Nightcap

  1. Right-libertarians as counter-advocates Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  2. India, Modernity, and the Great Divergence Susan Wolcott, EH.net
  3. When Trotsky lived in the Big Apple Joseph Hammond, Claremont Review of Books
  4. Vienna is celebrating its architectural legacy Kendall Hill, the Australian

World War I destroyed Christianity

That’s the argument I put forth in this week’s RealClearHistory column. As usual I frame the argument in the form of a “Top10,” and in this case I used battles. An excerpt:

6. Battle of Asiago: May 15 – June 10, 1916. Another nasty battle fought along the Austro-Italian Front, Asiago is considered a victory for Italy even though it lost more men than the Austro-Hungarians. Altogether, the surprise attack launched by the Hapsburgs inflicted severe casualties on the Italians, with the latter losing 140,000 men and the aggressor losing 100,000. The surprise did not work for the Hapsburgs, either, as their armies were turned back and the position continued to be held by the Italians. There is a beautiful war memorial dedicated to both sides in Asiago today, and there are no crosses to be found for the dead there.

Please, read the rest.

Against Imperial Nostalgia: Or why Empires are Kaka

I write in response to Fred Folvary’s post on this site, “Restore the Turkish Empire!” Living as I do in the largest city of the Republic of Turkey, Istanbul, which is its commercial and cultural centre, with a formidable concentration of universities (explaining my presence here), it made an impact, but of the most irritating kind I have to say. I find it bracing, to say the least, to find the foundation of the state where I live rejected, since I believe the foundation of that republic was a positive event in the twentieth century, which in its vices has been no worse than the Ottoman Empire and in its virtues considerably superior, even if much needs to be done by way of securing liberty here.

I will expand on the Ottoman Empire to Republic of Turkey transition and then move onto the other object of Fred’s nostalgia (the Habsburg Empire), and an explanation of the Kaka (not a typo for Kafka, but a literary allusion) reference in the title. A belief that the Ottoman state (the Turkish word for ’empire’; ‘Imparatorluk’ is imported, evidently coming from the Latin word for military chief which became associated with the rulers of Rome after Caesar) was better for liberty than the Republic has been expressed by a few scholars over here, most notably Mustafa Akyol, author of Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.

Akyol’s credibility on these matters was increasingly compromised though by his loyalty to the AKP government of Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan, now President of Turkey after 12 years as Prime Minister. The AKP  had some support from secular, and mildly religious, liberty advocates (not including me though) when it came to power in 2002 in the belief that a religious-based political party would correct the authoritarian aspects of secularism in Turkey. By the time the Gezi Park protests started in 2013, that kind of support was largely eroded by the evident determination of the AKP to concentrate economic and political power in the hands of a new religious conservative elite, which was no less authoritarian than its secular predecessors (which anyway often flirted with religious conservatism) and had built up more power than any government since the end of the one party system in the late 1940s.

Akyol was a hold out, providing apparently liberal intellectual credibility for the AKP’s international audience, as he writes in English and sometimes speaks at international pro-liberty events. Akyol, a neo-Ottoman liberal, initially condemned the Gezi activists for peaceful resistance, which undermined his credibility by showing he did not understand the place of non-violent civil disobedience in the liberty tradition, and certainly suggested, to me, that his view of ‘liberty’ was excessively tied to deference to traditional authority. He did, however, come to see that something was wrong with the AKP government, announcing that the problems would be resolved in a forum for AKP intellectuals. He was to learn the hard way that the AKP cared nothing for its remnant liberal intellectuals and did finally recognise that the AKP is a corrupt authoritarian nightmare.

That’s the story of one individual, but it illustrates the dangers of any kind of liberty thought defined with reference to traditional sources of authority, and indeed nostalgia for lost authority. Such dangers are why I do not support, at all, the most conservative aspects of liberty advocacy; that is, the tendency to think that past aristocratic and religious sources of authority can somehow provide a model for contesting the expansion and intrusion of the administrative state in the modern world.

Returning to the Ottoman case, the Akyol-style preference for Ottomanism over republicanism is linked to objections over the centralising nationalist-statist tendencies of the early Republican governments under Kemal Atatürk and then İsmet İnönü.

The process starts with the revolt of Turkish nationalists and various local interests against the occupation and proposed partition of the Ottoman Empire after World War One. An Ottoman general with republican and nationalist leanings, Mustafa Kemal (later adopting the surname Atatürk, which was his only surname since he received that name as a part of a law establishing surnames for Muslims for the first time in 1934) was able to leave occupied Istanbul, where the residual Ottoman government was collaborating with the occupying powers, for eastern Anatolia, becoming the political and military leader of the forces of the National Pact and first National Assembly, against the occupying powers and a Greek invasion of Anatolia.

