Thursday, July 20, 2017

From Enligthenment To Chaos

Jonathan Manthorpe writes that The Age of Enlightenment is coming to an end. It was ushered in by the Peace of Westphalia:

The primary task of this bundle of treaties signed nearly 400 years ago was to end the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants in the tattered remnants of Europe’s Holy Roman Empire. In addition, they drew a line under the Eighty Years War of the Dutch Republic seeking independence from Spain.

As they did so, the draughtsmen of these treaties also produced the European concept of the nation state, and created rulers who were increasingly answerable to — and, eventually, chosen by — their citizens.

In seeking to end the religious wars between Protestants and Catholics, the treaties enshrined freedom of religion into law. The idea was imperfectly applied, as the world knows full well, but it played its part in the later creation of egalitarian societies and, eventually, modern liberalism.
Many historians argue that freeing Protestantism from persecution embedded the concept of individual judgement and responsibility in mainstream society, which led directly to the birth of capitalism. Capitalism is a harsh creed, but it has created vast wealth and extended it across the globe.

But our new age is one of wars between religions and religious hysteria. And globalization is putting an end to the nation state and political liberalism. No nation illustrates these changes more than the United States under Donald Trump:

At the meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, were also senior representatives from Mexico, Japan, China and Vietnam. The clear message was that governors, of whatever political stripe, no longer have confidence in the self-destructive muddle now passing as the Washington establishment being able to function as a national legislature going forward.

The governors now have to defend their own interests, and those of their citizens, by pursuing their own foreign policies. They need to maintain their own strong relationships with Canada and Mexico to try to ensure there is only minimal damage from the ignorant blather coming out of Washington about the North America Free Trade Agreement.

These state officials are closer to the concerns of their constituents than the absentee partisans in Washington — which explains why many of them are bypassing the federal government and making their own commitments to important international initiatives, like the Paris accord on climate change.

Europe is going through the same kind of ferment:

In Europe, the irony is that the continent already realized the the traditional nation state was incapable of dealing with the challenges of the modern world. Its answer was to go back to before Westphalia for a solution — to effectively recreate the Holy Roman Empire.

In theory, the European Union is a secular, non-religious version of that empire, albeit with major territorial additions. But it is evident that common Christian culture — even if it doesn’t involve the daily devotions of the pre-Westphalian Middle Ages — remains a binding European force.

The inability to effectively integrate Muslim immigrants has opened a rift — often a violent one — in several EU countries. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has for years been outspoken in his objection to Turkey joining the EU. Sarkozy has usually been careful to couch his objection in geographic terms, characterizing Turkey as being more of the Middle East and Asia Minor than of Europe. But the silent subtext behind Sarkozy’s position was that Turkey is a majority Muslim country.

The legal religious tolerance written into the Treaty of Westphalia is having a rough time worldwide, not just in Europe. Christian Copts are being slaughtered in large numbers in Egypt. Violence between Muslims and Hindus is a fact of daily life in India, as it is between various branches of Islam in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia. Buddhists and Muslims are at loggerheads in Burma and in southern Thailand.

The Peace of Westphalia was hard won and it took centuries to accomplish. But the whole edifice is quickly being destroyed.

Image: SlideShare


The Mound of Sound said...

The inherent strength and frailties of the nation state were discounted, if not overlooked, by Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney when they instituted neoliberal globalism on the strength of the economic beliefs of Hayek and Friedman. They freely handed the corporate sector the handcuffs and the keys by which their populations were shackled over the past forty years. Countries such as the United States even gratuitously surrendered the state monopoly on organized violence to "contractors," the term chosen to describe corporate, for profit, warfighting.

The "thirty year war" is back in the guise of wars without end in which the state monopoly and sovereignty has degraded and allowed the rebirth of sectarian and religious regimes expressed in warlordism and tribalism. The experts have coined a term for this modern variety of conflict, "new war." This is the arrival of mixed conflict of state actors (local and foreign allies), quasi-state actors (militias, etc.), and non-state actors (rebels, insurgents, and a broad range of criminal organizations). Players come and players go, perhaps to return but not always on the same side they previously left. It is said that, in Afghanistan, there is not a warlord who has not at some point been allied with and at war with every other. Alliances shift, objectives change to meet the latest circumstance. Consider NATO. The Atlantic alliance was in Afghanistan, then it was out and now the Americans are trying to cajole the membership to return.

Look at the chaos. The Americans support Shiite forces in one conflict and Sunni forces elsewhere, refusing to acknowledge that the conflicts across the Middle East are primarily religious, the struggle between Sunni and Shiite Islam. The Americans consider Iran the evildoer when all recent terrorist attacks on the West - the embassy bombings, the attack on the USS Cole, the World Trade Center parkade bombing, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, every terrorist outrage on major European capitals and other cities, the terrorist network of al Qaeda, al Nusra, ISIS are all tied solely to the radical Sunni religion of Saudi Arabia. The 9/11 attackers were Saudi and Yemeni nationals, every man jack a Sunni. America, Britain and Canada arm the Saudis to the teeth and look the other way as Saudi jets devastate the Houthi towns in Yemen whose men are daily fighting al Qaeda and ISIS insurgents in their country. We're supporting the guys who are slaughtering the people of the guys who are fighting al Qaeda and ISIS. Nothing remotely incoherent in that, is there?

I wonder if part of our problem is that the neoliberal order is tailored to technocratic rule, government by administrators and petit fonctionnaires, devoid of any meaningful skills in statesmanship. How many of today's crop of leaders have distinguished themselves with their skills as statesmen? Pull up the latest G20 group photo and see who you can pick out of that motley crowd. Yet statesmanship is the lifeblood of the Westphalian state which goes a long way to explaining its collapse today.

Dana said...

The undertow of anthropogenic climate change is anthropogenic civilizational change. We're just not a sufficiently mature species to manage or adapt to either.

Owen Gray said...

Statesmanship, Mound? The kind that was practiced by Lester Pearson and others of his generation? A quaint notion -- from a bygone time.

Owen Gray said...

So we rummage around like moles, Dana, in the dark -- looking for an escape.