At The End of History
by Chad Nagle
February 23, 2001
Musings On The New Imperialism and Post-Western World Government
As I finish up this rather long and rambling piece, I’m sitting in the Café Odeon in Zurich, where Lenin used to drink coffee when he lived here before returning to Russia in 1917. I’m getting ready to fly to Chisinau, Moldova, via Budapest this evening, and although that trip should produce a more down-to-earth piece for this column, at the moment I feel inspired to write about imperialism and the demise of the West. A vision has haunted me lately, so I hope Antiwar readers will indulge me while I try to crystallize it in an article with a little less vitriol than usual.
Shortly after the New Year, at the home of an old friend in Georgetown, I met a young woman whose husband worked in Clinton’s White House. She had that super-cheery, complacent demeanor I always associate with the younger Washingtonian set. She wasn’t too keen on Bush’s victory, obviously, because Clinton had done so many great things for everybody and Gore would have carried right on making the world a better place. But everything was going to be all right for her and her tired, disheveled, disillusioned-looking spouse, no matter who was in office in Washington.
Later, after her husband had gone to a DC nightclub for a Clintonian farewell bash, the conversation turned to promoting democracy abroad. This somehow led me to comment in an ominous tone on how the world was ever more rapidly shaping up into north-south, as opposed to east-west. She scoffed condescendingly: "Oh, everybody knows tha-at."
Now "socializing" is not my forte. The temptation to snap at smug fellow Americans can be overwhelming at times, and this was a time when decorum failed me. I asked this woman whether she had ever been anywhere in the "East" and, of course, she said no. Then I asked her how she could be so matter-of-fact about the prospect of – basically – the end of the "West." As she tried to formulate an answer, clearly incredulous that anyone could inject such unnecessary gravity into the cozy little scene, I told her I’d been across the sewer of capitalist corruption we now call the former Soviet Union. And I said that even if she was happy about globalization ultimately meaning a merger with Eurasia’s vast dump, I wasn’t.
During the uncomfortable silence that briefly followed, it was understood by all present that I had poisoned the air. I remembered Blake’s words – "A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent" – and felt a brief pang of remorse. That’s the problem with these little social gatherings. It always seems better to make a scene than to be bored.
It was easier to identify the West when political and economic influence backed by projectable military power was divided between two "superpowers," just as it’s always easier to define yourself by what you’re against than by what you’re for. The Russians now have a "market economy," a "civil society" (non-governmental organizations), a "parliamentary democracy," and a written constitution, so things are in a definite gray zone where defining the West in relation to Russia is concerned. So what if a bunch of ex-nomenklatura are in charge in Russia? No different in NATO member Poland, where the West has accepted two election results in five years as proof that gray and dull President Alexander Kwasniewski – a former minister of Communist Poland – is overwhelmingly popular even though 70% of the population lives below the poverty line. Never mind that Kwasniewski was schooled in a system that used the results of sham elections as evidence of popular support, just like the rest of our client heads of state. From the beginning, Putin pledged his support for "free market" democracy and "reform," and that was good enough for our great leaders. Amid Western leaders’ fidgety responses to Putin’s early public suggestion that the Russian Federation might one day join NATO, the portentous question loomed: "Why not?"
The images most Westerners probably summon to mind when they think of the West are things like decency, duty, loyalty, justice, honor, courage, and so forth. But these notions aren’t much good for distinguishing the West from other civilizations because every civilization will ultimately lay claim to such features. Going back to the Papal Revolution of the 11th Century and talking about a division of legal jurisdictions between secular and ecclesiastical authorities doesn’t seem especially helpful in the modern era either. So better to define the West today by one overriding characteristic everybody can agree on – a profusion of "legal fictions."
"Enlightened self-interest," a cornerstone of the rule of law in the West, provides the formalistic justification for legal fictions, like corporations, currency and private property. That night in Georgetown, I never got around to discussing legal fictions with the Complacent Clintonista, even though her material well-being undoubtedly depended to a great extent on the legal fictions just mentioned. My guess is she never thought about it. Maybe Americans are just supposed to take some things for granted.
In the early years of the Soviet Union, Lenin and the Bolsheviks destroyed Russia’s legal fictions by force and terror. They deliberately and successfully debauched the Russian currency, outlawed private property and abolished institutions of state like the courts. In fact, Lenin consciously abandoned traditional conceptions of conscience in favor of something new, "revolutionary conscience." The "new man" would abandon the old norms in favor of those advancing the historically inevitable cause of the "Revolution."
