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Is the Past Prologue?

I write this essay on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, unable to be commemorated by the war’s few survivors due to the Covid-19 pandemic. How has the world changed since the end of World War II seventy-five years ago? How has it changed since the Cold War’s denouement? Are we at risk today of unlearning the war’s legacy, the necessity to balance internationalism with democratic norms at home? These are the main themes of Paul Miller’s essay about the nature of the international system at the current moment and the similarities to the 1930s.

I would like to push back a little on Miller’s past as prologue concerns about the nature of the international system then and now. But first, here is Miller’s conclusion to his provocative essay:

World War II started when preexisting national grievances met economic catastrophe, which in turn led to ideological radicalization, the rise of nationalism and authoritarianism, and eventually international aggression—all enabled by the vacuum of global leadership by liberal powers. Read that sentence again and note how eerily it describes the world in 2020. We are at risk of remembering World War II by fighting its sequel, teaching the war’s lessons by reviving them, and remembering its mistakes by recommitting them. Unless we take drastic action, we will commemorate the end of the Second World War by replicating its path to it.

When one looks generally at the common themes between then and now, there are surface similarities. Nationalism has been on the rise in the western world; global trade and interchange is at a standstill due to Covid-19; unemployment is at the highest since the Great Depression; growing authoritarianism is a threat to western democracy; and the world has exacerbated the rise of communist China to great power status with the ability to extend its military abroad in Asia and in the Indian Ocean.

All the contemporary events certainly mimic the 1930s. But there are a few things missing from the comparative equation in Miller’s essay. The trend worldwide in the aftermath of Versailles and the failure to produce a peace which established norms for all parties, and instead imposed a Carthaginian peace on a defeated Germany. The victory of Bolshevism and the establishment of the Soviet Union—and legitimate fears of communism’s spread outside of Russia—led to the emergence of nationalist and fascist movements in eastern and central Europe. The failure to ensure a democratic world produced a 75 Years War, one that encompassed World War II and the Cold War. This was a murderous era of totalitarian governments, led by the USSR, Germany, Japan, and their clients—backed by significant industrial and military production—wreaking havoc on the world. World War II may have killed as many as 50-70 million people; communist governments killed over 100 million in the 20th century. There is nothing comparable today.

What we have today—all around the world—is a backlash against an international system which has produced global norms at the expense of national economic goals. The United States in its unipolar moment in the 1990s, threw away the victory it sustained in the 75 Years War against communism and fascism, and instead embraced the role of global policeman, of enforcer of international order and democracy. The results have been disastrous in national treasure and in disdain for the elites worldwide who helped propagate this new world order.

For a longer period, the United States also threw away its industrial and manufacturing hegemony which produced victory in World War II. Our trade policy going back to the 1950s was predicated on an open and liberal world order, dedicated to free trade, eschewing tariffs, and the protection of domestic industries in favor of alliances and treaties devoted to allow access to American markets. Japan and the European Common Market gorged their appetites on industrial manufacturing at the expense of American workers, reaching a crisis by the 1970s as American car companies could no longer innovate, steel manufacturers saw their dominance weakened by cheaper manufactured steel from abroad (South Korea and Japan, initially), and western dependence on foreign oil led to the energy crisis and dependence on Middle Eastern oil (and involvement in Middle Eastern politics and wars). We rebuilt our former foes, made them equal to the task of competition with our economy, subsidized their welfare states, and lost our industrial and manufacturing industries to developing countries and to West Germany and Japan.

In a perfect free market world, that is the way the ball bounces; it is the creative destruction on which capitalism depends. But it had costs, not only at home, but in our foreign policy as well. The endless Middle Eastern wars which Donald Trump wants to wind down cost thousands of American lives and trillions in economic treasure. The fracking boom at home has made the need for regional involvement there less important, but still we hear calls to continue our presence in the region. And Trump has, at times, been inconsistent by hiring John Bolton as national security advisor and by beating the drums for war against Iran.

