Monday, October 18, 2010

No Will

Now that Germany’s Angela Merkel has hopped aboard the anti-immigrant train, can we finally dispense with the idea that somehow American politicians are unique in their failings? There’s a suggestion out there that somehow the U.S. politicians are unique in their pandering to right-wing elements (with an especial focus on one Barack Obama), and that if American politicians were only willing to fight more and harder, somehow right-wing populism would be dispelled right there. The problem here is the fact that German politicians have succumbed to right-wing populism, French politicians have succumbed, Swedish politicians have succumbed, British politicians have succumbed and Italian politicians have succumbed..

Anti-immigrant sentiment—and, more broadly, populistic right-wing sentiment—is on the rise just about everywhere in the Western world. What’s to blame? You might want to blame it on a lack of will among the political class, except then you’d need to blame the political classes of nations as varied as these; therefore that claim seems much too general: it certainly requires a much more detailed and deep case to claim that the political classes of all these nations right now are so extraordinarily weak-willed. And even if they are, it would mean that the average politician of a developed country is weak and not particularly strong-willed; given that, it would mean that a politician who was strong-willed is more-or-less exceptional. And it seems like an unwise decision to construct a system that relies on exceptional people to defend it, given that exceptional people are by definition exceptions.

Since I don’t believe that the political systems of all these countries are uniformly weak-willed or populated by incompetents, that points to another reason for their capitulating to right-wing populism, namely, the bad economy. Since that’s so, probably the better strategy for avoiding annoying pandering to right-wing populists than wishing and hoping for a class of dream politicians is to construct a better system that avoids or mitigates bad economic conditions.

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