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Is Western Civilization Doomed?: A Review Essay

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In a span of 75 years, between 1926 and 2001, six books appeared which greatly influenced Western Man’s thinking about his own civilization, so called Western Civilization.

In chronological order of appearance they are: Oswald Spangler’s The Decline of the West (1926); Arnold Toynbee’s Civilization on Trial (1958); Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987); Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History (1992); Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1998); and Erik Voegelin’s Order and History (2001).

In this essay we’ll survey those six books to determine how they have influenced the thinking of conservative ideologies which believe that while it is true that the West is in decline, there is still time to mitigate it or even to reverse it and preserve it for posterity. A mere glance at the titles of those books will hint at what the fuss and concern of those conservatives are. They go a long way in explaining their alarm at what they deem is an invasion of Europe by Moslems from Syria or Afghanistan or Turkey. They feel that Western Christian Civilization has to be defended anew from the hordes of Moslem invaders threatening its very existence. This is going on as we speak in Hungary which has now closed its borders justifying the measure as the defense of Europe.

The lazy way to explain this sad phenomenon of the advocacy of fortress Europe is to brand all those who invoke the preservation of heritage and civilization as sheer xenophobes or fascists, even racists, which they probably are; but such a shallow explanation does not even begin to touch the complexities of the Western cultural identity. In fact, it can be safely asserted that many of the crisis of present day EU are due to the refusal to search for and discover its genuine historical identity rather than summarily dismiss such a search as anti-modern, obscurantist, retrograde and medieval.

I believe that part of the problem is the failed distinction between what is universal and what is particular in Western Civilization. Characteristically, the imagined goods of modern progressive or leftist ideologies are conceived to be “universal” values (such as liberty, equality, and fraternity), whereas the goods and values defended by conservatives are more readily understood as contingent particulars. There does not appear to be a single substance knowable as Tradition per se, but rather many historical traditions, great and small, each making a claim for allegiance and conservation on its own particular terms. As a result, while there may be a Socialist International or a Communist International—one may even speak of a Liberal International—there has never been a Conservative International.

There is, however, one “quasi-universal” that conservatives of many nations have understood themselves to be conserving: the West. Obviously, the very word indicates that this good or value is not truly universal: it excludes, at least, the East. On the other hand, insofar as the term denotes a civilization transcending in space any particular Western state, transcending in time the history of any particular Western nation, and transcending in intellectual scope or catholicity any particular Western philosophy or doctrine, “the West” stretches toward a kind of universality. To speak of the West is to speak of something cosmopolitan, and yet not deracinated. Perhaps the defense of the West is close to the heart of what it means to be a conservative in the modern world—yet the definition of the West and the identification of the threats to it is also a source of disagreement among conservatives of various sorts, not to speak of progressives and liberals.

Earlier and particularly nineteenth-century assumptions about the West were nearly always whiggish celebrations of the historically “inevitable” progress of Western European civilization to its rightful place in the imperial sun: “Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set,/ God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet” was a British invocation, but it summed up a more general sense that the West was simply “the best”—and destined for indefinite global dominion. That confidence, however, was profoundly shaken by the civilizational self-immolation of the First World War. For many on the Left, the carnage of the Great War was evidence of the structural flaws of Western “bourgeois democracy,” requiring the remedy of revolution.

Against whom or what is it, then, that the West finds itself in need of defense? Two general forms of threat may be identified. First, over the course of the twentieth century it was frequently contended that the West must be defended from internal decay or decline. Conservative reflection on this theme was prompted in the first instance by an engagement with the thought of Oswald Spengler, whose book The Decline of the West was a publishing sensation in Germany and Europe immediately after the First World War. In a resonant, even poetic, though not altogether scientific manner, this prophet of pessimism argued that civilizations are organic wholes organized around a High Culture with a particular “Soul.” Civilizations throughout history have risen and fallen in a pattern of birth, growth, apex, decline, and death—and our Western civilization is no different. It is doomed like all the others.

In Spengler’s view, the West was clearly in the last phase of its civilizational life: the “Soul” was no longer animating the body. The telltale signs of a High Culture’s decay included skepticism, materialism, scientism, and the fall of philosophy into mere academicism on the one hand, and urbanization, vulgar democracy, the rule of the rich, and eventually bureaucracy on the other hand. The cataclysm of the two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century seemed to many to lend plausibility to the contention that the civilization of Western Europe (and its diaspora in the New World) was now entering its “twilight.” Vladimir Putin still goes around preaching this doctrine.

While Spengler himself held that the roughly thousand-year civilizational life-cycle was a fact of nature beyond man’s ability to control or modify—in short, that our civilization’s decline was inevitable and irreversible—this was not the lesson conservatives took from his work. Conservatism, after all, was accustomed to resisting the “tides” of history; indeed, conservatism often specialized in imagining ways to “turn back the clock.“ Far from leading to an acquiescence in pessimism, therefore, Spenglerian gloom served as a rallying cry, a call both to action and to reflection: if the sources of decay and decline could be uncovered, perhaps they could also be reversed. This has been the rallying crying of most 20th century dictators on both the right and the left.

Another writer whose thoughts on the rise and fall of civilizations colored conservative understandings of the West’s predicament was the philosophical historian Arnold Toynbee. Writing primarily in the 1950s, Toynbee developed a universal history of civilizations in terms of challenge and response. The challenge might be physical (e.g., the cultivation of nearly inarable land), civil-social (an internal intellectual crisis or religio-political faction), or external (the pressure of another civilization). Whatever the case, the response of a healthy and growing civilization depended upon the efforts of creative minorities able to meet the challenge. (In the absence of any challenges whatsoever, civilizations tended simply to decay.) The signs of civilizational decline, in turn, were a ruling minority turned in on itself and on its past glories—no longer creative—and the construction of a “Universal State” that acted to smother dissent and discontentment among an emergent “Proletariat.” Here one thinks of Nazism, or Fascism or Communism.

