Carl-Johan Westholm’s personal blog
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Booklets (PDF)
Der ewige Frieden (in English)
CJW's chapter in "L´Homme Libre. Mélanges en L´Honneur de Pascal Salin. Festschrift in Honour of Pascal Salin", (Les Belles Lettres, Paris 2006, pp 420-424)
Der ewige Frieden. By Carl-Johan Westholm

Il faut du courage pour être libre, mais il faut aussi du courage pour être libéral dans ce monde de fausses valeurs, d’alibis douteux, de compromis idéologiques, de mimétisme intellectuel et de démagogie politicienne où l’humanisme libéral est ignoré, déformé, caricaturé jusqu’à la haine.
Pascal Salin, Liberalisme (2000)

The following lines could be seen as too self-evident – or just odd, or naïve. They begin with the observation of a paradox in world politics.

The so-called conventional wisdom and world opinion says that it is natural that every people has its own state, like the French with France, the Swedes in Sweden etc. As a consequence, the state of Israel is logical, like a Palestinian state, as well as a Kashmir state could be motivated, and a united state of Ireland, a state or a number of states in former Yugoslavia.

However, there is a deep mistrust against some of these existing or potential states from large or dominating groups within these areas. What is the reason?

History shows that a lot of states have been extremely detrimental both for its citizens and for the world at large. Nazi-Germany and the Soviet Union are two well-known examples where older state apparatus were captured by ideas, individuals and movements that destroyed and completely transformed the society through the state.

Therefore, it is nearly pointless to discuss in general terms if it is good for a group of people with a common tradition, culture and/or identity to have its own state, if you do not specify what you mean with “the state”. That is seldom done when discussing the so-called right of self-determination and national sovereignty. Instead, you hear the mantra that “the X people” has the right to its own state, “the X state”.

First a dip into history:

The state as a nation state, comprising one people, language and culture, is a concept from the 19th century, created by intellectual elites. Germany e g was one nation, with many states, before Bismarck. Nevertheless you find the roots of so-called state building in the beginning of human history, when tribes fought to get some permanence in the monopoly of effectively practicing violence. To own was to have land, to have land you must be able to defend it, to defend it, it was necessary to be the one who decided what was right and wrong, that is to be the ruler, the governor, the law maker, to be able to dispose of some of all individual’s economic resources. That is, you must have politicians.

In the Old Testament, there are episodes about, as it is formulated, the time before Israel had kings, and was ruled by judges. Both Judaism and Islam were originally political movements, lead by religious prophets, who claimed divine inspiration when fighting for land with other tribes or groups of people in the desert and in the green areas around.

Back to modern times:

Is it not good that a group of people has the right to govern itself, one might ask. However, that depends. During the 19th century, there were intensified early warnings that a group is not the same as all of its members. Individuals in a group can be suffering from decisions made by the ruling majority, or ruling minority.

Most, if not all, political movements want to create states controlled by the movements, to get legitimacy of using physical violence against other groups and individuals. Not for fun, but more likely because of fear for what other groups could do if they had the power in the state: to decide about taxes, laws, sometimes mild, sometimes discriminatory and oppressive.

The possibility that a state has such a huge potential to use power and force, for whatever purpose the ruling majority or minority finds appropriate, is a well-grounded reason for many individuals to fear the existence of a state in the hands of the wrong people.

Look forward to Utopia:

Imagine, that in all places on earth where there are conflicts between political movements about the geographical limits of the states, and thereby between the states, imagine that all movements should declare that more essential than political geography is personal integrity - that decisive is not the geographical limits but the limits of politics. Therefore all political movements declare that they prefer a state with minimal politics ruled by others than a state with maximal politics ruled by the own movement. Of course, the ideal is a state with minimal politics ruled by the own movement, but the difference in the daily life would be minimal, because the state would not be allowed to intervene in individuals’ lives more than to uphold the impartial and non discriminatory laws and to defend this system.

