After four loping and windy installments, in this chapter I thought I’d vary the formula. Instead of an open letter to open-minded progressives at large, this is an open letter to just one: Charles Stross, the science-fiction writer.
My first excuse for this audacity is that I know Charlie—sort of. At least, we hung out on the same Usenet group in the early ’90s, when he was an aspiring novelist and I was an annoying teenager. Frankly, anyone who could tolerate me even slightly in my Rimbaud period is too supine to protest at any atrocity I could possibly perpetrate now.
Well, it just so happens I have a plan for world peace. Only one problem—it’s not a progressive plan. Do ya wanna hear it? C’mon, I know you do.
My proposal is the most obvious one imaginable. Perhaps this is why I’ve never heard anyone propose it. It can be expressed in one sentence. Are you ready? Here we go. The US should recognize the independence and sovereignty of every government on earth, and respect it according to the principles of classical international law.
Perhaps this proposal sounds progressive to you. (It’s meant to sound progressive.) As we’ll see, it’s about as progressive as William the Conqueror.
Perhaps you doubt its power to produce that fantastic desideratum, world peace. Reader, I will simply have to rely on your patience. All will be uncovered. But not immediately.
Why can’t I just explain my peace plan directly? Why do you have to churn through another few thousand words? Because you are a progressive and I am a reactionary, and terms like independence, sovereignty, and international law don’t mean the same things to us.
As Wittgenstein said: if a lion could talk, we would not understand him. As citizens of the progressive 20th century, we grew up with the progressive theory of government and history. All, or almost all, intelligent people today believe this theory. And if we accept it as reality, the concept of a reactionary plan for world peace makes no more sense than a talking lion.
There are two explanations of why everyone today (including “conservatives,” whose deviations from Whiggery are negligible by historical standards) is a progressive. The first is that progressive values are universal, and progressive analysis is irrefutable. The second is that the progressive worldview has some property, other than truth and righteousness, which has enabled it to consistently defeat its enemies.
I say “defeat” because I mean “defeat.” Imagine, for example, that the Axis had won the war. There are many easy ways to construct this counterfactual, but perhaps the easiest is to imagine that Heisenberg had done a better job with the Nazi bomb. If the Nazis have nukes in, say, 1943, the road to a Nazi 2008 is pretty straight.
The question is: in our Nazi 2008, what would Wikipedia look like? Let’s assume there is a Nazi Wikipedia. Let’s assume it has exactly the same NPOV policy it has today:
All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view (NPOV), representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.
Of course, in the Nazi 2008, all “significant views” are Nazi views. All “reliable sources” are Nazi sources. All the Wikipedia editors, all the contributors, are—you get it. Of course, there will be diversity of opinion—there will be radical Nazis, conservative Nazis, and moderate Nazis. Nazipedia must reflect all the major currents of the great river of Nazi thought.
(If you really want to break your brain, imagine if the Nazi 2008 found a way to send a film crew into the real 2008, and made a propaganda documentary showing the world as it would be if the Jewish Bolshevik plutocrats had not been vanquished. The camera eye is, of course, selective. But what would it select? Hm.)
But in the real 2008, Nazipedia does not exist. Why? Because there are not enough Nazis to write it. There are actually no Nazis at all in 2008. There are neo-Nazis, but they are lowlife scum. Neo-Nazism attracts only weirdos and losers, because (a) it is idiotic, and (b) it has no chance of success. National Socialism proper, while no less idiotic, was successful. Even among the intellectual classes, not exactly its political base, it found supporters galore. There was never any shortage of talented and ambitious Nazis. Why would there be?
So there is no Nazi Wikipedia, but there could be. There is no Confederate Wikipedia, but there could be. And there is no Jacobite Wikipedia, but there could be. If you can imagine the first, can you imagine the second? I can’t even imagine the third—and I’m a Jacobite myself.
On certain subjects, I’m sure Nazipedia would be quite reliable. Medicine, for example. Or physics—Nazi nukes would have spelled finis for Deutsche Physik. It’s not at all improbable that in many technical areas, the Axis scientists and engineers of 2008 would have outperformed our own. It’d certainly be cool to see what, say, a Nazi CPU looks like.
But on the subjects of Jews, Judaism, Judaeology, etc., etc., do we care what Nazipedia has to say? We don’t. We know that it is nonsense. Or to be more exact, some combination of truth and misinterpretation. Perhaps there will even be some factual errors. But why should there be? As Goebbels always said, the truth is the best propaganda. If the page for Jew links you to all the sinister deeds that have ever been performed by anyone who happened to be Jewish, it will certainly suffice. (Kevin McDonald is a modern master of this game.)
So here is my claim about government: as a progressive, your theory of government—its history, its principles, even its present-day structure and operation—is nonsense.
Just as a misunderstanding of Jews is a fundamental element of the Nazi synopsis, a misunderstanding of government is a fundamental element of the Whig synopsis. It is simply beyond repair. If you are a progressive and you want to understand government, past and present, your best strategy is to forget everything you know and start from scratch. “Zen mind, beginner’s mind.”
A fun way to demonstrate this, I find, is the method of mysteries. Using my reactionary Jedi mind tricks, painstakingly sifted from the ashcan of history, I ask a question you can’t answer. Then I answer it. And you are enlightened—whether or not you want to be.
Here is a question: what is the most successful Protestant denomination in the US today?
Given that North America was colonized largely by Protestant refugees, you’d think the answer would be pretty obvious. I think it’s extremely obvious. It’s almost a trick question. Is it obvious to you? If not, let’s see if we can find some enlightenment.
Suppose you’re poking through old books one day, and you find a strange little essay that was written 300 years ago. The author is certainly one of the ten most important writers in the history of your language. Perhaps even one of the top five.
The essay was originally printed as a pamphlet. It is a polemical pamphlet, written with great wit and sharpness, and its politics are extremely, well, extreme. It advocates policies that perhaps would have been approved by some figures of the time, but never publicly endorsed. Nothing like them was applied. In fact, the political winds shifted in the opposite direction.
Yet what’s strange is that the arguments seem quite cogent. Not just from the perspective of 300 years ago—but from the perspective of now. Not that the extreme policies of 300 years ago are now mainstream—at least not these extreme policies. But the pamphlet warns that, if X is not done, Y will happen. X was not done. And Y happened.
What’s even stranger is that the pamphlet was printed anonymously, as a sort of provocation or black propaganda. It was not a Swiftian satire. It was believable. Its readers took it quite seriously. But its actual author was quite opposed to X, and when his identity was disclosed the authorities were not amused.
What’s neat about The Shortest-Way is that it gives us a more or less complete Tory history of England in the 17th century, without any mealy-mouthed pandering or Whig double-talk. From the viewpoint of the narrator, who of course is an über-high Tory, the history of 17th-century England is the history of a nation beset by a kind of mental virus.
The virus is called Dissent. Its slavering zombies, who somehow manage to be both religious fanatics and Communist conspirators, are the Dissenters. The fruit of this tree is clear: war, poverty, revolution and tyranny. The only way to deal with the contagion is to root it out with a rod of iron. “Now, LET US CRUCIFY THE THIEVES!” If the 2008 election gets your blood flowing, woo baby. Politics in 1704 was certainly a contact sport.
And yet no historian would dispute the essential claim of the piece: that the Anglicans, when in power, were far more tolerant of the Dissenters than vice versa. (In case you’re wondering, a Dissenter is more or less the same thing as a Puritan.)
And what’s really fascinating is the arch-Tory prediction of what will happen if, despite all reason, these wretches are allowed to continue with their conspiring:
How just will such reflections be, when our posterity shall fall under the merciless clutches of this uncharitable Generation! when our Church shall be swallowed up in Schism, Faction, Enthusiasm, and Confusion! when our Government shall be devolved upon Foreigners, and our Monarchy dwindled into a Republic!
Rowan Williams, anyone? Brussels, anyone? Granted, England retains its symbolic monarchy, but I’d hate to imagine what any writer who could describe William of Orange as a Mock King would make of the present royals, who are as machtlos as they are feckless.
Of course, to today’s Whig, our modern progressive, all these changes are good. The English monarchy has not dwindled into a republic. It has grown into a republic. Its government has not devolved upon foreigners. It has joined with them in a great act of principled unity. Etc.
Yet I see no reason to think that even Defoe himself, let alone an old high Tory, would have seen it this way. “Republic” in 1704 meant Praisegod Barebones. A republican in Queen Anne’s England was about as hard to find as a Nazi in modern Germany. Okay, I exaggerate. Slightly.
But here is the conundrum: we have here a 300-year-old document whose proposals, even by the standards of 1704, were so right-wing that no one could utter them seriously. The only thing to the right is—literally—the Spanish Inquisition. And yet its analysis and its predictions are spot on. Don’t you find that a little weird?
Does this answer the Protestant question? Is it the key to world peace? Neither. It is just a little clue—that’s all.
You go back to poking through old books. And you find another one.
This one is a history book. It is only 100 years old—a spring chicken, really. I had never heard of the author and I can’t find any biographical information on him. He is simply a historian. A rather good one, too, as far as I can tell, and quite reputable in his day.
But the book is a little stick of dynamite. It is a critical reevaluation of the foundation myth of the most important government on earth. It is deeply subversive.
According to the official story, the founders were prudent and principled men whose rights had been violated once too often by a tyrannical occupation regime, whose love of freedom finally overcame their love of peace, and who prevailed by their courage and force of arms after a desperate struggle. According to the historian, however…
But why spoil it? The book is Sydney George Fisher’s True History of the American Revolution. (Here is the original New York Times review.) I believe Fisher was an American himself, which is remarkable considering his results. As he puts it in his first paragraph:
The purpose of this history of the Revolution is to use the original authorities rather more frankly than has been the practice with our historians. They appear to have thought it advisable to omit from their narratives a great deal which, to me, seems essential to a true picture.
