Tag Archive for: Globalism

In Defense of National Conservatism

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

Editors Note: As the article suggests, National Conservatism is a work in progress. Some call it MAGA and that seems to mean different things to different people. For us, it embraces elements of political conservatism but emphasizes the historic need to control the abuse of power, especially from today’s internationalist technocratic framework. It starts with adherence to the Judeo-Christian ethos even if the religion itself is not practiced, to the family having much greater autonomy (parents’ rights) and the critical role family plays in raising decent citizens. It emphasizes the primacy of the Constitution and original intent legal doctrine, favors a decentralized economy where market forces driven by consumers allocate resources (rather than government or private companies in alliance with the government), and suggests that many nation-states, much like states within the United States, are less likely to abuse power than international organizations. While rouge nations certainly exist, what is worse is a rouge international community enforcing its will on everyone. At least citizens can leave a tyrannical government or state for better circumstances and if necessary, it is easier to overthrow an individual government rather than dozens of governments. It is hard to find a choice in a global dictatorship and more difficult to resist. MAGA suggests that liberty and human flourishing are best achieved by a smaller, less intrusive government, in a moral environment of self-control, individual rights and moral individual responsibility, and peaceful cooperation.

 

Two recent Law & Liberty articles try to expose soft spots in national conservatism. Tyler Syck’s criticism pits national conservatism against our reigning civil rights regime, while Mark Tooley challenges national conservatism for embracing a relationship between religious faith and nationalism outside of the American tradition.

National conservatism is a work in progress. National conservatives have issued a Statement of Principles to explain their general disposition, and I signed it. Generally, national conservatives worry that the sovereignty of the nation is being worn away through universal, globalist powers imposing an inhuman, stultifying ideology. International bodies are part of this global imperium. So are multi-national corporations and other oligarchic entities, which are destroying popular government and the institutions necessary for virtuous, happy lives all around the globe. Everywhere, governments, bureaucracies, and corporations are demanding conformity to the reigning civil rights regime—and crushing opposition. This reigning civil rights regime sees all inequalities as signs of universal oppression, and its purveyors demand a remaking of the world by experts in the name of elusive, ever-changing notions of equity.

The alternative to this global imperium must be named. Thus, national conservatism defends our civilized and civilizing commitments like the rule of law and free enterprise and the institutions that serve the permanent and aggregate interests of civil society like the family and sound science. Above the individual is the nation and above the nation is God, not a new world order.

What would a national conservatism look like? Consider some recent headlines. According to the National Association of Realtors, Chinese investors spent more than $6.1 billion on homes in the United States last year. This is certainly consistent with free-market economics on a global scale. Is it good for our country when adversaries and foreigners own large portions of our land?

Chinese companies have bought up land quite close to American military bases in North Dakota and elsewhere. Foreign ownership of American land generally plays a role in making real estate very expensive for our citizens. In principle, though, at some point too much foreign ownership of American soil upsets the country. National conservatives bemoan these developments and advocate for real estate nationalism. Foreign nationals own about 3% of America’s farmland, way more than foreigners own in other countries. We need agricultural nationalism. Slots in our elite engineering programs are allotted to foreigners at increasing rates—they pay full price after all. Is this wise? Public research nationalism is needed.

Fundamental Conflicts

Responding to Syck and Tooley may further flesh out what national conservatism means.

Syck seems blind to the fundamental conflict between the current American nation and our old constitutional government, and the civil rights regime as it has developed in the last two-plus decades. As a result, he embraces today’s pathologies and misreads our situation.

This new civil rights ideology compromises the glories of our civilization. Our universities have been undermined, ceaselessly attack our civilizational patrimony, and they now tend to compromise the free inquiry necessary for advancements. Our Christian heritage is denied or ridiculed. Family life is undermined through a commitment to ideologies associated with feminism and sexual liberation. The rule of equal laws is compromised as people are judged not by their actions but by their race or ideology. Censorship from private sources undermines public dialogue. Floods of unassimilated immigrants undermine national unity and national will.