China’s rise came at our expense. Global elites from all parties felt that they could help promote democratization in China by allowing unimpeded access to western markets. But Chinese leaders stole some major American manufacturing sectors (furniture comes to mind) but robbed the nation of intellectual property. The communist leadership also actually governed as communists (or, as fascists which seems a better fit in terminology). This benefitted western companies who could secure cheaper labor (and even unpaid labor). It helped the bottom line of hedge funds and Wall Street investment banks, but did little for the average American, except to provide the cheap consumables from China sold at their local Wal Mart. The result after twenty years of global kowtowing to the Chinese? Xi Jinping, whose goals are to build the “China Dream,” and whose economic and military strengthening of China to get there by the century mark of communist rule in China, will lead to conflict with the West. After Covid-19 and the machinations of China in their handling of the virus, at least the world is wising up a bit to China’s growing dominance. Better to balance against regimes like China than to kowtow.

Now, to be fair, Miller is critical of this new liberal internationalism because it does not come equipped with the respect for power that was the basis for Allied victory in World War II and the Cold War. “As I have written elsewhere,” he notes, “democracy is a better idea than fascism, but the liberal international order does not exist because it is a better idea. It exists because the democratic power built bigger and better guns, killed millions of fascists, overthrew fascist government, tried and hanged fascist leaders, and liberated or coercively democratized former fascist countries.” Instead, Miller sees thousands of public policy and international relations graduates from premier institutions “blinded by the naivete and functional pacifism of their liberal internationalist education, marching straight towards the cliff of disarmament and irrelevance.”

The bigger concern for liberty should be the growth of government power which comes out of every crisis, and the national debt will be one of the biggest problems facing our efforts to revive the economy.

Yet, Miller winds up embracing a hard-edged liberal internationalism because “after World War II—and again after the Cold War—the United States led the free world in putting its collective stamp on world order.” He continues, “recognizing that does not require us to endorse all the naivete and utopianism of the liberal internationalists. It only requires us to marry a commitment to liberal ideas as our polestar to a prudent and pragmatic appreciation for the inescapable role hard power must always play in human politics.” Or, what? Into the abyss of major war? History repeating itself as if it is the 1930s all over again? History never works so neatly in spite of the adage of history repeating itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

As I said at the outset, a return to the interwar years and the descent into major war is highly unlikely. For all the blather about nationalism and the Make America Great Again rhetoric, Trump has not moved us out of any military alliance. Has he weakened it with his rhetoric? Maybe. But as we have witnessed since World War II, there is no reason that rich nations in Europe should get a free ride for their defense on the American taxpayer while their citizens enjoy lavish welfare state benefits as a result. On trade, Trump’s tariffs are hardly Smoot-Hawley, the highest tariffs in US history, and it produced two agreements with China, and with Mexico and Canada. The trade policies seem positional, not foundational. They are about a better deal, a laudable goal, rather than isolating our market from world trade. Our policy now should look to the developing nations in Asia, as well as Japan and Australia and Taiwan.

The current economic collapse, rivalling now the unemployment of the Great Depression of the 1930s, is more ominous potentially depending on how long it takes to revert back to the norm which existed before March 2020 and the government shutdowns of the economy. But even that should not produce the misery of the depression decade, nor should it produce a retraction on the scale of the 1930s. America continues to be the leader in defense production. No isolationist movement exists on the scale of the 1930s, and it is doubtful that one will develop. Trump is no Gerald Nye or Charles Lindbergh. In fact, this economic shutdown has revealed the need to infuse dormant productive capacities: Americans need to manufacture their own medicines and other priority items necessary to protect our people and to make sure we are the leaders in these developments and not China. The bigger concern for liberty should be the growth of government power which comes out of every crisis, and the national debt will be one of the biggest problems facing our efforts to revive the economy.

