“To be a man of the West, is to belong to a culture of incomparable originality and power; it is also to be implicated in incomparable crimes.
Brief Preamble by the author: This essay first appeared in Ovi magazine in 2013 as a thematic contribution to the theme of nationalism. This is a slightly revised version. The theme of nationalism has consumed rivers of ink. It is a veritable challenge to even attempt to condense it in a few thousand words in the form of an essay, but, for whatever their worth, here are a few synthesizing thoughts.
Those thoughts have appeared in greater detail in two books I have published lately. One of those books has appeared in the Ovi’s bookshop as an e-book titled Europe beyond the Euro, and the other is titled A New Europe in Search of its Soul (Author-House, 2005). The interested reader may wish to peruse them for a more thorough treatment of the issue.
Iwish to begin with a sharp distinction between nationalism interpreted as patriotism, as loyalty to one’s country and respectful of the patriotism of others for their country, and blind destructive nationalism, characterized by an overzealous almost fanatical regard for one’s country alleged superiority and a misguided dishonorable disregard for others’ countries often considered inferior and resulting in innumerable wars. Even a cursory look at European history will confirm such a confusion.
When nationalism is positive and constructive it calls the individual to self-sacrifice, puts loyalty high on its scale of values, it is proud of the national language, the native soil, the history and culture of the nation and the right of self-governance and determination. This is patriotism in tandem with nationalism. When nationalism is negative however it becomes exaggerated and blind to the fault of one’s nation; it turns into a destructive force leading to attempts by one nation to dominate other nations. Perhaps the best example of this kind of xenophobic destructive nationalism bent only on mere military glory and prowess is Nazi Germany, a nationalism gone crazy. More than patriotism we ought to call this kind of negative nationalism chauvinism and xenophobia. It declares “my country right or wrong.” To use a metaphor, if my mother happens to be a drunk, the best way to help her is to first acknowledge the truth that she is a drunk and then try to help her, while continuing to love her even as a drunk. The chauvinist instead proclaims “my mother, drunk or sober.” This is an important distinction often overlooked by those historians and scholars who collapse the word patriotism into nationalism.
A common language is very important but does not necessarily result in instant nationalism. In Italy, the modern European nation I am most familiar with, there was a common literary language in place since the 12th century, as exemplified in Dante’s Divine Comedy, Petrarch’s Canzoniere and Boccaccio’s Decamerone. Politically, however, we need to wait six more centuries (1860) for Italian national unification to become a reality. The paradox present in Machiavelli’s Prince is this: while he lauds the universalism of the Romans and writes the Prince dressed in a Roman toga, he is also urging, via his political science, the imitation of the foreign nationalism in order to become another united nation. I shall return to this theme of nationalism and universalism, which constitutes the title of the essay, further down in the essay.
To better discern this announced distinction, we need to go back to ancient Greece where there was indeed a common language and culture and yet those were not able by themselves to overcome centrifugal political forces and unify the city states into one country. There was however patriotism and pride in one’s culture, best exhibited by Leonidas’ small force of 300 Spartans confronting the invading oriental Persian “barbarians” at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Those Spartans were sacrificing themselves for a common Greek culture, a culture spread for a short while all the way to India by Alexander the Great. So, paradoxically, the universalism of an empire succeeded where nationalism as we know it failed. In the Roman Empire too we see an empire with Latin as a lingua franca, as a sort of unifying principle beyond military might. That empire lasted a bit longer than surmised, some two thousand years if we remember that the Byzantine empire was the continuation of the Roman empire, and that Greco-Roman civilization continues to be at the basis of our own and to exercise considerable influence on it.
The Goddess Europe on a journey on top of Zeus disguised as a bull
When we come to the Middle Ages, after the fall of the Roman Empire, another intriguing thing happens. National languages (French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German) begin to sprout but it is the Catholic Church and Latin and more broadly speaking Christianity which continues to supply the unifying centripetal cultural factor to the whole continent of Europe. Without understanding that simple historical fact one searches in vain for the roots of European cultural identity. This is indeed something that seems to be either ignored or forgotten by the present day Europeans in search of unity beyond nationalism and sometimes finding it in inanities such as soccer games and common banks and currency, thus ending up with the cart before the horse. When Italian unification was achieved Dazeglio said “now that we have done Italy we need to make the Italians.” Similarly we now have some Europeans proclaiming that “now that we have a European Union we need to find the sources of European identity.” There would be no need to reinvent such a wheel if the Italian historical example had been better pondered.
For full-fledged nationalism to arrive on the stage in Europe we need to wait for the Protestant Reformation which shatters the unity provided by Latin and the Catholic Church. And so a more narrow nationalistic experiences follow the universal experiences of the Empire, the Renaissance, the Catholic Church. The word Catholic, after all, literally means universal. So we have well formed nation states, Spain, England, Portugal, France, fighting each other incessantly either in Europe or all over the globe as they build their imperialistic empires in America, Africa and Asia. Nationalism becomes the fashion and the politically correct way to go. This despite the fact that the elite aristocracy of Europe (in Russia for example) preferred to speak French rather than their native languages. That was a form of effete cultural showmanship and not allegiance to France.
While Christianity barely survived in Spain, it remained the dominant faith in the rest of the European continent to such an extent that the adjectives “European” and “Christian” tended to be confused. What is intriguing in Goff’s thesis is that he designates as Christian Europe only the Western part of the Roman Empire, not Byzantium, the Christian Orthodox Eastern half; nor Greek and Russian Christian Orthodoxy, nor paganism and its vestiges which are somehow regarded as unessential to European unity.
