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Aristotle and Alexander: Two Perspectives on Globalization

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Even the Mayor in Gogol’s Inspector General, not being the sharpest tool in the shed, acknowledged that Alexander the Great was a hero, although he cautioned against proving this statement by destroying government property. Indeed, Alexander the Great was the first to attempt the heroic feat of uniting the entire ecumene known to Europeans in BC 334–323. Certainly, history knew great conquerors before Alexander, people who established vast empires, but Alexander laid down, if we may say so, both the material and the ideological and political foundations of a globalization project in classical antiquity. Alexander emerged as a thoroughly cosmopolitan ruler on a global scale.

It is a well-known fact that Alexander was tutored and mentored by Aristotle, the greatest philosopher of classical antiquity, who had a very important influence on shaping the personality of the future Macedonian king and inspired him to achieve great things. According to Plutarch, Alexander said he owed his father his life, and he owed Aristotle the dignity of his life. It is a lesser-known fact that the perspectives of the two visionaries on the specific paths for uniting humanity were not identical, and in the course of time, they began to diverge more and more. The direct and indirect polemics of Alexander and Aristotle did not cease with the death of the Great King. In some manner or other, it continued later as it engaged new participants, and it remains relevant even now. Today, as we are witnessing a clearly emerging crisis of globalization, and as particularist and traditionalist sentiments are gaining traction throughout the world, it would be useful to review this polemic once again.

A Breakthrough in Greek Thought

For a long time, Greek city-states viewed the idea of the political unification of Hellas as heretical, infeasible and generally absurd. The jealously guarded independence of individual city-states and their mutual cutthroat competition were seen as inherent traits of Greek civilization, the key source of its vitality and evidence of its superiority over adjacent barbaric states. Like the Italian cities of the Renaissance, Greek city-states rivalled each other in terms of the wealth of their citizens, the wisdom of their rulers, and the achievements of their architects, sculptors, orators, philosophers, poets, and playwrights.

Forward winds carried Greek ships like the spores of some fantastic plant along the entire coast of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. These spores produced amazing sprouts: new colonies that easily adapted to any local conditions, successfully cooperated with native tribes, and enriched the common Greek culture. No one saw any point in supplementing this undisputed cultural unity with a political union.

The situation began to change following the Greco-Persian Wars of BC 500–449. On the one hand, these wars led to an unprecedented rise in pan-Greek patriotism. On the other hand, they clearly demonstrated the imperfections of the structure of the Greek world comprised of city-states. Soon after its triumphant victories over Darius the Great and Xerxes, Hellas entered a protracted period of political and military confrontation between Athens and Sparta, fuelled up by generous infusions of Persian gold. The aging and weakening Persia did not want to risk a new invasion, but it artfully pitted Greek cities against each other, supporting the weak and threatening the strong, encouraging conflict and upsetting unions. This inglorious era concluded with the destructive Peloponnesian War (BC 431–404) that forever undermined the power of Athens.

Hence the growing popularity of pan-Hellenistic ideas, that is, ideas of city-states entering political and military unions, prohibiting wars between them, coordinating their foreign and trade policies. The famous Attic rhetorician Isocrates in his famous Panegyricus proposed the most general outline of the pan-Hellenism concept, but Aristotle gave it his trademark completeness and depth.

Pan-Hellenism certainly did not proclaim the task of building a Hellenistic empire based on the Persian model. The very thought of conquering vast lands that was typical of Persian kings or Roman consuls was alien to the worldview of citizens of city-states. By choosing as their model the barbaric Persia that they had repeatedly defeated, the Greeks would have betrayed the very essence of Hellenism. Most likely, they were pondering the creation of what would effectively amount to a classical-era analogue of the European Union based on the pluralism of values and political ideas of its participants, the partial transfer of “city-state” sovereignty to collegiate governance bodies, the voluntary self-restriction of the union’s most powerful members, etc. The unity of Hellas should have been cemented by the presence of a common threat and, as we would say today, by the existential challenge of the barbarian East.

Let us also note that the unification of the Greek world, in Aristotle’s opinion, did not presuppose an alignment of governance systems in individual city-states and did not require the uniformity of values (as is the case in the European Union today). The philosopher was not so much concerned with the specific forms of governance in city-states as he was with their quality, and Aristotle saw the main problem in substituting private interests of rulers for public interests. According to Aristotle, any “true” constitution could, under certain circumstances, degenerate into a “deviant” one: a monarchy could become a tyranny, aristocracy could become oligarchy, democracy could degenerate into ochlocracy (the rule of the mob). Credit where it is due—the Greek philosopher had a much broader view of governance than most contemporary western politicians.

 “The War of Revenge” as a National Idea

The wise and calculating King Philip of Macedon made the right choice when selecting a mentor for his son and heir. Aristotle found a diligent and attentive student in the young Prince Alexander. It should be noted that at that time, as an independent state in the north-eastern periphery of Hellas, Macedon was under a powerful Greek cultural influence and actively participated in the pan-Greek political life. After Archelaus moved the capital from the secluded Aigai to the coastal Pella, the Macedonian court was frequented by eminent Greek thinkers. The great Euripides spent his final years there, and in Pella, he wrote and staged his famous The Bacchae. After the famous Battle of Chaeronea (BC 338), where Alexander’s father Philip the Great clearly demonstrated the superiority of the Macedonian phalanx over any other military formation of Greek hoplites, the king decisively established himself as the hegemon of Hellas.

