CVI – History Matters

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I
believe in the virtue of small nations. I believe in
the virtue of small numbers. The world will be saved by
the few.

~
Andr Gide

Students
of American history know that had the French not arrived in time
to support the colonials in their struggle to secede from the
British Empire, modern investors might now be concerned with how
the American pound was faring against the Euro. While the French
were motivated primarily by the opportunity to have another whack
at the British, it is nonetheless true that Americans owed the
outcome of the so-called "Revolutionary War" to France's
intervention.

There is
a more recent indebtedness to France that most Americans lack
the decency to acknowledge: the refusal of Chirac's regime to
join forces with George W. Bush's unprovoked aggression against
Iraq, the first step in a neocon-inspired effort to get the world
to prostrate itself at the feet of American emperors. By refusing
to join with such lap dogs as Tony Blair — eager to roll over
in exchange for any morsel of recognition from the grand imperator
— the French became a symbol to other nations of the importance
of pursuing a course of principled integrity in dealing with others.

Americans
are not the only people indebted to a French obstinacy at being
stampeded into a destructive herd frenzy. In voting to reject
the constitution of the European Union, France may have dealt
a crushing blow to the efforts of the political establishment
to create another monolithic state system, a result that will
doubtless benefit the people of Europe. Dutch opponents of the
EU, perhaps taking heart from the French, amassed a nearly 62%
"nee" vote. The German parliament — not the voters —
had earlier ratified the EU constitution, a reflection, perhaps,
of a continuing desire for centralized power that has characterized
that nation since at least 1870.

I have long
been of the opinion that vertically-structured power systems —
such as that implicit in the nation-state — are bound to collapse,
taking with them the civilized societies upon which they feed.
I have been amazed, however, at how rapidly this disintegrative
process has progressed. The demise of the Soviet Union was the
first major victim of the arrogance of centrally-directed authority.
I also believe — as the subtitle to this continuing E-book suggests
— that the United States will likewise succumb to the fatal virus
of coercive bigness. I have had the same confidence that the European
Union would be unable to sustain itself, but I did not suspect
it would be delivered stillborn.

It is interesting
to observe how far removed are the political leaders of countries
such as France, the Netherlands, and Great Britain from the people
they claim to represent. The chief executives of these countries
had campaigned on behalf of the EU, even as public opinion in
each opposed the constitution. So much for the myth of "representative
government." Were I the Prime Minister of Holland, I would
resign in disgrace for having supported a system rejected by over
three-fifths of the electorate. But the attraction of power over
one's fellows easily seduces even the best-intentioned of men
and women.

While it
took many decades for the American political system to evolve
to the point of micromanaging the daily lives of people, the EU
eurocrats were intent on beginning at such a top-down level
of organization. British grocers were criminally prosecuted for
selling vegetables by the pound rather than by grams; window-washers
were prohibited from using ladders in their trade; only straight
bananas were allowed to be sold; even the size and content of
meatballs were strictly defined by the new EU authorities!

In a world
of mixed interests and motivations, it would be foolish to try
to explain these voting outcomes in the singular manner by which
members of the established media — who have long been challenged
by complexity — try to do. Nationalistic sentiments, hostility
to immigration, competing economic interests, religious and cultural
differences, historical memory, and a fear of extended political
power, doubtlessly figured, to one degree or another, into the
calculations of how to vote. That Spanish voters had previously
ratified the EU constitution should caution any temptation to
look for a uniform mindset among Europeans.

My intuitive
sense that vertically-structured leviathan systems are fated to
collapse does not depend upon any major change in thinking among
people. I regard philosophy not so much as a transforming force
in the world but as an afterthought; an explanation for processes
of change working, in hidden ways, deep within the fabric of society
and life itself. This is not to dismiss the significance of ideas,
but to recognize them as our mind's efforts to express qualities
that are already within us. Philosophy accompanies us more
than it leads us. It was not a major paradigm shift in
thinking among the erstwhile Soviet citizenry that brought about
the collapse of that repressive regime. It was the inconsistency
of a rigidified state system with the demands of life processes
that eventually led to the Soviet demise.

The top-down,
command-and-control machinery of state power has run head-on into
the forces of spontaneity and autonomy that are life's processes.
Vertical systems of centralized power are being replaced by horizontal
patterns of interconnectedness. Coercion is giving way to cooperation;
the pyramid is collapsing into networks; Ozymandias' rigid structures
are eroding into formless but flexible systems, with names such
as "Google," "Yahoo," "WebCrawler"
and "Mozilla," that mock the solemnity we once gave
to the dying forms.

