fault for explaining it so poorly). Indeed I asked him if he believed in American exceptionalism, and he said he did, but couldn't really explain why.

The reason, of course, is that America is the only nation in history to be founded on the individualist creed. (To be sure, we inherited much from Britain, and from Rome and the German tribes before them, that made this possible.) But it is possible we are headed as a nation to being just like everybody else. We believe in the necessity (forgetting our own unique and priceless heritage) of "change," even though we are not sure what we mean when we approve of it. We give little thought to the need for an America devoted to individual sovereignty, as the last refuge of those in danger of being crushed by collectivism. All we need is the brave leader with the magical powers to change human nature to get us to the promised land, free of poverty, depression and rancor - our Peron, our Nasser.

Of course, one of the reasons the Nassers, Perons, and assorted other corrupt parasites and demagogues who rule their benighted lands cannot do too much damage is that America is always there, as the land where the individual can control his own destiny without being absorbed into the collective. But what if we wake up one day and it isn't?



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