So, where does this leave us 75 years after the end of World War II? Remarkably better off than the world was in 1919, or in 1939. In spite of the rise of nationalism, and even with the limited authoritarianism that nationalism has produced in Europe (Hungarian president Viktor Orban comes to mind), there is no power structure remaining in Europe capable of repeating what Germany did twice in the first half of the 20th century. China is the only power capable of challenging the global hegemony of the West and they are still some years away from doing that—and the Chinese have their own problems to deal with both internally, and now, externally. Miller is correct that some of this is worrisome but the parallels between then and now are dissimilar. What we have is a natural backlash against a global economic order which has produced safety and security for elites, and economic insecurity for the majority of Americans. It is time to address those concerns and take a turn away from the liberal internationalism responsible for it, being careful to balance the concerns of our population with those of the world. 

Reader Discussion

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on August 12, 2020 at 09:13:08 am

“The United States in its unipolar moment in the 1990s, threw away the victory it sustained in the 75 Years War against communism and fascism, and instead embraced the role of global policeman, of enforcer of international order and democracy. The results have been disastrous in national treasure and in disdain for the elites worldwide who helped propagate this new world order.”

By elites who “helped propagate this new world order”, can we assume you are referring to the atheistic materialistic overpopulation alarmist globalist who see the elderly and the immune compromised as a burden and not a Blessing?

How are we better off when a majority in this Nation believe abortion is essential and good for the posterity and prosperity of this Nation and the Global World? The Atheistic Materialistic Over Population Alarmist Globalist, Abortion and Euthanasia Agenda, is the real virus infecting the globe, as evidence by the fact that during the lockdown, that was justified by “a desire to save lives”, abortion, which destroys the lives of young, vulnerable sons and daughters, and exposing our most vulnerable, the elderly, to the virus, by not first and foremost protecting them from harm, was considered permissible, and, in fact, allowed, despite the “lockdown”.

We cannot return to order until we desire to protect our Founding Judeo-Christian principles, for every time in our Salvational History when we have strayed from those Founding Judeo-Christian principles, we have suffered both individually and as a Nation.

God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, Is The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage, but we get to choose our own destiny.

“Choose Love, and you will live.”

“Hope springs eternal”, because Salvational Love is Life-affirming and Life-sustaining.

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Nancy
on August 12, 2020 at 20:06:40 pm

Well said, Mr Schneider!
The *nationalism*, so reviled by the Left and the ideological right and Lincoln Project Never Trumpers is nothing more than a reaction to the disastrous policy fantasies of the globalist elites. Such policies having wreaked havoc upon not just the economic well being of working Americans but also upon the cultural traditions and political sensibilities of the American polity as our self enriching elites kowtowed to China and the "presumptive" Free trade, which was clearly neither Free NOR Fair.
And it is true that there are cultural elements to the present nationalism; clearly, however, this version may not be said to be at all comparable to the nationalistic sentiments / propensities of 1930's Europe. This is simply another Leftist (and sometimes Rightist) trope intended to discredit the justifiable frustration of working Americans as they view their increasingly diminishing prospects and future whilst observing the opulent expressions of elitist wealth and power. Additionally, the cultural revulsion of the average American (and Europeans, as well) at the expressions and promulgation of Elite Global opinion of their corporate overlords (see Gates, Bezos, Dorsey, *uckerberg, etc) that disdains, disparages and discounts both the sentiments and the economic realities of "flyover country" inhabitants is a critical component of this new "nationalism", as is respect for tradition, culture and religious sensibilities. All of the foregoing are reviled by the new Elites who find, and are dependent upon, support from the media elites who are themselves a product of the same mind-bending educational monopoly as are the objects of their idolatry (non-religious connotation here) and whose favor so fervently desire.

