Of Westphalia and Appomattox (II)

March 8, 2015 at 2:19 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , )


In the 50th anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery march, it is interesting to observe the foreign policy consequences of the civil rights movement. The empowerment of African-Americans in the mainstream narrative goes together with conscientious objection, the  anti-war pacifist wave, and the overall May of 68 counter-culture movement. However, at the time, the Vietnam War was more popular with African-Americans than it was with WASPs…

While this might seem contradictory, it actually makes a certain sense. On one hand, the armed forces were an easy conduct for employment to a minority without qualifications, and this would also enlist the GIs’ families into the patriotic narrative. On the other hand, in the process of ending electoral and economic disenfranchisement, Blacks had a vested interest in appealing to the Appomattox roots of American nationalism.

Based on a more fundamentalist and literal interpretation of the constitution, Northern liberals advocated for a national absolute abolition of slavery. This was something the founding founders – many of them slave owners and Southerners – had not envisaged and even rejected during the revolutionary war against the British, by ignoring the Dunmore Proclamation. This helps explain the Confederate flags raised against the Selma march – whose participants conversely waved the stars and stripes – since for Southern whites the argument revolved around states rights. Whereas great federalists such as Lincoln and Roosevelt originated from the Midwest and New England, the Confederacy had been a reaction against centralisation. The spirit of the original constitution was that of a confederal system, where the absence of a federal army was the very proof that the initial compromise was far less ‘national’. Indeed, while the American Revolution began in Boston, much of the financial war effort was Southern, as the South was then richer than the North.

As with the Jewish Brigade or the Free French Forces during WWII, or even the national legions serving in the Grande Armée during the Napoleonic Wars, the aim of many of the anti segregation but pro war African-Americans , was to exchange military service for political concessions; to reinforce their claim to full citizenship rights. There is in fact a vested interest on the part of ethnic minorities to promote a US national narrative that is interventionist. Jews, Greeks or Armenians all lobby the Congress to keep the US engaged in a number of conflicts around the world. While there are no statistics, it would not be surprising to similarly observe a stronger tendency among Blacks and Hispanics , to lend support to liberal humanitarian initiatives  by the US, internationally. It is the more parochial/rural WASPs as well as Native-Americans – coincidentally also the Confederate constituency – that represent the more paleoconservative opposition to internationalist policies. 

The Selma activists triumphed because their cause was one in which the post Lincoln regime was deeply invested. The question was never ‘whether’ African-Americans would attain full citizenship but rather ‘when’. Southern segregation was only furthered by the civil war trauma and by Reconstruction but it was always doomed to be suppressed entirely, in a reality where the abolitionist puritanical and evangelical North was hegemonic within the Federation. 

In contrast to federal exceptionalism, in Westphalian Europe such modern phenomena as PEGIDA reflect instead the triumph of state particularism; the attempt to import the US model into Europe which the EU represents, though, always finds significant opposition. Everyone in the EU system has a political mission but the more political the institutions try to become, the more popular reaction they seem to incite.

battle of mobile bay

The European nation-state system is seen as repulsive by the multiculturalist Liberals who ultimately would like to see nationalism disappear – the very word has become synonymous with racism. This, however, reveals ignorance since it brushes aside the empirical teachings of the Thirty Years War: in Europe, the tendency of states to proselytise rival normative systems had led to a massively bloody and destructive, continental wide war and such an outcome was meant to be avoided if the imperative of nationalism kept conflicts local and limited. Westphalia instituted the paradigm that after a millennium of Respublica Christiana, the normative would henceforth be rendered subordinate to the political. This system would prevent political rivalry from equating normative rivalry, and consequently preclude dragging all political entities into a universal doctrinal dispute – often caused by mere local grievances.

After 1648, there were many conflicts but few universal ones: the Napoleonic Wars, the Second World War and the Cold War being exceptions. The First World War deserves a more attentive analysis. It is true that the conflict was not caused by universalist reasons, and it is therefore an easy argument to the detractors of Westphalia but what most Liberals often forget is that the end of the conflict was not a traditional Westphalian solution. As in WWII, the Allies demanded an unconditional surrender from the Central Powers. By doing so, the conflict was transformed from a particularist dispute over a specific grievance inflicted in Sarajevo, into an absolute moral contest between the forces of ‘civilisation’ and the forces of ‘imperialist barbarism’. If the Great War had truly been a pure Westphalian conflict, the outcome would have been a negotiated settlement sometime in 1916/17, akin to the preceding Franco-Prussian War or Italian Unification Wars. 

The old continent evolved as a fractured territory. Throughout its history, slowly but surely, cultural identity became synonymous with territory. Europe is divided topographically by several mountain ranges, large rivers; it is characterized by islands and peninsulas as much as it is by continental space. Many an empire failed in trying to unify it: the Romans were stopped in Germania and so were the Habsburgs, Napoleon and Hitler never managed to subdue England and Russia. The formula that best captured the political essence of Europe was the one produced by the 1648 Treaties of Westphalia: ‘Cuius regio, eius religio’.

