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.