No, this is the "nationalism" of the new Forgotten Man who simply and properly asks, "Why has my country not defended me OR itself?"
I see not the slightest danger of the rise of Fascism, Falangism, or even authoritarianism in this new nationalism. Rather, I see a simple plea for the restoration of traditional American values and diplomacy which DOES NOT NEGLECT, nor forget that American Interests must NOT be abandoned.
To conjure up visions of American workers donning Brownshirts and demanding that we "reclaim" parts of Canada is simply ludicrous and the product of an overactive but vile and fetid elitist imagination.

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gabe
on August 14, 2020 at 18:43:18 pm

This essay by Mr. Schneider is a welcome step back from the "woe is us" drum beat provided by the MSM, and the "malaise" infecting the Liberal World Order (IWO) that The American Interest tends to go on about. Gabe captures at least the American sentiment well with "..this is the "nationalism" of the new Forgotten Man who simply and properly asks... for the restoration of traditional American values and diplomacy which DOES NOT NEGLECT, nor forget that American Interests must NOT be abandoned." The Tea Party tried to bring this populism to the fore, along with concerns for the mounting national debt, but were subsumed within the "Republican establishment". Perhaps if the TEA banners had read "Trim Entitlements Already!" instead of "Taxed Enough Already!" a message less compatible with "traditional Republican values" would have been better recognized as the wake up call that it was.

But is it plain and simple greed or responsible fiduciary leadership when corporate executives move a plant to a lower cost locale (Mexico, China, etc.)? Or if they invest in automation when the quality and size of the required human talent pool is simply not available? Normal working people and union leadership should have seen that paying someone $24 to $36 an hour to push the same button or pull the same lever over and over was not sustainable. If the economy depends on a mix of labor and capital, and the fraction of capital is growing at the expense of labor, it strikes me that part of the answer (in lieu of no-value-added basic income schemes) is for the worker to increase his stake in capitalism and become a capitalist via saving and investing (IRAs, 401Ks, personal accounts, etc.). He needs to capture some of the income generated by automation that he no longer has access to via his personal time and talent.

He also needs to ensure his human capital is up to snuff with market requirements. Government and society can help but the motivation and drive has to come from the worker recognizing he will otherwise be sidelined. Reports of too many people not having set aside even $400 to $1000 for emergencies, let along up to 6 months of income (saved over time), suggest there are other problems that no welfare program can correct. [Yes, the pandemic has thrown a wrench into the economic and political situation, but at least there we can see a light at the end of the tunnel in 6 to 18 months or so. Addressing the best mix of human and money capital mentioned above requires a longer term focus.]

We need to use the internet and/or whatever to wrest the narrative away from the MSM and leftist forces and reintroduce our prior "can do" attitude of personal initiative rather than the "yes we can" pablum of government support offered by Obama et al. Perhaps a mix of ridicule and abandonment will be enough. Or someone with the right mindset needs to buy out Fox (or CNN?) and redirect it full bore against Bezos' WaPo, et al. Growing appreciation of costs and reality and the 2nd best approach to higher education offered by the University of Zoom may also curtail some excesses in academia. Basically, "Gramscia delenda est!".

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R2L
on August 15, 2020 at 10:52:54 am

Is the Past Prologue?

Our Founding Judeo-Christian Principles recognized that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Is The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage, and thus The Author Of Our Unalienable Right to Life, to Liberty, and to The Pursuit Of Happiness.

Classical Liberalism recognized God to be The Author Of our unalienable Rights, whereas modern liberalism, which is actually recycled paganism, desires to render onto Caesar, or oneself, what belongs to God,

Modernism is the synthesis of all heresy because the denial of The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, and thus The Divinity Of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, is the source of all heresy. One cannot compromise Truth without ending with error.

http://www.drbo.org/chapter/50017.htm

“John Courtney Murray said that pluralism is written into the script of history, and I would add that it seems God did the writing. By pluralism, I mean a world in which people live by significantly different accounts of reality, including moral and religious reality, and must learn to live together.” - https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/06/conservative-christians-need-stay-civil/590866/

We can know through both Faith and reason that God does not Will the worshipping of false gods, but rather God Wills Freewill because Love is not possessive, nor is it coercive, nor does it serve to manipulate for the sake of self-gratification; Love is a Gift given freely from the heart, that desires only that which is Good for one’s beloved.

