28 June 2020   Leave a comment

Today is the anniversary of the assassination of the archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Serbian group known as the Black Hand. The Black Hand was dedicated to freeing Serbia from control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The assassination triggered events that led to World War I, although the political dynamics in Europe since 1901 had been leading up to that catastrophic war. It is also the anniversary of the French signing the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 which ended that phase of the war (which picked up again in 1939 and only ended in 1945).

Gavrilo Princip in his prison cell at the Terezín fortress, 1914. The same year, Princip had killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie of Hohenberg. On 28 June 1914, Princip and five more assassins of the Black Hand society planned to kill Franz Ferdinand for the creation of a Yugoslavian state. The result, however, led to the First World War with Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia. Princip was too young to receive the death penalty, so received the maximum sentence of twenty years in prison. Because of being held in harsh conditions, he contracted tuberculosis and died on 28 April 1918 at Terezín short before the war had ended.

Alexander Cooley and Daniel H. Nexon have written a fascinating essay entitled “How American Hegemony Ends” for Foreign Affairs. They persuasively argue that the liberal world order established by the US and its allies after 1945 was based upon a number of highly contingent circumstances, most notably the absence of any alternative system being plausibly supported because of the devastation of the war. That circumstance allowed the US to pursue a patronage system which induced support for the American hegemonic system. Cooley and Nexon note that that patronage no longer is as attractive to other states as it once was:

“The very forces that made U.S. hegemony so durable before are today driving its dissolution. Three developments enabled the post–Cold War U.S.-led order. First, with the defeat of communism, the United States faced no major global ideological project that could rival its own. Second, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its accompanying infrastructure of institutions and partnerships, weaker states lacked significant alternatives to the United States and its Western allies when it came to securing military, economic, and political support. And third, transnational activists and movements were spreading liberal values and norms that bolstered the liberal order.

“Today, those same dynamics have turned against the United States: a vicious cycle that erodes U.S. power has replaced the virtuous cycles that once reinforced it. With the rise of great powers such as China and Russia, autocratic and illiberal projects rival the U.S.-led liberal international system. Developing countries—and even many developed ones—can seek alternative patrons rather than remain dependent on Western largess and support. And illiberal, often right-wing transnational networks are pressing against the norms and pieties of the liberal international order that once seemed so implacable. In short, U.S. global leadership is not simply in retreat; it is unraveling. And the decline is not cyclical but permanent.”

The question is what will replace the liberal world order or if it will be replaced at all. The world has had experience with the absence of hegemonic power: the interwar period between 1918 and 1945 was marked by the inability of the European powers to enforce their imperial world order and the unwillingness of the US to enforce a liberal world order. That period was devastating. It witnessed horrific violations of human rights–the Holocaust, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and the Japanese atrocities in China. It saw the rapid retreat of the burgeoning democratic movement with the rise of Soviet totalitarianism and German, Italian, and Japanese fascism. And it permitted the total collapse of the global economic order with the Great Depression. The world is a vicious place without any cops on the beat.

But it seems unlikely that the authoritarian rule of Russia, China, the US, Brazil, India, the Philippines, Poland, Saudi Arabia, and Hungary will be attractive to young people used to the freedoms of social media and the creative arts. The large protests in the US against police brutality and systemic racism in the US have been mirrored abroad and stand as testimony to the willingness of many people to resist stronger governmental powers. We will see which way the pendulum swings.

Posted June 28, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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