Be that as it may, one begins to wonder if it is purely coincidental that the former Pope Benedict XVI, who had assumed the very name of the patron saint of Europe, the founder of Western monasticism, travelled to Bari, Italy, the land of Saint Nicholas, the linchpin between Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, on the very day when the French people voted down the EU Constitution put before them by their elitist politicians and pundits. Food for thought.
What is of interest to us here is the crucial question suggested by Goff’s thesis: in an ultra secularized modern Europe so unfriendly to religion in general, is it conceivable that the Catholic Christendom of the Middle Ages be at least acknowledged as the direct precursor of today’s Europe? The question may result absurd for many Europeans, but if it is, it would itself reveal an intriguing posture vis-à-vis religion on the European continent. It would at the very least raise the suspicion that the grudge against religion is so deep that one is ready to ignore and even deny one’s cultural roots.
Christopher Dawson and the Making of Europe
In 1932 Christopher Dawson published a book titled The Making of Europe which had enormous success and established his reputation as a scholar of incredible range and erudition who could communicate with great clarity and elegance. He had previously written two other books: The Age of the Gods (1928), and Progress and Religion (1929) but this was unique.
The book avoids the conventional burdensome footnotes, bibliographies and theoretical frameworks and reads like a romantic novel, hence its popularity. Indeed, 19th century Romanticism was a corrective to the previous century, the so called age of Enlightenment. It did this by questioning the rationalist conviction that the empirical physical sciences constituted the paradigm of all knowledge and thus reinstated Giambattista Vico’s revaluation of history against the Cartesian depreciation of it as mere gossip.
Vico had observed that the external world of nature is ultimately impenetrable, for the human mind can only attempt to manipulate it within the strict limits set by God who created it. The stream of history, on the other hand, is essentially the world that the human creative spirit has made, and therefore despite its recurring mysteries, it can come to be known by humans in an incomparably deeper sense. Dawson shared this revaluation of history as did Hegel when he declared history the highest form of knowledge: the self-realization of the absolute spirit in time.
And what was the single idea, the keynote of Dawson’s thought as found in The Making of Europe? I was this: religion is the soul of a culture and a society that has lost its spiritual roots is a dying society, however prosperous it may appear externally. The fate of our civilization was endangered not only by the fading of the vision of faith that originally formed it, namely Christianity, but the failure to integrate the world of reason and science with the world of the soul, which has lost the power to express itself through culture. In Dawson’s view this was the tragedy of modern man. Before writing his famous book Dawson had read and pondered deeply the works of Augustine (The City of God) and Edward Gibbon (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). He was also influenced by Lord Acton’s World History wherein Acton affirms that “religion is the key of history.” He slowly became aware of the continuity of history and of how the coming of Christianity had transformed the dying Roman Empire into a new world.
He spent fourteen years of intensive study before writing his twenty some books among which Enquiries into Religion and Culture (1934), Religion and Culture(1948), Religion and the Rise of Western Culture (1950), The Crisis of Western Education (1961), The Formation of Christendom (1961). All these books dealt with the life of civilizations. The underlying idea in them was the interaction of religion with culture and subsequently with civilization. Religion is discovered to be the dynamic element in every culture—its life and soul. He discovered that worship, prayer, the rite of sacrifice, and the moral law were common to all religions and so what the object of worship, and that moreover, the destiny of the human race was conditioned not only by material progress but by a divine purpose or providence working through history. Dawson also discovered that “the world religions have been the keystones of the world cultures, so that when they are removed the arch falls and the building is destroyed” (Progress and Religion, p. 140).
As he surveys the two millennia of Christianity Dawson noted four landmarks. The first one is the new element which defines the difference between the new faith and the old mystery religions of Europe: this is the principle of a dynamic and creative spirit that inspires the whole of life. The Christian religion has a power of renewal that has accompanied it through the ages.
The second landmark was the extraordinary development in the fourth century A.D. when Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. After centuries of living on the inherited capital of the Hellenistic culture, this fountainhead seemed to run dry. Yet the achievement of Greece and Rome were not rejected by this new faith. They were merely transformed. Classical learning and the Latin language became fused with the ideals of a Christian society that was founded not on wealth, tyranny and power but on freedom, progress, and social justice. Latin became “not only a perfect vehicle for the expression of thought but also an ark which carried the seed of Hellenic culture through the deluge of barbarism” (The Making of Europe, p. 49).
The third great change of thought, according to Dawson, came about in the 16th century with the Renaissance and the Reformation, which brought an end to medieval unity. The fourth came about after the industrial revolution in the 19th century and led to the 20th century. In one of his last books Dawson, the Crisis of Western Education Dawson calls our own era the age of Frankenstein, “the hero who creates a mechanical monster and then found it had got out of control and threatened his own existence” (p. 189).He had in mind atomic warfare and he argued that if Western society were to gain control over these forces there would have to be a reintegration of faith and culture, and that there is an absolute limit to the progress that can be achieved by perfecting scientific techniques detached from spiritual aims and moral values. This is similar to Einstein assessment of our era as one characterized by perfection of means and confusion of goals.
But let us go back to The Making of Europe which remains Dawson’s best-known book. In it he demonstrates that Christianity has been the spiritual force that created the unity of Western culture, indeed the commonwealth of Europe itself, from the chaotic world of myriad warring tribes. He shows in that book how the Dark Ages, the period between 400 and 1000 A.D., became a dawn witnessing to the conversion of the West, the foundation of Western civilization and the creation of Christian art and liturgy. And he then asked a crucial question: If such a transformation could happen in the age of the barbarians could it not be repeated now? Like the founding fathers of the EU Dawson, after the Second World War was already envisioning a new united Europe. But he soon realized that there was a problem which faced not only Europe but America too and all societies that consider themselves Western.