While Toynbee’s work was by no means accepted uncritically, conservatives did find many points of agreement. Toynbee, for example, tended to highlight religion as a source of recurring civilizational renewal, and conservatives too saw in religion a source of hope for the West. Toynbee’s “Universal State” and “Proletariat,” moreover, had something in common with the centralizing “collectivism” and emerging “mass society” of the twentieth century, against both of which conservatives had set themselves: perhaps, through conservative efforts, the West could retain or regain its individualistic spirit and so continue to nurture creative minorities. Most significantly, Toynbee was no determinist. There was no set date for the West’s demise; all depended on particular human choices and human actions. And, Toynbee admonished, “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.” It was up to conservatives to forestall, through acts of cultural recovery, the West’s suicidal tendencies.

The theme of a moral crisis of the West, one requiring a concerted and creative response, has remained a staple of conservative argument for more than half a century. It is noteworthy that what are taken by Spengler, Toynbee, and many conservatives as the indicators of civilizational decline—a coolly skeptical stance toward religious claims, the sensual delights of an urbane materialism, the democratization of society, the rational administration of a bureaucracy, the growth of a cosmopolitan “Universal State,” the burgeoning of novel liberties—have been understood by others as signs of civilizational flourishing and progress. The experiences of the first half of the twentieth century taught conservatives to doubt the solidity and sustainability of such phenomena in the absence of vibrant cultural foundations. Hence, in recent years, conservative initiatives in the culture wars constitute a continuing effort to arrest internal tendencies toward decline within Western civilization.

Beyond the threat of internal decline, “the West” has also been understood to require defense against threats arising externally, in international conflict. By invoking loyalty to the West as a whole, one may make “one’s own” the political concerns of other peoples who are not fellow citizens of one’s nation-state. In other words, the West is a basis or rationale for “natural” alliance in time of war. Thus, the British during the First World War were eager for that conflict to be seen by their potential allies as one pitting the liberal and civilized traditions of the West against invading hordes from the East, “the Hun.” In this way, isolationist America and unenthusiastic Commonwealth countries could be brought into the conflict as allies in the common defense of (Western) civilization itself—rather than in defense of British imperial interests.

The inclusion of the Soviet Union among the Allies of the Second World War tended to obstruct recourse to the language of the West, but even still, both Churchill and De Gaulle in their wartime speeches spoke of the defense of “liberal and Christian civilization,” a good short description of the meaning of the West in contrast with Nazi barbarism. With the Nazi defeat and the advent of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the defense of the West could serve as the basis for the NATO alliance against the totalitarian barbarism of the Eastern Bloc.

It was in the context of the Cold War that the West became an especially important concept for a nascent Western conservatism. Given that context, the term West carried in the first instance both geostrategic and economic connotations—mirroring the fact that our Soviet Communist adversaries understood economics to be at the “base” of all political, cultural, and spiritual life. Thus, despite its cultural dissimilarities, Japan could be understood to stand among the “Western” nations, since it was a free-market democracy and a U.S. ally (having been reconstructed as such by the Americans after World War II), while Spain under Franco might be understood to stand outside the West, since it was not (yet) a NATO member, nor a democracy. During the Cold War, the world was more or less neatly divided between the Communist Eastern Bloc, the so-called Western alliance (NATO) whose glue was democracy, and those nations which held themselves to be Non-Aligned.

Yet throughout the Cold War period, conservative thinkers worked to reach a deeper level of analysis of the manifold crises of the twentieth century. Many, following Eric Voegelin, concluded that Soviet communism was an extreme instance of “Gnostic revolt”—in effect, a characteristic heresy within the Western experience, rather than something arising from outside the West. If the “armed doctrine” threatening the West was itself a bastard child of the West’s own traditions, however, then the defense of the West began not on the tense military frontier dividing the two Germanies; rather, the defense of the West must begin with an effort to educate Western publics about the orthodox strains of the Western heritage. But what exactly were the “orthodox” traditions of the West?

Standard nineteenth-century accounts of Western civilization understood the West to have four roots. Athens stood emblematically as the source of the West’s philosophical traditions. Jerusalem was the source of the West’s religious traditions. Rome was the source of the West’s legal traditions. And Germany—the German forests, in which had dwelt the Gothic tribes—was the source of the peculiarly Western spirit of liberty, contract, and self-government. In such an account, the West was in effect an alternative, secularized name for “Western Christendom.”

Christianity, after all, had absorbed ancient philosophy; the church had displaced the Roman Empire as a universal jurisdiction; and the Goths were converted. In such an account, Christianity is the primary “marker” of the West, and so Rome, the eternal city, might be understood as the main taproot among the other, lesser roots. Such an account had, and continues to have, a particular appeal for traditionalist conservatives: the West they seek to defend is readily recognizable as Christendom. As a result, such conservatism has tended to have a high opinion of medieval civilization, finding within it a privileged cultural synthesis that remains normative, and so standing in a critical relationship to certain features of the contemporary world. Such a conservatism also searches in the Middle Ages for the origins of many Western institutions and practices that are often mistaken for modern innovations. The source of the West’s dynamism, for example, is found to be the Church. Christopher Dawson’s The Making of Europe, jumps to mind here.

The first major challenge to this traditional account of the West occurred during the First World War: for the purposes of that war, Germany had to be located outside the West, and so a rich literature on the Gothic dimensions of the Western experience was lost. As a result, we would in time no longer be able to understand what Montesquieu, for example, meant when he praised England for having retained its Gothic constitution; we would no longer feel the intuitive force of Hegel’s arguments concerning the special world-historical role of “German freedom.” Western liberty would have to be extracted from other and perhaps less adequate sources.

