- The empty seat on a crowded Japanese train Baye McNeil, Japan Times
- Interstellar conversations Caleb Scharf, Scientific American
- Donald Trump is a weak man in a strongman’s world Ross Douthat, New York Times
- The Poland model: left-wing economic policy and right-wing social policy Anna Sussman, the Atlantic
- The art of bullshit detection, as a way of life Joshua Hochschild, First Things
- On the mind-body and consciousness-body problems Nick Nielsen, Grand Strategy Annex
- Lost innocence: the children whose parents joined an ashram Lily Dunn, Aeon
- Polish mayor, a centrist, was just stabbed at a charity event Jan Cienski, Politico
- Why sadness is better than happiness Adam Roberts, Aeon
- Stan wojenny and memories of Poland in the 1980s Branko Milanovic, globalinequality
- Macron ramps up EU power play with pitch to liberals Maïa de La Baume, Politico
- Is This Gary Johnson’s Last Campaign? Todd Krainin, Reason
- The Criminalization of Curiosity
- Britain needs Christianity – just ask Alan Partridge
- Libertarians have nowhere to turn
- In light of ongoing events in Poland, this October piece by Dr Stocker here at NOL is worth reading again
- The West in the Arab world, between ennui and ecstasy
Election results I’ve seen today from weekend elections in Argentina and Poland and the more general thoughts they have inspired. Rather longer than I anticipated so posted in two parts, though not separated in time given that I am articulating immediate reactions.
The Polish parliamentary election has been bad news for those who share the perspective of Notes on Liberty in that Law and Justice, a social-national-religious sort of conservative party with strongly statist and populist inclinations, has taken over from the more open market/open society inclined Civic Platform. However, a new party, Modern (strictly speaking ‘.Modern’, but I’ll ignore that in the future as too likely to be mistaken for a typo, it is at least worth noting as suggesting a technocratic commitment to a digital age, reminiscent of the development of the e-state in post-Communist Estonia) which leans towards liberty in economic and social spheres, in comparison with most of Civic Platform and even more in comparison with Law and Justice, has entered the National Assembly, compensating for some of the votes lost by Civic Platform to the populist right.
We might at least hope that the next election in Poland produces a coalition government between Modern and Civic Platform, and hope that Law and Justice does not do too much harm during the coming years in which it will control the government and the (non-executive) presidency on its own.
The Polish political party structure has been confusingly variable since the end of Communism, with names of politicians reappearing from now extinct parties in new parties gathering a different if overlapping spectrum, and with different international partners. Modern’s leader, Ryszard Petru, is at least connected with the early phase of post-Communist politics as a disciple of Leszek Balcerowicz, who played a leading role in the transition to market capitalism and the earlier phase of liberal-centrist politics. Both Petru and Balcerowicz are ‘Europeanist’ in the sense of taking a positive attitude to the European Union, which is also the outlook of Civic Platform. Balcerowicz is even director of the College of Europe, a postgraduate institution in Bruges, Belgium, which educates many of those working in European institutions and in their general atmosphere.
This illustrates a major claim I put forward here about European politics, that is of a drift of market liberals, classical liberals and libertarians towards advocacy of the European Union, and an increasing tendency of the ‘Eurosceptic‘ right, even those with some libertarian-conservative history, to be caught up with hardcore populists even if some of the Eurosceptic right has pro-liberty inclinations. That part of the European right has always been more libertarian-conservative than libertarian-cosmopolitan.
The leading ideologue of libertarian-conservative Eurosceptics in Britain, Conservative Party Member of the European Parliament, Dan Hannan is very touchy about suggestions of backward looking nationalism and chauvinism, emphasising a cosmopolitan family background. However, despite these protestations, Hannan is a great believer in the superiority of British (and Anglosphere) ways, and in addition has always been for ‘democratic controls on immigration’, i.e. populist limitations on the market in labour and individual rights to mobility. The second leading British ideologue in that spectrum, and previously a close associate of Hannan, Douglas Carswell has joined the the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which has unmistakably populist inclinations in economic and social policy beyond restrictions on immigration. Hannan prefers to praise UKIP as ‘patriots’ rather than confront this.
