Monday, December 21, 2015

Unities And Disunities

     I was dithering among a dozen assorted topics for an essay when I chanced upon the following video of a brief speech by legendary thriller writer Frederick Forsyth:

     Yes, it’s about Britain and the EU, it’s sixteen minutes long, and – horror of horrors! – it’s in British English. Watch it anyway. I promise that your time won’t be wasted.

     Among the most enduring fantasies of government worshippers has been the notion of a single, all-encompassing world government. I remember being intrigued by the idea myself, when I was much, much younger. But the aspect of the proposition that’s remained with me over the subsequent half-century is the way its proponents always characterized it as “inevitable.” Inevitable. Remember that word. It’s the one the Left is forever using about subjects like national health insurance. Its sole purpose is to silence, or at least weaken, resistance to the “inevitable” idea.

     In that most feared and despised of all venues for the clash of ideas, Reality, nothing is inevitable but death. Yet thinkers such as Bertrand Russell repeatedly promoted the idea of a world government as “inevitable,” mainly because they disliked or distrusted the Westphalian nation-state. Leftists’ ardor for the idea is understandable, as their dislike of small, independent polities free to deviate from their designs is a continuous thread through the history of collectivism. Yet even some intelligent men on the side of freedom, such as A. E. Van Vogt, have said that a single world government would be preferable to an array of independent nation-states.

     As passionate as the world-government camp has been, its leading lights have acknowledged, albeit grudgingly, that “you can’t get there in one step.” The League of Nations and the United Nations have demonstrated the difficulties rather starkly. So they’ve promoted regional federations and similar alliances as an intermediate state. The most recent sally in that direction is the European Union.

     The strains being put on Europe as a result of the EU have made unbelievers out of many Europeans who were once strongly in favor of complete, continental political unification. The sense that “we ought to have known better” is becoming ever stronger, especially in those countries that have suffered economically or have experienced significant cultural dilution as a consequence of the EU’s no-internal-borders policy. British sentiment for a complete withdrawal from the EU is strong and rising. Whether it will attain majority status, and whether the British political class would respect a majority vote to leave the EU, remain to be seen.

     What creates a stable polity? It’s a question without a definitive answer. Polities have formed and dissolved in innumerable ways over the centuries. There have always been arguments about the reasons for both, and there always will be.

     A single common language has been regarded as indispensable. Yet the bloodiest and most brutal wars in history have been civil wars, in which the sides shared a single language. Borders demarcated by Nature have been extolled as a critical factor, yet nations have come together without or despite such borders. Race, uniformity of technological attainment, cultural or ideological commonalities...the list goes on. No one really knows.

     What appears to be well established is that an enduring political union cannot be imposed “from above:” i.e., by the will of a political elite upon an averse population. Such a polity can only be held together by military force, and once a sufficient fraction of the subject population is determined to rebel, there’s no amount of force that can keep it together.

     The EU was formed by its political class, against the will of a fraction of the people of Europe that verged on a majority. It might well be to the EU’s advantage that there is no military force capable of perpetuating it. That will make the process of dissolution a good deal faster and more peaceful than it would otherwise be. Should the British vote themselves out, and should the British political class respect the referendum, all Brussels will be able to say is “goodbye and good luck to you.”

     I predict that should Britain depart the EU, Ireland will follow just behind it, Irish notions of independence from their British cousins notwithstanding.

     Among writers of fantasy and science fiction, few names are nearly as honored as that of the late Poul Anderson. Many of his novels and stories were either politically themed or bore important political subtexts. I consider the most powerful and thoughtful of them to be his Hugo Award winning novelette No Truce With Kings, which concerns an attempt by an alien race to “encourage” Mankind toward a world government. Here’s the climactic confrontation between one of the aliens and a representative, not of a particular state (though he is that), but of the human impulse toward self determination:

     “Listen, listen,” the being pleaded. “We came in love. Our dream was to lead you—to make you lead yourselves—toward peace, fulfillment...oh yes, we would also gain, gain yet another race with whom we could someday converse as brothers. But there are many races in the universe. It was chiefly for your own tortured sakes that we wished to guide your future.”
     “That controlled history notion isn’t original with you,” Speyer grunted. “We’ve invented it for ourselves now and then on Earth. The last time it led to the Hellbombs. No, thanks!”
     “But we know! The Great Science predicts with absolute certainty—”
     “Predicted this?” Speyer waved a hand at the blackened room.
     “There are fluctuations. We are too few to control so many savages in every detail. But do you not wish an end to war, to all your ancient sufferings? I offer you that for your help today.”
     “You succeeded in starting a pretty nasty war yourselves,” Speyer said.
     The being twisted its fingers together. “That was an error. The plan remains the only way to lead your people toward peace. I, who have traveled between suns, will get down before your boots and beg you—”
     “Stay put!” Speyer flung back. “If you’d come openly, like honest folk, maybe you’d have found some to listen to you. Maybe enough, even. But no, your do-gooding had to be subtle and crafty. We weren’t entitled to any say in the matter. God in heaven, I’ve never heard anything so arrogant!”
     The being lifted its head. “Do you tell children the whole truth?”
     “As much as they’re ready for.”
     “Your child-culture is not ready to hear these truths.”
     “Who qualified you to call us children—besides yourselves?”
     “How do you know you are adult?”
     “By trying adult jobs and finding out if I can handle them. Sure, we make some ghastly blunders, we humans. But they’re our own. And we learn from them. You’re the ones who won’t learn, you and that damned psychological science you were bragging about, that wants to fit every living mind into the one frame it can understand.
     “You wanted to re-establish the centralized state, didn’t you? Did you ever stop to think that maybe feudalism is what suits man? Some one place to call our own, and belong to, and be part of; A community with traditions and honor; a chance for the individual to make decisions that count; a bulwark for liberty against the central overlords, who’ll always want more and more power; a thousand different ways to live. We’ve always built supercountries, here on Earth, and we’ve always knocked them apart again. I think maybe the whole idea is wrong. And maybe this time we’ll try something better. Why not a world of little states, too well rooted to dissolve in a nation, too small to do much harm—slowly rising above petty jealousies and spite, but keeping their identities—a thousand separate approaches to our problems. Maybe then we can solve a few of them...for ourselves!”
     “You will never do so,” the being said. “You will be torn in pieces all over again.”
     “That’s what you think. I think otherwise. But whichever is right—and I bet this is too big a universe for either of us to predict—we’ll have made a free choice on Earth. I’d rather be dead than domesticated.”

     Perhaps the imminent fragmentation of the EU will provide another lesson of that sort. Concerning the implications for the future of these United States, I prefer to reserve judgment.


Ron Olson said...

Hope your work is going well. I look forward to the end of big-ness. Just the material waste alone should make a materialist humanitarian weep. Thanks for your essay once again. Clear as usual.

Reg T said...

Let's hope the Weapon Shops of America stay open. Without having to go underground.