Delta – Is democracy losing the battle against dictatorship and autocracy?

Although we usually hear populists in both camps saying, that the realm of good – their own – is facing that of evil – the other side, U.S. and Chinese students and scholars move effortlessly from one country to the other. After the Chinese conformed most of their institutions to the Western model, the similarities between them are significantly greater than anything that still separates them. “The Chinese now enjoy almost complete freedom of movement. They can buy a house, choose an education, start a job or a business, join a church (as long as it is Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism or Protestantism), dress as they like, openly express homosexual tendencies without ending up in a penal colony, travel abroad at their own pleasure and even criticize the party as long as they do not question its rule. So even lack of freedom is no longer what it used to be” (Norberg). Meantime, however, these freedoms apply only to Chinese without negative entries on their social credit account that shows the balance of good behavior and negative marks for every citizen of the empire. Xi Jinping has succeeded in imposing the Orwellian vision of a perfect surveillance state on a nation of more than one billion people. Yet the 99 percent of obeying citizens have nothing to fear – instead they benefit from security, prosperity and advancement. It is the remaining one percent, those rebelling against the party’s regulations and leadership, who must reckon with suppression and persecution, up to and including physical annihilation. This applies to the Han Chinese themselves but much more to the subjugated Uyghurs and Tibetans. The party is convinced that it confers happiness on the people (and it has undoubtedly succeeded in a material sense). That is the reason why it does not shrink back from imposing happiness from above. An overwhelming majority – though certainly not 99 % – seem to approve of the system as long as it brings them and their country prosperity and visible power. In this perspective, the reckless persecution of opponents seems a small sacrifice.

In the West, politics and the public lean to the other side. We are dedicated to protecting outsiders, critics and even outspoken opponents of our political, social and moral system. With this attitude of tolerance, we are morally far superior to any surveillance state – but only as long as the freedom of critics and outsiders does not threaten the freedom of the community as a whole. If this balance is upset, states collapse due to internal resistance. Unfortunately, such process of inner corrosion is already taking place.

This can be seen in the response to the pandemic

Even though the government of China constantly trumpets its successes to the world for propaganda reasons, we must acknowledge that it has indeed taken and implemented the right measures to protect its people, while the West still fails miserably in this task. Vaccination against dangerous epidemics was once compulsory even in European countries and could be carried out without mass protests. In 1807, the Kingdom of Bavaria was the first German state to introduce compulsory vaccination, which was followed by other states in the following decades. Then, in 1874, all Germans in the German Empire were required by the Imperial Vaccination Act to have their children vaccinated against smallpox at the ages of one and twelve (repeat vaccination).

After the Second World War, there was a legal obligation to vaccinate in the GDR from 1953, which was successively extended until 1970: In addition to smallpox, vaccination against tuberculosis (1953), polio (1961), diphtheria (1961), tetanus (1961), and pertussis (1964, then in the form of the DTP vaccine) was mandatory; from 1970, vaccination against measles was also legally required.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, there was compulsory vaccination against diphtheria and scarlet fever from 1946 to 1954, and there was general compulsory vaccination against smallpox from 1949 to the end of 1975. The legal basis for the compulsory smallpox vaccination at that time was still the Imperial Vaccination Act of 1874.

Some of the most dangerous epidemics were completely or largely eradicated as a result, so that nowadays vaccination against them is no longer necessary – a life-saving medical success owed exclusively to the compulsory vaccination at previous times.

China, a nation of more than a billion people,

has achieved within a few months, what Westerners too were still able to do in the 19th century. Why are we no longer able to do this today? Why do a billion people in China suffer from no more than a dozen cases of corona per day (most of them introduced from outside), while we will soon have to accept the next killing wave? Certainly, the contrast between China and the West cannot be blamed on a lack of knowledge on our part. Our pharmaceutical companies and epidemiological experts are still superior to the Chinese. Nor can we simply explain the difference setting our Western freedom against Chinese autocracy. A jab in the arm that protects me and the persons I meet from possible death or probable illness is a much lesser encroachment on my liberties than, for example, the fact that in the leading Western power, the United States, anyone is allowed to get a firearm, thus massively compromising the safety of the community. Even taxes, against which the rich can successfully defend themselves with a variety of legal tricks, constitute a restriction of liberties, but they generate far less resistance than compulsory vaccination. Nay, I may say that even crosswalks noticeably restrict my personal freedom, since they forbid me to cross the street wherever I like. But apart from anarchists, whose highest value is their own unrestricted freedom, no one has ever seriously complained about this. Like in present day China, people in 19th century Germany still trusted science and the state that acted according to its precepts. If epidemiological experts (at least an overwhelming majority among them) are agreed that vaccination will safe a hundred times more lives than it may cost, then it was considered a foregone conclusion that it must be made compulsory for the benefit of the community. The opponents were rightly considered ego-hungry populists from a moral point of view, dangerous obstructionists from a political perspective, and poor lunatics (one could also say ignorant imbeciles) in the light of science.

Should the West lose the battle against China and other autocracies,

it is not because it glorifies personal freedom as an ideal – hardly could there be a more beautiful vision – but because it no longer understands the meaning and aim of freedom. Freedom gets confused with the empowerment of individual citizens to act at will against the interests of the community. As for the ownership of firearms, such confusion is obvious (to all but US-Americans). It makes no sense to preach tolerance towards egomaniacal populists, dangerous obstructionists and ignorant idiots, even if these people endanger the physical and psychological stability of society. At its peak, which, as we know, may reemerge at any time, the epidemic paralyzed Western societies in a way that usually only happens in times of war. If the leading medical experts can guarantee that a simple measure such as compulsory vaccination will effectively defeat the enemy (as it has successfully done in the past), then any Western state is behaving irresponsibly towards its citizens if it refrains from saving their lives by doing so. China has acted with great determination and success and by now almost vaccinated its entire population – more than a fifth of the world’s whole population. The communist giant pours scorn on the helpless West.  If we do not understand that in a temporary state of war, the protection of the community takes precedence over the will of populists, obstructionists, poor lunatics and ignorant idiots, then we must be prepared that ever larger parts of the population will long for an autocratic regime that knows how to act in times of emergency.

The process is already underway, and it is so precisely among those people who we hear screaming the loudest, namely populists, obstructionists and lunatics.

Nation state or Homo technicus universalis?

Abstract:

The “Clash of Cultures” due to irreconcilable religions and ideologies belongs to the past. In contrast, the “Clash of Civilizations”, i.e. the worldwide struggle for an equally high and, if possible, ever higher material standard of living, is darkening our common future, since the last resources are being plundered and nature increasingly poisoned in the name of progress. Mankind will only escape this struggle against itself and against nature by submitting to a global authority that demands the same restrictions from all of us.

We are used to lamenting entries on the red list of extinct or endangered species; these include dinosaurs, Bengal tigers, black grouse or river pearl mussels. But do not think that nature is unimaginative. She continuously replaces the worn out with lots of new creations: instead of the dinosaurs she now gives us Corona and even adds many new mutants.

As in the animal kingdom, so in human cultures. To the Germans, as they once existed, we must undoubtedly say goodbye, but this is no less true of the French, the English, the Indians, the Chinese, and so on. In this case too, however, the decline of entire cultures is accompanied by a new and surprising phenomenon. It has been noticed for some time that there are more and more global professions, e.g. the mathematician, the programmer, the engineer, the chemist, the truck driver, the mechanic, the internist, the ENT doctor and thousands of similar functions, but these new professions are free from all national roots. Something has died – while at the same time something surprisingly new has taken its place. As it were, nature has triumphed over culture. Since nature is the same everywhere, the laws found by the natural sciences must be the same in Berlin, Tokyo, Dubai or in Timbuktu, i.e. independent of respective national cultures. Obviously, most of the life and functioning of modern civilization is based on these laws. All over the world, a chemical factory, a car company, a corporate office are like undistinguishable peas in a pod all over the world. Identical function determines identical structure. The differences are only technical, namely due to more or less technical progress.