This means a state where the laws do not give favours, subsidies or other kind of privileges to any individuals or groups within the state, neither discriminating anyone – rich or poor - by special taxes on specific activities or levels of incomes or properties. Neither giving state authority to a religion or religious interpretations, or specific life styles, nor favouring or discriminating some ethnical background.

Who would fear this minimal state? Who would bother about all discretionary governmental decisions, when the possibility for this has been taken down to a minimum? It is not in this mini state so important what the politicians decide, and therefore not so important to seek political office. Why start a war to take the power of the state and expand its geographical borders, when the power of the state means so little in negative terms, as a threat?

Of course, you can say that we have the well known UN-declarations about human rights, which should protect from misuse of state power. However, it is also well known that these rights do not protect from economic exploitation by discriminating taxation or rules.

The real controversial – or naive – part of this is that this utopia also means a grand farewell to the big welfare state, as we know it today. It means a good bye to high taxes and intrusive regulations, because it is hard to have these without giving advantages and disadvantages to groups and individuals, or at least giving the lawmakers a standing temptation or pressure to do this.

You can easily hear the objection to this way to utopia: it says that the core of politics is lost. Politics is unthinkable without the state’s power to take and give between groups and individuals, to distribute and discriminate. Exploitation via the state must be legal, this is politics defined.

This utopia is therefore not realistic, it is assumed. Therefore, wars will continue between political movements, freedom fighters and terrorists and soldiers, presidents and guerrilla-leaders. The core of politics, it is understood but not always said, is a bloody thing. It is not just revolutions that are more than a tea party. The promise of piecemeal social engineering (Popper) is not always peaceful.

If you want state authorization of your religious beliefs, to your picking in your neighbour’s wallet – then you must expect force, fights and violence.

The state is – as Bastiat said – not only the illusion that everybody can live on other people. The state is also the embryo of civilization, of making voluntary cooperation easier, but with the gate to its own destruction. The great mistake in human development, the fatal conceit to quote Hayek, is that many do not recognize this fundamental divide. They miss it, because they do not see that it is a mental divide – like all other fundamental things. People are morality blind; they do not see the moral dimension – similar to the colour blind who does not see all colours. State blindness is the inability to see the ethical dimension in the state, and in all power and politics.

In practice, you can see that an interventionist, big brother state is more easily accepted, the more homogeneous the population is. In some countries in the EU, immigration has paved the way for multicultural societies. No wonder therefore that the standardized costume of the distributive state presupposing standard attitudes and behaviour seems ill suited.

You could also express this solution to avoid civil wars in the word “tolerance”. Then you nearly create a truism; if people do not want any wars, there will be no wars. Few would like wars, but some only if the enemy capitulates. In Latin, it means to lose one’s head.

Even if most people are tolerant, tiny energetic minorities can play the tune. As has been observed, “there is a fine line between burning enthusiasm and blind fanaticism” (the Swedish historian Harald Hjärne). Great things are never initiated by big masses. Good or evil things, right or wrongs thoughts held and inspired by the leaders, will be crucial.

Is there ground for optimism? Yes, because tyranny is awful, and freedom is beautiful. We have more possibilities to communicate this with all our new current technology. In fact, Comte’s positivism is not out-dated. The magic of politics could diminish, the superstition of human super power weaken. The not only linguistic link between state and statism could become more evident.

Responsible politicians could shorten the road to eternal world peace by giving more thoughts to the logic that to end war between states and peoples, you must end war between individuals and groups. The constitution must therefore be utopian in its pragmatic restrictions on political power to end daily exploitation and suppression of peoples, groups and individuals. Trade and commerce are based on private property and voluntary cooperation. Free trade makes you free, free politics can make you to a slave.

War is the continuation of politics with other means, to quote Clausewitz. The idea of more politics, even formally super democratic, instead of war as the solution, must give in to the insight that politics in extremis, to paraphrase Clausewitz, makes war.

Don’t make war. Make classic liberalism. “L’humanisme n’est pas avoir autre visage que celui de libéralisme.” (Pascal Salin, Libéralisme, 2000)

Der ewige Frieden is a glorious dream, not only in a Festschrift. Dear Pascal, à votre santé!

Carl-Johan Westholm