Over seventy years, the Soviet regime gradually loosened its repressive grip on its subjects, but it never restored the old legal fictions. The citizens’ conception of money and property would never return to that of their ancestors. Meanwhile, America periodically conferred legitimacy on the Soviets. FDR recognized Stalin’s USSR in 1933, and Nixon continued the process with Détente in the late Sixties. Today in the ex-USSR, most people still don’t have faith in the integrity of their post-Communist legal fictions as servants of the common weal. They see the new corporations as fronts for vicious, self-serving mobsters. They see their money as paper to be gotten rid of before its value drops through the floor. However much America crows about "reform" and "democracy," we’re not going to turn this around. How could we, when we already put the stamp of legitimacy on the Soviet system repeatedly? After several generations of life under socialist law, the republics of the old Soviet bloc are not going to be "converted back" by the United States.
The individual’s mind only needs to take a small cognitive hop from perceiving a legal fiction as a moral force in society to perceiving it as a lie. For a whole society – absent a revolution or counterrevolution – the shift in perception is much more gradual, about as gradual as a country’s slide from cultural to moral bankruptcy. If it’s true, therefore, that cultural bankruptcy occurs concurrently with moral bankruptcy, then America is in trouble, because we are rapidly becoming a cultural wasteland.
Our youth – who are far more likely to be able to recite rap songs than great poetry – carry guns to school and sometimes use them on each other. The most popular national pastime is watching TV, and the most popular shows are programs such as staged "wrestling," sitcoms with canned laughter to let viewers know when to laugh, or moronic "reality TV" shows like "Temptation Island." The utter trash that’s up for film and music awards isn’t even worth commenting on.
Our leaders talk about the decline in drug use, but even if it were true that illicit drug use were down, how many people are on some kind of prescription psychotrope in America today? Tell a fellow American you’re feeling depressed, and there’s a better than even chance they’ll respond with a completely straight face: "Why don’t you get some drugs?"
American politicians trumpet the infallibility of the United States without a trace of humility, and some of them – like Sen. Jesse Helms – complain about threats to US sovereignty without criticizing globalization. For them, sovereignty is a one-way street. America is supposed to rule the world and the historical fate of empires is irrelevant. They invariably mistake Americans’ historical good fortune for virtuousness.
The other view of globalization sees America dissolving into the New World Order as the elite that holds that view remains comfy and privileged and forgets America ever existed. Already, with the Humanities so cheapened in American education, it’s hard to find anyone under thirty with any memory or significant understanding of what the Soviet Union was. America’s is a culture of forgetting, and we’ve forgotten what it means to be the West. It’s highly doubtful that people like the Complacent Clintonista ever really knew.
Sadly, the Complacent Clintonista is almost certainly right, not about being complacent but about the North and the South. East and West are no longer divided by a profound ideological difference over how Humanity should be politically organized. "Amerrca" (I love the way Dubya says it) will hold up clapped-out and impoverished Russia as a big bogey a while longer, and there will probably be more instances of accusation and recrimination between Washington and Moscow before all’s said and done. But it’s a stretch to see Putin’s gang as more than a bunch of heavies trying to get their "cut" from whatever the US and Europe want to do in the ex-USSR. We’ll have a few more little wars and rocket launchings in the North to reaffirm our manliness and show off expensive new weapons systems, but basically the party’s over. The West’s corporatism, monetarism and mercantilism will merge – dialectically – with the dreary state socialism of the East to create a kind of "corporatist socialism" of the North, with maybe the most unsavory political elite the World has yet seen.
The southern border of the ex-USSR will almost certainly conform roughly to the southern border of the North because the administrative rules and regulations of the Soviet system (which constituted the core of President Putin’s formal legal education) were rigid and consistent enough to organize and control Soviet society, and will easily adapt to the New World Order. The South will mostly remain war-torn, disease-ridden, poor and agrarian, and a convenient target for regular bombings by the North.
In the Complacent Clintonista’s obvious future, the "West" now stretches from the Bering Straits to the Bering Straits and therefore no longer exists in any geographical sense. Of course the "West" was never a purely geographical term, but why not now just dispense with the expression altogether? From here on out, barring some freak accident of history, East-West resides on the ash-heap of History.
