Monday, October 5, 2009

The New Barbarians (I) (EN)

The Western civilization is under attack, and in serious danger. And the most serious danger comes not from Al Qaeda-type terrorism, fundamentalist Islam, rogue states, nuclear proliferation or any other external factor. Rather, it comes from within, from people who profess to be its defenders. And who, in the name of defending the West's fundamental values violate them on a routine basis. People who think they can abolish the rules when it suits them, and reinstate them at will. Who think double standards are OK - e.g. you can unlawfully spy on your citizens or torture suspects and be a liberal democracy at the same time. Who think you can eat a cake and have it.
I call them the New Barbarians.

The work of civilization, over centuries, has been to establish rules and codes, systems and procedures that keep in check people's raw instincts and make social life possible. To institutionalize and culturally entrench such rules and systems. The same process occurred in international relations, though given its heterogeneity and much shorter history rule-building and institutionalization have been more fragile. The memory of the collapse of the League of Nations, the first attempt to create a rule-based international society in the interwar period, still lives.
It is not difficult to make the argument that at any point in time, the system of rules both in a society, as well as at the international level, is little more than an elegant packaging of power relations. So have said marxists about social norms and domestic law, and realists about international law.
But even when the powerful makes the law, it still has a tremendous value for the powerless. By its very definition, any established rule imposes some limits, restrains and streamlines the options available to any player in the system, big or small, strong or weak. Most likely - as also verified always in history - the powerful will have more options within the rule system, but not unlimited. Those limits are of vital importance for those with lesser power as they offer a degree of predictability and security.
But the New Barbarians don't have patience with laws, and rules, and institutions. Abiding by rules, even if they themselves can - to a large extent - set them, seems too much of a trouble. Self restraint is so boring. Isn't it is so much more convenient to just grab what you want? To just enjoy power without limits?
This is fundamentally the logic of vandals.

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