November 27, 2008

FROM THE ARCHIVES: WESTPHAILURE:

The US and the UN: Legitimacy vs sovereignty (Criton M Zoakos, 10/20/03, Asia Times)

The Thirty Years War was a war of Protestant princes against the legitimizing principle of the "universal Christian empire" and its representative, the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor. These Protestant princes were joined by numerous Catholic princes (most notably the King of France), who saw profit in challenging the legitimizing principle of the time. Some of the profit was political - freedom from Papal political interference in their administration. Some was economic - freedom to expropriate and secularize vast church lands.

Since both Papacy and Emperor were too weak at the beginning of the Reformation, a temporary compromise was struck in the 1555 Treaty of Augsburg which for the first time abandoned the legitimizing principle of "universal Christian monarchy" and settled on "cujus regio, ejus religio", roughly translated as "whoever reigns imposes his religion in his realm". In plain English: "Might makes right." The compromise failed when the Catholic Church gathered forces and launched its Counter-Reformation for the purpose of restoring the original legitimizing principle of "universal Christian monarchy".

This led to the Thirty Years War, which devastated all sides. Drained of resources by the war, near collapse but still roughly equally balanced and without hope of decisive victory for either side, the exhausted adversaries settled on the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. In it, the parties agreed that if they were to survive, the sovereignty of each was far more important than any legitimizing principle on which that sovereignty rested. "Cujus regio, ejus religio" the old principle of 1555, was finally enforced.

Seen against this background, the history of the formation of the United States - from the Mayflower Compact of 1620, the revolution of 1776, the ratification of the US Constitution of 1787, George Washington's admonition against "foreign entanglements", American neutrality during the Napoleonic Wars, the Monroe Doctrine of 1821, the expansion to the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico Coasts - is best viewed as a contrast to the Westphalian system, sometimes as opposition, sometimes as mere counterpoint. The original English and Dutch settlers of North America were men and women who rejected the Westphalian agreement that gave the local prince - the State - sole right to establish and dis-establish religion. When these settlers eventually wrote their constitution, its First Amendment and anti-establishment clause was a clear, explicit rebuff of cujus regio, ejus religio: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

In fact, and contrary to the Westphalian system, the formation of the United States affirmed a new principle from which government derives legitimacy: the inalienable rights of the individual human being, including the inalienable right to be governed by their consent. The assertion of this new legitimizing principle is evident from the Declaration of Independence through the entire process of ratifying the Constitution, in the course of the Federalist debates and in the evolution of the Supreme Court under Justice John Marshall.

While the Westphalian system is strictly and absolutely agnostic on the matter of legitimizing principle - in order to give primacy to the principle of sovereignty of the State - the founding of the American republic asserts the supremacy of its legitimizing principle (inalienable rights of the people) over the sovereignty of the State. In the Westphalian system, sovereignty trumps legitimacy. In the American system, legitimacy trumps sovereignty, with legitimacy embodied in the US Constitution. The only sovereign recognized in the American system is the Constitution, ie, the legitimizing principle itself.


If the end of the American Revolution is liberty (Freedom) and the end of the French Revolution is the State (Security) and the latter is ultimately the enemy of the former, then the believers in our Revolution can never fit comfortably with the believers in theirs and will at times, as now, find themselves opposed to one another. The assertion of Democrats and many in the foreign policy establishment that this divide is unhealthy would seem to rest on their antipathy to America's universalist faith.



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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 27, 2008 12:03 AM
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