In what will count as this weekend’s big think magazine article Bard College professor Ian Buruma bemoans the advent of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. He sees them as an omen that presages the end of the Anglo-American world order.
Had he been slightly more astute he might have noted that eight years of President Barack Obama has seen America retreat from many of the values that made it great, powerful and it prosperous. Why blame Trump for something that has already happened?
Buruma argues that Barack Obama was trying to save America by producing a giant wave of equality. That goal was so important that Obama did not bother to concern himself with the production of wealth. Buruma does not seem to recognize that producing wealth and redistributing wealth are contradictory policies.
In what must surely count as one of the most misguided opinions offered by a serious thinker Buruma closes his article with a hope and a prayer that Western civilization, that is Judeo-Christian civilization will be saved by… you guessed it… Angela Merkel.
By pretending that all cultures are the same and that true liberal principles require you to submit to the kind of social chaos produced when unassimilable immigrants are allowed to overrun your nation Merkel has damaged her own country severely and has contributed mightily to the current rise of nationalism and populism.
As for Barack Obama, if I may repeat points that I have made previously, our president has failed to unite the country, refused to exercise American influence around the world, submitted to the ayatollahs and was cowed by Vladmir Putin and Xi Jinping. Rather than engage in the struggle against radical Islam—struggle that would have united the nation against a common enemy—Obama divided the country by going to war against Islamophobia and other forms of what he considered racism.
Purifying the American soul of sin was more important to him than asserting American greatness. If the Anglo-American world order is at an end, one primary reason is that Barack Obama put an end to it. He, and of course, those who voted for him and who still believe that he did a great job.
Obama thinks that America was founded on a racist past and thus that he cannot take pride in its greatest achievements… the ones that culminated in victory in World War II.
Buruma understands that the current world order derives from the last war in which America was victorious:
When Trump and Farage stood on that stage together in Mississippi, they spoke as though they were patriots reclaiming their great countries from foreign interests. No doubt they regard Britain and the United States as exceptional nations. But their success is dismaying precisely because it goes against a particular idea of Anglo-American exceptionalism. Not the traditional self-image of certain American and British jingoists who like to think of the United States as the City on the Hill or Britain as the sceptered isle splendidly aloof from the wicked Continent, but another kind of Anglo-American exception: the one shaped by World War II. The defeat of Germany and Japan resulted in a grand alliance, led by the United States, in the West and Asia. Pax Americana, along with a unified Europe, would keep the democratic world safe. If Trump and Farage get their way, much of that dream will be in tatters.
Buruma notwithstanding, the dream is now in tatters. It is interesting to see him blame someone who has not served a day in office while ignoring the influence of the current president.
Buruma does not draw the obvious lesson from World War II, and from British inventions like the Industrial Revolution and free enterprise. We won the war because we practiced martial values, not because we led the world in free love and peace marches. And he ignores cultural habits like the British stiff upper lip, the British tendency to queue up, and the value of patriotism and loyalty.
Instead, Buruma argues that the Anglo-American world order was produced by a wistful dream for equality. Of course, Jefferson did have something to say about equality in the Declaration of Independence, but the armies and the industries that produced the Anglo-American order were based on liberty more than equality.
One recalls that, well before Jefferson stepped foot in France, one Jean-Jacques Rousseau produced a “Discourse on Inequality” that set the minds of idealists abuzz but that helped produce the bloodbath called the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.
The martial values that won World War II were dismissed by the baby boomer generation in favor of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Their children value transgendered restrooms, trigger warnings and legalized weed.
Even before Barack Obama, America had been declining. It had suffered a series of failed military incursions and lost wars. Obama upped the ante by refusing to fight at all.
You can drool all you want about social justice but if your nation keeps losing wars, it will no longer set a standard that anyone will want to emulate.
About that Buruma has nothing to say.
In part, Buruma understands clearly the importance of capitalism:
Anglo-American capitalism can be harsh in many ways, but because free markets are receptive to new talent and cheap labor, they have spawned the kind of societies, pragmatic and relatively open, where immigrants can thrive, the very kind that rulers of more closed, communitarian, autocratic societies tend to despise.
To his mind the Cold War as a battle between ideas. It was our dream of equality versus their despotism.
The West, its freedoms protected by the United States, needed a plausible counternarrative to Soviet ideology. This included a promise of greater social and economic equality.
Thus, Buruma claims that what made America great was the civil rights movement, culminating in the election of a president who had no real qualifications for the job. He ignores the fact that the election of Barack Obama defined the notion of qualification downwards. If Obama was so great and if he made America so great why have he and his political party been so roundly repudiated at the polls?
If Barack Obama set such a shining example why have more and more Americans lost faith in democracy? And, why have other countries around the world decided that liberal democracy is not for them?
