Democratic Westphalianism, or The Principles

By Dominic Tweedie

    Publisher’s note: In one of the discussions here we recently got into a consideration of the Treaty of Westphalia. Dominic Tweedie (aka Domza) proposed that the topic needed a lot more examination. I agreed, and invited him to lead off this discussion. He got back with amazing rapidity with a launch-text for this discussion. Thanks, Dominic!
    I am very happy indeed to put this up on JWN. Given the importance of the topic commenters are hereby freed from the 300-word limit; but maybe try to keep them below 1,000 words? Also, I’ll try to follow the discussion on the comments board as closely as I can, and to keep it serious and on-topic. ~HC

We have been quarrelling over Iran. We have no sure common idea of the path to follow or of what we have in common at all. What are we? Concerned? Interested? Compelled? On what common ground could we stand? Where, in the past, have such ties bound? Internationalism goes back to Lafayette, Napoleon Bonaparte, Lord Byron, Frederick Engels, Vladimir Lenin, and most powerfully, to the International Brigade that fought the fascists in the Spanish Civil War and to Che Guevara, the extraordinarily successful champion of the wretched of the earth, who was born of a white-settler family in Argentina.
Historical internationalism would also have to include “liberation theology”, and the “pedagogy of the oppressed” as championed by Paulo Freire.
The fully constituted independent nations of the earth are more numerous than ever. At about 200, they have probably doubled in number in living memory, and now for the first time in history they cover almost the entire habitable land-surface of the planet. The available common model for internationalism is therefore the anti-colonialism that has led to this proliferation of free nation-states. The next available common model is the 1939-1945 World War against fascism, in whose shadow we have all lived.
For those who used to be involved in it, it is still a surprise that the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) that was such a poor relation for most of its three decades of life, appears now in retrospect as a mighty exemplar of both these compulsive strains of internationalism: anti-colonialism and anti-fascism. How, then, did the AAM work?


The AAM was a movement of the country where it was founded (Britain) and subsequently and independently, of other countries. It was not subsidiary to the South African liberation movement, and did not report to it or take orders from it; but it had close contact with the liberation movement and did not ignore it. The AAM was democratic. It had to rest upon the interests of the British people in the first place, and to strive to become an expression of their will. It published, demonstrated, ramified, diversified and allied itself. It was a democracy. It was a mass movement. It was not an NGO or “non-profit” organisation beholden to its funders. The AAM had a small full-time staff but its strength was its voluntary membership, who paid for the maintenance of the organisation with their contributions.
Its aim was to have opposition to apartheid accepted by the entire British people as being an embodiment of their best interests. The AAM did achieve this goal, having started decades earlier with a small appeal around a few shops in North London, for people to voluntarily stop buying South African oranges. It was a direct mass-action movement, and not primarily a movement that called for sanctions or any government action. Sanctions were government’s attempt to recover the initiative after the mass movement had become strong. The AAM wanted voluntary mass boycott, not sanctions. It wanted the direct agency of common people to prevail; but sanctions came along like the lamb’s tail that follows the lamb.
Contemporary with the AAM was another voluntary mass democratic movement of similar size, which still exists because its task is not yet complete. This is the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). But outside Britain, it seems that such large institutionalised democratic “single-issue” campaigns are rare. In South Africa, although we have a serious interest in Zimbabwe and Swaziland, both of them on our borders, solidarity groups are in practice small, unchanging cliques with no hold on a mass membership. In the USA, a peace movement may mushroom but at election time, instead of it rising to the occasion, it melts away to nothing.
So now, almost a generation after the “democratic breakthrough” against apartheid in South Africa, we find at international level that a country, or countries plural, might adopt “sanctions” (punishments) against another country. These could begin with the summoning of ambassadors for a telling-off, and escalate from there. Presently there are sanctions on Zimbabwe.
But sanctions are problematic. Sanctions start to imply a virtual world authority. Sanctions tend towards reversing the independence struggle. Sanctions interfere with national sovereignty. So we must ask, what is this thing called national sovereignty?
We could begin with the nailing of Martin Luther’s 95 theses to a church door in Germany nearly 500 years ago. That was the beginning of the end of the globalism of Rome, which globalism had by that time reached the Pacific Ocean. The Protestant Reformation sparked a series of huge events including wars. These wars had now to be concluded in the absence of an over-arching power in Rome. It took until 1648 to establish the Peace of Westphalia that fixed the idea of national sovereignty, equality between nations of all sizes, and the prohibition of interference in the internal affairs of other nations.
This Westphalian idea of sovereignty is what was fought for in the 20th century, from the 1905 independence of Norway onwards, but especially after the end of the anti-fascist war in 1945. Westphalian independence was for all intents and purposes taken as synonymous with freedom, or “the good that contains all other goods” as International Brigader Christopher Caudwell called it.
The counter-trend, towards creation of world authority in the shape of the United Nations and many other world institutions, is at least ambiguous, if not altogether reactionary. It dilutes and sometimes negates (as recently, for example, in Iraq) the national sovereignty that the Europeans had upheld for three centuries. When national sovereignty began to apply to their former colonies, the ex- and neo-colonial powers sought to modify it.
How might we construct a general grand unified theory of sovereignty and solidarity? What firm material can we assemble for this construction project?
All phenomena owe their development to the struggle of opposites within the unity that is the phenomenon’s system. The phenomenon of the nation-state began to be understood in this kind of way after the publication in 1651, three years after the Peace of Westphalia, of Thomas Hobbes “Leviathan”, including its astonishing “Frontispiece” showing a giant made up of millions of individuals.
So the first firm thing we have is the internally-generated determination of the nature and quality of each nation-state. Westphalia recognised this. Upon the back of this a doctrine is erected of “the right of nations to self-determination”. In this way the pretext for, but also the limits of, the Byronic or Guevaran solidarity initiative from outside can be formulated. Caudwell and Guevara were not afraid to invade and fight, and both died as a consequence, whereas the Anti-Apartheid Movement grew by confining its actions to individual boycott, albeit on a mass scale. There is legitimate international action, but the boundary of its legitimacy is always contested and judged according to circumstances.
The second thing we must reclaim for our building project is the advance from globalism to equality. We must insist that in 1648 the Peace of Westphalia got it right, whereas centralisation of moral and legal power today (in Europe, of course) as the “international community” of public opinion, or as the International Criminal Court, or as trump-card “human rights”, is NOT getting it right, three and a half centuries later. To see this, we must be able to see why a single planetary republic would be different in kind and a worse thing as compared to democratic republics that have formed voluntarily, and meet each other as equals. The easiest example of self-organising equality is the Internet. We know it makes sense. Reversion towards a quasi-papal world authority is a big step backwards. We are all called upon to be adults now. It is no use for us to be arguing about who are parents and who are children.
On JWN we manage, as autonomous individuals, to sustain a visible community in the absence of any external coercive apparatus. This is the way forward.
Other commonplace principles apply. It is not all right to presume guilt. It is not all right to accuse and then to treat the accused as tainted. Our now-President, Jacob Zuma, had to endure such things for many years. We fought them with him and elected him President of our country. South Africans would not like to see a world where allegations are treated as fact, and governments hastily toppled on that basis. We have to presume that they present themselves in public as free agents responsible for themselves, just like individual citizens.
Nothing is said above about “colour-” or bogus foreign-power interventions dressed up as “revolutions”, except insofar as such bogus revolutions are invariably in favour of “the globalism of the rich” or new papacy, which we must explicitly reject (see above). The powers should be even more circumspect than individuals. National sovereignty and non-interference in the affairs of other countries; these are the watchwords.

