BC’s weekend reads

  1. Could Kurds hold independence referendum this year?
  2. Meet Germany’s Alt-Right
  3. Tolerated theft, suggestions about the ecology and evolution of sharing, hoarding and scrounging [pdf]
  4. It’s time for some game theory, United Airlines edition
  5. Mormon Transhumanists

From the Comments: Foucault’s purported nationalism, and neoliberalism

Dr Stocker‘s response to my recent musings on Foucault’s Biopolitics is worth highlighting:

Good to see you’re studying Foucault Brandon.

I agree that nationalism is an issue in Foucault and that his work is very Gallocentric. However, it is Gallocentric in ways that tend to be critical of various forms of nationalist and pre-nationalist thought, for example he takes a very critical line of the origins of the French left in ethnic-racial-national thought. Foucault does suggest in his work on Neoliberalism that Neoliberalism is German and American in origin (which rather undermines claims that Thatcherism should be seen as the major wave). He also refers to the way that Giscard d’Estaing (a centre-right President) incorporated something like the version of neoliberalism pursued by the German Federal Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, from the right of the social democratic party.

Thoughts about the relations between France and Germany going back to the early Middle Ages are often present in Foucault, if never put forward explicitly as a major theme. I don’t see this as a version of French nationalism, but as interest in the interplay and overlaps between the state system in two key European countries.

His work on the evolution of centralised state judicial-penal power in the Middle Ages and the early modern period, concentrates on France, but takes some elements back to Charlemagne, the Frankish king of the 8th century (that is chief of the German Franks who conquered Roman Gaul), whose state policies and institutional changes are at the origin of the French, German and broader European developments in this are, stemming from Charlemagne’s power in both France and Germany, as well as other areas, leading to the title of Emperor of the Romans.

Getting back to his attitude to neoliberalism, this is of course immensely contentious, but as far as I can see he takes the claims of German ordoliberals to be constructing an alternative to National Socialism very seriously and sympathetically and also regards the criticisms of state power and moralised forms of power with American neoliberalism in that spirit. I think he would prefer an approach more thoroughly committed to eroding state power and associated hierarchies, but I don’t think there is a total rejection at all and I don’t think the discussion of ordoliberalism is negative about the phenomenon of Germany’s role in putting that approach into practice in the formative years of the Federal Republic.

Here is more Foucault at NOL, including many new insights from Barry.

Reply to ‘Classical Liberalism, Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism’

I write in reply to Edwin van de Haar’s post ‘Classical Liberalism, Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism’, which contains some generous remarks about my social media posts while putting forward a view different from my own about the role of the nation state. Edwin argues that the nation state is foundational to classical liberalism in that post. I have previously argued for the benefits of the United Kingdom staying in the European Union, just before the referendum which has put the UK on the path to leaving.

I will start with the doctrinal issues of how far classical liberalism might be considered as something that is embedded in the emergence of the nation state as we know it. It is true that classical liberalism arose as the nation state emerged and consolidated and it did not occur to classical liberals, on the whole, to question the state system as they knew it. That is a system defined in early modern natural law and contractual theory about law and state as one of a very unified system of sovereignty in a world of ‘a state of nature’, anarchy, or lawlessness between states.

We have to note at least one major deviation in the familiar list of classical liberal authors, which is Immanuel Kant, thinking of his essays ‘Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose’ (1784) and ‘Perpetual Peace: a philosophical sketch’ (1795), which do not question the internal  sovereignty of states, but does argue for a law governed set of relations between states with a global institution of some sort to prevent republics going to war with each other.

We should consider John Stuart Mill’s thoughts on federal states in Considerations on Representative Government (1861), particularly chapter XVII, ‘Or Federal Representative Governments’ which looks at the possibility of a state with decentralised decision making functions. A nation state can be federalised, at least in principle, but what are the components of the federation other then sub-nations, where the population may even regard them as nations within the state. Mill was building on the experience of the United States since the constitution of 1787, and Switzerland, particularly since the federal constitution of 1848.

The United States and Switzerland did not come out of nowhere. The US consolidated the links between thirteen colonies of Great Britain while federal Switzerland built on the Swiss Confederation and its links with places like Geneva which were associated with the confederation, but were not part of it until the restructuring of European states in the Napoleonic period. The point here is that modern states may be federal as well as unitary states and that includes continuity with pre-modern links between at last partly self-governing regions-nations. We could even say that kind of state of associated states was the Medieval norm.

The example, and even idealisation, of this Medieval structure enters classical liberalism via Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws (1748), along with the work of Swiss jurists of the time, particularly in Berne. Montesquieu was building on the experience of the kind of medieval and early modern monarchy where he thought there was liberty, moderation in government, distinguishing it from tyranny. In such situations different laws and assemblies for towns and for historic regions was quite normal under the monarchy. In so far as such states, like France, were tending to evolve in states based on the absolute sovereignty of the centre, in the formation of what we call a nation state, Montesquieu saw the danger of despotism.