In America, moreover, a Jerusalem-Athens-Rome account of the West was usually thought unsatisfactory, since it tended to confer primacy to Roman Catholicism as the synthesis of Athens and Jerusalem—something most non-Catholics were not prepared to concede. Protestants and others understood “liberty of conscience” and the protection of the “private judgment” of the individual to be singularly “Western” achievements, responsible for the West’s special dynamism during the modern period—and these were believed to follow only from the Reformation’s repudiation of Roman “obscurantism,” and even Roman “despotism.” As has been said: anti-Catholicism became the last acceptable bias.

Many American conservatives were therefore attracted to Leo Strauss’s articulation of the West’s Great Tradition as one of Jerusalem and Athens in irresolvable tension. This account had something to offer everyone. Catholics could read Strauss and supply Rome as the arena in which this tension had been worked out in history. Jews could appreciate an account of the West in which the religion of the Old Testament was understood to have priority over the New. Post-Barthian Protestants could resonate with the either-or existential choice between Athens and Jerusalem that Strauss posited as the fate of every thinking man.

For all of that, Strauss’s own choice was for Athens, not Jerusalem: Athens is the taproot in his account of the West, reaching deeper than other, lesser roots. For most neoconservative followers of Strauss, therefore, free inquiry and Socratic enlightenment are the primary “markers” of the West. The West they seek to defend is not Christendom, but rather the civilization that philosophy built and in which universal reason has its home: in other words, the civilization of modern liberal democracy.

Related to this Straussian account of the primacy of Western philosophy are those libertarian or classical liberal conservatives for whom the free market economy, with its abundant prosperity and constant technological innovation, constitutes the characteristic Western excellence. With some exceptions, such conservatives tend to identify the West with the “modern civilization” that arose in the eighteenth century as the project of the Anglo-Scottish Enlightenment—and often, it is said, in self-conscious rejection of earlier traditions. Whereas Straussians give priority to the modern political order, libertarians and classical liberals give priority to the modern economic order.

A host of conservative debates and areas of research arise from these contentions over the essence of Western civilization. Was modernity really achieved only in rejection of the West’s older heritage? Or is modernity a fruit of earlier Western traditions and institutions? (Or, more fundamentally, is modernity to be regarded simply as an unproblematic “achievement”?) Are modern Western institutions self-subsistent? Or do such institutions depend upon cultural prerequisites that may be undermined by modern life? If the West is identified exclusively with the modern and the cosmopolitan, is America in fact the only or the “most” Western nation? And if Socratic enlightenment, free markets, and modernity in general are truly universals, is the particular Western history that led to their achievement merely a husk that may be discarded once we have entered the stage of a truly universal civilization?

Such questions became urgent in the decade between the fall of Soviet communism in 1989–91 and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. No longer facing an Eastern Bloc, the contours and boundaries of the West were thrown into doubt. Indeed, many observers—and not a few conservatives among them—followed Francis Fukuyama in concluding that we had reached the “End of History,” with liberal democracy (the characteristically Western political regime, but one with putatively global application) everywhere triumphant, and rightly so. Under Fukuyama’s tutelage, we witnessed the return of a version of the older Whig narrative, now in a new, quasi-Marxist or quasi-Hegelian guise: where before it had been said that communism was the inevitable “wave of the future,” it was now held that there was something inevitable about the triumph of liberal democracy. The West’s triumph was the triumph of humanity itself, a universal triumph.

At the same time, the 1990s were the decade of American conservatism’s acute struggle with multiculturalism in the academy. Despite numerous conservative caveats and objections, the locus classicus of conservative arguments against multicultural relativism was Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987), a best-seller with enormous influence. Bloom was a student of Leo Strauss, and the peculiar feature of his intervention in the academic wars over the “canon” of texts to be studied in the university was his stipulation that the Great Books of the West were to be preferred only on account of their philosophic universality. In other words, the only rational basis for allegiance to the West was the West’s own allegiance to universal, Socratic questioning. Anything less would be a species of mere ethnocentrism.

As globalization—the universalization of Western business practices and popular culture—gathered strength in the 1990s, the “facts on the ground” lent further credence to an understanding of the West as a universal civilization openly available to all. Hence America, as the “the first universal nation“ seemed to stand as the West’s (and the world’s) vanguard and model.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, brought a jolting return to History. Suddenly, we were confronted anew by the most traditional enemy from the East: Islam—or at least elements from within Islam that were intent to resist the rise of a universal civilization built on Western foundations. Shortly after Fukuyama had published his work on the “end of history” (1992) Samuel Huntington had published an article (1993) and later a book, The Clash of Civilizations (1996) arguing that, after the Cold War, international conflict would no longer be nationalist (as had been the case in the nineteenth century), nor ideological (as had been the case in the twentieth), but would instead center around a “clash of civilizations.” That is, cultural identities and antagonisms would play a major role in relations among states. Presciently, he observed that Islam in particular has “bloody borders”—a greatly disproportionate number of the ongoing conflicts in the world involve Muslims. September 11 appeared to prove Huntington’s analysis more cogent than Fukuyama’s: there would be no escape from the burden of history, and ideas and institutions could not be discussed apart from culture and the historical process.

The situation remains unsettled intellectually, however. On the one hand, the attraction of a universal modern civilization equally available to all remains great—and so many conservatives, especially neoconservatives, are inclined to understand the emergent terrorist threat either as a species of totalitarian ideology (assimilating it to the experience of the twentieth century, as with the use of the term “Islamofascism,” to be defeated by force of arms) or else as a kind of historical backwardness (something “medieval”) that is susceptible to being “modernized” out of existence through the processes and practices of enlightenment, that is, through the application of “democracy.” In either view, the West’s history remains a universal history, confronting inevitable road bumps—albeit sometimes large ones—on the road to inevitable future triumph.

