A Declaration of Interdependence was published originally in England as The World We’re In. Its author, a reporter for The London Observer, described the British edition as a call to arms against a conservative, unilateral world view. The military metaphor is apt. The book is a slashing, take-no-prisoners assault on the Thatcherite conservatives responsible for resisting Britain’s full entry into the European Union. Declaration extends the battle cry to the United States. Subtitled Why America Should Join the World, the book indicts the United States for ignoring its global responsibilities, even to the point of expressing contempt for the rule of law, a charge hurled almost exclusively at the feet of American conservatives. Hutton’s positionone he regards as both moral and politicalis, as he writes, to remind Americans of their European roots and their liberal vocation.
The first five chapters of Hutton’s manifesto concentrate on the injustices and iniquities of American law and society. His parade of wickedness includes gross income inequality, widespread poverty, environmental neglect, corporate fraud, underachieving schools, an inhumane prison system, anti-abortion extremism, gay bashing, the death penalty, massive political indifference and governmental inertia. The parade goes on. Americans detest organized labor, resist land-use planning, oppose campaign finance reform, possess too many guns and defend the excess wealth of the rich. Moreover, America’s infrastructure is crumbling, private money and power are out of control, and disenfranchisement (especially of convicted felons) has become an important instrument in sustaining Republican rule at the state and national level. Finally, and far from the end of the parade, Hutton reproaches Americans for buying overpowered cars, taking $20,000 vacations and reducing their country to a Sodom and Gomorrah of consumption, complete with 28,500 shopping malls. And what accounts for this smorgasbord of social and economic ills? Hutton pulls no punches: it is the calamitous rise of conservatism in America.
The remaining four chapters describe how the conservative movement in the United States has conspired to export the American model of social and economic liberty to the rest of the world. Two chapters are appropriately titled The Globalization of Conservatism and Britain in the American Bear Hug. We learn that Great Britain and Europe are in danger of contamination, for American conservative principles have begun to encroach on liberal social democratic foundations. Indeed, Europe’s social contract as represented by the welfare state is under fire, blamed for high unemployment by conservative American critics and their converts in Europe. Equally scathing is the criticism hurled at what the author regards as American unilateralism in domains such as international finance, world trade practices, global telecommunications, environmental politics and military policy.
In a lengthy conclusion, Hutton invites Americans to rejoin the world and to overhaul, root-and-branch, their social and economic system. He censures Americans for having abandoned the social contract embedded in their liberal tradition of solidarity and interdependence. Even the U.S. Constitution is faulted for its overriding emphasis on the rights of property and individual liberty, rights that in the hands of the Supreme Court almost always trump the values of equality and fraternity.
To recover this liberal tradition, he argues, Americans must return to their European roots, conveniently forgetting that many of them no longer claim such roots. Aside from that, if Americans are to make themselves whole again, they are advisedinstructed is the better wordto adopt contemporary Europe’s model of the welfare state. Germany, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries are held up as models Americans should imitate. These models range from the health care system to industrial organization and almost everything in between, including prison reform and broadcast regulation. In short, the United States is sick, and what it needs is an injection of what Hutton calls hard liberalism.
My first temptation upon reading Declaration was to congratulate Hutton on his discovery of America. Yes, Americans are wedded to an ideology of individualism unacceptable to Europeans. Yes, even the poorest of Americans have bought into the myth that riches and happiness flow from hard work and self-determination. Yes, this prevailing mind-set of liberty militates against social interdependence. And yes, our individualism and every-one-for-himself mentality has led to the corrupting influence of money. And having spent several years of my academic life in Germany, I too might personally prefer its model of social democracy to our own. But to suggest that Europeans have nothing to learn from their American children about how to organize political and social life is pretty hard to swallow. Needless to say, Hutton’s jeremiad contains grains of truth, but it subverts the whole truth about the United States. Its rhetoric is strident, its didacticism pompous and overbearing and its understanding of the American liberal and conservative traditions flawed.
In its American incarnation, liberalism has often celebrated the individualism that Hutton deplores, just as conservatism has often exalted the values of community and social stability that he defends. In addition, Hutton never defines with precision what he means by our social contract. To the extent that we Americans have one, it is represented by our Constitution, a document conceived more in liberty than in the values of equality or fraternity. Then too, one may wonder whether the new conservatives in charge of American foreign policy are really all that conservative. For one thing, they are anything but traditionalists. And unlike Henry Kissinger, they have little respect for balance-of-power politics. They are radical idealists intolerant of tyranny and willing to employ American power in defense of democracy around the world.
Finally, and most disturbing, Declaration advances what comes close to being a conspiracy theory of American politics. After all, a cabalHutton’s termis a group of persons secretly united to usurp authority by undercover means. The author would deny using the term in this sense, because the many persons he condemns make no secret of their aspirations for America. They do, however, constitute a kind of Nixonian enemies list whose main villains are the so-called neo-cons in charge of American foreign policy, and they are mentioned by name. And there is an evil genius in the background of the neo-con conspiracynone other than Leo Strauss, for many years a distinguished professor of political theory at the University of Chicago. But as his daughter wrote in The New York Times (6/7) in response to the same charge by others, to convert this wonderful and unprepossessing teacher who defended liberal democracy and believed in the intrinsic dignity of the political and whose heroes were Churchill and Lincoln into a right-wing guru is a distortion of the first magnitude.