The Ottoman government simply had no meaningful power base independent of Britain and the other occupying powers (who had ambitions to turn the Ottoman Empire into some mere central Anatolian sultanate), and was swept away from existence by Mustafa Kemal’s forces, which defeated those countries that the Sultan was unwilling or unable to resist.

The victory of the National forces was a very bloody matter, with ethnic violence deeply rooted in the long breakup of the Ottoman Empire on all sides. Anyway, it was the first major victory against the Imperial powers of the time, who had steadily eroded Ottoman territories and Ottoman sovereignty over what remained. The Turkish national movement received support from Muslims in southern Asia, living under British rule, and its success was noted by the Hindu population as well. It was part of the process behind the independence of India at the end of 1947, which was the beginning of the end for the injustice of European colonialism.

In power the nationalist-republicans under Mustafa Kemal abolished the sultanate and then the caliphate (the residual and never fully effective claim of the Ottoman dynasty to provide leadership to world Islam). Public segregation of the sexes was ended, women received the vote, religion was removed from political life, education became secular, legal codes were imported from the west, the official language was reformed to make it closer to colloquial Turkish and less of an elite literary-bureaucratic language, the economic policies were statist, but not socialist and private capital and a new Muslim entrepreneurial class did develop. The politics and methods were authoritarian and considerable state violence was directed against those not adapting to the state program.

However, much of what was achieved was what one would look for from a liberty standpoint (if not for the methods), and the worst aspects of what happened had already taken place under the Ottoman state, particularly Sultan Abdul Hamid II (ruling from 1876 to 1909) who destroyed an Ottoman constitution, began the intense persecution of Armenians, and constructed a more centralised, bureaucratised form of government. So we cannot say that the Ottoman system in the period for which we can make meaningful comparisons with republican national governments was any better from a pro-liberty point of view than the early Turkish republic.

Abdul Hamid II lost power in 1909 to a movement that was constitutional and pluralist at first, but turned into the domination of the Committee of Union and Progress under a three-man collective dictatorship. The trio and various CUP thinkers were influenced by republican and nationalist thought, but also by Ottomanist and Islamist identity, so really it mixed everything until it could become clear what the fate of the Empire was to be.

Persecution of the Armenians continued and increasingly there was persecution of Arabs, particularly in the province of Syria, so that any idea of an Ottoman Empire that could contain either substantial Christian or Arab populations was eroding though not as part of a preconceived plan, but because the ways that Ottoman power operated and reacted to opposing forces were already pushing in the direction of a centralised state dominated by the Turks of Anatolia. This all culminated in the 1915 deportations and massacres of Armenians, in which 1 500 000 Armenian subjects of the Sultan lost their lives, accompanied by high levels of state violence against an Arab population ready to listen to what turned out to be dishonest promises from the colonial European powers.

I hope that the above shows that the idea of rescuing to the Ottoman Empire, even as a confederation on liberal grounds, was a complete irrelevance at the end of World War One, and any attempt to have imposed such a thing would have ended in a mixture of political farce and mass killing as unwilling millions found themselves herded into a state system no one had wanted. The Ottoman Empire would have had to start liberalising and democratising in the eighteenth century before modern nationalism became a force for it to have had any hope at all of surviving as a multi-national confederation into our time.

1919 was far, far too late to hope that ethnic nationalism would be replaced by cooperation through liberal democracy and that the remaining Ottoman Empire could emulate Switzerland, which emerged as a confederation of self-governing cantons in the middle ages. Whatever else might be said about Atatürk, and certainly there are criticisms to be made, his leadership and the memory of it, founded and stabilised an independent state of laws with a modernising ideology, which used authoritarian means, but was willing to democratise.

Atatürk’s friend and successor İsmet İnönü accepted a multi-party system and his own ejection from power in a process during the late 1940s, which culminated in the elections of 1950. Turkey then emerged as the main democratic, moderate Muslim power in the world and became an important ally of the western democracies against Soviet totalitarianism.

Whatever can be said about Atarürk’s statism, including violence, it simply was not that extreme when compared with a Europe increasingly full of dictators who ran nationalist, corporatist, fascist, national socialist, and Bolshevik regimes, and neither was the violence extreme compared with that exercised by the leading liberal European powers of the time, France and Britain, in their colonies (including mandates directed at neighbouring Turkey).