On the other hand, the confrontation with jihad (to say nothing of the spectacular recent rise of China) is beginning to force a reacquaintance with the particularities or non-universal elements of the West. Not least, we begin to appreciate more fully that Western ideals and institutions depend at least to some extent on cultural foundations that are the possession of historically Western peoples—and so we view with alarm the demographics of contemporary Europe, the cradle of the West, with a burgeoning Muslim minority amidst a dwindling native population. Hence the closing of the borders.

Even if the West is less universal than we have lately thought, so the argument goes, it is still good, still ours, and still in need of a defense. This explains the forbidding of the constructions of mosques and the closing of the frontiers (Hungary in particular which claims to be defending nothing less than European Christendom) to the hordes of Moslem refugees fleeing from the Syrian conflict and seeking refuge and a new life in the EU.

And yet there are some European intellectuals that have been exploring the idea of multiple modernities which would include religion as part of the ongoing dialogue in the public agora on the West’s identity. Jurgen Habermas is one of those. But for the moment let’s leave the concept of “multiple modernities” for another essay in the Ovi Symposium.

Note: This article has previously appeared in Ovi magazine.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Serbia must reject the ultimatum regarding Kosovo

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Photo: Presidency of Serbia / Dimitrije Goll

The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic on January 20th  had a meeting with the Western negotiating team about the solution for Kosovo. European mediator Miroslav Lajcak, American envoy Gabriel Escobar, German and French special advisers Jens Ploetner and Emmanuel Bonne as well as Italian prime minister’s adviser Mario Talo once again discussed with the leaders of Serbia (and Kosovo) the plan(ultimatum) that should regulate relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Officially, the plan for a peaceful solution has not been presented to the public. However, Serbian media published the text of the plan and they clearly emphasize that it is an ultimatum from Quinta.  And what is even more important, no one from the Government of Serbia denied it.

Which clearly tells us that the Government of Serbia is releasing the plan(ultimatum) as a trial balloon. However, that decision turned out to be wise, because the reactions of the citizens of Serbia to the plan were more than clear on the point of view that the plan was unacceptable. Because that agreement, among other things, requires that Serbia in practice (de facto) recognize the violent secession of its own Province that is, allow Kosovo to join the United Nations.

The plan compiled by the advisers of the leaders of the two largest democracies in Europe – French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz – represents a gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the basic principles of democratic international relations, the UN Charter, and the OSCE Final Document.

The plan(ultimatum) for Kosovo, humiliates Serbia and the Serbian people by ordering that Serbia respect equality, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the so-called state symbols of Kosovo and all other countries, except it`s own sovereignty, territorial integrity and it`s internationally recognized borders confirmed by the UN, OSCE and other international organizations. Serbia is expected to cooperate in dismantling its own integrity, its own constitutional order and international reputation, so that no one could use the “Kosovo case” as a precedent for unilateral secessions, which primarily refers to Ukraine.

The fact that currently five members of the European Union (Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus) and four members of NATO do not recognize the independence of Kosovo shows how bad the acceptance of the plan would be for Serbia. The goal is also to place all responsibility for the victims and destruction on Serbia, as a victim of the NATO aggression in 1999, and to use this act to justify the aggression against Serbia, which was carried out against the international law.

Kosovo is not a frozen conflict, as claimed in the West and repeated by official Belgrade, nor it can be resolved by an ultimatum to Serbia. The best example of this is Cyprus, which was invaded by Turkey in 1974, and despite this, neither Turkey nor Cyprus (or Greece) agree to any ultimatums, nor does anyone give them. The question must be asked here, how is it possible for Quinta to issue an ultimatum to Serbia and why are the Serbian Government and the President of Serbia allowing it?!

The Serbian Government must apply new tactics

Negotiations on Kosovo with Quinta must first be conducted on essential matters. And that means, above all, the protection of the current Serbian population in Kosovo and the return of the 250,000 expelled Serbs. Regulating the status of Serbian state property in Kosovo, which was seized by the separatist government in the province. Plus, the return of stolen property to the Serbs, who were forcibly expelled from the province.

Also, bearing in mind the aggressive policy of the Kosovo separatists, who, contrary to the agreement with NATO, are sending special units to the north of the province, while perpetrating violence against the Serbs, a new strategy is needed. And this is primarily reflected in the fact that the Government of Serbia must help establish the Republika Srpska in the north of Kosovo. This means that the local Serbs would have their own police(including a special police unit), judiciary, prosecutor’s office, education, health care and control over border crossings. In other words, parity would be established in the armed forces, bearing in mind that it is not realistic to expect that Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic will ever approve the sending of the Serbian Army to Kosovo. In this way, Serbia would strategically strengthen its positions and would wait for a change on the geopolitical scene of the world, until favorable conditions are created for the full return of the southern Serbian province of Kosovo to Serbia.

Otherwise, if Serbian Government agree to Kosovo’s entry into the United Nations, it would mean that Kosovo could unite with Albania, about which Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti also publicly spoke about. This would than open the issue of secession from Serbia of the Presevo Valley and the geographical region of Sandzak. And what is even more important, an incredibly strong pressure to abolish Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina would begin. All of the above would have catastrophic consequences for the country of Serbia, but also for the entire Balkans.

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“The starry heavens above me…”* A plea for awareness and peace

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*Immanuel Kant: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” 

In the neighborhood with Russia

Who is actually aware today where the border of the former German Empire was once located? Or how far to the northeast the village of Nimmersatt and the nearby coaching inn Immersatt actually lay?   Nimmersatt was located at the northern tip of East Prussia, surrounded by the Baltic Sea to the west and Russia to the east and north. Russia – then Russian Lithuania – was our direct neighbor until 1918. The Memel territory was traditionally Prussian borderland, 120 km long and 40 km wide, stretching north along the Memel River. In 1422, the Treaty of Melnosee established the frontier, which remained almost unchanged until 1920. After the Pyrenean border, it is the second oldest in Europe.

