March 18, 2020
Author: Chilton Williamson

The individual uncoordinated responses of governments around the world to the Coronavirus pandemic are being interpreted by anti-globalists as a widespread, almost universal affirmation of the nationalist impulse, which is said to have reasserted itself under stress of international crisis. This explanation is true as far as it goes, but it misses something nevertheless: That between globalism and renewed national self-reliance and sufficiency there is–beyond a certain inevitable degree of integration–no choice: only necessity.

The member countries of the European Union that did not wait for Brussels to devise a Union-wide strategy for coping with the virus as a bloc but instead decided to take matters into their hands, while simultaneously refusing to consider another EU plan to accept a renewed influx of refugees from the Middle East, did not wait for Ursula von der Leyen and the rest of the EU to act–because they could not afford to wait. They felt compelled to act immediately to safeguard the health of their citizens. And they could not wait either to make adjustments to the Schengen Agreement that mandates open borders and freedom of movement between the 27 countries members of the Union. So they simply went ahead and acted as if the Schengen arrangement had been formally suspended by the EU Commission.

The laws of growth and of scale in all human enterprise entail as well the laws of diminishing return and of entropy.  Large corporations eventually run down, or succumb to mismanagement and are acquired by other large companies. Amazon has yet to make a profit. Empires thrive and expand still farther, then weaken fall apart from their own internal contradictions: Babel, the Chinese empire, the Roman and Moghul empires, the Ottoman and British empires, the Soviet and American empires, and now the uncompleted—and doubtless never to be completed—globalist empire of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Such economic, territorial, and political creations fall victim not only to the contradictions inherent in their nature but to the fragility that the over-complexity and over-extension associated with giantism inevitably acquires. There will never be world government, for the very good reason that the world could never be governed efficiently from a single center ruled by a central authority. Indeed, in those circumstances, it couldn’t be governed at all.

Of all people, Americans and their governors should understand this better than anyone. The United States in the 21st century is a chaotic and probably unresolvable mess. Too vast in territorial extent; populated by too many people representing too many races, cultures, and languages; having too much social and intellectual complexity; involved in too many foreign engagements, diplomatic and military; too dependent on fundamentally fragile and unreliable technology for its survival, whether day-to-day or in the long run; having too much political and bureaucratic regulation and too little moral regulation and consensus; cursed with an over-abundance of  national wealth and a demoralizing amount of money: America suffers from giantism, elephantiasis—call it what you will. Bernard-Henri Lévy, the generally deplorable French leftist and “public intellectual,” got much of it down in his book, American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville (2007).

American politicians should understand all this, but few, if any of them, seem to. (Or want to.) Mayor De Blasio of New York City has just opined that America’s best means for dealing with the present pandemic is to nationalize all the country’s basic industries. This example of ignorance and irresponsible demagoguery in high places is yet another bit of  evidence  from contemporary political life that energy, intelligence, competence, scientific learning and applied science, technique, and managerial ability (even so far as politicians possess these things, which His Honor doesn’t) are not the same as, nor do they add up to, that elusive good called wisdom: the one, and only one, thing that can tell supposedly rational human beings when to stop. But wisdom is as rare as it is precious, as indeed everything that is precious is rare. It is also commonly an individual quality, not a collective one. Perhaps ancient Greece came closest to making it that. But classical civilization has been dead for two thousand years, brought down by overreach and by contradictions and weaknesses of its own—Sir Moses Finley thought the Greeks’ defective understanding of economics was to blame—and the wisdom of the ancient Greek authors has not been consulted by Westerners, or anybody else, for nearly two centuries. No use looking to them, then, except as a caution, a warning, against a globalist future.

Edward Abbey, the environmentalist, essayist, and novelist (Desert Solitaire, The Brave Cowboy, the Monkeywrench Gang, etc.) suggested back in the 80s that “Our only hope is catastrophe.” That, of course, depends on what you mean by catastrophe.