Oh, well, that clears things up nicely. There is a little more substance to it. Lind goes on to say:
"Enduring international peace is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for liberal democracy. Why? In a world of recurring great-power conflicts or widespread anarchy, concerns about security may force even liberal democracies to sacrifice their freedoms to the imperatives of self-defense. This is what Woodrow Wilson meant when he said that the United States and its allies must make the world"safe for democracy." A world safe for democracy need not be a democratic world. It need only be a world in which democracies like the United States are not forced by recurrent world wars to turn themselves into armed camps."
Obviously, even by this lower standard that Lind sets for Wilson's foreign policy, it was nonetheless a magnificent failure, as the rest of the 20th century was to show. That will never dim the faith of the true followers in the wisdom of Woodrow's vision. Behold:
"A world of many, mostly small and nonaggressive nation-states will be less dangerous than one of a few empires battling to carve up the world."
One wants to ask: less dangerous to whom? Everyone? Citizens of the great powers? Citizens of the small states? Who knows? Arguably, the age of a few great world empires was better, in terms of the prevention of armed conflict, for large swathes of Africa and Asia than the last century has been. For Europe, the disappearance of their empires has brought two generations of peace and prosperity (under the admittedly artificial conditions of the Cold War and U.S. protection). For Americans, it has been a decidedly mixed picture.
This idea might be worth considering, except that the new states are not necessarily nonaggressive and the record following the two waves of new, smaller independent states after WWI and WWII have not exactly supported the contention that a proliferation of states is necessarily conducive to"global peace" and a less dangerous world. Developing states and newly democratic states are among those most prone to resort to armed conflict, including both internal and international conflicts. For those living in the regions where these states are found, life often becomes more dangerous as a result of self-determination.
In the modern era, self-determination has been frequently driven by nationalism, which in turn can encourage irredentism and wars for national glory or the building up of national identity. Indeed, the proliferation of states--and the weakening and collapse even of some of these states created in the 20th century--and the increased incidence of armed conflict around the world seem closely matched. In any event, the increased number of independent states does not seem to have eliminated the causes of previously internal conflicts: for example, Eritreans warred against Ethiopians for their independence, and have since warred against them for territory and now engage in proxy wars throughout the region. Depending on how foolish idealists draw the borders, the creation of a number of smaller states may be--and have been--an invitation to revisionist wars, nationalist wars seeking to unify a people scattered among several states or separatist wars seeking to break up artificial states created by the fiat of liberal idealists in the name of this very same self-determination.
Here are some simple tests for the validity of the liberal internationalist vision. Was Yugoslavia more peaceful before or after 1990? How about the Caucasus? Was Indochina peaceful after 1945?
The key problem with Lind's position, and that of his"genuine liberal internationalism," is the assumption that there could be a"liberal international order based on sovereignty and policed by a concert of status quo great powers." Status quo great powers policing the world and an order based on state sovereignty are actually quite obviously incompatible things. The great powers entrusted with these police powers have no incentive to respect the sovereignty of other states and sometimes have strong temptations to violate it. This arrangement trusts the powers that have the least interest in respecting other states' sovereignty with the role of guarding that sovereignty, but there is no mechanism that can check any one of the great powers if it abuses this role except for the intervention of another great power. By making the policing of the world the business of the great powers, this system expands the areas of interest of all great powers to include the entire world. As these spheres overlap and differing positions about how to police the world develop, they make great power conflict more likely, rather than less likely. The entire thing is a recipe for trouble.
It is not surprising that respect for sovereignty went out the window in the last sixteen years: this internationalism compels interventionism, and respect for the sovereignty of other states cannot be maintained alongside a desire to police the world, even when that policing is carried out by multiple great powers rather than just one. This is actually pretty basic. Great powers, even those that prefer to encourage stability and the international status quo at the state level, have an interest in undermining the sovereignty of weaker states. This is how they wield control and exert influence and so remain great powers. The disorder or violence within some states will provide the great powers with the pretexts for intervention that match the great powers' interests in acquiring greater control. Once the governments of the great powers are committed to sustaining a"peaceful" world order, respect for state sovereignty is bound to wane.