No matter how open-minded he was, Alexander’s teacher remained primarily a staunch Greek nationalist. In his Politics, Aristotle wrote, “Those who live in cold countries, as the north of Europe, are full of courage, but wanting in understanding and the arts: therefore they are very tenacious of their liberty; but, not being politicians, they cannot reduce their neighbours under their power: but the Asiatics, whose understandings are quick, and who are conversant in the arts, are deficient in courage; and therefore are always conquered and the slaves of others: but the Grecians, placed as it were between these two boundaries, so partake of them both as to be at the same time both courageous and sensible; for which reason Greece continues free, and governed in the best manner possible, and capable of commanding the whole world, could they agree upon one system of policy.”

Aristotle could hardly be called a racist in the way we use this word today. He was willing to acknowledge the indisputable achievements of the creative genius of the Egyptians, Persians, and even Scythians. But the idea of the “Greek exceptionalism” was entrenched in his mind as firmly as the idea of “American exceptionalism” is entrenched in the minds of many contemporary conservative U.S. politicians. Having assessed the outstanding gifts of his student, Aristotle insistently called upon Alexander to promote the political unification of Greece so that the country could become the natural centre of the ecumene.

Aristotle believed that Hellas certainly should not abandon its mission civilisatrice, i.e., its consistent efforts to expand the habitat of the Greek culture, the Hellenic language, political paradigms, and the way of life of the Greek nucleus. He also understood that the complete “Hellenization” of barbaric tribes was impossible due to objective obstacles in the way of such Hellenization. Aristotle believed that the natural territory of the “Greek civilization” did not go beyond the coastal Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Going back to our analogy with the European Union, let us note that, unlike the EU’s strategists in the early 21st century, Aristotle clearly saw the risks and dangers of the uncontrollable expansion of the Hellenistic world into adjacent lands.

Aristotle never doubted the superiority of Greek culture and social structure over all the alternatives known to him. Consequently, he was unlikely to come up with the idea of a global synthesis of values and cultures and even more unlikely to be thoroughly captivated by it. Aristotle apparently did not have a particularly high opinion of Herodotus and was not interested in the history of the non-Greek world, which certainly negatively affected his perception of barbarians. We should also add that Aristotle was a staunch defender of individual rights and the monogamous family and an equally staunch opponent of despotism of any kind on the part of the state. Naturally, like most enlightened Greeks, he never dreamed of a “Hellenistic empire,” he only wanted to see a more harmonious alignment of the interests of independent city-states.

Apparently, at the beginning of his “glorious days,” Alexander followed roughly the same line of thinking as Aristotle. We could debate the degree to which the son of Philip, King of Macedon, and Olympias, the Princess of Epirus in the faraway periphery of Hellas, could be thought of as a “true” Greek, but his attachment to Greek culture cannot be denied. He can be said to have soaked up this culture since birth, and he sensed the great unrealized potential of the Greek world, like the Corsican Napoleon Bonaparte, sensed the unrealized potential of France or the Georgian Joseph Dzhugashvili sensed the potential of Russia. Alexander carried a copy of Homer’s Iliad corrected by Aristotle and known as “The Iliad from the chest” on all his military campaigns and kept it under his pillow.

The idea of a “war of revenge” against Persia was primarily a national idea intended to unite the Greek world and lead it forward. Alexander only partially succeeded in the latter respect: the proud Sparta refused to take part in this tremendous undertaking. Many in Athens, including the implacable Demosthenes, secretly hoped for a crushing defeat of the Macedonian upstart, and up until the death of Darius III, tens of thousands of Greek mercenaries fought for Persia. We could suppose that, initially, Alexander’s motives were quite “Greek”: exacting revenge for the protracted Persian expansion, the feeling of the “Hellenic superiority,” the genetic contempt of a free Hellene for eastern barbarians. The latter feeling was probably particularly acute with the Macedonian king, since his political opponents frequently accused him of being of barbarian origins.

However, further down the road, Greek heritage became but one building block of a global empire in Alexander’s vision of a new global world. It was the most valuable and important one, true, but it was not the only one. The King quickly outgrew his own initial plans and his teacher’s paradigms: instead of a consistent Greek nationalist, he became the first cosmopolitan universalist of classical antiquity.

A Student Who Went Beyond His Teacher

Most likely, we will never learn when exactly Alexander began to move away from Aristotle’s orthodox paradigms. When the iron hand of the Macedonian king united the crumbling Greek world, his teacher could only be happy for his student, even as he would chastise him for his excesses and his unreasonable cruelty—especially for razing the rebellious Thebes and selling all its inhabitants into slavery (although formally, the decision to destroy the splendid city was made not by the King of Macedon himself, but by his Boeotian allies). When the “war of revenge” against Darius started, the teacher would also be pleased with his student: on the whole, the great design proceeded according to Aristotle’s plan.

