2013-11-26

A Possible End To Super-Power

I don't have a lot to say about this, so I will keep it short.

Middle East reporter Richard Spencer believes that the recent "deal" or "treaty" or whatever it is between the United States and Iran can be considered an illustration of "a superpower in retreat." Lubos Motl concurs. Both men - along with countless others, of course - take a far more Machiavellian view of international relations than I do. Theirs is the majoritarian view, and it generally holds that, since the United States is said to be "the last world superpower," its government has the unique responsibility of orchestrating global politics in such a way that all freedom-loving people benefit.

There are a few problems with this view.

First, the United States government and the people over which it claims authority have individual interests that may or may not align well with what is in the interest of the entire globe. It would strain credulity to assert that the interests of all good people are best served when the United States government gets what it wants. More realistically, the US government is powerful, and thus it is in the interest of many other governments to play sycophant to the goose that lays many golden eggs throughout the world. It goes without saying that all those who are not allied with the United States government tend to suffer more than the rest. The key point here is that the US government acts in its own interests most of the time; nothing it does should be misconstrued as a deliberate act of global beneficence.

Second, it is unclear to me why any freedom-loving person should be comfortable with the idea that there is any number of "global superpowers." The idea that one nation's government can disproportionately affect global trends is contrary to both the principles of a competitive marketplace and those of federalism. To make this point more locally, consider the following question: How many drone-bombed innocent Pakistanis does it take to convince a president that drone-bombing is a conceivable option for extenuating domestic circumstances? If your answer to that question is any number other than zero, I think you ought to be uncomfortable with the idea that any nation could be deemed a "superpower."

Third, I - like the rest of my fellow US citizens - hold no authority over the citizens of any other country. Ideally, no one in the United States would have any significant authority over anything other than their own private property. (Reasonable people can debate the particulars here, of course.)

Rather than witnessing the "retreat of a global superpower," I think we are witnessing the end of the age of superpowers in general. The idea of an all-powerful government acting for the benefit of its citizens - the idea of "government knows best" - the idea that government is staffed by a small army of geniuses, the nation's best-and-brightest, who are capable of solving all problems should we organize sufficiently many committees - is totally obsolete.

Perhaps such a notion was attractive and true to a limited extent during the middle of the 20th Century. But what we have observed - globally - over the course of the last 75 years is a slow decay of the legitimacy of super-government and a gradual return to power-to-the-people principles. This began with the American civil rights movement and has continued right up to today's internet privacy advocacy.

I guess what I am trying to say is that the old view of government is obsolete. When we see these silly treaties that do not seem to enhance anyone's power or credibility, what we are really seeing is the mask coming down. People are realizing - I think - that their own individual lives are more important than the collective interests of global superpowers. And, personally, I see this as a good thing.