33 thoughts on “Democratic Westphalianism, or The Principles

  1. scott h

    Much stimulating material to chew on here Dominic, but as I’m not grasping the core thrust of your argument, I think I’ll start with a few short questions:
    What is meant by the AAM and CND as “democratic” For whom? Why does it matter if they had connections to the ANC or not? Surely a critical effort by resistance within South Africa was precisely to gain the meaningful support of the rest of the world?
    And what exactly did Westphalia get “right” that “the international community or world opinion” did not?
    Didn’t “world opinion” (in all its diverse manifestations) help in changing course in South Africa — much as it surely did with countless other struggles? Of relevance, what’s your interpretation of the seminal Algerian struggle for independence — with its conscious struggle to battle for international opinion (in France, America, & elsewhere)? (e.g. as per Matthew Connelly’s account: http://www.ccc.nps.navy.mil/si/2004/feb/moranRvFeb04.asp)
    Why would we want a “unified grand theory of sovereignty”?
    Reminds me of Inis Claude’s legendary conceptualizations between “chunk” and “basket” approaches to S. The former was a solid “legal” approach, a rock, indivisible, you were either sovereign or not; pregnant or not. The basket approach to sovereignty was more amorphous, you had to lift off the cover and consider the actual contents, the multitudinous shades of pink, that some countries were more “sovereign” than others, some more “independent” — others more dependent.

  2. scott h

    But perhaps of greatest interest to me, as a student of rebel struggles for “international legitimacy,” is this quote:
    “There is legitimate international action, but the boundary of its legitimacy is always contested and judged according to circumstances.”
    Sounds important, but not sure of your use of the term “legitimacy” here? I’m guessing you’re referring to international action. (rather than to the “legitimacy” of a given government) I think I agree with you that it’s a malleable subject, not “invariably” bent in one direction of the other, the object of contests, within international opinion(s), not fixed in one ideological camp or political block.
    But I may well misread this too. Maybe I missed them,, but in your estimation, when would “circumstances” confer legitimacy?

  3. Domza

    Hi Scott and thanks for reading my stuff. Let me at once confess to having avoided the “core thrust” type of formulation, deliberately!
    Let me go first to your question about why Westaphalia was right and is still right, and ask you to bring in some of your protestantism, as I understand it to be, following your last post about the “Piece Church”.
    Please tell this Catholic boy why I am wrong to think that the Reformation was a rejection of the world authority of the Pope of Rome, and of all such world authority? At this stage, I, the Catholic, am agreeing with that rejection of a central authority, but you, the proddy from my point of view, are defending it.
    Your nation was founded by people who rejected such a single authority; yet now you seek to become that single authority. Can you explain that contradiction?
    I think that when we nations meet as equals we meet as adults. I think that this is the way forward for the believers, as much as it is for the followers of the Communist Manifesto, which speaks of the free development of each being the condition for the free development of all.
    I think this is a major moral and religious question. It is around this question of unmediated equality before God that I feel a sense of attraction towards the historic Protestant point of view. I would like to have some Quaker opinions on this question, as well as yours, dear Scott.
    I’ll come back again about the AAM.

