Magazine March 23, 2009, Issue

U.S., Eh?

Writing about Europe a couple of pages back, I didn’t mention Canada — mainly because Canada isn’t in Europe, although it has a European mien. But, when I do raise the subject of Her Majesty’s northern dominion in this space, American conservatives sometimes query the relevance: “What’s Canada to do with me?”

Hey, wake up and smell the syrup! The road to hell is paved with Trudeaupian public policy. Every malign Canadian idea (from multiculturalism to socialized health care) heads south a generation later, while every American idea (from the First Amendment to non-confiscatory taxation) foolish enough to attempt the journey north gets gunned down on the 49th parallel.

For decades the quickest way for the Canadian media to kill any proposal has been to affix the words “American-style” to it: “American-style health system,” “American-style gun laws,” “American-style deregulation.” Now that America has adopted every Euro-Canadian fancy and stuck a few extra zeroes on the end for good measure, Canuck liberals are going to need a new bogeyman. They’re thin on the ground. And “New Zealand–style deregulation” doesn’t have quite the same blood-chilling ring to it.

“Obama’s budget . . . serves as a watershed for Canadian conservatives, who have spent their adult lives looking enviously at the United States,” wrote Jonathan Kay in Canada’s National Post. “Question: How many of us self-proclaimed Canuck right-wingers would move south right now? . . . America is now like just about everywhere else in the West — a bloated nanny state led by a big-spending liberal.”

In geopolitical terms, this is all very odd. How in an unprecedented moment of supposed unipolar hegemony did the hegemonic unipole wind up taking on all the characteristics of the Lilliputian pipsqueaks? In his address to Congress in 2003, Tony Blair said, “As Britain knows, all predominant power seems for a time invincible but, in fact, it is transient. The question is: What do you leave behind?”

Britain left behind the first global language; the legal system of a quarter of the world’s nations; three-sevenths of the G7 major economies; 14 of the 25 jurisdictions with the highest GDP per capita; the four wealthiest countries with large populations (over 20 million); the key regional players in almost every corner of the globe, from South Africa to India to Australia; the least-worst part of China; and, of course, the unipolar hegemon lui-même.

Not bad for an empire that, in the bleak assessment of Sir Richard Turnbull, Britain’s high commissioner in Aden, would be remembered for only two things — “the popularization of Association football [soccer] and the term ‘f**k off.’”

The United States, by contrast, is the first non-imperial superpower. At the dawn of the American moment in 1945, it chose to project itself not in traditional great-power ways but by creating the U.N. and other transnational institutions in which it consciously diminished its own voice and artificially amplified everybody else’s. Over time, all these American-created, American-funded transnational institutions became explicitly anti-American, to the point where it seems entirely routine for the representative of a genocidal regime in Sudan to be elected to the U.N. “human rights” council and announce from his plush Manhattan office that he wants to make Guantanamo Bay the main focus of his term.

America garrisons not distant ramshackle colonies but its wealthiest allies — Germany and Japan — to the point where almost every other Western nation now budgets for an ever more minimal, perfunctory military, entirely confident that U.S. defense welfare is a permanent feature of life. Troops from India, the dominions, and the colonies provided a third of Britain’s military manpower in the First World War, and half in the Second. By comparison, America heads a military alliance of non-military allies in which it expends vast amounts of diplomatic energy trying to persuade the world’s richest countries to cough up a token detachment of non-combat troops to man the photocopier back at barracks while the Third Infantry Division slogs up into the mountains to do all the fighting.

And, while one can admire the antipathy to empire, harder to explain is the reluctance of America to export its founding ideas. Dozens of new nations have come into being since 1945, a lot of them with the aid of American blood or treasure, yet not one was encouraged to adopt a U.S. model of government. If England is the mother of parliaments, America is a wealthy spinster with no urge to start dating.

I’m not indulging in the misplaced anglophilia to which American conservatives are sometimes prone. Contemporary Britain is an unlovely place sinking into a hell of Hogarthian depravity from which there are no easy roads back: Consider what LBJ’s Great Society did to the black family, and then imagine it applied to the general population. The Britannic inheritance will last longer in India and Australia than in the mother country.

But I do worry about whether America’s disinclination to sell the world its best ideas has led to some of the world’s very worst ideas coming home to roost. Individual freedom is on the skids everywhere. Britons and Canadians fought tyranny abroad only to enter the 21st century incrementally but enthusiastically embracing the control-freak caprices and micro-regulatory regimes of their old enemies. The world could use a bold standard-bearer for liberty. If not America, who?

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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