The Soviet Union and the Soviet Empire have been gone for 26 years, yet American internationalists, Democrats and Republicans alike, persist in speaking of the “Free World,” quite as if Earth continues to be divided between the liberal-democratic-capitalist and the communist camps. We have been hearing a great deal more of this Free World talk since President Trump’s inauguration, aimed at promoting the belief that the new President is not just letting the Free World down but turning his back on it, careless of whether it survives, languishes, or perishes without American military and financial aid and diplomatic support. No one, right or left, thinks to ask whether the “Free World” still exists in a sense in which the term has any meaning at all.
From the start, the Free World was an ideological idea, and hence an aggressive one. Its rhetorical nemesis was the “communist bloc,” a world that was “unfree” in a specific ideological and totalitarian way on the far side of the Iron Curtain. For champions of the Free World, the Unfree World did not ordinarily include, for ideological and political purposes, countries whose political and social traditions were traditional and pre-democratic—empires, monarchies, even old-fashioned, nonideological dictatorships with which the Free World was willing to make alliances and do business on behalf of its strategy against the Unfree World. For the Free World, the Unfree World meant the Marxist-communist one, a mortal enemy so great that the world itself was too small to make settled coexistence possible. (“There’s room for only one of us in this town.”) It is true that American liberals were more or less overtly hostile to imperialism and authoritarianism in every form, and that after World War II they were quick to turn on their former European allies—the British especially—by encouraging and even forcing the dismemberment of their colonial empires. Still, Washington in the postwar era continued to operate on the assumption that whatever was not communist was on the side of the angels—and of the greatest of the archangels, America herself. Today, as American internationalists of both parties fight to keep the Cold War alive and even to turn it hot, one may reasonably question, first, their assumption that anything properly describable as the “Free World” persists in the 21st century, and whether the United States is morally qualified to lead, or even to speak for, it if it does.
The matter depends to a considerable extent on whether one believes the United States to be still a free country herself in the historical sense, and the Free World, whose symbolic leader remains the U.S., to be similarly free. According to reports issuing regularly from fervently democratist sources like the State Department, various Washington agencies, and an array of NGOs, the answer is a qualified yes: free, though of course never free enough. Current popular movements across the United States and Europe pejoratively identified by liberal establishments as “populist”—in America that undefined thing called Trumpism; in England Brexitism; in France Le Penisme; in Holland the Party for Freedom; in Italy the Five-Star Movement; in Germany the Alternative for Germany; in Hungary Jobbik; and so on—indicate the opposite. The new popul(ar)ist opposition to Western establishmentarianism thinks of itself as a principled democratic remnant of a world that was indeed once free, but is becoming less free every day under the thumb of a political, social, and cultural establishment dedicated to an Orwellian ideology bent on imposing soft tyranny in the name of freedom. For “populists,” the “Free World” is not just an evil parody of the Old Free World but an unreal world built on the lies and the self-serving illusions of a faux elite. Certain people whose business or interest it is to consider such things argue that communism was defeated in Eastern Europe and Western Asia only to reestablish itself in Western Europe and North America.
The primary threat to freedom in the Western countries is advanced liberal culture, liberal government as shaped by that culture being oddly secondary. Great as the power of government over modern society has become, popular opinion has been shaping politics to an extent greater than governments have been doing, as recent studies of partisan political alignment in the United States seem to demonstrate. In this sense the people really do have the government they deserve, or at least the popular majority does. But while the American and the British electorates divide nearly equally between liberals and antiliberals, liberal culture has plainly become the official culture throughout the West, the culture of the elites and the governments they staff and control. Just as plainly, this culture is antidemocratic as well as liberal: overbearing, controlling, intolerant, and with palpable totalitarian instincts. All ideologically motivated governments and societies whose ideological formation rests on a foundation of metaphysical falsity are evil. Falsity by definition is untruth; and just as “the truth shall set you free,” so untruth will make you unfree—a slave. Advanced liberalism, having fashioned an alternative metaphysical reality for the world, is working to impose its intellectual creation on reality, which can be effectively (though temporarily) resisted solely by brute force and the curtailment of basic freedoms, a business well under way across the United States and the West as liberal governments demand, with growing impatience and renewed determination, that their people deny Christian truth and God’s law and renounce the natural human instincts, affirmations, sentiments, and loyalties on which personal and social identity, security, contentment, and human happiness depend, while affirming the liberal’s creed of materialism and moral relativity.