  4. Domza

    The AAM and the CND were democracies of their members, who were British.
    You say that it was a critical effort of the SA liberation movement to gain the meaningful support of the outside world. That may be true in some sense, but they were different from the AAM. They were South African and not British, and their interest was to have a safe rear from which to mount their own successful political or military assault on the apartheid regime. It is a mistake to think that the South African liberation movement came overseas to beg for other powers to fight their battles for them. It is a mistake that people make because they read history backwards.
    The British AAM, unlike the South Africans, had to argue British reasons for a morally-defensible and practically feasible strategy and tactics against Apartheid. The answer was a South African (originally Irish) tactic, the boycott, so that we could say that we don’t compromise ourselves by buying South African stuff. That tactic was good enough.
    The boycott was legitimate. It was not an interference in another country. It was a simple refusal to do business. It was based on the British interest in not embroiling themselves with Apartheid. The boycott was a choice made by British people that they had every right to make.
    I am saying you must have a watertight case of this kind, in each case. That is what I mean by circumstances; but we are also looking for a general theory.
    The Spanish Civil War was a different set of circumstances. It was argued, correctly in my view, and especially in the light of subsequent history, that fascism was a menace to the world that was making its move in Spain but had no intention of stopping there. The International Brigade fought in defense of one democratic republic, as the front line in defence of all democratic Westphalian republics against the menace of a world-dominating fascism (a fascist popery). The International Brigade was a Westphalian brigade. It had a watertight raison d’etre.
    Everybody must have his own justifiable reasons. There is no general authority and there is no universal moral ground that you can stand on, Scott. That would be Popery! The general theory we are looking for is an anti-Popery theory.
    I called it a “grand unified theory of sovereignty and solidarity”, that is, one that unifies the theory of sovereignty and the idea of solidarity. I hope you can see what I mean by now. In the above two cases, solidarity was materialised and justified as a defence of sovereignty and a refusal to violate sovereignty. Sovereignty was the bottom line.
    In recent years we have the likes of Geldof and Bono prancing around on very thin moral ice. They hang out with the modern pope-substitutes, the UN S-Gs. Whose interests do they represent? Then there is Avaaz.com, big on off-the-peg morals but with no locus standii at all. These are re-workings of the colonialist mentality that preaches to the world while remaining rich and dominant. These are mock movements, the counterpart of the bogus “colour” revolutions. It’s all copied from the originals but with only the appearance and none of the substance.
    Let me come back about Algeria, later.

  5. Domza

    That article about Algeria is most peculiar. There is next to nothing in it about the political economy of Algeria. Nothing about the personalities, either. No De Gaulle, no Secret Army, no Ben Bella, no Boumedienne. How did the “international community” affect the situation? It didn’t. The matter was the same as it was in Vietnam. The people did not want to be ruled by another country. It was the same in the majority of the countries of the world.
    The article mentions Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, still a great favourite today but not really propaganda for the FLN. Insofar as he mentions the newly-independent countries, by the way, Fanon lambastes them mercilessly.
    So, where your writer give sources, they don’t connect. Otherwise, there are no sources. The last paragraph is weird. What does “The withering away of the state has been proclaimed before” mean?
    I don’t personally think that rebels struggle for international legitimacy. They insist on it with maximum arrogance, the arrogance of the righteous, and you as an outsider can’t have any piece of it. If you as an outsider want to do solidarity, then you must have your own good reasons for doing it, and they must be based on Westphalian theory. In that case you can deal with the people of the other country as an equal, in a relationship of mutual respect. You have your reasons and they have theirs. You have a businesslike unity-in-action. It works. Geldofism-Bonoism doesn’t work, it just churns.

  6. bb

    The Treaty of Westphalia was when the reactionary catholic establishment in Europe finally surrendered to the Protestant Reformation. It was driven by the inexorable logic of the march to capitalism and modernisation. That is, unstoppable economic imperatives. No mystery there.
    Am not sure how the anti-apartheid movement in the late 20th centruy can be directly sourced to the Treaty. However it is certainly true that when the liberated South Africans modelled their electoral system on that of the jewish state in Israel, it certainly signalled that South Africa had joined the modern world. The jewish people have always been at the vanguard of modernisation and therefore always demonised and denied.
    The Iran revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979 occurred at about the same chronological point in the history of Islam (16 centuries) that it took Christinity to experience reformation and its (temporary) retreat into fundamentalism. No mysteries there either. But I think the Treaty has more to teach us about Iran than it does about South Africa.

