Thursday, September 04, 2008

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

The vice president can make all the speeches he wants in Tbilisi, and Congress, when they reconvene, can pass all sorts of resolutions. But we've reached a bottom-line, fork in the road decision. As I wrote in TakiMag today:

There are two courses of action. One is for NATO to define its eastern frontier—meaning that the former USSR beyond the three Baltic Republics is to be left outside the alliance’s zone of operation—with the West’s strategy to pursue not full membership for these countries but rather a neutral status that would allow countries that want to be part of the West culturally and economically to do so. The other is for the U.S. and some of its European partners to forge a new Iraq-style “coalition of the willing” that will work to extend Western influence and counter the resurgence of Russian power in the Eurasian space—but to forego the full support and backing of NATO’s European core in the process (but trying to leave the alliance intact for maintaining European security and the trans-Atlantic connection). The moment for this decision is rapidly approaching—and will determine what future, if any, NATO really has.

I liked that expression: "NATO's european core".

Realists are some of the few people on earth who realise that Europe is now divided on atlanticism.

The fact is that southwestern Europe and northeastern Europe split their ways in 2003.

The Anglophones, the Scandinavians and the Russophobes (BTW the "core members of the Coalition of the Willing") are the symbol of the West's idealism.

Whereas the mediterranean, continental and latin countries realised how counter-productive blind faith on Washington leadership can be.

I just do not understand why the Japanese and Koreans are still bandwagoning after the USA...

The truth is that as long as ultraliberals are in control, the rest of the West suffers.
Well, the Japanese prime minister has resigned ...
It appears that Russia is dreadfully serious and further NATO expansion means war, perhaps a hot one. The bear has been driven to the corner and, to survive, it is ready fight to the death. No a reasonable person can blame him. So this option is a crime against humanity.

Japan and South Korea are semi-sovereign countries. And they both sleep under the nuclear blanket of security that US provides; just like Europe.

Russia has many more tactical options in dealing with the US+EU that do not require a hot war.

She can setup various separatist movements to break-up Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, and others. This little fires will keep US+EU occupied for many years and keep them off-balance. And eventually Russia will pcik up the pieces that she needs.

Russia will not cut gas flow to Europe; she did not do so during teh Cold War and she will not do it now. She has much to gain (money and continued potential leverage in case of a national emergency to the Russian State). [And excluding Iran from EU gas market only strengthened Russia's hand.]

All in all, US+EU expansion had reached it zenith in 2008. Now is the roll-back time; the thrid time in the last 200 years that Western political or military expansion into Russian territories is first checked and then reversed [Napoleon, Third Reich, and US+EU].
Well the US and the EU didn't mount an invasion of Russia so I'm not sure it counts.

If it did, then we'd have to include the Mongols, the Poles, the Swedes and the Ottomans to the pot.

Regardless, its not the EU that is trying to invade, its the russophobe ultraliberals of eastern Europe and the US.

Finally, as I see it, Russia is part of the West.
Russia is not a Western country. It is an Eastern Christian state. West is defined by the Legacy of Rome, Western Christianity, and the Tradition of Liberty of Germanic tribes.

None of that obtains for Russia and indeed for Ukraine and also Greece and Bulgaria.
I couldn't disagree more.

1 - Rome copied its civilisation from Greece

2 - the Greek values are still today the core of the western civilisation.

Hell, if Greece is not a western country, who is?...


To me, West as I define it encompasses all countries with a european cultural matrix.

That includes Europe, Eurasia, the Americas and Australia.

You are entitled to your opinion.

But clearly you lack knowledge of Russian and Greek polities.

The West that you define seems to coincide with the boundaries of NATO - mostly.

I observe here that no state south of the Rio Grande del Norte is "Western".
Dear Miguel,

The overconfidence of the anonymous reminds me the self-righteousness and self-importance of today’s American leadership.
Dear Anonymous,

What? the borders of NATO ?!...

If anything my view is exactly that NATO does not represent the West!

I'm very well aware that in Washington people think that latin America is another "civilisation" but I believe that is ridiculous, because if it were a matter of ethnicity than the Anglosphere would be yet another civilisation.