Most likely, the King of Macedon wanted his teacher to join him in his march east. Aristotle, however, preferred to remain in Athens and sent his nephew Callisthenes to accompany Alexander. Callisthenes became the first chronicler of Alexander’s empire. The dramatic fate of this outstanding, although apparently extremely vain and difficult person is the best characteristic of the way Alexander changed as his tremendous enterprise was coming to fruition.

Gradually, the new lord of Asia was drifting away from his teacher’s designs. Apparently, the “point of no return” was passed when, following the first victories at Granicus (BC 334) and at Issus (BC 333), Alexander rejected Darius III’s suggestion that they amicably divide the Persian Empire along the Euphrates with its western part being transferred to Alexander. If the interests of the King of Macedon had been confined to the Mediterranean, he would have done well to accept this generous offer without hesitation. While his father, Philip the Great, posited the immediate goal of taking Asia Minor away from Persians, Alexander was offered Syria, Phoenicia and Egypt to boot. What could be a better conclusion for a “war of revenge”?

Such an end to the war would have been a well-deserved triumph of the King of Macedon. Alexander could have returned to Pella and become the single ruler of the entire Eastern Mediterranean. He could have imposed his terms on the Greek League of Corinth. In this situation, Darius himself would have been Alexander’s junior, rather than senior, partner. Aristotle would have certainly approved of such a resolution. However, for the future lord of the world, confining himself to the Mediterranean would have meant abandoning his historical mission. He blankly refused Darius’s proposal, did not listen to his advisors, and marched further East—towards Persia, Bactria, Sogdia and India.

Even during his Egyptian campaign (BC 332), Alexander demonstrated a clear intention to achieve at least a harmonious co-existence of Greek and Egyptian cultures. At most, he wanted to bring about a fruitful synthesis of the two cultural traditions. In Egypt, he demonstrated not merely religious tolerance, but a willingness to adopt local gods into a new universalist pantheon of the future empire. The King of Macedon assumed the title of Egyptian Pharaoh and proclaimed himself the son of Amun. His proclivity towards syncretism was subsequently manifested in all his campaigns, including his campaign to India. Curiously, Alexander entrusted the principal positions in the government of the new province not to his faithful, yet somewhat simple-minded Macedonians, but to the experienced Egyptians and shrewd Greeks. This is a characteristic manifestation of the king’s typical meritocracy. Finally, at the shores of the western channel of the Nile delta, he founded the city of Alexandria, which would soon become perhaps the most vivid symbol of ancient globalization, a sort of a Singapore of classical antiquity.

Then came the historic Battle of Gaugamela (BC 331) that put an end to the dispute between Alexander and Darius III over the dominion of Asia. Then came the triumphant entrance of the Macedonian army into Babylon and Susa, the Persepolis fire, which was probably deliberately set on Alexander’s orders (BC 330), and the official end of the “war of revenge.” Henceforth, the new king of Asia was not the destroyer of Persia, but its liberator, not an implacable foe of the Achaemenid Empire, but its legitimate heir. Alexander finally shook off the remnants of Aristotelian pan-Hellenism and pressed forward to new, heretofore unknown frontiers.

Every year, Alexander lost something of what we would today call his Macedonian, Greek or broadly Mediterranean identity. Even for the centre of his empire (the traditional concept of “capital” is hardly applicable to Alexander’s state), he chose Babylon, and not some Hellenistic city on the Mediterranean coast. After landing on the eastern coast of the Hellespont, he would never come back to Europe—not to Greece and certainly not to Macedon.

Eastern Despotism or Enlightened Ecumenism?

The many Greek critics of Alexander reproached the king for yielding to the temptation of becoming an eastern despot, thereby discarding both the austere ways of his Macedonian ancestors and the sophistication of the Hellenic culture for the sake of the eastern luxury and the pomp of Persian customs. Were such rebukes justified? Certainly, eastern luxury exerted its corrupting influence on Alexander, although, as far as we can say, despite his generous gifts to his inner circle and his liking for great feasts, he remained generally indifferent to material wealth throughout his life. More likely, he would be vulnerable to the flowery eastern flattery, just as he would be, though, to the sophisticated praise lavished on him by his Greek coterie.

In any case, Alexander appears to be primarily motivated not by human weakness, but by his desire to make humanity happy through a synthesis of East and West, Greek and Persian (as well as Egyptian, Bactrian, Indian and other) cultures. Hence mass marriages and his own marriage to the Bactrian princess Roxana. Hence his desire to encourage migration flows between the most far-flung regions of his steadily growing empire. Hence his willingness to create a truly universal pantheon. Hence his “meritocratic” staffing policies. At some point, the king ceased to be both a Macedonian and a Hellene and became a man of the world, or, rather, an “overman of the world.” While Aristotle could understand and even welcome Alexander’s forsaking of his Macedonian identity, his forsaking of his Hellenic identity automatically transformed Alexander into an implacable opponent of the philosopher.