Syck may recognize these realities but doesn’t want to trace them to our civil rights regime or do anything about them. Consider his point about “Family and Children.” Great nations require great families, and coming-apart families portend societal decadence. National conservatives think that “radical forms of sexual license and experimentation,” among other things, undermine family life. Syck disagrees. Family collapse, he suggests, is a product of “oppression and poverty”—a thought derived mostly from the reigning civil rights ideology. Blaming license and sexual experimentation, he thinks, is a veiled attack on same-sex marriage. National conservatives, he claims, “will not hesitate to enforce certain moral views about sexuality, abortion and the family” with the “full force of the federal government rather than the constitutionally intended channels of schools, states, and churches.”

Same-sex marriage and the ideologies leading up to it are definitely associated with family decline. Those who argued for gay liberation, second-wave feminism, the deregulation of pornography, at-will divorce, transgenderism, and other forms of “sexual license and experimentation” thought their victories would undermine a monogamous, procreative and responsible marital culture and therewith national greatness. The same is true for many advocates of same-sex marriage. Progress in the sexual license has nearly everywhere coincided with family decline—declines in marriage rates and birth rates. Unlike Syck, national conservatives see the necessary relationship between culture and family and are interested in doing something to arrest the spread.

Syck’s worries about national conservatives using the “full force of the national government” are inventions of a fevered imagination. The “full force of the national government” is, as Syck sometimes seems to understand, today on the side of libertinism. No state-level solution to sexual license is possible as long as our national institutions are in the grip of our reigning civil rights ideology. Our Supreme Court made local diversity on abortion impossible until this year. The Court undermines local regulation of obscenity through its First Amendment jurisprudence. The Court has also quashed state diversity by constitutionalizing contraception, sodomy regulation, and same-sex marriage. National civil rights laws nationalize second-wave feminism as an official American ideology. The U.S. Department of Education well-neigh requires states to adopt gender radicalism through its national standards. In our circumstances, getting the national government out of the business of quashing states who would like to go their own way on family and gender policy is a truly needful thing. National conservatives agree on that much.

Do we have the stomach for a more restrictive immigration policy, since it would almost certainly require natives to do work that they deem beneath their dignity? Do we have the stomach for restricting the purchase of ever more American real estate by foreigners, as it would put downward pressure on property values?

Beyond that, national conservatives have not agreed on something that must be done to arrest the spread of ideologies hostile to marriage and family life, or on the level of government at which they would be done. I gave my thoughts on what that something is at last year’s National Conservatism conference—but others interested in preserving America may disagree.

Syck’s broadside against national conservatism is traceable to his embrace of our reigning civil rights ideology, wittingly or unwittingly. National conservative solutions, he worries, involve “trying to beat the left at its own game”—to wit, legislating a different morality than the left is legislating. To which I say, “guilty as charged.” National conservatism does indeed fight for a vision of the public good. Syck embraces liberal neutrality, “creating a space in which citizens can come up with answers of their own.” National conservatives recognize the political truth that there is no neutral ground: our public institutions necessarily legislate morality. Every national conservative is an anti-contemporary liberal to that extent.

Maintaining Our Moral Ground

Which morality will it be? Like many national conservatives, Mark Tooley recognizes the inevitability of morality and the further truth that morality is downstream from religious faith. But Tooley worries that national conservatives put forward the wrong idea of how faith relates to the state. I think Tooley overdetermines what the “Statement of Principles” suggests in this regard, but let us deal with the deeper issue on which Tooley and national conservatives seem to agree: how to maintain a common life rooted in Christian faith and a Christian moral vision?

Tooley thinks separationism has accomplished this goal in the American experience, while national conservatives would have public and private institutions honor Christianity above other religions and would protect the rights of minorities to practice their religious traditions. Fundamentally, national conservatives think that America should take its Protestant roots more seriously and legislate toward a Protestant vision of family life, public research, and so on.