America is certainly the dominant power in the world now, and therefore in the North. America’s imperialism is seemingly unstoppable. Business must be served and the salaries of Wall Street CEOs must increase. Given this situation, maybe American policy-makers see no alternative but to continue to try to secure and stabilize the industrialized North on Washington’s terms with the aim of ruling the North indefinitely. Washington will try to do this through "international" political apparatuses behind which it can hide its peculiar and unprecedented form of imperialism. But however disguised, imperialism it will nonetheless be, and if history is any judge, it will corrupt itself sooner or later as false piety and self-righteousness collapse with the last remnants of Western civilization.
In the meantime, though, what kind of political apparatus will the US use to advance its neo-imperialism? What kind of structure represents the embryo of the government of the North?
Strangely, if you mention the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to most relatively educated and well-informed Americans, they will answer: "What’s the OSCE?" Quite understandable, in a sense, because the OSCE is after all "European." Even the OSCE Handbook states in its introduction: "The Organization behind [the initials] is still not widely known, partly because of its origins as a low-profile diplomatic process."
But American ignorance of the OSCE is not entirely excusable because the organization in its current guise isn’t really European. The United States, Canada, and the states of ex-Soviet Central Asia are all full members. Furthermore, the OSCE is not a toothless entity. The Handbook explains the organization’s low profile in terms of "its broad range of activities and core competencies, as well as its unique concept of security" being "not easy to grasp." But apart from the fact that the OSCE’s "diplomatic" maneuverings make themselves felt almost everywhere in the North, Americans should also know about the OSCE because it is – to paraphrase Saddam Hussein – the "mother of all NGOs."
The origins of the OSCE go back to 1954, when the Soviets first proposed a 50-year treaty to be signed by all European states to foster pan-European security. In 1973, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) opened in Helsinki with 35 states (the whole of Europe plus the USA and Canada). Two years later the heads of state of these 35 countries signed the CSCE Final Act, and the Handbook proudly displays a nice photo of General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev – king of the crusty old Communist Party curmudgeons – putting his John Hancock to the agreement on "the implementation of the provisions of the Act," on "the deepening of their mutual relations," and on "the improvement of security and the process of co-operation."
In 1992, the CSCE "declared itself to be a regional arrangement in the sense of Chapter VII of the UN Charter" – the "region" being the North. The CSCE transformed itself from a "process" to an "organization" more or less unnoticed by the world, as it dispatched missions to the Yugoslav areas of Kosovo, Sandjak and Vojvodina in 1992. In Budapest at the end of 1994, the CSCE was "re-christened" as the OSCE. There are currently 56 member states: the 15 states of the ex-USSR, the 15 states of the European Union, Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, the Vatican, Hungary, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Norway, Poland, Romania, the Russian Federation, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, the United States, Uzbekistan and Yugoslavia. Israel, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Japan and South Korea are listed as "Partners for Cooperation," the civilian equivalent of membership in NATO’s "Partnership for Peace."
The OSCE Handbook lists the "basic priorities" of the organization. They are "to consolidate the participating States’ common values and help in building fully democratic civil societies based on the rule of law; to prevent local conflicts, restore stability and bring peace to war-torn areas; to overcome real and perceived security deficits and to avoid the creation of new political, economic or social divisions by promoting a co-operative system of security." These may all sound like terribly noble goals that everyone can sign on to, but there is one simple, glaring feature of the OSCE that no one seems to want to acknowledge. That is, by its very design, structure, and the nature of its operations, the OSCE cannot promote democracy as an end in itself. Why? Because the OSCE doesn’t actually have much to do with democracy. Rather, it’s about "security and cooperation" as defined by the West (primarily the United States). If a genuine display of popular will, however peaceful, results in the advent of a national government that doesn’t see eye-to-eye with our "cooperative system of security," then it has to be branded as "undemocratic" by the OSCE. I apologize to readers for seeming pedantic in spelling out a no-brainer, but what I can never understand is why – if something is so obvious – no one ever talks about it.
The little contact I’ve had with OSCE observers in countries where I’ve observed elections has not been impressive. Most often, they are young Westerners eager for a free ride. The Americans are likely to be people who say "Du-u-u-ude!!!" In Washington, I met an American with an incredibly irritating laugh (heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh) who had worked as an OSCE observer in Bosnia and thought he knew all there was to know about history and democracy in the ex-Yugoslavia. Needless to say, NATO had done a noble deed in Kosovo as far as he was concerned. In Georgia, I met a young German leftist OSCE observer who blamed the separatist wars in the Caucasus on the lack of "Protestantism." He excitedly waved his finger when talking about the EU, saying "vot vee really need iz ze poLITICAL union! Vonce vee have ze political union, zen everyssing vill be okay!" Sieg heil, buddy.
