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Thursday, January 27, 2005


ripples of 1968

andrew moravcsik chronicles what he describes as the loss of american political leadership in the world. putting aside the efficacy debate, there is little doubt that the divide between america and the world is manifest and growing.

the break, it seems to me, came in the reaction to 1968. the year was the climactic point of the post-war embrace of antiauthoritarian individual emancipation.

in europe and much of the western world, 1968 was a call to revolution. it mocked communism, capitalism, trade unions, government, industry, colonialism, cold war machinations -- it was strongly anarchist and plebiscitarian. it was, perhaps, the beginning of the end of the nation-state in much of the world.

the lasting aftermath of the violence in continental europe -- despite the hardening of the soviet bloc, thatcher in britain and the reseating of de gaulle in france -- was the development of the new left. the greens and anti-globalization are the most tangible european legacy of 1968. the utilitarian principle asserted itself and took root in the politics of europe.

america, however, took a profoundly different, conservative and (if the majority is normal) abnormal route. nixon and kissinger followed 1968 with traditional power consolidation, as did many other western states -- a re-establishment of state legitimacy, in part bolstered by detente.

but the disillusionment with national authority that followed sparked the reactionary idealist dogmatism of reagan and, subsequently, neoconservatism. the path has been anti-utilitarian and anti-materialist, representing a reversion in america to the heroic continental political idealism of the late 19th-early 20th centuries.

the reasons behind it are terribly complex and philosophical, and quite a topic of debate, but i suspect the american insulation from the full horror of fascism has something to do with it.

regardless, the upshot is that the united states has since adopted the hegelian noble idealism that marked prussian germany -- and this sets it in stark contrast to the rest of the western world, in which the utilitarian principle has remained the legacy of the world wars following the rejection of hero-states.

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