If you want to know where Barack Obama’s loyalty lies, consider the fact that not a single member of his administration represented America at the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. On the contrary, two White House officials will be attending the funeral of Fidel Castro. It’s not just that Obama is the master of the cheap shot; his sympathies lie with the oppressed not with the victors.
How much more do you need to understand?
In Buruma’s words:
America’s prestige was greatly bolstered not just by the soldiers who helped liberate Europe but also by the men and women back home who fought to make their society more equal and their democracy more inclusive. By struggling against the injustices in their own country, figures like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or the Freedom Riders or indeed President Obama kept the hope of American exceptionalism alive. As did the youth culture of the 1960s.
He does not mention, even in passing, that Anglo-American principles and achievements are constantly attacked in the school system and the media. The American academy, such as it is, is chockablock with professors who believe that America is an organized criminal conspiracy that needs to be brought down. They teach their students to despise the martial values that won World War II and to disparage the free enterprise system that produced prosperity after the war. They oppose Anglo-American hegemony as an article of faith. About this Buruma has nothing to say.
And Buruma does not appreciate the fact that the assault on America, coupled with the assault on Western Civilization has come to us from the same fever swamps that produced European fascism, Nazism and Communism.
He does not see that Middle Europeans who could not defeat America or Britain on the battlefield or in the marketplace, were taking out their frustration on local exemplars of the values they abhorred. That is, on their own local Jewish population. Within Nazi Europe Jews became surrogates for the forces of Anglo-American culture and values. It is certainly not an accident that today’s social justice warriors, led by Jeremiah Wright’s protégé, a man supported by Louis Farrakhan, reserve a special hatred for the state of Israel.
Buruma makes this point:
Wilhelm II, kaiser of Germany until 1918, when his country was defeated in the First World War, which he had done his best to unleash, was such a figure. Half English himself, he called England a nation of shopkeepers and described it as “Juda-England,” a country corrupted by sinister alien elites, where money counted more than the virtues of blood and soil. In later decades, this kind of anti-Semitic rhetoric was more often aimed at the United States. The Nazis were convinced that Jewish capitalists ruled America, not just in Hollywood but in Washington and, naturally, New York. This notion is still commonly held, though less in Europe than in the Middle East and some parts of Asia. But talk about “citizens of nowhere,” sinister cosmopolitan elites and conspiratorial bankers fits precisely in the same tradition. A terrifying irony of contemporary Anglo-American populism is the common use of phrases that were traditionally used by enemies of the English-speaking countries.
Note how brilliantly twisted Buruma is. Who declared himself a citizen of the world… in Germany, no less? It was Barack Obama, don’t you recall. The guardian class of elites-- idealists all-- has chosen to fight a culture war against the values that prevailed during World War II and the years that followed. These modern Platonists oppose the empirical culture of Great Britain. They have no use for science and they care less for American pragmatism. They do not judge ideas by whether they work in practice. And, let us be very clear, these same cultural elites, these citizens of the world have happily joined Fidel Castro and Jeremy Corbyn in waging war against Israel, the country that represents the values they despise.
Why do they do so? They abhor the notion that some cultures are superior to others, and that a band of Jews could build a free and prosperous nation in a place where Arabs had only known failure.
For his part Buruma resents the fact that Britons and Americans have taken pride in their victories and their successes. He would prefer that they become guilt-ridden slugs, spending their time doing penance for their sins.
Of course, he does not see pride as pride, but demeans and slanders it.
The self-flattering notion that the Western victors in World War II are special, braver and freer than any other people, that the United States is the greatest nation in the history of man, that Great Britain — the country that stood alone against Hitler — is superior to any European let alone non-European country has not only led to some ill-conceived wars but also helped to paper over the inequalities built into Anglo-American capitalism. The notion of natural superiority, of the sheer luck of being born an American or a Briton, gave a sense of entitlement to people who, in terms of education or prosperity, were stuck in the lower ranks of society.
As I said, Buruma closes his piece by declaring that the embattled and beleaguered Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, represents the true values of the West. In truth Merkel does represent the values of the guardian class, but she certainly does not represent the values that won two great wars. Could it be that she represents the values that lost two wars, that so totally resented Anglo-American hegemony that they turned their nation and the world into Hell:
The last hope of the West might be Germany, the country that Michael Howard fought against and that I hated as a child. Angela Merkel’s message to Trump on the day after his victory was a perfect expression of Western values that are still worth defending. She would welcome a close cooperation with the United States, she said, but only on the basis of “democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views.” Merkel spoke as the true heiress of the Atlantic Charter.
Speaking of great ironies, the philosophers who have resented the Anglo-American values that prevailed over the great idealistic enterprises called Nazism and Communism want to hand leadership of the Atlantic alliance to Germany.