Hannan engineered the formation of a eurosceptic right group in the European Parliament after David Cameron was persuaded that leaving the main centre-right group (European People’s Party) was a necessary price for keeping Tory Eurosceptics acquiescent with his leadership. Hannan’s European Conservative and Reformists Group does not include Modern or Civic Platform, but it does include Law and Justice, which gives a good idea of what part of the European political spectrum it appeals to, i.e. not those inclined to social and cosmopolitan liberty. Most disturbingly associate members include the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, i.e. the AKP of Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan associated with corruption, police brutality, politicisation of the judiciary, social media blocks, attacks on the media and all free speech, along with the demonisation of anyone not part of the more conservative parts of majority Turkish culture.
The idea that liberty can be combined with Eurosceptic discourse is declining, though it has been influential in some libertarian circles, particularly in the UK and Slovakia to be the best of my knowledge. There has been a recovery of pro-EU views (if highly qualified by the wish for reform) amongst the Greek liberty community, even after the recent Euro currency disasters. The Slovak eurosceptic libertarians seem to have collapsed. The Czech hero of European right wingers of that tendency, Vacláv Klaus, has turned out to be a harsh social conservative and Putin fellow traveler of a type obnoxious to the anyone of genuinely pro-liberty tendencies, leading to his exclusion from polite libertarian circles as seen in the loss of his Cato fellowship. A warning there surely about the perils of regarding the sovereigntist eurosceptic right as natural allies of liberty. Personally I believe the same applies to the Republican right in the US. That is of course another story, but just look at Donald Trump’s ascendancy and think about that. The German Free Democrats are making a come back after a period it seemed they might lose the most economically free market part of the electorate to AfD.
Small indications in some cases, but it all adds up to an overall and increasingly dominant picture (though course with exceptions) in which consistently pro-liberty forces support the European Union, which is very much the case in Turkey, even if desiring considerable reform. The strengthening of the populist right (Northern League in Italy, National Front in France, Swedish Democrats, Golden Dawn in Greece, Freedom Party in the Netherlands etc as well as those already mentioned) together with a populist-socialist surge has pushed those engaged with a consistent politics of individual rights and cosmopolitan openness towards a pro-EU centre.
The left populist surge has already receded in Greece where Syriza is in transition to standard social democracy while still using a more radical rhetoric, but has some energy elsewhere in Europe: Podemos in Spain, two left of social democracy parties in Portugal, Sinn Fein in Ireland, Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in Britain. The left populist surge is less strong than its right wing equivalent and despite what the socialist intelligentsia in the UK believe the socialist surge within the Labour Party does not reflect a broader shift in British public opinion. Anyway, we are in a period where pro-liberty forces are coalescing with centrist forces in defence of a continuing EU of some kind, with some limitations on national sovereignty, not completely closed to refugees, not in thrall to an enclosed defensive traditionalist, legacy Christian identity politics.
This post continues from the last post‘s assessment of early twentieth century British military and foreign policy in Europe, in a series of criticisms of sovereigntist-Eurosceptic assumptions of Britain’s separateness and superiority in relation to mainland continental Europe, and is rather long because bad decisions of the 1930s had consequences in World War Two, making it difficult to split the periods into separate posts. After the Treaty of Lausanne of 1926, the most notable aspect of British foreign policy was appeasement of Nazi Germany from Hitler’s accession to power in 1933 to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia beyond the Sudetenland which Czechoslovakia had been forced to give Germany in autumn of 1938. Spring 1939 represents the point at which Britain (and France) abandoned the policy of Appeasement, which had left Germany rearmed, stronger, and larger, and mobilised for war.
There had been an associated appeasement of Fascist Italy, particularly with regard to its invasion of Ethiopia, the one African state which was fully recognised and fully independent at that time. Britain also acted to prevent aid to the Spanish Republic during the Civil War of 1936 to 1939 against the alliance of traditionalist conservatives and fascist Falangists led by Francisco Franco, though Franco received a high level of aid and military assistance from Germany and Italy. It would add too much to this long series of posts to get into the issues round the Spanish Civil War, but being as brief as possible it has to be said that the Civil War came about through extreme polarisation, sometimes violent, between left and right, and was not a simple case of a bunch of fascists overthrowing a model democracy. Nevertheless, the left was in power in 1936 due to elections, and was not in the process of abolishing democracy in Spain, which was abolished by Franco, including the destruction of autonomy of the most distinct regions of Spain, and associated cultural repression. This followed not only the use of military force, but many massacres of prisoners of wars and civilians. This is hardly a glorious moment for British influence in Europe, unless support for far-right dictatorship in preference for a highly stressed but real democracy is glorious, and does not really support any picture of a uniquely moral and beneficial Britain.
