A Post-Westphalian world and the quest for Self-Determination

IJWP 4-07 CoverIntroduction to IJWP, December 2007 Issue

Many of the key issues of our turbulent age are presented in this issue of IJWP. It contains hints of the outline of how a post-Westphalian, post-bipolar world is shaping up. We have not come close to creating a world of peace, but we are learning a few things that I hope we can collectively remember to come closer to the end of a history of abuse of power.

The end of a Westphalian World
In the September issue, Morton A. Kaplan argued that “the EEC, Russia, and the United States are not insulated from each other or from the non-Westphalian aspects of the world in which we live. We have a common interest in preserving our civilization, our mutual economic relations, and an environment that we share.” And, Evelin Linder argued that Realpolitik in our globalized world no longer means what it did in the bi-polar world or in the Westphalian world.

Great powers, empires, and ideological blocs were attempts by strong leaders or national elite groups to control the world through some type of plan that would give them peace on their own terms. However, such plans have always left out others; both the other states and empires they cannot control, and many of the people they rule, who also would like to pursue life freely on their own terms.

Thus, at the end of World War II when the great powers of the time created the United Nations to prevent war between states, they did not create the conditions of “peace” from the standpoint of those people who were unable to influence policy and often suffered marginalization or oppression at the hands of those who could.

The result of changes in the world that led to the breakdown of the power arrangements of the post-World War II period is a period of international turbulence and a quest for self-determination. However, the quest for self-determination has come in two very different and competing forms of ideals of governance which papers in this issue discuss; the quest for national self-determination, and the quest for democracy.

The Quest for National Self-determination
The first article by Muzaffer Ercan Yilmaz is about “Intra-State Conflicts In The Post-Cold War Era” (p. 11). It discusses the reasons for increased intra-state conflicts in the present era, the problems caused by ethnic rivalry and competition for state resources, possible ways to help prevent such conflicts in the future, and suggestions at resolution of conflicts where they exist.

The charter of the United Nations talks about “national sovereignty” and the “self-determination of peoples” (plural). In traditional societies, the loyalty of individuals is given to others in leadership positions in exchange for some measure of group co-prosperity. Such loyalties were not given to a large, impersonal, and bureaucratic state, but to family, tribal, ethnic, and national groups. These loyalties trump individualism and democratic values and the individual pursuit of happiness—ideas not generally tolerated by the elites of such groups. These loyalties lead to the desire for a “nation-state” as opposed to a democratic state.

In a “nation-state,” the values of a particular national group impose the form of order of government. However, such a state cannot remain at peace unless all people living in that state subscribe to the beliefs and values of the ruling national group. Like democracy, the ideal of a nation-state has immense appeal in the world today, as it reflects another way to achieve one’s desired end. Unfortunately, nationalism, almost by definition, is intolerant of other values. The values of no national group have ever been considered universal values that all people can ascribe to.

The elites of national groups and the guardians of national theology and ideology assert their own versions of cultural “truth” as a form of power and control. Popes, priests, ayatollahs, sheiks, official interpreters of Marxism, Supreme Court justices, and judges all act as arbiters of truth when they issue pronouncements of what people may or may not freely do. Religious wars and wars of nationalism are both symptoms of intolerance of another group’s version of the truth. And, when truth is pronounced as totally contained in sacred documents of the group, it becomes closed-minded, and a way for the leaders of such groups to deny freedom to subordinates.

The resurgence of fundamentalism after the collapse of the bi-polar world is a return to traditional forms of knowledge control associated with the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages after the Bible was canonized and Church Councils defined official doctrines. It manifests itself in Islam among those who teach that all truth is contained in Islam and Mohammad is the last and final prophet of God. It was present among the Marxists that forbade the teaching of sociology in Russian universities in 1924 because “Marx and Lenin had given the final word in sociology.” And, it manifests in Protestant biblical fundamentalists who quote from the end of the Bible, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book” (Rev 22:18). In the modern liberal democracies, scientistic doctrines like evolution are often promoted by persons with a similar psychological closed mindedness and desire to control knowledge, even though their faith might be grounded in non-theistic beliefs.

