The Long View: God's Plan for America

It is never prudent to completely dismiss the suggestion that the purpose of your life to serve as a warning to others. It may not be a leading hypothesis, but it is a possible one.

That being said, this essay contains John J. Reilly’s reflections on how Christians ought to relate to politics. This essay is brief, but only because John included most of his thought by reference, rather than repeating things he had already said.

Like all of us, John had particular political commitments and preferences, but I think he pointed toward something bigger than his party affiliation here.

God's Plan for America

That's the title of a column by Vox Day (hat tip to Brainbiter) where we read in part:

I do find it peculiar that there are so many people who make national politics a central part, if not the central point, of their theology. And I'm saying this as a member of the Christian right by blood; when Ralph Reed was in town with the Christian Coalition, he stayed at my parent's house.

Consider the state of the seven deadly sins in America...

There is, I suspect, an unconscious stream of omniderigence underlying the concept of divine American exceptionalism. Either God has inordinately blessed America because of the unique qualities of her inhabitants or because He has a special plan for America. The problem with the first possibility should be obvious in light of the character and behavior of said inhabitants; the problem with the latter is that it requires believing that the Christian God is responsible for the death of millions of unborn children, the establishment of transnational globalism and Paris Hilton.

Wise words (particularly "omniderigence"). One might point out that the United States could have been providentially preordained as an Awful Example, but I rather doubt that to be the case.

I see two issues.

The first is the status of politics and government in a Christian framework. I don't really find this problematical: all government is a divine institution, in the sense that legitimate authority comes from above. That by no means implies that all governments are or should be theocracies. However, there is a sacred, not merely prudential, obligation to participate in public life and not make a nuisance of yourself. Patriotism is a virtue. Get over it.

On the other hand, patriotism is not analytically the expression of the highest political loyalty. (In many eras in may be the highest available, of course). The common humanity of the human race implies natural standards of just treatment, which, as the human race interacts on a broader and broader scale, implies the establishment of ever more universal structures to ensure these standards. Dante famously argued that only a universal government could be altogether legitimate. The Catholic Church, after having skewered Dante (posthumously) for his inordinate affection for the Holy Roman Empire, has come around to an oddly similar point of view, in the sense that doctrine today asserts that certain sovereign prerogatives must, in the modern world, be reserved to supranational authorities.

This presents us with the second issue: the relationship between theodicy and macrohistory. If you accept that there is a tendency toward global unity, does that make the process a divine imperative? Contrariwise, is there an imperative to oppose it? (As C.S. Lewis once remarked, just because you have terminal cancer is no reason to be on the tumor's side.) For my part, I would suggest that this question tends to generate much the sort of category mistake that we see in sacralized environmentalism: anything as big as history or the atmosphere is presumed to be a theater of miracle and moral absolute.

Nonetheless, there is an level of loyalty that is ordinate to the ideal universal empire that Dante envisioned. For St. Augustine in the final generation of the Roman Empire, this loyalty was the highest form of patriotism he knew. Similarly, it would be possible to make the argument that some form of globalization merits devotion of this order, since the universal empire is also a divine institution, though most of the time it exists only virtually.

If you accept the neo-Spenglerian hypothesis that the United States is going to play the same role in the modern world that Rome did in Classical antiquity and Qin did in ancient China, then you might be able to formulate "God's Plan for America" in terms of the providential formation of a universal state at the end of the modern era; however, this development would be "providential" only at the level of natural providence, not as a matter of divine election.

In other words, somebody had to do it.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-10-23: American Nadir; Empire; Art; Indult; Thanatophobia

I would concur with John Reilly here that a sung Mass, whether High or Low, is a remarkable experience. There are a variety of sung settings for the Mass, in both the ordinary and extraordinary forms, by well-known composers. It is unfortunately difficult to find one in practice. I had the good fortune to participate in a Mass in Vienna that was a Mozart arrangement.

American Nadir; Empire; Art; Indult; Thanatophobia

A Nadir of American Power is the way The Washington Post describes the current state of things:

In Iraq, things get ever uglier, and the old remedy of extra troops now seems tragically futile...Iraq is often seen as a special Rumsfeldian screw-up. But in Afghanistan, the Bush team quickly handed off to a model pro-Western leader backed by a broad NATO coalition. And what are the results there? ...It would be nice if this merely proved that tough talk can backfire. But traditional diplomacy is faring no better. In North Korea and Iran, the United States has tried every diplomatic trick to prevent nuclear proliferation, making common cause with Western Europe, Russia, China and Japan, and wielding both sticks and carrots. ...Now Russia's pro-Western voices are being snuffed out, ...In Somalia, a Taliban-style group of Islamic militants has seized part of the country. ...Sudan's tin-pot dictator thumbs his nose at Uncle Sam and dispatches more death squads.

And as if that were not enough:

[T]he United States has several economic frailties and can't seem to address any of them. Every honest politician knows that entitlement spending on retirees is going to bust the budget....Every honest politician knows that support for globalization is fraying because of rising inequality at home....In fact, it's hard to name a single creative policy that has political legs in Washington. ...I'm not predicting the end of the American era, not by a long shot. The U.S. business culture is as pragmatic and effective as its political culture is dysfunctional. But has there been a worse moment for American power since Ronald Reagan celebrated morning in America almost a quarter of a century ago? I can't think of one.

The comparison with the situation just before the Reagan Administration is instructive, but chiefly because of the differences. The US was not just suffering foreign-policy reverses in those days: it was apparently losing the long-term strategic contest with the USSR. In the 1970s, the "economic frailties" were not merely potential. The country was becoming accustomed to nearly Latin American levels of inflation, which mysteriously were occurring at the same time as high unemployment and economic stagnation. The centers of major cities were in ruins after more than a decade of abandonment and sporadic race riots. Needle-shaped warcraft from the Pegasus Galaxy swooped down over suburban streets and abducted pedestrians who were never seen again.

I made that last part up.

What is different this time is that the problem is not so much an enemy, or even a constellation of enemies, but entropy. Consider the issues connected with North Korea and Iran and the Sudan. If the US is flubbing them, then the world is flubbing them, too.

Well, these turbulent bits don't last forever.

* * *

Orson Scott Card, as we see in his upcoming book, Empire, seems to have gotten the memo about the Hellenistic Analogy:

[W]hat Torrent was saying about America and empire made perverse sense. While the other students sidetracked themselves into a discussion about whether Torrent's statements were "conservative" or "liberal," "reactionary" or "politically correct," Reuben could not shake off Torrent's premise -- that America was not in the place Rome was in before it fell, but rather in the place where Rome was before civil war destroyed the Republic and led to the dictatorship of the Caesars.

I can only repeat, though, that there is a fundamental difference between a national empire and a universal state.

* * *

Art Weekend ended yesterday here in Downtown Jersey City. Helium balloons and numbered signs marked the stoops of the houses where artists have their studios. Visitors from New York, for the most part black-clad men and unusually tall women, followed maps about the district from numbered location to numbered location.

The one confusing point about this otherwise admirable procedure is that the displays the artists put out to mark their studios were not so different from the displays that realtors put out to attract people to an Open House to view a property for sale. I could not help but wonder whether unscrupulous realtors misidentified their properties as Houses of Art, so that people who came to view the last word in neo-ironic pointillism would find themselves asked to consider the merits of a four-story walkup just 5 minutes from Manhattan.

* * *

My local parish may get some press coverage when the Vatican issues the new rules that ease restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine Mass: we have been doing it long enough that we have more or less got it right by now. The latest rumors say that the new rules will actually create a right to the old Mass in any parish where 20 people ask for it, provided the local bishop has not specifically forbidden it.

Frankly, I have never been very keen on creating a right to anything unless you are also creating a supply. The problem is not so much the lack of priests as the lack of the cultural infrastructure needed to do the Latin liturgy right. As a matter of preference, though not of principle, I would say that the Latin Mass is not worth doing unless it is sung, and for that you need a decent schola. Organizing a schola is not intrinsically difficult, but it is beyond the capacity of most parishes today. The fact is that the typical parish music ministry is ideologically committed to sing-along choirs at maximum amplification. The result of the new indult could be a lot of dry-as-dust, unsung, Low Masses: very quick, but not very nutritious.

* * *

Thanatophobia continues to spread, with Max Brooks demonizing Differently Animated Americans in a way that recalls the militant intolerance of Mark Steyn. First it was The Zombie Survival Guide, and now we have World War Z. Throughout the media, in fact, irresponsible persons continue to encourage violence against the Differently Animated. No judicial hearing, no habeas corpus: a quick shot in the brain is the only due process that interests these bigots. Their unthinking discrimination between the living and the undead is an affront to the principle of inclusion. Putting an end to beating-heart privilege will be the final frontier in equal protection of the law.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-07-16: Bulletin Board; World War III; Progressive Realism; Spelling Reform Summer

The bulletin board that John Reilly set up in 2006 did end up being a major feature of his website. It featured lively discussion for a number of years. It was on that board that I first conceived of archiving and restoring John's writings after his death, since the bulletin board coasted on autopilot for some time after John mysteriously stopped posting.

Robert Wright  By The original uploader was Cardsplayer4life at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0,

Robert Wright

By The original uploader was Cardsplayer4life at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0,

I am also quite interested to read Robert Wright's foreign policy suggestions from 2006 in the New York Times. I find some things I really like about his suggestions, and a few ideas that have turned out not to be so. For example:

Yes, the Chinese government could probably reverse the growth in popular expression of the past two decades, but only by severely restricting information technologies that are prerequisites for prosperity. Meanwhile, notwithstanding dogged efforts at repression, political pluralism in China is growing.

China has clamped down quite effectively on both the Internet and political pluralism, with no obvious effect on economic growth. At least yet.

Wright also makes a point that John Reilly often made: political systems expand to cover the range of the economy. The same dynamic that produced federalization via the Commerce clause is likely to push for some kind of universal state in the next century or so, covering the developed bits of the world.

Bulletin Board; World War III; Progressive Realism; Spelling Reform Summer


Bulletin Board: Please note this new feature of the website. The link is above, to the right. I am not now requiring registration, but you might want to register anyway, in case I have to tighten access in the future.

This is my third attempt at greater interactivity. No doubt it is the charm. Yes.

* * *

Regarding the current unpleasantness in the Middle East, we have no reason to doubt that they will just bury the archduke and everything will be back to normal by September. That's what happens, 99 times out of 100. On that 100th occasion, of course, something worse than the worst imaginable happens. Could the war between Israel and Hizbollah be one of those occasions?

That seems to be the opinion of former Speaker of the House (and current presidential aspirant) Newt Gingrich, of whom we read this in The Seattle Times:

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich says America is in World War III and President Bush should say so. In an interview in Bellevue this morning Gingrich said Bush should call a joint session of Congress the first week of September and talk about global military conflicts in much starker terms than have been heard from the president.

...He lists wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, this week's bomb attacks in India, North Korean nuclear threats, terrorist arrests and investigations in Florida, Canada and Britain, and violence in Israel and Lebanon as evidence of World War III. He said Bush needs to deliver a speech to Congress and "connect all the dots" for Americans.

He said the reluctance to put those pieces together and see one global conflict is hurting America's interests.

War all over the world is not the same as a world war. The difference between the Middle East now and during the 1970s and '80s is that, today, it is hard to tease a world war out of the Middle East. The major local power is Iran, and though it has international supporters, or at least defenders, no major power is willing to fight for it. In fact, despite all the talk about realignment against the United States, the interesting thing is that Russia, and China, and the EU have been willing, indeed eager, to punt these issues to Washington. Only if the major powers of the world lined up on different sides could we have a proper world war.

* * *

Robert Wright has a new model, or what he imagines is a new model, for foreign policy. It chimes well enough with his well-thought model of history. He applied it today's New York Times:

It’s now possible to build a foreign policy paradigm that comes close to squaring the circle — reconciling the humanitarian aims of idealists with the powerful logic of realists. And adopting this paradigm could make the chaos of the last week less common in the future.

Every paradigm needs a name, and the best name for this one is progressive realism. The label has a nice ring (Who is against progress?)

I like "progressive," too, but one might point out that the term was hijacked by Stalinists in the 1930s and never lost the undertone of duplicity it gained from the connection. In any case, Wright suggests that we restore and reinforce the authority of the multilateral structures that come to us from the post-World War II era. He particularly laments the loss of authority of the UN:

The administration’s misjudgment in Iraq highlights the distinction — sometimes glossed over by neoconservatives — between transparency and regime change. Had we held off on invasion, demanding in return that United Nations inspections be expanded and extended, we could have rendered Iraq transparent, confirming that it posed no near-term threat. Regime change wasn’t essential.

Let us put aside the fact that everyone in the UN who had anything to do with the sanctions regime on Iraq seems to have been on the take. I can only express astonishment that Wright has not taken on board the fact that the same post-invasion inspections that found no weapons of mass destruction also found that Iraq planned to go back into the WMD business as soon as the sanctions were lifted. That would have happened as soon as UN weapons inspectors satisfied themselves that there were no WMDs in Baathist Iraq. One might argue that such an outcome would be better than the current situation. Be that as it may, one of the features of that alternative outcome would have been the total discrediting of the UN system: UN involvement would have been see to neutralize the result of the Coalition victory of 1991. In other words, there was no way the UN could have come through the Iraq crisis with credit.

Still hoping to goad the dead horse into action, Wright makes this recommendation:

We need multilateral structures capable of decisively forceful intervention and nation building — ideally under the auspices of the United Nations, which has more global legitimacy than other candidates. America should lead in building these structures and thereafter contribute its share, but only its share. To some extent, the nurturing of international institutions and solid international law is simple thrift.

I know this must sound like American chauvinism, but the fact is that any recipe for world order that involves treating the US like any other country is just not going to work.

What has been happening since the turn of the century is that the post-World War II international system is falling apart. Anti-Americanism is just a reflection of that. Actually, the situation that Speaker Gingrich calls a world war is even worse than he describes. Among the other things that are now acutely different from 1950 is the demographic situation: the Voelkerwanderungen from the South into the US and EU are also part of the emergency.

And those who say, "What a shame that we do not have better leadership in this crisis," misunderstand what kind of thing it is. Many grinding tectonic plates are producing volcanoes in this historical transition, but one of the greatest faultlines runs straight through the center of American politics.

* * *

I continue to track the commentary regarding the Spelling Reform Summer of 2006 (in part, perhaps, so I don't have to project what happens if it it turns into the Nuking of Mecca Summer of 2006). Over at The Lexicographer's Rules, we find this old chestnut:

Any advocate of drastic spelling reform must have an insufficient understanding of just how differently English is spoken in the various groups that contribute to our various American English dialects.

I answered the point there (which I otherwise find a congenial site). I can deal with misunderstandings of that order, but I have no patience for the sort of willful ignorance we find at Campus Report Online:

Ef u kan reed this, u must saport tha simplefied speling system. If you couldn’t read the previous statement due to typographical errors, you must be for the current spelling system, which is as strong as ever before.