Lind calls the"democratic hegemonists" and"liberal imperialists" heretics, but they are simply the logical evolutions of a misguided internationalist vision. I appreciate what Lind is trying to do: he would like to keep the world safe from liberal interventionists and neoconservatives (who wouldn't?), and he believes that it is necessary to reclaim the mantle of internationalism from interventionists, but the two cannot be separated. What must be rejected at the root is the impulse to try to govern the world. Unless this is done, the"democratic hegemonist" and"liberal imperialist" offshoots of internationalism will continue to come back again and again with every foreign crisis and every foreign conflict that can be deemed, however arbitrarily or incorrectly, a"genocide." The war against Yugoslavia should remind us how easily this"legitimate" loophole to sovereignty was used and abused to pursue purely hegemonist goals.
The contradictions of the liberal internationalist position become more apparent as the article proceeds. For instance, Lind writes:
"The United States should support legitimate self-determination movements, with the caveat that in some circumstances autonomy within a federation may be more practical than independence. Many of these today involve Muslim nationalities ruled against their will by foreigners, such as Palestinians, Chechens, Uighurs and Moros. As in the Balkans, US support for such nationalist grievances would weaken the jihadist movement by depriving it of issues capable of mobilizing Muslim anger."
This is a remarkable view. First of all, it is remarkable that Mr. Lind would suggest that support for these separatist causes would weaken jihadism, since jihadis have become the major force in most, if not all, the separatist/independence movements mentioned here. This was also true in the Balkans, which did not stop Washington from supporting the Muslim sides in the Balkan Wars. It is also remarkable because it is almost completely identical with the view of liberal interventionists and neoconservatives. Granted, the latter have a special place in their hearts for Balkan Muslims and Chechens, since they seem to be particularly interested in helping Muslims when they are fighting Slavs, but the logic and strategic justifications are the same: weaken the appeal of jihadism by aligning ourselves with the cause of oppressed Muslims around the world. As many a disappointed, jilted neocon has noted over the last few years, jihadis have been entirely indifferent to American support for the cause of oppressed Muslim populations. In reality, it is implausible that support for, say, Uighur rights has any effect on the strength of jihadism around the world. For one thing, jihadism gains its strength at least partly from being a radical alternative to existing authoritarian regimes and as a vehicle for armed resistance to U.S. policies in the Islamic world. Supporting the cause of Chechen independence addresses neither of these, while it definitely contributes to a worsening of the U.S.-Russian relationship to the general detriment of international stability.
Muslim populations around the world tend not to notice Mr. Bush's support for an independent Kosovo, for example, while they are more focused on the policies that seem to be or indeed are hostile to Muslim populations. It is, of course, the latter that are the more potent fuel for jihadism. If you want to weaken jihadi recruiting, a lot more would be accomplished by getting out of Iraq than lending support to the Chechens. (Plus, it avoids the difficulty of finding excuses for Chechen terrorism.)
The exceptions and qualifications keep piling up, until Mr. Lind's liberal internationalism is not easy to distinguish from its more interventionist cousins:
"Another exception to sovereignty would be the post-1945 ban on genocide along with a ban on ethnic cleansing."
Well, that much was predictable. Never mind that it was precisely this sort of exception-making that encouraged intervention in the Balkans and helped justify the invasion of Iraq. Today, the cause celebre is Sudan, and tomorrow there will be another part of the world where we must"do something." If sovereignty is to be ignored each time such a conflict occurs, it will not be long before sovereignty becomes completely irrelevant. The point is that almost every internal conflict can be described in terms of genocide or ethnic cleansing (the genocide convention's definition of genocide is extremely broad), and when it cannot legitimately be called that it will nonetheless be so described by the propagandists. Once you have made an exception to state sovereignty--the supposed pillar of this liberal international order--for this, you have essentially accepted that state sovereignty exists only so long as the great powers wish it to exist. Their clients will retain sovereignty and the targeted small states that they want to dominate will lose it. Mr. Lind's complaints against the"democratic hegemonists" circle back and strike his internationalism with a fatal blow.