  7. Roger Hayes

    By happenstance, I just saw Shaw’s “Saint Joan”, which is on point for this discussion. That aside, my comments:
    One crucial point has gone begging from Mr. Tweedie’s essay: what is a nation?
    Also, I must say that I find neither “that’s so Catholic” nor “that’s so Protestant” to be compelling political arguments. Perhaps they are shorthand for something more convincing?

  8. Domza

    BB, the Catholics were not required to genuflect to the Protestants in 1648. Nor was the Westphalian settlement about the selling of indulgences, or any other particular religious thing. Nor was it about any such general idea as “modernisation”, or “capitalism”.
    What Rome did have to give up was any hope of becoming once again the arbiter of international relations, as it had been until about 1500. Westphalia did not replace Rome as arbiter. Instead it finished with the requirement for a higher authority on earth, altogether. This much is clear about the Westphalian Peace.
    It therefore became possible for nations in normal circumstances to live as equals, each one restraining its power within its borders, and without an overall enforcer. This remains the situation today. War, though not abolished, henceforth had always to be resolved in favour of Westphalian solutions, i.e. adult solutions.
    There was no capitalism in 1648. The Atlantic slave economy, which was incompatible with capitalism, was in its dominant heyday in the West, while in the East feudalism ruled. Only in the 19th century did slavery and feudalism get fully pushed aside in favour of the new method of extracting surplus value from a waged working proletarian class and also, unfortunately, in favour of new forms of colonialism at that time.
    The successful 20th-century anti-colonial struggles for independence, including South Africa’s liberation struggle, were conceived of and executed in terms of the kind of sovereignty that is universally acknowledged as having its practical origin in the Peace of Westphalia.
    Roger Hayes, thanks, what you suggest is a natural move to make, namely to ask what we in SA call “The National Question”. There is a large literature on it. The best short piece is Joe Slovo’s. Find it at:
    http://www.sacp.org.za/main.php?include=docs/history/1988/ndr.html
    Concerning Protestants and Catholics, I am saying that the Protestants got what they wanted in 1648, which was not to crush the Catholics as such, but to be able to live as autonomous human subjects equal beside the Catholics before God, or at least with no Papal intermediary between themselves and God. In other words the Protestants did not abolish the Pope, but they abolished the Pope’s globalism, and by extension therefore, all globalism. (The fear of the Pope, as fear of foreign domination and taxation, remained up to modern times a big factor. At least in British politics it did.)
    The religious and the political aspects of this original abolition of globalism seem to me impossible to separate. Yet what we see now is that the successors and descendants of the same western free-thinking Protestants are seeking world hegemony and even “full spectrum dominance”. How did that happen, Roger?
    The aim of this discussion was to establish a morally defensible and practically efficacious basis for international solidarity, following deep disagreements about this matter here on JWN, during the aftermath of the Iran presidential election.

  9. bb

    “BB, the Catholics were not required to genuflect to the Protestants in 1648. Nor was the Westphalian settlement about the selling of indulgences, or any other particular religious thing.”
    The Treaty was the culmination of three wars. Firstly the 30 Year War between the atavistic, reactionary, catholic ancien regimes of the Holy Roman Empire, including France and Spain, and its Lutheran and Calvinist protestant subjects in (what is now) Germany, Netherlands and at various times Demark, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Hungary, Poland etc.
    Secondly the overlapping 80 Year War between the reactionary catholic ancien regime of Spain and the protestant Low Countries (Netherlands, Belgium etc.) Thirdly the French Wars of Religion between the ancien French regime and its protestant rebels (Huegenots)
    These wars were about nothing as trivial as the sale of indulgences, but between an ancien world order represented by the hierarchies nominally beholden to the – as you say “global” – catholic church and reformers/modernisers, mainly protestants, seeking to create a new world order.
    What Westphalia did was to allow the reformer protestant states, aided by the protestant whigs in england, the freedom and space to advance their NWO and to become rapidly very wealthy and powerful imperial nation states. Their once omnipotent catholic ancien regime opponents, by contrast, were reduced to fighting each other while their economies and power declined.
    Of the three wars, the only one that was decisive for the catholic anciens was the French defeating the and expelling the Huegenots. This mean’t the French had to wait another 140 years for their modernising revolution and Napoleponic code, but even then their religious clinging onto the old ways put them at the mercy of protestant Prussia/Germany in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Spain of course never got to modernising until the last half of the 20th century. The civil war in 1930s being won by the church.
    To suggest that neither the religious divides of the time nor the advance of capitalism played any part in all of this is very odd? Particularly when you don’t seem to realise that in saying Rome had to finally give up being arbiter and further that Westphalia “finished with the requirement for a higher authority on earth, altogether.” that you are confirming the protestant/modernisers victory over the superstitions of old world.

  10. Domza

    Aha!
    Yes, BB, I am confirming the protestant/modernisers’ victory, as you put it, of 1648, that finished with the requirement for a higher authority on earth.
    I confirm that that is what happened, that it was good, that I support it, and that I oppose the re-imposition of any global moral, spiritual or temporal authority.

  11. bb

    “that I oppose the re-imposition of any global moral, spiritual or temporal authority.”
    Dom, in that case I think you better start supporting the banning of global information technology, global banking systems and global trade? Perhaps you already do?