Tooley appropriates Tocqueville to his side, but it seems to me that Democracy in America more strongly favors the national conservative argument. Tocqueville praises the Americans for obscenity laws, for their pro-family ethic of separate spheres for men and women, and for honoring female chastity. These laws shaped and reflected Christian public opinion. American national conservatives hope that Christianity can have an indirect effect on public opinion moving forward, as opposed to the establishment of state churches for which Tooley imagines we are advocating.

Such a relationship was the norm in America until our civil rights regime imposed a secular, atheist vision of the good life on the country. Liberals have squeezed the Protestantism from public schools, so that only evolution could be taught, while prayer and Bible reading were abolished. Perhaps a healthy relation between faith and state could rise again if our civil rights regime could be displaced.

These two critics think national conservatism goes too far. The question, it seems to me, is whether the national conservatism goes far enough. Desiring to promote “stable family and congregational life and childraising” is different from having a realistic plan for getting there in our circumstances. Doing what is necessary to promote “stable family and congregational life” would, in all likelihood, involve serious rollbacks in our public commitments to gender equality and sexual libertinism.

Much the same could be said of immigration policy and other aspects of national conservatism. Do we have the stomach for a more restrictive immigration policy, since it would almost certainly require natives to do work that they deem beneath their dignity? Do we have the stomach for restricting the purchase of ever more American real estate by foreigners, as it would put downward pressure on property values? Every national conservative policy slaughters a sacred cow—and comes with serious corresponding pains.

*****

This article was published in Law & Liberty and is reproduced by permission.

The Electric Vehicle Bad Dream

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

While some are certain of the inevitability of the impending demise of the internal combustion engine (ICE), others are far less certain. Cristian Agapie points to market pressures due to increased demand for electric vehicles have raised prices and operating costs as well. Another writer calls out electric vehicles, even Tesla’s, as just boring to drive. One thing for certain: hardly anyone will be able to enjoy the camaraderie and thrill of working on these vehicles.

Meanwhile, even General Motors, which like most other automobile manufacturers, has pledged to end its production of ICE vehicles, has also patented what it calls “multilink cranktrains with combined eccentric shaft and camshaft drive system for internal combustion engines.” This innovative design is likely similar to Nissan’s variable compression engine already available in its luxury Infiniti QX50 SUV.

The GM system, invented by Michigan-based senior engineer Andrew G. Balding, is designed to provide variable compression ratios that provide high power output when needed and high efficiency otherwise. Balding, who was just promoted, had been working at GM for the past six years on advanced powertrain designs but a lot longer in the field.

The patent describes a system that incorporates a multipoint linkage that engages the piston to the crankshaft and rotates on a secondary axis that is offset from the first axis between the crankshaft and the engine block. This enables a variable volume above the piston head at top dead center in the stroke and switching on the fly to produce more power under heavy load or greater efficiency while cruising. The result is greater fuel efficiency without sacrificing power.

The system is compatible with GM’s overhead-valve (pushrod) engines that drive the automaker’s pickups and SUVs. Widespread adoption of variable compression ratio engine technologies could ensure that ICE engines remain competitive and available to especially rural and business drivers. That is unless irrational mandated or even voluntary deadlines for abandoning the engine that transformed the world can be enforced against an unwilling public.

Rural and freedom-loving Americans are quite aware that globalist policies are deadly to outdoor lifestyles, but the majority of America’s urban youth have been brainwashed to believe that the ICE vehicle is a murderous killer of humanity and the environment. Activist-fearing “Detroit” (an archaic term, to be sure) is already at work dismantling ICE assembly lines in favor of vehicles that ordinary people will never be able to tinker with.

The electric vehicle is, in this writer’s opinion, a death machine. Not because a few EVs have spontaneously caught on fire, sometimes locking a driver in the vehicle. Not even because EV batteries can pose problems for those responding to a vehicle crash. Nor need we discuss other foibles–like the year-long backlogs for new EVs largely due to supply chain issues for semiconductors and the short supply of lithium for batteries, both of which could be short-lived.