Cross-posted at Eunomia and WWWTW
Crossroads to Islam has many controversial interpretations of early Islam and 6th and 7th century Byzantium. In fact, to call them controversial once again fails to capture how bizarre they are. One of the its principal claims is that Islam as anything like the distinctive monotheistic religion that it was later did not exist in the seventh century in any way. This is not just a claim that Islam developed over time or borrowed heavily from Jewish and Christian sources, both of which are familiar and more or less defensible arguments. The book's claim is that Muhammad never existed, the entire tradition about him was invented substantially later, at the end of the seventh century under Caliph Abd al-Malik, and that Islam as its own religion is a product of the eighth and ninth centuries. Again, this is not merely a claim that Christians initially believed Islam to be a new Christian heresy (which they did), but that everything distinctive about Islam was only created much later. Oh, yes, and Mu'awiya was the first caliph. All of this allegedly comes from rock inscriptions, archaeological research and recourse to "contemporary sources." However, "contemporary sources" on the Muslim side are essentially non-existent as far as literary records go, and on the Byzantine side every piece of evidence suggests that this revisionism is dead wrong.
I trust that there are Islamicists more competent than I am in early Islamic history who have and will continue to make the necessary arguments to refute these claims. The claims about Byzantine policy are equally odd, if less inherently offensive to hundreds of millions of people, and they are no more defensible. The main claim is that Byzantine religious policy from the late sixth century onwards was a deliberate effort to alienate the Near Eastern, non-Chalcedonian populations of the empire with increasingly confrontational religious policies. I am certainly sympathetic to revision of Byzantine religious history, but this is ridiculous. Besides being based mainly on conjecture derived from secondary sources, such as Aziz Atiya's History of Eastern Christianity, most of which are not even the standard references for Byzantinists, the evidence for a planned Byzantine withdrawal from some of its richest territories is that the Byzantines used the Ghassanids as foederati. This supposedly proves that the Byzantines were giving up on the Near East, even though most of their subjects and tax revenues came from the provinces they were apparently in a hurry to cast off.
There are obvious reasons why this is completely unpersuasive. States are not in the business of hiving off their richest territories and actively pursuing policies that they know and hope will cause their subjects to welcome the end of their rule. States may be indifferent to their subjects' attitudes towards the rulers, but they are definitely not indifferent to a decline in revenues and power. On the religious side, without giving away too much of my dissertation, I will simply say that the authors of Crossroads to Islam do not understand some of the most basic theological questions involved in the religious disputes of the sixth and seventh century in the Christian Near East. They say, for instance, that the "result of the religious policy which Byzantium pursued during these crucial years was to remove the remaining vestiges of Chalcedonianism from the eastern provinces, by unifying both churches, Orthodox and Monophysite, in acceptance of a non-Chalcedonian position." (p. 61) This would be interesting, if there were any truth to it. The problem with monotheletism was not that it was non-Chalcedonian, but that it was Chalcedonian while also trying to sound ever-more extremely Cyrilline. Chalcedonianism did not cease to exist in the eastern provinces, but split into two factions over this very question, while the non-Chalcedonians went on their merry way, being largely quite indifferent to a dispute between "Synodites." There are additional problems with the book's treatment of monotheletism (and virtually everything else), but this gives a basic sense of the kind of mistakes that the authors make.
Cross-posted at Eunomia, The American Scene and WWWTW
Of course, there are failed Presidents and then there are failed Presidents. Some of them (viz. Buchanan, Carter) really are, for the most part, simply failures. Probably the most reliable guide to detecting a failed political leader is the frequency with which he invokes his eventual write-up by historians as the defense for what he is doing in the present. If that is right, Mr. Bush is in a league of his own in the frequency with which he refers to the judgement of posterity. Once the hopes of"ending tyranny" and global democratic transformation have faded, there is still always the desire for the fond judgement of later historians after the politician has passed from the scene. Even this is a deferment of responsibility, an act of violence against the present, another demonstration of his contempt for the rest of us.
Prof. Joshua Foa Dienstag, in his excellent book Pessimism, points out this tendency of political optimists to invoke the future to defend their current actions. He writes:
Since, unlike the present, tomorrow is always imaginary, such idolatry can be manipulated in many ways. On the one hand, of course, the Stalins of the world can demand the death of millions in the name of a future paradise. This is an especial concern of Camus, who complains of those who “glorify a future state of happiness, about which no one knows anything, so that the future authorizes every kind of humbug."