The problem was this: the disastrous separation of culture from its religious base brought about by the modern barbarians of the mind and assorted nihilists had not been stemmed by the modern educational system which considered the study of religion superfluous and in fact aimed at its liquidation. The unity of thought, which had prevailed in European civilization over a thousand years, was shattered by excessive specialization which allowed the educated elites to see the tree while missing the forest; moreover science, philosophy and theology had long since split apart. Education, rather than being a preparation for life, had become purely utilitarian and vocational. Humanistic studies needed to be resurrected in all schools and not preserved, almost as a relic of the past, in places like Harvard, Yale and Princeton universities as a sort of frosting on the cake of education. This was urgent since the neo-barbarians had already entered the citadel of learning and were hard at work to destroy it from the inside.
Humanism as integrated with Catholicism was at the forefront of Dawson’s speculation. It was that humanism which produced the medieval unity of the 13th century exemplifying Christian culture par excellence. For the flowering of art in every form reached its zenith in Europe between the 13the and 15th centuries with the poetry of Dante and Petrarch, the fresco painters of the Florentine school Giotto and Fra Angelico, and the sculptures of Michelangelo. It was also the age of saints and mystics, both men and women: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominick, St. Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, just to name a few.
It must be mentioned that Dawson was not advocating a return to the Middle Ages; neither was he commending the external apparatus of medievalism, nor Charlemagne’s so called Holy Roman Empire, but rather “a return to the forgotten world of spiritual reality” to which these centuries bear witness. He was not recommending a nostalgic evasion of the present day cultural dilemmas. He was indeed an intellectual for
The Holy Roman Empire in 1250
whom ideas were important but many of his colleagues noticed a paradox in him: together with the remote facts of history, he knew of the latest current events in remote corners of the world, and understood and spoke several European languages. Indeed, he had the gift of seeing deeper and further than many of his contemporaries because he had the capacity to interpret the present in the light of the events of the past. As he put it: “The more we know of the past, the freer we are to choose the way we will go.”
To conclude, it is a mistake to think of Dawson as an anti-modern. Rather, what he was advocating was a retrieval of spiritual values in a godless and nihilistic world. The reason he was assigned the first Chair of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard University was that he had the reputation of being a very broad-minded scholar, able to contemplate opposite ideas and integrate them. He was in short a consummate humanist who understood the universal character of the Church, which belongs neither to East nor to West but stands as a mediator between the two. It was in fact his humanism which led him to conversion to Catholicism as it also happened for G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene and David Jones. I hope that this brief sketch of a great and beautiful mind will motivate some readers to a deeper exploration of its ideas. You will not be disappointed.
Jacques Le Groff on the Middle Ages
The middle Ages, after all, encompass no less than one thousand years of European history subdivided in early (500-1000), high (1000-1300), and late (1300-1500). Jacques Le Groff, a well known French cultural anthropologist, is the first one to discard the early middle ages of Charlemagne as precursor of the idea of Europe. He sees them as too consciously Christian with a rather violent ideological program, although he stops short of branding them as “Christian imperialism,” for indeed the confusion between the spiritual and the temporal, properly speaking begins with Emperor Constantine in the fourth century AD who adopts Christianity at the official religion of the Roman Empire. Goff, however brands Charlemagne’s empire “the first example of a perverted Europe.” Other “perversions” that he takes notice of, are the empires of Charles V, Napoleon and Hitler.
|The Holy Roman Empire in the 16th century|
So, what’s left are the High Middle Ages, usually viewed by historians as the most creative segment of the medieval millennium. This period of history produced the Italian city states, seen as the precursors of modern democracy, as well as international banking and commerce, considered the foundations of any modern state. Culturally, the High Middle Ages produce Scholasticism which gives Europe the first modern universities (Bologna, Padua, Naples, Paris, Salamanca) with their uniquely European intellectual propensity for critical thinking rooted in skeptical doubt, intellectual freedom, lucidity and clarity. Descartes, who had a penchant for rationally “clear and distinct ideas” devoid of imagination and the poetical, is often seen as the intellectual grandchild of the Scholastics. Thereafter we have the late medieval and the Renaissance periods which, after the disaster of the Black Death, witness an unprecedented era of European global expansion spanning five centuries: from the late 15th century (1492) till the early 20th century.
The New Western Imperialism
In an insightful article in The Scotsman titled How African Aid can be the New Imperialism, Fraser Nelson argues that there is a new Western imperialism on the horizon, echoing the now forgotten 19th century British rationalization for global empire, i.e., “the white man’s burden”: the moral obligation to change the world—allegedly for the better—and redeem it with civilization, the rule of law, and the spread of democracy and market values.
He characterizes this political phenomenon as “history [that] has swung full circle,” since this vision, allegedly for the benefit of its former colonies, does not proceed directly from Washington (where political power now resides) but from London in the person of the former UK’s Prime Minister Tony Blair. His ambition then and now is to become the conscience of the world while George Bush acts as its policeman.
If one were ignorant of the history of Western imperialism one would see absolutely nothing wrong with the above scenario. We would all feel good about ourselves as Westerners, and perhaps even safer. But to talk of “new imperialism” one must have in mind the old one as a reference point. Moreover, to examine such an old Western imperialism one needs to go all the way back to Alexander the Great, then proceed to the Roman Empire, the Carolingian, so called “Holy Roman Empire” of the Middle Ages, the expansionistic global colonialist era of 16th century Renaissance which extends all the way to the 19th century to encompass the Spanish empire, the French empire, the British empire, the Russian empire, the Portuguese empire, the Italian empire, Napoleon’s empire, Frederick the Great’s empire, Charles V’s empire, the Austria-Hungarian empire, Mussolini’s empire, Stalin’s empire, Hitler’s empire.