The historical experience that Montesquieu was drawing on was the way that Medieval monarchies were constructed through assembling  patch work of  the monarch’s personal domains, regions with their own lords and institutions, and church domains, along with increasingly self-governing towns. He also looked at the antique experiences of allying republics in a federation, which he thought was preserved in the Netherlands and Switzerland of his time. Germany, which at that time was a kind of federal/confederal empire of very varied forms of sub-imperial sovereign units including princes with lands outside the Empire, was also a form of federation for Montesquieu.

If we go back to the German history of the century before Montesquieu, the idea of the modern nation state is strongly associated with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), which ended the Thirty Years war, focused on Germany, but drawing in most of Europe. ‘Westphalian state system’ has become a label for an internal system of states which are completely sovereign internally and face each other as equal legal personalities with no higher instance of sovereignty or collective instrument for enforcing the laws of nations, which do have some basis in the natural law doctrines of the time, and earlier.

The trouble with this understanding of Westphalia is that though it has some truth for Europe outside the German Empire (officially known as the Holy Roman Empire), it is very misleading for the Empire, and therefore for those European powers, including Sweden and Denmark, which had land within the Empire. The princes, cities and other territorial units within the Empire were under the legal authority of the Emperor, who largely served as a judge of interstate disputes though with far greater powers in the lands of the Habsburg family (consolidated as the Austrian Empire in the Napoleonic era) which always had the Emperor, though the Emperor was legally an elective office. The Habsburgs land extended outside the Empire into central Europe so the Westphalian system of Imperial authority brought in other European nations and extended outside the Empire strictly speaking.

Westphalia modified a system rooted in the Middle Ages of Germany as a middle European federation or confederation, drawing in other parts of Europe and therefore anchoring a European system of some kind. Periods of dominance by France or Spain complicate this story, but French claims always overlapped with Imperial claims and the peak of Spanish power was when the Spanish monarchy was from the same family as the German Emperors.

The Napoleonic era disrupted these arrangements severely, but we can see Napoleon as trying to revive the original Empire of the Romans under Charlemagne in the ninth century, which united France, Germany and neighbouring territories under a Frankish over-king. Charlemagne was know as ‘father of Europe’ in his time, perhaps more in connection with Europe as Christendom and his wars against Muslims in Spain, then with Europe as we might think of it now, but this is part of the story of what it is for there to be a Europe and a European system. Coronation by the Pope and recognition of the Frankish kingdom as heir to ancient Rome connects the medieval German Empire with the first great European political system, the Roman Empire.

The aftermath of the Napoleonic period in Germany was a confederation, which again included those European powers (the United Kingdom was one) which had lands in Germany. This evolved into the German Empire founded in 1871, which was itself an extraordinary mixture of Greater Prussia, federation, democracy, aristocracy, monarchy, and so on. It was more of a nation state than German predecessor systems in that it was a sovereign unified part of the international state system. The size and growing economic power of the Kaiserreich, incorporating Polish, French and Danish speaking areas, made it a destabilising force in Europe. Too big for the security of other European states, too small to anchor a European system.

The First World War and the Second World War were both consequences of this unstable system. The European Union is in large part an attempt to solve the problem by creating a European system which Germany anchors, though since unification the dominance of Germany has become an issue again. Whatever the problems, the EU provides a better framework for structuring a European system in which Germany is both contained and can exert influence in a consensual manner.

Returning to the issue of the nation state, Germany was never a nation state in the strictest sense of a very unitary state with a single language and ethnicity. France has usually been taken as the model of the nation state ‘strictly speaking’, but even so it has only been a country of speakers of standard French since the late nineteenth century. As it is now, it includes speakers of Breton, Basque, Occitan and Alsace German. Corsica has special status and Alsace-Lorraine also has some special arrangements in recognition of its specificities.

The European world before the First World War was more of a Europe of multi-national Empires than nations, with four Empires (German Hohenzollern, Austrian Habsburg, Turkish Ottoman, Russian Romanov) dominating the centre and east. Spain in practice has always been an extended Castille in which other regions-nations have played variable distinct roles. The United Kingdom never completely integrated as a nation state; even at the peak of integration in the nineteenth century, Scotland kept its own legal, state church and educational system and since then in a rather complicated way the UK has become more loosely integrated and may lose Scotland in a few years.

Even with the imminent departure of the UK from the EU, Europe continues to be a political system, not just an aggregate of nation states. The larger European states are not nation states in the strictest sense. Even without the EU, European states accept various kinds of obligation with regard to north Atlantic security and global trade which limit sovereignty. The UK will negotiate some kind of membership of the internal market of the EU and its passport union aspect, as well as participation in various EU schemes. It will therefore continue to be part of a European system anchored by Germany.