What I don't understand is under what criteria do we not include the christian orthodox countries in the West...

At least I have a criteria, controversial as it may be.

But what about you?

Why is the USA part of the West and not the orthodox countries?...

At least the orthodox countries are located in Europe...

To me it seems that a different alphabet or religious branch is not quite enough to separate civilisations.

One can imagine India under that criteria...
Yes, I believe that I may have been less precise in my responses. I apologize for that.

The boundaries of pre-1990 NATO are essentially the boundaries of the West – Turkey and Greece were the 2 anomalies that, in fact, prove the case.

My notion of the West corresponds to the polities and states that have been west of the Elba river since the division of the Roman Empire in the Third Century. The area that experienced Rome, Germanic Tribal Liberties, Catholicism, Protestanism, and finally the Enlightenment project and its culmination in Nazism.

This, I believe, is a notion that can be sustained under historical, geographic and cultural criticism.

I agree with your instinct regarding the Anglo-sphere; what defines it however, is the Protestant forms of Christianity.

I stand by what I have said regarding Greece, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Russia. They belong to a different Civilization since they never partook of the tradition of Liberty of the Germanic Tribes, they are Orthodox (The Church being the Junior Partner of the State), and the Legacy of Rome (excepting Greece) was never the heritage of Russia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria (in spite of the later pretensions of the Prince of Muscovy – Muscovy being the Third Rome).

What we have had in Russia is the Orthodoxy, and the Legacy of Mongols. That is not “West” – I hope you will agree.

And the European Enlightenment project never made it to these polities. The best you can say is that starting from Peter the Great and continuing through Gorbachev you had a case of the Revolution from Above to push Russia into something similar to the West. A project that, in case of Russia, always created more pain for its population than gain.

Greece poses special problem in this type of classification because of its occupation by the Ottomans for centuries. Greece is a country that does not know itself; she is Orthodox and Traditional and deeply impressed with Muslim culture nevertheless. It has had no experience with Enlightenment, with the notion of Personal Liberty, and with self-government until late 1970s. This is not West unless you want to be dogmatic about it. (Spain had a tradition of self-rule in the cities since the Medieval times – in contrast).

Yes, religions are core to the idea systems of civilizations. Civilizations are mand-made constructs that are built around (or to) mental notions of how human life is to be lived and what constitues the proper aims of humans and humanity. These notions, for the most part, correspond to relgions.

It is for this reason that West is opposed to Turkey, it is for this reason - the centrality of religion - that India can never be Western in any sense and it is for this reason that the Westernization projects all over the world, be they pushed by local elites or by Western states will always fail.

US is Western in the sense that they are an off-shoot of the Western European civilization.

But is Mexico Western?

How about Bolivia?

Or Paraguay?
Anonymous at 8.27:

You define 'the West' as:

'The area that experienced Rome, Germanic Tribal Liberties, Catholicism, Protestanism, and finally the Enlightenment project and its culmination in Nazism.'

There is a common view according to which there is a natural teleology in 'Western' history leading to the triumph of 'freedom'.

There is a rather less common view according to which there is a natural teleology in Western civilization leading to the triumph of tyranny.

It may very well be that I have not grasped the complexities of your arguments.

But on first sight at least, it does rather look as though you are combining two positions which most people would see as being in fundamental tension.

Perhaps you could elucidate.
David Habakkuk:

I am not saying anything profound or complex here. I do not agree with the post facto teleological constructions of the Western thinkers and historians that clothes everything in the crimson tatters of the cult of progress. They have to, I suppose, justify the death of tens of millions. Else, they will have to admit that the Western Civilization, as a man-made construct, has gone terribly wrong. [Per my earlier thesis that civilization is a tool for furthering human existence.]

While for you, it seems to me, tyranny seems to have been the most salient feature of Nazism, for me the most salient feature of Nazism was its rejection of God and its replacement by the worship of Collective Powers of (Aryan) Man. Even the ancient Romans had not been this pure in their Cult of People and Senate of Rome.