The list is endless but worth remembering, for as Marx quipped, those who have amnesia about their history risk repeating it; they may find themselves driving the brand new car called the EU, full speed ahead into a future disaster with no rear-view mirror. That is a dangerous operation as both Vico and McLuhan have well taught us. Hence it may prove useful to briefly revisit the phenomenon of imperialism which is unique to the West. In my opinion, two recent books are essential reading for any kind of valid analysis of the phenomenon: Jacques Le Goff’s The Birth of Europe, and William Pfaff’s The Bullet’s Song: Romantic Violence and Utopia.
Le Goff alerts us to the fact that the present geography of the European Union is strangely similar to that of Medieval Catholic Christendom, i.e., the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne which used to encompass at its core France, Germany and Northern Italy. He then argues that although the ancient Greeks originally proposed the distinction between East (Asia) and West (Europe), nobody at the time, and even subsequently during Roman times, called oneself “European,” despite the famous myth of the goddess Europa. If anything, the proud boast was that of “civis Romanus sum.” The unity of the Mediterranean world was Roman through and through. It was broken not so much by the invading northern barbarians, who often were assimilated and proud to also declare themselves Roman citizens, but by the rise of Islam, its conquest of Jerusalem in 638, and its subsequent conquest of North Africa and Spain.
The above mentioned expansionary period gives the designation Europe its full meaning. How so? In this sense: while imperialism and colonization proper begin with Alexander the Great, once, and only once so far, has existed in man’s history the phenomenon of total global dominance, and that dominance has been exercised by Europeans, or those of European descent which of course includes North Americans. As Le Goff points out, although in the 15th century China was the most advanced country in the world, it never expanded beyond its borders and never dreamed that the sun would never set on its possessions. The Moslem world also has lost the impetus and cultural fervor of its medieval period. Such is not the case for Europe.
Europe is different. In the explanation of this difference lies the crux of the enigma. Some have explained it away with technological superiority, i.e., superior guns and ships. Others, depending on their pet ideology, go for social explanations: capitalism, or individualism, considered uniquely European. What is lost sight of, is the fact that 1492 while witnessing the beginning of a rapid European expansionism, also witnessed in Spain the dual destruction of Europe’s largest Jewish community, and of Granada, the last bastion of Moslem culture in Western Europe.
So, from the very beginning of the global expansion, one notices a tendency to exclude certain elements which were already present in the Medieval European cultural identity while retaining others; a club mind-set seems to have been set-up, with the included and the excluded. It all leads to another crucial question of cultural identity: does European mean Christian in any sense? The EU constitution, as presented to the European people obviously does not suggest so, since it does not as much as mention Europe’s Christian heritage aside from some vague references to “spiritual values.” And yet, it cannot be denied that several important features of the modern West, such as universities, corporate towns, representative assemblies, have their roots in the Christian Middle Ages. Why this penchant for historical amnesia?
Napoleon provides the illusion of a unification of Europe but what he provided was really French imperialism with a national foundation. In America a common English does not prevent the colonists from declaring independence from its European colonizing nation and proclaiming their own independent country. Later on, the French and American revolutions advance the idea, popularized by Rousseau’s “Social Contract” and flourishing in the 19th and 20th century, that all the classes within countries comprised the nation. The people have become the nation.
In the 19th century, to men like Mazzini, Garibaldi, Verdi (see his opera Nabucco), nationalism was an ideal worth striving for and even dying for. In mid 19th century both Italy and Germany become unified countries politically, but culturally they both possessed a viable and vibrant culture centuries before. The number of sovereign nations in Europe reached 24 in 1924.
There is no doubt that nationalism played a major role in World War I. Those were the chickens coming home to roost given that the Congress of Vienna of 1815, after the demise of Napoleon, paid little attention to nationalistic aspirations in its division of European territories. Nationalism was certainly in the mind of Woodrow Wilson when he declared at the Treaty of Versailles the principle of self-determination. What you ultimately had there were for multi-national empires limited by the boundaries of their predominant nationality: Austria-Hungary, the German Empire, the Ottoman empire and the Russian empire. Certain historic states simply disappeared from the map while Czechoslovakia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania appeared suddenly and out of nowhere on the map of Europe.
After World War II nationalism spreads to Arab countries, India, the Far East, Africa below the Sahara, on the dovetail of European imperialism. As the UN exemplifies the world is now made up of hundred of nations despite the predictions of nationalism’s disappearance after the second World War. Nationalism in fact goes viral and produces after World War I tyrants such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco and Salazar, Mao, Castro, Amin; they all considered themselves super-patriots. The schizophrenia on the part of Mussolini is almost comical. On one hand he fancied himself a Roman Emperor out to restore the ancient glory of the Romans and establish Italian hegemony in the Mediterranean; on the other hand he was, monkey-like, imitating all the worst features of a narrow negative kind of European nationalism, colonialism and all, as evidenced in the most powerful European nations. Had he remembered the true glory of the Roman Empire and the Italian Renaissance and the Catholic Church he would have known that the core of that glory was not narrow nationalism but universality. Those were all universal movements to which Italy had become accustomed, thus rendering rabid nationalism a straight jacket of sort.
