What we’ve become

If there’s anyone reading this who doesn’t read the NYRB, get over there at once. I have always admired Tony Judt a great deal for his careful and dispassionate analysis. This is the week dispassion hits the buffers:

Historians and pundits who leap aboard the bandwagon of American Empire have forgotten a little too quickly that for an empire to be born, a republic has first to die. In the longer run no country can expect to behave imperially—brutally, contemptuously, illegally—abroad while preserving republican values at home. For it is a mistake to suppose that institutions alone will save a republic from the abuses of power to which empire inevitably leads. It is not institutions that make or break republics, it is men. And in the United States today, the men (and women) of the country’s political class have failed. Congress appears helpless to impede the concentration of power in the executive branch; indeed, with few exceptions it has contributed actively and even enthusiastically to the process.

The judiciary is little better.14 The “loyal opposition” is altogether too loyal. Indeed there seems little to be hoped from the Democratic Party. Terrified to be accused of transgressing the consensus on “order” and “security,” its leaders now strive to emulate and even outdo Republicans in their aggressive stances. Senator Hillary Clinton, the party’s likely candidate for the 2008 presidential elections, was last seen ostentatiously prostrating herself before the assembled ranks of the America-Israel Political Action Committee.15

At the outer edges of the US imperium, in Bratislava or Tiflis, the dream of republican America still lives on, like the fading light from a distant, dying star. But even there the shadows of doubt are growing. Amnesty International cites several cases of detainees who “just could not believe Americans could act this way.” Those are exactly the words said to me by an Albanian friend in Macedonia— and Macedonian Albanians have good reason to count themselves among this country’s best friends and unconditional admirers. In Madrid a very senior and rather conservative Spanish diplomat recently put it thus:

We grew up under Franco with a dream of America. That dream encouraged us to imagine and later to build a different, better Spain. All dreams must fade—but not all dreams must become nightmares. We Spanish know a little about political nightmares. What is happening to America? How do you explain Guant

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One Response to What we’ve become

  1. H. E. Baber says:

    Ouch. I wish I could disagree but this is dead on–and I wish I hadn’t hit that Defense Department link.

    I’ve never really understood why we Americans are so chronically scared. When I was a kid we had regular air raid drills to prepare for nuclear attack and could get booklets at the post office with plans for building family fall-out shelters. We’re scared of terrorists, scared of germs, scared of additives, scared of crime, scared of diseases real and imagined…and convinced that we can only survive by arming ourselves, individually and nationally, locking ourselves in our houses, in gated communities if we can afford it, and disinfecting every damn thing.

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