No doubt. In any case, if you would like to use the American Literacy Council's Soundspel system, you can download the macros here. Please note that it is phonics teaching software. One may use it for illustrative purposes in discussions of spelling reform, but not even its greatest fans say that it is a mature upgrade for English orthography .

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-10-04: Marvin the Paranoid Android

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

In a major break from John, I really liked the movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and hated the book. My wife suggested the problem was that I tried to read it as an adult, and since the book is literally sophomoric, you really need to first approach it as a teenager or college student. If only I had known!

Marvin the Paranoid Android


I knew it was going to be bad, but I did not think it was going to be this bad. Well, maybe I did. I got around last weekend to seeing the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I stutter in my eagerness to spew invective.

Appalling. Dreadful. Any idiot could make Marvin into a metallic Care Bear, as the makers of this film did, but it took a special attention to detail to botch the orchestration of Journey of the Sorcerer. The signature misstep in this maladaptation is the large prominence given the Vogons. Vogons are not interesting. Two Vogons are less interesting than one Vogon. This film spent a large slice of a generous special-effects budget to realize armies of them.

What is the moral here? When the BBC did their pitch-perfect version of this story many years ago, their single largest budget item seems to have been the cost of Arthur Dent's towel. Nothing ruins the cinematization of fantasy more than the financing of the producer and director beyond their intelligence.

* * *

And that goes double for the nomination of Harriet Miers to the United States Supreme Court.

Shall we be clear on a few issues? Roe v. Wade is a done deal. I don't think that any informed person doubts that it will be overturned. The political class is just positioning itself to accommodate the change. The smarter Democrats know that the prospects for their party will increase markedly when this incubus is taken off them; the Republicans know that a large fraction of their profession-class women voters are libertarians in this matter and so are going to need placating, which will take the form of acquiescence in a liberal abortion regime created by legislation. Both parties, for now, have to continue to embrace the opposite of these realities, but in a few years we will forget which party was on which side.

The cause for outrage here is that the president appointed his personal attorney to the Supreme Court. It is not important that she has never been a judge. What is important is that she's a political hack of no academic distinction and with a narrow range of professional experience. Her chief qualification is dog-loyalty to the person of George Bush.

Frankly, I have been surprised by the caution of the Democrats in reacting to this nomination. The opposition of the Republican base is surprising, too, but chiefly for its cluelessness. Of course this sockpuppet will vote for Movement Conservative issues. The problem is that, when the constitutional changes come, they will come from a court without dignity or credibility, like the Florida Supreme Court in the election of 2000.

* * *

Do you call that an empire? So asks Spengler at Asia Times in his review of Robert Kaplan's Imperial Grunts : The American Military on the Ground. We read:

Robert Kaplan of the Atlantic Monthly longs to be the American Rudyard Kipling, the chronicler of the intrepid subalterns and leathery sergeants who save the empire through pluck and grit.

Alas for Mr. Kaplan, the US military really shows no sign of turning into an imperial military, if by that you mean the militaries of the 19th-century colonial powers. And why is this?

To begin with, the 10,000 or so Special Forces in the US Army are the wrong sort of people: tattooed, tobacco-chewing, iron-pumping Southerners, clever at improvised repairs or minor surgery in the field, and deadly in firefights (although Kaplan never sees one), but without the cultural skills essential to their mission.

He has a point. The American military simply cannot get its act together in the matter of learning foreign languages, for instance. It can build public infrastructure but has little interest in governance. Actually, the officer corps is remarkably intelligent, even well-read, but it works well only with local people who have the same technocratic mindset.

For anyone interested in developing the contrast between the militaries of the 19th and 21st centuries, you might take a look at this piece in Prospect (brought to my attention by Danny Yee), which deplores the passing of the sort of liberal-arts mandarin who used to manage the British empire: From the American founders, Macaulay, Acton, and Mill to de Tocqueville, Guizot, Weber and Ortega y Gasset, the conservative liberals of western Europe and North America feared that universal suffrage would produce "mobocracy." But the nightmare of mass democracy never fully materialised, in large part because of the political and cultural role of the mandarinate, the "new class" of Marxist and neoconservative social theory, the Bildungsbürgertum (cultured middle class) as opposed to the Besitzbürgertum (propertied middle class)....All of this now lies in ruins. Four sources of authority are invoked to fill the vacuum left by the decline of the modern humanism that legitimated the mandarinate: professionalism, positivism, populism and religion.

As for lamentations that America is failing to play the Great Game, I can only repeat that these criticisms are misplaced. The United States is not trying to run a 19th-century empire. It is trying to function as a utility in an incipient Universal State. And look at the flack we get.

* * *

On the topic of Universal States, these remarks by Mark Steyn on the deep reasons for the latest Bali bombings state an important misconception:

Bassam Tibi, a Muslim professor at Gottingen University in Germany, said in an interesting speech a few months after September 11, "Both sides should acknowledge candidly that although they might use identical terms, these mean different things to each of them. The word peace, for example, implies to a Muslim the extension of the Dar al-Islam -- or House of Islam -- to the entire world. This is completely different from the Enlightenment concept of eternal peace that dominates Western thought. Only when the entire world is a Dar al-Islam will it be a Dar a-Salam, or House of Peace."

That's why they blew up Bali in 2002, and last weekend, and why they'll keep blowing it up. It's not about Bush or Blair or Iraq or Palestine. It's about a world where everything other than Islamism lies in ruins.

In reality, Kant's Perpetual Peace and the peace of a universal caliphate Islam are both expressions of the archetype of the Necessary Empire.

* * *

On the matter of misconceptions about evolution, see the essay Stephen M. Barr in the October issue of First Things, "The design of evolution," which answers with some recent attempts to cloud the perfectly satisfactory Catholic position on the matter:

So why did Christoph Schönborn, the cardinal archbishop of Vienna, lash out this summer at neo-Darwinism? In an opinion piece for the New York Times on July 7, he reacted indignantly to the suggestion that “the Catholic Church has no problem with the notion of” evolution “as used by mainstream biologists – that is, synonymous with neo-Darwinism. Brushing off the 1996 statement of John Paul II as “vague and unimportant,” he cited other evidence (including statements by the late pope, sentences from Communion and Stewardship and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and a line from the Pope Benedict XVI's installation homily) to make the case that neo-Darwinism is in fact incompatible with catholic teaching...Elsewhere in his article, however, the cardinal is another definition: “evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense [is] an unguided, unplanned process of random variation in natural selection.”...[In reality, the] word “random” as used in science does not mean unplanned, or inexplicable; it means uncorrelated.

Elsewhere in this piece, Barr mentions Simon Conway Morris's argument in Life's Solution as a model in which randomness is compatible with meaning.

* * *

And speaking of First Things, the website now has a blog-like entity on the top page. It is not supposed to be a proper blog, I gather. It may be intended to serve as a place to which the journal's fanatical readers can refer if something really bad happens in the world and they cannot wait until the next issue of the print journal to get the party line.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: On Tyranny

Leo Strauss

Leo Strauss

Alexandre Kojève

Alexandre Kojève

Political philosophy is my favorite after natural philosophy. The question of how we are to order our lives together is perennially interesting, although most people probably prefer a less theoretical approach

Leo Strauss is also fascinating because of his association with the idea of esoteric writing. John pooh-poohs the idea here, but I'm coming around to it.

On Tyranny
By Leo Strauss (with Alexandre Kojève)
Edited by Victor Gourevitch & Michael S. Roth
University of Chicago Press, 2000
335 Pages, US$18.00
ISBN 0-226-77687-5


If Leo Strauss were the Great Cthulhu, this book might be The Necronomicon. In reality, of course, Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was a professor of political philosophy at the University of Chicago for many years, and this book is an anthology. Strauss is considered the font, if not quite the founder, of modern Neoconservatism, which is widely believed to be the secret doctrine that actuates the foreign policy of President George W. Bush. The book does not really support that thesis. Here we see Strauss advising the wise to avoid instigating revolutions, much less the democratic world-revolution that the Bush Administration is keen on. Also, while Strauss concedes that world empire might be inevitable, he also says it would be an unfortunate institution, and not one likely to last. The book is really about the relationship of philosophers to politics, and whether the philosophy of the Greek classics has the resources to define it properly. The treatment of the nature of history is extensive, but incidental.

The centerpiece of the book is a study that Strauss first published in 1948, On Tyranny. It closely analyzes the dialogue Hiero, by Xenophon (430-355 BC), a student of Socrates. (The volume also contains a translation of the dialogue, which is just 18 pages long.) Strauss is answered by a long review from Alexandre Kojève, entitled “Tyranny and Wisdom.” (Kojève, a Russian émigré born Alexander Vladimirovitch Kojevnikoff, knew Strauss in Strauss's native Germany. Later, in Paris, they were both starveling immigrant scholars. Kojève became a French civil servant and played a prominent role in organizing the first GATT treaty (precursor to the World Trade Organization) and the European Community (precursor to the European Union); he also seems to have been a Soviet spy.) Strauss answers Kojève in “Restatement on Xenophon's Hiero.” The rest of the book, about 90 pages, is taken up with the correspondence between Strauss and Kojève from 1932 to 1965.

Xenophon is one of those ancient authors better known for clarity than for depth; his dialogue Hiero would seem to support this characterization. It sets out a supposed discussion between the poet, Simonides of Ceos (circa 556-468 BC), and Hiero I (died 466 BC), tyrant of Syracuse and master of Sicily, on the advantages and drawbacks of being a tyrant. We should remember that “tyranny” is a term of art in classical philosophy. It refers to “monarchy without law,” a situation that often arose when a democracy went sour. Tyranny was generally considered the most defective class of regime. However, it was also recognized that there were good and bad tyrannies. Simonides makes it his business to improve Hiero's.

Simonides asks apparently ingenuous questions, such as whether tyrants ate better than private persons, or had better sex lives. Hiero answers by detailing the miseries of the tyrannical condition, in which wretched excess cohabits with personal insecurity. When they get to the question of public honor, which is basically about Hiero's desire to be loved, Simonides can suggest ways in which tyranny can be modified to Hiero's advantage. Though of course Hiero cannot dispense with the mercenaries on which his government depends, Simonides advises Hiero to use those mercenaries to ensure public safety. As a general matter, he should be seen to spend his own fortune on public amenities, rather than use public money. The public should not seem him inflicting punishments. Rather, he should distribute prizes in competitions designed to promote patriotism. Thus could Hiero's life become happier, and the life of Syracuse greatly improved.

From this tiny acorn of a dialogue Strauss cultivates a mighty oak of interpretation. Starting from the plausible inference that Hiero is afraid of Simonides because the tyrant does not understand the perspective or motivation of the wise, Strauss draws general lessons about how philosophers in general should deal with politics in general. Simonides, in his capacity as a wise man, contemplates eternal things. To the extent that he seeks human approval at all, he seeks it from competent judges, which is to say, from other members of the wise. Hiero, in contrast, seems most worried about whether his catamite really loves him. In order for these mentalities to communicate, the philosopher must sometimes couch principled advice in terms of self-interest. As in this case, it is sometimes possible to advocate reforms as a way to realize a relatively noble desire, that is, Hiero's desire to be loved by his subjects. However, the gap between the philosophical and the political remains.

Kojève, in contrast, says that the gap will close at the eschaton, that is, at the end of history. This final term does not refer to clock time, but to philosophical history. Kojève elsewhere argued that “history properly speaking” ended in 1806, when Napoleon's victory at Jena ensured that the French Revolution would, in some form, spread universally. Since then, it has been all over, bar the shouting.

We may note that, adapting Kojève's thesis, Francis Fukuyama used the opportunity of the collapse of Communism in 1989 to argue in The End of History and the Last Man that even the shouting had ended, and that liberal democracy was the form of the “universal and homogeneous state” in which Kojève said history would eventuate. Kojève himself had been ambiguous. He sometimes suggested that it made no difference which side won the Cold War, since the same sort of final society would result in either case.

For Kojève, the motor of history is Hegel's famous Master-Slave dialectic. Slaves want their basic human dignity recognized. Masters want to be recognized by their peers. Thus, the Masters of the world have an interest in manufacturing peers. They extend the size of states they control to include neighboring states, so that the citizens of those states may also acknowledge them. Within the state, they gradually emancipate slaves, then women, then even children. The logical end of this process is, as we have seen, a state that includes the whole of mankind, and that makes no distinctions of any kind among its citizens. Thus, everyone may not be happy, but they will be “satisfied.”

Philosophy is a work-in-progress until history ends, according to Kojève, when we will understand everything we can understand. Because philosophy is essentially historicist, it is essentially atheist: there is no transcendent repository of final answers to which self-sufficient philosophers can look. Even if there were, it would still be necessary for philosophers to engage the larger society, since to do otherwise is to run the risk of solipsism and madness. The function of philosophers is to create models of ideal societies, and to propose from time to time how they might be implemented. Only in this way can the philosophers hope to emerge as the wise in the post-historical situation:

“One may therefore conclude that while the emergence of a reforming tyrant is not conceivable without the prior existence of a reforming philosopher, the coming of the wise man must necessarily be preceded by the revolutionary action of the tyrant (who will realize the universal and homogeneous state).”

Kojève also notes that there is a special affinity between the philosopher and tyranny. Philosophers can devote only so much of their time to practical matters, so they are necessarily people in a hurry. The same is true of tyrants who, being lawless, are also open to new ideas. Philosophers, however, simply are not competent to judge the method or the pace with which the tyrant implements their ideas. If philosophers could make that kind of practical judgment, they would be politicians rather than philosophers.

Strauss is horrified by this encomium of tyranny and atheism. To begin with, he insists that one sort of regime really can be preferred to another, and that in the circumstances of the modern world, there is no better option than liberal democracy. He also insists that philosophers do not seek this “recognition” of which Kojève speaks, but rather delight to contemplate the well-ordered souls of the wise (who can exist at any point in history), and to educate such souls among the young.

Thus, there is a community of the wise. They preserve themselves by convincing society that, however esoteric their discussions may be, they are not “atheists,” they do not despise what other men revere. The wise are not subversive or revolutionary, but helpful. The modest measures of reform that they may propose do the only sort of good that is possible in a world that will never be perfect.

However pure Strauss may insist the motives of philosophers to be, he seems to concede that something like the hunger for recognition may really govern history for other people. The result might even be the outcome that Kojève anticipates. Strauss, in fact, offers a sketch of the “Universal and Final Tyrant” that might serve as a gloss on the figure of Antichrist (or as a description of that recurring nightmare of Chinese history, the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi). On the other hand, he also says that this “end of history” is not really final. The homogeneity of the “universal and homogeneous state” will be a fraud, since it assumes a sophisticated philosophical understanding of the post-historical world on the part of everybody, everywhere. Moreover, such a world will simply not be satisfying, in Hegel's sense or anybody else's, because it will be purposeless. The empire of the Final Tyrant will be overthrown, perhaps in a nihilistic revolution that will be the only expression of humanism possible in that dark era.

In some ways, the most interesting thing about Strauss is his exegetical method, particularly the detection of the “secret writing” that he made famous. This requires placing quite a lot of emphasis on silence, on what a text does not say.