The reason why normative matters are exclusive jurisdiction of the ruler of each state is precisely because it is impossible to enforce them universally in Europe. Indeed, religion is often used as a dividing line between different nationalities, rather than as a means for unity as can be clearly observed in the British Isles or in the Balkans. As a result of Westphalia, the normative was forever rendered secondary to the ethnic in Europe. The Hapsburgs accelerated the German national awakening in trying to enforce Catholicism and Bonaparte’s invasions were always poorly received in spite of their ‘international volunteers’ – sometimes local – fighting for universal republican enlightenment. In short, when it comes to identity, Europe is fundamentally particularist.

Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba, was Europe's General Grant to be. His mission was equally one of unifying politically a continent and enforcing an absolute normative doctrine, not that of Enlightenment in his case but simply Catholicism.

Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba, was Europe’s General Grant to be. His mission was equally one of politically unifying a continent to allow the enforcement of an absolute normative doctrine, not that of Enlightenment in his case but simply Catholicism.

This does not prevent wealthy nations from financing universalist policies around the globe but it is an affordable choice, not a necessity. It is also in part because of this evolution that many immigrants in Europe feel discriminated against, even in its most tolerant and generous nations. Europe has never been multicultural and when such a model was tried, the outcome was less than successful. The tacit civic compromise of being a migrant in a nation-state is the mandatory assimilation of the host culture. Failure to do so results in ostracism, as Jews and Gypsies painfully learned. Conversely, the American dream requires only compliance to normative values enshrined in the US Constitution; there is no mention of identity.

The USA is a country-idea. America’s system was put to the test during the Civil War when the Confederates tried to implement a Westphalian solution to North America. General Grant eventually proved that the cohesive continental US was not a terrain prone to political fragmentation. Appomattox cemented the very opposite of Westphalia: in the US, identity is primarily defined by the normative and only secondarily by the ethnic. African-Americans were citizens because the Constitution required as much and only marginally because they were Christian and spoke English. It is not unlike the Asian standard of multi-ethnic empires where executive power was not necessarily related to the ethnicity of the citizenry but to the laws emanating from the imperial capital. America is thus a paradoxical country: demographically European but geographically Asian. 

In the past decades things began to change and this might be related to the current growing polarization.  The WASPs’ proportion of the general population is decreasing. More importantly, the Democratic Party now rarely carries the white vote and Obama is certainly a President who does abnormally well with the minorities (vice-versa is true of the Republicans). Because no one ethnicity can be said to be completely politically supportive of any one side and because the American system privileges ideology over identity politics, it is then unsettling that the ethnic vote is becoming more and more neatly packed along racial lines – as is the political polarization of news media, with phenomena like FOX News. 

One of the problems plaguing Ukraine’s political system is precisely ethnic divisions. There are those who will argue that all Ukrainians are opposed to corruption and authoritarianism, and that all would like closer relations with Europe, along with the trade benefits that come with it. This is, however, misleading. The same could have been said of Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia before the breakups but true democracy didn’t bring its constituent ethnicities closer, it drove the factions apart. Ethnic separatism doesn’t start with outright claims of independence, it creeps in as just another political argument, it simmers in mutual civic distrust and matures in partisan charismatic leaderships. Fear-mongering can only mobilize popular opinion if there is a fertile and conducive political climate in the mix. In turn, this is only possible if the demos is absent from the democracy in question. Nevertheless, Ukrainians are highly similar in culture just like Serbs and Croats or Czechs and Slovaks were before them. The same cannot be said of WASPs and African-Americans or Latinos.

Will the Peace of Appomattox survive the loss of WASPs as America’s ethnic core?


  1. ‘End of History’ Found Dead at Moscow’s Gates | The Westphalian Post said,

    […] of the rim’s hegemon, especially considering such a hegemon is itself structurally a deterritorialised idea-state. Russia, as strong as it may be, does not possess the power to challenge the North-Atlanticists in […]

  2. The Westphalian Post said,

    Donald Trump’s Struggle in Wisconsin Is About Demographics, Not Momentum

    APRIL 4, 2016
    Donald Trump has had a rough couple of weeks. He said he supported punishing women for abortion and then walked it back; his campaign manager was arrested on a charge of battery; he retweeted an unflattering picture of his main opponent’s wife, Heidi Cruz.

    And the polls show him trailing by a wide margin in Wisconsin, which holds its primary on Tuesday. For some people, it’s a sign that Mr. Trump is finally losing ground.

    But his problem in Wisconsin is mainly about the state’s demographics, not self-inflicted wounds. Even a 10-percentage-point loss there wouldn’t necessarily indicate any shift against him.

    The state has always looked as if it would be one of Mr. Trump’s worst. This was true even before the primaries began. Polling by Civis Analytics and Marquette Law both showed Mr. Trump faring much worse there than nationally, just as was the case in neighboring Iowa, where he wound up losing to Ted Cruz.