No. The era of the mandatory electric vehicle marks the end of human freedom on the American highway, truly the end of human freedom – PERIOD. And not just the EV, but the EV culture, which is part of the “virtual” revolution in which people can act out roles online that do not translate easily to the physical world. For example, most “driving” done by pre-teens through twenty-somethings is done via video gaming. These virtual unreality games often focus on killing, almost never on, say, gardening, ranching, farming, forest management, electrical line work, water and sewer system construction, or other physical world jobs.

This massive disconnect with the physical world is what enables the green fantasies to gain traction with the naïve who only know what the censors approve–unless they have family or friends who do live in the “real” world and invite them to share in those experiences.

All too often today’s “education” consists of sloganeering and rote instruction that discourages real investigation and demonizes physical work. [Two plus two only equals five in a virtual unreality.] The massive shortfalls in trade industries are at least anecdotal evidence of the near-complete condemnation of those who work in the physical world as evil or worthless or something to be done by “others.”

The elites brazenly fly to meetings where they openly plan the demise of the middle class, even all private property not already under their own control. They have invested seemingly trillions in convincing people to give up their freedoms to serve “the common interest,” otherwise known as the interests of the elites. But people should realize that mandated “renewable” energy is a Trojan horse inexorably linked to ending private ownership of transportation, housing, and just about everything else.

Under plans designed by World Economic Forum (WEF) types, once the “transition” is complete, drivers will no longer be able to choose from among dozens of independent or corporate gasoline providers. Instead, they will buy their electricity from monopoly governments or their crony-controlled franchises. That means that politics, not the market, will determine the price of a recharge. And governments always seem to find ways to give us less for more.

More to the point, energy shortfalls imply electricity rationing (which already exists in China and elsewhere). In the coming age of scarcity, it is quite conceivable (given the thrill that China’s social credit policy gives the WEF crowd) that only “good Panem-ers” will be allowed to charge their vehicles. Dissidents (we see this already in today’s political rhetoric) will be denied even essential services.

Even what is deemed “essential” (as it was during the COVID lockdowns) will be determined by governments–and today’s governments only reward their friends. Rest assured, in every power outage “emergency,” government vehicles–and those of favored elites–will be first in line for recharging. The rest of us will be left high and dry–and, in summer, sweaty.

Rural drivers know full well they will pay more and have fewer options, just as they do for cable and broadband. They see this in the glee that President Biden and his cabinet members express as gasoline and diesel prices escalate (according to plan). And every time there is a power outage–and with no natural gas, coal, or even oil to burn, these will happen frequently (they already are in some places)–they will be unable to deliver produce and other goods to urban markets.

City folk will be the secondary victims–and they have no clue this is even a possibility–because dissent is verboten.

Meanwhile, there are reports that electric grid operators are warning that California and some midwestern states face energy shortages again this summer. Hot, dry weather, and careless smokers lead to wildfires that soak up water supplies and force blackouts that can last for days. EV drivers cannot recharge without electricity and may even be trapped because of power failures. Who knows? Maybe the perpetrators of this fraud will find they overplayed their hands.

There may be still time to stop the theft of freedom posed by the EV culture, but only if people awaken to realize that “wokism” is designed to put you to sleep. And then act accordingly.

*****

This article was published by CFACT, Committee for A Constructive Tomorrow and is reproduced with permission.

Encountering the Natives of Flyover Country

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

In the late 19th and early 20th century, it was commonplace for newspapers in the US and Europe to hire what were known as “stringer” journalists who would work on commission to produce stories about the lives of foreigners in distant lands. They might go to Africa or the West Indies, or describe cowboys and Native American tribes on the American frontier. Some, like the renowned German writer Theodor Fontane, traveled all over Europe producing columns for the people back home. As literacy and print media grew, so did the demand for exotic stories.

Glenn Hubbard, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors (2001-2003) and now a professor at Columbia University, has in some ways copied this older style. Hubbard’s book, The Wall and the Bridge, is a sort of mish-mash of superficial economic history and recycled public policy ideas. But at its core, this book is a form of stringer journalism about the far-off and exotic land of Youngstown, Ohio.

