The post-WWII order really feels “over.” From blue-model entitlement systems to international institutions, one word comes to mind: unsustainable.
Unsustainable but rescue-able; these aren’t the greatest problems ever faced and it’s still possible to live well. Hell – maybe there’s even a silver lining if we rediscover faith, family, and friends as a result of the material shellacking. But it’d be nice if a few statesmen would step in and “fix it!” or at least cushion the impact.
In The Euro’s Global Security Fallout, Walter Russell Mead argues that the problem in Greece (and Spain and soon Italy) is not just a currency or banking crisis, but a political crisis that will significantly alter geopolitics. Even if Europe were to survive this storm intact (unlikely) it will have to turn inward to rebuild its institutions.
Given all this, expect EU-backed causes around the world to lose steam. The prime example is the campaign for a global climate treaty. Many observers once thought the idea had irresistible momentum behind it, but with Europe’s political implosion there is nobody willing or able to push this treaty ahead.
Efforts to extend European ideas of international law through binding treaties and institutions will lose ground, too. The EU hoped to become a new kind of world power, leading by example and by the “power of attraction.” But both of these forms of soft power depend on success. Until the euro crisis is resolved in a creditable and constructive way, Europe’s struggles with the euro will subvert its attempt to project its values and defend its interests world-wide.
This is bad news for Americans. An assumption that Europe is in a period of continuing decline is to some degree baked into the cake of American foreign policy. The perception that Europe (and Japan) are no longer the powers they once were has driven the U.S. to look for new partners as it seeks to build a liberal world system in the 21st century.
But Americans expected a slow and gentle decline, with many years in which to make a gradual adjustment to the change. We hoped that the euro and the single market could mitigate or even reverse that decline. We have also taken for granted that the EU would at least be able to manage its own neighborhood, bringing peace, security and integration to the Balkans and drawing countries like Belarus, Ukraine and even Russia toward Western ways. We may now have to adjust to a world in which the EU is retreating faster and farther than anyone expected.
UPDATE: Bret Stephens writes in The Decline of Democracy that, “Greece displays the post-liberal variety, Egypt the pre-liberal one. Both are rotten.”
In other words, the Greeks gave a solid 46% of their vote to parties that are evil, crazy or both, even while erring on the side of “sanity” with parties that are merely foolish and discredited. Imagine that in 1980 Jimmy Carter had eked out a slim victory over a Gus Hall-Lyndon LaRouche ticket, and you have the American equivalent to what just happened in Greece.
Should anyone be surprised that democracy is having such a hard time in the land of Pericles? Probably not—and not just because Greece is also the land of Alcibiades. Despite its storied past, modern Greek democracy, like much of modern European democracy, is of a post-liberal variety. Post-liberalism seeks to replace the classical liberalism of individual liberty, limited government, property rights and democratic sovereignty with a new liberalism that favors social rights, social goods, intrusive government and transnational law.
In practice, post-liberalism is a giant wealth redistribution scheme. It bankrupted Greece and will soon bankrupt the rest of Europe. What happens to bankrupt democracies? Think Weimar Germany, Perón’s Argentina, and, more recently, Yeltsin’s Russia.