Signing of the EU Constitution in Rome (17 June 2004)
The question thus arises: has this gift of nationalism on the part of Europe to the rest of the world been a positive or negative one? Hard to answer such a question in the light of what we have just explored above. What remains paradoxical in all this is that Europe now claims to have abandoned nationalism forever for a sort of unifying federalism called the EU. Some no longer speak of the European Union but of the United States of Europe where nations govern themselves internally but contribute to a unified political goal and a common cultural identity and in the ideal spirit of solidarity and brotherhood, equality and liberty. But is this a reality as we speak? What about the rabid regionalism of an Umberto Bossi out to declare independence from Italy, not to speak of a rabid neo-nationalism consisting of right-wing political parties from all over Europe and presently within the European Parliament as a sort of Trojan Horse out to destroy the union. The question arises: is this universalism or rather a narrow resurgent nationalism of the worst kind?
Were not egalitè, fraternitè, libertè also the ideals of the French revolution? When things were going well economically, this seemed indeed to be the case in the EU. Now that hard financial times are upon us in the West as a whole, words like solidarity seem to have suddenly disappeared from the vocabulary. What one ears is the cold utilitarian language of the bureaucrat, the banker and the venture capitalist devoid of humanistic criteria, euphemistically characterizing his capitalistic activity, based on social Darwinism, as entrepreneurship, abysmally ignorant of the genuine heritage of European civilization. Which leads one to suspect that once again, just as with Italian unification, the cart has been put before the horse and the European cultural identity continues to be an elusive historical phenomenon. Indeed we live in a Brave New World and as Kierkegaard warned us back in the 19th century: the sickness unto death is to be sick, to have dehumanized itself as a culture and civilization and no longer be aware of it. of his
Drawing battle lines: Centre-right parties take on civilisationalism
The Centrist Democrat International (CDI), in an attempt to counter the rise of civilizationalist states and leaders, has called for the creation of an alliance of nations, political parties and faith groups, that would seek to ensure that politics and international relations remain grounded in humanitarian values at a time of increasingly unimpeded violations of international law and human rights abuse.
CDI’s call carries weight given that it is the world’s largest coalition of almost 100 political parties from across the globe, including ruling parties in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere ranging from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union to Fidesz, the party of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, a professed illiberal who envisions his country as a Christian nation.
The call takes on added significance because it was issued by a group that traces its roots to European and Latin American Christian democracy at a meeting in Indonesia, the world’s third largest democracy and its most populous majority Muslim country, hosted by the largest Indonesian Islamic political party, the National Awakening Party (PKB).
PKB, founded by Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the world’s largest Muslim organization, joined CDI little over a year ago as part of the International’s effort to expand its reach beyond Christian democracy and NU’s advocacy of a humanitarian interpretation of Islam that encourages cooperation across political, ethnic and religious divides on the basis of a shared respect for human rights and international law.
The resolution adopted at this week’s CDI executive committee meeting in Yogyakarta, comes at a moment that Fidesz’s membership in the European People’s Party (EPP), a CDI affiliate, hangs in the balance.
Fidesz was suspended from the EPP political family last March over rule-of-law concerns, though the party’s 13 deputies remain part of the EPP group within the European parliament.
Mr. Orban and Fidesz stand accused of undermining pluralism in Hungary and removing the country’s checks and balances by stacking the Constitutional Court with loyalists; reshaping the electoral system to favour the party; placing dozens of watchdog institutions, including the judiciary and prosecution service, under the leadership of their allies; and effectively eroding independent media.
Although a divorce with EPP is likely, Fidesz is expected to remain a member of CDI, prompting questions what the group means with its warning about civilizationalist leaders and states.
Mr. Orban was among prominent figures, including former heads of state and government, who attended the CDI meeting in Yogyakarta and voted unanimously in favour of the resolution.
Yet, at a news conference immediately after the meeting, Mr. Orban insisted that Hungary was “a Christian nation” and that Christianity had to inform all aspects of Hungarian society. He spoke of living “side by side” rather than with Muslims.
The CDI resolution came in response to what it described as the “emergence of authoritarian, civilizationalist states that do not accept the rules-based post-WWII (World War Two) order, whether in terms of human rights, rule of law, democracy or respect for international borders and the sovereignty of other nations.”
The resolution was designed to counter “authoritarian regimes’ blatant disregard for the fundamental rights articulated in UDHR” (United Declaration of Human Rights) and re-introduce “moral and ethical values” into public policy, economics and politics.
The resolution puts flesh on a skeleton that has fallen by the wayside in the battle to shape a new world order.
Its significance lies in the fact that it re-introduces the battle of ideas into a global power struggle that has largely been reduced to geopolitics, geo-economics, big and regional power rivalry and replacement of adherence to international law with the principle of might is right.
Equally importantly, it offers an antidote to the rise of civilisationalism and the civilizational state that seeks its legitimacy in a distinct civilization rather than the nation state’s concept of territorial integrity, language and citizenry.
The trend towards civilisationalism feeds off the politicization of history. It benefits from the fact that 21st century autocracy and authoritarianism vests survival not only in repression of dissent and the limiting or denial of freedom of expression.
It creates the basis for an unspoken consensus on values and principles of governance that are illiberal at best and that would underwrite a new world order on which men like Mr. Orban, China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, India’s Narendra Modi, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and US president Donald Trump find a degree of common ground.
Civilisationalism is frequently based on myths erected on a falsification and rewriting of history to serve the autocrat or authoritarian’s purpose. Men like Messrs. Trump, Orban, and Erdogan project themselves as nationalist heroes who protect the nation from some invading horde.