To a revision junkie like me, a paragraph like this produces an almost physical excitement. Imagine you’re a crackhead, just walking down the street looking for car windows to smash, when suddenly on the sidewalk you see an enormous rock the size of a softball. Whose is it? Who left it there? Will it fit in your pipe? Who cares? You’re on it like a wolf on a baby.
What (if we are to believe Mr. Fisher) did the historians omit? Let’s resort again to the method of mysteries. Here are some questions about the American Revolution for which you may find you have no good answer:
One: why do the American loyalists share a nickname with a British political party? Is this just a coincidence, or does it imply some kind of weird alliance? And what is on the other side of said alliance? If the loyalists are called Tories, why does no one call the Patriots Whigs?
Two: what on earth is the British strategy? Why do the redcoats seem to be spending so much time just hanging around in New York or Philadelphia? Valley Forge is literally twenty miles from Philly. Okay, I realize, it’s winter. But come on, it’s twenty miles. General Washington is starving in the snow out there. His troops are deserting by the score. And Lord Howe can’t send a couple of guys with muskets to go bring him in? Heck, it sounds like a well-phrased dinner invitation would probably have done the trick.
Three: if the Stamp Act was such an intolerable abuse, how did the British Empire have all these other colonies—Canada, Australia, yadda yadda—where everyone was so meek? Surely we can understand the idea that taxation without representation was the first step toward tyranny. So where is the tyranny? Where are Her Majesty’s concentration camps? Okay, there was the Boer War, I guess. But more generally, why is the history of America so different from that of the other colonies?
Four: why does no one outside America seem to resent these unfortunate events at all? I mean, the Revolution was a war. People got pretty violent on both sides. In some parts of the world, when people lose a war, they don’t feel that it was just God’s will. They feel that God would be much more satisfied if there was some payback. And they tend to transmit this belief to their offspring. In the American unpleasantness, a lot of people—loyalists—got kicked out of their homes. They had to leave with only a small travel bag. When this sort of thing happens in the Middle East, it’s remembered for the life of the known universe.
There is actually a slight clue to two of these questions in the text we just left—The Shortest-Way. Defoe, or rather his hyper-Tory alter-ego, writes:
The first execution of the Laws against Dissenters in England, was in the days of King James I; and what did it amount to? Truly, the worst they suffered was, at their own request, to let them go to New England, and erect a new colony; and give them great privileges, grants, and suitable powers; keep them under protection, and defend them against all invaders; and receive no taxes or revenue from them!
This was the cruelty of the Church of England! Fatal lenity! It was the ruin of that excellent Prince, King Charles I. Had King James sent all the Puritans in England away to the West Indies; we had been a national unmixed Church! the Church of England had been kept undivided and entire!
(I think we can take it for granted that the difference between sending the Puritans to Massachusetts or Jamaica is not, at least in the narrator’s mind, a matter of climate. Oh, no.)
We learn three things from this passage. One, the issues of the Revolution were already in play 70 years earlier. Two, since Whiggery is the political projection of Puritanism (elsewhere our narrator refers to Fanatical Whiggish Statesmen), this is indeed a conflict of Whig and Tory. And three, at least from the Tory perspective, New England—far from being subjected to unprecedented despotism—has enjoyed a unique set of privileges.
Indeed. As Fisher puts it:
The British government, only too glad to be rid of rebellious Puritans, Quakers, and Roman Catholics, willingly gave them liberal charters. This explains that freedom in many of the old charters which has surprised so many students of our colonial history. Some of these liberal instruments were granted by the Stuart kings, with the approval of their officials and courtiers, all of whom showed by almost every other act of their lives that they were the determined enemies of free parliaments and free representation of the people.
Connecticut, for example, obtained in 1662 from Charles II a charter which made the colony almost independent; and to-day there is no colony of the British empire that has so much freedom as Connecticut and Rhode Island always had, or as Massachusetts had down to 1685. Connecticut and Rhode Island elected their own legislatures and governors, and did not even have to send their laws to England for approval. No modern British colony elects its own governor; and, if it has a legislature elected by its people, the acts of that legislature can be vetoed by the home government. A community electing its own governor and enacting whatever laws it pleases is not a colony in the modern English meaning of the word. Connecticut and Rhode Island could not make treaties with foreign nations, but in other respects they were, as we would now say, semi-independent commonwealths under the protectorate or suzerainty of England.
One of the many neat things about Fisher’s history is that it was written when the British Empire was actually a going concern, not a shadowy boogeyman from the past. From the British perspective, the condition of the “semi-independent commonwealths” was irregular at best, and corrupt at worst. Generally the latter. This space is too short to contain the vast tapestry of corruption and venality that Fisher presents—read the book.
Basically, both England and America were happy not to force the issue while there was a third party on the scene—France. But in 1763, this changed:
Canada being conquered and England in possession of it, the colonies and England suddenly found themselves glaring at each other. Each began to pursue her real purpose more directly. England undertook to establish her sovereignty, abolish abuses, or, as she expressed it at that time, to remodel the colonies. The patriotic party among the colonists resisted the remodelling, sought to retain all their old privileges, and even to acquire new ones.
Again, I don’t have the space to copy Fisher’s encyclopedic evisceration of the bizarre jailhouse-lawyer barratry that the Americans, newly safe from Frenchification, put forth in their attempts to wriggle out of Britain’s embrace. Read the book. And along with the barratry, there was another and more ominous development—mob violence:
During that summer of 1765, while the assemblies of the different colonies were passing resolutions of protest, the mobs of the patriot party were protesting in another way. It certainly amazed Englishmen to read that the mob in Boston, not content with hanging in effigy the proposed stamp distributors, levelled the office of one of them to the ground and smashed the windows and furniture of his private house; that they destroyed the papers and records of the court of admiralty, sacked the house of the comptroller of customs, and drank themselves drunk with his wines; and, finally, actually proceeded to the house of Lieutenant-Governor Hutchnison, who was compelled to flee to save his life. They completely gutted his house, stamped upon the chairs and mahogany tables until they were wrecked, smashed the large, gilt-framed pictures, and tore up all the fruit-trees in his garden. Governor Hutchinson was a native of the province, was its historian, and with his library perished many invaluable historical manuscripts which he had been thirty years collecting. The mob cut open the beds and let the feathers out, which they scattered with his clothes, linen, smashed furniture, and pictures in the street.
That this outrage had been incited the day before by the preaching of the Rev. Dr. Mayhew, a Puritan divine, did not lessen its atrocity in the eyes of Englishmen. He had held forth on the text, “I would they were even cut off which trouble you;” and the mob came very near obeying his instructions literally. A great many respectable citizens were shocked, or appeared to be shocked, at this violence and excess. They held town meetings of abhorrence, a guard was organized to prevent such outrages in the future, and rewards were offered for rioters. But it is quite significant that, although the rioters were well-known, as the historians assure us, no one was punished. Two or three were arrested, but were rescued by their friends, and it was found impossible to proceed against them.
I love that “appeared to be shocked.” Does it not capture the essence of Dr. Johnson’s hypothesis? As a more recent thinker put it: “Guilty as sin, free as a bird, it’s a great country.”
But we now reach the heart of the problem, which is that not all Americans are Whigs, and not all Englishmen are Tories.
The history of the Whig–Tory conflict is best told as a series of three civil wars: one east of the pond in the 17th century, one across the pond in the 18th, and one west of the pond in the 19th. So the American Revolution: a civil war with an ocean in the middle. As Fisher describes:
The whole question of the taxation of the colonies was raised again; witnesses, experts on trade, all sorts of persons familiar with the colonies, including Franklin, were called to the bar of the House, examined, and cross-examined. The agents of the different colonies were constantly in attendance in the lobbies. No source of information was left unexplored. The ablest men of the country were pitted against each other in continual debates, and colonial taxation was the leading topic of conversation among all classes. There were two main questions: Was the Stamp Act constitutional? and, If constitutional, was it expedient? It was the innings of a radical section of the Whigs, and, being favorable to liberalism and the colonies, they decided that the Stamp Act was not expedient. They accordingly repealed it within a year after its passage. But they felt quite sure, as did also the vast majority of Englishmen, that Parliament had a constitutional right to tax the colonies as it pleased, and so they passed what became known as the Declaratory Act, asserting the constitutional right of Parliament to bind the colonies “in all cases whatsoever;” and this is still the law of England.
The rejoicing over the repeal of the Stamp Act was displayed, we are told, in a most extraordinary manner, even in England. The ships in the Thames hoisted their colors and houses were illuminated. The colonists had apparently been able to hit a hard blow by the stoppage of trade. The rejoicing, however, as subsequent events showed, was not universal. It was the rejoicing of Whigs or of the particular ship-owners, merchants, and workingmen who expected relief from the restoration of the American trade. It was noisy and conspicuous. There must have been some exaggeration in the account of the sufferings from loss of trade. It is not improbable that Parliament had been stampeded by a worked-up excitement in its lobbies; for very soon it appeared that the great mass of Englishmen were unchanged in their opinion of proper colonial policy; and, as was discovered in later years, the stoppage of the American trade did not seriously injure the business or commercial interests of England.
But in America the rejoicing was, of course, universal. There were letters and addresses, thanksgivings in churches, the boycotting associations were instantly dissolved, trade resumed, homespun given to the poor, and the people felt proud of themselves and more independent than ever because they could compel England to repeal laws.
The colonists were certainly lucky in having chanced upon a Whig administration for their great appeal against taxation. It has often been said that both the Declaratory Act and the repeal of the Stamp Act were a combination of sound constitutional law and sound policy, and that if this same Whig line of conduct had been afterwards consistently followed, England would not have lost her American colonies. No doubt if such a Whig policy had been continued the colonies would have been retained in nominal dependence a few years longer. But such a policy would have left the colonies in their semi-independent condition without further remodelling or reform, with British sovereignty unestablished in them, and with a powerful party of the colonists elated by their victory over England. They would have gone on demanding more independence until they snapped the last string.
