The international system is a complex and convoluted thing, and sets the framework against which States are measured for their effectiveness, righteousness, or other measures that could serve as proxies for legitimacy: transparency, robustness, even happiness, or goodness. According to these indices, Ireland performs reasonably well – very well actually. It is the seventh most ‘unfragile’ country in the world; the eleventh most ‘good’; the 18th most transparent; and the 19th happiest. Most of these indices combine different metrics such as GDP, social metrics like unemployment, education rates, and so on, which tend to mean that Ireland – and other countries – won’t deviate too much from one ranking to the next. So Ireland performs well as a country. However, the combination of the EU Crisis, Brexit, and Trump’s America seem to represent a trifecta of bad things over which Ireland has little or no control, and could send the country hurtling down those indices. So if Ireland has so little control over these shaping factors, is Ireland in fact a legitimate country, a genuinely sovereign power?
Ross Douthat in today’s New York Times declares our time a crisis for liberalism, the left having ‘lost its way’, in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump. It’s been a popular theme. In 1969, Ted Lowi declared the end of liberalism, in favour of interest group liberalism, in part a kind of elaboration on Eisenhower’s theme of the military-industrial complex. The liberalism of which we speak has long been defined in terms of economics and economic goods, how the distribution of resources and the freedom that comes with fair access to those resources, can allow mankind to flourish. Friedman’s classic Capitalism and Freedom from 1962 defined the concept, which was ultimately routed in eighteenth century enlightenment thinking, and in particular the French Revolution. Its progression through International Law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the twentieth century brought at its end an essential global consensus: Liberal Democracy was it. This was the end of history. Continue reading “Neonihilism and the Failure of Liberalism”
As Francois Hollande transitions from the bureaucratic administrator of the Fifth French Republic to a wartime leader in the latest instalment of the rolling war on terror, decisions are being made about France. The latest pronouncements – from overbearing surveillance measures introduced in the Summer in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings, to the most recent introduction of a three month state of emergency in order to deal with the Paris attacks – diminish democratic governance and accountability, in the short-sighted interests of expediency and national security. But this disaffected progression is not new; perhaps the January and November attacks were more overtly offensive than before, and appear more obvious inflection points, but we must go back ten years to the riots of 2005 to try and understand what is happening. Furthermore, the decisions being made today are not merely reflective of missteps taken in the past, but instructive as to the kind of France that is emerging for the future. And for France, we can read Europe, and Western Liberalism.
In the early part of the twentieth century, Woodrow Wilson‘s America decided upon an Isolationist Foreign Policy concentrating their efforts on the battles at home. It wasn’t a new strategy – since the days of George Washington, the country as it emerged tried to distance itself from foreign entanglements, notwithstanding repeated encroachment on its borders by regional competitors and the death throes of European Power. The German ascendancy in the Atlantic finally forced their hand, and in order to protect the interests of America the country was forced into the war, and away from its isolationism. America, it appeared, could only advance her domestic interests if actively engaged on the International Stage.
The Syrian Crisis continues to dominate international news this week, as poorly executed Washington diplomacy prolongs the affair, and Assad and Putin teach them a lesson in media management. The breathtaking hypocrisy in Putin’s defense of International Law (hopefully the New York Times doesn’t syndicate to Georgia) is matched only by Obama and Kerry in their grand pronouncements on human rights violations in the Middle East. If the weariness of the double standards in International Politics was insufficient to shake one’s faith in the State system, then perhaps we might take some time to think about the sustainability of institutions whose legitimacy is being persistently assaulted from within and without.
Six months ago, it appeared obvious that Bashar Al-Assad was on his way out of Syria. What was less clear, however, was who was likely to succeed him. And it is this particular point – the absence of a clear opposition – that has kept him in place. The various countries that have an interest are both local and global, and the rationale of each bears thinking about.
Let’s start with the neighbours. Immediately surrounding Syria are Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. Hizbollah – and therefore Lebanon – is supporting Assad, primarily one suspects because they think he will win. Syria has long been a friend of the Palestinians. Assad himself put it thus in 2002: “As far as an occupier is concerned, there is no distinction between soldiers and civilians… There is a distinction between armed and unarmed, but in Israel everyone is armed. In any case, we adopted the following concept: resistance to occupation is a legitimate right.”
Outgoing Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao today added his voice (not for the first time) to those warning against rising inequality as a threat to China’s development. Imbalances in economic growth he warned were threatening the success of the economy. “We must make ensuring and improving people’s wellbeing the starting point and goal of all the government’s work, give entire priority to it and strive to strengthen social development,” he added. It is a common refrain, and one that goes to the root of modern statecraft.
Ireland has had a well documented, rather turbulent recent economic history. Following on from the bursting of the property bubble and the attendant banking collapse, an extraordinarily myopic political decision to nationalise the exposure of the banks led to a sovereign debt crisis, and, ultimately, a bailout from the troika of the IMF, ECB and European Commission. Apart from the loss of money, there was plenty dramatic wailing about the loss of National Sovereignty, and references to the War of Independence and the heroes of 1916 and ‘is this what they died for?’ rhetoric. There was even a nuance to the sovereignty question, in that the country had lost her economic sovereignty, whatever that meant.
Now, politics has always had an uneasy alliance with the propriety of language, bending it to its will as any situation may have seen fit. The distinction between economic sovereignty, and other sovereignty, one supposes, is that while we’re not necessarily allowed to award pay rises to civil servants, we are still permitted to invade England. At least we have that, I guess. Of course, the extent to which we are – truly – permitted to invade England is limited in exactly the same way as our freedom to spend money has been limited. It is not a flat prohibition on action through coercive or other power that has limited what Ireland as a State can do; it is the threat of exclusion from international systems upon which we have become irrevocably dependent that limits our action.
I posted just yesterday about the Informal Economy described by Robert Neuwirth as System D, where it is projected that by 2020 two thirds of the world’s workers will operate. That’s an economy almost entirely independent of the state, and the nation state structure. It all harks back to the Industrial Revolution, which spawned Marxism and the labour movement, a movement that brought communism and great intellectual struggle. We have to believe that within those workers there will be able leaders; English as a language is increasingly unifying peoples. It could be an interesting century yet!
I mentioned in passing yesterday that ‘In Africa, many tribes operate … with their own systems of justice’, though I did not have a reference. This morning, my attention was brought to a recent UN Development Program (UNDP) report entitled Informal Justice Systems. In it, the report states that ‘…80% of disputes are resolved through informal justice systems in some countries’. The claim is based on research by Ewa Wojkowska . The combination of the Informal Economy and Informal Justice is of course mesmerising. If those two beasts can find some resonance with an Informal Security apparatus, then hey presto, you have a de facto State, but not one in the conventional family of nations, rather is it more like some globalised feudalism, a million miles from Manhattan.
Glenn Greenwald’s most excellent series on Security and Liberty in The Guardian addresses most recently the definition of terrorism, and in particular the case of a gangland shooting where a man called Morales shot and killed an innocent 10-year-old girl by mistake. The State of New York convicted him of being a terrorist, defined by state laws as acting with ‘intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.’ The interpretation of the court was that Morales actions were designed to coerce the entire Mexican-American community, and were therefore terrorist. On appeal, the court not only rejected the terrorism conviction, but also sent the entire case for retrial, as the standards by which terrorist trials were conducted were different to those of non-terrorist offences.