Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Great Divide

George Will writes on Iraq in the current City Journal.

My worry is the assault on the nation-state, which is an assault on self-government—the American project. It is the campaign to contract the sphere of politics by expanding the sway of supposedly disinterested experts, disconnected from democratic accountability and administering principles of universal applicability that they have discovered [....]

All this is pertinent to today’s headlines, for a reason that may, at first blush, seem paradoxical. The assault on the nation-state involves a breezy confidence that nations not only can be superseded by supranational laws and institutions, they can even be dispensed with. Furthermore, nations can be fabricated, and can be given this or that political attribute, by experts wielding universal principles.

When the Cold War ended, my friend Pat Moynihan asked me: "What are you conservatives going to hate, now that you can’t hate Moscow?" My instant response was: "We are going to hate Brussels" —Brussels, because it is the banal home of the metastasizing impulse to transfer political power from national parliaments to supranational agencies that are essentially unaccountable and unrepresentative."
I don't agree with him on Iraq, as it seems to me that the country has a Sunni problem and not one with "resistance". The more I read of David Held and his ilk, the more I come to expect that the whole debate over the European Union, "globalisation" and the proper world role for both the US and the UN are really all consequences of the same questioning of the nation-state as the foundation for political identity, action and legitimacy and how this might be affected, or seen to be, by transnational alternatives.

For those, like Professor Held's supposed "social democrats" who haven't won an election in Britain since 1945, the temptation to impose a vision rather than struggle futilely to persuade an unwilling electorate now seems overwhelming. Significantly this model now seems to have attracted the attention of others like the environmentalist Jeremy Rifkin, who've come to the conclusion that - to adapt Brecht's poem - the people have failed the movement, so let us dissolve the people and elect another.