1. Europe Makes Its Choice.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, in Brussels, Belgium, August 19, 2020 (Olivier Hoslet/Reuters)
The president of the European Council does not usually make news when addressing the UN General Assembly. In fact, the current occupant of the post, Charles Michel might be used to giving UN addresses that attract minimal attention. He is, after all, a former prime minister of Belgium.
However, today was different. Michel told the world that the European Union has made its choice in the emerging strategic contest between the United States and China:
“Since I became President of the European Council, I have often been asked a question that is both simple and brutal: “In the new rivalry between the United States and China, which side is the European Union on?” My answer is the following…
We are deeply connected with the United States. We share ideals, values and a mutual affection that have been strengthened through the trials of history. They remain embodied today in a vital transatlantic alliance. This does not prevent us from occasionally having divergent approaches or interests.
We do not share the values on which the political and economic system in China is based. And we will not stop promoting respect for universal human rights. Including those of minorities such as the Uighurs. Or in Hong Kong, where international commitments guaranteeing the rule of law and democracy are being questioned.”
Michel’s remarks might sound like a statement of the obvious, but the speech is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it’s actually not that obvious. It dispenses of a rhetorical trick used by top European politicians in the early years of the Trump administration. It was commonplace to hear certain leaders, such as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, refer, in a single breath, to the United States, China, and Russia as global challenges to be surmounted (Macron once called for the creation of a European army to defend against the three countries). It’s difficult to imagine that formulation making a comeback, even from Merkel.
The second reason is that, […]
Contitue reading here:
2. Brexit: The Conservative Dilemma – The Principle of Majority and National Sovereignty
Brexit has raised a number of serious challenges to the British political traditions and perhaps none of them has been more dramatic than the dilemma facing the conservatives. The dilemma in question is not something that aroused the interest of the tabloid newspapers, nevertheless it is unquestionably of considerable theoretical significance and needs an elaborate explanation. This article wishes to highlight the conflict between two
political positions: that of the traditional conservative conception of government and the defence of the attachment to complete national sovereignty. Why do we speak about a conflict between them? The paradox of the situation is that these principles usually do not clash at all, what is more, they are even in harmony. However, in the extraordinary context of the Brexit process to argue for the legitimacy of the outcome of the 2016 referendum has required discarding the time-tested “elitist” approach to politics, an approach based on the idea of limited democratic participation. The opponents of Brexit kept on reiterating that a decision of such significance must not be based on the principle of sheer majority, a standpoint, which, one could hardly deny, in itself has never been alien to conservatives. To the question of why should a small majority allow the winners to impose their preferences on a significant minority an easy and evident answer is that majority voting is the established way to decide public choices. However, a conservative may not be fully satisfied with this kind of simple answer, unless there are other important considerations for accepting it – and Brexit provides such considerations in abundance.
THE CLASSIC CONSERVATIVE ATTITUDE TO GOVERNMENT
The remarkable study of Matthew Hall, David Marsh and Emma Vines rightly stresses that even though we can find different political traditions in Britain, there is a dominant political tradition, “a particular conception of democracy” underpinning the institutions and processes of British politics.1 In their approach the British political tradition (BPT) contains “a limited liberal view of representation” and a conservative view of responsibility”. This view suggests a limited access to decision-making; the BPT “equates responsible government with leadership and prudence”. The above-mentioned three Australian scholars point out that in the BPT a “responsible” government is not a “responsive” one; its policies are not guided by the immediate approval of the electorate. If we cast only a quick glance at the intellectual history of British conservatism, there can be no doubt that mainstream conservative thinking has never espoused the idea of drawing the masses into politics. (The same is true, probably to an even greater extent, of continental conservatism.)
To prove what we wish to express let us quote the view of the “founding father” of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke. Writing about human rights he emphasised: if we can speak of natural rights at all, then they must certainly include the negative right of the masses to be kept away from political decision-making. It is worth quoting Burke precisely: “Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants […]. Among these wants is to be reckoned the want, out of civil society, of a sufficient restraint upon their passions. Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but even in the mass and body as well as in the individuals, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection.”2
Mainstream conservative thinking has not – up to now – basically broken with this conviction.3 For most conservative theoreticians political inequality and the special responsibility of the elites is rooted ultimately in human nature itself: the unequal distribution of human characteristics will “inevitably result in an inherently unequal society”.4 At the beginning of the new century, in 2004 the excellent publicist, Peregrine Worsthorne eloquently argued that even democracy needs an aristocracy.5 Citations from conservative writers could be continued – most of them stress, from various points of view, the necessity of entrusting the leadership of a society to a “natural aristocracy”. The reason is clear: numbers alone cannot be decisive. This conviction can be considered to be a crucial component in the patrician variant of classic conservatism which stands in sharp contrast with plebeian politics.
ATTACHMENT TO NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY
However, in the Brexit process this “elitist” position clashed with another basic tradition of classic conservative thinking – namely, with cherishing the idea of national sovereignty and of the nation state, because the protection of the latter position has made it necessary to break with the preference for limited popular participation and to rely on the principle of absolute majority. What can we say about the role and significance of national self-determination in British conservative tradition?
The article in full can be read here:
3. Full Committee Hearing: “The Role of Allies and Partner in U.S. Military Strategy and Operations”
September 23, 2020
Purpose: The committee will receive testimony from outside experts on the United States network of alliances and partnerships as they relate to defense, opportunities to enhance interoperability and collective defense, and recommendations for strengthening and evolving our security relationships.
The Honorable Christine Wormuth
Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges (ret)
Center for European Policy Analysis, Former Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe (2014-2017)
Mr. Elbridge Colby
Principal and co-Founder
The Marathon Initiative