This is what Plutarch, who was favourably disposed towards Alexander, said: he “did not, as Aristotle advised him, rule the Grecians like a moderate prince and insult over the barbarians like an absolute tyrant; nor did he take particular care of the first as his friends and domestics, and scorn the latter as mere brutes and vegetables; which would have filled his empire with fugitive incendiaries and perfidious tumults. But believing himself sent from Heaven as the common moderator and arbiter of all nations, and subduing those by force whom he could not associate to himself by fair offers, he labored thus, that he might bring all regions, far and near, under the same dominion. And then, as in a festival goblet, mixing lives, manners, customs, wedlock, all together, he ordained that everyone should take the whole habitable world for his country, of which his camp and army should be the chief metropolis and garrison; that his friends and kindred should be the good and virtuous, and that the vicious only should be accounted foreigners. Nor would he that Greeks and barbarians should be distinguished by long garments, targets, scimitars, or turbans; but that the Grecians should be known by their virtue and courage, and the barbarians by their vices and their cowardice; and that their habit, their diet, their marriage and custom of converse, should be everywhere the same, engaged and blended together by the ties of blood and pledges of offspring.”

Back in his day, King Philip offered Greek cities the kind of relations where there would be no victors or vanquished, first and last, leaders and followers. Alexander offered the same to Persians and other conquered peoples. Clearly, both the father and the son saw themselves as supreme arbiters and guarantors of such a union. However, while the father set himself the task of uniting Hellas (and here he was quite at one with Aristotle), the son dreamed of uniting humanity, and in such a union, Greek civilization could at best claim to be primus inter pares. Individual people would inevitably pay for this union by abandoning their individual freedom: certainly in the name of a great goal.

The king never spared himself, and it would have been strange to expect him to be willing to spare others. It would be fair to say that Alexander’s conquests resulted not so much in liberating the defeated as they did in enslaving the victors. Both the former and the latter were to become assistants to the king, obedient conduits of his divine will. And this applied not only to the top military and political elite of the empire, but also to the thousands and even tens of thousands of Greeks and Macedonians whom Alexander left to man the remote garrisons at the edge of the ecumene with little chance of going back home.

Aristotle, who was observing Alexander’s activities from faraway Athens, could not have liked this. Perhaps he could have forgiven his student for inevitably restricting the freedoms of his subjects, but he could never forgive him for abandoning pan-Hellenism. The consistent implementation of Alexander’s grand plan would inexorably lead to Aristotle’s beloved Hellas dissolving within an entirely new, universal global civilization. Even in purely demographic terms, the mass movement of the most ambitious, energetic and promising young people from Europe to Asia “in search of luck and rank” threatened long-term negative consequences for the development of Greece, which would be doomed to depopulation and a wretched existence on the outskirts of the empire.

Additionally, the endless territorial expansion of the Greek culture inevitably resulted in its simplification and vulgarization—from the universalization of the classical Greek language and its transformation into the imperial “koine” to the degeneration of the classical Greek architecture. Even a cursory comparison between the huge and luxuriant Hellenistic buildings in the East and the best architecture of “the High Classical period” in Greece convincingly shows that size does not always matter. Alexander, like many despotic rulers before and after him, succumbed to the temptations of gigantomastia and approved colossal and often tasteless projects. This trend in construction was continued by the Diadochi, who succeeded Alexander.

Aristotle, of course, kept a keen eye on his student’s movements. Aristotle may have been far away, but his nephew Callisthenes kept a detailed record of Alexander’s campaigns and, taking advantage of his position close to the king, never missed an opportunity to remind him of the exalted ideals of pan-Hellenism. Callisthenes’s escapades led first to mutual bitterness and then an outright disagreement. Alexander’s first chronicler initially fell into disfavour and then found himself in chains. He did not come back from the Indian campaign—he either died of some disease, or was killed on Alexander’s orders.

We could only guess at Aristotle’s reaction to the lavish collective wedding Alexander held in Susa for his Macedonian comrades-in-arms and the daughters of the Iranian nobility. This ceremony went against the philosopher’s basic convictions concerning the cultural incompatibility of the Greeks and the Persians, a person’s right to their own choice, and the monogamous family (many Macedonian veterans had wives and children back home). In this particular instance, Alexander acted not as an enlightened ruler, but as a detached stock-breeder experimenting with a new human breed for his empire.

The Greek philosopher must have been even more horrified by the events that took place in Opis, when, after a mutiny of his Macedonian veterans, Alexander said he was ready to disband his old Macedonian army. Having transferred military command to his former enemies, he ordered a new army to be assembled from the people of the East, including a phalanx, a cavalry, and even a squad of royal guards. Of course, the Macedonians were forced to beg the king for forgiveness, but his willingness to entrust his fate and the fate of his state to Asians would have made any pan-Hellenist shudder.

Aristotle had enough common sense not to quarrel with the almighty king. Historians state that he even accepted Alexander’s highly generous gift of 800 talents for his studies. However, the ideological differences between the teacher and the student were too apparent to be hidden. When Alexander died, Aristotle was among the people suspected of having poisoned the Great King. The accusations levelled against the philosopher remained unproven and did not have any serious consequences for him. But it is quite possible that when Aristotle learned of his student’s death, he breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe humanity, at least its Greek part, was ready for Aristotle’s philosophy, but humanity, and particularly its Greek part, was clearly not ready to implement Alexander’s political programme.

Particularism Strikes Back?

