I Don't Want to Be a Norwegian

I'm sure Norway is a pleasant country, although I've never been there. But I don't want the United States to become Norway -- that is, I don't want the United States to turn into a quaint, small, powerless, and socialist country. Yet I suspect the Obama administration is trying to bring about precisely that.

How could the United States become Norway? The first step is for the government to enact massive government programs, such as Obamacare and cap-and-trade legislation, to increase dramatically the number of people who depend on the government. European socialist governments have used the same method to entrench themselves in power. Once the government forces people to depend on it for their health, livelihood, and welfare, the chances that the voters will reelect those on whose largess their life prospects depend increase significantly. Thus, contrary to appearances, the government's intrusion in people's lives is not entirely ideological, nor is it motivated by the desire to advance the public good. The aim of these moves is to expand and consolidate domestic political power. 

To be sure, this conspiracy does not always succeed (and that gives us a kernel of hope), as the sporadic ascendancy of market-oriented governments in some European countries shows. Voters harmed by these bad programs can react and throw the conspirators out. But politicians attempt this maneuver time and again in the hope that even political adversaries can profit from the citizens' now-well-established dependence on government.

There are two reasons why anti-socialist governments have not repealed these socialist programs (Germany's Merkel and France's Sarkozy come to mind). First, large programs are to the advantage of all governments because the programs secure the citizens' dependence on whoever is in power. Second, bureaucracies and entitlements are extremely difficult to eliminate once established.        

The second path to Norwegianhood is to curtail American global power. The theme is well-known and has been addressed in the pages of this journal. For the left that Obama represents, American world power is a source of mischief. Drawing on the ideas of Soviet tyrant Vladimir Lenin and homegrown Marxists such as Noam Chomsky, the left has consistently decried what they consider American imperialism. The recent experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq have deepened the left's hostility to American hegemony.

While not free of ambiguity, Barack Obama has adopted this theme. Not only has he apologized for the United States, but in a break from the past, Obama has also rejected human rights and democracy as the touchstones for the legitimacy of foreign governments. At the United Nations, Obama said that he respected the "rights in the community of nations" of the criminal regimes of Iran and North Korea. This is a far cry indeed from Bush's much more accurate "axis of evil" description.

In the same speech, Obama expressly renounced American superpower status: "No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed." (By the way, this last statement is false: a world order has better chances to succeed if there is a hegemon than if there isn't, because the hegemon supplies crucial public goods such as defense.)

In short, Obama thinks we ought to be more like Norway: democratic, socialist, reasonably prosperous, and non-imperialist. Obama and his supporters dream of America as a nice country to inhabit, where the government takes care of us all and recoils from foreign adventures. The left conveniently omits the fact that countries like Norway can be peaceful and reasonably prosperous because for almost a century, those countries have ridden free of charge on the defense efforts of the United States.

Domestically, the Obamites don't quite want a socialist dictatorship (although we all know that for decades, the left made excuses for those[i]). The left wants instead a regime that respects human rights à la Norway: broad "socioeconomic" rights coupled with civil rights that are meager compared to the freedoms we enjoy in America. This means a much narrower freedom of speech, virtually no protection of property rights, ample governmental powers to redistribute wealth at will, and political correctness all around. Internationally, the left would like to end American global presence both because it is evil and because it siphons resources away from the domestic socialist structure the left cherishes. 

Above all, Obama and the left want to change the ethos in this country -- to make it more Norwegian, as it were. Domestically, the left would like to eradicate the libertarian instincts of the American people, so movingly reflected in our founding documents. Americans have a healthy distrust of government; on this side of the Atlantic, the default rule is that government is a necessary evil. In contrast, most Europeans don't have this instinct: the European default rule is that government is beneficial until proven otherwise. The libertarian instincts of the American people pose a major obstacle to Obamacare and similar laws. Supporters of these bad laws try to convince Americans that there is no reason to distrust Big Brother; on the contrary, Big Brother just wants to help. 

In foreign policy, the Obama administration has reversed another admirable American trait: the readiness to call a thug a thug. Americans know a tyrant when they see one. Throughout history, American presidents, with important nuances, have recognized dictators for what they are (as opposed to calling them "leaders of a sovereign nation"). Only four years ago, George W. Bush expressly refused to legitimize tyrants. Bush was mercilessly ridiculed by the media for his stand, notwithstanding the fact that his view had a solid pedigree going back at least to Woodrow Wilson.

Perhaps Obama thinks that one way to break with the hated Bush legacy is to accord respect to thieves and murderers in power. But in so doing, Obama is giving up on a precious, intangible winning card: the moral superiority of the American spirit over the world's despots.

I don't think it's a coincidence that a committee of Norwegian socialists awarded the Nobel Peace prize to three American left-wing politicians: Jimmy Carter in 2002, in a confessed attempt to embarrass Bush; Al Gore in 2007, in an equally clumsy attempt to criticize the sitting American president by signaling whom they would like to have won in 2004; and to Barack Obama in 2009 -- a ridiculous choice on the merits, but surely a symbol of the kind of society the left would like us to become.

The author is the Tobias Simon Eminent Scholar at Florida State University College of Law.