The time when everything was still different,

because people in France, India, China thought differently, ate differently, loved differently and lived differently – this time dates back just a century and a half, and it still looms with its stone witnesses – cathedrals, temples and palaces – here and there into our present, but it already belongs to a distant history (mercilessly parodied by Disneyland). Our omnipotent present not only produced a new international species, homo technicus, who – whether in Cape Town, Berlin, Houston or Madras – spends more and more of his time in front of the computer and with the cell phone, but at the same time it has made the urban landscapes of all countries more and more similar to each other. Meanwhile, Austrian, Chinese, South African or Indian architecture merely exists in remnants: megacities employ the same architects and engineers from all over the world. A worldwide uniformity due to uniform functions is inevitable. Banks, millennium and television towers, museums, train stations, airports and dormitory towns all over the world are stitched according to the same pattern. Everything national is in unmistakable retreat.

But is it right to call the new man,

this prototype of the 21st century, who is about to create a global unified civilization, “Homo technicus”? Do not games, music, painting and leisure time form an opposite pole that seems at least as important to many people?

That may certainly be so. The love of mathematics and the natural sciences was nowhere so widespread that it alone was able to bring forth the new prototype. In fact, Homo technicus owes his triumph to a much more elementary drive: the addiction, spread over the entire globe, to all the achievements of civilization to which only technology provides access. Much-maligned capitalism did not have to cajole them into it. No one in our present world wants to do without a flush toilet, a washing machine, a personal bank account, a computer or a cell phone, and very few people want to do without a car or the prospect of someday hovering above the clouds in a modern airplane. However, each of the aforementioned achievements presupposes a modern infrastructure, i.e., a radical transformation and reorganization of nature such as no single country on the globe knew two hundred years ago.

Meanwhile, many of these modern achievements

have come to be traded as human rights, without which life is considered incomplete and miserable. Nowadays, no Chinese person is looked at askance if he or she has not read Confucius; hardly any German still takes a look at Goethe’s Faust (“Fuck you Goethe” has even become a slogan meant to discourage such action). Seen by the millennial generation, i.e. those under forty, this is mere history, completely written off by most of them. As cultural knowledge is of no use with regard to the preservation of our all-devouring techno-economic civilization, it is considered superfluous. This liberation of the new generation from all historical burdens undoubtedly holds its own opportunities. Young people – Chinese, Japanese, U.S. Americans, Germans, French, etc. – can look each other in the eye without feeling any different. What counts is the knowledge and handling of the gadgets of modern civilization – and they are all equally good at that. What could divide them – their national culture and national history – they have already shaken off. Seen in this light, the fact that modern Homo technicus has shed all the trappings of his tribal affiliation – regardless of religion, race or ideology – can also be seen as a progress.

Global fraternization

seems to be within reach for the first time in human history. The unifying basis of techno-scientific thinking as well as of common external living conditions could become the springboard to a future in which irreconcilable antagonisms and the resulting struggles are replaced by mutual understanding and thus by harmony and peace. Nor should greater global uniformity worry us, because it is uniformity in constant change. Diversity and development do not disappear, they only manifest themselves in fundamentally different ways. Until two hundred years ago, history consisted in the formation of human beings – that is why the natives of Papua New Guinea so much differed in appearance, religion, and customs from native New Yorkers or Hindu Brahmins that all three could be considered different species within the same genus. In contrast, history today no longer consists in the shaping of man – an Indian, a U.S. American, or a New Guinea physicist can be distinguished at most by the hue of their skin. It consists in the shaping and formation of nature. Homo technicus recognizes and shapes nature according to his own purposes. In this case too variety is created, even potentially infinite variety. But it comes about in a different way, namely by the fact that our knowledge of nature constantly grows and with it the products it creates.

As homo technicus leaves history behind him

like a bad memory, he does not want to know anything about privileges – for him these too belong to the burden of history. It is, therefore, not surprising that the overwhelming majority of Millennials are committed to a fair distribution of material goods – regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation (as the ritual mantra would have it). Whether Europeans, Africans or Chinese, all people have the same inherent right to a decent life, i.e. to those material blessings that the people of the West have long enjoyed. At the same time, the new generation also wants to grant nature its rights, which is why a green mindset is widespread among Millennials. They take to the streets not only to protest against white supremacy but also to demand action against climate change. The new generation doesn’t want to know anything about past history, but they take history very seriously when seen as their own future: they want to make it themselves. That’s why their demonstrations are causing so much headache for governments around the world.

Millennials are cosmopolitans

For the first time, an entire generation of humanity represents what was previously the privilege of only a handful of great minds. In Germany, Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Schiller and Kant were cosmopolitans in the best sense of the word.  All national narrow-mindedness was not only alien to them but considered repugnant. How could these early pioneers have guessed that, since the end of the 20th century at the latest, Millennials would turn their intellectual cosmopolitanism into a technical one that would encompass the entire globe? More and more young people enthusiastically experience the Internet as a tool for making as many friends on other continents as in their own country. Millennials are aware that kindred spirits in Chengdu, Vancouver or Bangalore may be far closer to them than reactionary morons in their own homeland. And this is much more than a mere abstract insight. More and more marriages are taking place internationally, and ever greater sums are being donated to people in need somewhere in the world. Not a few idealists would even like to build a bridge over the Mediterranean so that in the future no refugee will have to perish on the way to the north.*1*

The problem

In the face of this general tendency toward global fraternization, there is a danger that we will all too credulously and naively overlook the forces working against it. The technical generation has grown up believing that all conflicts can be solved by technical means. The breathtaking successes of scientific civilization even turned this belief into a kind of quasi-religious salvation promise. Digitization, automation and artificial intelligence are celebrating triumphs the likes of which humanity has never experienced. No wonder that the optimism nurtured by all these triumphs makes people blind to all dangers. These are, however, omnipresent. Even a sudden and unforeseen event such as a global pandemic may dissolve the beautiful belief in the interconnectedness of all people. How unpleasant was and is even within the European Union the scramble for vaccination doses! The current Austrian chancellor, who at the beginning urged frugality (maximum 200,000 euros), unabashedly put out the fairy tale that the Commission had treated his own and other European countries unfairly.

This occasion demonstrated that we may well find friends everywhere in the world, but in times of need it is only our own neighbors and our own government that can help us. Only they are able to provide their citizens with the desired level of security and standard of living. Cosmopolitanism that so gloriously flourishes in the realm of the mind proves impotent when it comes to providing those very services that local people are looking for in emergency situations. As, in such cases, spatial proximity counts more than anything else, everyone is next to himself in need. Even the United Europe must constantly fight against national egoisms.

This problem becomes truly massive and frightening,

once we take a closer look at modern technical civilization itself. For technology has a double face that optimists do not want to acknowledge. On the one hand it is responsible for our greatest triumphs, on the other hand for an apocalypse that nobody can rule out any longer. The pan-happiness philosophy of the millennials, who would like to grant and allocate the same material blessing to all people of the globe, is contradicted by the laws of physics. From a scientific point of view, the realization of this program is simply impossible. To exist sustainably on our globe with renewable energy requires either that three quarters of humanity mysteriously disappear, or that humanity at its current population level of about eight billion reduce its energy consumption to one quarter (and that’s just talking about energy, not yet about all other non-renewable resources).*2*

It is absolutely correct when Steven Pinker and Hans Rosling insist in their books that mankind is materially better off than ever before in terms of almost all relevant indicators, but this amazing feat could only be achieved because we consume far more renewable energy than a single globe can provide. We do so by using dwindling reserves of fossil fuels, whose residues furthermore contribute to the poisoning of nature on an ever increasing scale.