Ever since the Romans, Europe has needed a European system of some kind, and the German anchor schemes going back to 800 have recognised the Roman precedent. In reality there has never been a Europe of nation states and the periods closest to that model ended in catastrophic wars. Disaggregation of the European system as it is now may not result in war, but it has the potential to unleash trade wars, protectionism, competitive currency devaluation, erosion of chances to live, work, and study abroad, associated labour market sclerosis, destabilising struggles for political-diplomatic dominance, and an incapacity to ally in order to deal with global and strategic issues affecting Europe, including migration flows, Russian expansionism, and Middle Eastern conflict and terror.

(more on the consequences of the UK leave referendum soon)

Asylum Seekers and Western Military Intervention

Recently, Brandon Christensen, the capable Editor here tried to take me behind the woodpile, again! (Note for our overseas readers: To take someone behind the woodpile usually a child – is to spank him to try to improve his attitude.) This is what happened: NOL re-published two of my essays “Hypocrisy” and “Muslim Refugees in Perspective” where I asserted (again) that many Muslim societies are failed societies or otherwise sick. Brandon asserted (again) that any apparent linkage between Islam in general and social pathologies is just that, an appearance. Instead he seems to argue, Muslim societies that are in any kind of trouble owe their trouble mostly (or much?) to Western intervention in general and to American intervention in particular, with a special emphasis (I am guessing) on military intervention.

There is a partial test of these competing beliefs in an examination of refugee applications to Germany during a recent period.

Between January and August 2015, Germany received 147,500 applications for asylum from the top ten countries of origin of the applicants. (I am rounding numbers to the next hundred.)* Of these, 79% came from predominantly Muslim countries.

Almost half of the asylum seekers from Muslim countries – 48% – came from Syria, a mostly Muslim country where the US and the West had notably not intervened (or only superficially) by August 2015, the end of our period of observation. If you will recall, the US president has earlier drawn a red line beyond which the Syrian dictator couldn’t go on waging war on his people. The Syrian dictator ignored the warning and nothing happened. That’s as non-interventionist as it gets!

Of the asylum seekers from predominantly Muslim countries, 23% came from Iraq and from Afghanistan together, two countries that have in fact experienced American and Western (even international) military intervention in the past twenty years.

Reminder: It’s worth remembering that the intervention in Afghanistan was launched to dislodge a regime installed by force of arms that sheltered terrorists, according to the Al Qaida terrorists themselves, and according to the regime itself. Several years earlier, the same terrorist group sheltered by Afghanistan – Al Qaida – had declared war on the United States, incidentally.

Of the remainder of asylum seekers from predominantly Muslim countries, 29% came from Kosovo. That’s more than from Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Reminder: In 1998, the national Communist Serbian dictator Milosevic ordered all ethnic Albanians of Kosovo, more than 90% of the population to leave under threat of death. This episode of ethnic cleaning cost about 10,000 lives. NATO, led by the US quickly intervened militarily and forced Milosevic to leave the (overwhelmingly Muslim) Kosovar in peace.

NATO had previously intervened militarily in Bosnia, another part of the dissolving Yugoslav Republic, to save the non-Serb population from Serb ethnic cleansing . Of the total population, a plurality, about 40%, were Muslims. (There are no Bosnian asylum seekers visible in the sample I am discussing here. Bosnia is mentioned only as a reminder of the diversity of Western military interventions.)

Following these Western military interventions, both Bosnia and Kosovo became independent Republics with strong Western backing. They remained Muslim or mostly Muslim.

Would anyone dare argue that Western action to stop the massacres of first Bosnians and then Kosovar are responsible for the fact that now almost entirely Muslim Kosovo is currently producing many asylum seekers? I suppose, this is defensible: Had NATO not intervened militarily, Kosovars would been massacred by Milosevic in larger numbers, and then, they would have fewer people, – mathematically available – to contribute as asylum seekers.


Of the asylum applicants from Muslim countries, 45% came from Albania, Eritrea, Pakistan, and Nigeria together, all countries with no US or other Western intervention of any kind in recent years ( I mean since 1950, the earliest I really remember!)

Albania alone contributed more asylum seekers, 33,900, than Iraq and Afghanistan together, 26,700. There have been no US or Western intervention in Albania.

Of course, distance alone makes it easier for Albanians than for Iraqis and for Afghans to reach Germany. But, by the same reasoning, why are there few asylum seekers from Croatia that is even closer to Germany, or from Romania. that isn’t much farther? (Croatia and Romania all have tiny Muslim populations.) Contrary to this line of reasoning, I must say, there were 21,000 asylum seekers from Serbia, a country with a small Muslim minority. Muslim dominated societies do not have a monopoly on severe social pathologies. I never asserted otherwise.

