Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Isolationism, Dissent and Loss of Hegemony

Several reporters, including Elisabeth Bumiller and Adam Nagourney from the NY Times and Peter Baker and Michael A. Fletcher from the Washington Post, picked up on what I consider an ironic theme in President Bush’s address last night-- the danger of isolationism:
"In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting, yet it ends in danger and decline," Bush said. "The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership." The only alternative to American leadership, he said, "is a dramatically more dangerous and anxious world."
I happen to agree with President Bush that the tendency towards isolationism is dangerous. I disagree with is belief that isolationism can be overcome only through “American Leadership.” What President Bush tends to be missing here, what he seems unaware of, is that this techniques so far, the insistence that this administration lead the way, has caused isolationism. By refusing to work with the UN and other leaders around the world and while we pursue a Pax America agenda, we have alienated much of the world. President Bush links many of our problems to oil and terrorism, but let us go several steps beyond this simple formula and link it to power and loss of hegemony. Hegemony is the when we give our active consent (either consciously or unconsciously) to those in power to lead. This consent is garnished in many ways and is perpetuated through ideology that is reinforced through civil societies. Finally, people and groups in society offer their active consent because they think that they are getting something out of the deal. The US’s active consent, its hegemony, is in crisis precisely because people no longer believe they are getting something out of the deal. Maybe many American do, I will give you that, but outside America it is a different thing altogether and, as I have said before, we do not live in a vacuum. What many are complaining about is this “from the top” mentality that suggests it’s my way or the highway. This is what President Bush is saying when he states that the only alternative to American leadership “is a dramatically more dangerous and anxious world.” West Coster had recently reminded me of this the other day, but on a different topic. However, we must remember that although democracy, a concept that President Bush supports, is a dangerous and anxious proposition, it is the one that offers the best hope. Also, democracy is better practiced from a “bottom up” rather then a “top down” approach. The top down approach suggests that “I am bigger than you. I know more than you, so we will do this thing my way.” This is not a democratic approach; this is, simply, authoritarianism. On the other hand, the “bottom up” approach suggests that as a collective, we will make decisions resulting from deliberation and collective agreements. It is an approach where decisions are made in an inclusive way rather than an exclusive way. If we believe in democracy, we must, as well, accept dissent. As I said before, democracy is a messy business and if we don’t want democracy, don’t want dissenting voices, then we need to turn to another form of deliberation or non-deliberation. Dissent is not “defeatism,” another turn of phrase used in last night’s speech. However, there is an attempt to link these two words together. Let’s define them, shall we?
Dissent is when one disagrees with “a widely held or majority opinion.” Defeatism is when someone shows a “tendency to expect failure or accept it too readily.”
I took both these definitions from the Encarta Dictionary and although they are simple, I think they will serve us here fine. First I would like to suggest that the dissent around the world against a pure American leadership is not a dissent against a “majority” held opinion that this is the way it should be. In fact, I would like to suggest that the majority of the world no longer thinks that the world should be led only by the US. If you look at the growing numbers of social movements around the world, and the growing protest around the world, as well as several countries (especially in Latin America and the Middle East) rejecting US policy, both economic and social, I would suggest that the “majority” is becoming a “minority.” As I stated before, America seems to be losing its hegemonic stronghold. Because the status-quo is no longer being endorsed by a majority in and around the world, the dissent offered up is not a defeatist dissent, but a reality. Finally, dissent is not about giving up; it is about fighting for change. Defeatism reeks of giving up. Finally, before I hear that lovely turn of phrase, “love it or leave it,” as I have heard so many times before, let me remind you that the “love it or leave it” mentality is defeatism. Because I love it, I dissent, I question and I open my space up for deliberation. The floor is open . . . Welcome.

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