In fact, the Whig repeal of the Stamp Act advanced the colonies far on their road to independence. They had learned their power, learned what they could do by united action, and had beaten the British government in its chosen game. It was an impressive lesson. Consciously or unconsciously the rebel party among them was moved a step forward in that feeling for a distinct nationality which a naturally separated people can scarcely avoid.
Such a repeal, such a going backward and yielding to the rioting, threats, and compulsion of the colonists, was certainly not that “firm and consistent policy” which both then and now has been recommended as the true course in dealing with dependencies. The Tories condemned the repeal on this account, and in the course of the next ten or fifteen years ascribed to it the increasing coil of colonial entanglement.
This is the very nub of the issue. What’s fascinating here is that we have two practical theories of how to deal with dependencies. One says that the most effective way to retain a dependency is to redress its grievances, tolerate its errors, and understand its complaints. The other says that the “true course” is a “firm and consistent policy.”
This is not a moral disagreement. This is a case of “is,” not of “ought.” Both parties in England agree—or, at least, appear to agree—on the goal: American colonies that acknowledge the authority of Parliament. The Whigs think the most effective means to this end is to persuade America that England is really their friend, by making concessions when concessions are demanded. The Tories think the most effective means to this end is to use firm and consistent force, to show the Americans that they have no alternative.
After the war, the Whig theory became generally accepted in Britain. This answers question four: why the British have no hard feelings. They have no hard feelings because they believe the war resulted from a British mistake. In Chapter 3 we read the first paragraph in Macaulay’s History of England, that famous archetype of Whig history. From the second:
It will be seen how, in two important dependencies of the crown, wrong was followed by just retribution; how imprudence and obstinacy broke the ties which bound the North American colonies to the parent state; how Ireland, cursed by the domination of race over race, and of religion over religion, remained indeed a member of the empire, but a withered and distorted member, adding no strength to the body politic, and reproachfully pointed at by all who feared or envied the greatness of England.
Later, of course, England followed Macaulay’s advice and made concessions in Ireland. As a result, the Irish have enjoyed many years of peace and have rewarded the British Empire with their eternal devotion and love. Not.
History is not science. Nor is government. Neither the American experiment nor the Irish is a general case with all variables controlled. They are more like parenting—every kid is different. Nonetheless, you’ll find that most parenting experts—a few progressives excepted—indeed endorse the “firm and consistent” approach. And most parents consider it obvious.
From a purely intellectual standpoint, the Whig theory of government is attractive because it is not obvious. In fact, it’s counterintuitive. If you want to keep your colonies, set them free. It’s almost a Sting song. And there is a place in this theory for the intellectual. It demands explanation. Whereas the “firm and consistent policy” is, again, obvious. And who ever made a living by explaining the obvious?
On the other hand, the Whig theory has another attraction, of a more practical sort.
Suppose the Whig theory is right and the Tory theory is wrong. In that case, the Tories are working against their own interests. Unusual, certainly. But not unheard of.
Suppose the Whig theory is wrong and the Tory theory is right. In that case, the Tories are advancing their own interests. And the Whigs are…
See, here’s the funny thing. There’s a natural alliance between the American patriot party and the British Whigs. They are both, after all, Whigs. You’d expect some solidarity. Why don’t the British Whigs just endorse the American rebels?
Because it’s not 2008, is why. In the 21st century, encouraging an enemy in arms against your own government is normal politics. The word treason is almost funny. In the 18th, it was a different matter:
The doctrine, exclusively American in its origin, that rebels were merely men in arms fighting for an idea, mistaken or otherwise, who, when once subdued, were to be allowed to go their way like paroled prisoners of war, had not yet gained ground. Rebellion was at that time a more serious thing than it has since become under the American doctrine of the right of revolution. Most of the colonists could remember the slaughter and beheading inflicted in England on the rebels under the Pretender of 1745. The frightful hanging, torturing, and transportation of men, women, and even children, for such rebellions as that of Monmouth, were by no means yet forgotten. There was not a colonist who had not heard descriptions of London after a rebellion, with the bloody arms and hindquarters of rebels hung about like butchers’ meat, the ghastly heads rotting and stinking for months on the poles at Temple Bar and on London Bridge, with the hair gradually falling off the grinning skulls, as the people passed them day by day.
If the Whigs in Parliament had openly sided with the rebels, dreams of The Shortest-Way would have danced in the eyes of the Tories. The pro-American stance taken by the likes of Burke (who later redeemed himself with the Reflections, but was always a Whig) was in fact the most effective way for a British politician to support the rebels: not on the grounds that they deserve independence, but on the grounds that conciliation is the most effective way to prevent it, as military coercion cannot possibly work. (Does this sound at all familiar?)
We see here also why the American patriots never described themselves as Whigs, and nor did their friends in Britain. If we think of the revolutionaries as Whigs, we are tempted to ask who is in the driver’s seat—the ragtag armies and mobs in America, or the British intellectuals who encouraged their rebellion. We are tempted to see the revolution as a continuation of British politics by other means—much as our Republicans and Democrats of today might find themselves backing opposing armies in some insignificant country halfway around the world. (Obviously, this could never happen, but it would be very disturbing.)
You’ll note that the Whig theory of the American revolution cannot in any way be regarded as directly proven. America was not conciliated into a return to the fold. In the Whig mind, this of course is because Whig conciliation was not really tried. Or at least not tried enough. A higher dose, no doubt, would have cured the patient.
However, the Tory theory is disproved indirectly, because the Tories tried to fight a war and failed. One of the two must be right, so the Whig theory is proven—indirectly. A very typical piece of Whig logic.
There is only one problem. Suppose I am a civil engineer and I send a letter to Caltrans, warning them that serious design flaws in the new Bay Bridge will cause it to collapse. If they hire me, I will fix it for them. They ignore my letter. The bridge collapses. This makes me a prophet, or at least a “whistleblower.”
On the other hand, suppose an acetylene torch with my fingerprints on it is found around the base of the bridge. This puts the matter in a different light, n’est-ce pas?
And so, for the failure of the Tories to suppress the American Revolution to be regarded as evidence for the Whig theory of conciliation, it sure would be nice to know that the reason that the Tories failed isn’t that the Whigs prevented them from succeeding.
I am neither a specialist in the period, nor a historian at all. So I will simply point out one undisputed fact in the matter, which is that two of the leading British generals, Howe and Cornwallis, were Whigs—in fact, Whig MPs. For the rest, I will leave you in Fisher’s hands. Perhaps he is right, and perhaps he isn’t.
What’s really interesting is that no one seems to care. After all, we live in a world which is more or less ruled by the US government—whether through its military power, or its “moral leadership.” Washington is not without critics. And you’d think that anti-Americans everywhere would leap at an interpretation of history that presented the American project as more or less fraudulent from day one.
And perhaps they will. Perhaps Sydney George Fisher will “go viral.” Perhaps by next week Ayman al-Zawahiri will have a printout in his cave. (Unfortunately, the True History has a lot of bad page scans, but you can also try his Struggle for American Independence, a later two-volume expansion: I, II. I’m afraid no Arabic translation is available.)
But I doubt it. Because the True History, as a loyalist or Tory history, is a reactionary history. It would afford rich amusement to any reactionary anti-Americans that might bump into it. However, since there are only about fifteen reactionary anti-Americans left in the world, none of whom is under the age of 60, I think Google can put off that server upgrade for a while.
What is reactionary anti-Americanism, anyway? Charles Francis Adams expresses it well in his essay “A National Change of Heart” (1902):
I recalled my first experiences in England far back in the “sixties,” — in the dark and trying days of our Civil War; and again, more recently, during the commercial depression, and contest over the free coinage of silver, in 1896. Then, especially in the earlier period, nothing was too opprobrious—nothing too bitter and stinging—for English lips to utter of America, and men and things American. We were, as the Times, echoing the utterances of the governing class, never wearied of telling us, a “dishonest” and a “degenerate” race,—our only worship was of the Almighty Dollar. A hearty dislike was openly expressed, in terms of contempt which a pretence of civility hardly feigned to veil. They openly exulted in our reverses; our civilization was, they declared, a thin veneer; democracy, a bursted bubble.
In the 1960s, too, nothing was too opprobrious for English lips to utter of America. But were we a degenerate race of barbarians, ruled by the mob? Au contraire. Now, America was not democratic enough. We had become reactionary fascist capitalist pigs. And in between, as Adams describes, there was a honeymoon:
And now what a change!—and so very sudden! Nothing was too good or too complimentary to say of America. Our representatives were cheered to the echo. In the language of Lord Rosebery, at the King Alfred millenary celebration at Winchester, on the day following the McKinley [funeral], the branches of the great Anglo-Saxon stock were clasping hands across the centuries and across the sea; and the audience applauded him loudly as he spoke.
Ah, the “great Anglo-Saxon stock.” As Hunter S. Thompson put it, we’ve certainly learned a lot about race relations since then.
So in the course of a century, we see Britain passing from anti-Americanism, through pro-Americanism, back to anti-Americanism. Is this a reversal? Did the pendulum swing, then swing back? But when we look at the actual political motifs in the two kinds of anti-Americanism, we see very little in common—besides of course hatred of America.
Clearly it’s this word anti-American that’s confusing us. If we split it in half we can see the trend clearly. To be counter-American is to resist American political theory. To be ultra-American is to accept American political theory so completely that you become more American than America itself, and you feel America is not living up to her own principles.