It’s hard to say how world history would have developed had Alexander lived a long life. He would probably have annexed Arabia without much difficulty and within a very short time. Preparations for the campaign had almost been completed. He would probably have set his sights on the Western Mediterranean, where Syracuse, Carthage, and Rome would hardly be able to stop the victorious march of the great commander and where his conquests would likely have prevented the destructive Punic Wars in the future. Sometime later, Alexander would have probably set his sights on the East again and continued the unfinished conquest of India, he would have also explored the basin of the Indian Ocean that had always beckoned him. We cannot rule out the possibility of Alexander, in his thirst for global domination, reaching the western borders of China, which was at that time riven by non-stop internecine conflicts of the Warring States period.

One thing is clear: regardless of the geographical priority of his future campaigns, Alexander would have never gone back to the ideas of pan-Hellenism and Aristotle’s philosophy. He would have continued to build and strengthen his cosmopolitan empire, mix peoples and ethnicities, found new cities, and strengthen trade routes. We can suppose that the genius of the great king would have manifested itself in his state-building just as vividly as it had been manifested in his many victorious battles. However, fate dictated that Alexander spend most of his supernatural creative energy on destroying the old instead of building the new.

The great conqueror died at the age of 33 without completing many of his undertakings and without cementing the foundations of his universalist empire. The forces of particularism gradually began to overpower the ideas of universalism. Less than 20 years after Alexander’s death, the great empire collapsed into independent states locked in a fierce confrontation with each other. It is worth noting that the great empire eroded fastest in its eastern outskirts—India, Bactria and Sogdia. The centre of the post-imperial political activity was clearly shifting westwards, from the heart of Asia to the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt became the principal areas of Greek colonization and the main centres of Hellenism in Asia.

To some degree, we can say that Aristotle ultimately vanquished Alexander. Or, in other words, Philip of Macedon vanquished his great son. The boundary between East and West was not eliminated, but shifted from the Aegean Sea to the Euphrates. The Hellenistic states of the Ptolemaic dynasty (Egypt) and the Seleucid Empire (Syria) succeeded where Greece failed: they overcame the local polis particularism. European immigrants moving to Alexandria or Antioch no longer thought of themselves as Athenians, Spartans, or Macedonians: they were all Hellenes sharing a common culture and historical tradition. However, neither the Seleucid Empire nor the Ptolemaic dynasty succeeded in harmoniously melding western immigrants and eastern residents in the same “melting pot”: in all states of the Diadochi, Hellenes formed the privileged class of people engaged in governance or commerce who mixed little with the native population.

However, Aristotle’s plans for Greece itself did not materialize either. The city-states never formed any kind of a European Union of classical antiquity. Their political strife and military conflicts continued, and Greece itself became a venue for confrontations between larger Hellenic states. One hundred years after Alexander’s death, the Roman Empire started to meddle in Greek affairs with increasing impudence, and in another 50 years (BC 146), the Roman province of Achaea was established in the territory of Greece.

Naturally, the influence that Alexander’s project exerted on the ancient world was not limited to the emergence or decline of specific states. Elements of Hellenism as a way of life and a cultural phenomenon became firmly entrenched throughout the vast spaces of Europe, Asia and Africa, that is, beyond the Hellenistic states themselves. The boundaries of the ecumene were gradually pushed back, new trade routes appeared, and commercial cities flourished. The baton of globalization was taken up by Roman consuls and then by the Roman emperors, who put many of Alexander’s unrealized plans into practice.

However, even imperial Rome, with its blatant cosmopolitanism and its colossal geographic scale, remained mostly a Western empire at the peak of its powers. The Roman eagles were not destined to reach the cities of India and the deserts of Central Asia. Emperor Trajan’s annexation of Southern Mesopotamia and Assyria (115 AD) proved very short-lived: just a few years later, his successor Hadrian was forced to abandon these conquests. For years, the Euphrates served as the border separating Western and Eastern civilizations. A stable synthesis between East and West ultimately failed to materialize even within the Roman Empire: centrifugal forces had the upper hand, and eventually, historical trajectories of Rome and Constantinople diverged for good. The emergence and geographical expansion of Islam ultimately locked in the boundary between the East and the West.

Arbitrary Historical Analogies

History develops in a spiral. In some sense, the global situation today is similar to the situation in the ancient world shortly after the death of Alexander the Great. On the one hand, we see many signs that globalization is in crisis: international trade, foreign direct investment, international migrations, etc., are falling. The importance of national sovereignty and national identity is emphasized everywhere, political forces advocating traditional values and the traditional way of life are growing in influence. Globalization priorities are being replaced with regionalization priorities. Ambitious long-term imperial plans are giving way to situational and highly pragmatic plans that are geared mostly toward domestic audiences instead of the world in general. As far as we can tell, deglobalization trends have gained major traction and will not be reversed in the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, it would be wrong to say that “globalization is over.” The world is getting smaller. Technological progress makes global communication easier and reduces the costs of implementing geographically distributed projects. The burden of common problems puts increasing pressure on all countries—problems ranging from the growing shortage of resources to accelerating climate change. The fact that the first wave of globalization of the late 20th to the early 21st century broke down does not necessarily mean that humanity will not have to face a second wave or that there is no need to prepare for it.

