The Long View 2003-03-15: The Great White Whale

The most interesting part of this post is John's characterization of statehood in the early twenty-first century:

Harris argues that the current (classical) Liberal order of sovereign states is essentially a subsidy system. The privileges of sovereignty were designed for polities that were economically viable, that could police their interiors, and that could defend themselves. Today, however, these privileges are distributed without distinction to entities that are "states" only in an honorific sense. The result is fantasy: cabals of tribal leaders who plot like mountain bandits under the protection of sovereign immunity.

Unfortunately, many of the states with which we have become involved in during the past 15 years are precisely this: arbitrary constructs that are granted statehood from the outside.

The Great White Whale
Regular readers of The New York Times will know that the the illegitimacy of the Bush Administration has been columnist Paul Krugman's chief preoccupation since the Administration took office. Krugman has never been very particular about the content of his polemic against Bush. He went through a long period in which he argued that the Administration was a tool of the Enron corporation, until enough people pointed out that the Clinton Administration, and Krugman himself, had as much to do with Enron as Bush & Company did. Sometimes the bee in his bonnet buzzes to him about the president's Evangelical-Christian support, sometimes about the Administration's proposed tax cuts (where Krugman actually has a case). His most recent column, George W. Queeg, gives the impression that something in his head has finally snapped.
In a classic instance of psychological projection, he begins by asking:
"Aboard the U.S.S. Caine, it was the business with the strawberries that finally convinced the doubters that something was amiss with the captain. Is foreign policy George W. Bush's quart of strawberries?"
Well, no, but it is pretty clear that George W. Bush has become Krugman's White Whale. Krugman's obsession is impervious to experience. He is still asking why the president is not focusing on North Korea. A Baathist Iraq freed from sanctions, which would quickly follow if the Administration backs down now, would be North Korea's best nuclear customer. Additionally, the behavior of the US in the Mideast now will determine how seriously North Korea will regard US pressure later this year. Iraq and North Korea are the same crisis.
I gather that this "Queeg" business is going to be a key anti-Bush talking point. One of the talking heads on last night's Washington Week already gave a garbled account of the thesis. Krugman asserts: "There's a long list of pundits who previously supported Bush's policy on Iraq but have publicly changed their minds." He does not name these people. From other sources, though, I gather that the term is "Hawks Who Baulked." One might wonder what the point of these polemics at this point may be, but it's not simply malice. People like Krugman have moved on from trying to prevent the removal of Saddam's government. Now they are moving their attention to sabotaging the larger strategy of which the Iraq campaign is a part.
* * *
Moving from the ridiculous, let us consider the sublime, or at any rate some thing worth listening to. Thanks to Ian McCreath for bringing this essay to my attention: Our World Historical Gamble, by Lee Harris of Tech Central Station.
Coming from me, this is not a criticism, but the piece does wax a bit apocalyptic:
"The war with Iraq will constitute one of those momentous turning points of history in which one nation under the guidance of a strong-willed, self-confident leader undertakes to alter the fundamental state of the world. It is, to use the language of Hegel, an event that is world-historical in its significance and scope. And it will be world-historical, no matter what the outcome may be."
That could well be true, but even if it isn't, there is something to be said for any argument that links George W. Bush to Hegel.
Harris argues that the current (classical) Liberal order of sovereign states is essentially a subsidy system. The privileges of sovereignty were designed for polities that were economically viable, that could police their interiors, and that could defend themselves. Today, however, these privileges are distributed without distinction to entities that are "states" only in an honorific sense. The result is fantasy: cabals of tribal leaders who plot like mountain bandits under the protection of sovereign immunity.
The implication is that this subsidy of morbid fantasy has become too costly, in the sense of creating intolerable security risks. It will be replaced by something Harris calls "neo-sovereignty." He has not quite worked out what this will be, but then neither has anyone else.
* * *
When things settle down a bit, I will try to include more items about the paranormal and generally strange. In the meantime, though, you can satisfy your surrealism needs with this interview with Hans Blix. The chief UN weapons inspector thinks things like this:
"To me the question of the environment is more ominous than that of peace and war. We will have regional conflicts and use of force, but world conflicts I do not believe will happen any longer. But the environment, that is a creeping danger. I'm more worried about global warming than I am of any major military conflict."
A man's anxieties are his privilege, of course. Still, you can't help but wonder: why is he in his current line of work?
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2002-09-05: Parasitic Globalism

The strangest thing about the transnational progressives 10 years ago, and the social media justice warriors today, is their strange client-patron relationship with business. If Fortune 500 companies stopped supporting this kind of thing, it would quickly evaporate. It would be easy to point to government pressure as the critical factor here, but I think there is something else.