Thus we have a monotonic trend: increasing acceptance of American political theory. Adams has an interesting explanation:
The first was the outcome of our gigantic, prolonged Civil War. At one stage of that struggle, America—loyal America, I mean—touched its lowest estate in, the estimation of those called, and in Great Britain considered, the ruling class,—the aristocracy, the men of business and finance, the army and navy, the members of the learned professions. None the less, they then saw us accomplish what they had in every conceivable form of speech pronounced “impossible.” We put down the Rebellion with a strong hand; and then, peacefully disbanding our victorious army, made good our every promise to pay. We accomplished our results in a way they could not understand,—a way for which experience yielded no precedent. None the less, the dislike, not unalloyed by contempt, was too deep-rooted to disappear at once, much more to be immediately transmuted into admiration and cordiality. They waited. Then several striking events occurred in rapid succession, — all within ten years.
I am no admirer of President Cleveland’s Venezuela diplomacy. I do not like brutality in public any more than in private dealings. Good manners and courtesy can always be observed, even when firmness of bearing is desirable. None the less, bad for us as the precedent then established was, and yet will prove, there can be no question that, so far as Great Britain was concerned, the tone and attitude on that occasion adopted were productive of results at once profound and, in some ways, beneficial. The average Englishman from the very bottom of his heart respects a man who asserts himself,—provided always he has the will, as well as the power, to make the self-assertion good.
This, as a result of our Civil War, they felt we had. We had done what they had most confidently proclaimed we could not do, and what they, in their hearts, feel they have failed to do. Throughout our Rebellion they had insisted that, even if the conquest of the Confederacy was possible,—which they declared it manifestly was not,—the pacification of the Confederates was out of the question. They thought, also, they knew what they were talking about. Had they not for centuries had Ireland on their hands? Was it not there now? Were they not perpetually floundering in a bottomless bog of Hibernian discontent? Would not our experience be the same, except on a larger scale and in more aggravated form? The result worked out by us wholly belied their predictions. Not only was the rebellion suppressed, but the Confederates were quickly conciliated. The British could not understand it; in the case of the Transvaal they do not understand it now. They merely see that we actually did what they had been unable to do, and are still trying to do. The Spanish war showed that our work of domestic conciliation was as complete as had been that of conquest.
In other words, they love us because we’re bad-asses. Quite a contrast to the present-day theory of anti-Americanism! But hardly refuted by it—quite a bit of bad-assery has flowed under the bridge since the Venezuela arbitration. Supposedly Eisenhower used barnyard language on the phone to Anthony Eden in the Suez crisis. Eden was not an uncultured man, he was surely familiar with the old counter-American tradition, and I suspect he muttered once or twice to himself that if Palmerston and Russell had just bit the bullet and recognized the freakin’ Confederacy, none of this would be happening.
Adams’ point boils down to the truism that a rational actor, if forced to take sides in a conflict, should choose the side more likely to win. (Recently, another prominent statesman expressed the same point in more equestrian terms.)
Thus we understand ultra-Americanism: in a world where all the real shots are called in Washington, ultra-Americanism is the most effective way to influence said calls.
First, you ally yourself with the ultra-Americans in America proper, of which there has never been any shortage. (What is Howard Zinn? An Eskimo?) By definition, power in America is moving in the direction of these actors, so you are on the winning team. Second, you add your weight to the winning team, thus entitling yourself to some kind of payback, by expressing the following sentiment ad nauseam: America, we hate you, and if you don’t start living up to American principles, we will continue to hate you.
Of course, none of this is a conscious strategy—it just happens to work. You might be surprised how many Americans ascribe their support for ultra-American politics to this phenomenon, which enables the likes of a Barack Obama to talk about “America’s moral leadership.” As a counter-American might put it, if America is a moral leader, you really have to wonder who the moral followers are. Has the planet really sunk so low? Yes, I’m afraid it has.
If you hate America but you’re tired of being an ultra-American, especially now that everyone else is one, why not consider a switch to the counter-American persuasion? I have just the perfect book for you. It’s called Memoirs of Service Afloat by Admiral Raphael Semmes, and it is the Great Confederate Novel, or would be if it was fiction. If you have ever felt yourself tempted to use the phrase “Universal Yankee Nation” in a disparaging sort of way, run, do not walk, to Admiral Semmes. Bear in mind, however, that many of your other opinions will need to change.
But we note something else in Adams’ presentation—it is quite inconsistent with the Whig theory of the American Revolution. No wonder the British are impressed! Macaulay has just been telling them that Americans cannot be conquered and pacified by mere military force. Along comes the Universal Yankee Nation, and does just that. Perhaps it’s just Yankees proper who are invulnerable, like the Lord’s Resistance Army, to bullets.
And we are reminded, once again, of The Shortest-Way:
Sir Roger L’Estrange tells us a story in his collection of Fables, of the Cock and the Horses. The Cock was gotten to roost in the stable among the horses; and there being no racks or other conveniences for him, it seems, he was forced to roost upon the ground. The horses jostling about for room, and putting the Cock in danger of his life, he gives them this grave advice, “Pray, Gentlefolks! let us stand still! for fear we should tread upon one another!”
There are some people in the World, who, now they are unperched, and reduced to an equality with other people, and under strong and very just apprehensions of being further treated as they deserve, begin, with Aesop’s Cock, to preach up Peace and Union and the Christian duty of Moderation; forgetting that, when they had the Power in their hands, those Graces were strangers in their gates!
So we see that when Whigs rebel against Tories, Tories should “stand still! for fear we should tread upon each other.” When the shoe is on the other foot, however, “those Graces were strangers in their gates.”
This is not a matter of the merits of the rebel causes in the American Revolution and the Civil War. As a progressive, of course, you believe (not very strongly) that the first rebellion was just, and you believe (very strongly) that the second was unjust. These are matters of morality, over which we cannot argue.
The question is the physical efficacy of coercive suppression in both cases. Your theory of history, which of course you did not invent but have received, assures you that coercion could not have worked in the first case. No theory is required to know that it worked in the second. If you were truly a believer in the Calvinist Providence, like your Whig forebears of old, the problem would be solved: God, whose ways are mysterious but whose arms are invincible, is on the side of the just. Therefore it is futile to attempt to overcome a just cause, whereas an unjust one must be resisted with all our might—God helps those who help themselves.
You have long since given up this belief. But its corollary persists—out of sheer habit, I must assume. I can find no other explanation. And since the belief, true or false, is clearly central to any strategy for world peace—most of today’s wars being insurgencies of one sort or another—we have to resolve it.
In our pursuit of the Whig theory of war, we have advanced from the early 17th century to the late 19th. Let’s pull just a little way into the 20th, and pick an episode which everyone will recognize, but hopefully few have strong attachments to.
Joseph Tumulty, a New Jersey politician, was one of Woodrow Wilson’s advisers—think Colonel House, minus 20 IQ points. In 1921 he published an adoring political memoir, a genre somewhat new to history, called Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him.
It includes the following passage, which I’d like to think at this point is self-explanatory. If you get bored, you can skim, but don’t be discouraged—there is a punchline.
No one standing on the side-lines in the capital of the nation and witnessing the play of the ardent passions of the people of the Irish race, demanding that some affirmative action be taken by our government to bring about the realization of the right of self-determination for Ireland, it seemed as if the American President, Woodrow Wilson, who first gave utterance to the ideal of self-determination for all the oppressed peoples of the world, was woefully unmindful of the age-long struggle that Irishmen had been making to free their own beloved land from British domination. But to those, like myself, who were on the inside of affairs, it was evident that in every proper and legitimate way the American President was cautiously searching for efficient means to advance the cause of self-government in Ireland and to bring about a definite and satisfactory solution of this complicated problem.[…] Long before the European war the President and I had often discussed the Irish cause and how to make his influence felt in a way that would bring results without becoming involved in diplomatic snarls with Great Britain. He was of the opinion that the Irish problem could not be settled by force, for the spirit of Ireland, which for centuries had been demanding justice, was unconquerable. He pointed out to me on many occasions when we discussed this delicate matter, that the policy of force and reprisal which the English Government had for centuries practised in had but strengthened the tenacious purpose of the Irish people and had only succeeded in keeping under the surface the seething dissatisfaction of that indomitable race. I recall that at the conclusion of one of our talks after a Cabinet meeting, shaking his head as if he despaired of a settlement, the President said: “European statesmen can never learn that humanity can be welded together only by love, by sympathy, and by justice, and not by jealousy and hatred.” He was certain that the failure of England to find an adjustment was intensifying feeling not only in our own country, but throughout the world, and that the agitation for a settlement would spread like a contagion and would inevitably result in a great national crisis.[…] In discussing the matter with me, he said: “The whole policy of Great Britain in its treatment of the Irish question has unfortunately been based upon a policy of fear and not a policy of trusting the Irish people. How magnificently the policy of trust and faith worked out in the case of the Boers. Unfortunately, the people of Ireland now believe that the basis of England’s policy toward them is revenge, malice, and destruction. You remember, Tumulty, how the haters of the South in the days of reconstruction sought to poison Lincoln’s mind by instilling into it everything that might lead him in his treatment of the South toward a policy of reprisal, but he contemptuously turned away from every suggestion as a base and ignoble thing. Faith on the part of Great Britain in the deep humanity and inherent generosity of the Irish people is the only force that will ever lead to a settlement of this question. English statesmen must realize that in the last analysis force never permanently settles anything. It only produces hatreds and resentments that make a solution of any question difficult and almost impossible. I have tried to impress upon the Englishmen with whom I have discussed this matter that there never can be a real comradeship between America and England until this issue is definitely settled and out of the way.” Many times in informal discussions with British representatives that came to the White House the President sought to impress upon them the necessity for a solution, pointing out to them how their failure was embarrassing our relations with Great Britain at every point. I am sure that if he could with propriety have done so, Woodrow Wilson would long ago have directly suggested to Great Britain a settlement of the Irish question, but, unfortunately, serious diplomatic obstacles lay in the way of an open espousal of the Irish cause. He was sadly aware that under international law no nation has the right to interest itself in anything that directly concerns the affairs of another friendly nation, for by the traditions of diplomacy such “interference” puts in jeopardy the cordial relations of the nations involved in such controversy.