In all these cases, the elite guardians of group faith attempt to control God, confining Him to the existing text they control, and forbidding God from revealing any new truth or speaking directly to people. They define enemies as those not in their in-group who ascribe to the same teachings, and they attempt to prohibit believers from entertaining thoughts that stray outside the boundaries of prescribed official truth.

A secular state—one that is neutral with respect to national and cultural values and truth, one that allows people to pursue happiness as they see fit, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others to do so—is a form of state in which a genuine liberal democracy can eventually emerge. However, national feelings are very strong because historically human loyalty to various social groups has provided them with the opportunities for sustenance and security.

Nevertheless, no group that promotes a truth that was defined in ages past, in a pre-industrial, pre-globalized world, is going to be blindly accepted by people who have observed or experienced other possible ways of life that look more prosperous, more fulfilling, or allow more freedom. Thus, the quest for national self-determination based on a closed truth is an attempt to create a political system that defies the laws of human history.

The Quest for Democracy
The result has been continually growing pressure to expand personal freedom, and to create political systems based on individual self-determination, where one is not coerced into a life of the prevailing orthodoxy. The idea of democracy is one of the most compelling ideas for people who have been oppressed or left out of planning, or who have a different belief about “truth,” because it symbolizes a route to the realization of their personal dreams. In the West, the Renaissance that promoted arts and sciences beyond the scope of the Church, and the Reformation which argued that individuals were personally accountable to God, led to the development of modern political thought, with an emphasis on checks and balances of power, and separation of Church and State. The Reformation emphasized personal self-control and self-direction, something which democracies require to function.

However, few, if any, states in the modern world are really democratic in the sense that they give all people a full opportunity at self-governance. There have been two approaches to the development of democracy, one is from the top down and the other from the bottom up. In England the monarchy gradually ceded enough freedom to the people to appease their own desire to pursue happiness. It is called a “liberal democracy” today even though its political structure is a democratized monarchy. Thus, the highest priorities of government are still “control,” “order,” and “peace,” and freedom and justice are given only to the extent they aid the maintenance of the institutional order.

The opposite approach, a bottom up approach to democracy, is symbolized by the United States and French revolutions against monarchy. In the United States, a Constitution was shaped by the philosophy of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It was designed as the minimum government necessary to keep social order and peace, while the freedom and justice of the individual citizen had the highest priority. While the United States is also called a “liberal democracy” today, its citizens have gradually ceded a good portion of their freedom to the new groups of economic and political elites that have gradually arisen. The states in the United States have also gradually ceded more power to the Federal Government.

These mixed forms of government from above and government from below reflect social conditions in which some people are more driven to pursue a life of their choosing, and others are more content to work for others, if they promise to care for them. Democratic freedom entails responsibility for self-sufficiency and public service. Nearly all people want freedom, but the number willing to accept such responsibility is less, and the number of those willing to accept the corresponding responsibilities, but are capable of them are fewer still. Hence, a truly liberal democracy remains only an ideal in the present world.

Our second article by Shah M. Tarzi discusses democracy and develops a distinction between “liberal democracies” and “illiberal democracies” (p. 35). Illiberal democracies tend to have democratic elections, but little else that represents democracy. They are likely not to have other freedoms, like freedom of the press, or allow citizens much influence over the political process once election occur. They are likely not to have an economically self-sufficient middle-class majority made up of self-directed citizens, knowledgeable about the political challenges of their government. Illiberal democracies are democracies in name only.

Young democracies, such as those emerging from colonialism, are often unstable and do not conform to the democratic peace theories that democracies do not go to war. Further, the democratic peace theory breaks down when we look at the history of democracies interfering in intra-state developments, when there is no natural check on their power.

We are reminded in the article, “Real Men Kill and a Lady Never Talks Back” by Lesley Pruitt (p. 85) that even in the United States, one of the historically most liberal democracies, individuals with more power in one form or another tend to use it to control national discourse, and to control other groups of people, in this case the continued promotion of cultural values in which the opinions of men are considered more relevant than those of women.

The Quest for Economic Justice
No discussion of self-determination, self-sufficiency, and human happiness can take place without developing our knowledge of the economic dimension of life. In the book review section three current books on capitalism are reviewed in detail (p. 111).