We know from the cut-off point of the table of the ten countries that were the largest suppliers of asylum applicants that the highest possible number of asylum seekers from non-Muslim Croatia, or from Romania (or from non-Muslim Bulgaria, or from troubled Greece) would be 3,976. That would be about 1/10 of asylum seekers from mostly Muslim Albania.

I see in these figures moderate support for the idea of the sickness of Muslim societies. I find little support, on the other hand, for the competing idea that Western and American intervention are responsible for the difficulties those societies are encountering.

I anticipate several criticisms of this provisional conclusion.

First, quantitative association like these don’t “prove” anything. Of course they don’t. Perhaps, there is a third factor, or series of factors not related to either Islam or Western intervention that explain why Muslim societies are such rich providers of asylum seekers. I am listening.

Second, the short recent period January to August 2015, maybe historically unrepresentative. There is a near- infinity of other possible periods the examination of which might show no disproportionate numbers of refugees from Muslim counties. (Ask me why a “near infinity.”)

Third, Germany is not the whole world. A more inclusive data base showing all asylum applications from all countries to all countries might demonstrate no preponderance of refugees from Muslim countries. In fact, such a data base might indicate that refugees from Muslim countries are actually under-represented among asylum seekers world-wide.

I hope someone performs one or the other study. I would easily change my mind according to the results. I am not wedded to the idea of widespread sickness of Muslim societies. Frankly, I don’t even like it. I surely have no ideological investment in this view. It’s just that there is currently no other view that is even modestly supported by anything but ideological intransigence.

Finally, there are probably those who would argue that large numbers leaving their countries at great personal risk to seek refuge in an alien country the language of which they probably don’t even know, that such an exodus says nothing about the countries of origin. Go ahead, say it; make my day! I can’t wait.

The conclusions of this simple analysis is difficult for many otherwise intelligent people to accept, even provisionally. Three reasons that I see for the rejection.

First it seems politically incorrect. We have become so confused by leftists identity politics that many are unable to distinguish between race, an unchanging attribute of a person, and religion, an individual choice. He used to be black; he still is. I used to be a Catholic. I am not anymore. That simple! (Of course, I did not risk the death penalty as do Muslims in some Muslim countries for committing apostasy.)

Second, professional intellectuals – who may or may not be very intelligent – have a horror of being caught believing the same things as do the great unwashed masses. It’s bad enough that they must assent to the assertion that the sun rises in the east, same as a plumber or a cop! The masses are “Islamophobic;” I must stay away regardless of the evidence!

Third, and much more subtly, my discussion with Brandon is part of an ongoing discreet struggle taking place on the edge of the libertarian movement. Libertarians of all stripes believe that war is a major factor in increasing the power and the scope of the state vis-à-vis civil society. (I share this belief.) Libertarian purists like Brandon end up becoming a kind of qualified pacifist, like this:

Perhaps, if I am completely sure that people who have sworn to disembowel me are actually climbing over the back wall of my property after having set my neighbor’s house on fire with my neighbors inside, perhaps, then, I will think of defending myself.

A handful of libertarians of that ilk keep failing to recruit the millions of moderate conservatives who both want small government and believe the yoke of government will never be alleviated in a society that feels threatened. Let me repeat myself: The task of first halting the growth of government and then, of rolling back its scope and power can only be accomplished in a very well defended society. Much of this rolling back has been achieved in Somalia, by the way yet, Somalia is not a model.

In their desire to reject all kinds of war that are not obviously and dangerously defensive, libertarian purists will find fault with all wars, almost at any cost. If necessary, they will blind themselves to the obvious. The act of blaming on American and or Western intervention the self evident multiple failure of Muslim societies (with major exceptions), is just the latest example of this tendency to gauge out one’s own eyes to avoid the horrors of the truth.

“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm. – W. Churchill”

* The data on seekers of asylum from Germany are from the German Federal Office for Migrations and Refugees published in the Wall Street Journal of 9/25/15, p. A12

Muslim Refugees in Perspective

In a companion essay, “Hypocrisy!,” I pointed out that there was a good fit of preferences between the current crop of refugees from Syria and from Iraq and the countries one would reasonably expect to be giving them asylum. Muslim countries, with a small number of brave exceptions don’t want them and the refugees – almost all Muslims -don’t want to go there anyway.

