The West Contracting to “Middle Ages”? Fine!
EDITORIAL, 13 January 2014
#308 | Johan Galtung, 13 Jan 2014 - TRANSCEND Media Service
An optimistic prediction held by some; but what does it mean?
Let us define that “middle” as thousand years, 250-1250, from the start of the West Roman Empire declining (completed in 476 – 500), to the rise of the Hanseatic League transalpina as another Europe (completed around 1500 with protestantisms, Luther-Zwingli-Calvin; Anglicans).
Apart from the Crusades, 1095-1291, an early introduction to the “Modern Period”, this was a peaceful time in Europe due to the integrative forces of the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”–not Holy, not Roman, not German they say–and the Vatican–Holy?-hm; Roman? Yes. 217 of the 266 popes Italian, so far; No. 2: 16 French.
The Kings ruled by intermarriages, and the Popes by theocracy, in harmony till the 11th century investiture conflict: who appoints the bishops!? The war on Islam, the Crusades 1095-1291 (Pope Urban II) was also used to unify Church and State; and also against Orthodox Christians after the schism in Christianity in 1054 (Pope Leo IX).
Europe contracting into about 500 smaller entities, duchies etc., self-centered, self-reliant, self-sufficient, living lives centered on Afterlives through salvation. “Middle”, between what and what?
Between Antiquity and Modernity, expanding, with states conquering nations and enslaving them, with colonization and imperialism referred to as “discoveries” in textbooks. States around the big rivers are very old, but the system that gave states the right to war dates from the “peace” of Westphalia in 1648. The Enlightenment transformed the theologic of an omnipotent-omniscient-omnipresent God to the state logic of an omnipotent State, the capital logic of an omnipresent Market, and the aristotelian logic of an omniscient Science.
Predictably, the West, and the USA in particular, try to fuse the three logics and powers more than ever into a copy of divine unity. Unashamedly they refer to their economic and cultural power as “soft”.
One “age” contracting between two “ages” expanding? That would be more descriptive of reality than “middle”. But how about “dark”? Maybe higher and lower rather, referring to the two expanding as lower and to the contracting one as higher–against the mentality of those who do not count the costs to others. And, hoping for one more.
Here the daoist perspective on reality–holism-dialectics–helps. These “ages” were complex systems with forces/counter-forces. Expand and expand and expand; no surprise if counter-forces emerge as Israel, that latter-day outpost of Western colonialism, is now experiencing. The West Roman Empire called the resistance to it “barbarian”; the West now calls it “terrorist”, it used to be “nationalist” and “communist”.
1914-2014: 100 years of Western States using Capital and Science to deny nations imprisoned in their states and peoples and states in their empires autonomy, independence; now up against an Islam also inspired by a single and universal abrahamic god, defeating the East Roman Orthodox Empire in 1453, turning Constantinople into Istanbul. How about Jerusalem-Al Quds? Better seek peace; still possible.
But leaving that aside, what would a contracting West look like? Turning inward, spiritual, enriching its enormous cultural resources. Money would not be spent on arms and wars but on the equivalent of the countless churches in the last period of contraction: on the temples to the arts and the love for wisdom, philosophy, more sappientia than scientia, more partnership with a besouled nature, including the nature in humans rather than conquering nature and humans for control. Not wasting resources on war–also against nature like they did in the “middle ages”, and lost–the material standard could be adequate for all, of course with a minimum living wage. Many practice this life today on vacation or as retired, but are forced by State and Capital into the rat race. Thus a Nordic model enforces economic growth with State-Capital-People sharing an expanding pie. As long as it lasts.
And politically? Europe from 500 entities to around 50 states now heading for 1 European Union will keep some of that, but turn toward 500 or so local regions-communities. The United States, from many local entities to 50 to 1 and United will do the same. The small community with people knowing each other and sharing the ups and downs of life is far superior to states and regions for basic human needs.
The West=EU+USA is now being forced into contraction as a deed of necessity; so better want to do what one must do anyhow. The world has said No to both colonialism and imperialism. The First world war was about imprisoned nations in European empires, the Second world war about world colonialism, and the Cold war was between two big empires, Soviet and US; the latter surviving the former by a decade or two.
Will somebody knowing our record colonize-imperialize us-US-EU? Depends on us-US. Imagine we contract militarily, not only dismantle bases but disarm long range, offensive, armed capacity, substituting with defensive defense. Imagine reconciliation of massive traumas caused by us, and resolution of conflicts where our goals stand in the way of others! Do the opposite–R2P, rapid deployment–and others may decide we are not ready for world citizenship and tame us.
But do we want the Vatican to take over? Says Pope Francis:
“The promise: when the glass is full it will overflow, benefiting the poor. But what happens instead is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger and nothing ever comes out for the poor”.
Under Pope Francis, yes. But be careful, there are popes and popes.
Three recent funerals come to mind.
Nelson Mandela–admired by a grateful world. There are many Mandelas in Israel’s prisons, but Israel at present has no de Klerk.
Ariel Sharon–admired in Israel, seen as genocidal by most of the world. His coma was metaphorical for Israel. His death hopefully not.
Anonymous–an old man in little Alfaz. The main streets closed. Hundreds followed him to his final rest. Togetherness. Community.
Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.
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