Source: : de-academic.com

Located on the imperial border, Nimmersatt was the former German Empire’s most northeastern spot and was last in German hands in 1945.[1] Like Nimmersatt, there are many seemingly vanished places and landscapes in historic eastern Germany. But they have for the most part disappeared. These places bear witness to the fact that many Germans, consciously or unconsciously, are still deeply rooted in these seemingly vanished landscapes.

The German soul is closely connected with the East and its territories, especially with Germany’s historical East, including East and West Prussia and the Memel territory.

According to estimates, about 14 million refugees had to leave their homes after the Second World War, losing everything, all their belongings. About 2 million died in transit, and Germany lost a quarter of its territory.

As Simone Weil (1909–1943) once put it: “Rootedness is probably the human soul’s most important and most misunderstood need.”

Crises, conflicts and silver lining

If you look at today’s world, you see crises everywhere, wars and deep divisions in our societies. Fears are being fueled and images of “the enemy” that were actually long forgotten are being revived. The war that has been raging in Ukraine since 2014 has now escalated on the European continent into a proxy war between the United States and Russia. Russia is being declared the enemy. With its arms deliveries and military support,[2] Germany has also officially entered into the war with Russia.

What immeasurable suffering wars visit on mankind – a painful truth also understood by members of Germany’s “war generation” and their descendants, especially those with roots in Germany’s historical East. Germans and Russians look back on a common and consequential past; we share one of history’s darkest and most horrible chapters, beginning with Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 and the subsequent conquest of East Prussia by the Red Army.

Whatever happened, a shared history connects peoples, and Germans and Russians will therefore always be connected

Civilians are and always have been the ones who suffer most in war. During the Second World War, from 1939 to 1945, the Soviet Union had the most casualties: 24 million people,[3] 14.3 million of them civilians. Germany had a total of 7.7 million casualties, of which 2.2 million belonged to the civilian population.

In her old age, Mama, my mother, could still recall the terrifying whistling sound of the rocket launchers known as “Stalin organs.”[4]  During thunderstorms and when fireworks were being shot off, she would begin to shiver and sought shelter. Yet despite all the war trauma, the attachment to Germany’s historical East is part of the German soul and an integral part of the German cultural nation. Not for nothing was I christened Katja. Mama and my grandmother often affectionately called me “Katjuscha”[5] in their East Prussian dialect – a reference to the old Russian folk song.

The horrible sound of the Stalin organs was eventually forgotten. Bridges of reconciliation between Russians and Germans were built in large numbers after World War II, something that fortunately continues to happen.

Having left the Cold War behind us, which divided the world into good and evil or West and East, the world is evolving into a more complex, multipolar place – a multipolar world that could again give humanity a chance to create a new global world order of peaceful coexistence.

This might be possible were it not for the US, which seems to be resisting a multipolar world with all its might: The US wants to continue to assert its supremacy and influence worldwide. It has basically never withdrawn from Germany, and does not accept any other powers on the world stage. This US influence is expressed above all in the strategies of NATO and the EU, since they again rely on images of Russia and China as “the enemy” and on exclusion and division.

Shaktarp – when life comes to rest

The “Fifth Season” – Shaktarp in Lithuanian or, in Russian, Rasputitsa – is a special time, between the winter and spring season. It is the time of floods, of inundated meadows. This time was also called the time of “roadlessness” – the Memel territory and neighboring lowlands were neither passable, nor navigable during this period.[6] Life and people came to rest and there was thus time for reflection. Perhaps this is what our world sorely needs now.

It seems to me just the right time to pause, to rediscover and feel the magic of life. A magic that comes from looking at a piece of amber through which the sun is shining. Often found near the Baltic Sea, amber continues to fascinate people to this day. Sometimes known as the tears or gold of the gods, amber was once an important commodity, more valuable than gold, and it made its way across Europe on ancient trade routes from the Baltic Sea to Southern Europe and North Africa – one of the beginnings of globalization, or, rather, of the bonds that bring people together.

In addition to the Silk Road, the Amber Road has connected people, drawing them under the spell of this magical substance, which shines brighter than the sun.[7]

“States don’t have friends, states only have interests”

The observation made in 2013 by Egon Bahr, the German politician known for a commitment to peace and détente, remains true today: “International politics is never about democracy or human rights. It is about the interests of states. Remember that, no matter what they tell you in history class.[8] Otto von Bismarck and Charles de Gaulle, among others, have also pointed out that feelings and values have no place in politics. Only “interests and reciprocity should be used as a guideline.”[9]

Therefore, it is more important than ever to accept realities and define national interests. Values are volatile and often subject to the current zeitgeist. For example, no one called for a “feminist values-based foreign policy” until a German foreign minister from the Green Party did so. The much “cited community of values is not a form of governance, as it has not been legitimized by any democratic process.” [10]

We have been living in a multipolar world for a long time, with different forms of governments, democracies, dictators and authoritarian regimes.  But our international institutions and organizations, which were created after the Second World War, have not been updated.

According to a study by The Economist in 2021, only 45% of the world’s population lives in countries with democratic structures.[11] The ostensibly promising narrative of “change through trade” has not come to fruition. The expansion of economic relations with China that began in 1978 has been driven solely by economic gain. Even today, China offers a huge market for foreign products. The expansion of economic relations and the opening of the country in turn has helped move a significant part of the Chinese population out of poverty, and China’s technological backwardness has been quickly overcome. Both sides, the West and China, were and still are exclusively concerned with economic interests and geopolitical influence in Eurasia.

What is new, among other factors, is that the military no longer has a monopoly on wars and conflicts. We are increasingly experiencing ideologically fueled media and propaganda wars that deeply divide the population, make factual debates almost impossible, and drive humanity into division and thus into wars.