Mr. Bush and his ministers have managed to do more than this: they invoke both past and future, as distorted through an especially self-serving lens, and manage to find both encouraging precedent and justifying inevitability where others see only disaster and error. As if on cue during the Lebanon war last year, Secretary Rice even dubbed herself a"student of history." What, one had to wonder, was this history teaching her? What has it taught any of them?
But he was and remains an autodidact, and a large part of his self-image depends on showing that his command of history and politics is an order of magnitude greater than other people’s. Rove has a need to outdo everybody else that seems to inform his sometimes contrarian views of history. It’s not enough for him to have read everything; he needs to have read everything and arrived at insights that others missed.
There is something very strange about the people who have assembled themselves around the President over the past few years. Many of them seem to have an outsized sense of their own world-historical importance, and many of them are convinced that they have a superior understanding of the lessons of history, but their grasp of history never seems to escape the generic, the vague and the facile. Weak analogies drawn from a limited range of American references are the order of the day--today we are refighting WWII, tomorrow Iraq is like the pre-1787 Confederation and the day after Adhamiya is a new Selma.
Rove's favourite comparisons were between Bush and McKinley and between himself and Mark Hanna, which seemed plausible enough if you simply sought to find the last time a Republican was running in a turn of the century election. For someone who has sought to hold up his "command of history" as superior, Rove must not have looked too closely at the previous decades before McKinley, which were also overwhelmingly dominated by the GOP. Rove's first mistake was to believe that Mark Hanna had accomplished something truly significant. That the party of industry and corporations prevailed in the era of industrialisation is not the product of cunning strategy or conscious realignment--it is the result of the social and political changes that had taken place in the country that undermined the base of support for an agrarian populist candidate such as Bryan. Rove's errors were not merely political, but stemmed from a misreading of the very McKinley years he claims to admire and that he wishes to imitate.
A more compelling comparison between the GOP under Bush and an early twentieth century center-right party's fate might be the Conservative-Unionist government during the same period in Britain, which was thrown out in 1905 (and again in 1906) in a massive repudiation of the government. Like Rove's strategy, the Conservatives and Unionists had ridden the wave of jingo nationalism of the South African War in the Khaki Election, which preceded their political collapse by a mere five years. The parallels between the two parties, and between the elections of 1900 and 2002 and 1905-06 and 2006 are intriguing.
The "evidence" to which Prof. Cole refers comes from, in fact, suppositions about what must have happened as a way of explaining the success of Islamic arms. Depicting these provinces as ripe fruits waiting to fall into the lap of the Muslims, this view does not give the Muslims very much credit for their own conquests.
There is not actually much evidence of local collaboration with or even satisfaction about the Islamic conquests, and there is more that tells us that the invasions were viewed very negatively. Coptic chronicler John of Nikiu recorded the coming of Islam as a disaster for the empire, to which Copts and other non-Chalcedonians retained strong allegiance. They just didn't like that their confession wasn't in control of religious policy and believed that God was punishing the empire because of the government's Chalcedonianism. There is some irony that secular historians have been reproducing a charge of anti-imperial disloyalty against religious dissidents in Byzantium that matched some of the official government views of these dissident groups.
Prof. Cole said:
Towards the end, of course it was the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire that ruled Egypt, there's some evidence that the Egyptians didn't really fight to retain that government when the Arab Muslims came in because the Byzantines had attempted to impose Eastern Orthodoxy in Egypt and the Egyptians were Coptic and had their own [sic]. So even with the Romans towards the end, I think they were weakened by their social policies.
