Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why Bush and Obama are Not as Different as You Think

Bush ignored the supposed inviolability of nation-states with his invasion of Iraq. Obama believes that we should “spread the wealth around” and is attempting to do so through health care reform, agitating to no end those who believe in the sacredness of individual property. How could these two phenomena be connected?

The nation-state system and the ideology of individualism are codependent in many ways. The illusion of the atomized individual sustained itself as long as global politics forced individualistic societies to bind together in the confrontation of collectivist and/or repressive regimes.

Bush correctly discerned that the system of international law not protect the country in an age of easy travel and transportable, highly destructive technology, and committed non-nation state actors. He undermined the preexisting global order in the face of a real security need.

Obama correctly discerns that, in the wake of the general acceptance of the economic power of individualism and in the absence of a viable ideological alternative (whether, as you would have it, due to Bush’s attack on radical Islam or due to its inherent nihilism), he must confront the social malaise that individualism sometimes creates. Struggle with communism, for instance, can no longer provide an individualistic halo for the reform of education, infrastructure, or social insurance.

The post-national world, emerging slowly for now, presents a new matrix for security decisions and new social challenges to individualistic democracies. Naturally, national governments are a crude tool for managing their own (again, perhaps very gradual) retreat into obsolescence. Nonetheless, it is inevitable, and at times, useful, that they attempt to do so. It is no surprise that confusion reigns in the meantime.