Western Liberalism Is the Only Idea Left Standing

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

The French and Dutch rebuffs of the European Union constitution will soon be followed by other rejections. Millions of proud, educated Europeans are tired of being told by unelected grandees that the mess they see is really abstract art.

The EU constitution—and its promise of a new Europe— supposedly offered a corrective to the Anglo-American strain of Western civilization. More government, higher taxes, richer entitlements, pacifism, statism and atheism would make a more humane and powerful new continent of more than 400 million to outpace a retrograde U.S. Instead, Europe faces a declining population, unassimilated minorities, low growth, high unemployment and an inability to defend itself, either militarily or morally. Somehow the directorate of the EU has figured out how to have too few citizens while having too many of them out of work.

The only question that remains is just how low will the 100,000 bureaucrats of the European Union go in shrieking to their defiant electorates as they stampede for the exits.

In fact, 2005 is a culmination of dying ideas. Despite the boasts and threats, almost every political alternative to Western liberalism over the last quarter-century is crashing or already in flames.

China’s red-hot economy—something like America’s of 1870, before unionization, environmentalism and federal regulation— shows just how dead communism is. Will Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba go out with a bang or a whimper? If North Korea’s nutty communiques, Hugo Chavez’s shouting about oil boycotts and Fidel Castro’s harangues sound desperate, it’s because they all are.

Fascism has long vacated its birthplace in Europe. The fragments of the former Soviet autocracy are democratizing. The caudillos are gone from Latin America. The last enclave of dictators is the Middle East. Yet after Saddam Hussein’s capture in a cesspool, their hold is slipping too. There will probably not be an Assad III or a second Mubarak.

The real suspense is whether the Gulf royals can make good on their promises of reform and elections. Will they end up like pampered Windsors or go the ignominious way of the Shah of Iran? In desperation, the apparatchik journalists in the state-controlled Arab press are damning the United States, the avatar of change. Then there is bankrupt Islamic fundamentalism. The zealots can always tape a beheading or turn out a few thousand to burn an American flag. But the Taliban are gone from power. Iran is facing popular disgust at home, while its desperate nuclear plots are waking up even a comatose Europe. And the promise of a return to the 8th Century has always had an appeal limited to a few thousand pampered elites, like Osama bin Laden, Dr. Zawahiri or Zarqawi. These losers figured they might become Saladins if they convinced an Arab populace that the Jews and America, not their own corrupt regimes, kept them poor. Now they are reduced to ranting about the evils of democracy.

The Islamicists offered nothing to galvanize the Arab masses other than nihilism. That doctrine feeds or employs no one. Instead, we witness the creepy threats and the pyrotechnics of a lunatic ideology going the way of Bushido and the kamikazes.

Why all these upheavals?

Global communications now reveal hourly to people abroad how much better life is in Europe than in the Middle East and Asia— and how in America, Australia and Britain the standard of living is even better than in most of Europe.

The removal of the Taliban and Hussein and their replacement with democracies proved that the United States after Sept. 11, 2001, was neither weak nor cynical. In fact, it was the utopian United Nations, with its oil-for-food program, snoozing in Darfur and scandals about peacekeepers, that proved corrupt and unreliable.

What are we left with then?

Democracy, open markets, personal freedom, individual rights, pride in national traditions, worry about big government—about what we see in the United States, Britain, Australia and their allies in Japan and the breakaway countries in Europe. Elections in Ethiopia, France, Iraq, Lebanon and Ukraine all point to a desire for more freedom from central state control.

Embers of communism, fascism, theocracy and socialism, of course, will always flare up should we become complacent or arrogant. Wounded beasts like Iran, North Korea and bin Laden are most dangerous before they expire. Expect discredited EU bureaucrats to conjure up the specter of the American bogeyman before they pension out.

Still, the racket and clamor from all these anti-democratic ideas in 2005 are not birth pangs, but the bitter death throes of those whose time is about past.

©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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