It is perfectly understandable that Prof. Cole would say this, since this was a common view until not all that long ago. If you are relying on Ostrogorsky's classic text, you will come away convinced that this interpretation is right, and it does sound rather compelling at first. If you are thinking about the intersection of political and religious loyalties from a post-Reformation perspective and assume that religious dissidents would mobilise (or fail to mobilise) politically because of their religious sympathies or disagreements with the authorities, you are going to misunderstand the late antique and early medieval worlds rather badly. Neither Egyptian nor Syrian Byzantine subjects were organised or mobilised in the seventh century, and they would not have had much, if any, tradition of being mobilised for military service. North Africa has even less supporting evidence for religious alienation, since Carthage fell some time after all religious controversies between Constantinople and the west had been settled, which has led to some very imaginative but rather far-fetched claims of some enduring legacy of Donatism.
Their "failure" to fight did not signal a lack of loyalty to the empire as such, but rather reveals that antique and medieval imperial polities did not cultivate the kind of conscious political attachment to a state that might very well be expected in later periods. Particularly in the absence of effective political leadership or organised military support, armed resistance by the population was extremely unlikely as a response to foreign invasion. Cities would yield to invading armies because they wished to avoid sack and massacre, and not because they secretly wished for a chimerical "liberation" from religious oppression. The "ease" of the Islamic invasions was facilitated by Byzantine political and military weakness following the Persian War and particularly by specific Byzantine defeats on the battlefield. There is an understandable desire to find some "deeper" causes for such a momentous change in the history of the Near East, but there are good arguments that this change can be best understood through old-fashioned institutional and military history.
Cross-posted at Eunomia
Whether the massacres of up to 1.5 million Armenians in eastern Anatolia in 1915 constitute"genocide," as a nonbinding House resolution declares, is a matter for historians. ~The Wall Street Journal
I have said before how tired I am of this sort of dodge. The purpose of these evasions is simply to declare the past irrelevant and history the province of academics. As these people see it, it should neither inform public policy or public discourse nor be treated seriously. In a way this is worse than distorting or misusing the past as the active denialists do: this declares the past off limits for use or understanding in the present. Except, of course, when these very same people want to invoke the"lessons of history" c. 1975 or 1938 to justify their latest foreign boondoggle. In those cases, History must be acknowledged and followed, and we must march in the direction shown by History.
If I were to say,"whether the killing fields in Cambodia constituted genocide is a matter for historians," I would be rightly excoriated as a moral cretin and an ignoramus. The same treatment ought to be meted out to those who make these equivocal,"who can really say?" kinds of arguments, but this view flourishes. It flourishes partly, as we all know, because there are many people, most of whom couldn't have cared less about offending allies, including the Turks, five years ago, who now see the Turkish alliance as so important that it cannot be endangered by anything so"trivial" as historical truth. I suspect, but I cannot definitely prove, that another element is a weird, unseemly desire to keep the Nazis in the public imagination as the fons et origo of genocidal killing (which would also have to conveniently ignore the genocide of the Ukrainians) to sustain the mythology surrounding the entire WWII period.
When most historians affirm that an event was genocide, i.e., state-organised and planned attempted extermination of a people or group, the"matter" has been settled on that point at least. We are supposed to believe that the Armenian genocide is somehow more in doubt or the answers are less knowable than they were in Cambodia. This isn't because most of the almighty historians remain in doubt, but because there are non-historians who are willing to wink at the genocide denial of a relative few scholars and invest these few deniers with an authority they would not grant were the subject a widely recognised and well-known genocide. Once there is a general consensus among historians, does that not remove the"matter" from the realm of controversy? Is it not then incumbent on decent citizens and their representatives to acknowledge the reality that the historians are describing? Cross-posted at The American Scene
In recent decades, these interpretations have come under attack precisely because of their implications for modern politics. Where strong emperors were once lauded as scourges of"feudalism" and fragmentation, some see their concentration of power, their deployment of propaganda and their exercise of control over public life in a more sinister light. Comparisons with the Soviet Union, while overwrought, appear from time to time in important monographs.
The article says:
The television film seems to be in that genre. In it, Father Tikhon is transported in full attire from a snow-swept church to Istanbul and Venice, where he exposes the West as a “genetic” hater of both Byzantium and its spiritual heir: Russia. The Byzantine empire's rich and cultured capital, Constantinople, was the envy of dark and aggressive barbarians from the West, who looted it during the fourth crusade in 1204. Modern Western capitalism, argues Father Tikhon, is built on Byzantine loot and Jewish usury.