In the final analysis, the CDI resolution constitutes a call for a continuous and robust discussion of what the principle of moral and ethical values means and how they are translated into law and policy.
For CDI and Mr. Orban, the litmus test will be how they move from fudging definitions to determining whether they can find common ground on translating words into deeds.
What Europe Can Do to Avoid WW III?: Say ‘No!’ Now, to Its Start
The U.S. Government, which had lied its way into invading and destroying Iraq in 2003 (with a little help from UK and Europeans), wants Europeans to pitch-in for more U.S.-run invasions. Europeans find this disturbing, but not repulsive enough to say, flat-out, “No!” to it. However, only that “No!” can stop the onrush toward a massive U.S. war against both Iran and Iraq, which would spread ultimately into a global nuclear war between U.S. and Russia.
On January 6th, Barbara Wessel, a columnist for Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW), headlined a common European sentiment: “Trump has Europeans caught in a trap: Europe is suffering under the way Donald Trump makes political decisions on the fly. The only option left is to appeal to Iran’s interest in self-preservation”. But Iranians can’t stop the sanctions against itself, and can’t stop Trump’s other outrageous aggressions. Wessel’s false underlying assumption was that Europe must lecture Iranians. That’s like lecturing to Jews during WW II: “The only option left is to appeal to Jews’ interest in self-preservation.” Victims already do everything they can to stop their being victimized; they cannot stop the victimizer from victimizing them. They don’t cause it. Europe must, at last, say “No!” to U.S., the tyrant over the entire world — Bolivia, Venezuela, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and more. Wessel, however, understood, at least, that the dangerousness actually comes far more from the U.S., than it does from Iran. So, she recognized that her thinking on this whole matter was confused. She stated:
Any illusions about the possibility of an even partially rational cooperation on foreign policy with the government in Washington have long been shattered. Cynical remarks by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who accuses the Europeans of not giving enough support in the Middle East, underline their helplessness. … Even experienced observers of US Middle East policy have been unable to explain how this [Trump’s “bring American soldiers home”] fits in with the strike against Soleimani. … Europeans find themselves in the trap of a kind of US foreign policy that is marked by the emotional eruptions of an unpredictable president and his power-drunk neocon supporters. … Basically, their [the U.S. Government’s] only explanation for killing Soleimani is: “Because we can.” … Granted, Europe looks weak and helpless when, in joint statements, Europeans call for de-escalation after their presumed partner, the US, has just done everything it can to escalate the situation. … The new year will quickly show how strong the current tendency to suicide is among all those involved. …
The presumption on which such sentiments are based is that things must go on as before, and EU must continue to be allied with U.S., instead of with the rest of the EurAsian Continent — but this presumption (EU with U.S. instead of with all the rest of EurAsia) has been false ever since the U.S. Government went wild in its response to the mainly Saudi Arabian 9/11 assault against the U.S. and Israel cheered that event, and Iran got blamed by the U.S. government for 9/11 as being “The top state sponsor of terrorism” (which was yet another lie), and Obama perpetrated a coup replacing Ukraine’s democratically elected Government with a U.S.-imposed fascist and rabidly anti-Russian government such as Obama wanted to be next-door to Russia. He even was intending to replace Russia’s largest naval base, which is in Crimea, by yet another U.S. naval base, to be installed there. None of this is in Europe’s interest. Nor is it even discussed in Europe or in any other vassal-region of the U.S. empire. It’s censored-out there.
Germany, France, Italy, Spain and all the rest of Europe, actually belong with all the rest of the EurAsian Continent, rather than with the formerly democratic but now fascist United States across the Atlantic Ocean. A federal EurAsia, composed of free and independent states within a wider United States of EurAsia, would have 4.618 billion population, almost half of the entire world, and wealth to match that, and economic growth which far exceeds that of what will then be left of the U.S.-and-its-allied-countries: UK, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. All other nations would ally either with EurAsia or with that U.S. group — American and those three core allies (Saudi Arabia, Israel, and UK). NATO is America’s aggressive alliance, which routinely invades countries that pose no threat to either U.S. or Europe (such as Iraq). America’s plan for NATO is to expand it worldwide, so that the U.S. will automatically have European allies for invasions in places such as Latin America. NATO needs to be replaced by a united EurAsian defense force, which will be able to counterbalance, within its sphere, the world’s largest military. The U.S. has around 1,000 military bases, of which around 300 are inside U.S. Though officially the U.S. spends 37% of the global military budget, it actually spends around half of all global military expenditures, but hides around one-third of its annual military spending by listing those costs in other federal Departments, such as the U.S. Treasury Department, so as not to seem as militaristic as the U.S. Government actually is. It’s actually a global empire — the largest that the world has ever known. Europe is, and can only be, vassals in that empire. The alternative requires new thinking, and is not to spend more money on the military, but to recognize that when Russia ended the Cold War in 1991, the war secretly continued, and still does continue, on the U.S. side — and Russia and China recognize that this is America’s intention. Europe must stop the Cold War, because only Europe can do that.
Barbara Wessel’s commentary presumes, instead, that Europe’s leaders have no ability to say no to the U.S. That presumed passivity is only bad habit, inherited from a Europe which was wrecked by WW II. That’s no longer the reality today. Instead, Europe, joined with Asia, will be the global superpower that can finally end America’s endless wars —simply by not joining them. EurAsia will be the world’s dominant power, if Europeans want a future that is better than the past, instead of catastrophic. Either way, the future won’t be much like the past. Europe needs to wake up now, from its vassalage since WW II ended. Simply continuing that would produce a horrible future.
