September 14, 2003


What Is Power?: Which global players have power today-and which are likely to acquire it in the coming decades? (Niall Ferguson, Spring 2003, Hoover Digest)

I have tried to suggest that power is about monopolizing as far as possible what might be called the means of projection (of power). A list of these would have to include manpower, weaponry, and wealth but also knowledge and, since a rationally organized bureaucracy is a formidable resource, administrative efficiency.

As we have seen, however, most if not all of these elements of power are tending to become more evenly distributed because of differentials in growth rates and the speed with which knowledge (including knowledge with military applications) can be transmitted. In that sense, power per se is tending to be dispersed. And the more it is dispersed, the less power there is. One power with a nuclear missile is very powerful. Twelve powers with nuclear missiles are each much less powerful than that. The more proliferation, the less power.

The same cannot be said, of course, of natural resources. In the case of oil and other key strategic commodities, these essential elements of power are finite and geographically concentrated. But either way, the inference to be drawn is that we should not exaggerate the likely duration of America?s era as a hyperpower.

Yet there is a final dimension of power that cannot be left out: the psychological. Two things can greatly magnify or diminish the ability of any entity, governmental or nongovernmental, to project power: first, its own legitimacy in the eyes of its individual members; second, its credibility in the eyes of other powers.

These are the unquantifiable-but perhaps the most important-elements of power. And we do well to remember them. For in the war against terrorism declared by President Bush in September 2001, they may prove to be the deciding elements.

As things stand, both parties-the United States and the terrorist diaspora-have firmly established their credibility, the latter by destroying the World Trade Center, the former by overthrowing the Taliban regime and now Saddam Hussein. At the same time, both appear to have legitimacy in the eyes of their respective constituencies. Certainly, the American public mood was dramatically changed by September 11. Certainly, support for Al Qaeda among young Muslims seems to remain strong from Karachi to Riyad. American patriotism is arguably a civil religion as formidable in its way as Islamic fundamentalism.

But is it?

Stamina-the ability of any human organization to sustain a collective effort-is dependent as much on moral as on material factors: That is one of the oldest lessons of military history. The Russian army collapsed in 1917 under far less severe conditions than the Russian army endured in 1942. That was because Stalin's totalitarian combination of propaganda and coercion preserved his regime's legitimacy.

There is no reason in theory why democracies should not prove equally resilient, even though they rely on consent through representation rather than (or at least more than) on coercion. But we don't know for sure. No democracy has ever suffered privations as colossal as those the Nazis inflicted on the Soviets; the United States in particular has got off amazingly lightly in all the wars it has fought against external enemies.

Power, then, is partly about material things: guns, butter, men, money, oil. But it is also about morale. In a world characterized by the diffusion of most of the material elements of power, real power may therefore come to depend on having credibility and legitimacy. Faith cannot move mountains. But it can move men.

Despite the desertion of most of the Democrats already in the War on Terror, there seems little reason to worry about the strength of American patriotism and morale in the citizenry generally. And Australia and England seem to be on board for the long haul. Interestingly, the Japanese are looking rather hawkish these days too. But we can see in Canada and Western Europe, in particular, what happens when societies lose confidence in the worthiness of their own culture--they are no longer considered credible nations in American eyes.

Men without chests (David Warren, September 14, 2003)

C.S. Lewis wrote about "men without chests", and one often notices in reading today, or in looking at the faces about one, the overwhelming presence of both men and women upon whom one could not wish to rely in an emergency.

It is the new, post-Christian Canada, and Western world -- already vastly changed since my childhood. It is our post-modern society of abortions, soft pornography, recreational sex, same-sex marriages, and fault-free divorce; an age of huge public concern about auto insurance premiums. We live today in what, if I were to reduce it to a single word, I might call a "degenerate" culture. [...]

Looking back, now, over two years, from the shock that was administered to our systems on 9/11, I think we should get a clearer picture of the event as a kind of divine warning. For here were unquestionably evil men -- the foot-soldiers and carnage-planners of Islamist fanaticism -- who attacked us (sic: attacked us, all civilized people) in the belief that we were so degenerate we would quickly fold. [...]

So long as I live, I shall be impressed by the America that was revealed in the ashes of the World Trade Centre; by the New York of the firemen who rushed to the scene; by the staff running towards, not away, from the wreckage at the Pentagon; by the airplane passengers riding into the ground of Pennsylvania.

The men with chests rose immediately to the occasion. And God was most certainly with America when it came.

But we must ask, will He remain?

For the connexion between the events, great and small, is this. God will save those, even whole nations, who sincerely call upon his aid. But a nation fallen into apostasy cannot even save itself; nor can we save ourselves if we are men without chests.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 14, 2003 8:04 AM

The Russian army achieved remarkable, perhaps even miraculous, results against Hitler's army.

Still, not wishing to take anything away from it, one might legitimately wonder how much of Russia's determined resistance was due to the threat (and execution) of a bullet in the back of the head for those not willing to fight (though on the other hand, Russian POWs indeed had a very low survival expectancy at the hands of the Germans), as well as how much was due to the Russian winter...

...and similarly wonder whether a democracy might indeed prove so "resilient."

One would hope so.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at September 14, 2003 8:16 AM

What attacks the Islamic terrorists have been able to carry out over the past two years have almost all be in Muslim-ruled nations, such as the Bali bombing or the attacks in Saudi Arabia. Obviously, their No. 1 go is to top 9/11 in the United States, but if it's too tough a challenge to carry out for now, and if Canada and Western Europe allow their defenses to be lowered due to either a loss of commitment or simplay a desire to do whatever would annoy the Bush administration the most, the terrorists will eventually decide to take what they can get in the West and strike at those weak spots.

Posted by: John at September 14, 2003 12:42 PM

Warren has already provided the proof that answers Barry's hopes for democracy. Nobody held a gun to the firemen going into the World Trade Centre.

Posted by: Biased Observer at September 14, 2003 12:45 PM


Canada and Europe have been allowing their defences to be lowered for decades, not to annoy the US, but because their elites have bought into dreamy intellectual drivel. Orrin is rather good at dissecting it. You are right about the threat, but try telling it to men with no chests.

BO--Well said.

Posted by: Peter B at September 14, 2003 12:58 PM


I don't get it. Harry drones on endlessly about the remarkable Soviet military feat. How could they have lost given that they had more men, were supplied by us, and Hitler had to project his forces across an entire continent?

Posted by: oj at September 14, 2003 3:29 PM