Historically, the Diadochi were the losers because they borrowed Aristotle and Alexander’s most obvious and least productive ideas. They took Aristotle’s political particularism and pan-Hellenistic nationalism, and Alexander’s despotic and highly centralized style of governance. And even though most of Alexander’s comrades-in-arms were remarkable people, neither Seleucus, nor Ptolemy, nor Perdiccas, nor Antigonus, nor Eumenes could measure up to the King in terms of his personality and his inexhaustible energy. Therefore, the Hellenistic states of the Eastern Mediterranean were internally unstable and ultimately fell to Rome or Parthia.

Solving the task that humanity has faced for over 2000 years requires approaches that would be diametrically opposite to those chosen by the Diadochi. How can we combine the most revolutionary and complicated elements of the globalization programmes of the two great figures of classical antiquity? How can we combine Alexander’s global universalism and noble idealism with Aristotle’s rational democracy and political pluralism? Solving this historical task would usher in radically new development directions for our world.

From our partner RIAC

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Upholding Dharma by Mob lynching?

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Label any Muslim a cow smuggler, accuse him of carrying beef and then lynch in the name of protecting religion. These premeditated barbaric acts seem to have become the order of the day. According to “Hate Crime Watch”, around 90% of religious hate crimes have occurred after the change of Central government in India in 2014. Although Muslims are victims in 60% of incidents, people from all religious faiths have suffered hate crimes.

India’s constitution promises its citizens justice, liberty and equality, but the shattering of social life through mob violence triggers an inescapable sense of powerlessness among its citizens. After the 2015 gruesome Dadri lynching, Mohammad Azam was lynched in July 2018 by a mob in Karnataka after a series of WhatsApp messages had warned locals that child kidnappers were on the loose. The mob assumed that Azam, who worked for Google, and his friends were co-conspirators and lynched him. In 2019, Tabrej Ansari became the first victim of the gruesome hate crime in the second term of the current regime led by proponents of Hindutva. He was lynched by a mob that forced him to chant Hindu religious slogans. In June this year, three people were lynched on suspicion of cattle smuggling in Tripura.

It needs to be recalled that lynching was used to terrorize black community for generations in the United States; blacks were lynched on dubious and false criminal accusations but this was put to an end through NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People). In a similar fashion today, there is a growing perception that mob lynching happens with disturbing regularity in India to terrorize not only minorities but also dissenters in the name of religion and culture.

Violence against those who dissent is sought to be rationalized as nationalistic. The killings of Mohammad Akhlaq, Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi, Narendra Dabolkar and Gauri Lankesh were masterminded by religious bigots masquerading as nationalists. In fact, the recent murder of George Floyd at the hand of a racially bigoted policeman in the United States, and custodial torture and death of a father-son duo in Tamil Nadu are hate crimes which are blots on the conscience of democratic societies.

Contemporary India has witnessed a surge in right-wing Hindu extremism, and crimes committed in the name of Love Jihad, beef eating, child kidnapping, cow slaughter and anti-Muslim fake news are aimed at normalizing this disturbing phenomenon. This right-wing propaganda usually spreads like a wildfire on the internet, particularly on the so-called Whatsapp University where it has become quite common to see pictures and videos of dead cows lying in a puddle of blood. It has been noticed that such videos and images on social media platforms are always of questionable veracity whose primary purpose is to incite fear, anger and violence. Very often, the text accompanying the videos appeals that everyone should spread it as much as possible in order for it to reach at the highest political executives. When this damaging and dangerous content is continuously circulated, the resulting fear in the minds of majority community gets converted into hatred toward the minority community.

These are nothing but politically motivated polarizing tactics and diatribes which only feed off pre-existing demeaning stereotypes of minorities. Technology has become an enabler of violence for various political and cultural reasons. There are many parties and stakeholders involved in these hate crimes but victims are only innocent people and invariably from vulnerable socio-economic groups. But the most shameful is the attitude of India’s politicians and police officials who justify these crimes, garland the lynchers, deny it ever happened or shrug off their responsibility by preferring to watch as mute spectators. Even delayed or muted condemnation of communal violence, by those in positions of power, only signal tolerance of such activity. Unfortunately, both the mob violence and the official response to it are symbolic of the Indian state’s rising incompetence in countering religious intolerance.

In recent years, the alarming idea that the ‘nation’ belongs only to the majoritarian community has made global strides as many countries like Poland, Hungary, Brazil and Turkey have come under its sway. Even many long-established democracies, including the United States, are feeling the pressure of this authoritarian tendency. The emergence of Hindu nationalist ideology in India, which is seen as replacing Indian civic nationalism, promotes the notion of a unique national culture grounded in Hindu cultural supremacy. The proponents of Hindu right-wing extremism are trying to radicalize their children and youth with ultra-conservative and fictional thoughts which often re-assert historical prejudices and ungrounded hatred toward Muslims.  

One may be wrong, but cynical indifference shown by the middle class citizens tends to breed servitude and perpetuate complacency. When the victim of mob violence dies a death, shockingly there is no remorse from the crowd. Only the victim’s family remembers the event even as the societal silence is spine chilling. Actually, one should not ignore the performance aspect to mob lynching. Those indulging in mob lynching or public beatings ensure that their acts are recorded and then the potential circulation of such videos is targeted to send a strong message of the majoritarian men terrorizing minority men into humiliation and subjugation.

