Globalization and politics in the modern West

Writing in City Journal, Christopher Caldwell describes the work of “real estate expert” Christophe Guilluy:

At the heart of Guilluy’s inquiry is globalization. Internationalizing the division of labor has brought significant economic efficiencies. But it has also brought inequalities unseen for a century, demographic upheaval, and cultural disruption. Now we face the question of what—if anything—we should do about it.

A process that Guilluy calls métropolisation has cut French society in two. In 16 dynamic urban areas (Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Nantes, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Rennes, Rouen, Toulon, Douai-Lens, and Montpellier), the world’s resources have proved a profitable complement to those found in France. These urban areas are home to all the country’s educational and financial institutions, as well as almost all its corporations and the many well-paying jobs that go with them. Here, too, are the individuals—the entrepreneurs and engineers and CEOs, the fashion designers and models, the film directors and chefs and other “symbolic analysts,” as Robert Reich once called them—who shape the country’s tastes, form its opinions, and renew its prestige. Cheap labor, tariff-free consumer goods, and new markets of billions of people have made globalization a windfall for such prosperous places. But globalization has had no such galvanizing effect on the rest of France. Cities that were lively for hundreds of years—Tarbes, Agen, Albi, Béziers—are now, to use Guilluy’s word, “desertified,” haunted by the empty storefronts and blighted downtowns that Rust Belt Americans know well.

Guilluy doubts that anyplace exists in France’s new economy for working people as we’ve traditionally understood them. Paris offers the most striking case. As it has prospered, the City of Light has stratified, resembling, in this regard, London or American cities such as New York and San Francisco. It’s a place for millionaires, immigrants, tourists, and the young, with no room for the median Frenchman. Paris now drives out the people once thought of as synonymous with the city.

Yet economic opportunities for those unable to prosper in Paris are lacking elsewhere in France. Journalists and politicians assume that the stratification of France’s flourishing metropoles results from a glitch in the workings of globalization. Somehow, the rich parts of France have failed to impart their magical formula to the poor ones. Fixing the problem, at least for certain politicians and policy experts, involves coming up with a clever shortcut: perhaps, say, if Romorantin had free wireless, its citizens would soon find themselves wealthy, too. Guilluy disagrees. For him, there’s no reason to expect that Paris (and France’s other dynamic spots) will generate a new middle class or to assume that broad-based prosperity will develop elsewhere in the country (which happens to be where the majority of the population live). If he is right, we can understand why every major Western country has seen the rise of political movements taking aim at the present system.

The whole thing seems to be a pretty insightful look at the political economy of Western countries in the 21st century.

Hat tip: Ross Douthat

Hitler’s anarchic worldview

Last year, Timothy Snyder was interviewed by Edward Delman for The Atlantic about Snyder’s book Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. Here are a couple of key passages:

Edward Delman: In your book, you offer a portrait of Hitler as a brilliant tactician, but one who operated on the basis of a truly warped worldview based around racial struggle. Just so we can lay the framework: What would you say were the basic principles of Hitler’s worldview, and what did that mean for how he viewed the idea of nation-states, or ethics, and other universalist principles we assume as given?

Timothy Snyder: So what Hitler does is he inverts; he reverses the whole way we think about ethics, and for that matter the whole way we think about science. What Hitler says is that abstract thought—whether it’s normative or whether it’s scientific—is inherently Jewish. There is in fact no way of thinking about the world, says Hitler, which allows us to see human beings as human beings. Any idea which allows us to see each other as human beings—whether it’s a social contract; whether it’s a legal contract; whether it’s working-class solidarity; whether it’s Christianity—all these ideas come from Jews. And so for people to be people, for people to return to their essence, for them to represent their race, as Hitler sees things, you have to strip away all those ideas. And the only way to strip away all those ideas is to eradicate the Jews. And if you eradicate the Jews, then the world snaps back into what Hitler sees as its primeval, correct state: Races struggles against each other, kill each other, starve each other to death, and try and take land….

Delman: We all think of Hitler as the prototypical nationalist, and being one who utilized nationalism and was a fervent nationalist in his own right, but according to you, Hitler doesn’t believe in the state as an institution. He thinks it’s an abstraction, possibly even a Jewish invention. He only believes in the race. So, in your view, what was Hitler’s relationship with the German nation-state?