So for the past third of a century or so the liberal culture of the “Free World” has concentrated on making that world less free. Simultaneously, the American government has summoned its Western allies, in the name of “freedom” and “democracy,” to extend and impose the new American version of both beyond the Western world and to enforce them with all its military might and the enthusiastic support of the new liberal culture at home. It is hard to say which of the two is worse. The American civic culture wants, in addition to free and democratically elected government everywhere, liberal-capitalist-global economies, permeable if not open borders, social equality and the denial of sexual differences between the sexes, religious equality and secularism, sexual hedonism, easy access to contraception and abortion, and the recognition of gay rights, up to and including gay marriage. American popular culture brings synthetic vulgarity on the commercial scale, moral relativity and immorality in the “arts,” cheap American-style clothing mass-produced for the masses, and the obliteration of local cuisines by junk food sold from American franchises. Civic and popular culture merge in the relentless politicization of Hollywood and of the American and other Western media, which conscientiously infuse their productions with progressive “messages” carefully shaped to promote social inclusiveness, feminism, and sodomy, and with them popular resentment of supposedly greedy businessmen and corporations working to impoverish the poor, corrupt governments, thwart “democracy,” and destroy “the environment.” Lacking the communist monster to slay, the “Free World” has replaced it with the avowed enemy of “our core values and principles,” capable of assuming a thousand different forms but readily identifiable by the absence from its forehead of the Great U.S. Seal of Approval with which Washington brands its own: the “un-American.”
Sergey Kislyak, the suddenly notorious Russian ambassador to the United States, recently reminded his American audience that “we don’t impose our exceptionalism on you.” His remark went largely unnoticed by the media (or anyone else), of course. The ambassador, a cultivated and sophisticated cosmopolitan, is surely conscious of the irony inherent in the fact that the United States, having hoped for decades to rescue the Soviet peoples from the tyranny of Marxist-Leninism, is presently attempting to subject the Russians to the tyranny of American liberalism that in its newest form is a direct descendant of Marxist-Leninism. It may also have occurred to Mr. Kislyak, who has a close acquaintance with and knowledge of the United States, that not only does the “Free World” no longer exist but that, if it did, Washington would have no business leading it. (James P. Rubin, the Democratic operative, has recently annointed German Chancellor Angela Merkel the new “Leader of the Free World” and the old liberal order. She—and the country she has betrayed—are welcome to that honor.)
Writing in the Winter 2017 number of Modern Age, David Hein shows how postwar history might have been different. In his excellent essay, “The Marshall Plan,” he argues that the European Recovery Program to which the name of then-Secretary of State George C. Marshall was affixed, though readily remembered today as another misguided exercise in liberal humanitarianism and idealism (which indeed is how conservatives of that day saw it), was in fact an example of “conservative reform as a weapon of war” and thus wholly consistent with the conservative foreign policy of the Truman administration, which stood in stark contrast with its liberal domestic program. “The Truman containment strategy,” Hein writes,
incorporated a deliberate rejection of Wilsonian universalism in favor of—in the words of diplomatic historian John Lewis Gaddis—“independent centers of power, in which nations subject to Soviet pressure would have both the means and the will to resist it themselves.” Gaddis notes that for George F. Kennan, director of the State Department’s policy planning staff, “what was required was not to remake the world in the image of the United States, but rather to preserve its diversity against attempts to remake it in the image of others.”
Kennan, in Hein’s view, understood containment as a matter of retrenching rather than of enlarging America’s global ambitions, while strengthening her allies and hewing to the balance of power that prevailed throughout the international system. Kennan’s favored policy was congruent with Russell Kirk’s belief that “the diversity of economic and political institutions throughout the world” should be accepted by Washington. “Soviet hegemony ought not to be succeeded by American hegemony,” Kirk wrote, and American conservatives, while working on behalf of “the defense of order and justice and freedom,” should press for a “conservative foreign policy” that was above all prudent, rather than interventionist or isolationist.
The United States today is less the symbol of the “Free World” than of the globalist one she created by spreading a false idea of freedom internationally, after imposing it at home. Having recognized Vladimir Putin as a significant obstacle to realizing their ambitions, the hyperimperialists are determined to revive in the 21st century the Cold War they thought they had won once and for all more than a quarter of a century ago. They are close to succeeding in their ambition, even as foreign governments are beginning to accept that President Trump has no interest in nation-building, championing and protecting “human rights,” propping up the United Nations, and assisting other “vital” internationalist projects being promoted by the former leaders of the “Free World.” Small wonder the Deep State (and plenty of others) loathe and fear him and are feverishly working to sabotage his administration and lay the man himself low.
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