Long before he became president, Woodrow Wilson had eloquently declared his attitude with reference to self- government for Ireland and had openly espoused the cause of Irish freedom. In a speech delivered at New Brunswick, New Jersey, on October 26, 1910, he said:
Have you read the papers recently attentively enough to notice the rumours that are coming across the waters? What are the rumours? The rumours are that the English programme includes, not only self-government for Ireland, but self-government for Scotland, and the drawing together in London or somewhere else of a parliament which will represent the British Empire in a great confederated state upon the model, no doubt, of the United States of America, and having its power to the end of the world. What is at the bottom of that programme? At the bottom of it is the idea that no little group of men like the English people have the right to govern men in all parts of the world without drawing them into real substantial partnership, where their voice will count with equal weight with the voice of other parts of the country. This voice that has been crying in Ireland, this voice for home rule, is a voice which is now supported by the opinion of the world; this impulse is a spirit which ought to be respected and recognized in the British Constitution. It means not mere vague talk of men’s rights, men’s emotions, and men’s inveterate and traditional principles, but it means the embodiment of these things in something that is going to be done, that will look with hope to the programme that may come out of these conferences. If those who conduct the Government of Great Britain are not careful the restlessness will spread with rapid agitation until the whole’ country is aflame, and then there will be revolution and a change of government.
In this speech he plainly indicated that his plan for the settlement of the Irish question was the establishment of some forum to which the cause of Ireland might be brought, where the full force of the public opinion of the world, including the United States, could be brought to play in a vigorous and whole-hearted insistence upon a solution of this world-disturbing question. As we read the daily papers, containing accounts of the disturbances in Ireland, what a prophetic vision underlay the declaration contained in the speech of Woodrow Wilson in 1910!
If those who conduct the Government of Great Britain are not careful the restlessness will spread with rapid agitation until the whole country is aflame, and then there will be revolution and a change of government.
I recall his passionate resentment of the attitude and threats of Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Unionist forces in the British Parliament, when he read the following statement of Carson carried in the American Press, after the passage of Home Rule through the House of Lords: “In the event of this proposed parliament being thrust upon us, we solemnly and mutually pledge ourselves not to recognize its authority. I do not care two pence whether this is treason or not.” Discussing Carson’s utterance the President said: “I would like to be in Mr. Asquith’s place. I would show this rebel whether he would recognize the authority of the Government or flaunt it. He ought to be hanged for treason. If Asquith does not call this gentleman’s bluff, the contagion of unrest and rebellion in Ireland will spread until only a major operation will save the Empire. Dallying with gentlemen of this kind who openly advocate revolution will only add to the difficulties. If those in authority in England will only act firmly now, their difficulties will be lessened. A little of the firmness and courage of Andrew Jackson would force a settlement of the Irish question right now.”
I swear to God, I have elided nothing except where indicated. Tumulty segues directly from the unconquerable spirit of the Irish to the “firmness and courage of Andrew Jackson.” There is not even a segue. It’s just bam, bam. Check it for yourself—page 397.
Did you catch, also, that bit about “how magnificently the policy of trust and faith worked out with the Boers?” Yeah—trust, faith, and concentration camps. What Wilson means, as in his reference to the South, is that after the Boer war Britain devolved a large amount of local responsibility on the South African government. After, of course, delivering a thorough and comprehensive ass-whooping, with “the firmness and courage of Andrew Jackson.”
Mr. Tumulty, of course, was an Irish ward-boss political hack. He was not writing for 2008. But he made the wonderful gaffe of emitting the Whig theory of revolution and the Whig theory of rebellion in a single breath, where we can see how oddly they fit together. The Whig theory of rebellion turns out to just be the Tory theory of revolution. They can coexist, but only with a distinction between (justified) revolution and (unjustified) rebellion that is implausible to say the least.
And yet, as a progressive, you believe them both, and you will never confuse the two. Imagine, for example, that some confused conservative intellectual had responded to the crimes of Timothy McVeigh, or Eric Rudolph, or Byron de la Beckwith, with Wilsonian rhetoric about deep-seated grievances, or age-old struggles, or what-not. These men were not revolutionaries. They were rebels. That is, they were right-wing political criminals, rather than left-wing ones. They deserved to be crushed. And somehow this did not prove hard at all. Nor did right-wing intellectuals experience any difficulty in choosing not to excuse their acts.
Here’s a fact that may have escaped your attention. There has never been a successful right-wing insurgency. That is, there has never been any successful movement employing the tactics of guerrilla or “urban guerrilla” (or “terrorist”) war, in which the guerrilla forces were to the political right of the government forces. To some extent you can classify Franco in Spain as a successful right-wing rebel, but his forces were more organized and disciplined than the government’s—Franquismo was a coup that turned into a rebellion, and it succeeded in the end only because, for unusual reasons, England and the US declined to intervene against it.
For example, if oppression and injustice really are the cause of insurgent movements, why was there never anything even close to an insurgency in any of the Soviet-bloc states? Excepting, of course, Afghanistan—a rather suspicious exception. You may be a progressive, but you can’t be such a progressive that you believe there was no such thing as Communist oppression. Yet it never spawned any kind of violent reaction. What up with that, dog?
The obvious answer is just Defoe’s. “When they had the Power in their hands, those Graces were strangers in their gates.” The cause of revolutionary violence is not oppression. The cause of revolutionary violence is weak government. If people avoid revolting against strong governments, it is because they are not stupid, and they know they will lose. There is one and only one way to defeat an insurgency, which is the same way to defeat any movement—make it clear that it has no chance of winning, and no one involved in it will gain by continuing to fight.
I mean, think about it. You hear that in country X, the government is fighting against an insurgency. You know nothing else. Which side would you bet on? The government, of course. Because it is stronger by definition—it has more men and more guns. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be the government.
So insurgency in the modern age is not what it appears to be. It is an illusion constructed for a political audience. If Fisher is right, it was not the Continental Army that prevailed in 1783, but the alliance of the Continental Army and the British Whigs. Together they produced a new Whig republic to replace the old one that had collapsed with Cromwell’s death. Neither could conceivably have achieved this mission alone.
Insurgency, including what we now call “terrorism,” is thus a kind of theater. Guerrilla theater, you might say. It exists as an adjunct to democratic politics, and could not exist without it. (I exclude partisan campaigns of the Peninsular War type, in which the guerrillas are an adjunct to a war proper.)
The goal of an insurgency is simply to demonstrate that the violence will continue until the political demands of its supporters are met. The military arm produces the violence. The political arm explains, generally while deploring the violence, that the violence can be stopped by meeting the demands—and only by meeting the demands.
What’s so beautiful about this design, at least from the Devil’s perspective, is that it requires no coordination at all. It is completely distributed. There is no “command and control.” It often arouses suspicion when politicians and terrorists are good friends. With the insurgency design, both can benefit from each others’ actions, without any incriminating connections. They do not even need to think of the effort as a cooperation.
Insurgents and politicians need not even share a value system. There is no reason at all, for example, to think that Ayman al-Zawahiri shares any values with American progressives. I have a fair idea of the kind of government that Sheikh al-Zawahiri would create if he had his druthers. I can certainly say the same for progressives. They have nothing at all to do with each other—regardless of anyone’s middle name.
Yet when Sheikh al-Zawahiri attributed the Democratic victory in the 2006 elections to the mujahedeen, he was objectively right. The Democrats won because their prediction that Iraq would become a quagmire for the US military (which everyone and his dog knows is a Republican outfit) turned out to be true. Without the mujahedeen, who would have turned Iraq into a quagmire? Space aliens?
To make a proper feedback loop, the efforts of the politicians must assist the insurgents, and the efforts of the insurgents must assist the politicians. The al-Zawahiri effect—which is not exactly a unique case—is a good example of the latter. The former is provided by a tendency in Whig politics that we can call antimilitarism.
Antimilitarism assists the “armed struggle” in the most obvious way: by opposing its opponents. All things being equal, any professional military force will defeat its nonprofessional opponent, just as an NBA team will defeat the women’s junior varsity. The effect of antimilitarism is to adjust the political and military playing field until the insurgents have an equal, or even greater, chance of victory.
Wars in which antimilitarism plays an important role are often described as “asymmetric.” The term is a misnomer. A real “asymmetric” war would be a conflict in which one side was much stronger than the other. For obvious reasons, this is a rara avis. A modern asymmetric war is one in which one side’s strength is primarily military, and the other’s is primarily political. Of course this does not work unless the political and military sides are at least nominally parts of the same government, which means that all asymmetric wars are civil—although they may be fought by foreign soldiers on foreign territory.
How does antimilitarism do its thing? As always in war, in any way it can. In the case of Lord Howe we see what looks very much like deliberate military incompetence. Military mismanagement may occur at the level of military leadership, as in the case of Lord Howe, or in civil-military relations, as with McNamara. The military may win the war and its civilian masters may then simply surrender, as in the case of French Algeria.
The most popular approach today, however, is to alter the rules of war. War is brutal. If you were a space alien, you might expect a person opposed to this brutality to ameliorate it, or at least attempt to, by: (a) deciding to support whichever side is the least brutal; (b) promoting rules of war which minimize the incentive for brutal conduct; and (c) encouraging the war to end as quickly as possible with a decisive and final result.
Modern progressivism does not resemble any of these actions. In fact, it resembles their polar opposite. It is certainly motivated by opposition to brutality, but the actions are not calculated to achieve the effects. In a word, it is antimilitarism.
