What the libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard dubbed the welfare-warfare state has held sway in the US, and in the West generally, since the run up to World War II. The “welfare” part of the equation describes the growth of the State as the source and guarantor of social equity, while the “warfare” side describes the role of the State – in this case, the American State – as the source and guarantor of the “international order.” For the past half century or so this system has proved impregnable to would-be challengers. Indeed, the solidity and seeming permanence of this state of affairs was so convincing that certain of its champions theorized that we had reached, at long last, “the end of history” – that future developments in political and social science
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What the libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard dubbed the welfare-warfare state has held sway in the US, and in the West generally, since the run up to World War II. The “welfare” part of the equation describes the growth of the State as the source and guarantor of social equity, while the “warfare” side describes the role of the State – in this case, the American State – as the source and guarantor of the “international order.”
For the past half century or so this system has proved impregnable to would-be challengers. Indeed, the solidity and seeming permanence of this state of affairs was so convincing that certain of its champions theorized that we had reached, at long last, “the end of history” – that future developments in political and social science would merely refine and perfect the social democratic status quo, which would slowly but surely spread over the entire globe.
Yet history stubbornly refused to recognize its supposed endpoint. Things kept … happening, until, today, this supposedly immortal status quo is threatening to break apart in the face of populist rebellions from below.
The populist revolt currently shaking the American political landscape, and similar eruptions in Europe, herald the same sea change, albeit with somewhat different degrees of seismic intensity. In the United States, where a right-wing populist movement led by now President-elect Donald Trump has scored a major upset, the insurgents have stormed the fortress and seized the inner sanctum of the ruling elite – the White House.
Trump defeated his Republican opponents and Hillary Clinton by attacking what he called their “globalist” agenda and promised to put “America first” – a slogan that described his anti-Establishment politics to a tee. “Globalism,” or the idea of the American welfare-warfare state as the epicenter of a world system, perfectly encapsulates the ideology of the political class at “the end of history” – and captures the hubris that was their undoing.
Having supposedly achieved socioeconomic and moral perfection, our rulers embarked on a crusade to export their achievement to the rest of the world: and yet this was hardly a new idea. A similar crusade was undertaken by Woodrow Wilson in his war to “make the world safe for democracy,” and his successors continued the same mischief through World War II and the cold war.
This ongoing campaign for global uplift took on a new urgency with the fall of Communism in the former Soviet Union. Under the pretext of avenging the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and “draining the swamp” of the Middle East, the administration of George W. Bush undertook what many of his neoconservative cheerleaders saw as the final offensive against the last remnants of opposition to what Bush the Elder had called the “New World Order.”
That this ended in utter disaster did not deter the interventionists in the least. While ordinary people caviled at the monetary and human costs of perpetual war, the political class – secure in the certainty that both parties were safely in their hands – charged ahead. Their goal: eliminating the last vestiges of opposition to their international hegemony. This would eventually have to mean a confrontation with the two big holdouts: a new cold war with Russia, and the encirclement of China.
The presumed success of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was supposed to have been the launching pad for this grand project – but something unprecedented happened on the way to the victory parade.
The welfare-warfare state has been held together politically by the fact that the two major parties were engaged in a tradeoff. The Democrats, who bought off entire constituencies with tax dollars, were allowed to expand the welfare part of the equation in exchange for giving the Republicans a free hand to bloat the other half of the equation beyond all rational definitions of “national defense.” The political term for this is “logrolling,” or, in layman’s terms, you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours.
This deal was sealed and justified by the respective ideologies of the two parties: the Democrats with their social-democratic conception of the State, and the Republicans with their internationalist foreign policy. And while the two parties had ostensible differences, these were more a matter of degree than of principle: and after decades of logrolling, the Republicans basically abandoned their formal devotion to small government, and the Democrats ditched their peacenik pretensions. In effect, the two parties became the Uni-party of the welfare-warfare state.
Trump overturned this cozy arrangement. By challenging the ideology of globalism, and the domestic policies that are the offspring of the globalist project, he overthrew the ideological and electoral foundations of the status quo.
His first target was the widely misunderstood “free trade” policies of the business and foreign policy elites – which have nothing to do with free trade, and everything to do with the severing of the political class from any real connection with our country.
Trump attacked the “bad deals” we have been making with the low-wage export-dependent colonies of the American Imperium: not only Mexico but also the “Asian tigers,” Japan, South Korea, and now Vietnam. The basic template of the deal American policymakers made was this: in exchange for the free passage of goods in one direction, the colonies had to agree to either the military occupation of their territories or, at the very least, the complete subordination of these favored nations to the exigencies of US foreign policy. Thus, US troops occupied South Korea, and Japan was forced to give up Okinawa to the tender mercies of rampaging US soldiers: the “hearty welcome” given to US ships in the former American base at Cam Ranh Bay portends Vietnam’s developing future military alliance with Washington. The dropping of the arms embargo, Obama’s visit to Vietnam, and new trading relationship – more uni-directional “free trade” – adds our former Communist enemies to the outer fringes of the Empire. The deal with Mexico was more complex – since military occupation was out of the question, given the sensitivities of the Mexican public – but essentially the same: the free passage of goods and people was permitted, as long as American business lobbied on behalf of what was essentially an open borders policy and the Mexicans didn’t go Chavista on us.
The pattern is clear enough: we allow our colonies, awash in cheap labor, to hollow out our industrial base, while the only products we ship to them are weapons, software, and cold hard cash. Indeed, under President Obama, we led the world in arms exports, up 27 percent during this administration.
The winners in this arrangement are the military-industrial-congressional complex, the banks, Silicon Valley, and the Davos crowd. The losers: the working men and women of this country.