This is the existential problem of our time,

and it is not a technical task that can be solved in a technical way, but a challenge for political and ethical man. In the extreme, only two solutions come into question. Either a scramble for the last remaining resources leading to wars, which the strongest powers of the globe incite against the weaker ones and of course against nature. Or a global agreement that all are committed to the preservation of the globe and thus to a way of life that requires a total departure from that which still prevails today.

How do Millennials respond

to this shattering of the technocratic ideology with which they themselves have grown up and been indoctrinated? They use to respond in three different ways. Either they simply deny the facts (thus siding with Donald Trump); or, second, they are optimists on principle and believe in future technological miracles; or, third, they call for demonstrations, usually blaming some evil forces.

Denial is the prevailing attitude – against all evidence from scientific expertise. Homo technicus is prone to let himself be guided by wishful thinking when evidence threatens to shake his optimism. Optimists have always found it particularly difficult to admit that the world is perhaps not quite as well set up as they would like.

If, however, the evidence of an irresponsible consumption of resources and an increasing poisoning of the globe can no longer be denied, there still remains a messianic belief in miracles. Then nuclear power is supposed to achieve what renewable energies alone will never be able to do, namely to maintain the current standard of living and at the same time to reduce CO2 emissions to a tolerable level. Apart from the fact that this is impossible in purely quantitative terms due to dwindling uranium deposits, the dangers associated with this technology tend to be blissfully ignored. However, they are just as great, if not greater, than those of global warming. And it tends to be completely overlooked that energy is used for the conversion of non-energy resources – and these are dwindling as well. The belief in future miracles, which homo technicus has nurtured over two centuries and which today is just as much at home in China and India as in Europe and the US, arguably constitutes mankind’s greatest delusion. It makes us run blindly to our doom because until shortly before the catastrophe we hope for a deus ex machina who will avert all disaster .*3*

Seen, from this perspective, political activism,

expressed worldwide in demonstrations, seems to be hardly more than a diversionary maneuver. The “Fridays for Future” movement fully recognized the urgency of the environmental situation, but it was mistaken in its assessment of the true causes. It is not “them up there” who are responsible for the destruction of the globe, but “us down here,” that is, all of us together, because “them up there” usually only enforce a majority will – at least when it comes to an accepted standard of living. This applies to democratic states of the West as well as to autocratic regimes in China and Russia. A majority of the world’s population – especially, of course, the developing countries – would not accept radical sacrifice, certainly not when a truly sustainable economy requires a reduction of the global ecological footprint to the fourth part of today’s level.

Not renunciation but a global scramble

over dwindling resources and mutual accusations of excessive nature poisoning are therefore in store for us in the near future. Just as in a pandemic, where every nation first thinks of itself, it first enhances and protects the standard of living for its own citizens. That is, why in times of need and struggle all those national provisos that the Millennials fought against and wanted to abolish forever creep up again. The U.S. is home to about twenty million Asian-born citizens, most of them of Chinese origin. Now that China has become a serious rival for the U.S. and threatens to become number one in terms of power and standard of living, tensions between the two superpowers are rising sharply. Prejudices against the Chinese are reviving in America just as they are reviving in China against the West. Nationalistically motivated “hate crimes” have become the order of the day.

On a smaller and, fortunately, far more benign scale, we find this tussle also within the EU, where Hungary and Poland, but also the Czech Republic and Slovakia, insist on their national autonomy and elect autocracy-prone governments that endanger European unity. If it is true that the struggle for dwindling resources in a world that abhors sacrifice will become the portent of the 21st century, then we are heading for a time that will bring about the opposite of cosmopolitanism, namely increasing national egoism. Even if the EU succeeds in welding Europe together into a stable entity, it will be faced as a whole with the prospect of having to fight with the rest of the world over its interests.

It is therefore too early for a requiem of the nation states

Germany (but also Austria, France, etc.) will continue to exist, even if they eventually merge with other states in the EU. Homo technicus universalis therefore remains an illusion, albeit one that arouses some sympathy because it conjures up the common ground connecting modern people. It remains an illusion not only because cosmopolitanism does not provide help in emergencies – only the political community in which we are rooted can do this. But homo technicus is incomplete for still another reason. We may indeed completely dispose of all narratives related to the past and in this way create ahistorical man, but this procedure does not eliminate the basic need of man for a narrative that gives meaning and purpose to his life. Neither technology nor science can provide such meaning (even if both can at times completely satisfy individual life, because common tasks and shared work represent precisely this overriding meaning beyond technology itself).

In perverted form, history has

never lost its dominance. A Chinese technician may be confusingly similar to his counterpart in the US as regards thinking and habits of life; this will not prevent the one from using his skills and knowledge for the power and wealth of China, while the other does so for the power and wealth of the United States of America. Thus, one of them may be developing the weapons with which to wipe out the US in the case of a nuclear war, while his counterpart fulfills exactly the same task for his own country. Which means that our demand for the equality of all people proves to be impotent in the face of history dominating us in the shape of elementary material interests.

And this modern day history, which we see re-entering through the back door, is much more primitive than that which the Millennials disposed of through the front door. It expresses itself in the form of such populist prejudices as promulgated by Donald Trump on a daily basis, when, to mention just one example, he spoke of the “Chinese virus.” Homo technicus is easily seduced by the fake news of modern history when it comes to defending his interests.

This brings to light the fundamental conflict

that will accompany us through the 21st century. On the one hand, the uniform technical civilization that prevails worldwide has given rise to homo technicus, thereby creating an awareness, especially in young people, of the equality of all human beings. But, on the other hand, this civilization has nurtured the claim to a standard of living that can no longer be met in a world of eight billion people faced with dwindling resources and a rampant poisoning of nature.*4* The scramble for this claim inevitably leads to a struggle against all rivals who threaten a nation’s position. 

History falsely declared to be dead

thus returns. The fratricidal struggle, fed by hostile narratives, which once divided the peoples of Europe in centuries-long battles, has only been shifted to a higher plane. Tribal claims and identities remain, but not in the harmless form of patriotism, i.e. love for one’s homeland and a shared history, but as ideological delusions of uniqueness of Europeans, Yankees, Chinese etc. These delusions tend to be much cruder and primitive, because they consist less in the loving reminiscence of one’s own past (so far as it deserves such treatment) than in the denunciation of rivals. The race of nations currently taking place between the great powers of the US, China, Russia and Europe is laden with populist denunciation – in view of the unending progress of weapons this constitutes an imminent danger.

The problem is further aggravated by the fact

that it is of no use if only one part of the world, say Germany, pulls the emergency brake. Germany is only responsible for a minimal two percent of total CO2 emissions. Of course, it could boast of being a role model if it also reduced the remaining two to a mere zero percent. But what is the point if others don’t follow suit, but end up just being happy that the Germans are no longer a rival because they are abandoning their previous industrial power and sinking into a state of poverty? Therein lies the real challenge of the 21st century, which can only be overcome if humanity submits to a common authority that imposes the same sacrifice on everyone at the same time – in the most favorable but rather unlikely case, this would be the UN. Then – but only then – the consciousness of the equality of mankind could bring about that eternal peace, which Immanuel Kant had conjured up more than two hundred years ago.