Hubbard bravely takes a group of MBA students into the wild and savage-filled lands west of New York City to encounter that creature all but extinct on the civilized streets of Manhattan or Brooklyn: the Trump voter. His is not the drama-filled tale of JD Vance, nor the fictional account of Claas Relotius. Instead, Hubbard tries, unsuccessfully in this reviewer’s mind, to craft economic policy prescriptions based on his “experience”  visiting the once-thriving steel manufacturing city. Hubbard wants to use the example of Youngstown to help salvage the prestige and credibility of East Coast intellectual elites like himself, that was lost with the rise of populism in the US and elsewhere.

What this method reveals about Hubbard and his ilk may be far more interesting than the policies he’s proposing. Hubbard first suggests offering job retraining to American manufacturing workers displaced by growing globalization. He awkwardly labels this “reskilling” and “opportunity policy.” None of this is particularly original except for his tired use of awkward terms from public policy. Politicians have been discussing job retraining and education since the 1980s and little of it has translated into widespread success in the American Rust Belt. Furthermore, it’s obviously self-serving for a college professor to trumpet education as the solution to this problem (let’s help these workers by throwing more money at my profession!). On several occasions, Hubbard mentions time spent at seminars at Youngstown State University and speaks highly of the institution. Does he seriously believe “reskilling” steel workers to become psychologists and Women’s Studies majors to be a solution? Additionally, such education programs can only succeed if those prescribing the “reskilling” can accurately predict which jobs will be good and secure, as well as guarantee that workers in places like Youngstown will be able to get them locally.

Second, he proposes expanding “social insurance.” Anyone familiar with Washington-speak, and skeptical of government programs, can understand what Hubbard is proposing here. He’s arguing for the creation of a new welfare program for Trump-landia to help buy them off. Setting aside for a moment the fiscal implications of such a proposal during an era of high inflation, exploding government spending and debt, it is fanciful to imagine that we can arrest support for populism simply by writing checks to rural America. This proposal grossly oversimplifies what’s going on in areas where President Trump won large majorities in 2016 and 2020.

By way of justifying this approach, Hubbard offers a profoundly superficial review of the work of Adam Smith. He correctly notes that among Smith’s more prominent targets in his writing were the mercantilists who supported protective tariffs and the British colonial system, based on a flawed understanding of the nature of national wealth and prosperity. He also accurately describes Smith’s views on the vital role some government policies, such as rule of law, can play in maintaining the market order.

But from there, things go horribly wrong. Hubbard claims that Smith was writing in response to Hume, which is completely wrong—if anything Smith was replying to Mandeville in much of his work. Hubbard proceeds to discuss “neoliberalism,” a term he seems to use in much the same way as those on the modern left, to describe a heartless anarcho-capitalist system. This “neo-liberal” night watchman state would be completely indifferent to the needs of those displaced by the creative destruction. Hubbard compares two “neoliberals,” Hayek and Friedman, to the more nuanced Smith who, for example, supported universal education and public goods such as national defense. Smith’s broader understanding of a widely-shared prosperity, he claims, is the only reasonable foundation for a free market economy in a representative political system.

Sympathy, for Smith, helps explain why we can rein in self-interest and connect with individuals outside of our kinship networks and local communities.

Smith was completely silent on the issue of social welfare or “reskilling” and had significant reservations about manufacturing and industrial work. Hayek in fact supported a limited safety net in The Constitution of Liberty for the exact reason that Hubbard cites. Of course, knowing that that would have involved actually reading more of Hayek, rather than casually labeling and caricaturing him. At the very least, Hubbard is playing fast and loose with both thinkers.

Making matters worse, Hubbard appears to have little understanding of Adam Smith the complete scholar. One really can’t understand the Wealth of Nations without tackling Theory of Moral Sentiments and Hubbard in particular could have benefited from spending some time with Smith’s moral theory.  Smith was first and foremost a moral philosopher, not merely a cold, calculating economist. Smith’s complex explanation of how human social order evolves and functions would take pages to flesh out, but at its core, the argument is based on what Smith called sympathy, what today we’d refer to as empathy. Sympathy, for Smith, helps explain why we can rein in self-interest and connect with individuals outside of our kinship networks and local communities. Sympathy helps curb the external manifestations of self-interest in our social and personal interactions. We listen and try to understand the plight and position of others when we are not interacting with them in market settings.