As you would expect because many people go through life on automatic, liberals, libertarians and Muslims join tongues to blame the United States for the current exodus. Sure thing, the US intervened in Iraq against the bloodthirsty tyrant Hussein after he violated several hundred times the cease-fire that put an end to the First Gulf War. (Note for those younger people who learned their history in public schools: In the First Gulf War, the US had led a coalition of about 50 countries – not including Israel – to roll back Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait. Yes, he started it. It’s the cease-fire to that first war that Hussein violated.) It’s not difficult to make the case that the US under Bush did a piss-poor job of re-organizing the Iraq it conquered after two weeks plus a sandstorm. It’s even easier to wonder why the Obama administration would just quit the country without attempting to leave a defense force behind (as in Korea, for example). Both the invasion and the failure to conclude its aftermath can reasonably be said to have caused major instability in Iraq and thereby, a flow of refugees from that country. (Personally, I still miss Saddam Hussein. He was a sweetie in his own way although much misunderstood.) But most of the current refugees seem to be from Syria. It’s also possible to argue that the US is responsible for the horrors there too. This time, it’s because it did not intervene into its home-grown civil war until recently. Worse, the US General-in-Chief declared a red line and ignored it when it was crossed with the gassing of civilians.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to blame on the West, on America, the flow of emigrants from such countries as Eritrea, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, even Senegal where there has not been any Western intervention. (Senegal obtained its independence in 1960, seamlessly, without a struggle with France, the colonial power.) Meanwhile Boko Haram (“Books are Forbidden”) in Nigeria is burning villages, kidnapping girls, raping and then, forcing them to become living bombs. What those countries have in common, of course, the peaceful ones that can’t provide for most of their population, and the others that are living hells is this: Coca Cola is sold in all of them, of course. Coca Cola is there everywhere, without exception; the Unites States’ malevolence yet again!

Conservative commentators on radio and on Facebook observe darkly that many or most of the migrants from the Middle East are of “military age,” perhaps portending a repeat of the many Muslim invasions of Europe ending only in the seventeenth century. Several comments are in order though I can’t make them in an orderly fashion.

First, a question lest I be accused of ignoring the issue: Will ISIS and other extremist Islamist groups use the exodus of Syrians and Iraqis to place undercover agents and terrorists in Europe. To ask the question is to answer it: Of course they will. Why wouldn’t they? It’s cheap and it’s easy.

Next: Many of the migrants are young men because, historically, everywhere, the first migrants are always young men. Second, they are of “military age” as some conservative observers pronounce breathlessly. Sure thing; many are fleeing the draft, precisely, a draft for a murderous war on in which they don’t believe. (A war many times more murderous than the Iraq war has been for Americans.) There is a third possibility that does not contradict the others and that casts a different light on the plausibility of these new migrants, these refugees being absorbed into European societies.

Many of the new migrants may be simply seizing the opportunity to flee from life in an Islamic society. (No, I don’t mean “Islamist.”) Here is the key: Islam maintains minimalist metrics about who is or isn’t a Muslim. By and large, if you were born in a Muslim family; if you are a male who was circumcised as a small child; if you don’t adopt another religion (at some risk to your life. See below) then, you are automatically a Muslim. No affirmative action is required, no behavior prescribed although some is proscribed: no alcohol, fasting in the day time and no daytime sex either – would I make this up? – for one month out of the year. With such lax standards, it would be amazing if many nominal Muslims were not lukewarm, or indifferent, or downright free thinkers.

With access to the Internet, the famed serenity of Islam may be indistinguishable from boredom. And the vaunted moral sternness of Islam may begin to seem like unbearable oppression: Ten lashes for a single beer (NOT in most Muslim countries, in some, it’s a simple fine)? Marriage to an indifferent-looking cousin without a chance to smell the flowers first. No rap, or little rap and in mental handcuffs. (I dislike rap myself; not the point.) And then, there is the shame even for individuals who are only reasonably educated: the shame of living in a less civilized part of the world with death as the penalty for conversion (not in all Muslim countries, perhaps rarely applied), the death penalty also for witches (uncommon, true, but happened recently in Saudi Arabia, and nowhere in the West, recently), death by stoning for adulterous women (not often applied but really calms amorous ardors); incidentally: adulterous = any sex outside of marriage, except in the Islamic Republic of Iran where two-week temporary “marriages” are encouraged. Remember also the grotesque sexual mutilation of little girls practiced on a vast scale in the Muslim world (only in some of it, SOME, and also practiced outside of it. And it’s NOT an Islamic practice; it just happens there a lot). And when young Muslim men in Yemen, in Somalia, and yes, in Syria and Iraq as well, hear that the unemployment rate among Muslim youths in France is as high as 30%, they think they are dreaming; they suspect a cheap propaganda trick: only 30%?