  12. Domza

    BB, Information technology and specifically the Internet is an example of a world order (if you insist on that phrase) that operates without authority or hierarchy, and I have already said many times that I think it is a good example of a grown-up way of people dealing with each other. I hope you understand me now.

  13. Domza

    Another example of an ordering without an external ordering power is language (any language). A language grows, adjusts, absorbs, adapts, only by the action of the language users, and without any external authority to press them, drag them or coerce them. This has been so since the beginning of language. Language proves that not only is this kind of human organisation-without-a-state the most sublime, but also can be the most ancient.

  14. Domza

    As for global banking systems, is this a trick question, BB? Don’t you know that each country has its own central bank that fixes interest rates and that money, the most fungible commodity, tradeable electronically and with negligible friction, is yet not as globalised as other commodities are?
    Actually the question of “authority” is very much to the point when it comes to money, and I guess a good rule of thumb would be: If money needs an “authority” it’s because it is being fiddled for somebody elase’s benefit, and not yours.

  15. Domza

    As for global trade, this is not a religious conviction. Trade is trade. It is invariably reducible to a contract between two parties. What is “global” about that?
    The reason it can be physically global is first of all not any agreements, but only the existence of oceans.
    Once again, it is global AUTHORITY that I am condemning.

  16. bb

    Global info technology, global banking and global trade have all come out of western democracies, powered by that most notorious western protestant-based democracy, the United States. That’s why English is the second language du jour. All on direct line back to those three wars and Westphalia! The times we live in.

  17. Domza

    Thanks, BB, you have really helped me a lot. You have made it clear that the former protestants have become the catholics of our time, and the catholics of old are now the protestants of today.
    Moral choices can only be made by free people. When Americans come to Africa to gaze at innocent beasts killing each other, and at the poor people in their constrained simplicity, they betray something about themselves.
    When Americans put the wild in the place where their morality should be, it is noticed. If people become to them abstractions to be measured on a yardstick of their prior construction, it is evident that morality has left them. Their yardstick is only themselves.
    Actually all this happened as soon as the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in America.
    It is also the case that the period of modern slavery, and modern colonialism, coincided with the Protestant Ascendancy. Slavery, colonialism and Protestantism are all one in history and they cannot be disentangled retrospectively, be it ever so uncomfortable a fact to accept.
    When tormented souls descend upon Africa or or Asia from your America, anxious to impose a prescriptive morality, we Africans or Asians can easily see that their mental disturbance has to do with themselves and not with us.
    Africans travelling in metropolitan capitals such as London, New York or Washington can find philosophers there who use the word “we” when they preach, as if they speak for the entirety of “homo sapiens”. It is not possible to do that from the standpoint of Johannesburg or any other “peripheral” place. From here it is much easier to see who is a free subject and who is not; in fact it is impossible to be blind to such moral realities.
    Your sense of morality is like that of a child. It encompasses the entire world, and the entire world for you, is you. Your morality is vast, and hollow. As Protestant as it may declare itself to be, it has become the replica of the thing it set out to oppose, which was the Roman Catholic Church of five centuries ago.

  18. vadim

    When Americans come to Africa to gaze at innocent beasts killing each other, and at the poor people in their constrained simplicity, they betray something about themselves.
    Domza, “Americans” come from 25 million square miles and number almost a billion. BB to my knowledge isn’t one of them. You’re lecturing the wrong gal.

  19. Domza

    Vadim, thanks for giving me another bite. Not that I want to repeat in detail what I have already said about the kind of hollow anglo-protestant globaloney that BB espouses with such frank clarity. For that please re-read some of the above, if you please.
    I don’t usually refer to “Americans”, as you know. But in this case I am speaking from experience and it is not germane to my point where exactly they come they from in America. They come from the metropolis. They go to the bush, looking for morality. They gaze at the poor, hoping to find authenticity (portable).
    Of course these absurdities are products of the “western democracies” that BB, although she is Australian, fully identifies with. You, too, Vadim, know very well that “western democracy” is a totalising, universalising church, of which you are also a part.
    Yet protestantism, as far as it was ever revolutionary and not just reformist, insisted that all individual humans, and all nations, are equal under God, who has no representative on Earth. I appeal to all you Protestants, with a capital “P”, if there are any of you left, to confess that truth once more.

  20. vadim

    You, too, Vadim, know very well that “western democracy” is a totalising, universalising church, of which you are also a part.
    Dom as usual your own moralizing is vast, and hollow. you really need to stop making generalizations about what other people think, vast blocs of people, entire religions, continents and cultures. Stop putting words in our mouths. Putting words into another person’s mouth is a killer of dialogue!. Do not tell me again what I or any of the 300 million people of the USA, or the other “metropolitans” think. You have no more basis to speak for THEM or for me than we have to speak for the rest of humanity.
    Its peculiar that “metropolitans speaking for homo sapiens’ arouses such ire, yet you claim to speak for over half this amount yourself with representations on behalf of “we Africans or Asians”. You do not speak for Africa, or Asia Dominic. You are not even OF Africa or Asia! You are a white european who lives in Africa.
    I agree that “western democracy” is a silly expression, even sillier than your constructions about “american morality.” But your “protestant” slurs are most mystifying. The quakers are protestants and they were intrumental in abolishing slavery, which as you well know has existed throughout recorded history and by all cultures and religions. And in fact the Catholic Church uniquely encouraged the growth of “modern slavery” (sic) through the Dum Diversas. Portuguese and Spaniards slavers — the main actors in the atlantic slave trade– were generally Catholics as you should know.