The one thing the tranzies couldn't, and the SMJW can't, actually do is bring a corporation to its knees. If they tried, a nasty self-defense reaction would set in, and then nobody would be happy. Sure, you get a sacrificial goat from time to time, like Brendan Eich, but it is never anyone really important in the business world, and never all that many. Do you really think the executive class of America is gung-ho for the progressive cause of the week? There is a kind of perverse sense in this, because all of this really does provide an important social safety valve/smokescreen that allows for business as usual. It is just a cost of doing business.

The American left's progressive movement is broader based than the transnational progressives, but it lacks truly popular support. As such, it has power, but isn't really a threat to the status quo. What is a threat? To judge by the behavior of the wealthy and powerful, it is this:

PEGIDANigel FarageAmerican militias at Bundy Ranch

It is fine if you hound someone from their job for their political opinions, but God forbid the hoi polloi express their dissatisfaction in the polling booth.

Parasitic Globalism

Once upon a time, everyone knew that the great and small states of "Germany" needed to be hooked up. For about two generations in the 19th century, between the end of the Holy Roman Empire and the beginning of Bismarck's, liberal democrats tried to do this through consensus, negotiation, and subversion. It didn't work; the problem of order was finally solved by force and acquiescence

The global system seems to be taking a similar trajectory. This is the real significance of events like the World Summit for Sustainable Development, which ended this week. Media commentators are full of praise for the practical approach taken by the conferees, especially as represented in the Final Statement. In fact, what seems to have happened is that the international environmental and social-welfare activists have entered into the sort of patron-client relationship with industry that characterizes much of the domestic politics of the West these days, particularly in Europe. This means that the activists will rarely be seen trying to close down whole industries. It also means that they will receive subsidies that will make them immortal.

In some ways, this is a step forward; the totalitarian tone that characterized the Rio Summit of 1992 has been mitigated. The pure looter element was still present, of course. Claims were made at the Summit that hunger, particularly in southern Africa, is caused by the liberal economic order. However, the claims were made in part by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, whose country is the most perfect example in the world today of hunger caused by aggresively bad government.

The people who attend meetings like the Summit represent international civil society, a small population that exists largely but not exclusively in the developed West. It consists of foreign policy bureaucrats, academics, businessmen, and the representatives of not-for-profit organizations. Writing in American Diplomacy, John Fonte has described the characteristic ideology of these people as "transnational progressivism." We may note that such people are sometimes derisively called "tranzies," but I will forbear to use the term. For now.

Transnational progressivism is post-democratic. It seeks to implement a new, global environmental and cultural regime, whether majorities can ever be found to support the agenda or not. Indeed, it seeks out international forums precisely because the agenda experiences relatively little success in domestic politics. It is therefore naturally anti-national. It supports group rights and opposes the assimilation of immigrants. It interprets "fairness" to mean the distribution of social goods in proportion to the size of recognized social groups, most of which are defined as victim groups. It goes without saying that it is anti-American. For its American adherents, it is a post-American identity.

Fonte goes on to suggest that transnational progressivism could eventually defeat liberal democracy, whatever Francis Fukuyama says. It is, after all, "modern" too, and maybe modernity still has some evolving to do.

I think perhaps this does transnational progressivism too much honor. It is, after all, a loser ideology. As we have seen, the "transnational" element comes in only because the progressive agenda has been largely rejected by democratic electorates, and indeed by most non-democratic regimes, too. What we are dealing with here is a corrupt fragment of liberal democracy, the worldview of reactionary social-welfare bureaucracies and environmental jihadists. Though it is a persistent feature of domestic politics, its role can never be more than parasitic. It is capable of impairing necessary governmental functions, such as law enforcement and education, but experience has shown that it is not impossible to reduce its influence.

Transnational progressivism has fastened onto the nascent institutions of the international system and is draining them of life. The primary practical interest of its adherents has always been patronage, which might not in itself be unmanageable. The problem is that it has hijacked the concept of international law, by reinterpreting it as the hortatory measures enunciated by unelected and irresponsible global conferences. When these exhortations are embodied in multilateral treaties, that simply undermines the seriousness which has traditionally been accorded to treaties.

We are entering a period in which most necessary measures for the maintenance of world order will be made "lawlessly," because the institutions that might make the necessary law are in the hands of a tranzie rabble. There: tranzie; I said it and I'm glad.

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The Long View 2002-07-05: The International Criminal Court

Partly as a matter of personality, and partly as a matter of profession, I care very much about the letter of the law. Thus I find myself very sympathetic to John's legal reading of the Rome Statue that governs the International Criminal Court. Since I am not a lawyer, I have no opinion on the technical merits of his argument.

