Friday, August 29, 2008

Bobbitt . . . or 'Spengler' on Russia's role in the Caucasus?

Our Contemporary 'Spengler'
"of the boudoir eyes"
(Image from Asia Times)

I had wondered what Philip Bobbitt might have to say about the scenario in Georgia and how it fits his views on the current trajectory of states from nation states to market states. Here, in "Russia's aggression in Georgia is a portent of perils to come," (August 13, 2008), is his take on things in the Caucasus:
[In the wake of the USSR's collapse,] developed states began to move from the constitutional order of nation states, which had fought the Cold War, to market states. In Europe, the EU began to evolve away from a super-nation state toward a more flexible congeries of national enclaves: Scots, Lombards, Catalonians and others found a constitutional umbrella within which they could develop. In America, deregulation of everything from industrial practices to women's reproduction, the replacement of conscription by an all-volunteer force, the substitution of job retraining for unemployment compensation -- were all heralds of this change. In China, the embrace of free trade, private investment and market pricing were similar events. Elsewhere, sovereign wealth funds created further harbingers of this new order. A global system of human rights norms was given martial effect in the former state of Yugoslavia, another event that reflected this dramatic evolution of states.

But not in Russia. There political and economic leaders -- and their Western advisers -- confused the market with the market state, creating a vast criminal enterprise that more resembled the Mafia than the multinational corporation. In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the nation state has come roaring back. It was Vladimir Putin who described the end of the USSR as 'the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century'. He will not be able to reverse the ultimate trend toward market states; this new constitutional order is too formidable an innovation meekly to give way. Indeed the Russian tactic of granting vast numbers of Ossetians Russian citizenship -- which gave it the legal pretext that it used to intervene -- is at bottom a market state manoeuvre which encourages multiple juridical identities. But the hope that the transition away from nation states could be done without bloodshed in Europe has been dashed. The end of the first era of globalised constitutional transformation has come with unpredictable consequences because war, as Clausewitz told us, has its own momentum. I should be surprised if there were no further violence in Georgia.
But this leads us again to the question of Bobbitt's distinction between a nation state and a market state, which I thumbnailed as:
The former promises to protect and increase its citizens' material well-being, whereas the latter promises to guarantee and maximize its citizens' opportunities (cf. Bobbitt, Terror and Consent, pages 11-12)
I was citing Bobbitt's recent Terror and Consent, but he made the same distinction in his earlier tome, The Shield of Achilles, which I haven't read but which some contributor to Wikipedia has, for we find there in the entry on Shield of Achilles a summary of Book 1, Part 3 that provides a more expansive explanation than my brief one:
The constitutional order of the 21st century . . . market state will supersede the 20th century nation state as a consequence of the end of the Long War [i.e., the 'war' lasting from 1914 to 1989]. A constitutional order is distinguished by its unique claim for legitimacy. Give us power, the nation state said, and we will improve your material well-being. But whereas the nation state, with its mass free public education, universal franchise, and social security policies promised to guarantee the welfare of the nation, the market state promises to maximize the opportunity of the people and thus tends to privatize many state activities and to make voting and representative government less influential and more responsive to the market. This does not mean that market states cease to be interested in the well-being of their peoples or that nationalism is any less potent but that the State no longer claims legitimacy on that unique basis.
That's well-put by some anonymous commentor on Bobbitt's Shield of Achilles. Now, bringing us back to Bobbitt's take on the Georgian crisis, we can better see what Bobbitt means in stating that for Vladimir Putin's Russia, "the nation state has come roaring back." Putin, as we know if we've been reading the papers, has reversed some of the market and political freedoms achieved by Russia in the 1990s and has promised more security for Russians in exchange for restrictions on freedom. Bobbitt thinks that this retrograde move by Russia will not be possible in the longer run, and he notes the irony that even "the Russian tactic of granting vast numbers of Ossetians Russian citizenship . . . is at bottom a market state manoeuvre which encourages multiple juridical identities."

But Russians always take a circuitous route toward the future. Last time, they detoured through the 20th century, taking 70 years to reach a future that they'd promised to leap over. This time, they're appealing to the Old Russia from before the Bolshevik Revolution and attempting to restore the old Czarist empire -- but now, as with the Czars, an empire in the interests of the Russian nation. This implies "nation" state in an even stronger sense than Bobbitt means, for we're really talking about an ethnic nationalism in which Russia uses minorities within its empire to further the power of Russians.

For this, they don't have much time.

In one of his many lunacies of great insight, "Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess," Asia Times (August 19, 2008), our current-day 'Spengler' writes:
Russia is fighting for its survival, against a catastrophic decline in population and the likelihood of a Muslim majority by mid-century. The Russian Federation's scarcest resource is people. It cannot ignore the 22 million Russians stranded outside its borders after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, nor, for that matter, small but loyal ethnicities such as the Ossetians. Strategic encirclement, in Russian eyes, prefigures the ethnic disintegration of Russia, which was a political and cultural entity, not an ethnic state, from its first origins.
The Russians, argues Spengler, are inviting loyal ethnic groups to become 'Russian' by joining its declining Russian majority -- not precisely an ethnic state, but an ethnically dominated one. If Spengler is right, then Putin's Russia is engaged in some long-term planning to ensure that ethnic Russians come out on top in the changing demographics of an uncertain future.

Who's right? Spengler or Bobbitt? I'd prefer to think that Bobbitt has his finger on the measured pulse of a rational history, but Spengler reminds us that in history, there will be blood.

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