Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Crisis fatigue—moderates can lose it too

Maybe it’s only further evidence of our world’s diminished attention span. However, it’s extraordinary how easy it is for even cerebral conservatives to rebel against stubborn problems—a long recession and chronic public indebtedness, for instance—with ideas that could make matters worse.
Bravery—and pure-heartedness—is pleasing to the eye. And hesitant management isn’t.
New York Times’ columnist David Brooks doesn’t like what he sees in Washington and in Europe and, so, is tempted by heroic memories of the past. In two recent columns—“The Two Moons” and “A House Full of Strangers”—he rails against minority government in Washington and the embattled European Union. He recalls periods of dynamic, representative, and virtuous national government.
Weary moderates can also be attracted by the élan of radicals and the afterglow of past extravagance.
Brooks remembers kindly the “Sun Party” of FDR and the “Sun Party” of Ronald Reagan. They didn’t have to worry about the views and votes of their opponents. Conversely, he assigns “stagnation” to those periods dominated by “Moons.” Brooks assigns Obama’s moment to the Moonies—presumably, along with Nixon’s and Eisenhower’s.
He concludes with the cry of a petulant child:
“So it’s hard to see how we get out of this, unless some third force emerges, which wedges itself into one of the two parties, or unless we have a devastating fiscal crisis — a brutal cleansing flood, after which the sun will shine again.”
Catastrophe being much closer on the other side of the Atlantic, he’s a little more precise about Europe.
“In the short term, the European Central Bank, the stable European nations and even the U.S. will have to take extremely big and painful action to stabilize the situation. But, after that, it’ll be a time for chastening. It’ll be time to discard the technocratic mind-set that created this inherently flawed architecture and build a Europe that reflects the organic realities of those diverse societies.”
Just for now, Brooks concedes, it’s fine to have the “arrogant gray men” around to avoid another global financial collapse. But, once we’re all safe, he argues, it would be best for Europe to get rid of those pan-European technocrats and their “fundamentally flawed” European Union.
He damns too freely Europe’s young federal system, imagining its underlying problems can best be solved by smaller problem-solvers. This is voyeuristic mischieffrom an American federalist.
Brooks complains that Europeans don’t all agree on what the word “federalism” means. A union that’s barely two decades old somehow shouldn’t be arguing about matters that still divide Americans, after two centuries.
He complains about elitism, that many in the Brussels bureaucracy don’t trust the people—while he lives in a federation that decided to constrain the people’s will in its founding constitution, and he works in a capital that would secretly love to strike a “grand bargain” against the populist excesses of its democracy.
He ridicules post-war efforts to build governments that were less organic and more transnational, passionless, and safe.
He invents a pretty picture of America—as united, sharing, and committed to one national destiny—to diminish the unity of Europe.
And, yet, Brooks invites Europe to return to the high stakes games that drove its affairs up to 1945. Does he believe, after all he’s said, that Europe is just sufficiently united, reasonable, and passionless to turn its leadership over to the ethnic and language nationalists of the past?

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