Ideology prevails over common sense and the heart

Fear and hatred are mighty propaganda tools – e.g., fear of the virus, fear of CO2 and distrust of Russia and China. The laborious and decades-long process of reconciliation between Germans and Russians, among others, has come to a standstill. Not only have economic relations been broken off, but cultural exchange has also come to a halt. Russian artists are being disinvited from performing if they have not publicly taken a clear stand against Putin. Political attitudes have become more important than art, and ideological attitudes are determining economic orientations and political decisions.

China – the surveillance state

The narrative of “change through trade” is now a thing of the past. China continues to pursue its “Grand Strategy.” What were once the dynasties of the Chinese Empire have become – since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 – the Communist Party, with current President Xi Jinping as its head, as emperor. In accordance with the “Chinese Dream,” the country is striving to become Number 1 in the world in all areas, including military power.

The drastic end of its zero-Covid policy shows how capable China is. The Chinese government has reacted, in a way that saves face, to the “spontaneous protests” and thus shown strategic flexibility. Thus, Xi Jinping has not only done the Chinese economy a great favor by lifting all Covid measures, he has also cemented his power and the power of the Communist Party. The transformation into a different system, propagated for so long by the West as justification for maintaining economic relations with an authoritarian regime, now seems more unlikely than ever. On the contrary, the Chinese government continues to pursue its strategy and to build a perfectly controlled, highly technological surveillance state.

China thus remains a very flexible economic partner and geopolitical player. This requires an equally flexible China strategy on the part of other countries. Supply chain disruptions must always be taken into consideration, investments in China should be thought about carefully and protected. Potential dependencies in the area of critical infrastructure and products, such as upstream inputs for pharmaceuticals, should always be avoided. Yet this also applies to economic relations with non-authoritarian regimes.

Moreover, dealings with China, economic and political, should be free of emotion, determined only by the relevant economic interests and reciprocity, for the benefit of all concerned parties. The fact is: China continues to go its own way and is a country in which the individual and individual freedoms play a very limited role.

Ideology has great importance in China – an ideology that is not only intended to hold the population together internally, but is the guiding principle externally for every political step on the world geopolitical stage. In dealing with China, one’s own national interests and reciprocity should always be the guiding principle. This applies not only to interactions with China, but especially to those with Russia as well.

We are all connected to each other.

Russia and the German soul

Let’s be realistic: Russia is a nuclear power; economic sanctions will not harm it in the long run as a country that is almost immeasurably rich in raw materials. On the contrary, sanctions allow Russia to diversify its gas market and thus no longer depend on just one customer.

A prime example:  the reactivation of the economic corridor running from China to Mongolia to Russia.[12] Further, the Russian gas pipeline to China will replace Nordstream 2.[13] In the course of securing its energy supply, China wants to keep its energy mix balanced and is thus increasing the share of natural gas. India is also a grateful purchaser of Russian gas.

Something that shows a decoupling from Russia is not so simple is the fact that from January to October 2022, Europe’s LNG imports increased by 40% over 2021. Russian LNG accounted for 16% of total European marine imports, with the main customers being France, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands.[14] Instead of low-cost and environmentally friendly pipeline gas, the focus is now on LNG.

The resulting damage is now being felt by Germany in particular, as an industry-intensive and, compared to Russia, resource-poor country. The growing home-made energy crisis is driving deindustrialization in Germany; large companies are increasingly thinking of leaving the country; medium-sized enterprises – once the backbone of the German economy – are increasingly being destroyed; the country’s economic performance is declining; unemployment and poverty are the consequences.

And wasn’t the attack on Nordstream 2 the first terrorist attack against Germany since World War II?

The decisions and actions of the current Federal Government, with Olaf Scholz as Chancellor, are not in accordance with the oath taken “to prevent harm to the German people.”

“I swear that I will devote my strength to the welfare of the German people, increase its benefit, avert harm, uphold and defend the Basic Law and the laws of the Federation, fulfill my duties conscientiously, and ensure justice for all. (So help me God.)”

With or without God’s help, arms deliveries and military support to Ukraine, the homemade energy crisis, the intolerable excesses of gender-neutral language, so-called wokeness, cancel culture and uncontrolled immigration are also destroying not only the German soul, language and culture and putting pressure on the national budget, they are also continuing to widen already deep social divisions. None of this works to the benefit of Germany and the German people.

The power of culture, history and geography

“… the continuity of the state without which Germany would be much poorer – Germany did not come out of nowhere. Prussia was one of the most formative great powers in Europe and one of the most modern states in the world, with its effective administration, literacy down to the last street in the last village, and the rule of law at all levels.[15]

While there were serious political instabilities in the Weimar Republic, as the largest member of the German Empire, Prussia was politically very stable. Otto von Braun,[16] Prussian prime minister from 1920 to 1932 and a diehard Prussian and Social Democrat, reformed the state and school systems. Prussia was thus a “reliable pillar of the Weimar Republic.” But, following the so-called “Prussian blow,”[17] von Braun was removed from office.

The Reich’s control over Prussia, especially over the Prussian police, made it much easier for Adolf Hitler to establish a dictatorial regime in the course of the National Socialist takeover in 1933.[18]

The power of culture and shared history together with geography are enduring cornerstones that provide a strong foundation. “Between Russia and America lie oceans. Between Russia and Germany lies a great history,” wrote historian Michael Stürmer.[19] Vladimir Putin also quoted Stürmer in his speech to the German Bundestag on September 25, 2001.

Building bridges

My unshakable optimism tells me that it is not too late to return to our fundamental power, our culture and history, in order to create a new world order based on peaceful coexistence. What’s more, because of its geographic location, Germany should serve as a bridge between East and West.

Authoritarian regimes can only be changed from within, by their own people. Thus, Germany, too, can only free itself from its shackles from within, leaving behind the seemingly endless moralizing blame game and victimization loop and returning to what we Germans actually are: peace-loving, creative, innovative, technically expert and culturally sensitive.