For instance: in addition to his reply to Kojève, Strauss also replies to a review of On Tyranny by Eric Voegelin. Voegelin argues that classical political philosophy is incomplete, because it lacked, among other things, an account of Caesarism. Voegelin defines that as a post-constitutional situation in which a return to republican government is no longer possible. That makes it unlike tyranny, which could and did alternate with various forms of constitutional government. In reply, Strauss says that Caesarism is a kind of legitimate monarchy. It may sometimes be the best that a society can do. Here is Strauss's explanation for why classical philosophy did not address the issue:

“The true distinction between Caesarism and tyranny is too subtle for ordinary practical use. It is better for the people to remain ignorant of that distinction and to regard the potential Caesar as a potential tyrant. No harm can come from this theoretical error, which becomes a practical truth if the people have the mettle to act upon it. No harm can come from the political identification of Caesarism and tyranny: Caesars can take care of themselves.”

To another philosopher, the obvious answer would have been that classical philosophy did not address Caesarism because Caesar lived after the “classic” era of classical culture was past. To Strauss, the answer was that the ancients were omniscient, but tactful.

And then there's Kojève. As he got older, his interpretation of ancient texts became more and more whimsical. To be fair, he was no longer a professional academic after the late 1940s, but he began discovering secret writing in places where Strauss evidently feared to tread. In his letters to Strauss, he characterizes some sixth-century writings, including some by Julian the Apostate, as “Voltaire-like” exercises in disguised skepticism. From this he surmises that the classical philosophical tradition actually survived very late in an underground tradition.

That is a little like saying that the Middle Kingdom Egyptians were familiar with Faraday's equations, but just made sure never to write them down. The Socratics and the other schools of the golden age of Greek philosophy may have had all the esoteric doctrines you please: underground traditions would be plausible, because the aboveground effect of philosophy on Greek life was obviously so great. There was nothing like that effect in the sixth century, and no amount of secret writing will substitute for the lack of the schools and sages and controversies that we know existed 900 years earlier.

Though Strauss never says anything as foolish as Kojève, the chief impression I took from this book was the capacity for both of them to miss the real forest in their hunt for the secret trees. The key to the problem of modern tyranny is really another point that Voegelin raised in his review: ancient tyranny, at least in the West, lacked the millenarian component that we see in modern, ideology-driven tyranny. Voegelin had muddied his case by arguing that Machiavelli was significantly influenced by Joachim of Floris, a thesis that Strauss correctly rejects, but which does not diminish the fact that modern revolutionary tyrants do in fact have a strong apocalyptic streak. Kojève is left similarly clueless by his Hegelian psychobabble about “recognition,” despite the fact his theory is an eschatology.

On Tyranny is well worth reading for several reasons. However, there are far less constricted ways to approach the issues it addresses.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-12-20: Iraq Counterfactuals; Hero & Empire; Iceland

By Source, Fair use,

By Source, Fair use,

The First Emperor of China was assumed to be mythical for a long time. Then the archeological finds started piling up. The remarkable unity of the Chinese state over the millennia is in part due to this man.

Iraq Counterfactuals; Hero & Empire; Iceland


You have to wonder why the literary world treated Philip Roth's book, The Plot against America, as a conceptual novelty. The most-broadcast Christmastime movie in the United States is It's a Wonderful Life, which is an alternative-history story on the scale of a single life. (When Stephen Jay Gould's book of that name appeared in German, by the way, the publisher had to use a less resonant title that meant "Man the Accident.") After Dickens's Christmas CarolIt's a Wonderful Life is also the most parodied Christmas story in the United States. Maureen Dowd added to the canon in yesterday's New York Times, in a column entitled A Not So Wonderful Life. In this version, George Bailey becomes Donald Rumsfeld, and the angel explains how much better the world would be if he had never been born:

[Former George Senator Sam Nunn is] the defense secretary. Sam consults with Congress. Never acts arrogant or misleads them. He didn't banish the generals who challenged him - he promoted 'em. And, of course, he caught Osama back in '01. He threw 100,000 troops into Afghanistan on 9/11 and sealed the borders. Our Special Forces trapped the evildoer and his top lieutenants at Tora Bora. You weren't at that cabinet meeting the day after 9/11, so nobody suggested going after Saddam. No American troops died or were maimed in Iraq. No American soldiers tortured Iraqis in Abu Ghraib. No Iraqi explosives fell into the hands of terrorists. There's no office of disinformation to twist perception abroad. We're not on the cusp of an Iraq run by Muslim clerics tied to Iran.

Considering the current state of Afghanistan, it's not at all clear what those 100,000 troops would have been needed for. It's also vastly unlikely that no one at a cabinet meeting after 911 would have suggested going after the Baathist regime in Iraq; surely they would have been familiar with Richard Clarke's memos that mentioned the links between Al-Qaeda and Iraq? The final improbability is this quote from an Alternative Colin Powell:

Merry Christmas, Mr. President. With the help of our allies around the world, we have won the war on terror. And Saddam has been overthrown. Once Hans Blix exposed the fact that Saddam had no weapons, the tyrant was a goner. No Arab dictator can afford to be humiliated by a Swedish disarmament lawyer.

Blix and his elves were allowed in Iraq when the regime realized, belatedly, that the United States had a gun pointed at its head. In any case, Blix's audit would have proven indecisive no matter how long it continued.

* * *

Happily, The New York Times has saved me the trouble of correcting Dowd. Today's edition has another Alternative History scenario, this time by William Safire, entitled Roth Plot II:

Opening scene in the Oval Office in winter 2001, after U.S. and allied forces crushed the Taliban in retaliation for their part in 9/11, with bin Laden not yet found in Afghanistan...State's Powell counsels relaxing U.N. pressure on Iraq by calling them "smart sanctions," hoping this will persuade Saddam to permit inspections. Bush glumly agrees... Having gloriously faced down the U.S. - and gaining greater financial and weaponry strength every day - Saddam becomes an iconic, heroic figure in the Arab and Muslim world. Through massive kickbacks and smuggling operations involving France, Russia and China, the murderous despot ensures U.N. protection from inspections. Free from fear of retaliation, Saddam offers safe haven in Iraq to bin Laden and followers seeking a center of operations...Cut to Libya, where Qaddafi has purchased nuclear know-how and fissionable material from corrupt Pakistani scientists...In early 2004, a Wilsonian Democrat bursts upon the political scene.

You see why "Alternative History" is better than "Alternate History"? There are more than two possibilities.

* * *

Over the weekend, I viewed Hero, starring Jet Li. My interest in martial arts is no greater than my interest in square dancing, but I rented this film because of the historical setting. That is, I did not expect to learn more about the end of the Warring States Period (475 BC -- 221 BC), but because I wanted to see how the film treated the era. The scenario runs like this:

Before he became the First Emperor of China, Ying Zheng (played by Cheng Daoming), King of the state of Qin, brutal and ruthless, was the target of many assassins. Among them, Broken Sword, (played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), Flying Snow, (played by Maggie Cheung) and Sky (played by Donnie Yen) are the best. However, their plan was challenged by No-name (played by Jet Li). He rarely spoke and no one knew what he was up to, but something was hidden behind this eyes. No-name told the king that his enemies had been wiped out by him, but the king did not trust him.

The gimmick is that No-name, nominally one of the king's officials, enlists the help of the three assassins to get close enough to the king to kill him, even to the extent of letting themselves be killed (only one actually dies by No-name's hand; it's complicated). However, before No-name's audience with the king, Broken Sword dissuades him from his purpose. Broken Sword is a master calligrapher as well as a master swordsman; the two arts have the same foundation. However, Broken Sword also explains that his study of calligraphy had given him insight into historical necessity, and that he sees that Ying Zheng should unite China.

There is an interesting bit of mistranslation in the English subtitles. When the characters discuss what the king is supposed to unite, the English is given as "Our Land." My Mandarin does not rise to the level of negligible, but even I could make out that the term they were using for China was "tien xia," which means "Under Heaven," or "All Under Heaven": roughly the equivalent of the Greek "oikoumene." This mistranslation undermines Broken Sword's argument.

When Broken Sword said that he understood from his study of calligraphy that the world needed to be united, he was saying that his study of form and flow in the arts allowed him to intuit historical necessity. This was exactly the point that Kant made when he said that his model of history had the plot of a novel, which in his case ends in the formation of a liberal world republic. Dante's argument for a universal monarchy is of the same class: an esthetic intuition, not mechanical determinism.

The Empire, Cosmopolis, All Under Heaven: whether or not you would want to live in a universal state, the fact remains that the idea really is archetypical. It has exerted moral force in many times and places, even on people who ultimately reject it. "Our Land," however, cannot be intuited in this way. Patriotism is a fine thing, but one of the things that makes a homeland lovable is that it is mortal: it does not have to exist. The empire does.

Finally, as many reviewers have pointed out, this film does the First Emperor too much honor. Like Napoleon, the First Emperor is generally credited with making reforms and creating institutions that long outlasted his regime. On the other hand, the First Emperor was not a military genius, or any other kind of genius. He was just a conscientious, hardworking monster.

* * *

Winter starts tomorrow here, and I find the days plenty dark enough. However, I note from a piece in yesterday's New York TimesIn a Cold Country, the Nights Are Hot, that partygoers from the northeastern United States and from northwestern Europe have been making wild weekends in Rekjavik. The idea, apparently, is that "drinking all night" really means something if night does not end until 9:00 AM.

This sounds like a bad idea. In any case, anyone interested in what Iceland looks like sober should see Danny Yee's travelogue.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Dante's World Government

This is an absolutely beautiful exposition of the idea that a universal state is the best for the flourishing of man. I'll let the words speak for themselves.

Dante's World Government:
De Monarchia in the 21st Century


By John J. Reilly

“In writing the introduction to a work of political philosophy there is a temptation to attribute more importance to the work in question than it can properly claim. With Dante's Monarchy this temptation scarcely arises; for many have dismissed the treatise as a dream, the vision of an idealist out of touch with political realities who was yearning for an Empire that had passed away.”

So wrote Donald Nicholl in his introduction to the English translation (Noonday Press, 1954) that I used for this essay. There is a sense in which his assessment remains true 49 years later. It has been a long time since many people had much enthusiasm for the Holy Roman Empire, which was the particular instance of universal polity that Dante was defending. The paucity of translations of De Monarchia into English might also be taken as evidence of lasting irrelevance. (The Latin original is, oddly enough, available online, at no charge.) Some things have changed in the past half-century, however. The prospect of new forms of transnational governance is often discussed these days, either as a promise or a threat. Moreover, the dream-like abstraction of Dante's arguments may allow for modern re-interpretation in a way that would not be possible to a more concrete and historically grounded analysis. It is very unlikely that De Monarchia will someday be hailed as a guide to restructuring the international system. Nonetheless, in intellectual history, there are some issues that never really go away. In this book, Dante gives us an early formulation of some perennial ideas.

Even the most Platonic political theory has some history behind it, of course. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was born into Florence's Guelph party, which was the faction that generally supported the papacy against the Holy Roman Empire. (The imperial party was the Ghibellines.) Briefly a member of Florence's governing council, he was exiled in 1301, when the Guelph faction that was backed by France took control of the city. The French were there because Charles of Valois had entered Italy at the pope's invitation to restore order to the peninsula. The next year, Pope Boniface VIII issued the famous bull, Unum Sanctum, which advanced the broadest claims to the supremacy of the church over temporal authority, particularly over the empire. De Monarchia may be considered an answer to those claims; or maybe better, their dialectical opposite.

The date of De Monarchia's composition is disputed, though it was probably finished in the second decade of the 14th century. Its arguments in favor of the autonomy of the empire are not greatly different from the political theory of the Convivio, which Dante abandoned unfinished about 1308, and The Divine Comedy, which he completed shortly before his death. It probably was not finished before the arrival of the new emperor to Italy, Henry VII, in 1310. He, too, came to restore order, this time with the blessing of Clement V, the French pope who initiated the removal the papacy to Avignon that would last until 1377. These events turned Dante into what he described as a “party of one.”

De Monarchia asks three questions: Is the secular monarchy necessary? Did the Roman people receive the monarchy by right? Does the monarch receive his authority directly from God, or through the intermediation of some minister of God? These terms require a little explanation. By “monarchy,” Dante does not mean simply the rule of a single individual, though his argument does tend toward the Aristotelian proposition that legitimate monarchy is the most perfect form of government (in contrast to tyranny, which is monarchy's opposite and the worst form). The later Roman Republic was the “monarch” of the ancient world, in Dante's terminology. De Monarchia is really about the structure of the international system. As for the “Roman” element, Dante does not distinguish between the Republic and the Empire, or between ancient Rome and the medieval empire.

So, then, to take Dante's first question: Is the secular monarchy necessary?

Remarkably, Dante derives the necessity of monarchy from an argument that is almost Hegelian. Universal government is necessary, because it is the way to universal peace; universal peace is necessary, because it is the only way the human race can attain its end, or purpose; this end is actualization of the “possible intellect,” which is possessed by the human species as a whole.

The possible intellect got Dante into a lot of posthumous trouble; it was one of the reasons De Monarchia stayed on the Index of Forbidden Books from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The notion comes from the 12th-century Iberian Islamic philosopher, Averroes (Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Rushd), who deployed it in a way that argued against personal immortality in favor of a collective human soul. Dante himself thought no such thing, of course. His version rests on the scholastic commonplace that human beings are only partly intellectual beings (unlike angels, whose substance is intellect). Because of this defect, no single human being, however intelligent, could fully embody the intellectual capacity common to the species. That could be done only collectively and, since knowledge is cumulative, historically. The human species, if it is to achieve the state of intellectual perfection possible to it, required a peaceful and therefore unified world.

Since the 19th century, we have been more inclined to expect the advancement of intellect to come from competition than from harmonious peace. To that, perhaps, a medieval would have argued that even a market of ideas requires rules to keep the market functioning. Certainly a dynamic world is not quite contrary to the medieval ideal of the tranquility of order.

Be that as it may, Dante insists that the ideal political order is a universal polity. The good inherent in the whole, he explains, exceeds the good inherent in the parts, though these parts may have an internal constitution that resembles the order of the whole. Thus, only a polity that encompasses the whole human species could really be perfect.

The universality of the universal monarch would not be expressed by promulgating the positive law for every district. Rather, the universal law would be a common law, which deals only with those things all men have in common. Neither would it mean that the several nations could not have their own princes and other magistrates. However, those rulers could rule justly only by virtue of their relationship to the universal monarch.

This is essentially the same argument that Julius Evola made in connection with his critique of 19th century imperialism. An empire in competition with other empires for national glory was mere violence, in his estimation. The distinction between “the empire” and “an empire” is also fundamental to the analysis of the postmodern world in Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt's book, Empire. They point out that the global system of governance has a moral basis that was lacking in the competitive empires of early modernity. The empires were imperialistic; though they might sometimes benefit their subjects, they were founded on ambition and greed. The “empire” of the late modern international order, in contrast, though it may cause endless disaster, is founded on the principle of eternal justice. The former were imperialistic; the latter is imperial.