Just think about it. There are no doubt millions of Muslim youths who would do well in one of our colleges, who would get good grades, who would fit right in the coffee shop; the girls would even flirt with some of them. Many or most have some access to the wider world through the Internet and through movies. Some are rationalists not very different from your neighbor’s kids; some are much better rationalists than your neighbor’s kids if you live in Santa Cruz, California, for example (as I do). How much the meanness and the superstitions around such youths must lead to self-contempt and even to self-hatred when they realize that their own society is a lot like Europe was six hundred years ago? (To be fair, Europeans burned many more people alive, including thousands of witches, mostly older widows who owned some property, another story. It was then though. We have not done this for a long time.) There are many who would stay put otherwise for whom the sudden practical unlivability of their society pushes them over the rim, I would think.

There is a reason why I construct this frankly hypothetical view. If you dropped me in any French city, within an hour, I would be sitting with people with a Muslim first name and last name who would say this to me, “Why me, live where I – or my parents – are coming from? Are you out of your mind? Why would I want to live under the restrictions, sometimes under the gross oppression of a Muslim society? Don’t be stupid, I am French, I am a European, I am a Westerner.” (Incidentally, there is a remarkable autobiographical book in English describing the travails of a young Algerian’s multiple efforts to leave home for good. It’s called: Donkey Heart, Monkey Mind. It’s by Djaffar Chetouane.)

What about the Germans who have publicly promised to take in 800,000 refugees? (And who will probably seduce and bully other European countries to absorb an equal number between them, I would guess.) There are two ways to look at this, both valid.

First, everyone else has forgotten but the Germans themselves that in 1945 and 1946, there were millions of Germans on the roads of Europe, expelled from various countries, some in which they had lived for centuries, trudging on foot to a homeland they have never seen. Ordinary Germans have not forgotten the misery nor the giant successful efforts a ruined German deployed to give them roof and board, and work. More recently, when the hapless communist Democratic Republic of Germany collapsed from the inside in 1990, tens of thousands of “Osties” made their way to the West where they were generously accommodated too. “Been there,” many Germans think, “We did it under much worse circumstances. We can do it again.” Yes, the Germans have more compassion on refugee issues than other nations of Europe. Also, they know more, from the inside, about brutal dictatorships than do most other Europeans.

Second, as has been observed by many (I was scooped; I thought of it first!), there is Germany’s low fertility rate of 1.39 per woman. A low fertility rate has both proximate and long run consequences. In the long run, it means that you disappear as a people. In the shorter term – if and only if you have sturdy economy – it means that jobs go unfilled. This must be especially galling to Germans who have reasons to think that in every other way, almost alone among Europeans (almost), they have their act together. The Germans need bodies, preferably young bodies, now. And, they need children to pay tomorrow for the fairly generous benefits of the next retirees. Germans have good reasons to think favorably of mostly young men flooding into their country all reared up at no cost to them and ready to work. In addition, I garner from different press commentaries that many of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees are a different breed from the usual economic migrants. They seem more urban and better educated. (Many know English or French, some both.) It’s a cynical thing to say but this impression of middle-classness is re-inforced by the fact that they are able to pay the horrendous ransoms human traffickers extort from them.

Although Angela Merkel may have used the low German fertility rate argument as an afterthought, perhaps as a political way to make ordinary Germans amenable to the promise of accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees, it must have resonated among many Germans who can’t find employees or who are well aware of Germany’s demographic decline. Germany is not much worse off than other European countries in terms of fertility, incidentally. Italy is also at 1.39, Belgium at 1.55. None of the European countries pass the bar of 2.00 in the 2013 Eurostat. It’s generally accepted that the true replacement rate is 2.2 or 2.3 per woman, absent a catastrophe such as war or famine. Europe is disappearing before our eyes. Other European countries are less aware of their demographic decline because their economies are in bad shape and unemployment dominates every other issue in their collective narrative. As usual, Germany is ahead of the curve. (No, I am not stupidly, reflexively pro-German. Read my essay “the Best Meal and the Worst Meal Ever,” on this blog.)

Although immigration is almost always a net economic plus according to serious studies, it often carries a full load of negative social consequences. In this case, as I already mentioned, there is the near-certainty that Islamist terrorists will join the flood of good immigrants. But then, Germany will have hundreds of thousands of competent informants. (I believe the adage that good police work means having plenty of good informants.) I see a bad sign in the fact that many, most of the female refugees shown on TV wear the hijab, the head covering. It’s not required by Islam; it used to be uncommon in the major Muslim countries. The hijab directs you to a certain kind of retrograde Islam. It’s the kind of Islam where women must cover their hair in public lest they excite the lust of men and thus distract them from thinking of God. The hijab directs you to a culture where women in general are closer to the devil, where girls are poorly educated or not educated at all, where religious law is also civil law and it mandates that a woman’s testimony in court is worth only half a man’s testimony. A simple rule of thumb: If half an immigrant population must stay home, and it’s charged with rearing the next generation, it’s difficult for the whole immigrant group to assimilate or even to adapt. (Yes, I know, the parlous conditions for women I describe does not all, ALL, prevail in all Muslim countries.)

