Summery: Much of the work on the FM website examines minutiae for clues and insights about the wider world. Today we look at this strange but revealing article (revealing about us). It suggests what where we have gone wrong, and how we can still return to a better path.
“Elites’ strange plot to take over the world“, By Matt Stoller,
Salon, 20 September 2013
“A few decades ago, politicians hatched a Tom Friedman-esque idea to unite U.S. and Western Europe.
Did it succeed?”
This fun article holds many lessons for us. It’s in Salon, one of the new breed of online magazines with a contrarian flavor (Slate being the exemplar), providing a well-written mixture of information and misinformation designed for maximum clicks.
The author, Matt Stoller, is a well-educated young journalist, almost certainly knows that much of this is nonsense. Journalists write to their audience, and Stoller understands our fantastic idea of how the world works. See his opening:
The idea of a country seems pretty simple. … But the way political decision-making around security issues ricochets around the world, from Western capital to Western capital, is making a mockery of commonly held conceptions of national sovereignty. In recent weeks, a British parliament vote on Syria forced the U.S. president to seek authorization from Congress, while leaked documents detailed extensive cooperation between the intelligence services of the U.S. and other nations. The president of Bolivia was forced to down his plane by Italy and France, just because he joked about having Edwards Snowden on board. And so on, and so forth.
This all demands the question: Why do we hold the conception that we live in separate nation-states?
Notice the sleight of hand. Stoller says the reality of separate nations requires that nations be unaffected, even unlimited, by the actions of other nations. This confuses “sovereign” — able to make their own decisions — with domination, able to do as they want without consideration or influence from neighbors. As if nations existed not on a crowded world, but on separate planets.
Much like teenagers discovery of sex and love in every new generation, Stoller’s discovery of yearnings for a world government after WW2 — a surprise to Americans now dreaming of world hegemony — is not new. It was not new in 1648, when European nations signed the Treaties of Westphalia and created the modern international order in crowded Europe. The limitations of sovereignty were not new when the Scythians, Hittites, Egyptians, and Israelites fought in the ancient Middle East.
These “conceptions of national sovereignty” might be “commonly held” but are quite daft. “Our own history should teach us this. From the start, America was largely defined by the actions of other nations. To mention just a few:
- Without the Revolution’s wide support in Britain — we were fighting for the “rights of Englishmen”, the Revolution would have continued longer, probably either failing or ending with a harsher peace treaty.
- Without France, the Revolution would have failed.
- If Britain had supported the Confederacy and its slavers, the South might never have fallen.
These are all examples of the moral high ground proving decisive. Not only are nations influenced by other nations, but the influences are not just power and wealth — but ideas of right and wrong. We are our brothers’ keepers and vice versa. Drunk on the power of our new weapons, the ability to kill anyone, anywhere, we have forgotten this.
My guess is that events will provide us with a sharp reminder.
The rest of the article is a good history lesson to advance an equally daft idea about “Elites’ strange plot to take over the world”, built on Americans astonishing ignorance of western history. The key points of this history.
- American and our allies built a post-WW2 “new world order” of closer integration, learning from the failures of the post-WW1 world order.
- Some idealists wanted far more integration, perhaps even a one-state political regime in the west.
- They were ignored. As seen in the sharp restrictions Congress placed in the UN Participation Act on the UN’s ability to call on US troops (details here).
- This desire for a unified western world has ancient roots, deep in our history and thinking.
The last point deserves attention. Western history has been, in one sense, a desire to recreate Rome. A unified land of a common language, free travel, and the Pax Romana. Charlemagne — Charles the Great — reignited this dream when the Pope crowned him Emperor in 800. The Carolingian Empire had a brief life, but the dream was reborn 962 with the crowing of an Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Attempts to recreate Rome by diplomacy and force have continued since that day. Perhaps the European Union will eventually make it a reality.
The United States after WW2 was a leader in this process, building a world where nations could peacefully live together, with collective use of sanctions, and force where necessary, to keep the peace. Polls show that dream had, and has today, tremendous appeal in the west and around the world. Not just among elites, but the people.
Now, drunk on the power of being the sole superpower, we tear down what we have built. We attempt to rule as the world’s decider by use of our economic and military power. We decide where to intervene. We decide what people should die. We resent and oppose the efforts of great nations like China to play a role in the world appropriate to their size.
This probably will not end well for America. We lack the economic power, the wisdom, and the moral stature to sustain this program.
That would be an article worthy of Matt Stoller’s skills, but one unlikely to get many clicks.
For More Information
About modern war, and the new world order:
- War is the health of the state, 18 September 2010
- The Constitution will still work for us, if we’d only use it. About options for responding to our enemies., 29 March 2011
- Can the UN give Obama the authority to send US forces in the Libyan War?, 1 April 2011
- What the conflict with Iran teaches us about modern State-to-State war, 16 January 2012
- Recommend: Where did the great post-war dream for a new world go sour?, 30 October 2012