This Fourth of July, what remains is the Founders’ vision of a limited government; the idea of a population united by common values, themes, and ideas; a republican form of checks-and-balances government to prevent demagoguery, factions, and tyranny of the majority; the sanctity and autonomy of the nation-state; and individual freedom and liberty as protected through the Bill of Rights. Everything after and against that has proved a failure.
Indeed, what makes this Fourth different from recent celebrations is the ongoing repudiation of almost everything antithetical to the Founders’ views — the redistributive, all-powerful welfare state, the therapeutic arrogance that believes human nature can be altered by an omnipotent well-meaning government, the postmodern notion that nationhood and borders are passé, and the utopian idea that war can be declared obsolete and the need for defense transcended. From Greece to California such dreams are dead.
The European Union is unwinding for two very simple reasons. First, it is not a constitutional state, but a loose conglomeration of nations run by elites who are not responsible to the people. For decades the undemocratic nature of rule from Brussels was masked by politically correct edicts on everything from global warming to anti-Americanism. But as the money runs out, the elites’ fraud becomes impossible to hide.
Second, Mediterranean countries were allowed to cook their books in such a way that northwestern European money would continue to be loaned to the siesta cultures that had not produced goods and services to justify the influx of foreign capital and the attendant lifestyle it ensured. Now we are well past any chance that German money can be paid back; the only mystery is over the conditions of the default — whether slow and incremental, or sudden and cataclysmic — and whether it will leave in its wake a downsized EU or no EU at all.
In other words, the notion that platitudinous elites could, by their proclaimed virtue, establish a constitutional union without real democratic values proved unrealizable. More important still, socialism came to an end with fiscal insolvency. This happened, of course, most dramatically in southern Europe, where climate and culture conspired to hasten its demise; but northern Europeans now realize that they too have a rendezvous with a Greek-like reckoning unless they increase worker productivity, curb government, prune the power of public-employee unions, bring market-based incentives back into the workplace, reestablish national sovereignty, raise the retirement age, and address the declining demography that is so often the handmaiden of socialism. In short, EU elites have done what the half-century-long threat of Red Army tanks and missiles never could: destabilize Europe to the point of anarchy.
Here in the United States, we await the imposition of Obamacare, despite the fact that the public does not want it, the nation cannot afford it, politicians regret it, and companies seek exemption from it. Our current pace of $1.6 trillion annual deficits, for all the talk of Keynesian gymnastics, is unsustainable — and even acknowledged as such by those who are most responsible for the latest round of fiscal irresponsibility. As we near 50 million Americans on food stamps, another year of 9-plus percent unemployment, and the third $1 trillion–plus budget deficit, even statists are beginning to see that statism does not work — a fact brought home not just by the disaster in Greece, but also by the growing divide between a successful red-state paradigm and California-like blue-state doldrums. What saves the United States for now is only the fact that, unlike California, it can print money — plus the fact that there is no red-state version of America to flee to.
On the immigration front, there will still be some quibbling, but the liberal argument for open borders has been lost, both here and in Europe. The United States simply cannot afford any longer the $50 billion that flows to Latin America each year in remittances, coupled with multibillion-dollar costs for providing social services to seek parity for illegal aliens, in addition to vast new outlays in education and criminal justice. California elites swear that a multimillion-person community of illegal aliens has nothing to do with our near-bottom ranking in public-school math and science scores, but privately even the most die-hard unionist teachers confess that it does. When Los Angeles has more resident Mexican nationals than do most cities in Mexico, and when the liberal paradigm of the salad bowl in lieu of the melting pot is into its fifth decade, then it is logical, not aberrant, that tens of thousands in the Rose Bowl would not merely cheer a Mexican soccer team over a home-team American one (understandable, though regrettable, garden-variety ethnic chauvinism), but trump that by booing even the mention of the United States.
Either federal law will be enforced and immigration will return to an orderly, legal process — where merit, education, and skill sets are used as litmus tests for would-be immigrants without regard to ethnic or racial background — or else Arizona, New Mexico, and California will soon become a dysfunctional region, where one class flees and quite another enters, and soon even illegal aliens seek a new, more northern border to cross. Open borders, non-assimilation, ethnic separatism, and tribalism lead to the Balkans or Rwanda — not, as envisioned, to a society patterned after the boutique diversity of the faculty lounge.
The classically tragic notion that deterrence — based on military preparation, balance of power, and eternal vigilance — alone prevents wars is returning, as the postmodern idea that international good will and multilateral policing can ensure world peace has almost sputtered to an end. Colonel Qaddafi is not impressed by an indictment from The Hague, and so far he is not backing down in the face of the combined air power of France and Britain. Qaddafi fears no new Napoleon or second Wellington, and he will leave only if the United States, for either good or bad reasons, decides to lend Europe the military wherewithal to end the Libyan regime.
In the last hundred days, the world has seen not only how weak and divided are the European members of NATO, but also how the once-celebrated European notion of “soft power” means very little in the world of perpetually savage nations. What stops China from carving out a new co-prosperity sphere in Asian waters, Russia from reconstituting a hegemony over the former Soviet republics, Turkey from ending the notion that the Aegean is a Hellenic lake, a new alliance of radical Arab states from attacking Israel, a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran from threatening its Jewish and Arab rivals, and North Korea from invading the south is only lingering worries over a U.S. military response or an American-led alliance of resistance — not international sanctions or condemnation, a U.N. decree, an Arab League resolution, an International Criminal Court writ, an IMF or World Bank reprimand, a lecture from an EU grandee, or the EU rapid response force.
Back home, we have suffered through decades of declining test scores and rising teachers’ salaries, and we now have a trillion dollars in college loan debt, more remediation for incoming college freshmen, weaker skills apparent in graduating college seniors, an omnipresent -studies curriculum, and a new national dialogue over whether college is even worth it — not just in terms of whether college degrees raise salaries sufficiently to justify huge loans, but whether the new therapeutic race, class, and gender curriculum is antithetical to classical liberal arts with their emphasis on reading, written expression, math, and science.
Modern university education has achieved the dubious result of turning out a self-described sensitive, caring mind that has never been more ignorant of the past and the present. The modern therapeutic university has managed all at once, with its various “centers,” reduced teaching loads, empty faculty research, and legions of new administrators, to put tuition costs beyond the reach of most Americans, to spark an entire new competing industry of no-frills, private, for-profit certificate-granting trade schools, and to end the old idea that a student’s B.A. degree was synonymous with competency or a faculty member’s Ph.D. with wisdom.
We live in an age in which advocates do not believe in their own advocacy: A “planet is doomed” Al Gore refuses to fly economy; a statist John Kerry won’t pay taxes on his yacht unless he is caught; an anti-war Barack Obama won’t honor the War Powers Act he once deified; and the liberal congressional and media establishment will not put their children in the D.C. schools that are the reification of their own ideology.
In short, the generation that came of age in the 1960s succeeded in bringing to life the Frankenstein’s monster it designed in its own image — but suddenly it seems terrified of the very thing it created.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.