Alex Massie

Obama Rejects Dr Pangloss. Unfortunately.

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From Barack Obama's speech to the United Nations today:

Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.

If we are honest with ourselves, we need to admit that we are not living up to that responsibility. Consider the course that we are on if we fail to confront the status quo. Extremists sowing terror in pockets of the world. Protracted conflicts that grind on and on. Genocide and mass atrocities. More and more nations with nuclear weapons. Melting ice caps and ravaged populations. Persistent poverty and pandemic disease. I say this not to sow fear, but to state a fact: the magnitude of our challenges has yet to be met by the measure of our action.

Now is the time for all of us to take our share of the credit for the world we inhabit, a world of relative peace and of unprecedented prosperity.

If we are honest with ourselves we need to admit that, in the words of the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, much of the world has "never had it so good". Consider the status quo: a world in which the greatest threat to peace comes, not from a cataclysmic intercontintal war but from the actions of a few thousand terrorists. A world in which conflict is managed, only rarely bursting into open warfare. A world in which genocide and mass atrocities are the great exception, not the rule. As for nuclear weapons: the surprising truth is that so few countries have a nuclear capability, not that fewer than a dozen do.

Poverty and disease remain too widespread. But hundreds of millions, even billions, around the world lead lives of comfort and prosperity of a sort their grandparents could scarcely imagine. Life-expectancy is rising. More progress must be made but it is worth recalling how much progress has been made in India, China, Latin America, South-East Asia and, yes, even in Africa too.

Globalisation has pooled risk and reward. More work must be done to tear down trade barriers so all countries may share in the planet's abundance and the fruits of mankind's extraordinary entrepreneurial zeal. But advances in science and technology make it possible to believe that famine may son be the exception, not the rule. Astonishing advances in medical research offer the hope and perhaps even the prospect of controlling and one day eliminating diseases that have claimed millions of lives in the past.

And while climate change poses real risk to much of the planet it also promises opportunity for others. Indeed, some of the challenges we face in the future are the consequence of our successes now. That, my friends, is something to cherish, not fear.

I say this not to be Pollyannish or Panglossian but to pause for a moment and suggest that let us take our due measure of credit and recognise the magnitude of what we have accomplished. The measure of our action is appropriate to the magnitude of the challenges we have faced and there's no reason to suppose that we cannot rise still higher in the future.

Granted, statesmen can't always be expected to take the long view. But by most measures this world is, despite the quotidian idocies of our rulers, a pretty good place to live and, for most people in most countries around the world, a much better place than it was 100 years ago.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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