The policy in any case backfired in World War Two. Hitler was not willing to offer enough to Franco to tempt him to enter the war on Germany’s side, but in the earlier part of the war, Spain’s embassies and intelligence networks were used to subvert and undermine the British war effort, in addition to which, Franco sent a division of volunteers to fight under German command on the Soviet front. There were more than 150 divisions in the German invasion of the USSR, so this was a small contribution, but nevertheless a contribution to fighting a country then allied with Britain. There was just nothing glorious or admirable about British policy in Spain in the late thirties.
The less than admirable British (in partnership with France) policy towards Germany continued after the declaration of war on Germany, after the latter’s invasion of Poland in September 1939. No help was given to Poland and the only attack on Germany was a brief French assault on the Saarland which was not executed with any real energy, certainly not enough to detract from German aggression in Poland, and troops were withdrawn soon after the Fall of Poland. This was a shared failure of British and French policy, since it came under the Anglo-French Supreme War Council.
Germany was essentially unimpeded in invading Poland, with the USSR joining in after a few weeks. This was followed by the Phoney War, in which Britain and France failed to attack Germany at all though a state of war existed and Poland had been occupied. There was a passive policy of waiting for a German attack on France and other west European countries. The handing over to Germany of all initiative in the war of course had disastrous consequences. I will just mention one significant detail of the Fall of France, illustrating the failure of previous British (and French) policy: many of the better German tanks were in fact Czechoslovak tanks produced in what had become Germany after Britain (and France) abandoned Czechoslovakia in September 1938.
Winston Churchill’s refusal to negotiate with Hitler after the Fall of France was highly admirable and correct, but should not distract us from the reality of joint British and French failure and no sense of superiority over France is appropriate given that the German forces were faced by the natural barrier of the English Channel, and no one doubts that if the German forces could have got directly into southern England then the result would have been a military collapse at least as quick as that of France.
The British government’s refusal to negotiate did lead to the danger of invasion, which was averted by success in the Battle of Britain between the German and British airforces, on the basis of great bravery and determination from the aircrews and moral courage at the political level. The overwhelming majority of British people of all political inclinations take pride in that history and there is not criticism offered here of that attitude.
However, it is possible to take that attitude too far and inevitably the sovereigntist Eurosceptics do. Some individuals on that side might be a bit more careful and cautious about this, but certainly as a whole that attitude draws on the idea that British resistance to Hitler marks it as uniquely heroic and as somehow morally superior to those countries which were so morally weak as to become occupied, and which then collaborated with the Nazis in the sense that one way or another governments acceptable to the Nazis and willing to work with them appeared, and of course no other government could have survived in occupied territory.
The successful resistance of the British owes rather a lot to the seas separating Britain from the European mainland, the North Sea, English Channel, and the Atlantic Ocean. 1940 was probably too soon for Germany to organise a sea born invasion anyway, except though a total destruction of British naval and air forces which was not very likely. There was actually some demobilisation of German forces after the fall of France, and Britain was outproducing Germany in fighter planes, so Hitler was never really focused and committed with regard to an invasion of Britain. Had Hitler continued to concentrate on Britain after aborting a planned invasion in the autumn of 1941, when Herman Göring failed to deliver the promised quick and complete destruction of the Royal Air Force by the Luftwaffe, the situation could have been very different. The decision to invade the Soviet Union in summer 1941 meant that the vast overwhelming majority of armed forces were transferred to the east saved Britain.
Against the chauvinism of the sovereigntist-Eurosceptic approach, it should be noted that a part of Britain, or at least territory closely associated with Britain did fall to the Nazis without fighting and collaborated with German occupation until the general German surrender of May 1945. That is the Channel Islands, which are closer to Normandy in northwestern France than Britain and are not part of the UK, but which nevertheless are under the sovereign power of Britain and have no independence in defence and foreign relations. German forces landed in these islands and occupied them in 1940, because the British government decided they could not be defended and the King took on the duty of telling the islanders to offer no resistance. Local administration collaborated with the Nazis who used slave labour from eastern Europe in the islands. There was no provision land in the islands when the western Allies landed in Normandy in the summer of 1944 and the local collaboration with Nazi occupation went on until the final surrender of Germany.