The dominant mainstream assumptions that cattle slaughter and beef trade directly concerns only Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and Christians is also far from reality. Unfortunately, framing of the debates around bovine trade along communal lines has been sustained by provincial media which acts as an echo chamber to propagate Islamophobia. It has also been observed that the messages of hate get intensified after any terror attack, and instigate people to act against specific communities, primarily Muslims.

In July 2018, a landmark judgment given by the Supreme Court had condemned the incidents of mob lynching and cow vigilantism as ‘horrendous act of mobocracy’, asking the government to enact strict law to counter them. Nevertheless, in spite of comprehensive guidelines and anti-lynching laws in some states such as Rajasthan, Manipur and West Bengal, the mob violence continues unabated. In many states where the right-wings groups feel emboldened such as Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, there is widespread feeling that the enactment of stringent cattle preservation legislation has further exacerbated such crimes. Those who think that the lynch squad is a thing of the past are wrong.

Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) do not have specific provision dealing with the mob lynching because this was never seen as a crime in India. It is similar to terrorism for which we have the most stringent laws. But mob lynching causes more than just a death; it kills the spirit and substance of democracy. We are told that Hindus and Muslims share the same DNA in India. How can the cold-blooded lynching of one’s brethren make one a hero rather than a murderer? How can a policeman’s lynching and alleged cattle lifter’s lynching possess different form of bestiality? In fact, the time has come to brand mob lynching as ‘domestic terrorism’ and a serious threat to India’s internal security.

Does glory to Lord Rama be restored through unruly mob justice? Does the path to righteousness come through killing innocent people in the name of Cow? Does circulation of derogatory and hateful projection of Muslims bring glory to Hindus? Are those calling publicly for violence against Muslims and Christians are real friends of the Indian State and government? Is not hate crime the prelude to genocide? These uncomfortable questions shake the core of India’s multi-religious and pluralist democracy. India’s timeless civilization has unflinchingly celebrated the foundational principles of humanity such as non-violence, tolerance, peaceful-coexistence and ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ which is one of the most important moral values engraved in the heart of every Indian. These eternal principles come under violent assault whenever a mob kills an innocent Indian.

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International Law

International Criminal Court and thousands of ignored complaints

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©ICC-CPI

The civil war in Donbass has been going on for more than seven years now. It broke out in 2014, following Kiev’s decision to launch a military operation against the local militia in Donbass, who did not accept the Maidan coup that had happened in February of that same year. More than 10,000 civilians were killed in the conflict.

Correspondent of the French newspaper L’Humanité Vadim Kamenka, French historian Vincent Boulet, as well as a MEP and a member of the Spanish Communist Party Willie Meyer took part in the international conference “Topical Issues of Human Rights Violations in Donbass.”

Moderating the conference, organized by the Society of Friends of L’Humanité in Russia (the French leftist newspaper’s Russian office), was the head of the interregional public organization “For Democracy and Human Rights” Maxim Vilkov.

The conference was also attended by the deputy foreign minister of the Lugansk People’s Republic Anna Soroka, human rights activist Yelena Shishkina, director of the Society of Friends of L’Humanité Olesya Orlenko, and head of Donetsk National University’s department of political science Artyom Bobrovsky.

The participants discussed numerous cases of human rights violations by the Ukrainian security forces and paramilitary units in the course of the civil war in Donbass. The left-minded European participants paid special attention to the fact that none of the 6,000 complaints about the actions of Ukrainian security officials and nationalists had actually been taken up by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Small wonder too, since the atrocities committed in Donbass immediately bring to mind the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s when leftwing antifascists from across the world fought supporters of fascists and Nazis. Let’s not forget that even DW (foreign agent) admits that the share of neo-fascists in Kiev’s Azov regiment is very significant.

The participants called upon the ECHR to pay attention to the non-investigation of crimes committed in Donbass.

Human rights activists and public figures from Russia, France and the unrecognized republics of Donbass called on European international human rights organizations to pay attention to the failure to investigate crimes committed during the armed conflict in Ukraine. This is stated in the statement, which was sent to European international organizations after the conference.

The statement also calls attention to obstacles created to prevent citizens from filing applications to investigate crimes, as well as to attempts to ignore pertinent complaints from international bodies.

The latter, according to the authors of the statement, is especially important since “10,650 applications have so far been submitted to the ECHR concerning violations of citizens’ rights during the civil armed conflict in Ukraine. Of these, 8,000 come from Crimea and Donbass, including 7,000 from Donbass alone. Moreover, 6,000 are complaints made against Ukraine proper. However, during the past seven years, not a single complaint pertaining to the conflict in Donbass has been considered.”

Human rights activists called on the ECHR and the International Criminal Court (ICC) “to ensure that the crimes committed in Donbass are investigated in full compliance with the ECHR and ICC charter, as well as to bring pressure to bear on the political leadership of Ukraine to fulfill its obligations to protect the rights of its citizens.”

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International Law

Crime of Ecocide: Greening the International Criminal Law

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In June 2021, an Independent Expert Panel under the aegis of Stop Ecocide Foundation presented a newly-drafted definition for the crime of ‘ecocide.’ The Panel consisting of 12 international lawyers proposed that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should be amended to include ecocide as the fifth international crime along with the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. The inclusion of the crime of ecocide in the Statute will entitle ICC to investigate, prosecute, and try individuals accused of causing grave harm to the environment.