Second, it remains to be seen whether Germany will avoid again the curse for the second generation that is well demonstrated in France, next door. There, millions of immigrants mostly from North Africa, most of rural origin arrived with their sleeves turned up, ready to work, appreciative of the possibility of advancing themselves, of offering their children a better life than they could ever have back home. Their children, raised in France, end up sharing the sense of gloom common to most French young people but with a painful twist. They suffer additional disabilities, because of racism and because of Islamophobia to an extent, but also because they cannot but be incompletely socialized by their often illiterate immigrant parents. The young themselves don’t quite measure how much of a handicap reaching adulthood without benefit of a name, of family connections, of good adult examples constitute to succeeding in any society. (I do. You should read my book: I Used to Be French….) They only know they are getting the short end of the stick. Of course, the more stagnant the host society, the worse the handicap. Many of the children of appreciative immigrants accordingly become disaffected with the society where they live without really understanding why. This disaffection takes the form of drug abuse, of banditry, small and big, sometimes, seldom actually, of adherence to extremist creeds, for some, it’s of all three in turn. (The Charlie Hebdo terrorists, for example). The Germans have been there before however. They absorbed millions of Turks without experiencing much of this kind of mass alienation. Notably, in this case, they were stingy with citizenship and generous with employment opportunities, the reverse of the French formula.

We will see. Past the current immediate human suffering of the mass migration I am optimistic that Germany will keep its word and that other countries will be shamed into following the Germans. Our easy sense of doom often comes from a general human inability to contemplate the alternative. A mass of Syrians and some Iraqis of military age flood Europe. They may be viewed as a threat or you may think of them as so many fighters ISIS won’t force into its ranks or murder, of millions of children who will not grow up to be fanatics.

I am not losing track of the possibility that three dozen additional warplanes in the Middle East would do more to solve the present refugee crisis than all the European bumbling to absorb refugees.

Note: I did not say a thing about the US and Mexican immigrants, legal or illegal.

Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation XVI, Britain’s Significant Others: France and Germany (2)

Continuing from here.

The French, or at least the dominant part of its elites, together with a more ambiguous but largely assenting public opinion, sees the chance to maintain a large European role and an accompanying global role through the EU, using the EU to maintain the importance of French as an administrative language and the influence of France on European affairs without war, and ideally without aggressive winner-takes-all attitudes to diplomacy. It is a matter of reasonable debate whether this has worked well, it is not reasonable to think that France has given up on being France.

There is a strong steak of grandiose French ambition and memories of the more universal moments of the French state, under Bourbon monarchs who tried to dominate Europe, the French Revolution, and the Bonapartist Empire. Despite what some sovereigntist-Euroseptics claim, France is not obviously less global than Britain in its history or current attitudes. France had the second biggest overseas empire after Britain, there are many French speakers outside France, even though some parts of what was the empire have lost the Francophone legacy. France is just as much of a country of immigration as Britain.

The residual overseas territories from the empire are more integrated into the French state then the British equivalents are integrated into the British state. Of course Britain had the bigger empire, English is the more global language, and a global financial role lacking for France, but none of this makes France less of a country to some degree tied to its non-European legacies, or that France is less integrated and less nationally-oriented than Britain. In fact France looks a lot less likely to break up between component parts than Britain. The devolution of power to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland is not matched in even the most distinct French regions and there seems little chance of any part of France matching Scotland in the success of a separatist party and near success of a separatist referendum.

The same applies to Germany. Germany has a briefer history as an important country of self-image construction for Britain than France, but the sense that Britain is more liberal than the Prussian-German state tradition and more patriotic than current federal Germany is a major factor in Britain. The sense that Germany has a less strong sense of national identity combines for British Eurosceptics, or alternates, with the sense that it is trying to dominate Europe.

There is no doubt that Germany has a more traumatic relation with its recent history than Britain, and that it is the leading country in the EU. Nevertheless, there is no sign at all of bits of Germany seceding, while there is every sign that German state rebirth through democracy and European identity has been a great success. The relations of Germany with the rest of the EU is a rather large question, but it is worth remarking here that most of the supposed German dominance and domineering attitudes in the EU is a mask for the hopes of other EU countries, on the French model, to improve themselves through:

  • institutional influence on Germany;
  • importing German fiscal discipline and associated economic successes through a common currency;
  • a willingness to put the burden of blame on Germany for tough policies resulting from the imbalances that emerged as a result of excessively low interest rates in the less robust Eurozone economies;
  • a preference for related ‘externally imposed’ German influenced reforms over exit from the EU and a reassertion of strong national sovereignty.

