Several people have already commented on President Obama's speech at the United Nations yesterday. Reading over his speech, I was struck by his comment that "No balance of power among nations will hold." Well, duh! That is, and has always been true. But, and here's where I suspect my analysis parts company with the President's, there still is no better way to maintain peace. Balance of power, however imperfect, is the best tool available in the world we're given. For over two centuries, radicals have disliked that solution, and sought to find another answer. Perhaps some day they'll find it. Color me skeptical.
Wherefore this quest for a new and different world? I think it might be connected to science. The President noted that "The technology we harness can light the path to peace, or forever darken it. The energy we use can sustain our planet, or destroy it. What happens to the hope of a single child - anywhere - can enrich our world, or impoverish it." Modern science has made life easier (and longer) in countless ways. But it has also increased the power of our arms exponentially.
If war is, like death and disease, an inescapable part of the human condition, then science is a mixed blessing at best. Perhaps Thomas Jefferson put it best in an 1812 letter to John Adams: "if science produces no better fruits than tyranny, murder, rapine and destitution of national morality, I would rather wish our country to be ignorant, honest and estimable, as our neighboring savages are." The presumption that deep progress, progress that fundamentally changes what it is to be human, is possible, is, perhaps, essential to modern liberalism. The alternative, of balance of power as much as possibe and war sometimes, is, for many, too terrible to contemplate.