As an interested amateur, I find this a very fascinating subject, and I wish I knew more. I do find John's characterization of the UN General Assembly convincing: most of the countries in the world owe their existence to how tiresome their more powerful neighbors found it to govern them, than any kind of natural right. If the most powerful countries leave behind ethnic nationhood for universal states, you can expect this to become less true.

The International Criminal Court



I read the Rome Statute that governs the Court, and that went into effect on July 1. It's the damnedest thing. The Court is its own little legal universe. It not only has its own criminal statutes (for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the still to be defined crime of "aggression"), but its own rules of statutory construction, plus the the Court's structure and sources of funding. At 29,000 words in the English version, the Rome Statute is almost three times the length of the US federal Constitution, but then the US Constitution is notoriously short. Besides, the US Constitution does not cover as much ground.

The International Criminal Court is tricameral. With just 18 judges to start with, one chamber in effect operates as a grand jury, another as a trial court, and a third as a court of appeals. The Court is supposed to be funded by assessments on the states adhering to the treaty. Those states are also supposed to volunteer prison facilities for persons convicted and sentenced by the Court. The Statute seems to imply that the host country, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, will pick up the institutional expenses if no one else will. Moreover, the Statute specifically allows for donations from private persons and organizations, and even for volunteer staff. It is possible to imagine that the Court could be freed of budgetary constraints by foundations and NGOs.

The Court's Prosecutor can initiate proceedings himself, or complaints can be made by a state that is a party to the treaty, or by the UN Security Council. The key to jurisdiction is that the acts alleged to fall within the Court's purview must have happened within a party state, or the actions in question must have happened to the citizens of a paty state. The defendants can be anybody, anywhere. There are no enforcement mechanisms of any kind, but the party states are required to comply in the matter of extradition and service of process.

The parties to the Statute constitute the Assembly that oversees the court. Sixty signatories were necessary to bring the Statute into effect. Among the current signers, many of the world's middle-sized countries are represented, principally from Europe, plus Australia and New Zealand. However, none of the world's large countries have ratified the Statute, except for Brazil and Nigeria. We should remember that the count of sovereign entities in the early 21st century runs to nearly 200. Most of them have populations smaller than that of a middle-sized Asian city. In other words, most of the members of the Assembly represent "rotten boroughs."

The UN Secretary General has some administrative functions with regard to the Court. The Statute contemplates that the Assembly can meet at the UN Headquarters in New York, annually or more often if necessary. The drafters apparently contemplated that the Assembly of the Court would eventually become coincident with the UN General Assembly. (Israel has ratified the Statute, by the way, perhaps in the hope that its membership in the Court's Assembly will redress its second-class status in the UN.)

Most important changes to the Statute, including modification of its criminal law and the Court's structure, require a two-thirds majority in the Court's Assembly. In effect, the Assembly is a parliament empowered to legislate some features of international law. This would be new, if anyone takes it seriously

As for the law and the procedure of the Court, there are few points that would strike a Common Law jurist as extraordinary. In fact, with its attention to questions like burden of proof and self-incrimination, the Statute seems designed to mollify Anglo-Saxon misgivings. There are some eccentricities. For instance, double jeopardy seems to apply in full force only to decisions of the Court itself. Judgments by national courts can be reviewed by the International Court, to see whether international law was applied adequately. Moreover, the Court's Prosecutor can appeal an acquittal from the Court's trial division to its appellate division, even on matters of fact. This is only to be expected in a system without jury trials; judges in Common Law countries are far more willing to second guess other judges than they are juries.

From what I know of the subject, the Statute gives a reasonable statement of the principles of international law in the areas within its purview. To the extent there is any innovation, the Statute is fair about it; the Court's jurisdiction covers only acts committed after the Statue came into effect at the beginning of this month. Of course, as I have noted, the Statute does put international law up for grabs in a novel way.

Reading the Statute does not answer the question: what is this? The idea of a criminal court without a police force is ludicrous. The Statute makes ordinary statecraft impossible. Although the Prosecutor has some discretion about whether to bring a case or not, his discretion is defined with regard for the personal situations of the victims and the alleged perpetrators. The Statute revokes the traditional principle of sovereign immunity, but nowhere did the drafters make the tiniest acknowledgment that prosecuting heads of state and military personnel is unlike prosecuting domestic defendants. There is a provision allowing the Security Council to order the Prosecutor to defer a trial or investigation for a year, but that does not remedy the basic problem. One simply does not arrest a head of state, one negotiates with him. Failing that, one makes war on him. For the Court to do any good, it must be subordinate to some executive body capable of conducting politics and diplomacy.

The UN Security Council would serve nicely as the responsible executive, and in fact that is what the United States has been insisting on all along. Without some such mechanism, international law will be set at odds with international order. The Court and its Statute as currently constituted should be ignored to death.

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