Please note that in its racialism Nazism was fundamentally different from Communism; the latter was formally committed to be inclusive of all of mankind and there were ways of getting “converted” and thus “saved”. No such avenue existed for those who were not Aryans.

So, the juxtaposition, at least in my mind, is not between Freedom and Tyranny but between God and Godlessness, between the unique value of the life of the unique individual and the worthlessness of that life to the Collective.

Now, Western Civilization definitely has many positive points; it has certainly been extremely creative & productive in ideas and things compared to any other tradition since at least the 1500s. I think that the notions of personal liberty and freedom have originated from the West (in my sense of the word) and their embodiment in the Western Civilization have been serving as a template for others to learn from and to emulate – if they can.

Indeed one can go further and state that the notion of the Rule of Law as developed and practiced by the Western polities can be a great benefit to people elsewhere if those people can successfully adopt them to their own polities (abject failure so far in this endeavour unfortunately). With these, I also have in mind the ideas of representative government that is now fully entrenched as the only viable form of governance.

I responded to this thread because I did not agree with the notion of the West articulated by Miguel. I think it imprecise and thus liable to mislead when framing questions and policies.

Thank you for the clarification.

What you say reminds me of remarks made by an Iranian who used to comment on Colonel Lang's blog -- but now, to my regret, appears to have stopped doing so.

As with him, I would agree with you on some things and not on others.

A point on which emphatically agree is that the common Western habit of treating Nazism -- as also other disasters of modern European history -- as a kind of unfortunate aberration in a naturally progressive path of development is misleading. That West Europeans commonly treat the years between 1914 as a kind of Lost Weekend may be unsurprising, but it hardly helps understanding. And partly for this reason, although I would see myself as in many ways a 'liberal', the word 'progressive' sets my teeth on edge. I also think use of the term obscures the fact that commonly sensible political reflection is as much or more about preventing decay, disintegration, or indeed catastrophic collapse as about making things better. Problems, commonly, are to be survived, not solved.

And secular utopianisms have commonly ended badly in the past and are likely to do so in the future. Those who write books entitled An End to Evil are inherently liable themselves to commit great evils.

As to what is the most salient feature of Nazism, I think this depends on the perspective from which you approach it. I would certainly agree with you in seeing the anti-Christian nature of Nazi ideology as fundamental -- as also what I would tend to call its pseudo-religious nature. Put in religious language, one might use the term self-deification; in secular language, collective narcissism. A key question, clearly, is the relationship -- or lack of one -- of the tyrannical nature of Hitler's regime and the anti-Christian nature of its ideology.

This brings one up against an ongoing argument in Western culture as to whether tyranny -- or at least absolutism -- is a natural concomitant of religious scepticism: a matter which has been debated certainly since the revival of classical learning in the Renaissance.

A pivotal figure who believed that political freedom depended upon religious belief was Tocqueville. His position on the relationship of religion and politics is actually complex and ambivalent. Among the principle targets of his polemics were the so-called 'theocrats' of the post-1789 period, who believed that the only possible antidote to the disasters unleashed by the French Revolution was the recreation of an hierarchical social order rooted in religion.

Central to Tocqueville's argument against the 'theocrats' was the contention that the trend to individualism in the Christian West was ineluctable -- a conviction partly based in his reading of Christianity as an individualist religion. Accordingly, the project of the 'theocrats' was not only bound to fail -- in attempting to bind politics closely to religion, it made it likely that religion would be carried down in the inescapable shipwreck of the old hierarchical order.

The natural outcome if this happened, Tocqueville thought, was that religious emotions and anticipations were carried over into politics, producing a pernicious combination of utopianism and antinomianism. Meanwhile, a comprehensive collapse of structure, both in the secular and religious spheres, was too much for human beings to cope with.

Put together, these elements seemed to Tocqueville to make tyranny likely. Accordingly, he advocated the separation of politics and religion, on the American model, as a means of saving both religion and, with it, the viability of 'individualist' society.

Essentially the same elements were rearranged into a different and much more alarming pattern by Dostoevsky, in the legend of the Grand Inquisitor which lies at the heart of The Brothers Karamazov. Here, the Russian radical intellectual Ivan Karamazov accuses Christ of being a naïve fool, precisely because he argues that Christian individualism must inevitably subvert its own religious foundations -- an argument which of course, if one accepts it, cuts the ground from under Tocqueville's kind of 'christian democrat' politics.

