Don't mess with the U.S.
by John R. Bolton
On liberty & the geopolitical landscape.
The end of the Cold War produced a lot of jubilation, reflecting what some would call a vindication of the Whig theory of history—the theory we’re always moving forward. It’s a temptation to which we all fall prey, but it was particularly evident after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. People were writing about the end of history because, obviously, democracy and the free market triumphed and there wasn’t anything else left. It was all over. The West had won, and there were no further threats or concerns. In fact, this attitude even became embodied in what was referred to as the Washington Consensus during the Clinton administration. Democracy and free markets were the answer to pretty much everything. There was some quibbling about what exactly was meant by democracy and even more quibbling about what was meant by free markets, but the quibbling basically reinforced the idea that there wasn’t really anything that much to debate. It turns out, not surprisingly, that this assumption was false.
Whatever the views of Americans, there are a lot of people in the rest of the world who don’t share the Washington Consensus and aren’t wild about representative government and the free market. That leads us into a debate about how we’re going to respond to those other governments and their supporters. And it’s critical that we don’t take the utilitarian arguments in favor of individual freedom as the only important arguments. Important though they are, the utilitarian argument for markets—in particular, that they best maximize national wealth, liberty, and all things bright and beautiful—don’t always capture what’s going on at least in the short term (several generations of human life). I think it’s important to remember the moral argument for individual liberty as well, even if, in any given period of history, it doesn’t seem to be working out quite as well as it should.