All things being equal, the universal law would better be made by one agent, rather than by several, according to Dante. Human concord can be attained only by a concord of wills, which needs a human director. One may note that this reasoning would work almost as well as an argument to move beyond a law of nations enforced by nations to a world system with a genuine executive, if not necessarily a “monarch” in the conventional sense.

Dante, who spent the last two decades of his life in exile because of the chaos among the petty states of Italy, saw nothing odd in also asserting that the empire is necessary for human freedom. Freedom is the perfect condition of man, the state he was designed for. However, man is free only when his judgment may operate undeflected by the appetite. The monarch could create the institutional basis for a society in which the most people would be able to approach this condition. This is because only the monarch could himself be entirely free; having the greatest honor in the world, there would be nothing further for him to desire. Thus, being wholly disinterested, his reign would have no object other than the common good.

This reasoning might perhaps seem non-obvious to moderns, who are quick to point out that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Neither would there be general assent today to the proposition that satisfying all a man's desires would necessarily make him a good person. On the other hand, Dante's reasoning does bear a family resemblance to Francis Fukuyama's hypothesis that liberal democracy is the end of history because it satisfies all aspects of human nature. Moreover, there have been several recent arguments to the effect that something very like Dante's empire is necessary to human freedom, or at least to the highest level of human freedom that is possible in much of the world. So said Niall Ferguson, in yet another book named Empire, with respect to the British tradition. On a somewhat higher level of abstraction, that is also what Patrick Kennon says in Tribe and Empire.

The modern apologists for empire use reasoning that is not as different from Dante's as might at first appear. They say that the empire is the institution best suited to mitigate ethnic strife, because the empire is transnational and, like the monarch, disinterested. Further, Dante says that only the perfectly free monarch can impart a measure of freedom to the wider world because only he possesses this quality himself; similarly, only a liberal democratic empire could impart liberal democracy to societies that lack it.

Before proceeding to Dante's second question, this might be a good point to examine Dante's method. Readers will have gathered that, in fine scholastic style, he favors arguments “in the alternative.” Indeed, in this summary I have taken some liberties by integrating arguments that Dante leaves side by side. The internal logic of each argument is formal and partisan; unlike Thomas Aquinas, Dante does not trouble to state possible counterarguments systematically. These two paragraphs are typical of the whole:

“On the basis of this exposition we reason as follows: justice is most powerful in the world when located in a subject with a perfect will and most power; such is the Monarch alone; therefore justice is at its most potent in this world when located in the Monarch alone.

“This preparatory syllogism is of the second figure, with intrinsic negation, and takes the following form: all B is A; only C is A; therefore C only is B. That is: all B is A; nothing except C is B. The first proposition clearly holds, for reasons already given; the other follows by reference to the will and then to power.”

This procedure tries to reach conclusions about the world by arguing from first principles. In effect, Dante formulates archetypes and then hunts for their incarnations. This type of metaphysical reasoning has fallen out of fashion, particularly in the social sciences; but it, too, is always with us. Modern physics is littered with examples of mathematical objects that had first been formulated as merely speculative exercises, but which later turned out to describe things in the real world. This is not so different from what Dante is doing: sifting through the products of history to find incarnations of the ideal forms.

This brings us to the second question: did the Roman people receive the monarchy by right?

Dante tells us that the history of the rise of the Roman Empire had seemed an inexplicable wonder to him. Then he realized that the Roman people did not acquire the monarchy of the world by ferocity, but through right, guided by providence. The progress of the Roman people was at many points attended by miracles, like the history of the Hebrews. Thus we see that God approved of the empire; Christ Himself chose to be born in the “fullness of time,” the peaceful age of Caesar Augustus.

Indeed, Christianity requires that the Roman Empire be legitimate. The central doctrine of Christianity is that Christ was punished for the sin of Adam. If the magistrate who sentenced Jesus was not an “appropriate judge,” then the suffering of Jesus was not a punishment, and we are not saved. Only the representative of the government of the whole world could have had the authority to inflict punishment on He Who suffered for the whole world.

Providence is not always expressed through the clearly miraculous. Sometimes God's hidden judgments are revealed by the outcome of duels, which in effect was what happened when the Romans defeated all others in the contest for world empire. The empire expressed the natural hierarchy among the peoples, of whom the Romans were the noblest. Even regarded simply as a matter of natural right, the citizens of the Roman Republic were working for the public good by creating a structure of universal peace. Nations, like individuals, should resort to force only as a last resort. However, whatever is acquired in a duel is acquired by right.

In the modern era, the idea that the historical process gradually expresses natural right is not rare: we see it from Hegel to Francis Fukuyama to Robert Wright. This is the intuition behind the dedication of transnationalists to the evolution of the network of supranational institutions and non-governmental organizations, which for them is now the seat of legitimacy in the world. Arguments even closer to Dante's have been made by macrohistorians who predict that the modern era will end in a universal state very like the Roman Empire. In any case, though the actors differ from theory to theory, the fundamentally providential structure of history remains.

Something that does change, of course, is the relationship of this providence to religion. One of the few specifics in which Hardt & Negri's empire differs from Dante's is that theirs is equated with the Kingdom of God. Possibly this was a mere rhetorical flourish on their part; they are also keen on the idea that the empire excludes the transcendent. Dante, in contrast, did insist on a transcendent foundation for the empire, but he strongly distinguished the empire from the Church, which is part of the Kingdom of God. This is the burden of his answer to the third question:

Does the monarch receive his authority directly from God, or through the intermediation of some minister of God?

In a rare display of tact, Dante said that those popes who asserted the empire owed its existence to the papacy were merely misguided by zeal. However, he says that the kings and princes who follow the popes' lead in this matter are not sons of the Church, but sons of the devil. He dismisses the claims of the class of ecclesiastical lawyers called the decretalists, because it is irrational to claim authority for the Church from its own legal rulings, when it is precisely the authority to make those rulings that is in question.

Much of the discussion about the relationship between Church and Empire is taken up with distinguishing the implications of a metaphor: the Church is the sun and the Empire is the moon. Dante accepts this then-common equation for the sake of argument. Just because the sun provides the moon with its light, he points out, that does not mean the existence or the operations of the moon are derived from the sun. Both sun and moon were created directly by God. The light the moon receives is more properly likened to divine grace, which makes everything appear different. In no way, however, is this illumination analogous to a grant of authority.

Dante assures us that God is the lord of all things, spiritual and temporal, and that the pope is His vicar. However, it does not follow from this that the pope is the lord of all things. Vicars do not have all the powers of their principals. The pope, for instance, does not have any special power over nature.

Dante also addresses the venerable allegory of the Two Swords. The proof-text is Luke 22:38, in which Peter offers Jesus two swords, and Jesus says they are enough. The lesson usually drawn from this exchange is that church and state are separate. Papalist propaganda, however, noted that the two swords remained in Peter's keeping, and so argued that both the spiritual and temporal power were both ultimately in the pope's keeping. Dante simply denies that the analogy is relevant, dwelling instead on the meaning of the verse in context.

No doubt the doctrine in question is not worth much, but one wonders how a poet could dismiss such an important metaphor. The analogy of the two swords runs right through Western history. When US senators debate whether public funds should be available to faith-based organizations, that is still the pope and the emperor arguing about who has the authority to invest the bishops of Germany. Unlike in other civilizations, church and state in the West are always distinguished, even in those periods when they closely supported each other. Even when the ecclesiastical power seems to have wholly lapsed, it is natural for academics and artists to claim the privileges and influence traditionally granted to priests.

Inevitably in any medieval discussion of the temporal power of the papacy, Dante addresses the Donation of Constantine. This legend, aided by some forged documents, had it that, in the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine had given the pope the authority to govern Italy and the western empire. Dante does not dispute the authenticity of the Donation, but he says that nothing more could have been involved than the transfer of a right of guardianship.

Why so? Because, as Dante tells us, whatever is contrary to the nature of a thing is not to be numbered among its powers. Now one of the essential features of the empire is its universality; it has the right of universal jurisdiction, even when it does not have the fact. To divide the empire by ceding sovereignty over a particular region would have been to destroy the empire as such. The powers of the emperor, which derive from the nature of the empire, could not have included such a grant. Moreover, the Church by its nature could not have received such a grant, since the Church cannot own property, but only the fruits of property. (This was, of course, the ideal of the radical Franciscans.)

The tranquility of order that the emperor protects is important for the salvation of all men. The emperor's authority is therefore providential, but the authority belongs to the office itself. The authority of the emperor could not have come from the Church, since the empire antedates the Church. Furthermore, since the emperor's authority comes directly from God, the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire do not really choose the emperor. Rather, they simply declare where the right to the office lies.

* * *

I have occasionally noted that the instrument of abdication and dissolution issued by the last Holy Roman Emperor in 1806 seems to contravene the provisions of the Golden Bull of 1356, which guaranteed the prerogatives of the electors. Thus, it is arguable that emperor did not have the authority to dissolve the empire. However, even if that is a correct reading of the law (which I rather doubt), that is still not the kind of indissolubility that Dante was talking about. Even if the constitutions of the empire had contained explicit provisions for its dissolution, the empire still could not have been dissolved. Its existence is not contingent on politics; it is the one politically necessary being.

The political theory of the modern era was designed specifically to do away with this kind of thinking. There have been schemes for world order in that time. Some, like the Concert of Europe, were reasonably effective. However, even the most idealistic internationalists thought in terms of positive law, of flesh-and-blood legislators creating laws and treaties with visible texts. Only toward the end of the 20th century did we see a return of the insistence that a universal law must already exist in some sense; more important, we have seen a return of the willingness to act as if such a law existed. This is as true of the neoconservative establishment in the United States as it is of proponents of the International Criminal Court. Neither group is likely to get quite the world it expects, but their worldviews are not as far apart as they imagine.

The empire is like the doctrine of the Two Swords: it is among the insistences of the West, which take different forms at different times. Dante's Holy Roman Empire is long gone. So is Charles V's. So, one suspects, will be the United Nations in its current form. Even today, though, we see that men are beginning to repeat in modern form the reproof that Dante wrote to his own obdurate city during an imperial siege:

“Why are you stirred by this will o' the wisp to abandon the Holy Empire and, like builders of a second Babel, to embark on new forms of state so that the Florentine sovereignty should be co-ordinate with the Roman?” 

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The De Monarchia
By Dante Alighieri

The Long View: The Coming Caesars

Riencourt's book makes the argument that America is literally the second coming of Rome. In this, he follows the views of many of the American founders. I stumbled on this idea when I was reading about Cincinnatus, the Roman who was twice elected dictator, and twice resigned his imperium. One of the books I read was a detailed study of the art and iconography of revolutionary and post-revolutionary America, and it was pretty clear the Americans saw themselves as Romans.

Also, the form of government selected by the founders was a republic, in imitation of Rome. The founders saw a republic as a mixed government, following Polybius, blending monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Of course, the Roman Republic eventually became the Roman Empire, which is the transition everyone is interested in, including Riencourt.

In 2003, this book was out of print, but now a new edition is available. In this book review, John talks about keeping track of Spengler's successes and failures at predicting the future. Spengler had a pretty good track record, although some of his successful predictions might have surprised him.

I think the same is true of John. Here is an interesting prediction: American political parties are less ideological constructs than vehicles for charismatic personalities seeking office.Interpret as you will.

Table of Contents


From Culture to Civilization

God, Space, & Law

The American Psyche

Russia & Communism

The Necessity of Empire

Tribune, President, Emperor

When the Future Becomes the Past

The Coming Caesars

By Amaury de Riencourt

Jonathan Cape, 1958

384 pages; Out of Print




Since Oswald Spengler first published The Decline of the West at the end of the First World War, a main attraction of the comparative study of civilizations has been the prospect of predicting the future. As more and more of that future has passed, this attraction has only increased. It's not that Spengler was a perfect prophet. Even when he was right about the future, he was right in ways he did not foresee. Still, though taking Spengler too literally has never done anyone any good, there is something to be said for keeping track of the successes and failures of the great doomsayer.

The Coming Caesars was published just 40 years after the first volume of The Decline appeared. It was much discussed by the intelligent Right in its day, perhaps in part because Arnold Toynbee's Study of History was still on people's minds. However, The Coming Caesars does not even mention that enormous work. The author, a Frenchman with extensive experience of the United States, adheres closely to Spengler's views and methods. There is one big difference. Spengler hoped that Germany would play the “Rome” of the future. Riencourt makes the most detailed argument I know for the proposition that America does not just have a Roman future, but an essentially Roman culture.

This review was written about as long after the publication of The Coming Caesars as that book was published after The Decline of the West. Surely it's time to take another look. Whatever the book's merits as prophecy, what we have here is the finest collection of alleged American mental problems since Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America.


From Culture to Civilization

The Spenglerian model is only incidentally about wars, revolutions, and the evolution of the international system. The transition to what Toynbee called a “universal state” is only one aspect of the general turn of a society toward its final forms. “Civilization,” in Spengler's usage, is the “late” phase in a society's life. It follows the period of “Culture,” when society creates its characteristic science, religion, art, and politics. The French Revolution is roughly the cutoff point for both Spengler and Riencourt between Culture and Civilization in the modern West. In Greece, the Revolution was less localized, since democracies tended to replace oligarchies everywhere. The important comparison is that Napoleon and Alexander the Great are “contemporary” as transitional figures in their civilizations' histories.

The transition to Caesarism began in the Victorian Era, which Riencourt identifies in part with the Hellenistic Age. Both were “the beginning of bad taste and ostentation, of insincerity in art, of pomposity, of grand and ornate pseudostyles”; yet also of “city planning, hygiene, and comfort: of modern pavements, and improved sewers, aqueducts…fast-expanding networks of world-wide economic relations”; not to mention “pedantic scholars, critics, grammarians, commentators, and editors.” The age of Plato passed to the age of Aristotle, as the age of Kant passed to that of Hegel.

Culture is pioneering, aesthetic, and fertile. Civilization is sterile, extensive, practical, and ethical. They are related as systole and diastole. Riencourt multiplies oppositions like that, but here are the important ones: Greece was the youth and maturity of Classical civilization; Rome was its old age. Similarly, Europe was the youth of the West, and America is its old age.

There are complexities here. For the purposes of macrohistory, apparently, America and Great Britain are the same country. Riencourt lays great stress on the fact that America developed, not just under the influence of British ideas, but behind the shield of the British Navy. It is impossible to imagine the United States developing as it did during the 19th century if the country had not been, in effect, a protectorate of the British Empire. In the 20th century, the relationship began to reverse. After the Second World War, Britain has functioned as America-in-Europe.

In outlining the transformation from Culture to Civilization in the political dimension, Riencourt often sounds like many another member of the French Right since 1789: “[E]xpanding democracy leads unintentionally to imperialism and…imperialism inevitably ends in destroying the republican institutions of earlier days…the greater the social equality, the dimmer the prospects of liberty…as society becomes more egalitarian, it tends increasingly to concentrate absolute power in the hands of a single man.”

