We are currently living through tumultuous times. The system that many thought to be definitive is proving itself to have serious flaws. Greece, the birth-place of democracy, has become the graveyard of capitalism. It is important that we look at this event in the light of Carl Schmitt’s thinking: the end of a nomos and the beginning of a new one; and the words of the poet Mathew Arnold: “wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born”.
The Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia, of the Romanov family, had been directly involved in the death of Rasputin, which was, ironically, the reason why his life was saved, for after the murder he was sent to the Persian front and subsequently escaped the Bolshevik massacre of his family. It has been reencountered that at various dinner parties in London, the Duke would comment that the reason why the Russian aristocracy suffered such a fate was because they thought they would be there forever.
We must avoid making the same mistake. It is part of what Ortega y Gasset called ‘the plenitude of times,’ to believe that we have arrived at the end of civilization, that we are in the most advanced stage of human progress and that this system will perpetuate. Believing this is a characteristic of its opposite, that everything is about to change. This belief also includes a lack of motivation within the people, for they think that all that could be done has been achieved, and now they are only left to reap the rewards. We saw this in the imperial Rome, and the vandals conquered it. We are seeing it again in the U.S., and the Latin American people are conquering it. Europe is no different. In fact, this is part of its history. Germany cannot ignore the growing population of Turkish origin; and the same is true with England and the people of the subcontinent who are already third generation British citizens; and France and the Berbers.
Therefore, it is important that we know how the current nomos started and what preceded it, in order to understand the current situation and the possible future.
There are a few dates and events which would help us as an introduction and to give this article a time-line in which to place the wider and more abstract subject of power-change through industrial and ideological revolution. The Treaty of Westphalia, 1648, created what Carl Schmitt called, in opposition to what the mainstream rhetoric holds, the “ius publicum europeum”: a social and military system to regulate the relationship between the different European countries. This system was brought to an end with the French Revolution in 1789, and the Napoleonic Wars, 1799-1815, despite the intent of the political powers of Europe to re-establish it in the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Nevertheless, it was not a definitive blow that had been inflected by the French Revolution, but the first one of a series of tackles which brought it to its end with World War I. It had to go through a process: the revolutions of 1848, the ultimate creation of the state, as evidenced in Germany in 1871, and social and economic change for it to disappear by the end of World War I.
The “ius publicum europeum” was based on a sovereign system that is abstractly known by most historians as the ‘Ancien Régime’. This system encompassed all the different monarchies of Europe. The Ancien Régime was based on a hierarchical division of the state and on the feudal contract. There was the monarchy, the aristocracy, the church and the people. The monarchy was divinely legitimized by the church as the ruler of the temporal affairs of the world. Its government was based upon the division of the territory that was controlled through the aristocracy, which became the dispensators of justice and protection within the territories allocated to them by the king. In exchange for that privilege, the aristocracy provided the king with soldiers and the taxes collected. Therefore, the power held by the king and the aristocracy was through armed force, as they had the monopoly of violence.
All spiritual matters were governed by the church, which included education and propaganda, and because they had the right to crown the king and the sole privilege to accept people into heaven, they became shareholders of power with the king and the aristocracy.
Those who were ruled by these three classes were the people, the great majority; they obeyed in exchange for protection and justice, and the guarantee of being accepted into heaven. Nevertheless, this hierarchical order was not centralized and individuals were left a great deal of freedom. It was not a totalitarian state, but rather, as Schmitt called it, a consensus agreed upon. The Industrial Revolution, which some historians date from 1750 onwards, brought a major change. The ‘Ancien Régime’ was primarily based on land and wealth was tied to it. The Industrial Revolution brought a new class of wealthy people and professionals to the scope of society and produced a flight from the country side into the cities amongst the lower classes.
Machiavelli, the great Italian political thinker, says (The Prince, Principalities Acquired by Civil Strife, Penguin Books, pg. 67) that there are two dynamic energies within any state: the nobles and the people. The nobles are those with a monopoly of land and on trade, and by the people he means the rich business class and professionals, not the plebs. The strife between these two classes produces every change in government. The Industrial Revolution brought this new city-class into pre-eminence. Together with them a liberal ideology was developed in contra-position to the conservative ideology of the nobles. Therefore, the strife of this class to achieve political representation and economic benefits from the nobles created a clash and a dislocation of power from the ‘Ancien Régime’ to a new one.
In England this political strife manifested in the civil war of 1642-51, which culminated with the puritanical dictatorship imposed by Oliver Cromwell and was constitutionally established by the ascension to the throne of the puppet king William III. Germany was still under the lingering effects of an abstract Holy Roman Empire and in Russia it happened later, in 1917. It was in France where this political strife acquired the more crude characteristics of a civil war and which set a precedent for the rest of Europe. It is not in vain that Prince Metternich, the Austrian statesman said: “When France sneezes Europe catches a cold”. A quote that is still relevant for us at this moment.
The French Revolution of 1789, toppled the monarchy of Louis XVI and ended the feudal system bringing a new nomos, new state, into power. The new revolutionary state started through civil war. It had its foundations in the widespread discontent of the masses with the monarchy because of famine, economic recession and military defeat. It brought through demagogy the new bourgeoisie, the new rich and professional class, into power with the support of the masses who were lured into a frenzy of change, but which realistically changed little the way they lived.
The new regime ended the old division of society and replaced it with a centralized state. That is, the place previously occupied by the king was now occupied by an assembly of elected representatives. The hierarchical order and the domination of the church ended. The cult to god was abolished and replaced with the doctrine of human rights and equality. The army was separated from the aristocracy, reinvented by mass conscription and controlled by the assembly. The domination of the church was abolished; before men were sinners, now citizens. The land was not anymore divided by the feudal contract but it belonged to the state. Elections and universal male suffrage took the place of the agreement between the king and the aristocracy, and between the aristocracy and the people.
As it usually happens, however, the assembly was dominated at times by different political groupings with high ideals, which in fact established a dictatorship of a few.
This clash between old wealth and new wealth in Europe brought about the end of the ius publicum europeum. That was helped and impelled by banks and corporations which supported the new state and its liberal ideology of free market and usury as an individual freedom.
In 1799 Napoleon, previously a general of the French Republic, executed a coup d’état and became First Consul for life, establishing a dictatorship in the style of the Roman dictators.
Napoleon, through a series of wars (1799-1814/15) developed a new totalitarian state based on the centralization of power, the control of the army and the control of the currency. In fact, what the French Revolution achieved, and Napoleon perfected, was a system entirely different from the ‘Ancien Régime’ because it had a secular claim for its legitimacy instead of a divine one, yet even more aggressive but more subtle in the control over the populace. The bourgeoisie class had not brought down the monarchy to protect the interests of the people, but to take their place and privileges. This is further emphasized and demonstrated when Napoleon became emperor in 1804.
Nevertheless, this new revolutionary secular system brought an irreversible change in the ius publicum europeum and altered the balance of power. When the aristocracy defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, and tried to re-establish the Ancien Régime at the Congress of Vienna, they were trying to revive something which was already a corpse.
With Greece the bankers are trying to do the same as the aristocracy did at the Congress of Vienna.
It is not about trying to heal the old sick man who has already given up life, the corpse that is the current system, but helping the new born to grow strong and healthy in mind, body and spirit. And this new born will be, most probably, of a mixed origin. Genetically, culturally, and historically this makes sense.