The review of Robert Reich’s Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life shows how undeveloped the modern understanding of the relationship between the government and corporate life really is. Society is composed of three sectors: the State, Commerce, and Culture (religion).

The U.S. Founding Fathers recognized serious problems associated with an official state religion. Indeed, the freedom of religion in America led to more vibrant churches and more relevant and useful religion, based on the principle that the success of a religion would depend on its own service to the people, not on the imposition of official religion through state coercion.

However, the King of England had had a monopoly on both religion and the economy. The framers of the U.S. Constitution disestablished religion, but in the area of the economy they simply outlawed the national companies of foreign governments, e.g. the Hudson’s Bay Company and the East India Company.

In early America the economy was primarily based on family farms and businesses. Each family unit was both a voting unit and an economic unit. Thus the wealth of the nation was represented by the vote. In such a world an “invisible hand” seemed to guide the economy because of the multiple checks and balances on market power. However, over time economic power was able to consolidate and there were no rules to guide its growth.

There was no serious federal involvement in the commercial sector until the development of railroads, large capital intensive corporations that crossed state lines, and the steel industry and heavy industry that followed at the time of the Civil War. Similar to the way religious and cultural leaders have attempted to exert power over others through the control of knowledge, the captains of industry and government have attempted to control the economic power that developed with capitalism for their own social ends at the expense of others.

The relationship between large businesses and government that developed in the United States has seen attempts by corporations to use economic influence to secure government favors that would further enhance their power, attempts by government officials to tax corporations, or create state controlled businesses that would enhance their own power, and the collusion between government officials and specific corporations and industries—at the expense of the general population. Incidentally, Thomas Jefferson wanted such protections written into the Bill of Rights but lost them in negotiations with the Hamiltonians.

There has never developed a genuine impartial disestablishment of commerce with fair laws that keep industry at arm’s length from government, as was the case for religion. We have a situation analogous to a football game in which the rules are made up play by play and many of the referees are on the take.

Robert Looney’s review essay of The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World by Alan Greenspan and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein provides us with a glimpse of how the “haves” and the “have nots” continue to view the world through spectacles that reflect their own position in the world, rather than seeing from a perspective that would lead to the amelioration of the complaints against the stereotypes held by both sides.

Economic capital, like knowledge, is essential to the development of self-sufficiency upon which prosperous societies can be built. Economic power, like political power, is something that can either be consolidated and used to control others for one’s own ends, or it can be organized for the freedom of all to pursue their own ends through fair rules of the game.

The amount of lobbying by churches and corporations is proportional to the amount their lobbyists believe they can influence government to give them some preferential treatment. In a nutshell, clear and fair rules would greatly reduce corporate lobbying, and would give elected representatives more time to spend on real issues of concern to all citizens. In a football game, one can challenge the referee’s decisions through an instant replay. So too, the judicial system ought to allow a review of government decisions; but like referees, the judges must understand the rules and enforce them evenly.

The Quest for Peace
No political problems are more difficult than building states where none have existed, or rebuilding them after bitter war and genocide. Peace in the Middle East is the subject of Mark Barry’s essay on William B. Quandt’s Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967 (3rd ed.). Peace on the Korean peninsula is the topic of Vipan Chandra’s commentary titled “Korea for Koreans” (p. 107). Both of these conflicts were created as a result of international actors and actions taken from outside supposedly “for” the well-being of the inhabitants. They both discuss recent major international meetings: the inter-Korean Summit of October 4 and Annapolis Mideast conference of November 27.

As is the case for many attempts by a minority group to create peace on behalf of all, the road to hell can be paved with good intentions. A system whereby the actual citizens, stakeholders, and objects of such decisions are allowed feedback about their own future is important. Of course, as discussed above, they may not be agreed upon whether they seek a nationalist or a democratic ideal.

Quest for a sustainable environment
Finally, is a very interesting article from Hall Healy on the very unusual situation where natural wildlife habitat in the Korean DMZ has been allowed to develop without human presence for the last 50 years (p. 61). A peaceful world is not possible without a natural world that can provide human necessities. The official state of war that has existed between North and South Korea since 1953 has allowed an important ecosystem to develop and to become pristine. It may provide clues to the development of a sustainable world and, he argues, should be preserved before peace on the Korean peninsula returns the area to human occupation.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*