Efforts to
understand the dynamics underlying transformations
in our world have produced the studies known as "chaos"
and "complexity." Along with earlier theories of quantum
mechanics, the mechanistic and reductionist model of society as
a "giant clockwork" to be directed by state authorities
toward desired and predictable ends, has been dealt a fatal blow.
We now have ideas to help us enunciate what we earlier knew intuitively,
namely, that a complex world is too unpredictable to become subject
to state planning; that social conflict and disorder are the necessary
consequences of interfering with spontaneous systems of order.

Decades before
"chaos theory" became a popular buzzword, the late Leopold
Kohr had an insight into how the increased size of political systems
correlated with the expansion of warfare and repression. In his
book, The Breakdown of Nations, Kohr developed what he
called the "size theory of social misery." In his view,
"wherever something is wrong, something is too big."
It is inevitable, he goes on, for large state systems to "sweep
up [a] critical quantity of power" where "the mass becomes
so spontaneously vile that . . . it begins to produce a quantum
of its own." A reading of both Kohr and Randolph Bourne flesh
out the dynamics that led the latter to observe that "war
is the health of the state."

Our biological
history should have informed us of the allometric principle that
the appropriate size of any body is relative to the nature of
the organism. A fifty-foot tall woman may make for amusing science
fiction, but an eight foot, eleven inch Robert Wadlow was unable
to live beyond his twenty-second year. Likewise, the massive size
of the dinosaurs did not provide them sufficient resiliency to
adapt to the environmental changes brought about, presumably,
by the earth's collision with a comet. In
Kohr's words, "[o]nly relatively small bodies . . . have
stability. Below a certain size, everything fuses, joins, or accumulates.
But beyond a certain size, everything
collapses or explodes."

A European
Union is a futile effort on the part of the established, institutional
order to resist the changes that are dismantling its power structures.
In much the same way that the Bush administration's empire-motivated
"war on terror" is a cover for trying to shore up the
collapsing foundations of a centrally-managed society, the EU
may be the last hurrah of men and women who are driven by unquenched
appetites for power over others.

The European
power-graspers were as one in mourning the undoing of their dreamed-of
perch of authority. One called the French vote "a disaster,"
having earlier prophesied that such a vote would mean "the
end of Europe." Jean-Luc DeHaene – one of the architects
of the EU constitution — declared that the French vote brought
Europe "to a kind of standstill . . . in a period of uncertainty."
Such views are to be expected from men and women who continue
to embrace, in F.A. Hayek's words, a "fear of trusting uncontrolled
social forces"; people who still believe that societies must
be run from the top, and that they are the ones best suited to
run them!

Other political
voices reflected a more thoughtful assessment of these results.
The president of the Czech Republic observed that the French vote
"demonstrated the deep division that exists between the European
elite and the citizens of Europe." Roman Prodi, a former
president of the European Commission who was disappointed in the
outcome, nonetheless found some solace in the rejection of French
voters to the EU. "This is still better than a war of secession
like the United States once had," he declared.

To most Americans
– who still believe that the Civil War was all about ending
slavery — Prodi's analogy will make little sense. Having been
isolated from the rest of the world by two oceans, Americans also
have a sense of history isolated from the experiences of other
nations. Prodi seems to understand the essence of this disastrous
period in American history far better than most American historians
and students of government apparently do.

The French
and the Dutch people — though not their political leaders — may
well have saved European societies from having fastened around
their necks the kind of vertically-structured, repressive, and
violent super-state system now in retreat before the quiet forces
of chaos and complexity. Leopold Kohr was right: a Europe of independent
but cooperative Luxembourgs, Liechtensteins, Switzerlands, and
Hollands will be far more productive and peaceful than would be
a Europe organized on the models of hegemony that tyrannized and
rampaged that continent in the past.

Europeans,
like the rest of the world, will learn to organize themselves
along horizontal lines of networked relationships, wherein "tops"
and "bottoms" no longer have meaning. The vertical power
structures will continue to waste away, the shrill voices of their
occupants becoming more and more distant from the lives of ordinary
people. Their antiquated forms may remain as tourist attractions
in much the same way that monarchies or the palace at Versailles
have become museum pieces from a past that no longer commands
allegiance.

Europe's
refusal to resist the currents of change now sweeping the world
might even offer lessons to us Americans, provided we can divert
our attention from news reports of runaway brides, Michael Jackson,
and water-skiing squirrels. Perhaps we can learn from our own
history something of which Mr. Prodi was aware: that the best
way to avoid the destructive and warlike nature of the leviathan
state is to never create such mechanisms of "social misery"
in the first place. Having already produced such a monster, the
next best solution is to stop feeding it!

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