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Monday, May 28, 2007

We have met the enemy and he is us

I know that I'm just another liberal lefty academic but all the same I was very impressed with this piece by the historian Chalmers Johnson on the current path of the American Empire.

Occasionally I watch some 1970's American TV show or film and am reminded of how much we (meaning the British public) used to love America. Growing up in the 1980's I saw America as an ideal progressive and modern society, sure - nothing is perfect, but the Americans I saw on television and read about in books and newspapers, seemed concerned with the things that I thought were important - freedom of expression, democratic rule, the scientific endeavour - and these were coupled with a sense of adventure and possibility that I didn't see in Thatcher's Britain.
Cartoon Free America, Brian Narelle

These days I am more used to hearing about how the British public (not to mention the rest of the wider world) objects to America's policies and ideals. Johnson sets out a way forward for the US to reclaim the moral high ground and to save itself, from itself.

This is the new global politics, away from the old left/right tensions of the 20th century, that is about pragmatic moral change on a world scale. It seeks to tackle issues such as world poverty and climate warming, and looks not to protect the rich and the powerful, or to destroy them, but to enrol them in this cause as powerful drivers of change.

It may be a tad Utopian, but it's a view that I've also heard reflected in the the recent Reith Lectures on BBC Radio 4. In these, Professor Jeffrey Sachs makes a convincing argument that global co-operation is needed to tackle the major problems in the world. Sachs' vision, for all rich nations, echoes Johnson's more specific call for America. Perhaps our current obsessions with Terror (why is that a proper noun exactly?) is just a red herring from the real challenge of this century, which is a call-to-arms to engage with a new level of political debate about global problems that have nothing to do with religious belief.

We have met the enemy, and he is not who we thought he was.

Update (4th June, 2007) - I read an article in this week's New Statesmen magazine by Michela Wrong where she attacks Sachs for being simplistic:

"Sachs believes that Africa's salvation is ours to bestow. It's that simple. We have the know-how; all we need is a huge hike in western aid. History-lite, politics-free, unashamedly populist, his vision of the world is utterly appealing. It just doesn't happen to bear any relation to the world I live in. I guess that's why I find him so tiresome."

Wrong might have a point in that Sach's monologue was all about the message, but I can't help but feel that its an important motivational one. She recommends The Bottom Billion, by Prof. Paul Collier, as a more realistic read. I'll have to check it out.

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