For example, the modern US military has by far the highest lawyer-to-soldier ratio in any military force in history. It requests legal opinions as a routine aspect of even minor attacks. It is by no means averse to trying its own soldiers for judgment calls made in the heat of battle, a practice that would strike Lord Howe as completely insane. (Here is a personal narrative of the consequences.) Meanwhile, its enemies relish the most barbaric tortures. And which side does the progressive prefer? Or rather, which side do his objective actions favor?
Adjusting the rules of war in this way is an excellent strategy for the 21st-century antimilitarist. He does not have to actually express support for the insurgents, as his crude predecessors of the 1960s did. (As Tom Hayden put it, “We are all Viet Cong now.”) Today anyone who can click a mouse can learn that the NLF was the NVA and the NVA were cold-blooded killers, but this knowledge was controversial and hard-to-obtain at the time. The people who knew it were not, in general, the smart ones. “We are all al-Qaeda now” simply does not compute, and you don’t hear it. But nor do you need to.
An arbitrary level of antimilitarism can be achieved simply by converging military tactics with judicial and police procedure. Suppose, for example, Britain was invaded by the Bolivian army, in a stunning seaborne coup. Who would win? Probably not the Bolivians, which is why they don’t try it.
But suppose that the Bolivian soldiers have the full protection of British law. The only way to detain them is to arrest them, and they must be charged with an actual crime on reasonable suspicion of having committed it. Being a Bolivian in Britain is not a crime. You cannot, of course, shoot them, at least not without a trial and a full appeal process. Any sort of indiscriminate massacre, as via artillery, airstrikes, etc., is of course out of the question. Etc.
So Britain becomes a province of Bolivia. War is always uncertain, but the Bolivians certainly ought to give it a shot. What do they have to lose? A few soldiers, who might have to spend a little time in a British jail. Not exactly the Black Hole of Calcutta. So why not?
And this is how antimilitarism produces war. War is horrible, and no one is willing to fight in it unless they have a chance of winning. Antimilitarism gives the insurgents that chance. And this is the other half of the feedback loop.
Now we’re ready to answer the question that you’ve probably forgotten about: what is the most successful Protestant denomination in the United States?
“Successful” is a tricky word. Should we count it statistically, by mere numbers? But I am a reactionary—headcount and warm bodies mean nothing to me. Better to count it by influence and importance. Whose counsels are heard in the corridors of power? To what sect do the rich, famous and fashionable belong? Who controls the prestigious institutions?
But an even trickier word is “denomination.” The problem is that denominations don’t always seem to mean that much. In many cases, they seem to be meaningless labels inherited from the past. To define people as members of separate sects, you’d expect them to disagree about something important. When was the last time you saw, say, a Congregationalist having it out with an Episcopalian? Do Unitarians and Methodists castigate each other in furious theological catfights?
Um, no. I suspect the major reason for this is the ecumenical movement. It’s unsurprising that this would result in a convergence of opinion. In practice today, in the US, there are two kinds of Protestant: mainline (i.e., ecumenical), and evangelical. (Confusingly, the people described as “evangelical” in the 19th century are the ancestors of today’s mainliners—I prefer to say “traditionalist.”) As one would expect from the history of the great Christian faith, these two sects hate each other like cats and dogs. Mystery resolved.
And as the name suggests, mainliners are more socially prestigious and far more likely to be found in positions of influence or authority. Does this answer our question? Not quite.
The thing about mainline Protestant beliefs is that they are not only shared by Protestants. You can find Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and quite a few atheists who hold essentially the same worldview as the mainline Protestants. What is a “moderate Muslim?” A Protestant Muslim, more or less.
For the last century and a half, one of the most influential American sects has been the Unitarians. The beliefs held by Unitarians have changed over time, but modern Unitarians (or Unitarian Universalists) believe that you can be a Unitarian while being any religion, or no religion at all. Of course, if you are a Muslim or a Catholic, you need to discard almost all the traditional beliefs of these sects, often retaining just the name. But since Unitarians have done more or less the same to their own beliefs, it’s no sweat, man.
The neat thing about primary sources is that often, it takes only one to prove your point. If you find the theory of relativity mentioned in ancient Greek documents, and you know the documents are authentic, you know that the ancient Greeks discovered relativity. How? Why? It doesn’t matter. Your understanding of ancient Greece needs to include Greek relativity.
One of the discoveries that impelled me to start this blog was an ancient document. Well, not that ancient, actually. It’s from 1942. It is of unquestionable authenticity. In fact, it is still hosted by the same organization that wrote it. If you’re an old UR reader you have seen this before. If you’re an open-minded progressive, you may be surprised. The document is here:
Religion: American Malvern Monday, Mar. 16, 1942
These are the high spots of organized U.S. Protestantism’s super-protestant new program for a just and durable peace after World War II:
- Ultimately, “a world government of delegated powers.”
- Complete abandonment of U.S. isolationism.
- Strong immediate limitations on national sovereignty.
- International control of all armies & navies.
- “A universal system of money… so planned as to prevent inflation and deflation.”
- Worldwide freedom of immigration.
- Progressive elimination of all tariff and quota restrictions on world trade.
- “Autonomy for all subject and colonial peoples” (with much better treatment for Negroes in the U.S.).
- “No punitive reparations, no humiliating decrees of war guilt, no arbitrary dismemberment of nations.”
- A “democratically controlled” international bank “to make development capital available in all parts of the world without the predatory and imperialistic aftermath so characteristic of large-scale private and governmental loans.”
This program was adopted last week by 375 appointed representatives of 30-odd denominations called together at Ohio Wesleyan University by the Federal Council of Churches. Every local Protestant church in the country will now be urged to get behind the program. “As Christian citizens,” its sponsors affirmed, “we must seek to translate our beliefs into practical realities and to create a public opinion which will insure that the United States shall play its full and essential part in the creation of a moral way of international living.”
Among the 375 delegates who drafted the program were 15 bishops of five denominations, seven seminary heads (including Yale, Chicago, Princeton, Colgate-Rochester), eight college and university presidents (including Princeton’s Harold W. Dodds), practically all the ranking officials of the Federal Council and a group of well-known laymen, including John R. Mott, Irving Fisher and Harvey S. Firestone Jr. “Intellectually,” said Methodist Bishop Ivan Lee Holt of Texas, “this is the most distinguished American church gathering I have seen in 30 years of conference-going.”
The meeting showed its temper early by passing a set of 13 “requisite principles for peace” submitted by Chairman John Foster Dulles and his inter-church Commission to Study the Bases of a Just and Durable Peace. These principles, far from putting all the onus on Germany or Japan, bade the U.S. give thought to the short sighted selfishness of its own policies after World War I, declared that the U.S. would have to turn over a new leaf if the world is to enjoy lasting peace.
For at least a generation we have held preponderant economic power in the world, and with it the capacity to influence decisively the shaping of world events. It should be a matter of shame and humiliation to us that actually the influences shaping the world have largely been irresponsible forces. Our own positive influence has been impaired because of concentration on self and on our short-range material gains. … If the future is to be other than a repetition of the past, the U.S. must accept the responsibility for constructive action commensurate with its power and opportunity.
The natural wealth of the world is not evenly distributed. Accordingly the possession of such natural resources… is a trust to be discharged in the general interest. This calls for more than an offer to sell to all on equal terms. Such an offer may be a futile gesture unless those in need can, through the selling of their own goods and services, acquire the means of buying.
With these principles accepted, the conference split up into four groups to study, respectively, the social, economic and political problems of the post-war world and the problem of the church’s own position in that world.* Discussion waxed hot & heavy, with one notable silence: in a week when the Japs were taking Java, discussion of the war itself was practically taboo. Reason: The Federal Council felt that, since five of its other commissions are directly connected with the war effort, the conference’s concern should be with plans for peace. One war statement—the Christian Church as such is not at war—was proposed by Editor Charles Clayton Morrison, of the influential and isolationist-before-Pearl-Harbor Christian Century. This statement was actually inserted in a subcommittee report by a 64–58 vote after a sharp debate. In the plenary session, however, it was ruled out of order.
Some of the conference’s economic opinions were almost as sensational as the extreme internationalism of its political program. It held that a new order of economic life is both imminent and imperative—a new order that is sure to come either through voluntary cooperation within the framework of democracy or through explosive political revolution. Without condemning the profit motive as such, it denounced various defects in the profit system for breeding war, demagogues and dictators, mass unemployment, widespread dispossession from homes and farms, destitution, lack of opportunity for youth and of security for old age. Instead, the church must demand economic arrangements measured by human welfare… must appeal to the Christian motive of human service as paramount to personal gain or governmental coercion.
“Collectivism is coming, whether we like it or not,” the delegates were told by no less a churchman than England’s Dr. William Paton, co-secretary of the World Council of Churches, but the conference did not veer as far to the left as its definitely pinko British counterpart, the now famous Malvern Conference (TIME, Jan. 20, 1941). It did, however, back up Labor’s demand for an increasing share in industrial management. It echoed Labor’s shibboleth that the denial of collective bargaining “reduces labor to a commodity.” It urged taxation designed “to the end that our wealth may be more equitably distributed.” It urged experimentation with government and cooperative ownership.
“Every individual,” the conference declared, “has the right to full-time educational opportunities… to economic security in retirement… to adequate health service [and an] obligation to work in some socially necessary service.”
The conference statement on the political bases of a just and durable peace proclaimed that the first post-war duty of the church “will be the achievement of a just peace settlement with due regard to the welfare of all the nations, the vanquished, the overrun and the victors alike.” In contrast to the blockade of Germany after World War I, it called for immediate provision of food and other essentials after the war for every country needing them. “We must get back,” explained Methodist Bishop Francis J. McConnell, “to a stable material prosperity not only to strengthen men’s bodies but to strengthen their souls.”