So has the OSCE done any good in its "region" of operation? Has it brought more peace than there would have been without its intervention? Has it actually fostered more "democracy" and "civil society" than would have existed absent its involvement? Obviously, it’s impossible to say. However, the OSCE is an inherently assimilationist body that has its fingers in everybody’s pies. It has field missions and offices all over the place, and all of these regularly issue pompous statements on the level of democracy in their host countries. Usually, when it has participated in election monitoring, the OSCE will declare whether the election was "free and fair" at a press conference the next day. The few of these I’ve attended have demonstrated that the level of the mission chiefs’ tolerance of observers’ dissent is very low. Why is it an outrage to suggest that a Western-funded organization whose primary objective is to promote "security and cooperation" reaches its verdicts on the legitimacy of a foreign elections generally depending on who ultimately wins? Yet if you suggest as much, most observers will dismiss your concerns out of hand. In reality, the OSCE acronym should probably stand for "Organization for Security and Cooperation or Else"!
At any rate, I see no reason why the OSCE can’t be the prototype for New World Government. The OSCE already contains the embryos of all the necessary institutions. It has a Ministerial Council, an annually-rotating "Chairman-in-Office" (the chairmanship is currently held by the democratic civil society of Romania), a Secretary General and a Secretariat, a Parliamentary Assembly, and a Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. Surely among these and the other institutional bodies that make up the OSCE, we can put together the model government for the "democratic civil society" of the North that we need. Then again, I suppose it’s happening as I write this. Just as the OSCE changed imperceptibly from an organization to a process, so it will take on a governmental role without anyone noticing. Maybe the acronym will then be changed to the Organization for Socialist Corporatism Everywhere.
Of course, all this is just musing brought on by an exchange one evening. It’s still possible, after all, that the world will not divide between north and south, and that instead we will have something like the three Orwellian blocs from 1984 – Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. The UK has proven itself a most reliable American lapdog in the ongoing bombing of Iraq, and talk of Britain becoming a member of NAFTA is always on the backburner. So Oceania could become a reality if Australia joins up. Russia and France (Eurasians) have complained loudly about the last bombing raid on Iraq by Oceanian forces, and since WWII the Germans have always sought to curry favor with their fellow Eurasians in Moscow. The Eastasian Japanese appear to have just about lost patience with the Oceanian military presence, and the recent killing of Eastasian citizens by an Oceanian submarine has only highlighted the divide.
But whether the world is "North-South" or Oceania-Eurasia-Eastasia, we can be assured of regular plundering wars regardless of how sincere Dubya sounds when he talks about wanting a world that’s as "peaceful as possible." National borders will wear away as nation-states become increasingly formalistic. Soldiers of the North born in America could find themselves saluting an Albanian OSCE Chairman-in-Office who was once a "freedom fighter" for the KLA.
America will be the leading force in reducing nation-states to pure formalities. Some of the post-Soviet political figures (I think one of them may have been Czech President Vaclav Havel) have said something to the effect that "money knows no nationality." In the current globalizing world that appears to be true, and makes a New World Order seem all the more inevitable. The issuance and regulation of currency will continue to centralize as it has throughout history. Since globalization is following money, all that could stop it would be an unforeseen political force that really valued something higher than dirt-cheap materialism.
Although it looks unlikely at this point, if we Americans could find something to unite us besides the yankee dollar, we could perhaps halt the end of the West. The dollar cannot unite one American to another as compatriots or brothers-in-arms to any greater extent than it can unite an American to an Uzbek. The Constitution cannot unite Americans as a nation either. Every individual interprets the Constitution differently, and very few Americans have bothered to read it in any depth. Immigrants seeking naturalization aren’t even required to look at the Constitution, never mind learn it by heart. The unifier has to come in the form of something that can give us an identity apart from money or a legal document. And it has to be America, because we’re Western civilization’s last hope.
Then again, maybe not enough Americans care, and our national identity is really defined first and foremost by apathy. America is the place where everything is always okay. Take it easy, dude. Go with the flow. Skip into the sunset holding hands with the Complacent Clintonista because everything’s going to be all right. For all I know, maybe it will be. But I can’t quite rid myself of a hunch that Lenin may be laughing at us from beyond the grave.
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