But current changes seem deeper, more far-reaching, and at the same time less conclusive than either of these analogies suggests. American power today dominates the world in quite a different way than it did even at the end of the Second World War, when the United States and its European allies faced a powerful and implacable enemy across an increasingly polarized Europe and elsewhere around the globe. At the same time, the American Leviathan is only at the beginning of its crusadethe word seems well chosento democratize the world and ensure its harmony with American interests.
A more apt (and troubling) comparison is with the 1920s, when an earlier liberal order collapsed and was replaced by imperial and mega-state regimes......
Mutatis mutandis, we find a similar cultural bond between the Bush administration"s imperial foreign policy and its tax cuts, which not only benefit America"s richest people and institutions but are deliberately aimed at starving the welfare state. The United States has achieved its overwhelming military power at the same time and in close connection with a revolt against liberalism, which is arguably as deep as the one that reached its climax with the establishment of the totalitarian regimes of the 1920s and 1930s. Local crises are emerging at the state level all across the United States......these results are a product of deliberate policy, promoted through a program of deep tax cuts which promise to erode the financial capacity of the state to undertake any but the most minimal welfare functions.
There are still other parallels with the past. The earlier anti-liberal revolt was marked by an attack on cultural decadence and a demand for a return to religion and order. Culture, according to conservative critics, was becoming trash, and the mess had to be cleaned up, by resolute means. In Italy and Germany, and in a different way in the Soviet Union, far more authoritarian or ?otalitarian government came to prevail as state power swelled. In other nations as well, constitutional guarantees were abolished or weakened: authoritarian and traditionalist governments came to power in Spain, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, and Austria, and a quasi-Fascist government formed in Rumania. Liberals were seen as weak-kneed wimps, unwilling to use force internationally and preoccupied with social welfare internally; local patriotisms prevailed everywhere. Eventually, except on the Iberian peninsula, the "totalitarian nations" took over the indecisive authoritarian disciples they had spawned......
Of course, there are differences between the past and present anti-liberal revolts. In the Soviet Union private business was demonized and expropriated; in Germany and Italy it was at least thoroughly dominated by the political elite. By contrast, in the current revolt, embodied by the United States, business is an intimate partner of government, at times seeming almost indistinguishable from it. When Iraq is rebuilt, it appears that most of the contracts will go to such companies as Bechtel and Halliburton, with major ties to Vice President Cheney and other administration figures. The military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us against almost half a century ago is attaining its maturity.
It has been too little noticed what an about-face the Bush administration has made since 9/11. From an indecisive tendency toward isolation and proposals of RubeGoldberg-style schemes for missile defense, the imperial drive for global dominance has within some few months become the all-but-officially proclaimed doctrine of the administration, though it has been more than a decade in the planning. These apparent contrasts between isolation and empire have one important thing in common: It"s all or nothing, but either way we make our own rules.
Historically, people often do not notice the most important social changes because they are part of the everyday reality that is usually not viewed as being historically significant. Events of great moment are much easier to determine, retrospectively. But we should make no mistake: nothing comparable to current cultural and political developments has happened since the world of the 20th century took shape in the period following World War I, the end of the long 19th century.
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