Hubbard claims that he and his cadre of MBA students sat down and listened to the stories and concerns of displaced steel workers in Youngstown. But when we consider how Hubbard approaches the “problem” of populism among the people of Youngstown, all we see are Hubbard’s own biases and preferences as a neoclassical economist. We don’t see much Smithian sympathy.

Modern economics, with its reliance on simplified models of human choice, struggles to understand why people don’t simply leave Youngstown, or other areas in which support for populism has been robust. Economists like to view the world strictly in terms of mechanical choices and decisions based on material gains and costs. That perspective provides the kinds of “solutions” that Hubbard is proposing here. He does not tell himself that, “these people are making subjective evaluations to stay in Youngstown and we should try to understand why they want to stay and support folks like Trump.” Instead, he reasons that “these people are materially constrained to make bad choices because they can’t afford to make better decisions.” His solution is to lower the costs of leaving or “reskilling” in their decision-making to allow them to make the “correct” choice.  

But is that the solution to the problem, if there really is a problem here? People understand they are materially worse off but choose to stay. Hubbard and his students listened to the people of Youngstown as neoclassical economists. The biases of their training did not allow them to think about their support for populism through a lens of subjective decision making rather than purely materialistic concerns.

A Smithian sympathizer would have gone beyond the economic lens of Hubbard to consider non-pecuniary factors in understanding the people he met. The job losses that Hubbard is addressing here did not just happen in the past few years. Plant closures and steep job cuts began during the Carter administration. The individuals who are still living in Youngstown are not there because they are unable to leave for economic reasons. Like most of the folks living in smaller towns throughout the Rust Belt, they simply prefer to stay. Their world views on topics such as family ties, religion, immigration, sexual norms, social values, and such are as important, if not more so, than economics. They are not trapped by material forces in these areas. They are making choices that a mechanical choice model simply can’t account for.  

Noble Laureate James Buchanan explained the limits of the neoclassical approach in his essay “Is Economics a Science of Choice” by noting that economists want to limit choice to the action of “choosing” a lower objective cost. This removes choice from the process and makes it seem purely objective in terms of economic calculation. Buchanan rightly points out that

[i]n the logic of choice, choosing becomes a subjective experience. The alternative for choice as well as the evaluations placed upon them exist only in the mind of the decision maker. Cost, which is the obstacle to choice, is purely subjective, and this consists in the chooser’s evaluation of the alternative that must be sacrificed in order to attain the which is selected. This genuine opportunity cost vanishes once a decision is taken. By relatively sharp contrast with this, in the pure science of economic behavior, choice itself is illusory. In the abstract model the behavior of the actor is predictable by an external observer.

And make no mistake, Hubbard is assuming away non-economic choice for those people in Youngstown. His book focuses exclusively on that approach and completely misses any possible impact social or cultural factors may have had in the election. In explaining his model early in the book he mentions that manufacturing job losses in rural parts of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were critical in deciding the election. No one doubts that economic changes played a role in those areas, but Hillary Clinton spent little time campaigning in those states and even less time addressing the non-economic policies that were important to those voters. Nor does he, or really any elite, to this day acknowledge that Clinton lost the female vote for non-college-educated white women, few of whom were employed by manufacturing plants in those areas. Economics was part of a larger story, but it alone doesn’t determine the choices made. Social issues did and continue to play a huge role.

It is perhaps too much to expect an explorer in New Guinea to place himself into the mind of tribes that practice cannibalism. It is not too much to ask an intelligent and highly educated academic with significant political experience to take seriously the idea that economics is only part of what is driving the rise of populism. Voters have reasons for rejecting elite control over policy. One gets the sense that Hubbard, observing a group of natives feasting on human brains, might have concluded that “reskilling” the locals towards tofu factories and organic farming would have solved the problem. I for one have my doubts about this approach.