Riencourt is not forecasting the appearance of a mere Anglophone Napoleon, however. Modernity has a terminus quite different from that of the ancien règime: “Caesarism is not dictatorship, not the result of one man's overriding ambition, not a brutal seizure of power through revolution…It is a slow, often century-old, unconscious development that ends in a voluntary surrender of a free people escaping from freedom to one autocratic master.”

Note that, although this language is cast in terms of a general law of history, it simply restates the history of the Roman Republic. Spengler himself took care to elaborate parallels with other civilizations, where democracy had never been an issue. Except in an Appendix and a few asides, The Coming Caesars treats of parallels only between the ancient and modern West. The bulk of the book, in fact, is a history of the United States, spiked with more or less apt references to supposedly comparable events and persons in Roman history. Riencourt is particularly interested in the evolution of the office of tribune in ancient Rome and that of the American presidency, but we will get to that presently.


God, Space, & Law

Every book about America has to deal with religion, and this one is particularly concerned with the American mutations of Calvinism. (Was there a Roman “Reformation”? Indeed there was, in the form of Orphism, which culminated in Pythagoreanism. Go ask Spengler.) According to Riencourt: “But Calvin's doctrine as applied at Geneva was based on a spiritual legalism, mechanical, stern, without compassion and without appreciation for art, inhumanly practical, and in many respects iconoclastic. In Geneva were sown the spiritual seeds of what was to become the New Rome of the West.”

This is not to say that American religion itself has retained these harsh features. After the collapse of metaphysical theology, American religion became notoriously emotional and sentimental. Prayer was replaced by good works, not as payment for salvation, but as a sign of election.

The secular versions of the Calvinist virtues became the bases for American politics and commercial culture. Thus, no matter their confessional affiliation, Americans are like the Biblical Jews: suspicious of beauty, with a characteristic tension between the knowledge of God's will and Man's inadequacy. Similarly, Rome's gods, like Rome's later civilization, were austere and impersonal, unlike Greece's warm pantheon. (Spengler discountenanced this opposition, by the way. He pointed out that the peculiar cult of each polis was darkly numinous rather than colorful. The “Greek Pantheon” was late and literary.)

In addition to religion, every study of America has to consider the role of space. Both America and Rome, in Riencourt's telling, were “frontier” societies, on the rim of civilization. America, famously, could dispense its dissidents to the west. Rome could do likewise, to the north, into the Po Valley and Cisalpine Gaul. In both cases, easy expansion into a sparsely peopled hinterland facilitated political stability at a time that, elsewhere, was an age of revolution and counterrevolution.

The English-speaking world in general is characterized by a tradition of compromise under law. This legalism, like Rome's, is the product of a remarkable sense of continuity. It's not that American's are particularly law-abiding; they are law-minded. Combined with their ancient Biblicism, they have turned the Constitution into a sacred text. The system works because the scripture of the law requires interpretation. Lawyers are hierophants, interpreting the mystery of the law. The effect is conservative: unlike the legal codes of Europe, mere logic is not enough.

America and Rome were both “urban” from the beginning, despite the fact both had overwhelmingly rural populations for much of their histories. Their farmers were not peasants, but citizens. This was somewhat less true of Virginia, with its attempt to transplant England's gentry. However, southern culture was eventually overwhelmed, ideologically and economically. Perhaps more important was that Virginia set the pattern of a conservative, aristocratic east, versus the democratic frontiersmen of the west. The east demanded enough centralization to keep the polity together. The west acquiesced, but only if they were allowed freedom of action: “thus started the fateful, unintentional, and unplanned expansionism which, in less than two centuries, was to establish the frontiers of American security well into the heart of the European and Asiatic continents.” He makes the same argument about Rome's expansion, starting from central Italy.

Unlike the rest of the Classical world, Rome had a knack for the judicious extension of citizenship rights, which Riencourt compares to America's power of assimilation. Rome did suffer the “Social Wars,” conflicts with its Italian allies about the franchise, just as America suffered lapses like the Civil War. He also makes the interesting suggestion that the importation of slaves into Italy was a real immigration. Manumission was normal in the Roman world, so that slave families often became citizens after a generation or two. In contrast, slavery in America resulted in a caste system that has yet to be dismantled.


The American Psyche

The key to American psychology is the position of America in world history: “America's destiny is conditioned by the fact it is an old and not a young nation, as far as essential age goes…America represents, in world history, the old age of Europe…This essential oldness is rooted in an eighteenth-century atmosphere where optimism still survives in America and wears the mask of youth, but has disappeared in Europe as outdated.”

According to Riencourt, Americans are naturally conformist, compared to Latin peoples. He even says that Americans are “natural socialists.” In many ways, America is like what Americans say about Japan: “a far higher average than in Greece and Europe, and yet an almost complete absence of great creative personalities.” He says there is an American saying: “To be different is to be indecent.” Americans are self-disciplined; even more so than the Germans, who at least have the option of intellectual “inner migration.” The key to America's tribal collectivism is to be found in the fact that America has come almost full circle in social development. Foreigners often note a strange similarity between Americans and Russians. That is because the Last Man of Civilization resembles the First Man of the pre-Cultural period, which is the state of Russia in comparison to the West.

Freedom in America does not mean what it means in other places, or what it meant in the West in the past. American freedom is a legal notion, unlike the French liberté. “Where, then, does freedom reside in America? Mostly in the fact that the individual American is physically more independent of other human beings than anywhere else in the world.” Americans are notably lacking in jealousy and resentment. Conversely, the rich are rapacious, but not selfish.

There is an upside to this. Americans can make good use of individualistic philosophies, such as that of John Locke, which created chaos in continental Europe. Atomistic English economism, with its emphasis on property rights, soon made the English-speaking world the most conservative area on earth. It is a progressive and enlightened conservatism, however, a sure defense against both revolution and reaction.

None of this should suggest that Americans are gullible or obtuse. “American Civilization is successful because of the remarkable American gift for psychological understanding…When they choose political or business leaders, Americans do so on the basis of their general human qualities rather than their technical proficiency.” Americans have an expert's distrust of all experts.

The author makes a remarkable equation of Americanism with Classical “Romanitas.” Both value organization, efficiency, and earthly success. Also, “in a chaotic world where sensitive men are baffled and often despair, [Americans] are not easily baffled and never despair.” The American mind is not cultural or aesthetic, but moralistic. It deals with extension rather than depth, especially temporal depth, but it eschews abstraction generally: “Americans think in pictures.”

Despite America's non-metaphysical cast of mind, it is far from mere materialism. Riencourt establishes the point with a fine display of non-falsifiable dialectic: “Since every coin has two sides, the necessary counterpart of an extreme utilitarianism bent on concrete achievements is an equally extreme idealism of a more abstract nature than any put forth in the Old World.”

Riencourt returns again and again to the topic of Americans' essential conservatism, for which he finds an explanation in gender dominance: “It is this fundamental conservatism that gives Americans in the modern world a position almost identical with that of the Romans, a conservatism bolstered by the complete ascendancy of the conservative-minded sex – women.” The author makes a great deal of this point: “All this links up with the best-known characteristic of American life: the hen-pecked nature of American men…the childish desire for love that Americans display in their contacts throughout the world is a direct consequence of the absolute predominance of the female principle…[I]ntimacy, familiarity, lack of reverence have become the dominant themes of American life. Nothing leads more implacably to Caesarism than these traits.” Noting that the emancipation of women was also a feature of the late Roman Republic, the author asserts that a democratic electorate tends to become “feminine,” emotional, eager for leadership. A feminine public opinion looks for a virile Caesar.


Russian & Communism

In the 19th century, during the age of high imperialism, practically the whole world was controlled by European powers or European settler-states. Again, the Hellenistic empires in the east, and the Greek settlements in southern Italy and Sicily, are often cited as analogies. Riencourt, following Spengler, says that the Greeks did not properly distinguish between the different classes of barbarian societies. Some, like the Egyptians, belonged to ancient, fossilized civilizations. Others were mere primitives. Yet others, in the east, belong to a “young” Culture that would eventually overwhelm the Classical world. Much the same thing happened in modern history: “The Nemesis in the Classical world was the rise of Parthia and the…war against Mithridates – in the context of our won [20th] century, the rise of Soviet Communism and World War II.”

Communism in Russia was a western import that was part of the “pseudomorphosis” of Russian culture, comparable to the superficial and transitory Hellenization of the east that occurred after Alexander. However, the effect of the Soviet Union was to drag Russia back to its Mongolian-Byzantine roots. The origins of the Soviet and Parthian threats were similar, too. The Romans helped to overthrow the Hellenistic empire of the Seleucids, but then simply withdrew, allowing the unhellenized east to recover. This was pretty much what America did after the First World War and the collapse of the Habsburg and Czarist empires. However, this new class of threat is not merely military, and not merely external: “This deep-rooted antagonism that springs outside the area of a given Civilization always coincides with a social disintegration inside it – with a period of revolutions and social upheavals that always accompany the collapse of a Culture and symbolizes the loss of that precious self-confidence of former times.”

The Coming Caesars repeats familiar conservative critiques of FDR's policy toward the Soviet Union: the sick old man was duped by Stalin's oriental cunning. Additionally, since the American mind is analytical rather than synthetic, American statesmen were slow to see the need for a grand strategy to counter the Soviet Union. However, even with the best negotiator and a coherent worldview, the outcome of Yalta and Potsdam might not have been different: “Behind the armed might of Soviet Russia lay another active force in the realm of ideas and passions, the religion-like force of Marxist philosophy extending from France to China…And behind Marxist philosophy a deep distrust of Western Civilization as such. In this the rustic patriotism of the Russians joined the widening revolt of Asia's crippled civilizations against the West.”

Riencourt rather doubts that the West will ever be free of the Russian menace. Though the Roman Empire at its height was perfectly secure against Parthia, the East nonetheless eventually overwhelmed the fossilized Classical civilization. On the other hand, a Third World War is far from certain; there really is progress, and the modern world is less brutal than the ancient world.


The Necessity of Empire

The coming universal state is not founded on mere degeneration. Speaking of the world after World War I, Riencourt says: “The problem, which no one could as yet formulate, was that the Western world was longing to get beyond an outdated nationalism and a vague internationalism that solved nothing, longing for a new political conception of organic cooperation that would preserve what was best in local patriotism, but transcended it at the same time.”

Sometimes the author equates the 20th century with the 2nd century B.C. In those days, when Rome had no serious rivals but wanted nothing more than to be left alone, it sent commissions all over the world to mediate disputes: Carthage and Numidia, Egypt and Cyrene, plus any combination of Greek states. Since Romans took no responsibility, their efforts often made things worse. When, in the 1st century B.C., Rome finally established regular structures of governance, “Roman domination at first was heavy and harsh, but it was a crude world that could respond only to crude treatment. Our twentieth century is far more sophisticated and the reorganization of our own world has to be carried out with a far greater discretion.” The model imperial official would resemble Douglas MacArthur. Not simply occupiers are needed, but statesmen committed to a long-term, conservative, social revolution around the world.

America had yet to understand its full vulnerability, the author implies. Rome was terribly dependent on the world outside Italy for manpower and grain. America might seem self-sufficient, but in 1955 “the United States absorbs 10 per cent more raw materials than she produces, whereas at the turn of the [19th to 20th] century she produced 15 percent more than she needed.” He suggests that much future history might concern access to Malaysian tin and Arabian oil.

Reviewing Europe a little over ten years after the end of the Second World War, Riencourt is much impressed by the success of the Marshall plan. In contrast, he finds the idea of independent European unity chimerical: “If unity is to come, it will have to be from extra-European sources and take place within a much larger framework. It will have to be based on the only unity that has any concrete reality: the Atlantic Community, the geographical unit of Western Civilization.” Noting the extent to which American and European bureaucracies interdigitated during the postwar emergency, he suggests that something similar might happen in the future: “European political structures will not be brutally abolished; they will simply atrophy and die.”

Obviously, there is considerable opposition to this outcome in Europe, both political and psychological. Riencourt finds it anachronistic: “Instead of looking upon America as she is – the New Rome – the puzzled and embittered Europeans prefer to see a new Carthage – soulless, exclusively dedicated to the pursuit of wealth, vaguely hypocritical, the land of sharp and ruthless Yankee businessmen. They fail to see that America today, and alone in the world, has the necessary ingredients of a stable civilized order: moral ideals and ethical purpose.”

World order is an old dream, the author notes. Different versions of it appear in different civilizations: the Caliphate of Islam; “All under Heaven” in China; and of course the Roman ideal in the ancient West. In the modern West, a new version is likely to have something to do with the United Nations, starting with a universally valid international law.

Before the First World War, the world still had regional empires with universal pretensions. When they disappeared, chaos followed. The League of Nations failed to end the chaos, but it was an instructive failure. The United nations, which followed, was largely an American initiative; certainly it was designed with an eye to American constitutional history. It quickly became paralyzed between two international blocks. The UN, after all, was supposed to institute democratic procedures on a world scale, but one of the opposing blocks did not believe in liberal democracy at all. The fundamental flaw with the UN, however, is that it embodies the parliamentary system in an age that is becoming sick of parliaments. What the world needs, and wants unknowingly, is an international presidential system. This could be democratic: rights under international law would be extended to individuals, even if that diminishes state sovereignty.

According to Riencourt, the UN will probably become the second layer of the “Roman” commonwealth of the future. The core will be the Atlantic Community. Such a world system will work, if the masses are given sound administration. Just as important, the system must give the world's elites full scope for personal development.

Sometimes Riencourt suggests that the final phase of Western Civilization is, in some sense, the final act of history. He points to the similarities between the apocalyptic anxiety of the early nuclear era and of the Mediterranean world around the time of Christ. In both cases, he suggests, people were onto something: “Man…is not merely going through a change of historical phase but…in the coming centuries, he will be stepping out of history altogether into a new 'geological' age…He is becoming, for the first time, a planetary phenomenon.”


Tribune, President, Emperor

Riencourt emphasizes the conservative nature of the American Revolution. The Founding Fathers were “men of the transition, a last link to the past, conservative engineers of a healthy reaction.” What would have surprised them was the evolution of the presidency they created, an essentially weak office, into an organ of popular sovereignty.

The mass politics of the Hellenistic and modern eras is a struggle between the people and Big Money. In that struggle during Roman times, the tribunes were created to protect the people. Over time, however, the struggle becomes less and less about class, or even economics. What begins as the struggle of the Populares against the Optimates becomes a contest between the Caesarians and the Pompeans; that is to say, a conflict between personal parties, mere cults of personality and systems of patronage. In contrast to their European counterparts, American political parties were already more like vehicles for personalities seeking office than like ideological organizations.

There was in fact no precise counterpart to the presidency in the Roman constitution, but the office of tribune showed the ability to evolve in that direction. The tribunician power included personal inviolability, the right to summon the Senate and to direct its debates, the right to nominate candidates for some offices, the right to arrest even consuls, and, most famously, the right to veto the acts of all magistrates. This list of negative rights ensured positive power when combined with some other source of authority, such as military command, or even mere popular approval. The tribunate was the legal basis for the office of emperor.