But if one abandons this central element of Tocqueville's argument, other elements have a natural enough tendency to rearrange themselves so as to generate a kind of Hobbesian apologia for absolutism, and a peculiar kind of union of secular and spiritual authority -- based upon the rule by a kind of Straussian elite, who pretend to profess religious beliefs they know to be false. But the action of the novel of which the legend is part subverts the Straussian vision, by suggesting that the putative 'benevolent despot' Ivan is actually animated by narcissism and contempt. (Dostoevsky himself moved back to theocracy, as did certain of his more significant followers, like Vladimir Solovyev.)

That an 'individualist' social order needs to have moral foundations it does not itself generate seems to me clear. Whether in the West these foundations can be, or need to be, supplied by anything resembling religion as traditionally understood by Christians I simply do not know. Obviously, problems of the relationship of religion and politics work themselves out differently in the context of different religious traditions. They may have no good solutions -- but if they are to have solutions, they must be ones worked by people for themselves, not imposed by outsiders.

What really surprised me after 1989 was the way that politics acquired a pseudo-religious dimension in the United States, with the 'global democratic revolution' -- with we British, much to my regret, following down the same path. What worries me even more are the clear narcissistic undercurrents in this -- the extraordinary condescension one commonly finds when people talk about 'nation building', for example. But then these are commonly particularly strong among certain kinds of religious believer. Tocqueville's belief that the religious nature of American culture provided an antidote to utopian and antinomian delusions looks, much to my surprise, rather dated.
One could argue that had the NAZI regime not been destroyed, over time, the tyranny of Herr Hitler could have been replaced by a representative system similar to that of South Africa under the apartheid system or of Athenian “democracy” around the time of Pericles. And it is this possibility that diminishes tyranny as the salient feature of Nazism.

The anti-Christian moment had preceded Nazism; it is quite clear from the middle of the 19-th Century. That was just the continuation of the anti-clericalism of the Enlightenment project taken to its logical conclusion. What the NAZIS did was that they formulated the Zeitgeist of their time. This Zeitgeist which permeated Europe from late 18-th century was one of the superiority and nobility of the “White” man and the inferiority of everyone else with special place of despise set aside for Jews. [You could see it in the works of Renan, de Gobineau and others. You could see it in the reports of Europeans to their capitals from the four corners of the Earth. And you know something; at that historical moment they were indeed superior in many ways to the rest of mankind. And as for Jews, there seems to have been an obsession with them among the European peoples for centuries.]

The Medieval Scholars of Europe– those “worthless” logic choppers - were as fond of material and cultural progress as people alive today. However, they also understood and accepted the limitation of the Progress Project; they believed that Mankind is in the state of Fall and thus unable, by its own efforts, to rise up above its station. The events of the last 200 years, seems to have amply demonstrated the soundness of their position; I think. These scholars were deeply committed to the “individual”; for them it was the individual human, plant, event, day etc. had reality and not the underlying “monistic” substance or Platonic ideal. Nevertheless; they were also supportive of hierarchy. They saw no contradiction between hierarchy and individuality. Which lends me to ask why such a contradiction is perceived to obtain presently?

The Western Civilization has created a common historical time; it has connected all these disparate political, cultural, and religious regions of the world. And for decades the European states could dictate the terms of that intercourse to various states and polities of the world. That dispensation disintegrated with WWI. However, no dispensation has emerged to mediate or set the terms of this global intercourse in a satisfactory manner since then. I think partly that is because the geography of the planet militates against the rise of a global hegemone (2/3 water, etc.). And partly because the chain of events that were set into motion on August 1914 have not yet exhausted themselves; the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine being the latest conflagration whose genesis may be traced back to Sarajevo.

Your discussion of the relationship between Absolutism, Tyranny, and religious skepticism is something new to me and I have to think about and study what you have written.
" But is Mexico Western?

How about Bolivia?

Or Paraguay? "

My answer would be most definately that they are.

