ABOUT AS FAR
AS THEY CAN GO
begin with the WSJ of January 1, 2000. Mr.
Thomas Petzinger tells us that everything's up-to-date
in Cyber City. Well, not exactly, and yet his article
is not lacking in truth. It is true that communication
costs and transaction costs are being reduced. It is
true that smaller flexible organizations tend to be
the centers of innovation and that networks of smaller
organizations can be more effective than the stereotypical
Engulf-and-Devour kind of conglomerate megacorporation
and all that). It is equally true that costs and prices
are falling steeply in cyberspace. This is not, however,
a repeal of the laws of economics so much as a reliving
of the 19th-century experience of increasing prosperity
accompanied by falling price levels. It takes place
precisely in an economic sector not too subject, yet,
to helpful government regulations and guidance. There
is a lesson in here which may go beyond Petzinger's
perfectly valid points about the centrality of ideas
in capital-formation (something eloquently pointed out
by the Czech economist Eugen Lobl in the early 1970s).1
to say, our chosen topic, foreign policy, soon turns
up. G. Paschal Zachary tackles the outlook for the empire
actually using the E-word in three scenarios,
two reasonably sunny and one bittersweet and sad. In
future #1, the American empire successfully rules the
world to at least 2500 A.D. (we don't do "C.E."
in this column); its only real opponents are backward
Russian nationalists and Islamic fanatics. In future
#2, American civilization if we may use that
word is so popular and successful that all the
world clamors for admission to the American union, a
prospect that would have flattened even James
Madison, who originated the argument for republican
expansionism. ("Will the Senator from Baluchistan,
yield the floor?") This will all work for centuries,
it seems, because it will be federal, just like our
present system[!] which suggests that Mr. Zachary
understands "federalism" much as Nelson
Rockefeller did when he proclaimed a "new"
one, over thirty years ago, which is to say, not very
what of the less than happy future behind door #3? Mr.
Zachary steps on our heart (and squashes that sucker
flat) when he forecasts the return of "isolationism."
Horror show! Turning "inward" and "resentful,"
Americans refuse to lead the world, which brings on
war with China over Taiwan, a worldwide depression,
European resurgence, Japanese nuclear armaments, and
at home the temporary rule of evil anti-multiculturalists
who, denying the inevitable, try to derail the historical
tank-engine.2 Well, anyone
can make a sow's ear out of a silk purse, but the idea
that it would only occur to "an angry and inward-looking
U.S." to mind its own damned business is very hard
to fathom. But all would not be lost, Mr. Zachary assures
us, for the New Europe inspired by our very own
"democracy," egalitarianism, and, oh yes,
"openness" will replace America as
a heroic force for moral imperialism (my reading), having
"learned more" from US history than the mean
old Americans did. We're such awful rednecks, really;
no wonder we need replacing by those more "diverse"
OF IDEOLOGY, END OF HISTORY, END OF LIFE AS WE KNOW
confess I have no idea where this fellow is coming from;
that is, I have some idea, but I find it counterintuitive
that the kinds of things likely to result from US world-fiddling
should be thought chargeable to a merely hypothetical
"isolationism" which we do not even enjoy.
But we are on a roll now, as far as grasping the WSJ's
preferred foreign policy goes, and laissez les bons
temps rouler. Not unexpectedly, this brings us to
that philosophical fellow favorite wherever he
Francis Fukuyama, Hegel's
own choice for his reincarnation, writing in the previous
those who have been asleep, Mr. Fukuyama proclaimed
the "end of history" ten or so years ago,
on the grounds that, absent the Soviets, mankind can
look forward to the relentless onward march of "liberalism"
(as lately understood), "democracy," and the
rest; look forward, that is, to a timeless Pharaonic
reign of welfare-warfare states on the US/Eurological
model. Great! May we take a 500-year nap, or are we
held to strict participation? Mr. Fukuyama paints a
big canvas and last Friday was no exception.
about "what if" the Germans had taken Paris
in 1914, he says, "it could have been the German
century."3 Of course,
without a long World War I there would have been no
Bolshevik Revolution, no Hitler, "no World War
II, no Holocaust, no Cold War and no Chinese or Vietnamese
revolutions." Some of us would stop right there,
thinking an important point had been made but
that overlooks the "cunning of Reason"! Reason,
it turns out, is so bloody cunning that in fact it really
was worth all the slaughter of World War I, all
the slaughter by regimes made possible by that war's
disruption of European civilization, the slaughter of
World War II, and that of its (sort of) inevitable successor,
the Cold War.