*****

This article was published in Law & Liberty and is reproduced with permission.

The Nation is the Heart of the Matter

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Editor’s Note: This article is based on Mr. DeMuth’s opening address at the European National Conservatism Conference in Brussels, Belgium, on March 23, 2022.

 

February 2020 turned out to be the last month to date of normal life in most of the world. Early in the month, a few cases of what came to be known as Covid-19 were identified in Rome, in individuals recently arrived from Wuhan, China. Soon Italian hospitals were overwhelmed and the government locked down the entire nation. Cases began popping up in other well-traveled parts of Europe and the United States, and local, state, and national authorities—with little understanding of the spread or seriousness of the disease, but terrified by the news from Italy—began locking down their populations. The global pandemic was upon us.

Two years later, in February 2022, the worst of the pandemic was receding; its wounds and disruptions were being repaired and life was springing up again. Then Russia invaded Ukraine and commenced killing its people, destroying its cities, and threatening the world with nuclear war. A natural disaster was replaced by a man-made disaster of horrifying savagery and stupidity.

The free nations of the prosperous West that have been under sustained assault constitute a great and admirable civilization. Vladimir Putin and the dictators of China and Iran are right to fear not only the allure of freedom but also its power. One of the first lessons of the Ukraine onslaught is that authoritarians are as bad at military organization as they are at economic and political organization. Our far-flung interconnectedness made the novel coronavirus an instant global killer—but was also key to the rapid invention of equally novel, miraculous vaccines that have saved millions of lives.

The Free World has also, however, fallen prey to certain soft conceits, which Putin and his ilk are right to see as weaknesses. We had imagined that the world’s troubles were amenable to rational management and apolitical expertise. We could leave them to specialized agencies somewhere up there in the cloud, or maybe in Brussels, if only politicians would “follow the science” and accede to the arc of global progressivism. That would free modern man to cultivate his individuality—his personal pleasures and grievances, his likes and dislikes. The fantasy that hard problems can be wished out of our lives has been an important source of decay in our culture, political rhetoric, and institutions of government.

But the last two years have been disenthralling. Experts claimed they could specify the path of global temperatures for a century hence within a few degrees—and it turned out they could miss the path of global disease for one month hence by an order of magnitude. Experts claimed that nation-states and borders were barbaric vestiges and that global bureaucracies could usher in peace and harmony—and it turned out we had barbarians at the gates in the here and now and that nations with borders were essential to peace and harmony. Experts claimed that global markets would bring prosperity and democracy—and it turned out they could also bring domestic division and imperial domination.

Into the breach came, willy nilly, the nation-state. It is unnecessary to argue that the United Nations and the World Health Organization proved useless in the crises at hand, for everyone could see that they mainly got in the way, or yakety-yacked while others took urgent action.

Managing a pandemic—a quintessential global emergency—fell inescapably to individual nations, with their diverse demographics, healthcare, and hospital systems, public attitudes, structures of government, and leaders accountable to actual electorates and fellow citizens. When the European Union asserted authority over vaccine procurement and distribution, it badly mishandled them—even the New York Times called it a “fiasco.” Nations that didn’t have EU insider privileges had to come up with workarounds. When the going gets tough, democracy loses patience with technocracy.

Russia’s latest war has been analyzed in terms of spheres of influence, the return of great-power competition, dictatorship versus democracy. But the heart of the matter is the integrity of the nation. An imperial power invaded a peaceful self-governing nation for conquest, aiming to seize its territory and farms and industry, to subjugate its people, and to extinguish its traditions and institutions. That is why Ukraine has become a popular cause around the world. The Ukrainians cry out, this is our land, our home, our country. President Zelensky compares his countrymen’s struggle and heroism to the historic struggles and heroes of other nations; he is even gauche enough to name names at a time when other nations are toppling their heroes. You don’t have to have taken a course in political science to understand this war. Nor to be overwhelmed by the bravery and determination of the Ukrainians and to reflect on your responsibilities for your own national home.

