Thursday, June 10, 2004

March of Time- Part I

The study of history has been a lifelong love and interest of mine. It is no surprise that all of my views and opinions are colored greatly by things that have gone before.

I have thought much recently about how future historians will evaluate this period of history. By this period I mean from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the period when people finally accept and agree on the new order of things. It is of course impossible to know because as of yet we do not know the true nature of the new order of things. I believe one can, however, reasonably examine the two forces that are competing to establish the New Order.

First I think it is safe to establish what will not be significant in the new status quo that is now being formed. Nation-States formed on arbitrary geopolitical arrangements are a thing of the past. The individual sovereignty of small nations will be of little significance in the future. Cultural and religious groups that seek to form nations based on shared identity and common bonds and the hegemonic powers of the world each seek the disempowerment of what I term false states. What is a false state? I would term any nation that is composed of different groups of cultures and religions under the control of a central government as a false state.

Certainly the separatist and the hegemons have vastly different views of the current national structure and they each have different ideas about how the old order ought to be abandoned.

To the hegemon the current collection of nation-states are just annoyances. Hegemonic action thus far reveals that the view from that side is that nation-states ought to be brought under a firmer collective umbrella. That national sovereignty is violative in the interest of the hegemon. Economic and political cooperation is the order of the day with the eventual goal of including all small powers within the hegemon’s sphere into a collective that once entered cannot be left without the peril of “police action”. From the hegemon perspective small nation-states rule autonomously only so long as their policies and government fit the needs of the hegemon. We see the beginnings of this already in Iraq; we have seen it for the last 100 years in Latin America.

To the separatist, national governments that do not reflect their religious and cultural needs are unjust rulers. Secession movements all over the world have for years advocated self-rule. The fall of the Soviet Empire and the destruction of a common enemy have given rise to a renewed effort by many of these groups. Yugoslavia was a perfect example of a false nation-state. After the fall of communism the various groups that had been forced to live under collective rule demanded and gained a self-rule. Wars of culture and religion are as old as history itself. People fight and die in order to establish their home and to be ruled by those like them. Palestine, Northern Ireland and a dozen other places are the result of this sort of conflict. Many of the insurgents that fight now in Iraq are really just separatist fighting to be ruled by their kind.

The wars of idealism ushered in during the late 18th Century are a new phenomenon to mankind. Wars of nationalism arrived only in the 19th century. Wars of Empire have a varied sort of start and stop history but it is safe to say that these types of conflicts have occurred for thousands of years. As stated above, wars and conflicts centered on self-determination are the oldest known to man.

What does history then teach us regarding the current order of things and the nature of things to come? The current battles and conflicts are really not about idealism; although to the separatist involved there is a degree of idealism associated with their causes. Neither are these conflicts nationalistic in nature. Sure the hegemons term their effort in nationalistic terms but that is not at all what is occurring. We are left with the last two types of conflict; two sides (loosely speaking because obviously all of the separatist in the world are not conjoined) fighting a conflict for very different reasons. The winner will determine the nature of the new order. Will we enter a new age of empire or will the current system devolve into many nation-states ruled by governments that share the same outlook as those governed?

I believe it is really that simple. The two forces really at conflict can be identified just so.

Already the mechanisms that will usher in the new age of empire are firmly set. The nations of Europe have surrendered and are surrendering almost daily more and more of their sovereignty to the European Union. As each court case is ruled on in Brussels that affects individual initiative of the various states the Union moves closer and closer to establishing itself as supreme over the sovereignty of any member state. Economically and militarily a unified Europe will make a significant peer competitor to the United States.

The United States has been well on its way toward empire; first in small ways in this hemisphere and in the last forty years in other parts of the world. To be certain empire in the modern sense does not mean the same as the empire held by the British. The US has for the most part traded in occupation for control; military and economic. When those fail political control in the form of “regime change” and “nation building” has been used.

The humanist when faced with this reality would say that hegemony is obviously the better choice. If the separatist were to win it would be only after many battles and conflicts. The old order will not pass away without a fight and the growing hegemonies will not sit by and watch their growing power eroded by the rise of upstart independent states; states that are not as controllable as the old nationalist powers. A separatist victory would mean years of conflict and the death of countless millions as the new order was sorted out. The humanist would want none of this and would choose empire.

The libertarian sort would regret the social upheaval required for a separatist victory and the dissolving of the nation-state model. A pragmatic view history reveals that conflict has been part of every generation. The libertarian would assert that death in the pursuit of freedom is better than surrender to empire and tyranny.

So there we have it. With the exception of a few scattered and isolated incidents that involve purely nationalistic issues around the world we can place all the conflicts and troubles occurring almost everywhere into this context. The battles fought today are truly about the nature of the world to come. If the separatist can wear down the hegemons economically and then defeat the old national powers in their various regions they win and possibly usher in a new era. On the other hand if the developing empires are able to use the current conflicts to expand their power and reach this will only serve to expedite the day when nation-state sovereignty means very little.

Recedite, plebes! Gero rem imperialem
El Cid

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