The term ecocide comprises the Greek word ‘oikos,’ meaning house or environment, and ‘cide,’ meaning an act of killing. Premised upon the term ‘genocide,’ ecocide means the significant destruction of the natural environment by human actions. In 1970, it was first used by Arthur Galston, an American biologist, at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington DC. The term was further quoted by the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in his opening speech at the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) in Stockholm. Since then, multiple efforts were made to include ecocide within international law. Interestingly, it was adopted as an additional crime in the early drafts of the Rome Statute; however, later, it was dropped due to the lack of an adequate definition. If succeeded this time, it will be a significant victory for the environment since none of the existing international criminal laws secures it as an end-in-itself.

Definition of the crime of ecocide

The Panel has defined the crime of ecocide as, “For the purpose of this Statute, “ecocide” means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.

The definition comprises two thresholds that should be fulfilled to constitute a crime of ecocide. Firstly, there should exist a substantial likelihood that the ‘acts’ (including omissions) will cause severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment. In other words, along with the damages causing severe harm to the elements of the environment, such damages must have an impact on a wider geographical location or for an unreasonably longer duration.

It is appreciable that the Panel has widened the scope of the definition by incorporating spatial and temporal dimensions to its meaning. However, they have changed their position adopted in the previous legal instruments to employ a mix of conjunctive and disjunctive formulations in the definition. In addition to its severe nature, such harm could be either widespread or long-term to constitute a crime of ecocide. Thus, any severe and widespread activity, such as chopping down huge rainforests, could be attributed to ecocide. Similarly, any severe activity whose consequences prevail for a longer duration, for example, causing the extinction of a plant or animal species, could also amount to the crime of ecocide.

Instant reading of the first threshold indicates that the ecocide definition might include day-to-day human activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental damages. It raises a question – Whether humans are environmental criminals? Though, it might be true that most human actions, directly or indirectly, are continuously degrading the ecosystem around us. However, the definition of ecocide is primarily concerned with the large polluters whose irresponsible activities at a massive level are a threat to the environment. Thus, to narrow down the ambit of the definition and identify criminal activities precisely, the Panel added a second threshold, that is, the ‘acts’ causing damage to the environment must be unlawful or wanton.

It means, only when the actions are either prohibited under national or international laws or indicate a reckless disregard for excessive destruction of the environment in achieving social and economic benefits will they amount to the crime of ecocide. The second threshold hints towards an anthropocentric approach of the definition and protects a range of human activities deemed necessary, desirable, and legitimate for human welfare. To determine the lawfulness of the acts, the actions should be seen with their potential social and economic values. The ecocide definition relies upon the principle of sustainable development to balance environmental destruction with human development and prohibits all destructive activities that outweigh their social and economic benefits. It also means that the definition places a ‘limited’ environmental harm outside the scope of the definition, which cannot be avoided for achieving social welfare that includes housing developments or establishing transport links.

The proposed definition is more concerned with the massive instances of environmental damages. It does not consider small ‘necessary’ ecological harms caused by day-to-day human activities. However, it is equally essential these negligible-looking destructive contributions of humans, made in their individual capacity, should not go unnoticed. These small contributions combined with each other also significantly impact the environment in the form of climate change, biodiversity loss, and other hazards. Thus, the reckless human lifestyle is a significant issue and needs to be regulated through some international code of conduct, if not as ecocide.

Undoubtedly, the proposed ecocide definition is a remarkable effort that should be appreciated for multiple reasons. First of all, the release of this definition indicates that the time has come to start penalizing environmental offenders and create deterrence so that such destructive activities can be minimized. It establishes the responsibility and accountability of big corporate houses and political leaders whose regular investments are causing substantial harm to the environment. Moreover, this definition founds its bases upon many core principles and concepts of public international law, international environmental law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law. For instance, the principle of no transboundary harm, sustainable development, proportionality, and necessity are aptly referred to in the ecocide definition. Moreover, it also provides a sufficiently broad definition of the term ‘environment’ to primarily include any damage committed towards the earth, its biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and outer space.

Way Forward

Though the ecocide definition is a significant development, it still has to go a long way to be included in the list of international crimes. For this purpose, any of the 123 member states to the Rome Statute can officially submit the definition to the UN Secretary-General. The proposal has to be accepted for further consideration by the majority of the members through voting. Further, the text will be subjected to debates and deliberations and must be passed by a two-thirds majority of the members. Moreover, the member states need to ratify or accept the proposed text. Only after one year of such ratification or acceptance ICC may exercise its jurisdiction over the crimes of ecocide committed afterward. This entire process can take many years or even decades to get completed. It is also possible that the structure of the current definition might change in due course of its acceptance.

Today, it is unclear that whether this definition will succeed in amending the Rome Statute or not, but what can be said with certainty is that this definition will play a crucial role in building awareness and discourse around ecocide among the governments, corporate houses, professionals, and masses across the globe. With the pressing needs of humans and prevailing threats to the environment, it is the right time that the actions of the offenders should be regulated through the prism of international criminal law.

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