No doubt inspired by the characterization of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a "traitor to his class," the author observes: "Rome's outstanding democratic leaders, from the noble Gracchi brothers to Caesar [a period of about 90 years], whose ancestry was as old as the dawn of Rome herself, were all blue-blooded aristocrats who turned against their narrow-minded peers and led the aroused people against them…Thus, what made the democratic evolution of America relatively peaceful was the self-immolation of the founding oligarchy."

In America, politics are aggravated by a public opinion that is volatile on matters of foreign policy. Thus, American policy lurches from crisis to crisis, throwing up a strongman to meet each new emergency. But again, the authority of the Caesars is only incidentally military. Speaking of the Grant Administration, but with perhaps a glance at Eisenhower's, Riencourt notes that "professional soldiers are not the stuff that Caesars are made of." He characterizes Franklin Roosevelt, the first proto-Caesar, as “like another typical American creation, the master-mind sports coach who bosses his team, devises its tactics and strategy, switches players and substitutes at will.”

Riencourt attributes the role of the presidency in American politics in part to a growing "father complex" in America, though he also observes that, throughout the West, publics are increasingly disgusted with parliamentary incompetence.

To a large extent, the Roman Republic was destroyed by a change in political psychology. The early Caesars kept trying to give real authority back to the Senate, and the Senate kept refusing to take it. Responsible people lost the knack of operating a republican system. Candidates no longer presented themselves for important offices. Finally, all posts were filled by appointment, and became part of the imperial bureaucracy.

After its founding, the politics of the empire will have a predictable trajectory: “The transition from Sulla to Caesar and from Caesar to the absolutism of Vespasian was partly the result of the growing orientalization of Rome and the decline in the prestige of elective institutions. In the modern instance, it is clear that 'democrat' Roosevelt was not half as much repelled by Stalin's views on strong executive power and the absolute supremacy of the great powers as 'conservative' Churchill was.” In the author's telling, the Caesars became monarchs in Rome because they were monarchs abroad. Caesar Augustus, for instance, because he was also the titular King of Egypt, did not dare retire. The Egyptians would tolerate being ruled by him, but not by some bureaucrat in the name of a faceless “republic.”

When the Future Becomes the Present

Speaking of the would of the late 1950s, the author judges that Russia and America were evenly balanced; they were the tiger versus the shark, each safely dominant in its own domain. Inevitably, he cites Tocqueville's famous prediction that the Russians and the Americans each seemed destined to “sway the destinies of half the globe.” He remarks: “Tocqueville would have been unable to forecast the complex state of the world as it was in 1926, yet he was able to prophesy what it would be in 1946, 20 years later.”

That is almost precisely my experience of this book. I first read it in 1982; my marginal comments say that this or that trend will have to reverse if the author's thesis is to hold up. Writing this in 2003, I see that many of them did reverse. Doubtless they could all reverse again. Meanwhile, some new ones arose that he did not foresee. I know of no book that illustrates the limits of prediction better than The Coming Caesars. It bears rereading, at suitably long intervals.

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Coming Caesars
By Amaury De Riencourt

The Long View: Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power

Imperialism is a subject John often returned to, but his interest in the subject was quite different from most others. For John, what mattered were not mere national empires like the British Empire, but the Empire, the universal state into which all political and economic systems seem to eventually collapse.

Even though the process can be justly described as a collapse, it is not primarily negative. For example, one of the reasons the political order collapses into an empire is that the stakes and pressures of governance have become too high for society to bear. The empire is seen as an improvement by most of its subjects; it is genuinely popular.

Despite the differences between an empire and the Empire, you can still find some interesting features of the British Empire that may be reproduced in the coming universal state. For example, the British Empire was cheap, in terms of both money and men. It was also relatively tolerant, and preferred local control whenever possible.

There are also some features that probably wouldn't work well. The British Empire was an extension of national ambition. The universal state is the oecumene, the abode of man. As such, purely national ambition no longer has a way to even be expressed. There are no separate countries, although there might be rebellious provinces. The universal state is also usually not very dynamic. All of the civilizational energy has already been expended creating the universal state, everything you have is everything you'll get. The British Empire at its best was exceptionally dynamic.

At this point, the real question would be how Western will the universal state be? John wrote some interesting speculations about this. We shall get to them in time.

The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power
By Niall Ferguson
Basic Books, 2002
392 Pages, US$35.00
ISBN 0-465-02328-2
You might think this book was just an essay about the 18th-century Caribbean sugar-island economy that morphed into a profusely illustrated anthology of The Boy's Own Paper, but you would be wrong. What we have here is part of a concerted campaign (the book is a companion to a television series) to rehabilitate the idea of “empire” in general, and of the British Empire in particular. The author is the oddly ubiquitous Niall Ferguson, the Scottish economic historian. He does not suppress his famous interest in alternative history in this volume: one of the questions he sets out to answer is: “Was there a less bloody route to modernity?” The answer to that may be the key to a larger question, one with implications for the future as well as the past: “Can there be globalization without gunboats?”
The British Empire had a solid genesis in government-licensed piracy. The Spanish in the 16th century beat the British to the plunder of the major civilizations of the New World, leaving the British no recourse but to rob the Spanish. Still, even at that point the British displayed some hidden advantages. The English government was not centralized enough to simply expropriate the funds from its citizens to do its own empire building. By preference, it privatized British activity abroad, both commercial and military. As time went on, England outgrew piracy and turned to the licensing of the great trading companies. The greatest of these, the East India Company, was running India by the end of the 18th century. Strangely, the Honorable Company got India as a booby prize; the Dutch East India Company got the originally far more profitable East Indies. Even so, all that the Company's charter conveyed was a monopoly right to British business with India, provided the Company could do any. They wound up governing the place only because the Mughal empire unraveled in the 18th century; if the Company was going to enjoy any security, the Company would have to provide its own government.
In addition to piracy, there were drugs and slavery. Ferguson gives us a judicious helping of statistics about the “sweet tooth” economy of the 18th century Atlantic. Britain's possessions produced sugar. They also produced coffee, tea, and tobacco. All these things are mildly addictive stimulants. The market for them was bottomless, and the labor for them was largely unfree. Readers may be surprised to learn quite how lethal this labor system was. It is well-known that one out of seven of the prisoners on slave ships died in passage, but the death rate for the crews was even higher. The islands of the Caribbean were immensely profitable; the exports from Jamaica alone were worth more to England than the whole of the exports of America at the time of the Revolution. That was one of the reasons the British decided to let the colonies go. However, the populations of these tropical colonies, slave and free, did not reproduce themselves. Most immigrants from the British isles died soon after arriving, and it was to the Caribbean that most of them went in the 17th century.
Nonetheless, even at its most amoral, the “First British Empire” of pre-Victorian times was a “liberal” empire, if not quite an empire of liberty. It was very keen on the rule of law, particularly law as it related to property rights. American colonial complaints against London really came down to the argument that one's property is not really secure without some say in how much it is taxed. The empire was also tolerant, sometimes shockingly so. The government in London and the trading companies had no interest in spreading Christianity; they also no objection to customs like widow-burning, provided the subjects of the empire kept it to themselves. Imperial libertarianism sometimes extended to disinterest in famines in the areas the empire controlled. On the positive side, the people who administered the empire were sympathetically curious about the cultures where they worked. They adapted to them, cultivating their arts and literature. As a rule, the British co-opted local elites: there was no color bar to social interaction, or even marriage.
Some of this changed with the transition to the “Second Empire” of Queen Victoria's time. The empire became more humane as it became less tolerant. Much of this occurred under the influence of the evangelical revival of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic fought slavery, with greater and much earlier success in the empire. (In America, the effort was stymied after abolition in the northern states; Ferguson suggests that the success of the American Revolution delayed the end of slavery in America by at least a generation.) Despite the protestations of old India hands, the East India Company did begin to make a fuss about widow-burning and female infanticide. The rule of the Company itself was replaced by paternalistic political control from London after the Mutiny of 1857. The imperial government promoted education, public works, and public order. The settlement of Australia was a Monty Python parody of a whole society organized as a Victorian reform school. It was also a rousing success. The British role in the “scramble for Africa” in the last quarter of the 19th century began at the behest of evangelicals, to suppress the Indian Ocean slave trade to the Middle East.
In the 1890s, the last decade of Queen Victoria's reign, the empire was at the height of its power and self-confidence, though not yet of its territory. It controlled a quarter of the world's land surface and roughly the same proportion of its population. Its control of the oceans was uncontested. In Ferguson's estimate, it was the closest thing the world has ever seen to a world government. The empire was characterized by a high degree of local autonomy. Even India, ruled by an autocrat appointed by London, pretty much ran itself. As for the white dominions, they got almost anything they wanted in terms of “responsible self-government” after the 1830s. The imperial center made a point of protecting the rights of aborigines throughout the empire; the chief audience for Darwinian racism was among the colonists on the periphery.
The empire supported free trade: sometimes at gunpoint, and not always with happy results, as the Opium Wars illustrate. Be that as it may, in this laissez-faire empire, the imperial bureaucracy and military were fantastically small. There were fewer than half-a-million members of the armed forces at the empire's height, including the Indian Army. With few exceptions, colonial wars were small, quick, and resulted in few British casualties. There were no more than a thousand members of the “covenanted” India Civil Service, the people who actually ran India. That number is a bit misleading: Imperial India had a fairly large public sector. It was staffed largely by Indians, including some who passed the exam to enter the covenanted Service, just as the bulk of the military in India was Indian. Because the regions of the empire were normally self-sufficient, the structure was cheap for Britain: military expenditures late in Victoria's reign came to 2.5% or 3.0% of net domestic product: not so different from British defense expenditures in the early 21st century.
Imperial mysticism and liberal disgust with the empire arose at about the same time. Kipling and Ruskin and Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts) saw the empire as a chivalric enterprise, the chief pillar of a civilization that made the world better for everyone, everywhere. This was also the view of Cecil Rhodes, the imperial entrepreneur. Ferguson does not dwell on the historical significance of the Anglophile network that Rhodes promoted, though he does note that Rhodes hoped his scholarships would create something like the Jesuit order, with the empire substituted for the Catholic religion. The problem was that the Boer War he provoked was nakedly commercial and not at all cheap, in British lives or in any other way. That event began the turn of enlightened sentiment away from empire. It would accelerate in the 20th century, until the very word “imperial” became a term of opprobrium.
The key to Ferguson's assessment of the empire is his analysis of the circumstances under which it ended. In the first half of the 20th century, the real alternatives to the British Empire were the Third Reich, or the Japanese East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, or the Italian Empire, or even the Soviet Union. Fighting off these alternative and far worse empires justified the British Empire's existence. Similar arguments could be made for earlier periods in the empire's history. The alternative to British India would have been a morbid extension of Mughal India, which would have been no more successful than Manchu China during the same period.
And what about the other colonial empires? The French were serious rivals in India and North America until the Seven Year's War (1756-1763). The Dutch actually got the better of the British during several conflicts in the 17th century; the competition was ended only when the Dutch and British executives merged in the Glorious Revolution (1688). It is possible to imagine a history dominated by a far greater French Empire, with its whitewashed architecture and frigid bureaucratic routine. One could imagine the same of the Dutch Empire, with its single-minded devotion to business. In either case, the British idea of liberty would have been largely absent from the modern world. Ferguson tells us that all the post-colonial states with populations over a million that became democracies are former British colonies. The qualifications in that statement are intriguing, but Ferguson may be onto something. Certainly the regime of free trade that Britain promoted in the decades before the First World War made the world a more economically dynamic place.
Ferguson makes some interesting comparisons between that “First Age of Globalization” and the Second, which he dates to the last quarter of the 20th century (and which he evidently believes is over). Though he does not argue the case in detail, Ferguson suggests that it would be hard to condemn 19th-century colonialism as merely exploitive. The colonial powers made huge infrastructure investments in their colonies. (The Congo Free State of King Leopold the Wicked may have been the chief exception.) India had a small trade deficit with Britain, for instance, but British India was a capital importer. During the Second Age of Globalization, in contrast, most trade and investment moved between developed countries. The income gap between the developed and undeveloped world widened during the Second Age, whereas it narrowed during the First.
Then there is the phenomenon of political fragmentation. The number of independent states tended to decline during the 19th century; around 1910, there were just 51. At this writing, the number is just short of two hundred. The new polities, fragments of old empires, often have tiny populations and economies that don't make much sense in isolation. Nonetheless, each must support the whole apparatus of national government. In the former Soviet area and in Africa, many of them plainly are not up to it. The implication of Ferguson's description is that what the world really needs is for some power to do in the 21st century what Queen Victoria's empire did in the 19th.
One may note in passing that Ferguson believes Britain itself might still have done at least part of this, in a slightly different history. There was talk well into the 1950s of a “Third British Empire,” under which the Commonwealth would function as a federation. There were several reasons this did not come off. One was that the United States was not particularly helpful during the Sterling crises that punctuated the post-war years, thus encouraging the trade patterns of the old empire to break up. Also, the Commonwealth became so big and diverse that it no longer meant anything. A federation of just the white dominions might have worked, in the unlikely event that its non-British members could have been persuaded a Third Empire was in their interests. As things turned out, the only power left to take up the imperial slack is the United States, about which Ferguson has his doubts.
In some ways, America is better positioned for global empire than Britain ever was. The US economy is about a quarter the size of the global economy; Britain at its height represented about 8%. Even at the empire's height, there were theoretical combinations of navies that might have challenged British naval supremacy, and of course Britain did not purport to be a great land power. In the early 21st century, the US has something close to a monopoly of supremacy in every dimension of conventional force. And the US manages to do this with not much more of a percentage of the national product than Gladstone or Disraeli's governments used. One might also add that Ann Coulter is much better looking than Queen Victoria ever was. The problem is that, in some ways, the US position in the world is the mirror image of a proper empire.
Ferguson does not use this analogy, but he might have likened the “American Empire” to the successful Japanese exporting corporations of the 1970s, those uncanny enterprises whose capital structures consisted almost entirely of debt. Quite aside from chronic federal deficits, the US seems to have given up on ever running a positive trade balance again. The country is an immense importer of foreign capital. It is also an immense importer of foreign people. One of the characteristics of the British Empire at every stage was Britain's huge emigration, which created whole new countries. Americans, in contrast, are reluctant even to go abroad on short business trips. As for military power, the American ability to project it is at least matched by the American eagerness to withdraw it just as soon as possible. In fact, the US tends to withdraw before it is possible, or at least prudent. The Widowed Queen would not have been amused.
To Ferguson's critique, I would say this: I like history as much as the next guy, indeed considerably more than most next guys. Pirates, the Raj, explorers, habeas corpus, the Boy Scouts, the RAF: they are all part of quite a story. Ferguson may well be right that it is the story of one of the better possible worlds, if not necessarily of the best. Still, the story is history, just as the age of empire is history. Empire, in the sense that Ferguson uses it, is a projection of the nationalism of some nation or other. The great national empires, like the great absolute monarchies, were possible during only a limited epoch. The United States in the 21st century could not create such an empire, even if it were foolish enough to try.
What the United States can do is anchor a Universal State or, to use Toynbee's other coinage, “an ecumenical society with Western characteristics.” The story of the better-possible-world that the British Empire created may yet continue. The trick is to avoid the temptation to emulate the noble empire's example too closely.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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2003-02-21: Imperial Catechism

A good man, and good at being a man

A good man, and good at being a man

While John was a fan of TR, he did admit that the colonies Teddy Roosevelt so enthusiastically helped to acquire were useless, both geostrategically and in domestic politics. However, when John talks about empire, the acquisition of Puerto Rico and the Philippines isn't what he means.

