Saturday, March 04, 2006

Apologia pro vitis eorum

It is alive!! Finally some emotions on this lonesome blog. It’s good for the debate and it’s good for the ratings (c’mon people, is anybody reading this at all?!?!). However, as an old proponent of liberal democracy - one of catholic persuasion, that is - I must say, pro bono (for the sake of the argument, but most of all because Avbel isn’t here to talk it over beer) something in the defense of Mr. Letnar and Mr. Umek. As for me, I will throw additional light on some of my own ideas in special post, as it was promised in my famous Blues for Allah (part 1) post.

As we are only lawyers we should strive for precision, since words have their exact meanings - we are not poets, sadly (those volumes of unpublished heart breaking stanzas everyone of us has hidden in his bottom drawer will never make us famous). It is thus crucial to be accurate and not jump to conclusions.

Letnar observes: "Most of Western European societies face at this point of time major problems in grasping and accepting the fact, which one may nowadays trace down only in the history books. That fact rests on illusion that Europe remains a centre of world, which could be further from the truth.”

What is wrong with this picture? Nothing, except that it’s correct. Europe has not been the center of the world at least since World War I, when it finally became clear, that USA have more wealth, almost infinitive military arsenal, bigger geopolitical influence and, what is of utmost importance, moral legitimacy to lead the free world. Since then USA have asserted itself as “last best hope” even in international arena, to quote famous Lincoln’s formulation. Does that present a “major problem” for Europe, as Letnar claims? Of course it does. It has been extremely difficult to cope with this loss. In 2003, for instance, there were large “alleuropean” demonstrations, formally anti-war demonstrations, but the evident undertone was staunch antiamericanism. At the end of these massive demonstrations two of the great thinkers of our time, late J.Derrida and J.Habermas, have published well known article Die Wiedergeburt Europas in which they seem to, inter alia defined Europe simply per negationem. Thus according to them being European merely means being Non-American. If this isn’t an identity crisis I don’t know what it si!

Further, Letnar’s disputable passage continues in this way: “Western European high-societies warm-heartily reminisce the day where the world balance has been shaped differently as it is now." Since sadly I’m not a member of “western European high societies“ (will somebody introduce me, for heavens’ sake!?!?!) I cannot say for sure what goes on in their minds, but Chirac’s reaction to Bush’s pre-war rhetoric seemed to me pretty much an arrogant reaction of a bankrupt aristocrat, whose wounded vanity makes him look and act silly. It certainly seems plausible to me he still “warm-heartily reminisces” his country’s better days.

What does this have to do with the question of freedom of speech?” Avbel asks.

I don’t know if this was Letnar’s idea, but to me it’s obvious that whole civilizations, not only autocratic regimes, as we were used to so far, are now turning away from the idea of free democratic society. After 1989 we thought it would be another way around. At least Fukuyama said so. In my opinion one of the reasons for this failure is the fear of overly individualistic, atomistic and even egoistical concept of society, which sometimes seems to be exported. From other civilizations’ point of view, the threat can be quite real that after they accept this concept, nothing will remain of their identity. Or will this be a plain caricature of their precious traditions, and not even a funny one? I think that our duty is to present democracy for what it is: as freedom and justice and not as a trigger happy war monger, who just waits to rob the third world of its natural resources and of its traditional identities. I don’t say that this is actually happening, but the perception in some of these countries is very much like that. If Karikaturenstreit has tought us anything, it has shown us that global public not only exists, but it’s also very much aware of itself. And it holds its own global public opinion. The fact that Middle-Eastern rogue regimes have in fact artificially spurred the reaction to the cartoons is of minor importance in this regard.

As for “anti-imperialistic sentiments” as such I agree with Avbel they are simply funny. But, unless Letnar admits it, I cannot see any anti-imperialistic sentiments here.

And duties? Firstly, duty is conceptual twin of a right. My right is someone else’s (negative) duty. But I suppose Umek had something else in mind. Although he hasn’t elaborated much on his ideas, his line of thought seems very clear to me (he can correct me if I’m wrong). As I already mentioned somewhere, nobody of sane mind doubts in something like ECHR (if certain monsignor, master of Codice Civile does, let him be). He and his consortes are of no importance to us. What is important however, is that completely individualistic, atomistic conception of society ends in utter egoism, where the fundamental purpose of liberal state, that is common good and justice, is finally lost. Famously, one such duty democracy unconditionally requires is patriotism. In no way of course this should be written in criminal code, as Avbel rhetorically puts it. However it’s uncontested, that a citizen democracy can only work if most of its members are convinced that their political society is a common venture of cosiderable moment, and believe to be of vital importance that they participate in the ways they must to keep it functioning as democracy, to quote Charles Taylor.

Let me mention some very real threats that are in my opinion direct consequences of the lack of global sense of solidarity, of duty if you will. Namely, how to prevent the threat of nuclear warfare, now that bi-polar division of the world has ended? Why don’t we just “nuke ‘em”, since unlike Soviets, they have just couple of those big bombs. We can probably survive their few hits. Why not to proceed with stem cell research, why not to play God? It’s for the common good after all, who cares about ethics, when science will save us? And why not chop down the Rain forest completely, when we need furniture? The consumer is always right!

Will man destroy the Earth to move on? These are (amplified) caricatures, but they present some of the gravest dilemmas of our time. Is this what liberalism is supposed to be? I don’t think so, but the signs are there, that this is a direction the West is heading (see also Krusec’s post Major world crisis ahead?, posted on February 21). Will we recognize what our duty is here? With traditional mechanisms, human rights standards alone included, we are obviously very poorly equipped for preventing these possibly imminent scenarios.

Again, world religions can offer some of the answers. Take Christianity. Although it has invented a notion of individual as a value an sich (Letnar, this one’s for you, since you doubt this historical fact, at least after couple of beers) - it is never individualistic. Actually, no religion is. Thus, religious sense for the community and religious sense for the common good, for solidarity, which also implies sense for duty, can provide for one possible anchor in these Zeiten des Ubergangs. By making no threat to the ECHR whatsoever.

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