“South Sudan named most fragile country; U.S. joins list of worsening nations,” warns the CNN headline. Rut-roh. We sure don’t want to end up like Sudan, do we?
It turns out this assessment is based on an annual list by a non-profit group called “Fund for Peace.” Any group can put together a list, send out a blast email, and get headlines by claiming things are exceptionally dire for the U.S.; it happens pretty much every day. The Fund for Peace list has some solid choices on their top-10 list of most fragile nations: Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan…
But then Iran pops up as one of the “most improved nations,” which is our first clue that not only is “stability” maybe not the most desirable attribute – it all depends on what sort of government achieves it – but that the methodology for compiling this list might be a bit dubious. After all, there are 100,000 activists meeting in Paris this weekend to declare that the mullah-dominated totalitarian theocracy of Iran is on its last legs. They could be wrong, of course, but that’s a significant number of people getting the same thing wrong.
So what landed the United States on the list of “most worsened countries,” tied for eight place with Singapore and Thailand? CNN says there were “various reasons,” including “the lack of bipartisanship in Congress and the partial government shutdown this year.”
That sounds drearily reminiscent of President Obama’s shopworn talking point, which he just happens to be repeating for the umpteenth time this week: failure to comply with the directives of the Imperial President and Get Things Done is the sign of a “fragile” government. This implies that the people who aren’t displaying sufficient “bipartisanship” are insincere in their convictions, wrong to avoid getting with the program. Congress exercising the power of the purse granted to it by the Constitution is a sign of “fragility.”
On the contrary, the ability of a government to remain cohesive in the face of serious divisions in popular sentiment – fundamental disagreements about what the State should be doing, what powers it should have, how much money it should consume – is the best sign of stability and strength you could ask for.
I’m willing to entertain an argument that the American republic is more fragile than it used to be, but here’s my short answer for why: because it’s not a republic any more. If a lack of “bipartisanship” is truly a symptom exhibited by fragile nations, then the cause is a concentration of central power that makes it impossible for free people to resolve their differences in a constructive way.