    The results of other primaries have consistently pointed toward Mr. Trump’s weakness in Wisconsin. We’ve frequently published articles using models to predict the results of contests based on demographics, and both models — one after the Super Tuesday primaries and one after the March 15 primaries — projected Wisconsin to be one of Mr. Trump’s worst remaining states.

    Our estimate remains virtually unchanged from what it was after the Arizona and Utah contests March 22: a five-point edge in Wisconsin for Mr. Cruz, almost exactly aligned with the polls. The model does not account for the possible redistribution of Marco Rubio’s former support.

    Why is Wisconsin such a problematic state for Mr. Trump? It’s not the worst possible state for him (Utah was), but it does force him to confront some major weaknesses.


    Lower educational attainment among white adults is one of the strongest correlates of Mr. Trump’s support. It’s true at every level: He does better in places where fewer whites have high school diplomas, college degrees or postgraduate degrees. The lack of a high school education is the biggest correlation.

    Wisconsin is average or above average in basically every educational category. It’s also unusual because many of its most strongly Republican areas are well-educated suburbs, so more of the Republican vote will be cast in well-educated areas than in, say, California.

    Religion and Family

    With the exception of white Roman Catholics, Mr. Trump fares worse in areas where larger shares of the population are reported to be religious adherents in the 2010 U.S. Religion census. (He won a majority of the Catholic vote in Massachusetts, and it bodes well for him in New York and New Jersey).

    You might not think of Wisconsin as an especially religious state. But it’s a bit above average for religious adherence across all categories: the total religious rate, evangelicals and Catholics. The net effect is slightly negative for Mr. Trump.

    He fares worst in areas with strong traditional families, especially ones with more children, more married couples and fewer single mothers. The state also has an above-average number of married couples — and most of the state’s most Republican districts are in the top quartile for marriage rates.

    As with education, Wisconsin isn’t at the top of the list for these characteristics. But there aren’t many states that are consistently average to above average in education, religion and marriage rates. Often, they cut in the opposite directions: The most religious states aren’t usually highly educated, and many have lower marriage rates. Where these factors do converge, though, Mr. Trump struggles, as he did in Utah, Kansas and Iowa.

    Ancestry and Culture

    Iowa, Utah, Kansas — and Wisconsin — have something else in common: a large population who report their ancestry from predominantly Protestant countries in Northern Europe.

    These voters represented the base of the Republican Party for the century after the Civil War, whether it’s the old-stock “Yankees” who spread west from New England, or the German, Scandinavian and Dutch immigrants who generally settled over the same stretch of the northern part of the United States later in the 19th century.

    These voters are probably the biggest problem for Mr. Trump that you haven’t heard of: He would fare about 30 points worse in counties where all of the white residents reported their ancestry from Protestant countries in Northern Europe than he would in a place where none did, according to our model. It’s the type of thing that helps separate Northern Virginia — where Mr. Trump struggled greatly — from the Boston area, where he excelled.

    Exactly why this is so important is a little speculative.

    ■ Many of these areas, particularly in the Midwest, have a reputation for “niceness” or “manners,” and may not like Mr. Trump’s in-your-face New York style.

    ■ They’re the “old Republicans” — the former base of the party. Perhaps they’re likelier to be offended by Mr. Trump’s breaking with traditional Republican ideology. Mr. Trump fares best among new Republicans — including white Southerners and white Catholics — who might have less consistently conservative views.

    ■ Racism could play a role (Mr. Trump has made appeals to racial, ethnic and religious resentment). Most measures of racism — like Google searches for racially charged terms or scores on the Implicit Association Test — tend to show lower levels of racism in the Upper Midwest, West and rural New England than in the South and industrial North. It’s essentially the same region settled by people of Protestant Northwest European ancestry.

    Now, that might just be a coincidence — there aren’t very many minorities in these same regions, since the same economic forces that drew working-class Catholics to manufacturing jobs in the industrial North also drew African-Americans from the South. Or it might represent a deeper cultural tradition: It was the old-stock Yankees who led the fight for abolition; a century later it was roughly the same area that swung against the fiery conservative Barry Goldwater when he fought and won the nomination against more moderate and liberal Republicans.

    They’re also the same areas where Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton among white voters in the 2008 Democratic primary.

    Momentum vs. Demographics

    All considered, the model-based estimates make Mr. Trump a five-point underdog, with a 40-35 edge for Mr. Cruz.

    Mr. Cruz could certainly outperform this number because the model doesn’t allocate any of the vote for Mr. Rubio (estimated around 8 percent on March 15), who has suspended his campaign. If the Rubio vote were split evenly between Mr. Cruz and John Kasich, which is about what happened in Utah, then Mr. Cruz might win, 44-35, over Mr. Trump.

    To get a sense of whether Mr. Trump really lost ground after his controversial remarks, the key number to watch is 35 percent: the expected share of the vote for Mr. Trump based on the results so far. If he falls short, he has lost ground because of momentum, not demographics.

    The Upshot provides news, analysis and graphics about politics, policy and everyday life. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for our newsletter.

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