And the response has been a rallying of sovereign nations that few living people have seen before. In the order of nation-states, each nation defends the overall order as its own interests require or permit. Some nations have been constrained by their existential reliance on Russian energy; others have judged that they may play a useful role as diplomatic intermediaries; plus, we are going to need a delegation to inform Putin that he has lost. Close to the fray, fears that one’s own nation may be next on Putin’s hit-list, or that in desperation he may introduce nuclear or chemical weapons into the military theater, have produced a spectrum of reactions both among and within nations. But the total response has been the provision of stupendous defensive armaments and intelligence, logistical, and humanitarian support, and repudiation of Putin and isolation of the Russian economy. Most striking of all has been the many reversals of national defense, energy, and financial policies that would have been inconceivable the day before the invasion.

All of this has been spontaneous collaboration, each nation bringing its unique assets to the cause without the benefit of direction by any supernational body. The EU has been helpful as a convening body, but it has disgraced itself by imposing heavy financial penalties on Hungary and Poland, for patently partisan and ideological reasons, just as those nations were struggling to welcome and care for hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees. No self-respecting nation would have behaved in this manner in a time of war. Let us hope that Ukraine’s victory and EU membership will bring Brussels to a new policy of liberality towards the nations of Central Europe.

It is surely a positive development that, from terrible events, we are directing our hopes and expectations at the performance of the nation-state constrained by a renewed sense of realism.

The newly engaged nation-states came to the crises of the past two years woefully unready, following a long period of desuetude, self-indulgent politics, and, for many, mediocre leadership. Sovereignty needs to be earned continuously—through prudent finance and low public debt, diversification in energy and other requisites of national independence, and ample provision to prepare for natural disasters and military defense. Lacking these fundamentals, we have faced many tragic choices that were more painful and costly than they needed to have been. Having witnessed a display of national self-determination that will ring through history, we may be inspired to greater political seriousness in our own nations.

In the pandemic response, the diversity of national approaches, and within the United States the diversity of state approaches, yielded continuous policy competition and learning-by-doing. Among the free Western nations, the sharing of real-time data on infections, hospitalizations, and morbidity and mortality, and the rigorous criticisms of independent physicians and immunologists, contributed powerfully to policy realism. The climate-change mantra of “the science is settled” never got traction in a genuine crisis.

We are now coming to understand, better late than never, that comprehensive lockdowns and school closures were largely ineffective in controlling Covid-19 but fabulously costly to our economies and social well-being. We have gained this understanding precisely because of the knowledge generated by nation-led responses, which would have been obscured by uniform responses directed by the WHO, EU, or the federal government in the United States. For now, government restrictions are being lifted much faster than skeptics were predicting just a month ago. We will come to the next pandemic less confused and perhaps better equipped.

In the Ukraine response, it is disheartening that the German government has stuck with its plans to decommission perfectly good nuclear power plants, and that the U.S. government is still zealous to obstruct the development and use of fossil fuels. Nor has the war inspired Americans to set aside our bad habits of performative politics, personal positioning, and incessant scoring of ideological debating points. But the most striking development in the United States is that Congress has seized the initiative from the foreign policy elites, repeatedly forcing the Biden administration to revise and strengthen its assistance to Ukraine. Congress’s more representative, populist response has displayed Americans’ instinctive support for the underdog, but also a keen appreciation of the constraints and complications that attend American action.

The situation is highly dynamic, with many national elections in-store and adjustments underway in party positions and electoral strategies. Among intellectuals, the new thinking and Left-Right-Radical alignments that began with Donald Trump and Brexit in 2016 are shifting dramatically. Where government is concerned, a good rule of thumb is to Expect the Worst and Hope for the Sufficient. But it is surely a positive development that, from terrible events, we are directing our hopes and expectations at the performance of the nation-state constrained by a renewed sense of realism.

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This article was published by Law & Liberty and is reproduced with permission.