I’ve always found the term ‘leader of the free world’ to connote the President of The United States, as deeply troubling, due to its implied ambivalence cloaked in rhetorical certainty, its patronising colonial overtones and its use of the increasingly vague word ‘free’ to be a catch all for American exceptionalism.
The phrase only came about during the Cold War when the US and her allies were described in the West as free. This implies that allies of the Soviet Union were somehow the antithesis of free, which put simply, is nonsense. Capitalism and Communism, as theoretical ideologies, each have their strong and weak points as is the case with almost any competing ideology.
Practically, the ordinary Soviet citizen wanted the same things as a citizen of a capitalist state; food, shelter, leisure, stable work and safe streets for themselves and their families. In many of these areas, particularly on security and law and order, Communism was vastly superior to capitalism. When one looks at the crime statistics in Havana or Beijing vis-à-vis those of London or New York, one sees that this is still very much the case.
This tired old phrase, which like NATO has perversely survived the end of the ‘first cold war’, has long been due a quiet retirement. Thanks to the New York Times and to a degree Barack Obama himself, this may well happen. The New York Times declared that after a Trump victory, the new leader of the free world is Angela Merkel. I was both amused and delighted when I first read this.
I was delighted because it means that future American presidents will no longer be expected to be a kind of ideological police force for the world, a pledge Trump has repeatedly reiterated. I was amused also because my own definition of freedom is miles away from the policy, legacies and attitudes of Angela Merkel, a kind of technocrat who blindly adheres to a neo-liberal ideology that even her own countrymen and women have grown sick and tired of.
The word freedom means different things to different people, but to Mrs. Merkel, I assume her concept does not mean national sovereignty and individual autonomy. Rather it seems that her definition means the freedom to obey a superior force, in order to protect the freedom and integrity of the wider community. According to this definition, such freedoms are ideally promulgated in the name of the greater good, all under the auspices of a far-reaching, collective state authority. This is certainly what it meant for the German linguist and philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte.
But if one were to tell the people of Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal or Italy about their freedom to obey Merkel for a greater good, I suspect they would be roundly unimpressed. The idea that sovereign states with vastly different economies, traditions and cultures ought to sacrifice their idea of freedom, so that Merkel can build a German dominated Europe with more ease and efficiency is, in my parallel universe, the definition of slavery.
Merkel’s punitive sanctions against Russia under the guise that Russia has done something it actually didn’t do, namely, militarily intervene in Donbass, is also better defined as false vengeance rather than freedom.
Finally, Merkel’s open-door policy to any and all people claiming, correctly or otherwise, that they are refugees, has taken away the freedom of the German people to democratically control the destiny of their own nation.
It does, however, demonstrate that Mrs. Merkel felt that she was ‘free’ to disregard the Dublin Convention which has standard procedures for admitting refugees, procedures which she totally ignored.
If Angela Merkel is the new ‘leader of the free world’, then it is a freedom that comes at a big price. Recently, Mrs. Merkel has announced her intent to stand in the next federal German election as leader of the CDU. This frankly arrogant gesture is demonstrative of the fact that her free will as an individual is out of touch with her freedom to respect the intentions and positions of a growing majority of her fellow citizens. In this sense, Fichte would not be proud at all.
The ultimate conclusion is that Angela Merkel is not the leader of anything but her own career, one which has brought suffering to Greece, Donbass, Germany itself and beyond.