*1* An impressive testimony to this idealism is provided by the Indian-born author Parag Khanna with his book: “The Age of Migration”. On almost five hundred pages, the author deals with God and the world from A to Z. Khanna seems to take climate crisis for granted – even in its most catastrophic form with an increase in average temperatures of up to four degrees. This serves him well because he preaches the gospel of unrestricted migration which, according to him, will provide for mankind’s ultimate salvation. Here, fraternization is not a politically thought-out program, but is administered to the reader like a drug.

*2* In its latest issue, “Der Spiegel” calls for optimism in the title essay (Spg 14.21: “Hope dies last”). But like any other citizen, the Spiegel author too must rely on what leading experts say. And these – starting from Herman Daly, the intellectual guide of the ecological movement, up to William Rees, the inventor of the ecological footprint – say something completely different.

*3* In the article mentioned above, Der Spiegel shows how wishful thinking works. On the one hand, we find the following passage: “It is certainly an imperative of responsibility to make decisions on the basis of currently available knowledge.” But shortly thereafter, this sober statement is invalidated: “An English saying is: Expect the unexpected. Men, especially Germans, are not very good at this.” So: Dear Germans, please believe in the Deus ex Machina!

*4* Here, too, Der Spiegel preaches wishful thinking. It is correct that the world population “will /grow/ by about two billion to then almost ten billion people by 2050, yes, and that will lead to severe crises in some regions. However, in terms of world population as a whole, growth will slow down after that and will only be problematic in a few areas.” Really? Is it no longer problematic if all these ten billion people together then consume four and more globes? And what to make of the following statement: “The goal of a maximum warming of two degrees by the year 2100 is within reach. If countries stick to their pledges… global average temperatures will rise 2.1 degrees by 2100.” Yes, but what if they don’t stick to their pledges? So far, there is no indication that Western countries, let alone developing countries, will be able to meet these pledges and impose the above mentioned sacrifices on their populations.

The United States in a debt binge – role model for the rest of the world?

Dear Mr. Lingens /Austrian Author and economist/, I don’t know if you are doing well to sing the praises of the beauty of debt while comparing little Austria with the big US. Remember, since about the 1990s, not only the whole world, but also many Americans are beginning to talk about the decline of their country (and the most clear-sighted observers of the U.S. are still to be found in the US themselves). Continue reading The United States in a debt binge – role model for the rest of the world?

Max Weber – Jared Diamond – Joseph Henrich

There are fundamental questions that every human being and probably every people and epoch ask themselves. Who or what am I? Why and how am I different from others? What is it that makes me singular? Max Weber, Jared Diamond, and Joseph Henrich have each asked this question in their own yet very similar ways. Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904), Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel (1997), and Henrich in The WEIRDest People in the World(2019).

Max Weber wanted to explore why capitalism, that economic system so astonishingly successful in his time, had arisen in Europe, and especially in its Protestant parts. Jared Diamond asks his readers why Cortez and Pizarro, with a mere handful of soldiers, so easily defeated the two most powerful empires of the New world, namely Aztecs and Incas at the beginning of the 16th century. Why did these two peoples of the New World not invade and subjugate Europe? Joseph Henrich formulates the question in a similar vein. How did Europe come to follow a path different from all previous history, namely a weird one (“WEIRD = Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic”)? The three questions resemble each other, but the answers of the three scholars differ in significant ways.

Max Weber is rooted in the German tradition

of a conception of history and sociology deeply influenced by Romanticism that makes him locate the peculiarities of human development primarily in cultural causes. For Weber, it was the Protestant ethic that had created the spirit of capitalism – albeit in a tortuous, indirect way. And conversely, it was its opposite, the religiously conditioned magical variety of traditional constraints, which had prevented its emergence in pre-capitalist times. Culturally conditioned human attitudes can thus become the causes of profound social transformations – a view with which Weber distinguished himself from Karl Marx.

In contrast, Jared Diamond rather follows a tradition,

one of whose most outstanding 18th-century representatives was Montesquieu, who held that the decisive factor for the divergent developmental paths of different peoples was not their subjective attitudes, but rather externally given conditions such as climate. This theory is now passé, but Diamond, in a work of immense erudition, has convincingly demonstrated that “Eurasia got the wild ancestors of wheat, barley, millet, oats, and rice, along with cows, horses, pigs, goats, sheep, water buffaloes, and camels. Meanwhile, the Americas ended up with few wild plants or animals that were both easy to domesticate and productive. Corn, the major staple in the New World, required numerous genetic changes from its wild version to yield a productive crop – so it was a long road. For domesticated animals, the Americas ended up with llamas, guinea pigs, and turkeys – which gave them no general-purpose work animals like oxen, horses, water buffaloes, or donkeys to pull plows, carry heavy burdens, and crank mills. In Australia, the candidate crops and domesticated animals were even fewer than in the Americas. Accentuating these inequalities in fauna and flora, Eurasia’s complex societies also developed more rapidly due to an east-west geographic orientation. This fostered the rapid development and diffusion of new crops, agricultural knowledge, domesticated animals, and technological know-how” (this is how Henrich summarizes Diamond’s theses). To which a further insight of Diamond should be added. The inhabitants of Eurasia had acquired immunity against a broad range of diseases due to their close coexistence with domestic animals – in contrast to the inhabitants of Australia and the New World, who died en masse from the germs introduced by Europeans.

Jared Diamond thus harkens back to the initial scientific tradition of deriving cultural attitudes and behaviors from externally imposed conditions. Since this approach is far more in line with the strict standards established by the natural sciences since the 17th century, modern historical science and sociology have in recent decades followed Diamond far more than Max Weber. It is surely no exaggeration to state that this orientation has brought about nothing less than an explosion of research activity. All the methods and findings of the natural sciences are now being used to retrace man’s past over the millennia in unimagined material detail.

It is all the more surprising, then,

that Harvard professor Joseph Henrich, a man who began his studies in aerospace engineering, i.e. in the natural sciences, is directing his own research back to cultural causes. After what has just been said, this may well be considered a scientific sensation. He answers the question of the causes of Europe’s special path, which led to a capitalist economy, democratic constitutions and a historically unique development of individualism, in an astonishing way. “The much-heralded ideals of Western civilization, like human rights, liberty, representative democracy, and science, aren’t monuments to pure reason or logic, as so many assume. People didn’t suddenly become rational during the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, and then invent the modern world. Instead, these institutions represent cumulative cultural products – born from a particular cultural psychology – that trace their origins back over centuries, through a cascade of causal chains involving wars, markets, and monks, to a peculiar package of incest taboos, marriage prohibitions, and family prescriptions (the MFP) that developed in a radical religious sect – Western Christianity.”

And Henrich goes significantly further. From the very beginning, the Catholic Church had pursued a marriage and family policy in Europe that as early as 1000 AD had almost completely dissolved the close kinship relationships that prevailed everywhere else (except among hunter-gatherers). This policy was particularly evident in the strict prohibition of marriage between cousins and other close relatives, which had formed the basic pattern of biologically defined units. Thus, the individual was torn away from all kinship-defined ties of clans and tribes. The place previously occupied by obligations and constraints to the extended family and clans was now taken by common interests and motives that extended to and united biological strangers. In other words, it was the work of the Church that the individual defined himself less and less by his origin and more and more by his very personal aspirations and skills. The free association of biological strangers in markets, guilds, etc. – so characteristic of Western development – was triggered by the cultural policy of the Church.*1*

Max Weber always asked (though not with the exclusivity of Karl Marx) about the material interests behind political actions. So does Henrich, if only in one place of his book. “The Church had potent incentives to promote individual ownership and testamentary inheritance. Working with secular rulers, the Church pushed for laws supporting individual ownership, default inheritance rules favoring strictly lineal inheritance (cutting out brothers, uncles, and cousins), and greater autonomy in making bequests by testament. This drive for individual ownership and personal testaments would have weakened kin-based organizations, because these corporate groups would have continually lost their land and wealth to the Church. Lying on their deathbeds, Christians gave what they could to the Church to improve their prospects for the afterlife… By 900 CE, the Church owned about a third of the cultivated land in western Europe, including in Germany (35 percent) and France (44 percent). By the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the Church owned half of Germany, and between one-quarter and one-third of England.”

