Indeed, a characteristic of the Left has always been its suspicion of power concentrations, and today’s post-nationalists exhibit a similar tendency. What, after all, is the ultimate mission of independent media outlets and many NGOs, but to scrutinize those in power? The Right, which worships power, looks down on such people and organizations. But it is making a big mistake.
I have spent the past few weeks attending a U.N. conference in Italy and touring slums in Bangladesh with NGOs, and can fairly say that the Right is blind to what is nothing less than a global civil society movement, which spans many nations. This movement is not new, of course, and I have obviously been aware of it for many years. But it is through my reporting around the developing world recently that I have witnessed first-hand the growth in organization and in intensity of this global humanitarian class.
This new class does not hate the United States: rather, it is simply dissatisfied with national power as the means for dealing with international problems like extreme poverty. To explain this better, let me make a reference to the pre-World War II Indian independence movement. That movement’s spiritual leader, Mohandas K. Gandhi, said that while the independence movement’s concern was to evict Great Britain from the Asian Subcontinent, its larger purpose was to empower the poor. Thus, Gandhi created a model for a national movement with international humanitarian ambitions. So, in a different way, did the American Revolution, which sought to make the United States a beacon for freedom the world-over. The new global humanitarian class now wants to take this model a step further, by empowering itself over nations.
And what better vehicle for this movement than Obama, whom today’s humanitarians see as a potential Constantine the Great, the Roman Emperor of the Fourth Century who embraced Christianity, and thus put all the levers of Roman power in the service of the True Faith.
This is not gooey-eyed idealism. The father of modern realism himself, the late University of Chicago academic Hans Morgenthau, intimated in his classic work, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (1948), that there is such a thing as a universal moral conscience that limits the actions of individual great powers as they jockey for position among themselves.
American conservatism, consequently, needs to free itself from the compulsion for national power alone, and to recognize that as economic and social integration gathers apace, the global civil society movement can only grow, thus increasingly circumscribing the actions of a superpower like the United States.
Obama’s dilemma is that he encapsulates the responsibilities of a nation-state, required to navigate a world shaped by political and military power, even as he is also the focus of global humanitarians who are suspicious of this power, and yearn for his leadership. The Nobel committee hopes that by giving him this award, he will lean toward the humanitarian side—away from the naked interests of the very state he leads.