How else should one interpret the famous “golden 20s” of the early 20th century? Here are some examples: Within a short time and despite the immense reparation claims made by the victorious powers based on the Versailles Treaty of June 28, 1919,[20] defeated Germany became the second most powerful industrial nation after the US – thanks to US credits, because banks in the US had faith in Germany’s economic power.  Further, as the treaty also prohibited motorized flight, some Germans made a virtue out of necessity, tinkered a bit and invented the glider.[21]

The economic basis for Germany’s return to its fundamental strength, to its roots, is first and foremost the need for a drastic reduction in the state administration and the number of its government employees.  The state should return to its original tasks: ensuring there is efficient infrastructure; a high-quality and affordable health-care system; high-quality, affordable and humane care for those in need; an excellent and free system of education; as well as ensuring internal and external security – in keeping with the oath taken to act for the good of the German people.

Changing our view of the world

The press, education and the health-care system, among others, must no longer be subject to competition and profit maximization, and could be transformed instead into foundations, for example.

Only a free press can ensure freedom of opinion and access to the full range of information. The monopoly of state media – such as broadcasters ARD and ZDF – and the ownership of media by billionaires – the Springer, Bertelsmann (Mohn) and Holtzbrinck families, among others – must end to create space for alternative media and sources of information. We need be well informed in order to become critical-thinking people in the sense of Immanuel Kant’s saupe aude.

The education system and especially the health-care system and pharmaceutical companies and their research must not be driven by profit maximization. Hospitals must not be run like businesses – health should be their exclusive concern. Old people’s and nursing facilities should be outfitted with the best possible equipment. The staff should be optimally paid. Profit should not play a role; all efforts should be guided by the desire to help people experience a graceful and respectful end to earthly life.

The divine within us and awareness

In his writings, Jacques Ancel, French geographer and geopolitician, proposed an identity of the heart, and a nation of the heart – the idea that people can connect and create a community based on a common history, language and culture. 

This path back to the heart reconnects us as human beings to the divine. We are all “soul people.” We are spiritual beings that come from the same source. This spiritual or divine expresses itself differently in various cultures and traditions, be it religion, Buddhism, shamanism or a closeness to nature.

We should shift back from the cold rational mind to the feelings of the heart. By doing so, we can create a new world view and a new world order. Such a reconnection to the heart and the divine in us would enable us to look at life and nature with reverence and love once again.

May we all become aware once again of our humanity and the many things that connect us.

Identity of the Heart – Back to the Roots – We Are All Love

References and further reading

Ancel, Jacques (1938):  Géographie des frontières, Gallimard.

Banik, Katja (2022): Im Rausch des Bernsteins – der historische Osten Deutschlands, www.katjabanik.com

Banik, Katja (2021): A clear view eastwards: Russia and Germany, www.katjabanik.com

Banik, Katja (2021): Without roots, no future. Decoupling ideologies, www.katjabanik.com

Bode, Sabine (2009): Kriegsenkel. Die Erben der vergessenen Generation, Klett-Cotta.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew (1998): The Grand Chess Board, Basic Books.

Die Bundesregierung (2022): Krieg in der Ukraine, www.bundesregierung.de

Deutscher Bundestag: Wortprotokoll der Rede Wladimir Putins im Deutschen Bundestag am 25.9.2001.

https://www.bundestag.de/parlament/geschichte/gastredner/putin/putin_wort-244966

Deutsch Historisches Museum (2022): Lebendiges Museum Online, Berlin.

Euractiv (2022): Russia says pipeline to China will replace Nordstream 2.

Dohnanyi, Klaus (2022): Nationale Interessen, Siedler Verlag, München.

Graichen, Hesse (2012): Die Bernsteinstraße. Verborgene Handelswege zwischen Ostsee und Nil, Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Hamburg.

Jähner, Harald (2022): Höhenrausch. Das kurze Leben zwischen den Kriegen. Rowohlt-Berlin.

Kossert, Andreas (2009): Kalte Heimat: Die Geschichte der deutschen Vertriebenen nach 1945, Pantheon Verlag.
Lasch, Otto (1959): So fiel Königsberg, Gräfe und Unzer Verlag.

Namzhilova, Victoria (2022): Economic Corridor China – Mongolia- Russia: Infrastructure in Focus, RIAC.

ostexperte.de, Nachrichten aus Russland und China, Berlin.

Putin, Wladimir (2021): Offen sein, trotz Vergangenheit, Gastbeitrag vom 22.6.2021 in der WochenzeitungDie Zeit.

https://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2021-06/ueberfall-auf-die-sowjetunion-1941-europa-russland-geschichte-wladimir-putin/komplettansicht

Pölking, Hermann (2022): Das Memelland. Wo Deutschland einst zu Ende war, bre.bra. verlag, Berlin

RedaktionsNetzwerkDeutschland (2022): www.rnd.de. Hannover.

Statista (2022): https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/1055110/umfrage/zahl-der-toten-nach-staaten-im-zweiten-weltkrieg/

Segelflugzeug.org (2022): www.segelflugzeug.org

Teltschik, Horst (2019): Russisches Roulette: Vom kalten Krieg zum kalten Frieden, C. H. Beck.

The Economist (2022): https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2022/02/09/a-new-low-for-global-democracy?fsrc=core-app-economist?utm_medium=social-

Wagener, Martin (2021): Der Kulturkampf um das deutsche Volk. Der Verfassungsschutz und die nationale Identität der Deutschen, Lau Verlag.


[1] Pölking (2022): Das Memelland. Wo Deutschland einst zu Ende war.

[2] Bundesregierung.de (2022) War in Ukraine.