I’ll have less detail to offer on the Habsburg Empire, but as with the Ottoman Empire, reform came far too late and far too cautiously for it to become a larger version of Switzerland. I doubt there was any chance at all given the survival of the Habsburg Empire, as the Austrian Empire, after Napoleon destroyed the Holy Roman Empire (the de facto German confederation loosely under the leadership of the Habsburgs who had their real power in hereditary territories of central Europe), since the old power structures remained with no question of federalisation, confederalisation, or cantonisation, or any movement for any such thing from anyone. The last vestiges of a chance were certainly destroyed in 1848 when Austria acted as the central force in the destruction of constitutional and national movements in the Spring Time of the Peoples in that year. Bright spring turned into a terrible winter as the Habsburg forces destroyed new constitutions in Italy, crushed resistance to its own rule in Italy, and crushed Hungarian revolutionaries, along with Austrian liberals.

In 1867, the Habsbugs did see the necessity for compromise with Hungary, by which time it had already lost territory in Italy and used particularly appalling violence in what is now Ukraine against a reformist and insurgent aristocracy. The Habsburg state became a dual monarchy (building on the dynasty’s titles which included King of Hungary as well as Emperor of Austria), so Hungary received its own assembly, and was at least formally an equal partner in the old state with Austria. Croatia also had autonomy and the title ‘King of Bohemia’ was newly emphasised to satisfy Czech sensibilities, but it was all too little too late. Since Vienna believed Budapest wished to secede and could not be trusted with its own strong army, there was very weak Habsburg army in Hungary by the time of World War One. So the Habsburg state could not even allow half the country to have a meaningful army.

So World War One? How did that start? Well first a Bosnian Serb believer in south Slav unity assassinated the heir to the dual monarchy, then the Emperor-King’s government decided to make demands that would destroy Serbian independence. It is true that Pirincep’s group the Black Hand was manipulated by the chief of military intelligence in Belgrade who ran a secret deep state in parallel with, but outside the control of, the legal government. That legal government did accede to just about all the Habsburg demands, asking for delay on just one question. In fact the government and general staff in Vienna wanted to invade Serbia anyway, did so, sparking a predictable reaction from Russia, sparking a further predictable reaction from Germany, which activated plans to invade France and Belgium with well-known results.

Now the Habsburgs were not solely responsible for the four-year catastrophe, but we could not have done it over here in Europe without the blundering irresponsible aggression of a government which, while afraid to allow a decent army to exist in half of its own land, still invited war with Russia! Austria-Hungary was a state bursting at the seams with nationalist demands, almost impossible to reconcile, and which the state had no means to deal with except to play one group off against another in the hope of better times. The assassinated heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, did have a plan for some form of federalisation, but even had he lived to implement it, the state would have broken up as violent, secessionist nationalities fought against what they believed was a Habsburg prison-house of nations (and against each other).

Of course the claim that the Habsburg Empire was breaking up violently one way or the other, whatever the Emperor-King’s government did is a hypothetical. I suggest that at any rate it is a far more plausible and modest hypothetical than Fred’s belief that the victorious powers of World War One should have patched up the Empire and helped it along.

How?

The state was disintregrating in 1918 as Italian forces invaded Habsburg lands. It is not a hypothetical to say that the nationalities under the Habsburgs would no longer fight for the old Empire, it is what happened.

And how were Britain, France, Italy, and America to hold together an empire in central Europe which started the war with mobilisation against Serbia, which was an ally of Britain and France?

Were Serbia and Italy going to add to considerable preceding sacrifices by going to war to protect the Habsburgs from rebellious nations?

Were France and Britain going to add to a desperate four years of mass bloodshed by launching a war to protect an enemy power from people who wished to break away from it?

These are all preposterous ideas, and there is no remotely plausible idea for preserving the Habsburg Empire in 1918-1919. Those with a taste for comforting counterfactual history would do better to dream of a Habsburg confederation developing centuries before. That Empire was ready to collapse like a rotten old house in 1914 under any major impact with large force, never mind 1919.

And Kaka? That is the source of the name bestowed on the Dual Monarchy by one of the great Viennese writers, one of the great twentieth century writers, Robert Musil, who died in 1942 as the author of the unfinished masterpiece The Man Without Qualities, one of the major literary achievements of the last century. He refers to the dying Habsburg Empire’s designation of ‘Kaiserlich und Königlich’, that is to say Imperial and Kingly, frequently shortened to K.K., which when spoken sounds like ‘Kaka’, a childish word for faeces, something like poo poo in English. Inevitably this led to references to the Empire as ‘Kakanien’, Kakania, something like Crap Land. This bit of politically charged silliness became known to readers of modernist classics of literature, because Musil plays on it.

