RCH: America and Russia use to be friends

It’s true, and it’s the subject of my latest Tuesday column over at RealClearHistory. Check it out:

The two future superpower rivals had more in common than mere future greatness, though. Both were expanding rapidly, gobbling up huge swaths of territory at the expense of isolated polities like the Khiva Khanate and the Sioux confederacy, and hapless autocracies like Mexico and the Ottoman Empire. Russia and the United States also shared common foes – France and the U.K. – due mostly to the fact that American and Russian expansion was beginning to step on French and British toes. Both empires – one democratic, the other autocratic – also had looming labor crises that overshadowed everything they did in international affairs: slavery and serfdom.

Yes, I’m writing about the widely-ignored Crimean War. Please, read the rest, and don’t forget to tune in Friday for ten cool facts about the Crimean War!

Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy

Understanding how political parties function is an area where recent research in political science has contributed major insights. Political parties are a fairly recent phenomenon. Prior to the 19th century, there were factions and loose groupings – the Optimates and Populares in Republican Rome, Tories and Whigs in late 17th century England, and Girondins and Jacobins in the French Revolution – but not organized parties. They were looser groupings that centered around dominant individuals – a Marius or Sulla, a Lord Shaftsbury, or a Brissot or Robespierre; but not parties with structured platforms and a deep well of local support.

I recently reviewed Daniel Ziblatt‘s recent book Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy for the Journal of Economic History (gated and ungated). Ziblatt provides new insights into the key role played by conservative parties in the formation and stabilization of democracy in Western Europe. Ziblatt’s thesis is that where conservative parties were able to become entrenched and organized political forces, the prospects for liberal democracy were fairly good. But where conservative parties remained weak, democracy was likely to remain poorly institutionalized. Under these circumstances, elites simply had too much to lose from acquiescing in universal suffrage.

Ziblatt contrasts the fate of England where a popular conservative party did take on solid roots in the late 19th century with that of Germany. As I write in my review:

“The central insight Ziblatt emphasizes throughout is game theoretic: the absence of a party to organize around meant that economic elites lacked the ability to strategically defend their interests and hence became willing to ally with any forces that might help them protect their property. While in Britain, the well-institutionalized Parliamentary Conservative party moderated and sidelined the more reactionary and xenophobic elements in British life, the absence of such a strong party meant that in Germany, the right tended towards antisemitism and other forms of extremism . . . “

“. .  . Stable and lasting democratization required “buy-in” from old regime elites and this buy-in can only occur if there are institutional mechanisms in place that are capable of assuaging their fears and moderating the influence of extremists. In late 19th and early 20th century Europe, strong professional conservative parties served this purpose. In the absence of such a party the transition to democracy will likely be temporary and unstable.”

Do read the full review.

RCH: 10 key World War I events in October

I’ve been busy in real life, so my weekend column over at RealClearHistory is a bit lightweight, but I thought some good stuff came out of it. I can definitely build off of it in future columns. An excerpt:

4. Battle of Fort Dipitie (1915). In October of 1915 the United States had managed to keep out of the tragic events going on in Europe, but Washington had still managed to find military action in its backyard, as troops had been sent to Haiti at the behest of the island nation’s dictator, Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. The Battle of Fort Dipitie was a relatively minor affair, with only one Marine being wounded and fewer than 100 people dying altogether, but the entire occupation of Haiti by the U.S. military was frowned upon by most of the American public. The occupation of Haiti inspired decorated Marine General Smedley Butler to write his classic 1935 book War is a Racket.

Please, read the rest.

RCH: The battle that shaped Texas for one hundred years

That’s the topic of my latest at RealClearHistory. (Remember, I have a Tuesday column and a weekend column over there.) Here’s an excerpt:

In the mid 16th century, then, in what is now Texas and Oklahoma, world powers and regional polities bobbed and weaved with each other in an intricate, unpredictable game of geopolitics to settle who gain hegemony over a region destined to be important for transcontinental trade for centuries to come. The defeat forced Spain to give up its designs for the region entirely, and France was never interested in the region being anything other than a resource-rich frontier for its American port cities in New Orleans and Quebec.

The defeat also caused a minor rift between Tlaxcala and Spain, which was a big deal at the time because without Tlaxcala, Spain would have never been able to conquer the Aztec Empire as thoroughly as it did.

Please, read the rest. Texas ain’t no joke…

RCH: Religion in the USSR

That’s the topic of my weekend column at RealClearHistory. An excerpt:

4. Buddhism was also outlawed and persecuted to the fullest extent of the Soviet law. Buddhism was practiced by a few different non-Russian ethnic groups in central Asia, and these small ethnic groups were given more leniency than most, but Buddhism came to be viewed by the Soviet intelligentsia as extremely dangerous, due to the fact that many left-leaning scholars abandoned socialism for Buddhist principles. The work of Andrei Znamenski, a historian of religion and ideology at the University of Memphis, is particularly useful for finding out why this happened.