is too clever by half. Fukuyama writes that a "German
century" could have been "peaceful and prosperous"
but that's just not good enough. But why must
he call it a German century, when his own premise
merely holds that Germany having defeated France
would be the dominant power on the continent
under the semiparliamentary-semi-authoritarian, but
civilized regime of the Kaiser? Would the Americans
all take chloroform and withdraw from world commerce
just because Germany was having a good run? But on to
the pivotal issue that makes many millions of deaths
preferable to peace and prosperity, marred only by co-existence
with those terrible Germans. It is just this: that world
"would have been stratified, corporatist and ultimately
based on racial and ethnic hierarchy a world
made safe for South Africa." My heavens!could any
greater evil be imagined? Yes: Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot,
Hitler there may be others and the wars
themselves (and do cite for me the millions killed
by Verwoerd, Vorster, and the lot for the entire period
of the "apartheid regime"). Well, at
least we know where the fellow stands.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel might be surprised to
learn that his "cunning of Reason" was aiming
at egalitarianism the whole time he thought it was working
to make the Prussian monarchy the highest peak of human
achievement, but no worries, mate. With bigger fish
to fry, we can come back to hierarchy and corporatism
later. I am interested in the idea that war is "neutral"
morally, much the way that money is neutral in the Keynesian
model of the economy. And just between us egalitarians,
what are millions murdered in war when "equality"
and anti-hierarchy are at stake? Does reason
truly say, "Go kill off millions, disrupt a civilization,
and then do it a few more times," just so you can
implement a debilitating brand of socialism instead
of the instantly fatal kind? I think we should take
war more seriously than that. War might turn out to
be an evil in its own right, possibly as great as social
discrimination and private clubs. War might well be
murderous, expensive, destructive, criminal, and other
things, but I leave off before I am suspected of writing
a fundraising letter for the rulers of several paid-up
"democracies" in good standing.
ON THE AUSTRALIAN FRONT
is why I like war films from down under. Australian
war films tend to take seriously the possibility that
people have died "in vain," as the expression
goes. American war films, by contrast, seldom do so.
Critics could say that Australian film makers work with
a lot of sentimental left-wing baggage about proletarian
socialism and the brotherhood of workers everywhere
and prefer class war to wars organized by states. If
that's a leading theme of the Ozzy films, I've missed
it. Films like Breaker
Morant, ANZACs: The War Down Under, and
seem more grounded than that. They start from what I
hope is the fairly uncontroversial notion that wars
have, er, drawbacks, and sometimes grind people up for
no good reason at all. This sound insight lost
on would-be world-savers and their apologists
is worth calling to mind whenever such gentry offer
us a brand-new war or sermons on the glorious ones we've
the beginning of ANZACs, the wealthy "squatter's"
son rides in and finds his elders on edge about a war
just under way in Europe in August 1914. He asks, quite
reasonably, What does that have to do with us? Whether
his lines express a healthy "isolationism"
or the filmmakers' latter-day Australian nationalism,
the lad's father soon sets him straight about duty to
the empire so the dismal tale can get going,
relieved only by Paul
Hogan playing a wisecracking corporal.
is quite enough film reviewing, yet before I leave the
front, I want to mention a song-cycle which overlaps
our topic. John Greenway, a conservative anthropologist
who did extensive fieldwork on American and Australian
folk music in the 1950s, noted this iceberg in 1959.
Remarking that "[a]pparently there is something
about the cattle industry that turns its practitioners
into sentimental idiots," he traced both Australia's
"The Dying Stockman" and America's "The
Streets of Laredo" back to an Irish source, "The
Rake's Progress" (also "Old Rosin LeBeau,"
"Rosin the Bow," and "The Dying Soldier").4
Somewhere in the last two centuries, we ended up with
two somewhat different songs (with different melodies),
which shared some of the same lyrics. More recently
an Australian folksinger originally from Scotland, made
the most of the version with the business about drums
beating slowly and pipes playing lowly to create a magnificent
anti-war song, "No Man's Land," which dares
to say that World War I's cannon fodder did die in
vain. The truth hurts, of course. This sort of thing
is more acceptable down under, and Slim Dusty
the crowned king of Australian country and western music
(or "bush ballads") has recorded the
song, as have many others worldwide. Not satisfied with
this, Bogle wrote the gloomy and gut-wrenching "The
Band Played Waltzing Matilda" and "The War
Correspondent" (who sits in a Saigon bar, pondering
the futility of the whole thing), making it a trilogy.
