The currents of history ebb and flow,” President Obama submitted this morning in Tallinn, Estonia. “But over time, they flow toward freedom.” This, it seems, is a favored formulation of our 44th president. Pontificating on the current state of the world, Obama is fond of chastising those actors who meet with his disapprobation by passively informing them that they are, in a cosmic sense, “wrong,” and that their behavior is incommensurate with the spirit of the era. The Islamic State, Obama has proposed “has no place in the 21st century.” Russia, meanwhile, is operating in both Crimea and Ukraine “on the wrong side of history.” At home and abroad, the president returns to this theme incessantly. “The arc of the moral universe is long,” he likes to intone, “but it bends toward justice.”
This, I’m afraid, is so much wishful thinking — the product of a tragic, if popular, conflation of ideas. There is little wrong with an American president judging harshly the actions of foreign powers. All cultures are not equal, and the superiority of the West — and, within it, the Anglosphere — should be proclaimed as loudly and proudly as is tactful. But to acknowledge that an idea is virtuous is by no means to imply that it is regnant or that it is inevitable. Au contraire. Liberty as we understand it in the United States has been the exception not the rule — and its survival over the past three centuries the consequence not of happy foreordination but of the good guys in the world having enjoyed unmatched military and financial supremacy. Having known little else, the historically myopic will find it tempting to presume that our present global order represents the immutable state of nature. It does not. Just as the primary reason that the forces of liberty have prevailed since 1815 is that they have acquired and maintained unrivaled power, the relative peace and buzzing international trade that we currently enjoy is the product not of the West’s moral dominance, but of the prepotency first of the British Empire and then — after a seamless and invisible handover — of an ascendant United States. “Freedom will win,” the president said this morning in an egregious and curiously self-refuting phrase, “not because it’s inevitable, not because it is ordained, but because these basic human yearnings for dignity and justice and democracy do not go away.” What silliness. If freedom “wins,” it will be, as it has always been, because the free maintained the upper hand over the barbarians. Arcs and flows have bugger all to do with it.
Well, what but utter nonsense can one expect from adherents to a philosophy that insists that the best way to defend liberty is to turn it over to the Superstate to exercise for us as it sees fit?