On the one hand, Henrich continues Max Weber’s arguments,

on the other hand, he goes much beyond it. Protestantism, he argues, only furthered a trend that the Church had already set in motion for one and a half thousand years with its marriage and family policies. Protestantism can therefore only be seen as the culminating conclusion of a development that had begun with the very takeover of power by the Church. This is a definite step beyond the thesis of Max Weber.

The widening of arguments and evidence also applies to the analysis of the causes which so greatly hindered the emergence of free markets, representative rule and individualism in other parts of the world. In the predominance of castes in India and clans in China, Weber had seen an insurmountable obstacle to the emergence of capitalism. Likewise, he explained the resistance of traditional societies to the emergence of capitalist forms of economy by the opposition of internal and external morality (which in turn is based on the distinction between biological kin and biological strangers). And Weber had intuitively summarized this resistance in the concept of magic – magic as a cultural force inimical to all forms of innovation. Henrich, however, provides much more concrete evidence. He tries to demonstrate that an elementary fact of social organization, namely the close biological ties of people in traditional kinship relationships – primarily marriage between cousins – was the most effective obstacle to that special development which Europe was only able to embark on because the Church had systematically removed this obstacle through its marriage and family policy.

Here Henrich therefore also differs from Jared Diamond

The latter makes us understand why the conquest of the New World and Australia took place from Eurasia and not in the opposite direction. Diamond enumerates the many external advantages that this continent had over the other two. One might ask, however, why within the Eurasian continent it happened to be tiny Europe and not mighty China – still far more prosperous until the 17th century – that subjugated large parts of the world since the beginning of the 16th century – and this despite the fact that at the very beginning of the 15th century China had managed to send the then most powerful fleet as far as the borders of Africa? And why was this enterprise not planned as an instrument of conquest in the first place? Jared Diamond’s insights do not explain this curious fact and probably cannot explain it, because the external causes listed by him would rather suggest that rich China and not Europe would have conquered the world. Diamond notes: “competition between different political entities spurred innovation in geographically fragmented Europe, and.. the lack of such competition held innovation back in unified China.” But this takes us back to the question why competition played such a significant role in Europe and not in China?

Henrich himself does not pose the question of why Europe and not China conquered the new world, but it seems to me that his theory may very well provide an answer. On the one hand, classical China, dominated throughout by clans, never knew competition between equals. Moreover, it always closed itself to the barbarians of the outside world, that is, against biological foreigners and their constant invasions (the Great Wall representing up to the present day mankind’s most monumental testimony to this aversion). The Roman Church, on the other hand, not only challenged biological otherness with its policies, but largely abolished it. All people were equal before God and could therefore be equal under one religion and political rule. For this reason, it was considered a legitimate goal to subjugate the rest of the world. In this way, Europe – not China – had prepared itself psychologically for a globalized world and subsequently initiated those very conquests that eventually brought about globalization. 

Psychology – it too plays a prominent role in Joseph Henrich’s work

The politics of the Church not only intervened in the social organization of people preparing them for democratic constitutions, where the personal value of each individual would count infinitely more than his biological origin. These politics also had profound psychological effects because they fostered characteristics that would have been difficult to develop under traditional conditions, namely individualism, analytical thinking, rejection of authority, intellectual independence, willingness to innovate.

“Concretely, think of the UN diplomats, corporate managers, or high-level executives… All are materially comfortable, yet their propensity for (1) impersonal honesty (parking illegally… ), (2) universal morality (lying in court to protect their reckless buddies… ), and (3) nepotism (hiring relatives into executive positions) varies immensely and can be explained by our measures of kinship intensity and Church exposure… /But/ national populations that collectively experienced longer durations under the Western Church tend to be (A) less tightly bound by norms, (B) less conformist, (C) less enamored with tradition, (D) more individualistic, (E) less distrustful of strangers, (F) stronger on universalistic morality, (G) more cooperative in new groups with strangers, (H) more responsive to third-party punishment… , (I) more inclined to voluntarily donate blood, (J) more impersonally honest (toward faceless institutions), (K) less inclined to accumulate parking tickets under diplomatic immunity, and (L) more analytically minded.”

Thus, the Church’s policies continue to have a massive impact right into the present time. “Our analyses show that if a region was inside the Carolingian Empire during the Early Middle Ages, its rate of first cousin marriage in the 20th century was minuscule, and probably zero. If the region was outside the Carolingian Empire, as were southern Italy, southern Spain, and Brittany (France’s northwestern peninsula), the rate was higher. In Sicily, there were so many requests for dispensations to marry cousins in the 20th century that the pope delegated special power to the bishop of Sicily to allow marriages between second cousins without the Vatican’s permission.”

And those numbers reveal an even more amazing correlation: “The greater the rate of cousin marriage in a province, the higher the rates of corruption and Mafia activity.”

Individualism, rejection of authority, intellectual independence, willingness to innovate

are, in our time, qualities with positive connotations that almost no one seriously questions. This gives rise to another contrast between Henrich and his two great predecessors, Max Weber and Jared Diamond. Insignificant reservations aside, Joseph Henrich sees a great progress in the social and psychological evolution that has made possible this weird and unique Western path (remember weird = Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic”). His book reads like a paean to this extraordinary historic achievement in which, by the way, the US occupies the top position with regard to most criteria.

In contrast, Max Weber had spoken of the “steel casing of capitalism,” of the impersonality and “loneliness of man” in modern society, and he did not try to conceal the negative aspects of an overwhelming bureaucracy to which it has to submit. To be sure, Henrich mentions the higher suicide rates in Protestant as opposed to Catholic regions, a fact that already attracted Emile Durkheim’s attention, but in his book these limitations only figure as minor blemishes in what on the whole represents a magnificent development of humankind.

As for Jared Diamond, he is far too much of a historian with a deep love of everything concrete that catches his eye to embark on such generalizations. The question is, are they justified? With this question I would like to turn to Henrich’s method.

Henrich treats culture

with the instruments of the natural sciences. He does this in so systematical a way that, in my estimation, more than half of his book of no less than 680 pages is – directly or indirectly – devoted to methodological considerations. Readability suffers from such preoccupation – these considerations together with the accompanying statistics would probably be better off in an appendix – but as a rigorous researcher, Henrich seems to fear nothing so much as to be convicted of lack of seriousness in dealing with causal explanations and statistical evidence. This caution has brought him success. Renowned peers like Francis Fukuyama, Ian Morris, Daron Acemoglu have praised the book: it has definitely earned its place in the wake of Weber and Diamond.

Nevertheless, some reservations intrude on my mind with regard to method. The impression that must arise in the unbiased reader is just too deceptively optimistic. With the methods of rigorous analysis originating from the natural sciences, the proof now seems conclusive that mankind, having overcome disruptive obstacles (such as the marriage of cousins and the traditional clan mentality that accompanies it), had to follow a path of infinite ascent – all numbers collected by Henrich (and they are many) seem to confirm this conclusion. We get the impression that cultural developments are just as predictable as those of inanimate nature (where, for example, we can predict for coming millennia the positions of the celestial bodies surrounding us).