What makes them unwestern?

The view that latin America isn't part of the West is typically north-American.

I speak of culture matrix because ethnicity and economic development are too circumstancial to be reliable criteria.

If I understood you explanation correctly, you define the West based on historical events that shaped the philosophical mindset of given populations.

That is fine. But if the Anglosphere can inherit the English mindset, why can't latin America inherit the Spanish and Portuguese?...

As for Russia,

It is true that they lived isolated from the western european polities for very long, but it is also true that they always looked to the West for philosophical and technological inspiration (most definately not to Mongolia that's for sure).

Not to even mention that Russians are partially descendants of scandinavians - doesn't that give them "germanic tribal liberties"? (whatever that may be since those tribes brought feudalism with them).


I won't presume to intervene on the civilisational philosophy discussion that developed in the meantime.

You are sayiny that there is no essential difference between Larvik in Norway and Comitá in Chiapas, Mexico.

Well, I disagree.

Here are 2 big differences:

God is dead in Larvik.

In Comitá both El Senor and El Muerte are alive.

but isn't that the same difference between Salt Lake City and San Francisco?

American's religion is America. The difference that you speak of is not relevant to US context. In fact, US, just like Europe, is in the post-Christian phase of her development - Mexico isn't and will never be - nor is Bolivia.
I would agree that nationhood is far more consolidated in the USA and Europe than it is in latin America, sure.

However that does not have implications in a population's cultural matrix, and latin America's remains very much a Western one.

Your response deserves a more considered reply than I have time to give it this evening.

One query about your remark that 'America's religion is America'.

Are you suggesting that strong elements in American Protestantism have degenerated into the equivalents of the 'German Christians'?

David Habakkuk:

No, that is not what I had in mind.

What I meant was that the people who live in the United States have a very strong "American" identity that is stronger than their religious identity. This is a "Civic" religion whereby the United States is the City on the Hill (the New Jerusalem), that the American people are the "Chosen" people of the Almighty, and that their causes (whatever it is at the moment) is always (and with metaphysical certainty) is Just.

This religion has its (Founding) Fathers in an analogous manner to the Church Fathers of Catholic Christianity; its sacred texts (Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights), ancient commentaries on those texts (Federalist Papers, Works of Jefferson, and others), and new commentaries (Opinions of the US Supreme Court), its saint: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln; and finally its patron saint, Martin Luther King, Jr.

What is disturbing about this “Civic” religion, in my opinion, is that there is no discernible admonition to humility anywhere in it. Nothing like Cromwell’s anguished plea: “…Please reconsider perhaps ye may be mistaken” or Ecclesiastics. Thus, a man-made enterprise is implicitly presumed to be morally infallible.

And I think it is for this reason – this presumed moral infallibility of the United States -that the Viet Nam War experience so disconcerted so many Americans. Or, at a later time, it enraged so many of them when Mr. Khomeini called the United States morally Evil (a Frenchman would have just shrugged and went about his business; he would have never entertained any illusions about the French Republic being morally infallible, ever.)
I remember reading something that Nik wrote a while back, it might have been in Orbis, about Russia and the West. Nik drew a distinction between "the West" -- which was central Europe and western Europe and the Americas--and "Europe" which had two components, a Western and Eastern one. If I remember right, he said that Europe was two civilizations that both had their origins in the Roman Empire, but evolved differently. The policy implications was that you could have Russia working with the Europeans and the Europeans working with America but that it would be difficult to put together a common American-European-Russian bloc.

Perhaps he could comment on this?
I'm not saying that a Russia-America-Europe bloc is possible or even desirable.

What I say is that Eurasia, Europe, America, latin America and Oceania are as (culturally) similar between each other as they are distant from China, India, the Middle East or Africa.

This is why I say that the Western civilisation cannot be exclusive of western Europe and north America.
That is too narrow when we compare with the rest of the world.

Having evolved differently or not, these regions comprise the West, just as China and Japan comprise the East for example.

This doesn't mean that China and Japan should form a pan-oriental bloc, nor that it would be in their best interest, it just means that they share transnational values, ethnicity ...culture.
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