So the Ottoman and Habsburg empires, both Kakania, both rotten old state structures ready to collapse as they had proved unable to adapt to nationalist and centrifugal movements in a timely and effective manner for over a century. That a confederation under a residual  monarch would have been better than violent nationalist disintegration is beyond doubt; however, there is no possible way in which those empires were going to exist beyond a core national territory (Turkey and Austria respectively) after World War One, and the collapse of legitimacy in that core territory was anyway finally due to military defeat, so that we cannot even begin to discuss in any way that is at all realistic how they could have survived as the unifying factor in large complex confederations of many nationalities, languages, and religions. They were just both Kakania.

From the Comments: Federalism, Small States and Central Banks

Rick Searle asks the following question after reading my argument with George Ayittey on secession in Africa:

Brandon, how do you respond to the geopolitical and macro-economic arguments in favor of strong federalism rather than small-state nationalism? The experience of Central Europe after the First World War seems to offer a telling example of what happens when you break-up multi-national states along ethnic lines. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire created a power vacuum which Hitler and Stalin were only too glad to fill. All of the thriving national states you have named exist under the implied or real security guarantee of the US.

Secondly, whatever the attraction of economic integration without political integration seems to be coming apart at the seams with the example of the European Union as we speak.

Breaking up Africa’s multi-ethnic states- unless they were replaced with a robust form of federalism- would, thus, seem to condemn that continent to perpetual interference by the big powers, and economic weakness.

Rick,

Thanks for chiming in. Your question and comments are very good ones.

how do you respond to the geopolitical and macro-economic arguments in favor of strong federalism rather than small-state nationalism?

As far as strong federalism goes, it is actually my preferred system of governance for the withering away of the state. Unfortunately, strong federal republics are few and far between in history. There are very hard to maintain and even harder to govern effectively. The best way to achieve a strong federal state is to start small and work your way up to a confederation, and if all sides want more political integration, then it would be wise to start putting together a federal state.

As far as small-state nationalism goes, I don’t want that. At all. What I am in favor of is smaller states without the nationalism. Remember, of all the small states I’ve listed most are fairly multi-ethnic. Denmark isn’t (I blame the crappy weather), but is still very open to immigration and international firms, while South Korea is currently trying to push an immigration reform bill through its parliament. Small states are good, nationalism is bad. More on this just below, but first:

The experience of Central Europe after the First World War seems to offer a telling example of what happens when you break-up multi-national states along ethnic lines. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire created a power vacuum which Hitler and Stalin were only too glad to fill.

Ah, great example Rick. Just to be clear: I don’t want to go around breaking states up. That would be both pompous and disastrous. Playing god is something only Leftists do! All I am saying is this: if a region within a state wants to secede from another state, then the international community should recognize this secession. There are a couple of caveats, of course. Doing this in China or Russia’s backyard would be a bad idea, but in the post-colonial world I think this is something that we should be looking at as a policy option to stunt the violence and poverty in these areas.

Recognizing the legitimacy of the secession would have three effects that would stop the violence for a time: 1) it would require that the new states prove their worth in the international community in the form of not persecuting minorities in their new state, 2) it would deter the state that just lost the region to secession from attacking another sovereign state for fear of reprisals and 3) the recognition of independence would inevitably lead to talks by both sides. Perhaps they could figure out a way to re-federate a few years on down the line, or perhaps they could come to some sort of agreement on trade. Whatever they do, they would at least be talking instead of fighting.

Failure to build an international consensus to recognize the independence of regions seeking independence will lead to more of the wars we have seen in much of the post-colonial world, as well as in the Caucasus and the Balkans.

Back to the nationalism you brought up earlier. A lot of states that try to secede are actually very multi-ethnic. Azawad, in Mali, for example, is a good example of a multi-ethnic region trying to break free from Bamako’s inept rule. With the advent of the market economy throughout the world (see my reply to NEO above), nationalism will continue to decline in prominence, and the areas of the world where nationalism is prevalent will be the hottest ones on the planet. States that thrive on nationalism are going to have to struggle to assert their authority over their people, and where there is nationalist promotion in government, there we will see most of the violence. I am thinking of China, Russia, Israel, Palestine, North Korea, and India-Pakistan.

