There is, every few years, a “new global politics,” or perhaps more
precisely, a “newest global politics.” The point is that human life on
this planet, growing more numerous and living longer, is a very
complicated web of forces --- not only those which are obviously
and historically nationalistic, but those which are economic and
Recorded history, compared with how long our species has
inhabited this planet, is quite brief, perhaps 10,000 years or so,
with only 5000 of the most recent years accompanied by records
in written language. Photographic and sound-recorded history is
even briefer, less than 200 years. The phenomenon of the internet
is only about 25 years old.
Thus, with about seven billion-plus human beings located in various
sites, large and small, urban and rural, “developed” and
“undeveloped,” we find ourselves at a most curious and seemingly
undecipherable moment. Of course, each era in human history has
its curious and unique aspects, and a person living in any of those
eras of the past, from the earliest to the present, is in a similar
relationship to his or her own time, that is, wondering not so much
about their present, but more about their future. It was one of my
favorite writers, the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, who
so lucidly set down the notion that the conscious life in the present
is primarily about anticipations of the future.
The priority of hope and optimism is always part of modern
democratic life, but those of us who live in such a life need to
remember always that a great number of our fellow human beings
do not live in such a life experience. Yes, democratic capitalist
societies and nations have grown in number over the past century,
but the expansion is neither regular nor always expanding. There
are literally billions of men, women and children who live in
conditions that do not promote hope and optimism.
Idealists throughout recorded history have posited the expansion
of human freedom, even when only the tiniest number of persons
lived in optimum conditions, even when human freedom, as we
know it, did not exist, even at the highest levels.
It is only in very recent years that human society has begun to
discard the initial species custom of placing “power” in a few
“chiefs” or leaders who have had so much control over most of
their fellows. It began in cave and nomadic life, and was
transformed in ancient, feudal, medieval societies into various
“royal” forms. It reached an apotheosis in the 20th century,
prefigured by Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan and Napoleon in earlier
centuries, when figures from “humble” origins rose to become
absolute and lethal tyrants who murdered millions of
persons, and caused devastation to many more millions who
were not killed, but were maimed, otherwise harmed and
dislocated with unspeakable human suffering.
I hope the reader will excuse this long preamble to my discussion
of the “newest global politics,” but despite any “mood” of alarm
or despair we might have, I think it is valuable to remember what
happened and existed before and throughout history. I think it
also puts in some useful perspective the misgivings many of us
have about the current world scene in which the leading world
power of the past quarter century has rather quickly backed off
from its role of imperfect yet primarily benevolent force in the
world and the protector of small nations, persecuted groups and
persons, emerging democratic societies and those who are victims
of great natural disasters.
It also puts in perspective the leaders of the U.S. foreign policy
who have moved in this direction and thus provoked a reworking
of global relationships, a reworking that always occurs when
political and military vacuums are created.
I suggest that if Barack Obama did not exist, the political system
sooner or later would have created someone like him. As president
of the U.S., Mr. Obama has had a temporary major influence, but
his lack of experience and understanding of history has made this
influence provisional at best. Nevertheless, the United States had
become war weary, militarily and economically frustrated, and so
physically comfortable that, in my opinion, the post-world war
sensibility of the world’s oldest and most successful capitalist
democracy was bound, in time, to change.
The current fads of impractical redistributionism, partial pacifism,
political “correctness” and leftist cultural imperialism which have
arisen under Mr. Obama’s tenure (now about to end), will not
recede just because of their own underweight. The impulses which
engendered them, as I have suggested that human history
demonstrates, are not superficial. The “revolt of the masses,” in
some form or another, is the order of history.
It is the challenge to the conservative impulse in our time to provide
an alternative global politics. The notion that conservatism is the
mere preservation of the past is a glib notion of the past. If anything,
it is the liberal impulse which, in fact, tries to keep society in the
thrall of an historical illusion. It is the radical left which promotes
drastic change, not liberalism. Liberalism, whether it be of the
European model or of the newer American model, passionately
defends an overcentralized social welfare system, static inequalities
and a retreat from free market economies.
History is the details of human change. Change does not belong to
the so-called left or the so-called right. Change is the vital context of
national and world politics.
If I read the current phenomenon in American politics at the grass
roots level, it is that Americans, intuiting change and regardless of
their political preferences, want something more than what’s currently
on the rhetorical table.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.