[3] Statista (2022): https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/1055110/umfrage/zahl-der-toten-nach-staaten-im-zweiten-weltkrieg/

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VduZuCsqL00

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acPvvv1gqGg

[6] Pölking (2022): Das Memelland. Wo Deutschland einst zu Ende war.

[7] Graichen, Hesse (2013): Die Bernsteinstraße.

[8] Bahr (2013) Conversation with students, „Willy Brandt Reading Week,” Friedrich Ebert House Heidelberg.

[9] Otto von Bismarck.

[10] Dohnanyi (2021): Nationale Interessen.

[11] The Economist (2022): https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2022/02/09/a-new-low-for-global-democracy?fsrc=core-app-economist?utm_medium=social-

[12] RIAC (2022): https://russiancouncil.ru/en/analytics-and-comments/analytics/economic-corridor-china-mongolia-russia-infrastructure-in-focus/

[13] Euractiv (2022): https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/news/russia-says-pipeline-to-china-will-replace-nord-stream-2-2/

[14] Rnd (2022): https://www.rnd.de/wirtschaft/fluessiggas-aus-russland-europa-importiert-rekordmenge-Y4DHLEMMPFEB5A5VSWZSLTVCD4.html

[15] PAZ, No. 47, 25.11.2022.

[16] German Historical Museum (DHM), https://www.dhm.de/lemo/biografie/otto-braun

[17] DHM, https://www.dhm.de/lemo/kapitel/weimarer-republik/innenpolitik/preussenschlag

[18] DHM, https://www.dhm.de/lemo/kapitel/weimarer-republik/innenpolitik/preussenschlag

[19] ostexperte.de, https://ostexperte.de/deutschland-und-russland-teil-1/

[20] DHM, Berlin. https://www.dhm.de/lemo/kapitel/weimarer-republik/aussenpolitik/versailler-vertrag.html

[21] Glider.org, http://www.segelflugzeug.org/segelflug_geschichte.php

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Europe

The Ukrainian Crisis and its Impact on the European Security Governance and Global Legal Order

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Emergency services are working around the clock to deal with the consequences of Russia`s strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure. (file photo). Photo from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine

Authors: Abhinav Mehrotra and Amit Upadhyay*

As the attack on Ukraine continues by the Russian Military, there is a need to understand the continued impact of such attacks on global governance and legal order. The illegal annexation of Ukrainian territories has been one of the most shocking incidents affecting the world order since World War II ended. It sets a dangerous precedent for all independent nations formerly part of big empires from asserting their own identity as sovereign nations as per international and domestic norms.

Historically, the modern Ukraine crisis began with Nikita Khrushchev’s 1954 transfer of Crimea from the Russian Socialist Federal Republic to the Ukrainian Socialist Federal Republic in order to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Ukraine-Russia unification. The crisis further extenuated during the 1990s after the disintegration of the USSR, when the Western leaders understood that Russia must not be labelled as a defeated state. It was in this background that the West was to assume responsibility to develop post-Cold War structures, processes, perceptions, and activities by balancing the European nation’s interests and promoting democratic and liberal values, alongside keeping Russia within the framework.

Further adding to the complexity was the fact that NATO, under the US leadership, developed a complicated architecture where NATO’s integrated military command structure would be preserved. The aim was to develop close relationships with the European countries that later took the form of the European Union. Surprisingly, during these deliberations, the United States and other NATO nations never took into consideration the fact that it may be Russia’s will to remove the NATO like the Warsaw pact and have an equal role in developing a new institution for ensuring security.

Nonetheless, the act of a nation ie Russia exercising control over the political decision-making of another independent nation ie Ukriane  with the objective to retain in its influence using force undermines various key principles of international law. It is argued by Russia that the West including the European Union (“EU”) has failed to understand Russia’s security interests whereas the EU argues that a serious diplomatic effort is necessary to re-establish the core principles of the European political order which Russia so far have failed to do.

What needs to be understood  is that for Russia, the defiance in the post-Soviet Union era world order can be traced to the act of taking Pristina airport with paratroopers in 1999 based on a presumed occupation by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which is similar to the ongoing Ukrainian Crisis where NATO’s eastward expansion has been cited as the reason for anticipatory self-defense

Cut to the present, the annexation of Crimea, aggression against Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Ukrainian territories by Russia have far-reaching implications for European and global security. It challenges certain basic assumptions underlying the western policy in the post-Cold War era of treating Russia more as a partner than an adversary and considering Europe essentially stable and safe from invasion. The lack of an EU strategic framework to deal with security challenges in relation to Russia. EU needs to have a more robust defence posture requiring it to revisit its defence strategies especially when the possibility of Russian aggression against other European states cannot be excluded. The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) responsible for supporting revised security policies has been insufficient as Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence is seen as essential indicator for future European security governance. The CSDP sought autonomy from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (“NATO”) to have Europeans provide for their own security as a strategic doctrine, but it has since generated limited autonomous military capacity.

In this context, there is need to analyse to what extent Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is based on the assertive defence of its interests in its neighbourhood inspired by a revisionist challenge to the European rules-based system of security governance and how it impacts global order. The need of the hour is to see how International Community, States and Multilateral Institutions respond to Russia’s actions to provide the balance between the requirements of European security and the resources available to support it as International law is dealing with the unique challenge posed by Russia’s defiant behaviour including the acts of claiming exclusive rights and privileges; the need to claim a higher position in the international social hierarchy due to diminished reputation and importance, relative to other nations; and a belief that all these actions are necessary for national prestige, security and wealth

Going forward, the United Nations Security Council and other multilateral institutions need to be democratized to accommodate the differing views considering contemporary geopolitical realities. The inclusive collective security institutions are the need of the hour, and they should be accountable to the international legal framework for inclusive global governance.

*Amit Upadhyay is an  Associate Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University and holds an LL.M.  in European and International Law from Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany. His research interests include Constitutional Law, Legal Theory and Human Rights.

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