In other cases, secession has taken place within a state that is largely homogenous ethnically. Somaliland, a democratic, relatively prosperous, but unrecognized state in the north of Somalia is a case in point. They want out of Somalia until all the violence and competition for the center of power dies down. They are open to re-federating, but in the meantime…

All of the thriving national states you have named exist under the implied or real security guarantee of the US.

Yes, but isn’t this in itself a form of confederation, or loose federalism? I’m all for more integration between the US and other societies, by the way. If we could get these states to integrate further economically, and could make our political borders largely irrelevant within the confederation: then security costs would largely be paid for. My co-blogger Jacques Delacroix has actually written one of the most stimulating papers on the subject of integration between states: “If Mexicans and Americans Could Cross the Border Freely.” I highly recommend it. Remember, one of the pillars of individualism is internationalism. Hayek, among others, lamented that we had lost this fight to the Marxists in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Secondly, whatever the attraction of economic integration without political integration seems to be coming apart at the seams with the example of the European Union as we speak.

Ah, but the problems of the EU don’t stem from economic integration, they stem from more political integration. The European Central Bank – a political creation if I’ve ever seen one – and proposed measures for a European parliament with more delegated powers is what has caused the strife in the Eurozone, not the ability of Greeks to work and vote in France, and vice versa.

Breaking up Africa’s multi-ethnic states- unless they were replaced with a robust form of federalism- would, thus, seem to condemn that continent to perpetual interference by the big powers, and economic weakness.

Agreed! But again, I don’t want to go around breaking up states. One big hole I see in my support for secession theory so far is the question of what if: what if the new state’s neighbors don’t play ball economically? Won’t that new state be isolated? Co-blogger Fred Foldvary actually wrote an article on this subject using Turkey’s rejection from the EU as an example: “Let Turkey Join NAFTA.” Another highly recommended piece!

Whew. Thanks again for contributing to the conversation, Rick, and don’t be bashful in throwing more fastballs my way. It helps me learn and clarify my thoughts!

The Israeli-Palestinian Mess: Some Historical Context

I just finished up an anthropology course on the Middle East as a culture area, and for reasons beyond my explanatory power, I got to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a bit more in depth. A brief narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict follows.

The historical context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can best be understood by breaking it up into three separate but interrelated segments: the collapse of cosmopolitan empires, the emergence of nation-states, and seismic shifts in demography that accompanied collapse and rebirth.

The post-World War I era can be defined largely in terms of the collapse of the cosmopolitan Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. The spectacular collapse of these centuries-old empires has been attributed to the policies of democrats in western Europe and the President of the United States at the time, Woodrow Wilson, by a number of historians. The underlying idea being promoted by Western elites for central and eastern Europe was that of national self-determination, a belief that each ethnic and linguistic group should have the right to govern itself within a free and democratic state. The movement was intended to break the back of “despotism” in eastern and central Europe (as well as the Near East), but the policies unleashed instead a hotheaded nationalism amidst pockets of power vacuums prevalent throughout the now-dead empires. Continue reading

Karl Marx and Special Interests

[Note: this is an old musing of mine written back in May of 2011. I hope it is still as fresh today as it was back then.]

Karl Marx’s economic theories have long been disproved (theoretically as soon as they came out, and practically with the fall of the Berlin Wall), and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of individuals have perished under communist regimes.  People were either murdered, “relocated”, or starved to death through the attempts of Marx’s acolytes to remake man in their image.

Despite this horrific record, his theories continue to persist throughout modern political discourse.  In the United States his myths are still promoted in the academy and among the hard Left, but very few take them seriously (unfortunately).  However, in much of the rest of the world his ideas are still prevalent in everyday political action.  In order to go about showing you why this is may be the case, I am going to switch from Marxist economic theory (the labor theory of value is so out of step with reality and public discourse that I feel it is unnecessary to debunk it here) to Marxist political theory.

In fleshing out Marx’s political thought, I hope to show my loyal readers (all two of you) a couple of things: 1) that Marx’s ideas on political organization were nothing new (in fact Marxist thought on political organization is actually very old), and 2) that although Marxist ideas on political organization are not taken seriously by most Americans, the few who do take them seriously are very smart people in very high places.  Failure to recognize the subtle exposition of Marx’s political thought in public discourse could lead to dangerous consequences if we are not more aware of what it is that Marxists are attempting to destroy and what it is that they are attempting to replace it with. Continue reading