From Norway To Hell

Written on August 2, 2011 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Culture & Society, Europe, Globalization & International Trade

By Walter Russell Mead

The ghastly, shocking news from Norway has stunned the whole world.  Empathy for the young victims and their families, horror at the cold blooded and deliberate evil behind this act, and fearful wonder at the depths of madness it reveals are all joined together.  We Godbotherers will be bothering God about this, asking for his compassionate and merciful presence in the lives of those who must now begin a lifetime’s journey in the presence of unspeakable grief.

To respond to events of this kind is a challenge.  The tragedy is so great that anything but silence seems to cheapen the suffering, but it also demand some kind of response.

 There are some trying to draw some political conclusion about left and right from the massacre; I would like to go deeper.  This tragedy doesn’t just speak to the state of cultural politics in our time, or remind us (as it surely does) that evil has a home in every human culture and human heart; it challenges some of our deepest beliefs about where the world is headed.

The tragedy in Norway is among many other things an important reminder that much of we want to believe about history is plain wrong.  In particular, it reminds us that the most cherished American illusion, the form of historically determinist optimism often called “whig history,” is a delusion and a snare.

There is no principle so deeply engrained in American social science as the idea that moral and economic progress go hand in hand.  “Democratic peace theory”, the species of quackery that posits that democracies don’t go to war with each other, is one form of this.  So is the idea that the achievement of a certain level of affluence constitutes a “democratic threshold” and that once societies pass this point they quickly evolve into stable and peaceful societies.  “McDonald’s peace theory”, the (factually wrong) claim that two countries with golden arches won’t fight is based on the synthesis of these two ideas: if you are rich enough to support hamburger joints you are so rich that democracy is certain.  And with democracy comes, inevitably, peace. Read more…

As published in The American Interest on July 25, 2011.


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