[i] For an account of this shameful history, see Guido Pincione and Fernando R. Tesón, Rational Choice and Democratic Deliberation: A Theory of Discourse Failure (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006): 53-64.
I'm sure Norway is a pleasant country, although I've never been there. But I don't want the United States to become Norway -- that is, I don't want the United States to turn into a quaint, small, powerless, and socialist country. Yet I suspect the Obama administration is trying to bring about precisely that.

How could the United States become Norway? The first step is for the government to enact massive government programs, such as Obamacare and cap-and-trade legislation, to increase dramatically the number of people who depend on the government. European socialist governments have used the same method to entrench themselves in power. Once the government forces people to depend on it for their health, livelihood, and welfare, the chances that the voters will reelect those on whose largess their life prospects depend increase significantly. Thus, contrary to appearances, the government's intrusion in people's lives is not entirely ideological, nor is it motivated by the desire to advance the public good. The aim of these moves is to expand and consolidate domestic political power. 

To be sure, this conspiracy does not always succeed (and that gives us a kernel of hope), as the sporadic ascendancy of market-oriented governments in some European countries shows. Voters harmed by these bad programs can react and throw the conspirators out. But politicians attempt this maneuver time and again in the hope that even political adversaries can profit from the citizens' now-well-established dependence on government.

There are two reasons why anti-socialist governments have not repealed these socialist programs (Germany's Merkel and France's Sarkozy come to mind). First, large programs are to the advantage of all governments because the programs secure the citizens' dependence on whoever is in power. Second, bureaucracies and entitlements are extremely difficult to eliminate once established.        

The second path to Norwegianhood is to curtail American global power. The theme is well-known and has been addressed in the pages of this journal. For the left that Obama represents, American world power is a source of mischief. Drawing on the ideas of Soviet tyrant Vladimir Lenin and homegrown Marxists such as Noam Chomsky, the left has consistently decried what they consider American imperialism. The recent experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq have deepened the left's hostility to American hegemony.

While not free of ambiguity, Barack Obama has adopted this theme. Not only has he apologized for the United States, but in a break from the past, Obama has also rejected human rights and democracy as the touchstones for the legitimacy of foreign governments. At the United Nations, Obama said that he respected the "rights in the community of nations" of the criminal regimes of Iran and North Korea. This is a far cry indeed from Bush's much more accurate "axis of evil" description.

In the same speech, Obama expressly renounced American superpower status: "No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed." (By the way, this last statement is false: a world order has better chances to succeed if there is a hegemon than if there isn't, because the hegemon supplies crucial public goods such as defense.)

In short, Obama thinks we ought to be more like Norway: democratic, socialist, reasonably prosperous, and non-imperialist. Obama and his supporters dream of America as a nice country to inhabit, where the government takes care of us all and recoils from foreign adventures. The left conveniently omits the fact that countries like Norway can be peaceful and reasonably prosperous because for almost a century, those countries have ridden free of charge on the defense efforts of the United States.

Domestically, the Obamites don't quite want a socialist dictatorship (although we all know that for decades, the left made excuses for those[i]). The left wants instead a regime that respects human rights à la Norway: broad "socioeconomic" rights coupled with civil rights that are meager compared to the freedoms we enjoy in America. This means a much narrower freedom of speech, virtually no protection of property rights, ample governmental powers to redistribute wealth at will, and political correctness all around. Internationally, the left would like to end American global presence both because it is evil and because it siphons resources away from the domestic socialist structure the left cherishes. 

Above all, Obama and the left want to change the ethos in this country -- to make it more Norwegian, as it were. Domestically, the left would like to eradicate the libertarian instincts of the American people, so movingly reflected in our founding documents. Americans have a healthy distrust of government; on this side of the Atlantic, the default rule is that government is a necessary evil. In contrast, most Europeans don't have this instinct: the European default rule is that government is beneficial until proven otherwise. The libertarian instincts of the American people pose a major obstacle to Obamacare and similar laws. Supporters of these bad laws try to convince Americans that there is no reason to distrust Big Brother; on the contrary, Big Brother just wants to help. 

In foreign policy, the Obama administration has reversed another admirable American trait: the readiness to call a thug a thug. Americans know a tyrant when they see one. Throughout history, American presidents, with important nuances, have recognized dictators for what they are (as opposed to calling them "leaders of a sovereign nation"). Only four years ago, George W. Bush expressly refused to legitimize tyrants. Bush was mercilessly ridiculed by the media for his stand, notwithstanding the fact that his view had a solid pedigree going back at least to Woodrow Wilson.

Perhaps Obama thinks that one way to break with the hated Bush legacy is to accord respect to thieves and murderers in power. But in so doing, Obama is giving up on a precious, intangible winning card: the moral superiority of the American spirit over the world's despots.

I don't think it's a coincidence that a committee of Norwegian socialists awarded the Nobel Peace prize to three American left-wing politicians: Jimmy Carter in 2002, in a confessed attempt to embarrass Bush; Al Gore in 2007, in an equally clumsy attempt to criticize the sitting American president by signaling whom they would like to have won in 2004; and to Barack Obama in 2009 -- a ridiculous choice on the merits, but surely a symbol of the kind of society the left would like us to become.

The author is the Tobias Simon Eminent Scholar at Florida State University College of Law.


[i] For an account of this shameful history, see Guido Pincione and Fernando R. Tesón, Rational Choice and Democratic Deliberation: A Theory of Discourse Failure (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006): 53-64.

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