  21. Domza

    Modern slavery was unique in terms of its industrial scale and for the fact that the slaves were treated as disposable. The reproduction of the slave work-force took place in Africa, and from there the plantations were constantly replenished by the slave ships during a period of three centuries.
    Modern slavery therefore differed in its main characteristic from ancient slavery by the fact that it systematically worked the slaves to death.
    This modern slavery was also external to the initiators’ territory. Nothing like it existed in Europe itself, or anywhere else then the Atlantic.
    The Atlantic slave trade was also modern in the sense that it had the benefit of international financial services such as letters of credit and insurance, joint-stock equity finance, and a market in fixed-interest bonds. All of these instruments, centralised in London, Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow, were later put to use in the service of capitalism proper, but they had their origin in the slave trade period.
    It is true that the Portuguese, as soon as they passed Cape Bojador in 1434, took black slaves, and it is true that these slaves were sold to the Spanish and worked to death on the Canary Islands following the slavery and extinction of the indigenous people of those islands. Thus was set up in rudimentary form the triangular pattern that was subsequently scaled across the North and South Atlantic.
    What the Portuguese did in 1434 was not merely to re-invent slavery, but to do so on a new colonial, commercial and racial basis. The consequences were almost unimaginably terrible.
    The consequences include the racism that survives today as part of the capitalist exploitation that superseded both feudalism and slavery.
    Yet for as much as the Christian Iberians invented the new system, yet it very soon passed out of their hands. The slave trade as a world phenomenon in its three centuries of existence was an anglophone and a Protestant affair. There is absolutely no doubt about that, Vadim.
    As for the Quakers and others who abolished slavery so that they could replace it with capitalism, sure, they did do that. The people who ran it and benefited from it when it was a good thing for them, were also the ones that eventually abolished modern slavery when they saw that it had become a drag on their prosperity, and a hurdle between them and the much more lucrative system of exploitation called capitalism.
    For all that, what I would like to hear from these Protestants is not so much their apology for the slave trade, but rather their reaffirmation of the Protestant creed of equality of human beings and of nations before God. This is the creed that should have prevented them from taking part in the slave trade in the first place. An apology without such a reaffirmation would not be a lot of use.

  22. bb

    “You have made it clear that the former protestants have become the catholics of our time, and the catholics of old are now the protestants of today.”
    Dom, the above statement is perplexing.
    The Treaty of Westphalia was more than three and a half centuries ago. Protestantism has long since evolved into secularism. And so has catholicism.
    The religious divides at the time of Westpahalia have long been superceded by a secular political divide.
    That is, in the west. Not so much yet in the Muslim world. But that is because Islam is at the same stage of its chronological development as christianity was at the time of the Reformation when it retreated first into fundamentalism as a means of eventually throwing off god’s higher authority on earth and creating the modern world.
    You can see it in the Islamic Republic of Iran with its retreat into fundamentalism in reaction to the pressure to modernise. Which is now coming under further pressure from an increasingly securalised population, particularly the young people. Very much as the result of globalisation, partic in information. This is what Helena highlighted when she posted about young “glamour pusses chanting “Alluha Akbar”
    This catholic/protestant sensitivity – I thought you were a marxist?

  23. Domza

    Well, BB, one does try to guide the perplexed. Let me quote from Dr Marx’s tender, beautiful and thrilling Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843):
    “…criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.
    “Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.”
    Of course it is better to read the whole thing. If you are interested try Marxists Internet Archive. Suffice it to say that we students of Marx are not anti-religious; we are profoundly and inescapably interested in religion, just like everyone else on the planet, with a few exceptions, possibly including yourself.
    For that reason, and other reasons even more Marxist, one would not want to counter your mechanical theory of constant chronological religious development with another one that would say that Islam is six centuries more modern than Christianity and always will be. These types of arguments are of no use, and have in any case been redundant since the time of Hegel, two centuries ago.
    What is clear from the daily evidence of JWN and its recent (post-June-12, 2009) archive is that a person like Scott Harrop, but not him alone, can approach Iran bearing a sense of universal righteousness that allows him to judge that country and anyone in it, and to judge anybody else in the world who has an opinion about Iran.
    His sense of righteousness is like a stick or a sword that can strike at anything, and destroy anything, but he believes that it can do no moral harm. So he strikes out freely and with a clear conscience, and he is but one of a vast horde of such righteously-armed pilgrims.
    Marxism, if you have any, will help you to understand that it is of no effect to call such an overbearing sense of righteousness secular, or religious, at base. Secular versus religious is only another false dichotomy. Human beings do in fact negotiate their political crises analogously through religion.
    The argument against popery is an argument against globalism. Yet the Protestants did create an order that was even more monolithic, pervasive and invasive than popery. The English revolutionaries who had thrown off their own King proceeded at once to impose a more terrible colonialism upon Ireland than the English kings had ever done, and built for the first time a permanent navy and a standing army so as to impose themselves upon the world at large. The American protestant colonists turned to genocide of their neighbours and witch-hunting among themselves.
    In spite of all of that, and speaking both as a student of Karl Marx and as an ordinary human being, I am personally impressed with the sincerity of Helena Cobban and Scott Harrop and sometimes think that a revival of the old dissenters’ intellectual rigour and courage might be the thing that could turn the corner and save us all.
    So I appeal to all those Protestants: Come out now for peace and reclaim those original principles of yours that went so quickly down the drain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; and look a little more kindly, please, upon those Iranians who have also tried to reconcile the religious and the secular and have not yet made nearly so many mistakes as the Christian Protestants did in the same attempt.

