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Letters by a modern St. Ferdinand III about cults

Gab@StFerdinandIII - Plenty of cults exist - every cult has its 'religious dogma', its idols, its 'prophets', its 'science', its 'proof' and its intolerant liturgy of demands.  Cults everywhere:  Islam, the State, the cult of Gay and Queer, Marxism, Darwin and Evolution, 'Science', Globaloneywarming, Changing Climate, Abortion....a nice variety for the human-hater, amoral, anti-rationalist to choose from.  It is so much fun mocking them isn't it ?

Tempus Fugit Memento Mori - Time Flies Remember Death 

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Book Review: 'Forges of Empires' 1861-1871; Three revolutionary statesman and the world they made.'

A fantastic look by Michael Beran, at a vital decade and the divergent paths of the US, Germany and Russia [but don't worry Oprah won't recommend it, or even read it].

by StFerdIII



Most people don't consider some basic questions pertaining to the modern world. Why is the US a meritocratic republic and Russia a state managed by a large oil firm in alliance with the KGB? How did Germany which gave the world Goethe, Beethoven and Gutenburg, devolve into a fascist-pagan monstrosity under Hitler? Why was black slavery eradicated by a white ruling class in the US whilst elsewhere no one much bothered about the idea, except in Russia where the white serfs were freed at the same time? A critical mid 19th century decade helps decode some answers.

This book focuses on a critical decade in world history and the vastly divergent paths that 3 key states took – thanks in large part to the leaders of these states during this period. It is a thesis that has not been that well developed but makes eminent sense. The historical development of 3 important states, Germany, the US and Russia, can be traced back in part, to the years 1860-70 and the choices made by the leaders of these states. This book is thus too intelligent and relevant to make Oprah Winfrey's reading recommendation list – but that is precisely why it should be read. It is very novel and quite accessible look at the formation of the modern world based on what happened 140 odd years ago.

It was during this time that 2 great concepts were being debated about the organisation of society. With the collapse of 'enlightened despotism' [a rather meaningless term]; the elimination of Napoleon and the populist and somewhat democratic urgings seen in the revolutions of 1848; Europe and America by 1860 had reached a crossroads. Was it to be a coercive-elitist model of state direction; or a more profound shift of power to the people and some form of universal suffrage and indirect representation which would govern states and peoples?

The odds were definitely against those who favored liberalism and democracy. As Beran notes, 'coercion was founded on two idea. The first was paternalism, an idea which, in different forms and under various guises, proved to be a potent weapon in the reaction against the free state. Landowners in Russia and in the American South argued that their domestic institutions embodied the paternal principle.....the state was to love its subject as a father loves a child.....the second idea was militant nationalism.....Planters in the American South dreamt of enslaving Central America and the Caribbean. Germany's nationalists aspired to incorporate Danish, French and Polish provinces....In Moscow....romantic nationalists....yearned to rout the Ottoman Turks and impose Russia's will on Byzantium.'

This is precisely right. State coercion is about power and there are two methods – both of which are often used concurrently. Set up a regime to regulate, coddle and ultimately tax your subjects – under the rubric of love and empathy, whilst at the same time building up support for a militant and chauvinistic nationalism to spread your 'values' or 'revolutionary' policy objectives abroad. A state dominated regime is thus paternal only in the sense of explaining its actions to the mass and the powerless. In reality it is anything but benign or friendly.

The corrective to state coercion and militant romantic nationalism, is of course ideas of freedom, a constraint on government power and arbitary force, and the establishment of wide-spread if not universal responsibility for representative governance. In 1861 very few places on the globe outside of Britain and Holland believed in such ideals. Strong-man, paternalistic rule, had replaced the divine right of Kings as a logical and even god-given method of societal organisation. Who was to prevail against the strength and force of a centralised gang or locus of power?

As the US civil war opened in 1860, the new Republican President, Abe Lincoln, was well aware of the trends and problems besetting nations worldwide. It was not just an American issue but one with historical ramifications which would last throughout time: 'The new philosophy of power was, Lincoln argued, making rapid strides in other parts of the globe. He repeatedly characterized the struggle between freedom and servitude as a world struggle. The outcome of the American contest [or civil war], between the two philosophies would, he predicted, have a great, possibly a decisive impact on the world crisis.....If, on the contrary, the United States was saved on principles of freedom, “millions of free happy people, the world over” Lincoln said, would “rise up, and call us blessed to the latest generations.”'

Lincoln was forthrightly against coercion and for freedom – including that of freeing the 2 million black slaves held in bondage by 10 million white southerners, of which perhaps 4% owned slaves. So in the US the decade opening in 1860 featured a civil war in which 15 million free northerners, who had abolished slavery in northern states, were trying to drag an anti-modern, inferior, and cultural defective South into the modern world – a South in which 40.000 -50.000 white men owned 2 million black slaves and controlled an area larger than Western Europe. The fact that Lincoln won his war, and the freedom loving North was able to defeat a stagnant, racist and unbearable paternalistic and and corrupt South, is one of the key and decisive events in human history. Lincoln and the American experiment around freedom, responsibility and human worth had triumphed.