At this point I would like to express some reservations

Henrich has overlooked an important historical fact. Presumably, the Church succeeded in destroying close kinship ties to a certain extent, but it did not remove them in order to create new human beings freed from all ties but in order to create believing Christians ready to offer donations. It has simply put wider ideological ties in the place of more restrictive biological ones. As we know, one’s brethren were now fellow Christians while one’s enemies were the heretics at home and the unconverted pagans (Muslims, etc.) abroad. For a long time, these followers of the devil could be murdered with tacit consent and or even open approval by the Church. The latter certainly substantially extended existing ties when defining these ideologically, but it has by no means abolished them.

We know that this opposition between us and them continues unabated in today’s secularized society. Those who oppose political correctness at home are muzzled in Western countries, while they may be persecuted or even murdered in states like Russia or China. Nations that cling to their own ideology (nowadays, Western, Russian or Chinese capitalism) point thousands of nuclear warheads on their respective enemies. Seen in this light, nothing essential has changed.

A second criticism concerns the great ruptures of history

These just cannot be grasped by means of the methods used in Henrich’s book. This observation applies to the great revolutions which we call Neolithic,  Industrial and Digital. As is well known today, the sedentary way of life initially only brought disadvantages to people: a shorter, less healthy life deprived of many freedoms. Only later did it become apparent that agriculture and animal husbandry could feed many times more people; this superiority then led to hunter-gatherers being more and more displaced by sedentary societies. But of course, no one could have foreseen this at the time when this transition was just beginning.

In the same way, no one at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution could have had the slightest idea that the exploitation of fossil deposits, on which the new economic model relied from its very beginning, would less than two hundred years later exhaust fossil resources and poison nature through its toxic residues (CO2) – an unforeseen turn of events that could very well herald the end of the industrial age with its soon to be ten billion people. Henrich rightly sees the Industrial Revolution as a logical continuation of the increasing liberation of markets and individuals from all the fetters that had hitherto constrained them, but he all but ignores that this development may result in the total exploitation and poisoning of nature. Since many and quite serious thinkers meanwhile warn of these dangers, any analysis of cultural evolution must be deemed one-sided, that overlooks these obvious facts.

Max Weber was thoroughly aware of future dangers (not of course of the environmental crisis). This is also true of Jared Diamond, who in his book Collapse explicitly evokes the possibility of the total collapse of societies. In this context, our reservations become are even more relevant when we consider the importance that Henrich justly ascribes to competition.

The competition of individuals and populations

has become an accepted idea since Charles Darwin at the latest. Starting from biology, it conquered the social sciences. In its coarse form, it turned into Social Darwinism, which infamously wreaked immense havoc during the twentieth century. But in the refined form, as accepted by research and by Henrich, competition between clans, tribes and nations means that the most successful models of different human lifestyles are imitated and adopted by other clans, tribes and nations. Of course, this often includes the very opposite of competition, namely cooperation. The big companies in Silicon Valley developed their amazing ideas in constant competition with each other, but within each company cooperation must be the rule – the great companies owe their global success to this coincidentia oppositorum. Like Max Weber before him, Henrich explains the spread of democracy, open markets and innovation throughout today’s world with the fascination of a model that convinces through its greater performance.

However, Henrich is blind to a crucial flaw

of his development model. We already noted that the marriage and family policy of the Church was not at all aimed at freeing man from all ties. The Church wanted to produce Christians. Until the beginning of modern secularized Europe, Christian were instructed to see in pagans and heretics their enemies that had to be fought relentlessly. Instead of ties to a specific clan, ties to a specific religion became the hallmark of one’s identity.

At the beginning of our modern era (roughly from the 17the century onwards), secularization broke the power of the Church and with it the image of its ideological enemies that is pagans and heretics, but this process did not liberate man from ideological foes. Instead, it merely replaced the old enemies with new ones. Anyone who follows the talk shows in China or Russia and the broadcasts of CNN or Fox News in the United States or the sanctions policy of the EU is well aware of the deep socio-political front lines separating mankind today. Inside the major ideological blocs, heresy has been replaced by political incorrectness while between nations pagan beliefs have been replaced by rival ideologies.

This state of affairs confronts us with the paramount problem

of our time. So successful have the great nations become by the process described by Henrich that each of them, with its economy grown to incredible strength by the industrial civilization, consumes for itself several globes, in this way not only destroying their own sustainable livelihood but at the same time that of the rest of mankind. And the three largest of them – the U.S., Russia and China – can each make the entire globe uninhabitable for millennia to come through nuclear destruction. This is the catastrophic effect of that social, psychological, and scientific-innovative increase in efficiency that Henrich so convincingly describes.

Silicon Valley became the symbol of a recipe for success that spread to the entire world: competition towards the outside, cooperation within – therein lies the magic formula of this recipe. But while the miniature happening in the state of  California signals a high point in economic development, its expansion to the entire globe is leading us down the fastest path to disaster. The ceaseless increase in economic and military efficiency of competing nations both cannibalizes the globe and brings humanity ever closer to nuclear self-destruction.

The dilemma, insurmountable at first sight, is that each nation, in the race with all others, weakens itself as soon as it refrains from increasing its own economic or military power for the sake of mankind. That is why we look in vain for even one single rich state pursuing a policy of negative growth and a single poor state voluntarily foregoing positive growth. The situation becomes even more dramatic when we turn to military competition. More and more small states of the kind of North Korea consider it their right (a basic human right?) to acquire the ultimate bomb.

Conclusion

Henrich convincingly demonstrates how the elimination of archaic clan ties has decisively broadened people’s horizons. Nor is it perhaps mere coincidence that he completely overlooks the emergence of new ideologically determined friend-foe stereotypes that replace the old biological ones. If I suggest that this oversight may correspond to an unacknowledged intention on his part, it is because the future of mankind in the 21st century depends on our ability to abolish ideological separation as well. The race of nations for greater economic and military power can only be ended if they mutually recognize each other as representing equal human beings with equal rights, where ideological as well as earlier biological barriers must lose all importance. Only when mankind finally submits to a common authority that replaces the nuclear missiles constantly directed at all of us by a world police, and only when the exploitation and destruction of the earth’s habitat gives way to a sustainable management of the common spaceship earth, can there can be an escape from this race towards the abyss. I know, this idea still seems like utopia to most people today, because, fortunately, the globe is not yet completely poisoned and exploited and because, by mere chance, the ever more complex, ever more destructive arsenals of annihilation constantly enlarged by the great powers have turned our globe into a nuclear waste.In Prof. Henrich’s paean to human development, this rather gloomy perspective is not mentioned. But it arises as an immediate, I would almost say logical consequence. For the sake of intellectual honesty, therefore, it should not be omitted.

*1* It may, of course, be objected that ninety percent of the population, namely the peasantry, were still tied to the land until the 18th century and had to marry locally. The nobility largely resisted the church’s regulations anyway. By and large, only the inhabitants of the cities will have followed them. The British ancient historian Charles Freeman is correspondingly skeptical of Henrich’s thesis. But the historical criticism does not invalidate the astonishing findings that result from Henrich’s statistical material.

Commentary by Prof. Michael Mitterauer,

Dear Mr. Jenner,

with great interest I follow your mailings, which I have been receiving for quite some time. I was particularly interested in your latest contribution “Max Weber – Jared Diamond – Joseph Henrich”. You treat the three authors with regard to how they explain the fact “that Europe followed a path different from all previous history”. This question has also occupied me for many years. In 2003, I published in the Munich Beck-Verlag “Why Europe? Medieval Foundations of a Special Path”. The book received the German Historian’s Prize in 2004 and is now available in Spanish and English translation. As a social historian I started from Max Weber, as an agricultural historian I worked intensively with my classmate Jared Diamond, from whom I received very important suggestions for my Sonderweg research. Since this research is now available in English in several translations, Joseph Henrich and his colleague Jonathan Schulz have repeatedly contacted me. You will find my publications often in their literature citations, unfortunately not my critical remarks. On this background of experience, I would like to allow myself some comments on your article.