Please, read the rest. Dr Znamenski, of course, blogs here on occasion, but I do wish he’d do so more often…

Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism IX

After a break dealing with proofs and indexes of two forthcoming books, a process that overlapped with getting a new university semester started, I can return to this series, which I last added to here. I set the scene of the late 1960s in Turkey, so I will turn to the next big upheaval, the Coup by Memorandum on March 12th 1971.

The Coup by Memorandum followed an attempted coup by far left/third worldist revolutionaries amongst the officer corps. Any unity created by the Kemalist project (secularist national-republican tradition of Turkey’s founder, Kemal Atatürk) was effectively ended, though this decomposition could be said about the whole period from the 1940s to 1971, especially after the adoption of multi-partyism by Atatürk’s successor, İsmet İnönü.

The 1971 coup forced the resignation of the conservative Prime Minister Süyleman Demirel and the implementation of a program to crush the far left, while also implementing some of the more left-wing ideas associated with the 1960 coup (particularly land reform and trade union rights). National View, the first Islamist party in Turkey, founded by Necmettin Erbakan, was closed down along with leftist groups so that an appearance of balance could be maintained in opposing the extremes on both sides. The reality, though, is that the level of state repression, including violence, and further including illegal violence (torture of the arbitrarily detained) directed against the far left, including Kurdish autonomists, drastically exceeded that directed against the far right.

The level of oppression that affected the mainstream right (in that the Justice Party was temporarily removed from government) and religious right was enough to create the idea that the right in Turkey was in some way the liberal part of Turkish politics. This not only influenced liberals, but even some people with very left wing views. It is part of how the AKP could come to power and hollow out state institutions, while subordinating civil society from 2002 onwards. The right continued with a militant anti-communist discourse, in all parts, while in part posing as the liberal friends of leftist rights, along with the rights of the Kurdish autonomists. This was pioneered by Turgut Özal in the 80s and taken further by the AKP. Presumably, Turkish liberals and leftists of the most anti-Kemalist sort have now learned a lesson, but possibly too late to benefit from it for at least a generation.

The military establishment’s implicit tolerance of the religious right, along with the ultranationalist grey wolves, in comparison to the secularist leftists tells an important story about the reality of ‘Kemalist domination’ of Turkey. It had evolved into a Turkish-Islamic synthesis, a compromise with the more conservative parts of the Kemalist establishment, in which the Turkish-Islamic synthesis became more prominent and the ‘Kemalism’ became more and more gestural, including a pointless obsession with preventing young women with covered hair from entering the university, at the same time as the rights of non-Muslim minorities.

The picture is more complicated in that the anti-leftist post-memorandum government in 1971 closed the Greek Orthodox seminary in the Princes Islands off the Marmara Sea coast of Istanbul, as part of a general closure or nationalisation of private (largely foreign) institutions of higher education. This was a policy in accordance with the demands of the far left, including campus radicals. So a measure to deny rights to a Christian minority coincided with the demands of the far left and was undertaken by a notionally secularist government, in reality more concerned with crushing the far left and extending a conservative form of statism.

The above, in any case, did not resolve the real problems of political violence to which the 1971 coup responded. The period between the end of the very temporary government appointed in 1971 and the coup of 12th September 1983 was one of increasing political violence and extremism, with a lack of stable governments as the Justice Party lost majority support (though it remained in government most of the time). Neither it nor the Republican People’s Party were able to form stable coalitions or parliamentary agreements, while the economy suffered and political violence increased between far left and far right groups. Unexplained massacres of demonstrators and political assassinations accompanied barricades that violent groups put up to signify control of urban areas.

The National Assembly failed to elect a President of the Republic in 1980, despite 115 rounds of voting during increasing political and economic disruptions. When the army seized power again on the 12th September, there was widespread public support, but this was the most brutal of the military governments. Its attempt to create a more ‘stable’, i.e. authoritarian, democracy gave Turkey a constitution and system which enabled the AKP to come to power with 35% of the vote in 2002 and then erode the weak restraints on executive powers when held in conjunction with a one party majority in the National Assembly.

More on this in the next post.

RCH: law schools and Thurgood Marshall

Yesterday’s RealClearHistory article was all about law schools, with a little bit of Thurgood Marshall thrown in for good measure (he took his seat on the US’ highest court Oct 2, 1967):

If the Supreme Court’s liberal and conservative justices all come from one of two law schools, the prevailing mode of thinking about the law is going to be not only out of touch with most of the legal profession (and general populace), but also with the idea of a judicial branch dedicated to overseeing the laws of a vast, continent-spanning republic. Marshall’s supreme courts were elitist and aristocratic, which is what they were supposed to be, but what do you call a court that is so insular and so self-selecting that only two law schools are represented?

This is not a plea to lower standards in order to broaden the field, but there are a lot of good law schools in America, which is, after all, a republic governed by laws, not men. If the Kavanaugh debacle proves too much of a problem for federal politicians (Kavanaugh went to Yale’s law school), perhaps President Trump should think of looking elsewhere for a nominee.

Please, read the rest. In it, I include 3 people who would be good SCOTUS Justices. Feel free to add your own…