William F. Buckley described conservatives as riding atop history calling “Stop!”  Today’s conservatives are more likely to be saying “This isn’t happening.  This isn’t happening.  This isn’t happening…”

They’re in denial about a lot of things— global warming, oil dependence, evolution, the destructiveness of plutocracy— but the most tragicomic of these is the newly multipolar world.  I’ve written about this before, and Fareed Zakaria has a new book on it:



As Zakaria puts it, it’s not that America is declining, but that the rest of the world is rising.  Americans got used to the world of the 1950s, when the US dominated the world not only by its own size and power, but because everyone else was broken.  We’re heading back to a more normal world, where we’re only one of a number of Great Powers.

Britain went through this process half a century ago, losing its empire and suffering through an extended depression.  Its own conservatives by no means accepted their new status; they railed against Labour and implied that they would have done nothing of the sort— though when they were actually in power they accomplished nothing more than bungling the Suez crisis and keeping hold of Africa for a few more years.  To actually retain the empire would have required fighting a dozen Vietnams around the world, something postwar Britain was incapable of.

US conservatives began the 2000s crowing about the American Empire, eager to project our might at anyone who opposed or even annoyed us.  There’s no sign that McCain has learned anything; he’s still talking about victory and permanent occupation in Iraq and ramping up in Afghanistan, all while lowering taxes and balancing the budget.  Before the Iraq war this merely seemed unlikely; now it’s complete fantasy.  The US can’t reverse the multipolar world, but it sure can cause a lot of trouble along the way.

If only the fantasy could be kept in books and movies— as British conservativism expressed its revanchist dreams through James Bond.  Though even that doesn’t seem as harmless as it used to, now that it turns out that the Bush administration’s embrace of torture and shredding of Constitutional liberties is based on imitating Jack Bauer.