Another DW columnist on January 6th, Konstantin Eggert, headlined “Opinion: Putin’s power games may get out of hand”, and he was even more supportive of Germany’s vassalage to the U.S. regime. He presented a strong case that by murdering Soleimani, Trump had pulled the trump card in the U.S.-v.-Russia game by eliminating the key person upon whom Putin had been relying in order to transfer dominance in the Middle East away from U.S. and toward, instead, Russia. Soleimani was that key individual for Putin’s success in this. “According to sources in Moscow, Putin knew Soleimani very well: He played a key role in creating the Russian-Iranian alliance that saved Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria from what seemed in 2015 an imminent demise.” With Soleimani now gone, Eggert predicted that regardless of what Iraq’s Government might want, the U.S. would refuse to terminate its occupation of that country, and Iran would be in a much weaker position than before. He said that “Putin has every reason to wish the Iranians backed off from confrontation with the United States,” so as for Russia to avoid being drawn into World War III. “Putin’s best chance to avoid this drama is to play peacemaker — not alone but in the company of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey’s Erdogan, who are rushing to meet him in the coming two days. Berlin and Ankara do not want to see the Middle East explode and will be asking Putin to use his close ties in Tehran to hatch a deal and fend off confrontation.” In this sense, the missile that hit Soleimani on January 3rd hit not only Iraq and Iran but EU and Turkey. Eggert therefore advises America’s vassals to remain America’s vassals because Russia now is trapped and Putin might not fold his hand and might not simply let Iran become ultimately swallowed-up — Merkel etc. should urge Putin to fold his hand, is the implication here. Eggert’s implication is that, in the final analysis, might makes right, and that therefore any resistance against it (for example, if Putin continues to resist) would only be harmful. Or, as he puts it: “With the Iranian regime massively undermined or destroyed, Moscow’s position in the Middle East and Vladimir Putin’s personal prestige as the world’s topmost authority on stopping ‘regime change’ and someone who never leaves allies in the lurch, will be badly hit and revealed as much weaker than it seems.” Eggert sees Trump’s assassination of Soleimani as, in effect, a master-stroke, which has severely weakened Putin. Of course, if Europe’s leaders will act this way, then Eggert’s might-makes-right view will be vindicated, by them.
Europe is the U.S. regime’s indispensable ally. If EU breaks away from U.S. and joins with the rest of the EurAsian continent instead, at least the possibility will exist for avoiding a hellish future of continued and accelerating vassalage to the U.S. regime for the entire world. Passivity and might-makes-right slants such as “Putin’s power games may get out of hand” (instead of “America’s assassination of Soleimani places entire world in danger”) are choices — not inevitable — and Europeans will ultimately be the individuals who will be making the choices here. Europeans will decide whether the U.S. is the world’s enemy; or, instead, whether Russia, China, Iran, and, really, all the rest of Asia, will be treated as if they were that (like the U.S. regime wants). Ganging-up against the victims — if that is to be the European response — would be a choice, not an inevitability (such as DW implies). It will be up to Europeans whether to order all U.S. troops to leave, and to tariff all imports from America, and to sanction and boycott U.S. brands and increasingly replace them with EurAsian ones instead. Trump can be trumped, but only Europe has the clout to do it. The future will be decided by Europeans. The voices of passivity, such as DW, are doing the bidding of Europeans’ enemy — not of the entire world’s future: a EurAsian-led world.
The right to affordable housing: Europe’s neglected duty
Increasingly making the headlines, the scarcity of affordable housing in Europe is a serious and growing problem that pushes an ever-larger number of people into housing insecurity and homelessness. Unless governments in Europe step in to take decisive measures to turn back the tide, this crisis will continue to intensify and increase existing inequalities, exclusion, and segregation.
Housing is in short supply in Europe today, in spite of increasing demand. In many countries, the overall level of housing construction is lower now than in previous decades, contributing to structural shortages which are especially acute in large cities. This scarcity of housing is pushing up rents as well as prices, which in most European countries surpass the increase in wages. These trends cause many people to gradually be “priced out” of certain neighbourhoods and force them to accept homes of substandard quality or to move to areas where they face poorer prospects of finding work within a reasonable distance, decent education, quality healthcare, and other basic social needs.
Affordable housing: whose problem?
According to the European Committee of Social Rights, housing is affordable if the household can afford to pay initial costs, rent and other related costs, like utility bills and charges, on a long-term basis, while still being able to maintain a minimum standard of living. Meeting this challenge is an uphill struggle for many Europeans today as the cost of housing consumes the lion’s share of their household budgets. Frequently, this results in the so-called housing cost overburden, which arises when more than 40% of one’s disposable income is spent on housing. For instance, this affects around two out of five people in Greece, one in five in Bulgaria, and one in six in Denmark and Germany.
Although the problem concerns many people across Europe, high housing costs have a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty and those at risk of poverty, including the “working poor”. The numbers are telling. A report on housing inequality, published by the Council of Europe Development Bank in 2017, showed that the housing cost was an excessive burden for nearly a third of the lowest earners in the EU/EEA area.
Between 2007 and 2017, the average housing cost overburden rate among poor households increased in the majority of European Union countries. The highest figures in 2017 stood at 90% in Greece, 75% in Denmark and 50% in Bulgaria. Among the EU’s youngest citizens living below the poverty line in 2017, 42% on average were overburdened by the cost of housing; this ratio reached 63% in the Netherlands, 84% in Denmark and 91% in Greece. A similarly discouraging picture appears outside the EU: a 2017 UN study found the cost of housing in Armenia to be unaffordable for most citizens. In the same year, Ukraine’s capital Kyiv was ranked second least affordable in Bloomberg’s Global City Housing Cost Index.