Politically, the conference’s most important assertion was that many duties now performed by local and national governments “can now be effectively carried out only by international authority.” Individual nations, it declared, must give up their armed forces “except for preservation of domestic order” and allow the world to be policed by an international army & navy. This League-of-Nations-with-teeth would also have “the power of final judgment in controversies between nations… the regulation of international trade and population movements among nations.”
The ultimate goal: “a duly constituted world government of delegated powers: an international legislative body, an international court with adequate jurisdiction, international-administrative bodies with necessary powers, and adequate international police forces and provision for enforcing its worldwide economic authority.”
*Despite their zeal for world political, social and economic unity, the churchmen were less drastic when it came to themselves. They were frank enough to admit that their own lack of unity was no shining example to the secular world, but did no more than call for “a new era of interdenominational cooperation in which the claims of cooperative effort should be placed, so far as possible, before denominational prestige.”
The program of the Federal Council is immediately recognizable as the modern progressive agenda. But that adjective is not used (except in its dictionary sense). Nor is the other adjective that is generally associated with the same program, liberal. (I really hate using this word—it makes me sound like Rush Limbaugh.)
Instead, what is the adjective our reporter uses to describe this program? Super-protestant. In other words, we have a candidate for the most successful Protestant denomination in the US today. That denomination is progressivism itself.
Progressives, at least the majority of progressives, do not think of themselves as a religious movement. In fact, presumably for adaptive reasons, they have discarded almost every trace of theology, though there is still some lingering fondness for the Prince of Peace. But the line of descent from the English Dissenters to Bill Moyers is as clear as that from chimp to man.
After some failed experiments I coined the name Universalism, for progressivism understood as a Protestant sect, and have been using it here for a while. I am still not sure about this word, though it is appropriate for several reasons theological and mundane. It seems inoffensive, and progressives will often describe themselves as small-u universalists. But progressive is what its adherents call themselves, and it seems polite to respect this. I may just go back and forth.
Whatever you call it, progressivism is not just a religious movement. It is not just a matter of spiritual opinion. Like classical Islam, it is a complete way of life. And it comes with a political arm—Whiggery. Whether you believe the Dissenter–Whig complex is good or evil, you cannot avoid admitting that it is the most successful religious and political movement in the history of the known universe.
So that’s one answer to our question. There is an even more disturbing answer, though.
Another way to measure success is by fidelity of transmission. While Universalism is most certainly descended from the 17th-century American Puritans (read this book if you don’t believe me), your average Puritan would be absolutely horrified by progressive beliefs. As would just about anyone in the 17th century. But who is the closest?
Actually, there is a 17th-century of extremist Dissenters whose beliefs closely track modern progressivism. They are not identical—that would be too much to expect—but you will have to work hard to find any point on which the two conflict, at least to the point where someone might get into an argument. Many superficial rituals and traditions have been discarded, but modern members of this sect are certainly progressives. And the sect, though young by Dissenter standards, has been quite influential ever since the writing of The Shortest-Way.
I refer, of course, to the Quakers. If the Time reporter had described the program of the Federal Council as super-Quaker, he might well have confused his audience, but his theology would have been if anything more accurate. The history of mainline Protestantism in America is more or less the history of its Quakerization. Basically, we are all Quakers now. Even I find Quaker writings remarkably sympathetic, and I’m a reactionary Jacobite.
There is a reason, though, that they were expelled from England. Here, in this fascinating 1917 discussion of Quakers and World War I (which in the great Quaker style, both innocent and shameless, is hosted by… the Quaker Heritage Press), is an example of what creeps some people out about the Quakers:
It should be noted, in the first place, that in practice the Quaker attitude upon this issue [the war] is no more than that of Socialists, of whom some are ardent nationalists and some inveterate pacifists. The Friends have their patriotic and military heroes. Betsy Ross, who made our first flag, was a member of the society. Thomas Mifflin, a major general and Washington’s first aide-de-camp, was a Quaker; so was Major General Nathaniel Greene; so was Jacob Brown, a Bucks county schoolmaster who rose to be commander-in-chief of the United States army. Robert Morris financed the Revolution largely by means of Quaker loans. John Bright, one of the foremost of English Quakers, justified the American war to exterminate slavery. Whittier’s abolition poems were militant to the last degree. Even William Penn proposed an international “league to enforce peace,” requiring compulsion by arms if necessary. The doctrine of pacifism, nevertheless, always has been vital in the principles of Quakerism, and one of the curious chapters in American history deals with the strange expedients which members of the society employed to make their genuine love of country harmonize with their beliefs by supporting necessary projects of defense which they could not officially countenance. Franklin gives an illuminating account of “the embarrassment given them (in the Pennsylvania assembly) whenever application was made to grant aids for military purposes.” Unwilling to offend the government, and averse to violating their principles, he says, they used “a variety of evasions,” the commonest one being to grant money “for the king’s use” and avoid all inquiry as to the disbursement. But once, when New England asked Pennsylvania for a grant to buy powder, this ingenious device would not serve:
They could not grant money to buy powder, for that was an ingredient of war; but they voted an aid of 3000 Pounds, and appropriated it for the purchasing of bread, flour, wheat “and other grain.” Some of the council, desirous of giving the House still further embarrassment, advised the governor not to accept the provision, as not being the thing he had demanded; but he reply’d, “I shall take the money, for I understand very well their meaning—other grain is gunpowder.” Which he accordingly bought, and they never objected to it.
If this makes no sense to you, black powder of the time came in “corns,” i.e., grains. The story of “other grain,” which I would be prepared to accept as apocryphal (Franklin is hardly a trustworthy source), is rather famous among Quaker-haters. Note also William Penn’s “league to enforce peace,” of which I was entirely unaware until five minutes ago. Ya learn something new every day.
Even I find it hard to restructure my brain to think of progressivism as a religious movement. Frankly, the proposition that our society, far from advancing into a bright future of rationality and truth, is slipping inexorably into the iron grip of an ancient religious sect, is one I find almost impossible to contemplate. One thought-experiment for this purpose, however, is to imagine that—perhaps through the action of evil aliens—every progressive (whether or not he or she self-identifies as a “Christian”) was converted automatically into a traditionalist, and vice versa. Except, of course, for you.
You’d suddenly realize that you lived in a world in which all the levers of power, prestige, and influence were held by dangerous religious maniacs. At least, people you consider dangerous religious maniacs. Being a progressive and all.
Well, exactly. I am not a progressive. But I am also not a traditionalist. I am not a Christian at all. I believe it is worth some effort to try to wake up from all this historical baggage.
We are now prepared to consider the subject we started with, world peace.
From a semiotic perspective (I didn’t go to Brown for nothing, kids), the fascinating thing about world peace is that, while these two little words are remarkably precise and their compound is hardly less exact, the phrase is not without its Empsonian edge. It reminds us of two concepts which are not logically connected: a goal in which Planet Three is free from the state of human interaction known as war, and a strategy for achieving that goal.
This strategy is generally known as pacifism. In 19th-century and 20th-century history, pacifism is associated with a movement—i.e., a group of people acting collectively, if not within any fixed organizational structure—which might be called the internationalist movement. While this inevitably fuzzy category embraces an enormous set of individuals and projects across the last two hundred years, I think it’s a fair summary to say that an internationalist believes that the best way to achieve world peace is to build global institutions which act in the interest of humanity as a whole. Tennyson’s Locksley Hall is the classic expression:
Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.
There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe, And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.
On an issue as important as world peace, there is certainly no point in confusing ourselves. So I object to the word pacifism. This sign, by joining two signifieds in one signifier—the goal of a world without war, and the strategy of Locksley Hall internationalism—sneaks in three assumptions which, while they may very well be true, strike me as quite nonobvious.
One: internationalism is the only strategy which can achieve the goal. Two: internationalism is an effective strategy with which to achieve the goal. Three: internationalism is not the principal obstacle to the achievement of the goal.
If you have actually read this far in the post, without skimming even a little, I’d like to think that you know Whiggery and Quakerism when you see it. So let me suggest an alternative to the Locksley Hall strategy for world peace: a return to classical international law.
Of course, our internationalists talk of nothing but international law. But what they mean is modern international law. They believe, good Whigs that they are, that the changes they have made in the last century are improvements. Quakerization is always an improvement, and international law has certainly been quite thoroughly Quakerized.
By “classical,” I mean anything before World War I. But a century is a nice dividing line. Let’s take as our text, therefore, Elements of International Law, 3rd edition, 1908, by George B. Davis. I know nothing about this book or its author, but it is obviously a standard text. There are little bits of proto-Universalism to be found in it, but they are easily identified and discarded. For the most part it contains all the wisdom on statecraft of the classical European world, and it is very good at citing its sources. It is certainly not a mere collection of the personal opinions of George B. Davis, whoever he was.
Here, for example, is classical international law on guerrilla warfare:
Guerillas. The term guerilla is applied to persons who, acting singly or joined in bands, carry on operations in the vicinity of an army in the field in violation of the laws of war. They wear no uniform, they act without the orders of their government, and their operations consist chiefly in the killing of picket guards and sentinels, in the assassination of isolated individuals or detachments, and in robbery and other predatory acts. As they are not controlled in their undertakings by the laws of war, they are not entitled to their protection. If captured, they are treated with great severity, the punishment in any case being proportioned to the offence committed. Their operations have no effect upon the general issue of the war, and only tend to aggravate its severity. Life taken by them is uselessly sacrificed, and with no corresponding advantage.