Max Weber has put his specific approach to the explanation of the European Sonderweg in the preface to his “Collected Essays on the Sociology of Religion” under the keyword “concatenation of circumstances”. And at such circumstances “concatenated with each other” he cites a long series of factors. If he is quoted again and again only with his “Protestant ethics”, this is an abridgement of his argumentation. One need only look at his work on Italian trading societies or on urbanism in Upper Italy in the High Middle Ages to realize the breadth of his approach. He by no means explains in a one-line, monocausal fashion. Personally, I have tried to take up his approach of the “concatenation of circumstances” and carry it further. And I am convinced, it needs such multifactorial explanations to understand the European special path. I would be happy to send you summary texts on this, if you are interested.

Jared Diamond has chosen the rapid victories of the Spanish in the Americas as vivid examples of how their military superiority was caused by deep-seated cultural differences. But his approach is also much broader and anything but unilinear or monocausal. Inspired by Jared Diamond, I have placed the first chapter on the European Sonderweg in my book under the title “Rye and Oats.” This was done deliberately as a provocation to cultural and intellectual historians who unilaterally seek the origins of the European Sonderweg in the lofty heights of idealistic developments.

Max Weber and Jared Diamond are undoubtedly researchers whose reading should not be specifically recommended to those interested in the conditions of the European Sonderweg. With Joseph Henrich the situation is quite different. His “WEIRD people” are in the truest sense of the word “peculiar people”, whose designation at first arouses interest. However, the explanatory model behind it is very simple and above all scientifically totally outdated. With decades of delay, it once again takes up the thesis of anthropologist Jack Goody, namely that the popes’ early medieval prohibitions on marrying close relatives were the decisive cause for the development of marriage and family in Europe. As recently as 2009, a leading German family historian today, Bernhard Jussen, full professor of medieval studies in Frankfurt a. M., wrote a summary article entitled “Perspectives on Kinship Research Twenty-Five Years after Jack Goody’s ‘Development of Marriage and Family in Europe'” (The Family in Medieval Society, Lectures and Research 71, pp.275-324). After the extensive discussions in medieval studies during this period, Goody’s thesis about the impact of early medieval ecclesiastical endogamy prohibitions on the development of marriage and the family simply cannot be sustained. And now Joseph Henrich and his team try to derive not only the European family development, but the whole European special development, from it with great propaganda effort! The new labeling with “WEIRDpeople” or WEIRDest people” should help this attempt terminologically. In your text you clearly refer to what cannot be explained with the world formula of Henrich&Co. We must indeed speak of Henrich & Co, since Henrich has a large number of collaborators in his scientific production. In your paragraph “At this point I would like to express reservations”, you speak of new bonds which “the church” has brought about that cannot be explaned by the endogamy prohibition. And you are absolutely right when saying “A second criticism concerns the great breaking points of history. Definitely, these cannot be grasped with the methods used in Henrich’s book”.

As an example, you mention the Industrial Revolution. One could add many such “great breaking points of history”. This is also due to the methodology used. The correlations established by Henrich and his team with such mighty effort can ultimately only help to formulate hypotheses. They do not prove anything. For example, they quote: “The higher the marriage rate of cousins in a province, the higher the corruption rate and mafia activity. Henrich &Co fail to provide proof of this supposed regularity. The fact that Francis Fukuyama and other “authorities” recommend the book in no way guarantees methodological reliability.  It only shows that powerful citation and praise cartels are behind it. One could also point to prominent critics. Their number among American anthropologists is currently increasing.

I am firmly convinced that it is worthwhile to analyze historical conditions of the European Sonderweg – especially if one wants to draw conclusions for political action in the present. Reading Max Weber and Jared Diamond with such intentions can still be recommended with a clear conscience. Joseph Henrich does not fit into this line.

Please understand the severity of my criticism. It is not primarily directed at you, but at the busybody Harvard professor.

Yours sincerelyMichael Mitterauer

My response.
This comment is so interesting that I will answer it in my following essay.

Freedom perished in Rome. What about freedom in the United States?

Rome, the greatest ancient world power, owed its rise to a frugal, self-sacrificing peasantry that sent its sons into military service – except the eldest one, who remained on the farm. Indeed, at the beginning of its surprising ascendency, Rome could boast of a great abundance of children – the demographic sine-qua-non for its expansion. But the imperial successes, especially the victory over Carthage, which opened up northern Africa to the Romans as an almost limitless granary, undermined the strength of the Italic peasantry. Imported grain was so cheap that the Roman peasantry was soon no longer able to hold its own against foreign competition. In contrast, the two hundred or so superrich Roman families owed their staggering wealth precisely to the fact that they had outsourced the supply base at the expense of their compatriots. At the same time, they had built a military-industrial complex to permanently fortify their rule not only in the conquered territories but also against the increasingly disenfranchised masses at home, whom they had  deprived of their economic subsistence. The outward sign of this historic betrayal by the ruling elite became manifest in a most conspicuous way. “Proles” or children – the most cherished wealth of peasants and the nation, who had provided the demographic basis for Rome’s rise to a world power – had degenerated into dispossessed “proletarians” – in other words, into superfluous human material.

In the face of ist painful social division

Rome had to suffer much more than just a popular movement like Occupy Wallstreet. Civil wars now pitted the elite against the disenfranchised masses. The problem was the immense concentration of wealth and power in a few hands together with the powerlessness and impoverishment of the broad population. During the civil wars ravaging Rome before the final abdication of the Republic, wealth was temporarily suppressed in an extremely drastic manner. In the course of so-called “proscriptions” not only material wealth was confiscated, but the heads of its owners were cut off as well. However, even this drastic action was not able to save the Republic from capitalist economics and the destruction of civil liberties. In hindsight the reasons seem evident: The outsourcing of production and the slave economy were objectively cheaper, and the military-industrial complex proved to be the most effective means of holding the giant empire together.

We know how the Civil War ended,

it led from the Republic to the Roman Empire. The masses helped a dictatorship to power, which acquired divine attributes in order to be able to destroy civil liberties in the name of God. But a price had to be paid for the loss of liberty and the further duration of the capitalist system. It consisted in an (almost) unconditional basic income and tittytainment for the masses – both carried out at state expense. Citizens  had no longer a say in public matters, but they were now fed by the government and bloodily entertained and intimidated in the infamous Roman way.

In the second century, this arrangement worked so well that Edward Gibbon could even call this period one of the happier times in human history. It was, however, a happiness that proved fragile from the very start. In their relentless pursuit of individual wealth and personal power, the elite first abandoned solidarity with their countrymen, then abolished most remaining values and morals. In particular, the mores of Rome’s greatest families appeared so scandalous that religious communities such as those of the Christians saw in them the prime cause of all corruption. This departure from all previously held values affected procreation as well. Especially in the richest families, the absence of children became the rule, as inheritance seemed better secured in the hands of slaves, to be replaced at any moment, than in the hands of one’s own, usually rather rebellious offspring. But that was by no means all. When values get sacrificed to mammon, even truth loses its value. Towards the end of the Republic, fake news emerged – a great statesman and thinker like Cicero, who still stubbornly defended truth, was murdered by the henchmen of Marc Antonius.

The parallel with the events in the United States of America

seems evident. As the present-day electorate can only decide between candidates sponsored by capital for the extraordinarily costly election campaigns, it is in fact the one-percent money and power elite that operates the preliminary choice of presidential candidates. In this way, democracy, has largely turned into a facade even in the United States. I use the word “largely” on purpose, because democracy has, of course, always been a rather fluid concept. Apart from very small communities or religious sects, it has never been realized in a pure form anywhere on our globe, but this should not prevent us from recognizing great differences between the states that call themselves “democratic. There is no doubt that today’s United States of America still allow its citizens a far greater say in public matters and much more freedom of expression than either the People’s Republic of China or Putin`s Russia.