At the heart of these choices is the belief that Germany is too big to ignore and that where states have had difficulty in economic reform, institutional constraints designed in the hope of importing German economic success, within a system of pooled sovereignty, offer more hope of economic success than supposedly pure national sovereignty. This may or may not work for the best in the long term, but it is not an example of German aggression; and given that no one state has genuinely pure and absolute sovereignty, no one state can exist unrestrained by the attitudes of other nations and the international consequences of its own policies, so pooling of sovereignty with Germany should not be seen as unpatriotic countries surrendering an unvalued national existence.

Anyway, the sovereigntist-Eurosceptics who put forward, or rely on, the dangerous German domination claim, are themselves generally oriented towards an Anglosphere conception of an alliance between the UK, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. This can draw on the enhanced levels of intelligence and security co-operation between these countries, along with the ‘Special Relationship’ between the UK and the USA that developed during the Second World War. The obvious issue here from a sovereigntist point of view is that the USA is very dominant in this relationship, whether that of the Anglosphere or of the ‘special relationship’. The language of the ‘special relationship’ has declined anyway in the UK, particularly since the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The reality has always been in any case that the USA has pursued close relationships with countries outside the Anglosphere with little if any common decision making in the ‘Anglosphere’. The Anglsophere idea also refers to ideas about law, which will be discussed in the next post.

Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation XVI, Britain’s Significant Others: France and Germany (1)

Moving on from the narrative of British history concluded in the last post, some thoughts about the way that Britain has existed as a European nation in comparison with other nations, mostly Germany and France. Britain has been defining itself in comparison with these two, in more or less friendly ways since Germany emerged as a modern unified state in 1871. The comparisons with France go back further, as has been partly explored in the narrative posts from Æthelred II’s (the Unready) marriage to a French princess to the Tudor loss of Calais.

The attitude to Germany has been coloured by the pre-1870 Prussian monarchy which became the imperial family of Germany, while retaining the Prussian royal title, in 1871. Even the Prussian monarchy, though, is new compared with the French state. The Prussian kingdom only goes back to 1701, as an elevated form of the Margravate of Brandenburg in which the Hohenzollern family had been the Margraves since 1415, and even that is rather recent compared with the beginning of the history of France. Anyway, we cannot think of Brandenburg-Prussia as a pre-formation of the German state until the early nineteenth century when it took lands on the Rhineland and emerged as the joint leading power in Germany, along, with Austria, after the European  settlement at the end of the Napoleonic wars.

It is not entirely clear when we can date the beginning of the French state, since the earliest form, or preformation, of it was the Frankish kings who became rulers of some part of what is now France in the fifth century with the collapse of Roman rule in what had been Gaul. The Franks were German and the sense that the aristocracy of France had a different national origin from the common people lingered into the nineteenth century. It is only in the ninth century that Old French emerges as a written language of state business while the title of King of the Franks was separated from that of the dominant ruler of Germany, holding the title of Emperor of the Romans since the Frankish king Charlemagne was crowned by the Pope in 800.

The official title King of France only stated to replace King of the Franks in the late twelfth century, but it is safe to say that something like a swell defined the French state with a very broadly defined sense of shared culture between king and French speaking subjects goes back to the ninth century, after a preformation going back to the fifth century. Of course it should be remembered in relation to that it was only in the nineteenth century that a shared mass competence in the French of Paris prevailed across France including communities which were historically Basque, Flemish, Breton, German, Italian and Occitan (southern versions of French including Povençal), though a linguistic unity of the educated goes back much further.

One aspect of the sketches of French and German history above, is that the history of the dominant power in western Europe is often the history of France and Germany in various sometimes overlapping forms. This continues into the European Union which is at its heart a Franco-German union and that can be seen in the Euro which comes out of the French belief that it could import German economic success and discipline through a common currency, as well as the belief that it could mitigate German influence in Europe after post-Cold War unification though a shared monetary mechanism. One problem with British membership, maybe the most important, is a lack of interest in the French and German belief in a shared destiny best managed by some pooled sovereignty in a unified Europe, largely if not entirely consisting of countries strongly influenced in their history by contacts with France and Germany.

The most important issue in this post, though, is that France has a history as old and as grandiose as that of Britain, in fact preceding the unified British state history of England and Scotland only going back to 1603. The reason for emphasising this is the British sovereigntist-Eurosceptic tendency to regard France, like all European nations other than Britain in their view, as somehow less proud of their nationality, less patriotic, and less real as nations than Britain.

Really this is preposterous nonsense, and it should not be said that all British eurosceptics hold to this view, but it is hard to imagine the Eurosceptic current existing in Britain without this aspect of its culture, and hard to imagine even many of the more fastidious Eurosceptics do not believe this in their guts. The apparent willingness of France to share sovereignty with Germany in the EU even when Germany has become clearly the dominant EU country may to some degree explain this, but does not justify it.

More on this in the next post