Quelle différence! Here, on the rightfulness of war:
Rightfulness of War. With the inherent rightfulness of war international law has nothing to do. War exists as a fact of international relations, and, as such, it is accepted and discussed. In defining the law of war, at any time, the attempt is made to formulate its rules and practices, and to secure the general consent of nations to such modifications of its usages as will tend towards greater humanity, or will shorten its duration, restrict its operations, and hasten the return of peace and the restoration of the belligerent states to their normal relations.
Friends, this is the sweet music of reason, scanned, de-Quakerized and presented for your perusal by the good progressives behind Google Books—who do much better than they know.
I cannot quote this entire book. If you care about the subject—and who doesn’t?—it is simply worth reading. You can skip the chapters on diplomatic protocol, treaties, etc. War and sovereignty are your main concerns.
Classical international law, while never perfect, was simply a beautiful piece of engineering. It solved, not perfectly but quite effectively, a problem that today strikes us as unsolvable: enforcing good behavior among sovereign nations, without a central enforcer. You might call it a peer-to-peer architecture for world peace.
I’m afraid what we have now is more a client–server approach. It works, sort of. It does not strike me as stable or scalable. International law was designed for a world of equals. It broke down when one nation—first Great Britain, and later the United States—took it upon itself, for motives that were superficially charitable and fundamentally Whiggish, to act as a global enforcer. At that point, it ceased to be an instrument of peace and independence, and became one of domination and war. “Other grain.”
If the entire tradition of classical international law were condensed down to two words, they might well be the Latin words uti possidetis. If there is a single phrase that is the key to world peace, it is this one. Amazingly enough, it even has a Wikipedia page, although the classical concept is confused with the modern, and quite oxymoronic, one of uti possidetis juris.
The idea of uti possidetis is the principle that every government is legitimate and sovereign. All governments are de facto. Their borders are defined by the power of their military forces. If two states disagree on their borders, it is up to them to settle the dispute. Their settlement should be respected by all. As Davis puts it:
Treaties of peace resemble ordinary treaties in form, in the detailed method of preparation, and in binding force. They differ from ordinary treaties, and from private contracts, in respect to the position of the contracting parties, who, from the necessities of the case, do not enter them upon equal terms. This in no respect detracts from their obligatory character, which cannot be too strongly insisted upon. “Agreements entered into by an individual while under duress are void, because it is for the welfare of society that they should be so. If they were binding, the timid would be constantly forced by threats or violence into a surrender of their rights, and even into secrecy as to the oppression under which they were suffering. The [knowledge] that such engagements are void makes the attempt to extort them one of the rarest of human crimes. On the other hand, the welfare of society requires that the engagements entered into by a nation under duress should be binding; for, if they were not so, wars would terminate only by the utter subjugation and ruin of the weaker party.”
In other words, exactly as they terminated in the 20th century. If they terminated.
When either belligerent believes the object of the war to have been attained, or is convinced that it is impossible of attainment; or when the military operations of either power have been so successful as to determine the fortune of war decisively in its favor, a general truce is agreed upon, and negotiations are entered into with a view to the restoration of peace.
You see the flavor of these rules. They are designed for a world of genuinely independent states—as opposed to British or American protectorates. Under the rule of uti possidetis, statehood is an objective description. No one asks: should Hamas have a state? One asks: is Gaza a state? Under classical international law, the answer is clearly “yes.”
Let’s take a brief look at how this plan would create peace in the Middle East. First, the borders between Israel and its neighbors are permanently fixed. They are simply the present lines of demarcation, as set at the end of the 1967 war. In the West Bank there is an area of fuzzy jurisdiction—Israel maintains what might be called an imperfect occupation. Gaza is its own state. I suspect Israel would find it prudent to evacuate most of the West Bank and put it in the same status as Gaza. Call it Ramallah.
The US is completely neutral in these disputes. It gives Israel no aid. It gives the Palestinians no aid. It gives no one any aid. It does not need protectorates, “friends,” etc. It has the H-bomb and Angelina Jolie. Others can love it for the latter or fear it for the former. Or possibly the reverse. It’s up to them.
The Middle East, and specifically the area around Israel, is actually an area of great natural stability. The area is stable because the state which does not want war, Israel, is much stronger than its aggressive, irredentist and revanchist neighbors, Gaza and Ramallah. Therefore, there are two possibilities.
One, Gaza and Ramallah recognize that they live next to the 800-pound gorilla. They watch their steps. They do not shoot rockets over the border, and they prevent their citizens from doing so. And there is no war.
Two, Gaza and Ramallah persist in attacking Israel. Under classical international law, Israel exercises its right of redress and does whatever it takes to stop the attacks. If “whatever it takes” means that Israel has to convert the human population of Gaza into biofuel, so be it. The basic principle of classical international law is that every citizen of an enemy state is an enemy.
Of course, the law of war is intended to make combat humane, and the basic principle of humanitarian war is that
No forcible measures against an enemy which involve the loss of human life are justifiable which do not bear directly upon the object of which the war is undertaken, and which do not materially contribute to bring it to an end.
In other words, if Gazans are really so crazed with lust for Jewish blood that they will never stop blowing themselves up in cafes until the last Gazan is processed into a tankful of biodiesel, biodiesel it is. Otherwise, of course, these actions would be quite unjustifiable.
Of course, Gazans are not really this crazy. They are normal people. They would take option 1 in a heartbeat, and the only reason they haven’t already is that they are just doing their jobs. Hating Israel is the national industry of Palestine. That is, via American and European aid, it generates more or less the entire Palestinian GDP. If Palestinians stop attacking Israel, if they just settle down and live their lives like the normal people they are, there will be no reason for anyone to give them money. And the money will stop.
Ah, you cry, but justice! The Palestinians cry for justice! Well, perhaps it is just for Israel to give the Palestinians money, or land, or cheezburgers, or something. I would like to think that this money should come from Israel, not from Washington. But if the Palestinians want money, or land, or cheezburgers, they will have to find some way of extracting these goods from Israel, or whoever else, on their own. Because the world of classical international law is not the world that is ruled by Uncle Sam, dispenser of justice to all.
This is the genius of classical international law. It is based on the concept of actual sovereignty. When you establish your Quaker “league for enforcing peace,” or even your British “balance of power,” you establish an international super-sovereign. Which is a world government. Which is not, in the hands of the Quakers, a workable design. It might be a workable design in the hands of the Nazis—but would you want it to be?
The Palestinian problem is the reductio ad absurdum of Quakerism. Quakers believe that peace can be created by redressing grievances. When this principle is pointed toward the left, it becomes no justice, no peace. When it is pointed toward the right, it becomes appeasement. For example, New Zealand activist John Minto, who has Quaker written all over him, has produced a brilliant reinvention of Lebensraum:
An artificial state for four million displaced Palestinians to govern themselves over several disconnected pieces of poor quality land not wanted by Israel is not viable in any meaningful sense of the word.
Even if all the initial grievances are absolutely just by some objective standard, the cycle of grievance and reward will quickly attract gangsters and create a mafia grievance factory.
The tragedy is that Mr. Minto and his ilk are so close to seeing the true principle of peace: peace is learning to live with the world as it is, not as you want it to be. You’d think a Quaker would be able to see this in a flash. But I’m afraid power has corrupted them.
Do the Palestinians find themselves with “poor quality land?” Then agriculture is probably not their métier. Dubai has some pretty crappy land, as well. Its residents spend far less time brooding over the subject of Jews. Perhaps a simple solution would be for Dubai to annex Gaza—contiguous borders, while preferable, are hardly essential in the 21st century. Forget about the past. Live in the future.
It is almost impossible to overestimate how politically dependent the world’s nations are on the US. I suspect that if we embraced the principles of classical international law overnight, next week would see military coups in almost every country in the world. In the present world, a military government in, say, Brazil, would be ostracized and isolated into oblivion with remarkable speed. In the world of classical international law, the US does not care what form of government is practiced in Brazil. It only cares that Brazil does not invade it, harass its shipping, welsh on its debts, etc. There is a lot of order to restore in Brazil, and a lot of prestige to be won by restoring it. At least in Brazil. And why should it matter what Washington thinks of Brazil? Answer: it shouldn’t.
The world of 2008 has one major sovereign state, the US. There are two smaller ones, Russia and China, which have passed through Communism to a system of government that might almost be described as neoreactionary. By avoiding dependency on American aid, the oil kingdoms of the Gulf also retained a certain level of sovereignty. Iran and its satellites are trying to achieve stable sovereignty by building nuclear weapons, and being insanely aggressive toward America. Hopefully their aggression will stop after they succeed, but who knows?
The salient financial feature of the present world is the gigantic trade deficit between the democratic world and the neoreactionary world—in favor of the latter. This is not a coincidence. The Gulf states are neoreactionary because they have oil, which has enabled them to preserve something vaguely like their traditional forms of government, rather than becoming just more Third World protectorates of the State Department. Russia too has oil, which after Communism had the same effect. And China has that real rara avis, a healthy capitalist industrial base, a consequence of its bold resistance to democracy.
This financial imbalance is oddly reminiscent of the situation between the Communist and Western worlds before the collapse of the former. Of course, it could just be a coincidence. Don’t get your hopes up. This one will take a while.
There was a funny article the other day in the Times. It seems Kuwaitis have noticed that they have democracy, that Dubai doesn’t, and that the latter seems to be rather better off for it. (Don’t miss the pictures of Kuwait’s “financial district”—sidesplitting.) Not that Kuwait has much democracy. It’s a constitutional monarchy. But Dubai is an absolute monarchy, and the difference is, um, remarkable. Especially since Kuwait has way more oil than Dubai.
The great wave of Whiggery has washed to the end of the world and the top of the beach. Its source is not moral righteousness, but mere power. That power is waning. It still looks like the future, but not as much as it used to. Patches of sand are starting to show through the water. Will another wave come? Or will the water just wash back? And if so, will it wash back slowly, or will it all just disappear one day, the way Communism did?