  24. vadim

    It’s funny that you should fault Scott for being too judgmental Dominic. If there’s one thing that distinguishes your posts, it’s their judgmental, self righteous tone .
    Johannesburg is hardly a “peripheral place” from the perspective of world capitalism. Standard Bank is a significant presence in the global market, most especially in oil trading, where they are a primary market marker equal to a Barclays or Goldman Sachs. As you likely know they have employees of every color and creed, offices in a dozen world capitals, and an equally diverse roster of shareholders. How does Standard fit into your popish globalistic plot? To which pope do they report? To which government? To China, which owns so many of their shares? To the UK, where they trade their oil? To South Africa where they are based and where the board of directors lives?
    here’s their board of directors:
    http://www.standardbank.co.za/site/investor/corp_directors01.html
    No bearded eminence at the helm.
    Personally I applaud them, as I applaud any decentralized transparent global institution of diverse ownership. But unlike Standards shareholders on the Jo’berg exchange (any of whom can attend meetings, vote etc) Iranians are stuck with a very popish sounding “Supreme Leader.” that’s why I cry for the Iranians Dominic, because they lack the freedom to steer their nation’s commercial development the way standard’s South African, Chinese Russian and American shareholders are free to do, without fear of beating or imprisonment for “insulting religion” as we have all witnessed directly in recent days.

  25. Domza

    Well thanks, Vadim. Naturally I don’t agree with much of what you have said in this latest post of yours but at least it does bring us back to the heart of the matter, and the topic of this thread, which is: On what ground may a person stand in solidarity with the people of another country?
    What you have now done, with respect, is to stand “Westphalia” on its head. Westphalia was a victory for the Protestants to the extent that it did away with the global universalism of the Roman Catholic papacy (and thus with all global authority), but it did not do away with any “Supreme Leader” in any country, and especially not the Pope of Rome. On the contrary, Westphalia said that such a project to interfere in any sovereign state was no longer to be accepted. Both Catholics and Protestants signed it.
    You and the rest of your horde of righteous pilgrims now wish to stand in judgement on Iran on general grounds, so as to bring it into line with the normative “Standard Bank” scenario that you spell out here. One could say that Iran is actually quite a normal bourgeois country with which South Africans do business and in which South Africans invest money; but I am quite sure you would brush all that aside, because “Standard Bank” means much more to you than banking, or bourgeois business practices.
    With its little shield and flag emblem, Standard Bank stands, in your eyes, for more than what it is as a business, and one can easily understand what you mean. It is just as easy to understand as the mitre and the crook of the Bishop of Rome. But one does not have to accept it as a moral authority, in either case, and of course I won’t do that, Vadim.
    What a person may speak of with honesty and authority is his own interest. In the case of the Anti-Apartheid Movement it was based upon the democratically-expressed interest of the British people, and not upon the imposition of a quasi-papal judgement over another country. The current Western mob hysteria over Iran is not like the Anti-Apartheid Movement in that respect. If it has any “locus standii”, the bulbous interest in Iran can only be located in the material self-interest of people such as yourself, Vadim, who play the stock exchanges of the world, and who imagine yourselves to be cosmopolitan demiurges.
    To that extent your case is more reasonable, even if no more attractive, than that of Scott, who unlike you does not present himself with the frank self-interest of the investor, but instead appeals to a universal moral conscience that does not exist, should not exist, and will never exist in that way. That ineffable, universal moral righteousness is a fraud; and for a proddy to aspire to stand so, in that space between we other mortals and God, is nothing less than a revival of papacy in proddy clothing.

  26. JES

    You know, you have to admire Helena for providing space for Dominic to set up his own blog!
    Perhaps Dominic, the time has come for you to set up your own blog, though. You know, it only takes… what was that… oh yes… 32 seconds.

  27. Domza

    I have a perfectly good blog already thanks very much, JES, even if it has been in mothballs for about a year. It’s called Communist University. I hope to re-start it, soon.
    But you didn’t jump in just to give me an opening to plug my blog, did you, JES? You jumped in because this thread had just got pinned back where it was supposed to be, and you are not keen on that discussion coming to the surfaced, are you?
    The question on this thread is: On what ground may a person stand in solidarity with the people of another country?
    You, JES, do not want to see that particular question asked or answered, do you? And we all know why, don’t we?

