World Order’s ‘Historical Force’ In Anglo-American Foreign Policy

‘Anxiety about the future is part of the Western condition,’ John Bew, professor in history and foreign policy, told an audience at King’s College London on Tuesday.

Bew was speaking at his inaugural lecture for the university about his emerging study into the Anglo-American view – or rather views – on ‘world order’, as well as their pursuit of it in relation, or sometimes opposition, to the interests of both Britain and America.

His contention is that the pursuit of world order has been a ‘historical force’ in both the British and American empires, most notably in setting up the rules that have somewhat governed international affairs since the Second World War.

Bew emphasised that ‘world order’ was not merely imperialism or self interest pursued under another guise. Indeed, he argued that at times national interest clashed with visions of world order, including in the interwar period that led to the failed League of Nations.

What with the rise of China as an economic rival to the US and president Donald Trump attacking or eschewing many of the conventions of global governance, any notion of world order clearly has relevance in foreign policy discussions.

In the case of both Britain and the US, Bew claims that their shared understanding of Roman history made them fearful of barbarians approaching the gate.

The Chinese may be more sophisticated than ancient barbarians, but the country’s championing of its own form of capitalism still presents an alternative, and perhaps a threat threat, to the US-led Western view of how things should be run.

One audience member at the lecture raised the notion of more regional or multipolar governance, which looks a plausible successor to US dominance in the short term.

As Bew acknowledged, not everyone thinks the end is nigh. Citing the technological growth and raising living standards flagged by the likes of the academic Steven Pinker, Bew said: ‘There’s a very good argument that the world is not in crisis … but it’s certainly a conceptual crisis.’

That conceptual crisis has alarmed politicians and officials from Canberra to Warsaw. Whatever book Bew produces from his study, it should be worth a read.

John Oliver is unimpressed with US education

John Oliver, February 2014 by TechCrunch

Most of us will remember a few schools lessons that we haven’t found much use for since we took them, but the British comedian John Oliver has little good to say about American schools.

And with their penchant for trivialising genocide, lack of focus on the sex lives of US presidents, and minor obsession with the American dream, perhaps he’s right.

Image Credit – John Oliver, February 2014 by TechCrunch

Is it time to boycott political intolerance?

Honolulu Pride Parade, 2012, Daniel Ramirez

The long debate over what exactly freedom is reached a head last week as various American states wrestled with rehashes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bill – signed into federal law by US president Bill Clinton in 1993 – seeks to stop government forcing the religious to disobey their own principles, and has lately been mooted in state form in Indiana and Arkansas.

Such legislation seeks to mediate between individual conscience and “compelling government interest”, most notably over the issue of religiously-inspired discrimination. Handily for the media, a prime example of this emerged in the form of Memories Pizza, whose owner Crystal O’Connor said she would not serve a gay couple’s wedding due to her Christian beliefs when asked about the bill.

The backlash against O’Connor and her husband was swift, with the listing for the pizza joint on reviews site Yelp pelted with negative reviews and lewd images. The website of Memories Pizza was also seemingly defaced, and a charming (and presumably, in US parlance, liberal) high school sports coach took to Twitter to threaten the couple with arson.

This is some turnaround for a country that only struck down its prohibitions against sodomy in 2003. As the orthodoxy of homophobia has eroded in the West campaigners have gradually replaced it with a new one, criminalising the expression of old prejudices. Hate speech laws have spread over much of Europe, with countries such as France, Germany and Austria even outlawing the denial of the Holocaust.

The current furore also follows shortly after the defenestration of Brendan Eich, whose brief role as chief executive of the Firefox creator Mozilla was brought to an end last April after acolytes of the nonprofit discovered he had donated money in support of Proposition 8, a law blocking gay marriage in California.

Eich’s politics were no doubt unsuitable for his role at the open source firm, which prides itself on inclusivity. Yet the threats to boycott Mozilla in the wake of his appointment point to a far uglier trend in progressive politics: that of threatening a person’s livelihood when you find their beliefs repugnant.

In the case of Memories Pizza it was not enough for people merely to protest or boycott a malign policy: the business had to be shut down or forced to comply through the law. Such a case has been mirrored in the UK, with the No More Page 3 campaign against the Sun newspaper’s snaps of naked ladies seeing supermarkets obscure the tabloids in their displays.

When taken together such events show the desire for ideological conformity remains alive despite decades of rebellion from the greyness of the post-war years. So long as people exist there will always be puritans on the Left and Right who cannot tolerate any dissent from their viewpoint, and will punish those who openly express such things.

Unsurprisingly such progressive illiberalism has grown as such measures become unnecessary. Even in famously prudish America firms as big as Apple, General Electric and US retailer Walmart rushed to slate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, realising that the progressive markets are increasingly more lucrative than conservative ones.

That is not to say, as UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage recently recommended, that we rub out the anti-discrimination laws. But it is worth asking what sort of democracy we are creating if any dissent from orthodoxy is punished through boycotts and threats. It is also worth asking if such shrieking changes the minds of people, or merely pushes their complaints underground, where they fester and grow more noxious.

Image – Daniel Ramirez