The availability and quality of housing is a closely related problem. In Armenia, according to UNECE, the 2011 census reported 16,000 people (2% of all households) to live in structures unfit for housing, like metal shipping containers. Also according to UNECE, in Ukraine in 2011 more than one million households were in need of housing while the average waiting time for social housing was estimated to exceed 100 years, and 20 years in Russia. Eighty thousand households have been reported to lack long-term housing solutions in North Macedonia.
Social housing: outsourced and underfinanced
As a result of the shortage of affordable housing, the social housing sector in Europe is coming under pressure. While there is no single formula for getting social housing policies right, state responses to rising demand have so far been to withdraw and to shift the burden to the local government, private sector, housing associations and non-profit organisations. In 2017, overall spending by governments on social housing represented only 0.66% of the European GDP and continued to fall. In many countries, the emphasis has been placed on increasing housing allowances. We need fresh ideas in this area. A new toolkit published by the European Housing Solutions Platform outlines 50 out-of-the-box solutions making use of social housing, the private rental sector, and integrated approaches to overcome financial and political barriers within European housing systems.
Rising homelessness and forced evictions
As observed by my predecessor in the 2013 Issue Paper on safeguarding human rights in times of economic crisis, the 2008 crisis and growing unemployment led to a sharp increase in evictions and rising homelessness in many European countries. While tenant protection laws often serve as a safety net, overall they do not seem to effectively tackle the problem. The 2017 and 2018 annual overviews, published by the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) and Fondation Abbé Pierre, found evidence of rising homelessnessin all the EU/EEA countries surveyed except Finland and Norway. The decline in homelessness experienced in these two countries was attributed to the implementation of long-term strategies of successful cooperation between the state, local authorities and local stakeholders, and approaching homelessness from the perspective of a human rights violation.
Increasing homelessness has been observed to particularly affect migrants, young people, women, families, and children.The 2018 FEANTSA report noted that children are becoming the largest group of people in emergency shelters. In 2015, children accounted for one-third of Ireland’s entire homeless population; from 2014 to 2017, their number rose by 276%. In the UK, the number of homeless children in temporary accommodation reportedly rose by 40% in the same period. In Russia, although the available figures appear to vary greatly, one rough estimate put the number of homeless children in 2010 at hundreds of thousands, while other reports hint that this number might be even higher. During her 2015 visit to Serbia, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing touched upon the risk of homelessness and exclusion that weak protections for renters and no access to social housing meant for certain vulnerable groups, including young people.
State responses to rising homelessness have often been characterised by a short-sighted, punitive approach, in a misguided attempt to move the problem out of public sight. My predecessor’s visit to Hungary in 2014 shed light on the national and local government bans on “sleeping rough” on pain of fines, which were imposed on more than a thousand people, and in some cases led to the imprisonment of those unable to pay. Similar bans were observed during his 2015 visit to Norway. More recently, in the UK, press reports found that as overall numbers of rough sleepers continued to rise, in some localities homeless people were banned from town centres and fined.
European institutions have intervened in some cases related to forced evictions. The European Court of Human Rights has notably balanced interests of landlords against the need to secure accommodation for the less well-off, and on some occasions has acted as a last resort for families threatened with imminent eviction. The European Committee of Social Rights has in several decisions identified the safeguards that must apply when evictions do take place: respecting the dignity of persons; no evictions at night or during the winter; taking measures to re-house or financially assist the persons concerned. The case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, for its part, has empowered domestic judges to suspend or annul evictions if the rights of occupants have not been respected, for instance in the context of abusive mortgages. While these interventions offer helpful guarantees, states should prevent such emergencies affecting families and children, among others, from occurring in the first place.
The way forward
In a poignant introduction to her January 2018 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, noted that “[w]e are at a critical moment. Globally, housing conditions are fraught. Homelessness is on the rise, including in affluent countries; forced evictions continue unabated; (…) and housing in many cities is simply unaffordable even for the middle class”.
We should pay close attention to her call. We need to fully grasp the extent and urgency of the problem in Europe with regard to housing, one of the most basic human needs. As demonstrated above, this is an issue which affects the population at large and contributes to a growing sense of uncertainty and precariousness. Leaving it unaddressed leaves our societies vulnerable to increased social tensions.
States’ obligations towards the full realisation of the right to housing must go beyond providing emergency and individual solutions. There is an urgent need for genuine political commitment to adopting sustainable, long-term and inclusive solutions, in line with the UN 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goal of providing adequate, secure and affordable housing to all by 2030. Housing is not simply a commodity, but a human right. It should move to the top of the political agenda in Europe.
First, member States which have not yet done so should promptly accept to be bound by Article 31 of the revised European Social Charter (RESC) dealing withthe right to housing. Of the 34 member States which ratified the Charter, so far only 10 have accepted its Article 31 while 4 more have accepted to be bound only by some parts of that provision.
Second, States should adopt and implement sustainable national housing strategies with clear targets to end homelessness, harnessing to the maximum extent the available resources, establishing credible and independent mechanisms for monitoring progress, and paying close attention to their impact.
Third, States should step up investing in social and affordable housing in view of eradicating the housing cost overburden, particularly among disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.
Fourth, States should urgently adopt long-term measures to prevent and eradicate homelessness, in particular among children and other disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. In adopting and implementing such measures, states should involve all stakeholders and be guided by respect for the human dignity of homeless persons and the realisation that homelessness is a violation of human rights.
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