  28. JES

    No Dominic. It was just a suggestion. I’m perfectly happy to sit back and watch BB and Vadim beat you up right here.

  29. Domza

    Well that’s quite o.k., JES, and that is why this thread is justified on Just World News.
    The question of what grounds a person may have to stand upon, speak from or give as reasons to act in solidarity with the people of another country is what is being interrogated in this thread.
    Whether my point of view, which is that the free-willing human subject is the key to this and all other moral questions, or another point of view that says there is an a priori or archetypal universal standard of justice to which we should seek Platonically to return, should prevail, is not for me to impose, but it is surely a question that is of prime interest to JWN, its contributors, and its silent readers.
    So I do not feel any embarrassment, JES, for the fact of my trying to sustain this discussion, or for losing all the arguments, if I am losing them, which is not really for me to judge.

  30. vadim

    You and the rest of your horde of righteous pilgrims now wish to stand in judgement on Iran on general grounds
    I’m not “judging Iran” at all but some tiny subset of its current leadership, and not on general grounds but those I thought might resonate with you based on your post (voluntary international mass action, individual rights, my example Standard’s free-form democratic mass of shareholders). It’s their self-interest I have in mind, not my own.
    I don’t think Scott is “judging Iran” either but standing in solidarity with the protesters he sees clubbed by armored thugs, mindful of Iran’s sovereignty but also mindful that this sovereignty might have been violently hijacked.
    The shield and flag didn’t register with me; truly I wouldn’t care if Standard’s emblem was a hammer and sickle. As an institution it is creditworthy in the terms you describe because of its democratic free-form character, not its moral code or the emblem on its stationery.
    What a person may speak of with honesty and authority is his own interest
    Beyond “universal moral interests” British citizens had no more obvious personal interest in abolishing apartheid than they do political zionism so your thesis is still unclear. The AAM’s success in mobilising beyond the conventional political constituency for a cause in which the British public had no obvious immediate self-interest, kept alive a morality in British public life which was otherwise lacking in the Thatcher years. That’s Kader Asmal, crediting a public morality, not self-interest for the AAM’s success.
    Even if he’s wrong, would you doubt that the people who oppose Israel’s behavior do so in a spirit identical to the way Scott opposes Iran’s, ie with a universal standard of justice in mind? Mighnt “non-interference in the affairs of other countries” apply to your claim that “Israel has no right to exist?” What practically distinguishes “mass actions” from what we see in Iran, which you have been pooh-poohing as insincere, counterrevolutionary etc? The “mass” and “action” are obvious.
    You still havent clarified how solidarity with disenfranchised Africans/Palestinians = good, disenfranchised Iranians = bad (and by franchise I dont’ just mean the outcome of the vote but the very broad abridgment of political freedom we can all observe directly.)
    I fear a “grand unified theory of sovereignty” will have a hard time dodging these very subjective a priori moral judgments and designations.

  31. Domza

    Thanks, Vadim. Yes, it is hard, isn’t it?
    Yes, I do disagree profoundly with Kader Asmal, over this and over many other matters. Kader Asmal is a South African liberal who lived in the Republic of Ireland and was later a Minister under Thabo Mbeki, but is no longer a Minister. Kader Asmal’s is one face of liberalism while Thatcher’s is another, and that is one explanation of why Asmal applied Thatcherite policies as soon as he had the power to do so, and also one reason why he is now out of government.
    It is also another illustration of how completely unreliable are declarations, may I say bloviations, of Asmal’s notorious type, and also yours when you say “It’s their self-interest I have in mind, not my own.” This is the kind of statement that is known to lead to guffaws among the equine community.
    Clearly it was in the best interest of British people to have nothing to do with apartheid and on that basis the AAM’s boycott campaign was a straightforward piece of work, which did not rely on synchronised morality. All sorts of people could and did get involved. Asmal clones were very few among them, I can assure you.
    In the case of Iran, in my opinion, South Africans have a strong interest in supporting the working of Iranian democracy (and also any other democracy including the Palestinian democracy). The behaviour of the defeated candidate and his supporters in and out of Iran were a threat to that democracy, in my opinion. Therefore my solidarity is with those Iranians who accept the declared result.
    Uri Avnery is quite delightfully mordant on the whole matter, if you are interested, in Counterpunch. I do recommend that article of his.
    It’s not about supporting Ahmadinejad per se, but about democracy, the mass electorate, and the process, because we have a strategic stake in the maintenance and furtherance of democracy.
    As South Africans we have a vital interest in the stabilisation of democratic due process in the world, as well as internally in our own country. I do believe that this is the other side of the Westphalian coin, if I can put it like that. Internal republican democracy, supporting independence and national sovereignty, and in foreign policy, equality with other nations large and small. This is an organic set, that we South Africans need to support everywhere we can.
    Attempts at “colour revolutions”, including the Iranian attempted putsch of June 2009, are antagonistic to democracy. So our solidarity should not go with those colour revos, Vadim. It’s not good for us.
    This week’s Honduras putsch is also not good for us, by the way.

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