Nevertheless, I see the present-day U.S.

as having reached a point that is oppressively analogous to Rome’s departure from the Republic. Donald Trump has made as little secret of his contempt for democracy and for truth as he has of his admiration for dictators of the kind of Kim Jong Un or for autocrats like Vladimir Putin. This unfortunate president certainly had the will to stage a coup d’état – he merely lacked the intellectual means and the stamina to do so. If after inciting his followers to break the law, he had brought into play the necessary organizational talent and perseverance (which he lacks both), January 6 could have well turned out a success for him. Anyway, once forty percent of a nation’s voters no longer believes in the prevailing system, then its collapse is possible at any time.

For we should have no illusions:

The masses of the United States are revolting against current conditions for the same reason as the masses of Rome at the end of the Republic. Their labor and livelihood was outsourced because it can be produced more cheaply abroad – in this way more and more Americans see their living standard reduced to Third World level. For the prosperity of its own population – that is for education, health and jobs – the “elite” of the top one percent is no longer willing to undergo any sacrifices nor does it make any investments in the rotting infrastructure. The rich no longer invest money in their own country when they can get higher returns in China. The American elite betrays its own country just as did its Roman counterpart 2000 years ago. It is the glaring contrast between public poverty and concentrated private wealth that destabilizes modern America and brought Donald Trump to power (notwithstanding the fact that he himself figures as an embodiment of that evil).

Would it be theoretically conceivable that Joe Biden

or his subsequent successors turn the tide by taking decisive action against rising social inequality and mass discontent? The prescriptions for doing so abound on the left as well as on the right and, of course, in academia. The fact that a man like Trump was able to become president is, after all, primarily due to the rising discontent of the masses. Both camps even agree on some of the measures that should be taken. First of all, outsourced production (to China and other countries) would have to be brought back home; second, the rich would have to invest in the U.S. instead of China; third, the many wars the U.S. is waging abroad would have to be ended and money-guzzling military bases reduced. Not only Donald Trump voiced this intention, but that is what Bernie Sanders wants and all those who would prefer to lock the country up to the outside world in order to put an end to America’s costly global involvement. No wonder the impoverished masses and the stumbling middle class were perfectly happy with Trump’s slogan “America First.” Those who see their previous standard of living dwindling look for a savior, regardless of whether or not he achieves that goal democratically.

We know that in ancient Rome

none of these projects was realized, although the alternatives were as clear to the intellectuals of that time as they are to their successors today. The empire eventually perished from irreconcilable social antagonisms. Demographically bled dry, it was overrun and conquered in the fifth century by the child-rich hordes of the so-called barbarians.

Can a similar development be expected for the United States,

when their world empire begins to dissolve? This is a question that preoccupies the world. I think, however, that no example, not even the Roman one, can force the answer on us. History rhymes, but it need not repeat itself.

On the other hand, the course of history does not depend solely on the good intentions of the people shaping it. There are external conditions that restrict the human freedom of action. It is these barriers that make it highly likely that Joe Biden will not really stop the dismantling of American democracy. Even if a Bernie Sanders came to power, I don’t think he would be capable of doing so.

These external limits to good intentions

are due to the existence of competing nations – especially their military presence – combined with an accelerating depletion of those raw materials that no state can do without if it wants to guarantee its population the accustomed material standard of living. The development of modern technology in the military as well as in the civilian sphere cannot do without raw materials from other regions of the world – that is true even for Vladimir Putin’s giant empire, which is so richly blessed with natural resources. Competition for the exploitation of the remaining resources therefore enjoys the same high priority among the superpowers as it does among all economically emerging nations. The race for dwindling raw materials is decided by economic means (those paying more will get more) and by military power – often by both ways at the same time. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the struggle for resources has become increasingly intense, as entire continents (Africa and large parts of Asia), which previously enjoyed a largely self-sufficient, albeit poor, style of life, now demand for themselves the same civilizational prosperity as the states of the West. In this global race, isolation is no longer an option, since it is only possible at the price of freezing one’s own development while being technologically overtaken. This is precisely why the U.S. is so much afraid of China.

But if seclusion is out of the question for the U.S.,

and if, furthermore, the military-industrial complex is indispensable to maintain its status as superpower; if, moreover, large-scale capitalist enterprises continue to prove as economically efficient as they were in ancient Rome, and the technical devices of daily use can be produced much more cheaply in other regions (such as China), so that a large-scale revival of the U.S.’s own industries is out of the question, then it becomes most likely that the United States will follow Rome in sacrificing more and more freedom and democracy to economic efficiency. The material prerequisites and ideological justifications for this procedure are already in place. Instead of providing the masses now rendered economically superfluous with work and self-esteem, they will be satisfied – as they were two thousand years ago – with a (more or less) unconditional basic survival income and a hefty dose of tittytainment. Autocrats of the kind of Donald Trump will then establish a kind of modern emperorship, as it already exists under Xi Jinping in China and under Putin in Russia.

So, TINA remains our last word –

there is no alternative? Yes and no. As long as the world is consumed in the race for riches and power, where the great superstates impose the laws of action on each other and the rest of the world, things cannot be expected to change. A farewell to capitalism, the prevention of climate change and a better society are out of the question, because anyone trying to realize these goals will pay for his courage with dependence and, finally with vassalage or even destruction. Europe only needs to look back into its long history of colonization. None of the many militarily inferior states could hope that its Christian foes would reward them for having presented to them their left cheek after being beaten on the right. They were simply subdued, exploited and even annihilated. Therefore, the Race of Nations itself must come to an end before we can hope for a better world.

The Demise of American Democracy

When the highest representatives of a community are eager to throw mud at each other. When arguments merely serve as a façade to convey anger, mockery or contempt, then history has just turned a corner. One period has come to an end, a new one begins. Since September 29, 2020 we know that in the United States of America democracy is undergoing a process of rapid disintegration – it is being torn apart by diverging forces.

Continue reading The Demise of American Democracy

Strong Men, Weak Peoples – the Uncertain Future of Democracy

A critical reviewer would probably have to accompany this essay in the manner of Wikipedia: “additional evidence required”. Nevertheless, I dare to publish it, because I fear that there will never be enough evidence on this topic – but instead lots of different opinions. What I may offer the reader are mere impressions, everyone may supplement them in his own way and with his – hopefully better – knowledge. Continue reading Strong Men, Weak Peoples – the Uncertain Future of Democracy

Vivat America! (Nevertheless)

The call may sound rather strange. America? Isn’t that the country where a populist president divides his own countrymen like no one before him sowing the seeds of mistrust even in up to then friendly and allied nations? Continue reading Vivat America! (Nevertheless)

Fake Reality – two Reasons why even the Greens are only telling half the Truth about Climate Change

Dedicated to William E. Rees Continue reading Fake Reality – two Reasons why even the Greens are only telling half the Truth about Climate Change

The hand on the trigger: How an American president wantonly prepares the next war

The great world powers slipped into World War I without really wanting it. But they had been arming themselves for years, so all that was needed was but a spark – such as the assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne – to detonate a powder keg filled to the rim. Continue reading The hand on the trigger: How an American president wantonly prepares the next war

Hitler, Arendt, Hoffer: Or: The Genius as Proletarian

He could have been a typical representative of the proletariat, for in his life he never got beyond casual work as a harvest worker and longshoreman and, in his youth, had not even been able to attend school. Continue reading Hitler, Arendt, Hoffer: Or: The Genius as Proletarian