August 8, 2006
Smell That Whiff of Panic?By Christopher Chantrill
Smell the whiff of panic? Iraq has/may/will soon collapse into civil war! Israel may not be able to fully dismantle Hezbollah! Like Falstaff before battle we whine to Prince Hal that we "would 'twere bed—time, Hal, and all well."
It's as if Europe never had its tribal politics and terrorist warfare, with roving militias camped out in weak states lacking the power to suppress them. In the Hundred Years War, the English did a splendid job of reducing France to a wasted land. As the Black Prince went raiding deep into France what was he but a prototype of Iranian President Ahmadinejad whose proxies are wasting Iraq and Lebanon?
Then the Brits came home and laid waste to their homeland in the Wars of the Roses. Shakespeare gave us a picture of that period.
Feel sorry for the French? Don't waste your sympathy. Two hundred years after the Hundred Years War the French under Cardinal Richelieu help lay waste to Germany in the Thirty Years War as armies from several nations march to and fro across that unhappy land, eating all the food and looting all the wealth as they went. It is estimated that the population in Germany declined by at least one third from 1608 to 1648, a disaster far worse than the butchery of the Second Thirty Years War of 1914 to 1945, leaving aside the special attention paid to the Jews.
It was in the aftermath of the first Thirty Years War that the Europeans tried to put a limit on all—out war and its rampaging militias. They tried to make warfare civilized. It can't have hurt that shortly afterwards the British brought home from India the civilizing cotton textiles of India—muslins, calicos, and chintz. All of Europe fell in love with these exotic eastern fabrics.
But love had nothing to do with it. It was British tinkerers that made the newly civilized world go round. Men like promoter Richard Arkwright invented power cotton spinning and Rev. Edmund Cartwright invented a power loom. When the Yanks stole the British power spinning and weaving technology and brought it to the United States they immediately lowered the cost of cotton cloth from 40—50 cents a yard to 10 cents a yard, according to Stephen Yafa in Cotton: The Biography of a Revolutionary Fiber.
Want to start a revolution? Lower prices by 80 percent.
Up until that time all the world had been ruled by thug warrior dynasties except in highly refined city states like Venice and Florence or the free German cities where the rising bourgeoisie ruled.
Now, as a result of the cotton revolution and its incredible wealth potential, political power needed to achieve a delicate accommodation with economic power if it wanted to strut upon the world stage. It was a new world order.
Just ask thug dictator Mao Tse—Tung if you aren't convinced. He tested to destruction the notion that all political power grew out of the barrel of a gun. He tried to make China into a world power by starving the peasants to buy guns and by keeping the Chinese people in constant revolutionary turmoil. Instead he succeeded in completing the transformation of China from the richest country in the world into a political, economic, and cultural backwater.
Again and again thug dictators have tried to turn the clock back and revive the good old days of thug rule. The rot started with Robespierre and Napoleon in France, then Kaiser Bill and Hitler in Germany.
Learning nothing from the French and the Germans, the pan—Arab nationalists tried out thug rule in the Middle East. The Fidelistas tried in Cuba. Thug Nkrumah tried in Ghana. Thug Mugabe tried in Zimbabwe. Now thug Ayatollahs in Persia are trying one last time to build a world thug empire — again, with special attention to the Jews.
The beauty of the modern era is that any political regime that departs from the ways of democratic capitalism, the system that grew out of the eighteenth century cotton revolution, immediately starts downhill fast. But there turns out to be one exception to this rule.
Thug regimes sitting on top of oil wells are able to mainline oil revenue without immediate collapse. Leaders of oil nations seem to share a narcotic addiction to dreams of world conquest that dies, as the habit of the drug addict, only in the ruin of everything around them.
As we all run around flapping our hands over the disproportion in Lebanon and the mess in Iraq let us not lose faith in our glorious democratic capitalism that has tamed, in Europe and North America at least, the sway of thug political power.
But let us not forget the grim lesson of the last two hundred years.