Anyone out there with a band and some spare time ought
to record a medley of these songs as an exercise in
historical discology. You can start with Tex Morton's
version of "The Dying Stockman," Buck Owen's
jokey version of "The Streets of Laredo,"
and maybe the Clancy Brothers' version of "Rosin
FOLK-SONG ARMY FIGHTS OFF CRIMPS AND KIDNAPPERS
traditional songs from the British Isles take a look-in
on war from time to time. Sharp young fellows armed
only with shillelaghs and their inborn wits often outsmart
heavies from His Own Royal Press-Gang, or wherever,
or simple people bemoan the disruption of ordinary life
which even traditional wars more limited than
those of our century entailed. If they'd only
known that all that social equality was coming....
I find it hard, anyway, to find any "leftism"
or indeed any politics at all in these
songs, with the obvious exception of Jacobitism,
which won in song what it lost in real life at Culloden.
THE BEST OF A BAD SITUATION
enough about obscure ballad-writers and songs. I mustn't
be seen to say that there's more common sense about
the evils of war there than in high-powered neo-conservative
think-tanks. Actually, I am saying that. As for
hierarchy, Fukuyama complains that a foreshortened World
War I "would have left unimpaired the cultural
self-confidence of 19th-century European civilization"
a prospect too awful to bear, it seems. With
the Germans running Middle Europe, the British empire
might have lasted longer, decolonization would have
been postponed, and, in America, civil rights for Blacks
and women would have been delayed. The dead millions
themselves cry out against such a violation of history's
railway timetable! If they can see the necessity, surely
we can. And it's reasonably cunning, certainly, to play
both cards race and gender to prove that
the wars and destruction of the 20th-bloody-century
were worth more than the powder to blow them to hell,
but perhaps I should shun martial metaphors. Patriotism
may or may not be the last refuge of scoundrels, but
egalitarian hand-waving might be the first refuge of
social democrats, however "conservative."
for corporatism the alliance of state, big business,
and trade unions to cartelize markets and eliminate
competition it is conspicuous by its presence.
There is a substantial literature on the subject. The
Dutch, Swedish, Austrian, and (sometimes) British economies
are mentioned. Noting that America is too big and freewheeling
to permit full-blown Euro-corporatism (although the
New Dealers tried under the N.R.A.), writers on corporatism
refer to the US system as "pluralistic corporatism"
but corporatism all the same. Evidently, the
dead millions and the defeat of the Kaiser weren't quite
enough to keep it from being around, but it is doubtless
a much nicer corporatism than the Germano-European kind
would have been.
writes that in addition to getting us all that social
improvement on schedule and cheaply too, if you
don't count the price war has promoted technological
development, giving us the internet (drumrolls, please),
just as surely as NASA gave us teflon. No one would
have invented anything new or useful without that healthy
stimulus pay no attention to all those 19th-century
US Patent Office Reports. Ludwig
von Mises comments that "[n]ot war, as Heraclitus
said, but peace is the source of all social relations."5
Here Mises, the "narrow" economist, seems
the better social philosopher than the professor of
words that might have been aimed directly at Hegel's
"cunning of Reason," the 19th-century Swiss
historian Jakob Burckardt wrote that defenders of any
great malefactor will claim that "without his foreknowledge,
great historical purposes lying in the remote future
were furthered by his deeds."6
I suppose it could be said that I've been unfair to
Mr. Fukuyama's actual views on war and peace. Perhaps
he isn't knowingly making out the best possible case
for the evils of the 20th-century. Perhaps he has a
great sense of the tragic, which I have overlooked;
but seeing what he does with concepts like reason and
God, let's hope he doesn't take up interpreting Aristotle's
Thomas Petzinger, Jr., "So Long, Supply and Demand,"
WSJ, January 1, 2000, p. R31. How much the pace
and direction of innovation, even in the much-touted
knowledge sector, may be distorted by our paper economic
system is suggested by Anthony
Deden's "Reflections on Prosperity," 29 December
 G. Paschal Zachary, "The empire's state,"
ibid., pp. R45 and R49.
 Francis Fukuyama, "It Could Have Been the German
Century," WSJ, December 31, 1999, p. A10.
 John Greenway, Australian Folksongs and Ballads
([cassette] New York: Folkways Records, 1959), "An
Introductory Note," p. 3.
 Ludwig von Mises, Human
Action (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1963),
 Jakob Burckhardt, Force and Freedom: Reflections
on History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1943), p. 117.