Sunday, March 29, 2009

Brazil's President Lula, Venzuela, and the U.S.A.

Tibor R. Machan

The president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva--President Lula for short--was recently interviewed by Fareed Zakaria on the latter's Sunday CNN program, GPS (Global Public Square). In this interview much was discussed in rather vague, geo-political terms, with banalities being the norm rather than the exception. For example, President Lula insisted that in the international community all the different cultural and national political practices and histories must be accorded equal respect, a notion, like multiculturalism, that is at best a gesture, more likely an impossibility and certainly something without much practical prospects.

At one point in the interview, however, President Lula discussed Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and proposed that Chavez and Barack Obama reach some kind of rapprochement. And one particular proposal he gave voice to is that President Obama "show generosity toward Venezuela," especially now that oil prices are falling and the country's president no longer can afford to persist in its obstreperous ways. President Lula wasn't oblivious to America's own current economic difficulties. Yet he compared Venezuela to a looser in a boxing match, with America being the winner, so that by all the terms of good sportsmanship it is America's role to reach out and embrace Venezuela.

Of course, much of this is quite offensive to anyone who knows well and good that America and president Obama do not literally have the capacity to be generous. Generosity is a moral virtue of individuals who can, if they choose, dip into their own resources--which can include goods and services one may be able to produce--and give those to others whom they deem deserving. Countries can only be generous through the generosity of their citizens--so that, for example, when one calls America a generous country one must mean that the people of America practice the virtue of generosity in their own lives. Or they can have organizations, such as Rotary or the Salvation Army, with voluntarily generous members. But no president of a country can be generous except in his or her personal life. To confiscated resources from the citizens of the country of which one is the president and then give those resources to someone simply isn't being generous. Sure, people often talk that way but it is a mistake and produces a lot of confusion.

There may be various ways in which the president of the United States of America can facilitate better relations with another country--although when that other country's president calls the US "Satan" and is by all reasonable assessment a fascist dictator (see for this Enrique Krauze, "The Shah of Venezuela," The New Republic, April 1, 2009, pp. 29-38)--but generosity simply isn't one of them. Perhaps President Obama should push for foreign aid and similar wealth-redistibutory measures toward Venezuela, although these would have their own moral problems.

More likely, what Obama could do is promote the elimination to all restraints on trade with Venezuela. Yet, again, with Hugo Chavez it is difficult to fathom whatever would induce in him anything but hatred for America. He despises liberal democracies, for example, and he aspires to be the supreme ruler of the Americas. That seems to me difficult to reconcile with the principles of even a relatively free country like the USA.

President Lula seems like a man of good will but he, like so many others who head up governments around the world, seems to be totally oblivious to the idea that it is not he but the citizens of Brazil who are sovereign and that he is a civil servant, period. And of course Hugo Chavez is not just oblivious to what he really is in Venezuela but insists on claiming for himself virtual monarchical powers, as if these were a genuine possibility rather than a fiction from the past.

Sadly, as some have pointed out, America's own civil servants appear to be under the illusion that they are saviours, that their judgments in economic and other spheres must be superior to those of American citizens. (Obama's whole team appears to operate like the owners and managers of a huge corporation, which completely repudiates the idea of a genuine free society!) Maybe America will move toward the European model of social democracy, given that not much movement is actually needed any longer.

Still it is worthwhile to observe and critique the collectivist ideas that are in ascendancy these days, including the notion that President Obama and his administration could by any stretch of the imagination engage in generous conduct toward, say, Venezuela.

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