Snyder: … [I]f we think that Hitler was just a nationalist, but more so, or just an authoritarian, but more so, we’re missing the capacity for evil completely. If Hitler had just been a German nationalist who wanted to rule over Germans—if he was just an authoritarian who wanted to have a strong state—the Holocaust could not have happened. The Holocaust could happen because he was neither of those things. He wasn’t really a nationalist. He was a kind of racial anarchist who thought that the only good in the world was for races to compete, and so he thought that the Germans would probably win in a racial competition, but he wasn’t sure. And as far as he was concerned, if the Germans lost, that was also alright. And that’s just not a view that a nationalist can hold. I think a nationalist cannot sacrifice his entire people on the altar of the idea that there has to be racial competition, which is what Hitler did, and that’s what made him different from a Romanian nationalist, or a Hungarian nationalist, or what have you. At the end of the war, Hitler said, ‘Well the Germans lost, that just shows the Russians are stronger. So be it. That’s the verdict of nature.’ I don’t think a nationalist would say that.

Snyder’s previous book, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, was the subject of a fascinating conversation that he had with Albert Mohler, which you can find here.

Exploring modern thinkers and ideas

European Intellectual History from Rousseau to NietzscheEuropean Intellectual History from Rousseau to Nietzsche by Frank M. Turner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A nice, clear overview of major European thinkers and intellectual trends during this time, in less than 300 pages. It’s a reproduction of Turner’s lectures from his Yale course, put together after his death. One of the best features is how well the lectures show the connections and influences between different thinkers, ideas, and Western society from about 1750-1900. So, for example, the lecture on Richard Wagner illustrates how many of these trends came together in the composer’s life.

The lecture “Race and Anti-Semitism” included a wise reminder. Turner notes that racial thought had connections with many of the leading intellectual trends of the 1800s, such as “opposition to the unbridled advance of capitalism,” imperialism, nationalism, and “the new sciences of anthropology, philology, evolution, eugenics, and public health. Racial thinking rose to the crest of this apparently and so-called progressionist wave. The forms of mass murder and mass degradation in Europe and within the various colonial empires brought about by such thinking — murder and degradation carried out for allegedly high principle and with sincere, educated conviction — should encourage all of us to show more scepticism toward embracing any set of ideas simply because they are called new, advanced, scientific, or progressive” (191).

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A political history of medieval and early modern Europe

Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern EuropeBirth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe by Thomas Ertman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ertman gives a very helpful comparative history of the development of different European states, categorizing them as patrimonial absolutist (mainly France and Spain), bureaucratic constitutionalist (England/Great Britain), bureaucratic absolutist (mainly Prussia), and patrimonial constitutionalist (Poland and Hungary). The absolutist/constitutionalist contrast is well-known, but the patrimonial/bureaucratic contrast adds an interesting twist. In patrimonial systems, officials view positions of power as their own property, while bureaucratic systems place a premium on trained and qualified officials.

It’s understandable that Ertman favors the British system of strong central government with oversight by a Parliament responsible to local communities within the realm. After all, Britain outmatched its competitors in power, stability, and the ability to finance its wars in the early modern period. It was an age of centralizing states that were at war with each other, and so it makes sense to focus on how the states met this challenge. Yet there does seem to be a conceptual bias toward the centralized nation-state, and I wonder how a book that had a different standard for political development might have looked. I also would have liked to see more on Habsburg Austria.

Those are quite small nits to pick considering Ertman’s accomplishment in producing a history of over 1000 years of political development in Western Christendom.

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Russia and refugees

An interesting story from a few weeks ago by Josh Rogin:

Even before the latest terror attacks in Brussels, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment in Europe had been on the rise. Most of the refugees arriving in Europe are escaping war and poverty in the Middle East and seeking a better life in the West. But according to European officials, other migrants are traveling into the Nordic and Baltic states from Russia and are not fleeing the fighting in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, but rather have been living in Russia and are being encouraged by the Kremlin to join the tide in Western Europe….

 

Russia encourages these migrants, according to Ilves and other European officials at the forum, because they strain European governments and stoke anti-Muslim sentiment that benefits the far-right parties Russia has supported. Pro-Russian parties have gained influence in Slovakia, Greece, Hungary, France and elsewhere. They tend to support the weakening of European Union institutions and favor closer ties to Russia, including through the end of sanctions.

