American Politics for Thought

“Is the present war a struggle for a just and secure peace, or for a new balance of power?  There must be not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace.”

-Woodrow Wilson

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When he stood before Congress in 1917 and made a plea for the world’s warring nations to resolve the First World War in “peace without victory,” Wilson must have seen what was coming down the pike.  Two short months later, he would return to request permission to go to war with Germany.

But the sentiment of his January 22 speech bears repeating.  Is the idealism of peace without victory a true moral high ground, or is it an unobtainable myth?  Are today’s human beings capable of such selfless striving, or are we Hobbesian slaves to a baser reality, in which might makes right and meekness fosters weakness?

Looking at the behavior of government today – not only foreign policy, but especially the behavior of our Congress and the interaction of the three branches – makes me wonder if we’ve completely lost touch with the lessons learned the hard way by 250 years of predecessors.  Let’s leave the Middle East off the table for the time being, and just examine the affairs of our own Houses.

“Is the present war a struggle for a just and secure peace, or for a new balance of power?”  Our vigorously unsuccessful partisan politics are a constant power struggle.  You’d be hard pressed to convince me that the greater portion of Congressional discussions stem from an honest selfless struggle for justice and and equanimity among people and parties.  “There must be not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace.”

I think we’ve strayed from the path.  I think we’ve lost sight of the common goal.  Granted, party polarization may be the inevitable result of a nation divided among urban and suburban.  But it seems to me that our ideas and ideals these days are predicated more on what they are not than what they are.  We define ourselves in negatives: I am not a bleeding heart liberal.  I am not a hard-hearted conservative.  In doing so, we ground ourselves in a negative mindset, we take root in oppositional assertions.

We’ve forgotten the meaning of “One Nation” because we’re too concerned about whether or not we should say “Under God”.  We’ve jettisoned “indivisible” because we want liberty and justice for ourselves before we ensure it to others.

Were Wilson here today, he’d find that our government is not a community of power.  It’s an unstable balance of power, like a see-saw manned by two over-anxious toddlers.  Our mighty government that once oversaw a magnificent nation is divided into organized rivalries that push common peace down the to-do list, catering to pork barrel pleas instead of the maintenance of an unsure, insolvent country.

What would Wilson say to us now?

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