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N.D.
on August 24, 2020 at 18:37:00 pm

Professor Schneider’s assessment is brilliant yet empty of a way forward: “What we have is a natural backlash against a global economic order which has produced safety and security for elites, and economic insecurity for the majority of Americans. It is time to address those concerns and take a turn away from the liberal internationalism responsible for it, being careful to balance the concerns of our population with those of the world.”

As usual, I’d like to interpret so as to propose a solution. My interpretation of Schneider’s brilliance: As economic policeman of the world, America’s elites used Anglo-American and Judeo-Christian, Chapter XI Machiavellianism to develop consumerism among “ourselves,” eventually loading “our Posterity” with debt due to adult satisfaction. Humankind expresses the consequential chaos, and looks to the U.S. for survival.

Now, to suggest a solution for improvement by the writers in this great forum. First, the elites may accept that the Orthodox Tewahedo canon is among those as old as the Roman Catholic canon and develop sufficient national humility toward whatever-God-is. That is to say, encourage inhabitants---civic citizens, dissidents, legal residents, aliens, and enemies, to consider the possibility that their personal God alienates whatever-God-is.

In the competition between the Tewahedo canon and others, I cannot discern how the charge to humankind in Genesis 1:28 emerged. For all I know, it was a prehistoric observation that if individuals do not constrain the chaos near them, they will personally perish. For example, overexposure to the sun could kill you. Regardless, I cannot extract the directive that I should assume a mysterious soul and take charge of its destiny.

Many Americans, intentionally or not, detract from the U.S. intentions that are proffered in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution (1787): to constrain chaos. The Constitution’s signers if not the framers set forth the disciplines by which the Anglo-American founders’ dependent psychology may be replaced with responsible human independence and due appreciation for whatever-God-is.

In 1763, the 14 eastern seaboard British colonies discerned that their loyal countrypersons in Great Britain were enslaving them to be overlords for British ambitions for the Atlantic slave-trade. In 1774, Nova Scotia, with a significant French-Catholic faction, was left out of the confederation of the other 13 colonies, who changed their global status to 13 free and independent states. They took the license to declare war against England in 1776, and the French provided military strategy and power to win the deciding battle at Yorktown, VA, 1781. They ratified the 1783 Treaty of Paris in January, 1784. By May, 1787, 12 of the 13 free and independent states convened to establish states’ unity.

Through September, the 55 framers debated a republican federalism, and 16 either dissented or otherwise left Philadelphia. One of the chief objections was the preamble’s 5 public disciplines “in order to” enjoy responsible human independence to “ourselves and our Posterity.” We are the 2020 “ourselves” with “our Posterity.” The Congress of 1789-1793 substituted dependence on whatever-God-is for humankind’s responsibility to constrain chaos, and the federal government has maintained the tyranny ever since. It is time to reform “freedom of religion” with encouragement to develop integrity.

The originality of this U.S. intent becomes evident when the individual develops a personal interpretation of the U.S. Preamble’s people’s proposition by which he or she manages his or her civic, civil, legal, and spiritual living, keeping afterdeath concerns private. My interpretation today is: This appreciative citizen practices and promotes the 5 U.S. public disciplines---integrity, justice, peace, strength, and prosperity, "in order to” enjoy responsible human independence among “ourselves” and encourage “our Posterity.” Both civil liberty and private spirituality are expressed in the phrase “human independence.” Non-civil liberty, or license, or vigilantism, is observed nightly in Portland Oregon’s 2020 August. Failure to express sufficient humility toward whatever-God-is is expressed in the 1954 pledge of allegiance.

I seek criticism of my interpretation in order to improve it.

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Phillip Beaver

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