The empire [as opposed to an empire] is the ground state of a political and economic system when the will to maintain a more vigorous state is no longer available. This is what John is referring to when he says: "The basis of the Empire is not dominance, but acquiescence." The extent of an empire may be founded on the conquests of a vigorous leader, but its continued existence cannot be. Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, and then went on to create a template of political leadership that would directly continue for 1500 years [and indirectly until today]. Whereas Alexander the Great conquered an even greater extent of territory than Caesar, but it fell into strife and dissolution upon his death. On the gripping hand, the Roman Empire did about as well with Marcus Aurelius as Commodius. The empire does not depend on the charisma or skill of the Emperor to exist. Rather, the fact that the Emperor exists is what sustains the Empire. He is the still center about which everything else revolves.

The formation of universal states is something that seems likely, given human nature. I think it would be too bold to say it is a Law of Nature, but it certain seems to be a stable tendency. Going by past experience, we can expect the formation of a universal state that will encompass most of the world by the end of the Twenty-first century. I will be an old man, if I live at all, before I have the opportunity to see whether this prediction comes true. I am curious to see how it all turns out.

An Imperial Catechism
There is a relationship between American policy toward Iraq and the prospect of empire, but it's not the one you might think. Any American government, at any stage in the history of the United States, would have had to end the sort of threat that the Baathist regime in Iraq poses. In fact, America's first international war was a long, moderately successful campaign to suppress the Barbary Pirates. (You know the bit in the Marine Anthem about the "shores of Tripoli"?) Now, however, the international system is older, more constricted: you have to get a license to use force, even for self-defense. The problem is that the licensing authorities are both incompetent and autonomous. All the empire will mean is that the agencies will be answerable to an executive. There: that's the 21st century for you.
America has a great deal to do with this process, but again, not in the way you might think. America once had an empire, of the same variety as the British and French and Dutch empires. We acquired it late and let it go early. The old colonial empires were just extensions of the nations that controlled them. They were never worth much, frankly, and they had nothing to do with what America was or wanted.
What is happening now is different. We are seeing the beginning, not of an American Empire, but of the Empire. It seems at this point that it will be chiefly organized by the United States, but even that could change. The Empire is the terminal episode in the evolution of an international system. The Roman Empire, Han and Ming China, the Ottoman Empire: all were "universal states" of this class. The basis of the Empire is not dominance, but acquiescence. States may continue under the Empire, but the Empire is the ultimate source of legitimacy. In principle, it is the ultimate earthly guarantor of the minimum of order and justice without which civilization could not function.
Although the universal state of the West is still two or three generations from final formation, we are already seeing debate about it. A useful polemic against the Empire is available on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation, in the form of an essay by Richard Ebeling of Hillsdale College. The essay is entitled An American Empire! If You Want It instead of Freedom. Let me take in turn the points it raises.
* * *
Mr. Ebeling cites the arguments of a book published in 1953, Garet Garret's The People's Pottage. Conveniently, Mr. Ebeling numbers them:
First, the executive power of the government becomes increasingly dominant.
That trend has been exaggerated, and of course it was reversed after the Watergate scandal. Now it is probably being reversed again: not because of presidential hubris, but because Congress is terrified to be seen making a decision in public. For what it's worth, the executives of mature universal-states keep their jobs by doing as little as possible. Roman and Chinese emperors spent most of their time answering their mail.
Second, domestic-policy issues become increasingly subordinate to foreign-policy matters.
Twice in the 20th century, during the 1920s and the 1990s, the United States tried to reverse those priorities. The result in both cases was kaboom.
Third, Empire threatens to result in the ascendancy of the military mind over the civilian mind.
That is what happened, to some extent, under the colonial empires. Under the Empire, the trend is exactly the opposite. The characteristic feature of universal states is debellicization. The whole world becomes the European Union.
Fourth, Empire creates a system of satellite nations.
The Empire makes all politics domestic politics.
Fifth, Empire brings with it both arrogance and fear among the imperial people.
Even the colonial empires moved away from ethnic chauvinism in their last stage. As for the Empire, under it there are no foreigners.
And, finally, Empire creates the illusion that a nation is a prisoner of history..."Destiny" has marked us for duty and greatness.
The way that universal states form is contingent. The fact that they do form probably is not. Get over it.
* * *
America's old colonial empire in the Philippines and the Caribbean really did contradict America's essential nature. The Empire, in contrast, was implicit in the American Founding. The Declaration of Independence famously says: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." Rights are imaginary unless a social order exists in which they can be exercised. By declaring the rights universal, the Continental Congress implied the ideal of a universal order. Indeed, the Congress appealed to that order: the Declaration is addressed, not to the American people, or to God, or to specific sovereigns. It is addressed to "the decent opinion of mankind," to the consensus of civilization. The Empire is simply that consensus in institutional form.
Regular visitors to my site will know that I have dozens of items online that deal with these matters in one way or another. As a convenience to readers, I am planning a paperback anthology on the subject: The Perfection of the West. It will not include Spengler's Future, unless I can fix the rights problem with the old publisher in a week or two. However, it should make clear some of the things I have been getting at these many years. Look for it this spring.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2003-01-09: The Imperial Gazette Speaks

While criticism of the Iraq war is now commonplace, still only cranks seriously contest the way the United States conducts its global business in any systematic way. Everyone simply assumes this is the way it has to be, and most of the arguing is about who is going to be in charge and what goals they should be pursuing. I think this speaks to John's vision of the world as being largely correct: we really are approaching the point where some kind of universal state will again emerge, and right now the United States is acting as the executive of that embryonic state.

The Imperial Gazette Speaks
No doubt The New York Times thought that it was being very provocative when it ran that cover story, American Empire (Get Used to It), in its Sunday magazine on January 5. Written by Michael Ignatieff of the Kennedy School of Government, the article (which is actually titled "The Burden") makes the argument that the United States is already running a global empire, and that this is not necessarily a bad thing. There are two points about the piece that bear mentioning.
The first is how little fundamental criticism it occasioned. Although some people did take issue stridently with Ignatieff's ideas about the Israeli-Palestinian issue (which are in fact a little flaky), I have yet to see much comment to the effect that the US lacks the capacities Ignatieff claims. There has also, so far, been a dearth of serious moral arguments against global empire. Indeed, such discussion as there has been simply presents shades of opinion in favor of it. The extreme wings of apologetics for empire are represented by Robert Kaplan, a Realpolitiker, and Peter Singer, a liberal the bleeding from whose heart could not be staunched by Senator Frist himself. (Singer might deny that what he is advocating is an empire. Hah.)
The most interesting thing about The New York Times piece, however, was Ignatieff's ignorance of the typology of empires. What is happening to the world now is not like the imperialist rivalries of the 18th and 19th centuries. To the extent there is an American Empire, it is not of the same type as the British Empire. The American Empire (and the tag "American" may not stay with it permanently) is the early stage of what Toynbee called a "Universal State." Put briefly, a Universal State is the final condition of an international system. Universal states are assembled by hegemons, but are made possible by exhaustion. Essentially, sovereignty becomes too much trouble, so the members of the system cede most of it to an imperial center, which soon loses its national character.
Samuel Huntington made use of the concept in The Clash of Civilizations, though he was inclined to think that the Universal State of the West would not be global. I also ran across the use of the concept in a planning paper for the Canadian military. On the whole, though, there seems to be little appreciation, even among the advocates of global empire, for just how different a Universal State is from the empires in the earlier stages of a civilization's history. They are, for instance, much longer lived: generally about 500 years. Why? Because they are legitimate. Alexander's empire rested solely on force, so it shattered at his death. The Roman Empire, in contrast, lasted through crisis after crisis. It lasted because it represented universal justice, however imperfectly. This is the one valuable point in Empire, the otherwise execrable book by Hardt & Negri.
* * *
Two minor points:
The comparison between the United States and Rome has always been overdone. In some ways, the West today looks less like the late Hellenistic world than it looks like the late Era of Contending States in Chinese history. The faceoff between the US and the EU bears comparison to the conflict between the states of Qin and Qi: the argument is about legitimacy. Of course, in other ways the present situation is unique, and for the better. The West is actually more adept than other societies at substituting veiled threats and peaceful competition for actual war.
Finally, if the concept of a Universal State does regain the currency it had in the 1950s, this time there will be some confusion with this quite different usuage:
Definition: A state in an alternating Turing machine from which the machine accepts only if all possible moves lead to acceptance.
You read it first here.
* * *
Unlike some bloggers whose URLs I will not mention, I try not to flack reflexively for the Bush Administration. Nonetheless, I must register a protest against the made-for-television movie, The Crooked E, which appeared on CBS on Sunday. The screenwriters' attempt to identify the Bush Administration with the shady practices of the spectacularly failed Enron Corporation is a new low in media partisanship for the Democrats.
The book on which the program was supposed to be based suggested that Enron had had too much influence over both the Clinton and Bush II Administrations. In the movie, all the references to the Clintons were deleted. In fact, the whole decade of the 1990s was deleted. The movie starts with the founders of Enron at a barbecue in Texas, clacking their mandibles in glee over the deregulation of the energy market by the Reagan Administration. The story then jumps to 2001. A junior executive, who had been present at that barbecue as a boy, is starting work at Enron. We are never actually told just what business Enron was in. The exposition gives the impression that Enron mostly sold insurance to manufacturers of poisoned food. There is a reference to some member of the Bush Administration every five minutes
This is not to say that the producers were incapable of subtlety. The actor who played the junior executive (Christian Kane, I think) is a graduate of the WB network's camp-supernatural industry. In the series Angel, he played a junior attorney at a law firm that catered to the well-to-do damned. He had pretty much the same job at Enron.
* * *
Speaking of the damned, reports of uncanny events continue to surface, despite the efforts of well-meaning authorities to suppress them. First it was raining fish. Then it was spider webs. Now it's dragon's breath. Where will it all end?

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The Long View: The Ethics of Globalization by Peter Singer

It is a bit of an understatement to say that Peter Singer isn't one of my favorite philosophers. I do have to give the man credit for rigorous intellectual consistency however. He pursues the implications of his positions with single-minded determination. And since his starting points are largely those of the guiding spirit of the age, events keep catching up with his formerly extreme positions as the inevitable logic of those premises win out over ordinary human hypocrisy and moral squeamishness.

John's interest in reviewing this book stems from his interest in Universal States, polities like the Roman Empire and Han China, that occupy the ground state of the system of nations, a condition the world falls into when the energy to maintain a different system is no longer available.

Since we are nearing the time when this state of affairs is likely to occur again, it is worth looking back into history to see what happened before. There have been at least two bursts of cosmopolitanism in the West in the last two thousand years. People ask the same kinds of question in each such age. It is worth at least looking to see what they came up with.Unfortunately, it seems that is exactly what Singer did not do.

One of the most interesting sections here is John's critique of Singer's attempt to apply Rawlsian fairness in a truly global, universal fashion. It is worth re-quoting the argument in full:

In support of this proposition, Singer deploys some of those fables of utilitarian calculus that have become his trademark. They run like this: You are walking across a park on your way to deliver the prestigious Acme Lecture on Fine Ideas, when you see a small child fall into a well. There is no one else around to help. Do you rescue the child, even though that might make you miss the lecture, or would you continue punctually on your way to further burnish your academic career? (Well, would you? Would you?) Singer insists that people in developed countries are in exactly the same relationship to starving children in developing countries as the Acme lecturer was to the child down the well. Just as he could have turned aside, at real but bearable cost to himself, to save that child, so people in rich countries should sacrifice the luxurious excess of their standard of living in order to end hunger and disease in developing countries.

There is something to be said for this. In the last fifteen years, this argument has if anything gotten more popular. I suspect this argument wouldn't have near as much force in the Western mind if it weren't a retelling of the parable of the Good Samaritan, but dressing it up as modern philosophy allows us moderns to feel good about being moved by this example.

Unfortunately, the analogy to the people who do need help in the world is imperfect. If we were to extend the analogy a bit, what we see in most places of the world that need help is that the park is a sovereign nation, and the people of the park elected a man who turned into a tyrant, and he tossed the child down the well because the child's father was an opposition leader. And when we ship food to the park, the leader gives it to his cronies and lets the rest starve. We can send in a punitive expedition to kill the leader, but if we leave someone similar just takes his place. If we stay and try to impose some kind of good government, some fraction of the locals inevitably hate us and push back violently.

Not as pithy, but closer to the truth. There is something of this lurking in the background of Singer's argument, because he isn't an advocate of national sovereignty when it leads to human rights abuses. The really strange thing is that something like Singer's argument is exactly what led us to intervene in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11 under W. I don't think anyone would plausibly consider Singer and George W. Bush to be intellectual bedfellows, but on this issue they are.

What I find so fascinating about John's support for the Iraq War is that many of his own arguments told against him. The argument John marshals here against Singer is that there is a countervailing principle of moral philosophy to the duty to help another human in distress: one should mind one's own business. To treat another human being as having moral agency is to respect the choices they make for themself, or themselves, even if it is objectively a mistake. This principle is buttressed by ordinary human ignorance. Usually, we lack appropriate knowledge to meddle in other's affairs in a helpful way.

As I keep pointing out, the giant mess the United States has made out of Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and Egypt and Ukraine ought to be sufficient to remind us there really are lesser evils.