Things were of course far different in Prussia and Germany. The main figure of this decade in Germany was of course the cynical, militant romanticist and realist, Bismarck. It would be Bismarck who sneeringly and viciously set up the first welfare state in Prussia – not out of love or benevolence but in order to shut up the chattering and growing middle classes. He was very open about his reasons for paternalism – and they had nothing to do with respect for the lower classes or love of his fellow man. Unlike Lincoln, Bismarck detested liberal bourgeois freedom – an intellectual point of view which has a strong and long tradition in German thought and culture. Bismarck's disdain for the peasant, the worker, the aspiring bourgeoisie would be matched and exceeded later by Wilhelm II and his logical successor – Hitler.

It was Bismarck of course, who first laid the foundations for the creation of a modern-fascist Germany. It was Bismarck, as Beran relates, who through complex political intrigue and power struggles was able to convince the Germany parliament during the 1860s, to annul the constitution and enshrine the powers of the executive branch [ie the office of the President which he held]; over that of the legislative and parliamentary. When that happens freedom is of course neutered. As Beran writes, 'The humiliation of the legislature was accomplished without bloodshed. When, on October 13, [1862], the King dismissed Parliament, the lawmakers acted as Bismarck had prophesied: they acquiesced.' From this point onwards Germany would never again, until the American occupation in 1945, experience a liberal-free state constitution or establish a society based on freedom and rights.

Unlike Bismarck and the re-establishment of the Junker-military caste rule in Prussia, Alexander the II, Tsar of the Russias was a reformer. Alexander in 1862 had freed approximately 50 million serfs in a bold move to try to reform Russian politics, agriculture, economy and push Russia into a liberal, freedom supporting direction. The Russian central government was however, neither politically up to the challenge of freeing so many people at once; nor was the state organised monetarily and bureaucratically to handle the transition from a slave-state to one of emancipation, and demands for free votes and parliaments.

Practical issues were never considered before the emancipation of such a vast host of people. Irksome but profoundly important problems were immediately relevant. If the slaves of a large estate are freed, who pays the landowner for the loss of those assets, and most likely the great drop in production? How will slaves be able to buy land if they have no money? What value does the land have, and how will it be set? Can slaves buy the land they have farmed for generations and if so, how and will the landowner be compensated? How will slaves be organised politically? What parliamentary reforms need to follow emancipation? How could Russia attract foreign capital and foreign expertise to help it migrate from feudalism to the new world of liberal-democracy? None of these and other vital questions were even pondered by Alexander and his small group of reformers. Without answers to these questions the Russian reforms were doomed to failure.

Alexander the II was in some ways a great man for his brazen but flawed act of emancipation. He was also the only ruler among the great powers who whole-heartedly supported Lincoln. The Russians sent ships to the North, supplies and encouragement. No other European power took the side of the North. The great urge in Europe was the power to consolidate, impose and coerce. Even the British, dependent on the cotton trade with the South, contemplated declaring war on the North. Only the Russians supported Lincoln.

The Russian experiment with freedom, without state support, money and clear rules and institutions and widespread landed aristocratic support [an impossibility since it was they who were losing their assets]; had to end in either failure or a bloody overthrow of the elitist powers opposed to liberalisation. Alexander II had no resources for such a fight. Thus the Russian experiment faltered and social chaos would envelope the state until 1917, when the Marxists under Lenin would murder their way into power. The lack of institutions, processes and money meant that Russia would diverge from the US path, as Beran writes:

'In England and the United States, the rule of law, bills of rights, independent judiciaries, and legislative control of the purse and the army developed before the advent of universal suffrage. When, during the nineteenth century, democracy grew up in England and America, the institutions of the free state were relatively stable.....But in countries without such stable constitutions, unscrupulous leaders used democratic instruments – plebiscites and manhood suffrage – to subvert the fledgling institutions of freedom.'

This is a brilliant summation of what happened in Prussia and Russia. In Prussia, Bismarck destroyed the constitution and used the power of the state to build up a militant subservient nationalism based on the power of the gun. The army was a tool used to consolidate Germany, and engage in victorious wars against the Austrians and French. In such a milieu of militant nationalism, there was little interest by Bismarck, his King, or the ruling Prussian Junker class, in quaint ideas about liberal democracy.

The same was true of Russia. Devoid of free-state, liberal institutions, Alexander's emancipation of millions of serfs whilst profound, was bound to fail. No broad support outside of the penniless peasantry existed for liberal concepts, and no one in power had any idea what it all meant, or how to go about it. The long thousand year history of Russia – so un-Western and decidedly different than that of Western European states – made itself very relevant indeed. And so Russia after the death of Alexander, chose the path of coercion not of Lincoln's democratic liberalism.

This then is the value of Beran's book and analysis. Freedom has costs and it means cultural and institutional developments must precede a mass experiment in democratisation. It also entails that 'liberalisation', in its orthodox and not in its modern sense of the word, must be done in a way that is consistent with the culture and history of the land. There is no one model which fits all. It is quite clear however, that Germany and Russia both rejected the US North's ideas of freedom, respect for the individual and constitutional constraints on state power during that critical decade of 1860-1870. Seen from that vantage point, World Wars I and II, and the ensuring Cold War, were inevitable.

Thus it is funny how history can be so logical and forthrightly rational. Hitler and the Communists did not appear from unprepared soil. Antecedents had long labored to make the ground fertile for their twisted, sick and bloody revolutions. How thankful than we should be that the North under Lincoln won out over coercion and barbarity. To think otherwise is sheer ignorance.

A great book from a great writer.

==
Beran, educated at Columbia, Cambridge and Yale, is a New York city based lawyer, who has published books about Jefferson and Kennedy.
==


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