In this version, Byzantium's first mistake was to trust the West (represented in the film by a cloaked figure in a sinister, long-nosed Venetian mask) and surrender the commanding heights of the economy—trading and customs collection—to Western entrepreneurs and greedy oligarchs. Using a term from today's Russia, Father Tikhon talks of some “stabilisation fund” when describing the achievements of one Byzantine emperor, Basil II, godfather to Russia's Prince Vladimir, who crushed separatists and sent oligarchs to prison. But even great emperors could have weak successors. (The film was made before Mr Putin chose Dmitry Medvedev as his successor, to be endorsed by voters in the election on March 2nd.)
The film's usage of modern words and imagery is so conspicuous that the moral cannot escape a Russian viewer. Instead of sticking to its traditions, Byzantium tried to reform and modernise, as the West demanded, and it paid the price. Worst of all, the West infiltrated Byzantium with harmful, individualistic ideas, which destroyed the core values of the empire—so the people lost faith in their rulers.
The image of Byzantium presented here is, of course, distorted in important ways, but still draws on classic interpretations that can be found in The History of the Byzantine State by Ostrogorsky. In Ostrogorsky's view, Basil II combated the"powerful" (dynatoi) on behalf of the"poor" (ptochoi) and punished the alienation of revenue-bearing lands to these powerful aristocratic landlords, and he ruled as a military and expansionist emperor. This has a certain obvious appeal to a nationalist authoritarian government that has made a show of reining in its wealthy oligarchs (along with everyone else).
When Ostrogorsky was developing his general theory of the decline of the empire, which he identified as the result of decentralization, loss of lands and revenues to the aristocracy (which he dubbed feudalism), the predominance of Italian mercantile powers and the disappearance of the Byzantine army, consolidating power in the hands of the emperor appeared to be the way to stabilize state institutions. As others have noted since, Ostrogorsky's was a history of the Byzantine state, which led him, as it can lead historians with a focus on institutional history, to valorize the institution-builders and damn those who neglect or undermine institutions. There has since been a backlash against this, and it is perhaps ironic that it was the great Russian Byzantinist Kazhdan, coming out of the Soviet Union, who promoted the critique of this latent admiration for strong emperors and a strong state apparatus. To summarize rather crudely, what Ostrogorsky judged to be prudent reforms of economic and social abuses by the aristocracy could be seen in recent times as the source of arbitrary and repressive government from the center.
Basil II has long been a favorite of modern nationalists and empire-builders. At the time of the Macedonian Struggle and the Balkan Wars, Greek irredentists deployed Basil II ("the Bulgar-slayer") as the exemplar of Greek leadership and victorious military struggle over the Bulgars/Bulgarians. Kostis Palamas, the great demoticist Greek poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, included Basil II in the conclusion of his important work, The king's flute, and Penelope Delta authored a popular history of Basil's reign that identified Basil's victory and the legendary atrocities he carried out against the Bulgar army after Kleidion with the modern Greek cause in Macedonia. In their flight of fancy, some Greek propaganda posters even depicted Constantine I as Bulgaroktonos. By comparison, the current Russian uses of the emperor and Byzantine history more generally are frustrating for those who are trying to emphasize Byzantium's connections with western Europe, but they are also somewhat less threatening.
The greatest irony of the Russian deployment of Byzantine political history is that Russia's period of modern absolutist, centralist rule began with the advent of Westernization in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and has literally nothing to do with Byzantium. The"Caesaropapism" of which Byzantium is sometimes still accused did not exist in the Orthodox world--the closest thing to the caricature of Byzantine church-state relations was the post-Petrine position of the Synod as effectively an arm of the Russian state. It is quite remarkable that the most eloquent proponents of a starkly pro-Orthodox, anti-Western, romantic Russian nationalism of the kind hinted at in the description of the film in question were the Slavophiles of the mid-19th century, who deplored the introduction of absolutist rule and desired the return of a weaker, pre-Petrine monarchy that respected the power of the boyars. Putinism has made a weird fusion of the anti-Western critique of the Slavophiles with a post-Petrine Westernizing centralism, masking the contradiction with the references to the Byzantine past.