We should not make light of the difficulties Britain had in defending or liberating small thinly populated islands of little strategic importance outside its coastal waters, but it has to be said that this little story does take some of the plausibility away from chauvinistic sovereigntist-Eurosceptic tendencies to turn World War Two into a story of British superiority over cowardly collaborationist Continentals. The very real suffering of Britain was small compared with the suffering of occupied countries, particularly in eastern Europe, and the courage of those who joined partisan and resistance movements in occupied Europe must command the highest respect, and surely even higher respect than that justly given to British leaders, ordinary people, and soldiers determined to carry on fighting the Nazis after the Fall of France.
Next post, Britain and Europe after Word War Two
- Arms in the Several States. This is a great post by a law professor at Fordham (Nicholas Johnson) on the legal history behind the struggle of black Americans to arm themselves in the face of State oppression.
- World War I and Australia
- Held up in customs: Life in China gave Brittany Griner more than she bargained for. This is an excellent piece on the life of a female (former) college basketball star living in China.
- Putin’s Cold New World. This is a piece in Dissent magazine by a Polish Left-wing sociologist who deplores what he thinks of as inadequate protection from the United States. Interesting to read in tandem with the knowledge of factions and rent-seeking that is often addressed here at NOL.
- The House sues Obama: Political theatre, political pain. A penetrating insight from Will Wilkinson into the House’s decision to sue the Obama administration. The best account I’ve read of the drama so far.
Look at the Kaliningrad Oblast. It used to be Prussian Koenisberg, an important detail: Many Germans still feel for it, like Russians for Crimea. This is one part of Europe toward which the Germans might loose a little of their current prudent cool and cooperate.
Find Kaliningrad on the map.
It’s a small Russian exclave on the Baltic. It’s entirely sandwiched between two NATO members that are also members of the European Union, Lithuania and Poland. It must have some military value because it’s the headquarter of the Russian Baltic Fleet.
Kaliningrad has no direct land links to the rest of Russia. Sea links are along the shores of unfriendly to very unfriendly countries. I don’t see why it would be difficult to apply an on-and-off siege to that territory. I don’t mean that the West or the US should actually attempt to starve its about one million people. I am thinking cutting off the water intermittently, for example. Perhaps a few US warships could cruise off Kaliningrad with all guns carefully covered. We should be able to cause enough unpleasantness there to stampede part of the civilian population. We might just let Russian sailors there lead lonely and even more drunken lives than they do now.
After the gobbling up of Crimea, making it difficult for Russia to staff its isolated western outpost would be a worthwhile goal. Even giving high Kremlin officials a few bad nights of sleep would be better than nothing. Letting bullies get away with anything is always a bad idea. It’s like asking for more bullying in the future.
I don’t know why no one is talking about it, not the Obama administration, not the Republican opposition, not the supine press.
Are we that pathetic or merely ignorant?
That is the headline of this piece in the Wall Street Journal. An excerpt:
Chinese companies have wowed the world with superhighways, high-speed trains and snazzy airports, all built seemingly overnight. Yet a modest highway through Polish potato fields proved to be too much for one of China’s biggest builders […]
It remains unfinished nearly three years after contracts were awarded to Chinese builders. The Polish government is warning there will be detours around the highway’s “Chinese sections” when the soccer championships begin […]
The project raises questions about Beijing’s strategy of pitching state-directed construction firms as the low-cost solution to the world’s infrastructure needs […]
Covec [the state-run construction company responsible for the failures] was thin on management expertise, lacked financial skills and didn’t understand the importance of regulations and record-keeping in public works projects in the West, according to numerous people involved in the project […]
Organizing actual construction proved harder. To manage the project, Covec brought in Fu Tengxuan, a 49-year-old railway engineer, who spoke only Chinese and appeared to have little authority, telling colleagues that headquarters in Beijing needed to approve even the purchase of an office copier […]
Although the funding of Chinese projects in other areas such as Africa and Asia is often murky, analysts say that Beijing regularly foots the bill […] Continue reading