One World:
The Ethics of Globalization
By Peter Singer
Yale University Press, 2002
235 Pages, $21.95
ISBN 0-300-09686-0
Readers will be shocked to learn that “A Theory of Justice,” John Rawls's immensely influential general theory of ethics, has nothing to say about the rights and duties of individuals outside their own societies. In “One World,” the noted ethicist Peter Singer tries to close this global deficit. According to Singer: “The twentieth century's conquest of space made it possible for a human being to look at our planet from a point not on it, and so to see it, literally, as one world. Now the twenty-first century faces the task of developing a suitable form of government for that single world.”
There are in fact good reasons to believe that the world is moving toward the condition that Toynbee called a “universal state.” This prospect does raise ethical questions, both about whether people of good will should support the process, and about how such a state should be governed if it does arise. Singer's historyless treatment of the subject manages to miss most of the real issues. It does, however, suggest some principles that could turn the later 21st century into a planetary nightmare.
“One World” began as the Dwight Harrington Foundation Lectures on Religion in the Light of Science and Philosophy, which Singer delivered at Yale in November 2000. The topical justification for the book seems originally to have been the great anti-globalization demonstrations that began with “The Battle in Seattle” in December 1999, when a meeting of the World Trade Organization was met with protest and riot. The book has four themes: One Atmosphere (concerning the environment, especially global warming); One Economy (free trade, especially the operation of the World Trade Organization); One Law (chiefly the duty of humanitarian intervention); and One Community (how foreign aid relates to the general duty to relieve the condition of the poor).
The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon intervened during the lectures' transition to book form. The author's attempts to accommodate the new situation suggest a determination not to be distracted from his pet ideas. The One Atmosphere section begins with a grotesque comparison between the attack on the World Trade Center and the probable effects of emissions from SUVs. Singer asserts that, although the attack was spectacular, the emissions will result in global warming that will kill far more people. Both, he tells us, are examples of areas that require global governance, but global warming is clearly closer to his heart. “One World” is, to a large extent, just another instance of the relentless moralization of environmental issues.
Why should this be? Regarding global warming in particular, I suspect it's because the phenomenon makes such a wonderful unifying principle. Almost all economic activities have some implications for greenhouse-gas emissions. Economic growth, of course, is easily linked to issues like population control, which has a bearing on the global distribution of wealth.
The whole exercise is rather like a game we used to play in college: “What does that have to do with the price of milk?” The idea was to show how anything at all could be shown to have some bearing on that question. Consider, for instance, the surface temperature of Mars. That is obviously related to solar output, which is related to the weather on Earth, which is related to the price of cattle feed, which is obviously related to the price of milk. QED
Similarly, global warming can be used to show that just about anything people do or say has a global ethical dimension. I am inclined to think that global warming is a real phenomenon, and that emissions of greenhouse-gases occasioned by human activity are an important contributing factor. I also know that the projections of how global warming will affect human life in the coming decades are too speculative to take seriously. Global warming is not the key to a master philosophy.
Regarding the world's One Economy, Singer is not much distressed by the prospect that the World Trade Organization might undermine national sovereignty. What disturbs him is that the WTO does not use its position as an international gatekeeper to impose universal environmental and labor standards. The WTO's charter does in fact allow a member state to discriminate against goods that are produced in ways that violate the state's policies in these matters, but the WTO regards such claims skeptically. There is good reason for this. Domestic producers often use environmental and labor arguments to suppress competition, and the same devices are easily deployed against foreign trading partners. Singer, nonetheless, criticizes the World Trade Organization for leaving most environmental and labor standard issues to be settled in other forums.
The WTO was in fact designed to deal strictly with trade issues. The idea was to allay the fears of critics that the WTO would otherwise become too powerful. Good intentions rarely go unpunished.
The section that deals with One Law has the most to say about the mechanisms of global governance (or, to put it bluntly, world government). The occasion for these reflections is the need to ensure that national governments are not allowed to inflict gross and systematic human-rights abuses on their subjects. Singer maintains, plausibly enough, that humanitarian interventions against criminal governments are a duty of the international community, even if that means modifying or dispensing with the principle of state sovereignty.
The idea that sovereignty needs to be limited is scarcely new, and in fact the principle of sovereignty has been in decline since about 1900. A thought that never occurs to Singer is just why the international institutions created to replace it have so often made things worse. It is pretty clear, for example, that the collective security regime of the League of Nations inhibited the ordinary Great Power diplomacy that might have prevented the Second World War. More recently, we know that the spread of weapons of mass destruction has occurred largely under the cover of ineffective international inspection. As for military interventions to prevent massacre, they generally occur when the United States, and more rarely other states, can be shamed into using their own forces to take action. Never one to be deterred by reality, Singer wants the veto power of the permanent members of the Security Council to be eliminated. It is hard to see why any power would maintain a usable military establishment if the power lost control of it to an international body. He does suggest that a truly global military should undertake duties of this sort, but he does not explain why an international army would work better than other international institutions.
In this as in other contexts, Singer has nothing but bile for the United States. How dare the US insist that its nationals be excluded from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court? How dare the US insist on the maintenance of the Security Council veto? Such things are simply instances of might rather than right, Singer insists.
Well, no. In the international system as it has actually evolved, the US performs many of the functions of an executive. In many ways, the US at the beginning of the 21st century was less like a sovereign state and more like an international utility. It would be odd if the US did not have special “constitutional” status.
In the section on One Community, Singer attempts to expand Rawls's ethics to fit the globe. Rawls did treat international relations in “The Law of Peoples,” of course, but Singer quarrels even with the title. By Singer's account, it is a violation of Rawls's principles to allow nation states to play any analytical role in our ethical calculations of what we owe to others.
John Rawls famously laid it down that “fairness” for a society would consist of those rules we would choose “in the original condition,” before we knew what position luck would give us. Thus, for instance, we would choose that the handicapped be cared for, since we might belong to that group ourselves. According to Rawls, we would be more interested in preventing possible misery than in ensuring that we could enjoy the maximum possible luxury, so we would want a political and economic system that promoted the redistribution of wealth.
Rawls did not apply these principles between societies. Societies, and particularly states, owe each other duties and should live in a law-governed way. However, in his scheme of things, individuals in one society just do not have the same obligations to people in other societies that they have to people in their own. Singer will have none of this. For him, which society you are going to belong to is one of those things you don't know in the “original condition.” Surely you would want a reasonable standard of living wherever you happened to be born in the world? Thus, fairness requires that we value those near to us and those far from us in the same way. Inequalities of wealth between different parts of the world are therefore intolerable.
In support of this proposition, Singer deploys some of those fables of utilitarian calculus that have become his trademark. They run like this: You are walking across a park on your way to deliver the prestigious Acme Lecture on Fine Ideas, when you see a small child fall into a well. There is no one else around to help. Do you rescue the child, even though that might make you miss the lecture, or would you continue punctually on your way to further burnish your academic career? (Well, would you? Would you?) Singer insists that people in developed countries are in exactly the same relationship to starving children in developing countries as the Acme lecturer was to the child down the well. Just as he could have turned aside, at real but bearable cost to himself, to save that child, so people in rich countries should sacrifice the luxurious excess of their standard of living in order to end hunger and disease in developing countries.
Singer is willing to allow some scope to the principle of “partiality.” It is not irrational or unjust for us to take special care of friends and family, he will allow. Friendship and family rank among the great goods of life. However, these considerations do not affect the general principle that we owe a duty of aid to everybody. Now that technological advance has made it possible to carry out that duty, we are morally obligated to create the global political institutions that can do so.
Let me suggest that there is a fundamental ethical imperative to mind your own business. To some degree, simple respect for the moral agency of others requires that you let them make their own mistakes. Just as important, though, is the fact that other people know more about their affairs than you do. Despite his long list of occasions when humanitarian intervention was justified, Singer never quite comes to grips with the fact that the direst poverty in the world is not caused by a lack of foreign assistance, but by the crooks who run the local government. The simple transfusion of goods and foodstuffs from one society to another can make things worse. There is a literature about how food aid has destroyed local agriculture in some instances.
Singer is willing to allow that his global ethics does not answer the many prudential questions that arise whenever we design a given aid program. His chief concern is to establish the principle that some aid is always owing, and only special circumstances may excuse us from not rendering it in a particular instance. The fact is, though, that equally compelling principles tell us something else: first, do no harm.
“One World” does not purport to describe a full system of global ethics. Nonetheless, it does suggest many ideas that are systemically significant, though not perhaps for the reasons the author imagines.
For instance, the willingness of philosophers to use a speculative rhetorical device like global warming illustrates a characteristic failure of modern philosophy. Writing in “First Things” (February 1994), Paul Zaleski describes a little test he sometimes gives his students. He asks them to rank an odd assortment of things, such as “mouse,” “bag,” “man,” “angel,” “the sun,” “crab,” “the Taj Mahal,” “the Idea of the Good,” and so on. From a traditional metaphysical perspective, the top of such a list might be “the Idea of the Good,” or possibly “man.” His students, however, for the most part head the list with “the sun,” apparently on the principle that solar energy makes all the other items possible. Philosophical treatments of environmentalism often reason the same way. The mere size of the biosphere seems to be a sufficient substitute for metaphysical priority.
Perhaps more seriously, Singer has fits of evolutionary psychology. He tells us that there may well be a human predilection to genocide, inculcated in us by evolution. He also tells us that, just because there is some common human impulse to do something, the predilection cannot be adduced as a "reason” in an ethical argument. Thus, though we may have a natural tendency to favor our blood relatives, that is not a justification for doing so. The only ethics we need take seriously are those based on “reciprocity,” on some version of the principle that we should do to others what would want them to do to us.
This doesn't really work. No doubt, in the hypothetical pre-natal state envisioned by Rawls, we would make rules to assign goods on a reciprocal basis. However, the source for those goods will be intuitions and impulses, which Singer assumes arise from evolutionary history. Some ethical systems have criteria for judging nature, but Singer's does not appear to be one of them. Judging from “One World,” at least, it is not clear why the “findings” of evolutionary psychology could not be used as the desiderata for Rawls's utilitarian calculus. Such a philosophy could become a real global menace.
Singer also has his Marxist moments. He has the odd idea that the issues he raises are entirely new, and are simply the ideological consequences of new technology. He seems quite unaware that the political theory and personal ethics of the Middle Ages was “international” to a degree that the modern world has not yet recovered.
Happily, there are other paths to a global ethics. Reflection about “cosmopolis,” or “All under Heaven,” is as old as philosophy. This is not a subject where we need to start from the “original position.”
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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The Long View: Constitution of the Ecumenical Empire

John was very interested in the form the future might take. He wrote a book that was his attempt to limn the future by means of a program he wrote in BASIC and the ideas of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. Like myself, John felt that the idea of cycles in history does not preclude free will or moral agency. We might hope, tentatively and with great humility, to influence things for the better. Following William Ernest Hocking, John posited the idea of "unlosables", technologies and ideas and ethical principles, which become part of the ever-increasing common heritage of the race. This entry is intended to illustrate some of those ideas in political philosophy.

As a lawyer, John was well-positioned to draft a constitution. He knew that the failure of most modern constitutions was due to their complexity. The most successful modern constitutions, the American, and the Swiss [which is based on the American] are relatively brief. This is his attempt at a constitution for the Ecumenical Empire, his term for the universal state into which the world is likely to collapse sometime in this century.

This document was originally posted to an Alternative History newsgroup. It may not be a proper "what-if," but it is likely to interest alternative history buffs.

Every so often, I come across a model "world constitution" by groups or individuals who are interested in the question. These proposals are all non-starters. They are too legalistic, too complicated, and most of all too long. The draft constitution here is supposed to be more realistic. I imagine it coming into effect late in the next century, when the traditional international system has collapsed because of war and progressive economic integration. Like the Roman Empire, it is essentially a police measure. Feel free to propose amendments.

JR -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Constitution of the Ecumenical Empire

This Constitution describes the structure of the Ecumenical Empire. 
The Ecumenical Empire is the final stage of human political evolution.
This Constitution is unchangeable.
The Empire's operations and functions must be further defined by legislation.

The Empire
The Ecumenical Empire possesses every power which a human government may possess.
The jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Empire is universal in space.
The Ecumenical Empire may permit Subsidiary States to exist.

The Emperor

The Emperor may hear all final appeals in judicial matters from whatever source.
The Emperor is the Commander in Chief of the Ecumenical Army.
The Emperor is the Director of the Ecumenical Civil Service.
The Emperor serves for life, subject to deposition or abdication.
The Emperor may veto acts of the Senate.
The Emperor may nominate his successor from among the Senators, subject to the approval of the Senate.
The Emperor is an Imperial Citizen for life.

The Senate
The Senate may have up to one thousand Senators.
The Senate may enact laws of universal or local application.
The Senate may tax Imperial Citizens directly.
The Senate may tax trade between Subsidiary States.
The Senate may issue and revoke charters for the existence of Subsidiary States.
The Senate elects the Emperor.
The Senate may depose the Emperor by a vote of three-quarters of the Senators.
The Senate may expel a Senator by a vote of three-quarters of the Senators.
Every Subsidiary State provides one Senator, selected by any means and for whatever term the Subsidiary State chooses.
All Senators not provided by a Subsidiary State are appointed by the Emperor for life, subject to expulsion or retirement.
Senators are Imperial Citizens at least for their term in office.

The Ecumenical Army
The Ecumenical Army includes all the armed forces of the Ecumenical Empire.
Only the Ecumenical Army may possess weapons of mass destruction.
Weapons of mass destruction may not be used against civilian populations without thirty days' warning.
Subsidiary States have no authority to tax members of the Ecumenical Army directly.
All members of the Ecumenical Army enjoy extraterritoriality from Subsidiary States.
All members of the Ecumenical Army serving for at least ten years are Imperial Citizens for life.

The Ecumenical Civil Service
The Ecumenical Civil Service collects the taxes of the Ecumenical Empire and administers imperial law.
The courts of the Ecumenical Empire are a branch of the Ecumenical Civil Service.
Regions not under the jurisdiction of a Subsidiary State are ruled directly by the Ecumenical Civil Service.
Subsidiary States have no authority to tax members of the Ecumenical Civil Service directly.
All members of the Ecumenical Civil Service enjoy extraterritoriality from Subsidiary States.
All members of the Ecumenical Civil Service serving for at least ten years are Imperial Citizens for life.

Subsidiary States
No Subsidiary State may exist without the charter of the Senate.
Charters for Subsidiary States are issued for perpetuity and are subject to revocation.
Subsidiary States may choose their own form of government.
Subsidiary States may exercise primary jurisdiction over their citizens and residents.
Subsidiary States may not maintain armed forces beyond those necessary for internal police.
Laws of Subsidiary States that are incompatible with imperial law are voidable by the Ecumenical Civil Service.
Particular acts by Subsidiary States may be prohibited by the Emperor.
The governments of Subsidiary States are subject to suspension by the Emperor.

Imperial Subjects
All human beings are Imperial Subjects.
Imperial Subjects may not be enslaved. Imperial Subjects may not be coerced by law to perform acts of worship.
Imperial Subjects may be imprisoned or executed only after a trial.
Acquittals in criminal trials are not appealable.
Imperial Subjects not citizens of a Subsidiary State are subject to the immediate jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Civil Service.

Imperial Citizens
Any Imperial Subject may be created by the Emperor to be an Imperial Citizen for life or for a term of years.
The spouse and children of all Imperial Citizens for life are also Imperial Citizens for life.
Imperial Citizens have the option to be citizens of Subsidiary States.
Imperial Citizens have the option to make themselves liable to the taxes and judicial process of a Subsidiary State.
Imperial Citizens are subject to the immediate jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Civil Service.
Imperial Citizens are subject to direct taxes of the Ecumenical Empire.
Imperial Citizens may not be deprived of goods, money or land without a trial.
Imperial Citizens may say or publish anything that does not appear likely to cause immediate public disorder.

Prior Law
Any provision of international or domestic law contrary to this Constitution is nullified.
Fully sovereign states existing at the time of the proclamation of this Constitution may apply within one year for a charter from the Senate to become Subsidiary States.
Fully sovereign states that fail to apply within that time are abolished.

We the leaders of the Cabinet of the Final Alliance proclaim this Constitution on our own authority. We designate our chairman to be the first Emperor. The Emperor designates us to be the first Senators. [Signatures] [Date (circa 2080)]

Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly

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