December 28, 2004

The Need for History

It's a bit scary when a high ranking presidential advisor's historical memory doesn't go back farther than WW II. John Podesta scares me.

Since the end of World War II, governments around the world have been given virtual carte blanche to mistreat their citizens without fear of outside interference.

The actual start of this system wasn't WW II, but rather 1648 with the passage of the Peace of Westphalia. If you can't hit the right century on a major historical event, people get worried about high school students. If Democrat presidents are getting advice from John Podesta, things are a great deal worse.

The problem, fundamentally, is that the horrors of the preceding system are of such a nature that it is very easy to lose your way and unleash old, bad habits. The present unpleasantness over the murder of Theo van Gogh where muslims wake up with pig heads nailed to their doors is just a small taste of where things can go badly wrong in the space of a week if we mistakenly fall into a pre-westphalian pattern instead of brewing a truly new post-westphalian reality.

The US is unique among major powers because we've never existed as a pre-westphalian entity. All other peoples have some cultural memory of pre-westphalian reality. The jihad brigades and their poster boy, Osama bin Laden, explicitly call for a return to pre-westphalian patterns. We, on the other hand, have the best chance of creating true post-westphalianism because we are unburdened by history and have the economic, political, and military power to affect the course of nations.

This is a huge conversation, one that will stretch and challenge the intellectuals of the world to come to a successful conclusion. We're not served well by those who think that WW II is the limit of history. John Podesta is asking the right question, and that's to his credit but without a proper historical framework, the right question is next to useless.

Posted by TMLutas at December 28, 2004 11:02 AM