Saturday, February 14, 2004

Democracies do not make war on each other and the number of democracies is increasing. So, we are headed for world peace. Well, slowly. Primitives understand that they are on the wrong side of history and are ruthless in their response. September 11 proved that they now have the means as well as the will to do great harm. This is now a war as auspicious as the ones against Nazis and Communists because precious values of freedom and liberty are at stake.

In a very harsh world, there are high costs to pay -- in lives, in treasure and in some loss of liberty and tranquility at home. High costs for high stakes is the way of the world. The fact that Americans, unlike many Europeans, are willing to make the sacrifices is profound.

The mission is never "unilateral"; there are many strong supporters -- notably those who had a front-row seat at the performance of the former East Bloc. Many others, notably Turks and Saudis, also having been recently hit, are rethinking their pre-war stance.

The "international community" by the East River UN headquarters is hardly that. It is, rather, a bloated bureaucracy with an outlandish and misplaced sense of self-importance. More unintended self-parody than heft, witness the pathetic UN performance in Bosnia and the tragic and steady non-performance in Africa's civil wars. Paul Johnson has urged that the UN relocate to an African capital. Less NYC high-life and more exposure to some harsh realities.

Historian Robert Higgs has documented how wars exact costs in terms of an expanded size and scope of centralized power. The bright side is that whereas growth spurts in the size of government during war are never fully surrendered in peace time (the "ratchet" growth effects that Higgs identifies), losses of liberty are more likely to be recovered. Ever since the Civil War, civil liberties have been many times trampled, whether by Lincoln, Wilson, FDR or rabid red-baiters in post-WWII government. Yet, in another chapter of American Exceptionalism, after all the losses, the long run progress of due process in the U.S. had continued apace. There is, therefore, reason to expect that the excesses of the Patriot Act will be tempered.

The best is always the enemy of the good. Nevertheless, eternal vigilance abroad and at home must and probably will remain standard practice. Our strength is that we are likely not to be on a slippery slope.