What I've Been Reading
Yet another book on World War I. David Fromkin’s Europe’s Last Summer. His thesis is that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was a pretext for two wars that had been previously planned. One was an Austrian war against Serbia, and the other was a German war against Russia and France. Fromkin makes a convincing case that the war resulted less from diplomatic mishaps than from deliberate efforts on the part of key elements of the German and Austrian military and diplomatic leaders.
Not a must-read, but here are a couple of excerpts: 1)
[even prior to the war,] violence was endemic in the service of social, economic, political, class, ethnic, and national strife
The wars were about power. Specifically, they were about relative ranking among the great European powers…Both Germany and Austria believed themselves to be on the way down. Each started a war in order to stay where it was.
If what is dangerous is a country that believes that is on the way down but thinks it retains just enough military power to halt the decline, then the U.S. could be pretty dangerous over the next couple of decades.
The latest issue of The Atlantic talks a lot about America in decline. However, I see the articles as driven less by long-term analysis and more by the short-term Progressive narrative. Given that our President is now Obama and not Bush, we can no longer blame problems on American leadership. Instead, the country has become ungovernable because of Fox News (Paul Starr’s article, not yet on line). Or, as The Washington Post puts it, the President is having a hard time getting his message across.
The Progressive narrative is that when Republicans are in power, blame the leaders. When Democrats are in power, blame the country. The James Fallows cover story in The Atlantic bemoans our creaky political system. His implicit thesis is that the Progressives know what’s best, but our obsolete institutions prevent them from doing their thing.
The Progressive narrative will not even admit the possibility that:
–when it comes to global warming, the scientists who are being objective and the scientists who are driven by a political agenda may not be on the believer side and the skeptic side, respectively.
–The financial crisis came not from deregulation but from active government policies and conscious decisions related to home ownership and bank capital standards.
–the bank bailouts may have served mainly to bail out banks, and the stimulus may have served mainly to bail out state and local governments. Neither may have been effective at reducing unemployment.
–there is little or no room to reform health care by increasing government’s role. Most of the meaningful health care reforms are more oriented toward markets.
The Progressives long for a world in which they can make decisions without facing a skeptical public. That was in fact the world of 1914, in which, as Fromkin points out, leaders were able to make decisions autonomously and in secret, while the public was easily deceived and manipulated into providing support.
It is my thesis in Unchecked and Unbalanced that the Progressive ideology is in a state of decline, because in the age of the Internet knowledge is becoming more dispersed, which makes elite technocratic government less effective. Perhaps, like the German and Austrian military leaders of 1914, the Progressive elites are at their most dangerous when their status is threatened.