Nothing Like Inactivism
Thomas Sowell puts his finger on something that many conservatives see as a frustrating and dangerous exercise in fantasy:
We have, for example, been doing nothing to stop Iran from getting nuclear bombs, but it has been elaborate, multifaceted, and complexly nuanced nothing.
Had there been no United Nations, it would have been obvious to all and sundry that we were doing nothing — and that could have had dire political consequences at election time.
However, thanks to the United Nations, there is a place where political leaders can go to do nothing, with a flurry of highly visible activity — and the media will cover it in detail, with a straight face, so that people will think that something is actually being done.
There may be televised statements and counter-statements — passionate debate among people wearing exotic apparel from different nations, all in an impressive, photogenic setting. U.N. resolutions may be voted upon and published to the world. It can be some of the best nothing that money can buy.
On first look, Sowell’s criticism of this nothingness would seem to conflict with the “inactivism” championed by Jonah Goldberg, but it doesn’t:
These readers also note that I am in favor of an activist foreign policy when it comes to Iraq — and a few other places as well — and they accuse me of hypocrisy. It’s a fair point as far as it goes in that I’ve never made a distinction between foreign and domestic policy when it comes to inactivism. But there is an important distinction here. In a decent, democratic, society individuals and associations of individuals can be trusted to regulate themselves and each other with minimal governmental — especially minimal federal — interference. Businesses solve their own problems without Washington, property owners protect their own property, communities devise ways to protect their citizens. Etc.
What inactivism comes down to is not taking action via government, because other social strata will take action and are better qualified to identify what action to take. On the international scene, however, dealing with other nations is explicitly the role of government.
To some degree, those on the other side of the aisle take the reverse approach: Taking action via government because they do not wish to let those other strata do what they do. But I’ve little doubt that they’d take the same approach to international affairs if given the chance. The difference is that liberals like to manipulate those who try to play by the rules, and the intractable rule-breakers who therefore get a pass are more prominent at the nation-state level.