Russia’s campaign of airstrikes in Syria, which has largely targeted civilian areas, also adds to the waves of Muslim migrants entering Europe through Greece. General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, said earlier this month that Russia was “weaponizing migration,” as a means to “overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.”

Marx and Engels on the possibility of Russian communism

Last week, I read an article by Michael Löwy taking a look at the relevance of the Communist Manifesto at its 150th anniversary. Löwy, a Marxist, wrote that in some ways the Manifesto was too cautious. Here was one of his points that caught my interest:

Nevertheless, the brilliant—and prophetic—analysis of capitalist globalization sketched out in the initial pages of the Manifesto suffers from certain limitations, tensions, or contradictions. These do not stem from an excess of revolutionary zeal, as most critiques of Marxism contends, but, on the contrary, from an insufficiently critical stance in regard to modern bourgeois/industrial civilization. Let us look at several of the closely interlinked aspects of that stance.

1. The ideology of progress typical of the nineteenth-century show ups in the visiblyEurocentric way in which Marx and Engels express their admiration for the capacity of the bourgeoisie to “draw all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization”: thanks to its cheap commodities “it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate” (a transparent reference to China). They seem to consider western colonial domination as an expression of the bourgeoisie’s historical “civilizing” role: this class “has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilized ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.” The sole restriction on this Eurocentric, not to say colonialist, distinction between “civilized” and “barbarian” nations is the phrase “what it calls civilization” (sogennante Zivilisation) with reference to the western bourgeois world.

In his later writing Marx was to take a much more critical stance in regard to western colonialism in India and China, but it would remain for the modern theoreticians of imperialism—Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin—to formulate a radical Marxist challenge to “bourgeois civilization” from the point of view of its victims, namely the colonized peoples. And only with Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution would emerge the heretical idea that socialist revolutions would be most likely to begin in the periphery of the system, the dependent countries. Of course, the founder of the Red Army insisted on the additional point that unless the revolution would spread to the advanced industrial centers—notably of western Europe—it would sooner or later be condemned to failure. It is often forgotten that, in their preface to the Russian translation of the Manifesto (1881), Marx and Engels envisaged a hypothetical situation in which the socialist revolution would begin in Russia—on the basis of traditional peasant collectivism—and then spread to western Europe. The Russian revolution, would according to their words, become a signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other. This text—as well as a contemporary letter to Vera Zasunch—reply in advance to the supposedly “orthodox Marxist” arguments of the Kautskys and Plekhanovs against the “voluntarism” of the October Revolution of 1917—arguments that today have again become fashionable after the end of the U.S.S.R.—according to which a socialist revolution is only possible where the productive forces have reached “maturity,” which is to say in the advanced capitalist countries.

Here is what Marx and Engels said about Russia in the translation of that introduction available at Marxists.org (it actually appears to have been written in 1882):

And now Russia! During the Revolution of 1848-9, not only the European princes, but the European bourgeois as well, found their only salvation from the proletariat just beginning to awaken in Russian intervention. The Tsar was proclaimed the chief of European reaction. Today, he is a prisoner of war of the revolution in Gatchina [B], and Russia forms the vanguard of revolutionary action in Europe.

The Communist Manifesto had, as its object, the proclamation of the inevitable impending dissolution of modern bourgeois property. But in Russia we find, face-to-face with the rapidly flowering capitalist swindle and bourgeois property, just beginning to develop, more than half the land owned in common by the peasants. Now the question is: can the Russian obshchina, though greatly undermined, yet a form of primeval common ownership of land, pass directly to the higher form of Communist common ownership? Or, on the contrary, must it first pass through the same process of dissolution such as constitutes the historical evolution of the West?

The only answer to that possible today is this: If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for a communist development.

They also wrote about the importance of the United States’ emergence as an industrial power in their brief introduction.

I’m certainly not a Marxist, but I think it’s interesting to see some of the historical developments in Marxist thought.

Reflections on the unthinkable

The Drowned and the SavedThe Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another excellent book by Levi. Written in the 1980s, The Drowned and the Saved is a collection of essays reflecting on some of the major issues that life in the death camps raised: collaborators, communication, why the inmates behaved as they did, and others. Levi’s style in both of this books that I’ve read is both profound and clear, and I think that it can be attributed to Levi since the translators of the books were different.

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