Monday, 9 February 2015

The Virtuous Counsel and the Wisdom of Foresight - Understanding the Perpetual Narrative of History

In truth, if we wish to disturb all these things (faith, customs & obligations), and to throw them into confusion, we shall render life full of danger, intrigue, and enmity; if such allurements are to have no scruples to protect them; if the connection between men in prosperous and doubtful fortunes is to cause no friendship; if the customs and principles of our ancestors are to have no authority. He is the common enemy of all men who has once been the enemy of his own connections. No wise man ever thought that a traitor was to be trusted.

Against Verres
Second Pleading - Book 1
Cicero
106 BC - 44 BC

The meaning of history is determined and shaped, to some extent, by how wise and strategically-driven rulers balanced their aspirations of ruling vast foreign territories with the reality of waging perpetual armed conflicts to gain those territories. The military meetings between different societies defined the core of the social, political and economic landscape. The desire to expand one's territory was the historical manifestation of expanding one's power base and control the physical resources of far away places. But, these military ventures involved certain permanent economic, social and political consequences - for those who carried out these adventures and also for those who defended their territory. The fallen and forgotten empires of the past proved that the ruler who overstretched the limits of their societies to control other societies and territories, eventually disappeared. Taming one's unlimited hunger for a control and power through wise, informed, and reality-based advice is the first task of those who practice the art of a virtuous counsel and the wisdom of foresight. It was and remains the most solemn obligation for those who serve the governing authority. In that manner, speaking truth to power is not only a metaphor; but an eternal axiom about a very prophetic profession.

In the ancient empires of Egypt, Ethiopia, Western Sudan, Persia, China, Japan and India, the wise members of the imperial court occupied an influential status as they were involved, mostly, in providing their counsel and wisdom regarding the unnecessary foreign military adventures, including the possibility of a total destruction of all entities involved in the potential conflict. Gaining an extra space and piece of land was the prime objective for early humans. In fact, to conquer or not to conquer and how to govern, were the ultimate questions of political and social inquiry as man left the cave for lush grounds and plain green fields. One could argue that it seems that there is nothing new under the sun as we look to our contemporary world. Nations and societies are still grappling with these two questions - often with very bloody consequences.

As humans multiplied and societies grew in the post-cave world, so did the hunger for more territory and  also commerce, which always led to some type of conflict between different societies and people of diverse lands, customs and cultures. In many ways, that was the beginning of the history and the elements of war, chaos and conflict would occupy a major part of that historical narrative. It was also the beginning of a cautious, prudent and wise counsel as a profession. Ballam (Egypt), Chanakiya (India) and Artabanus (Persia), were the voices of wisdom, reality-based assessment (for both foreign and domestic affairs) and foresight for their rulers. They were extremely influential in shaping their respective rulers' mindset regarding the grave issues of the day. In that manner, they were more like teachers than advisers. Yet, even with all of their influence through wisdom and foresight, these wise heads were not always successful in influencing the ruler and his actions and when their advice, assessment and wisdom were ignored; their societies experienced turmoil, chaos and disorder. For instance, the early Greek myth The Return of the Heracleidae, Avesta by Zoroaster (Persian), Arthashastra (India) and the ancient Japanese texts of Kojiki and Nihon Shoki - all of them capture the true value of the virtuous counsel and wisdom, through their detailed analyses of human behavior, power, governance, war and statecraft. These writings offer how a leader ought to behave in the face of chaos and turmoil and must choose caution and clairvoyance vs. ignorance and hastiness. No intellectual tradition, in any society regardless of its ideological leanings, is complete without taking into account the contribution of its wise giants concerning the social and political discourse. 

Nevertheless, what is also true is that during a perpetual foolish intrigue of an epic proportion, intense social euphoria and constant lust for more political and economic power, the wisdom and foresight are often equated with the dissent, schism and fear. Histories by Herodotus demonstrated that truth so did Plutarch (Parallel Lives) in his works. Socrates remains the first known victim of that truth. His postmortem of an epic Peloponnesian war started way before the actual war took place. His counsel and foresight laid bare for the Athenian state to consider. Athenians had no excuse. They were given the wisdom to venture carefully with an unnecessary battle with better organized and discipline force of Sparta. Obviously, Athens decided to ignore what they referred to as Old man's folly. The Peloponnesian war forever became a true symbol of what transpires when the wise words are ignored, and foresight is ridiculed. Of all its eloquence and intellectual tradition, Athens acted foolishly and paid handsomely - in every possible way. Socrates trial and death are testimony that one must be ready to pay an ultimate price when one practices the virtues of wisdom and foresight; especially during times of chaos and turmoil. 

Yet, one must ponder: what is the true value of a virtuous counsel and how it sees and assesses the future in order to prepare the political class in art of governing? A purposeful advice and counsel are the cornerstone of a legitimacy and governance in a landscape filled with war, chaos, economic misery and immature global intrigue. In an era when the majority of so-called "wisdom holders" of all social disciplines and all political faiths seek short-term, comfortable and accepted options; a virtuous counsel could be looked upon as a disturbing influence and the wisdom of foresight might be confused with unstable noise. That is a colossal error which must never be committed by those who are the final decision makers of fortunes of nations, especially in an era of extreme uncertainty and turmoil.

History has shown that the existence of disorder and chaos are nothing new in human affairs. Wars and conflicts have shaped human surroundings for ages, and they will continue to do so in that manner. That is the true historical rhythm and a consistent reality. Nonetheless, that is not the original sin of politics and governance. A true catastrophe occurs when too many people (within and outside the governing structure) refuse to accept that around us are always two realities at work. There is the cold-hard reality that underlies everything - socially and politically. And on the surface is a veil of deceit and compromise. The more society compromises vital truths in order to enjoy the comfort of illusions, the more mind-shattering it will be when those illusions fall away. These two realities can coexist only for short periods of time, and they will always and eventually collide. It always happens. There is no other possible outcome. It seems that the more polarized our realities become, the more explosive and disastrous the reaction will be when the separation is removed. Illusions are not easy entities to be destroyed. And that is a true danger to any social, economic and political order. Illusions can be a dominant force of alternative reality, particularly in an era of constant sound bites and race-to-the bottom-of-analysis mindset regarding major issues facing the world. It is in this environment of prevailing illusions and deceptions; there emerges a true value of virtuous counsel and the wisdom of foresight. The words spoken by Oracle can be a last line of defense between chaos and order.

Management of the crisis (potential, sudden or perpetual) and the creation of a national confidence through a clear vision and road map to achieve that vision is the hallmark of the awesome leadership and spectacular governing legitimacy. The presence of virtuous counsel and the wisdom of foresight allows the visionary leadership to develop a sustainable framework for the society to achieve whatever as a society it wishes to achieve; including the preparation for coming crises and how to prepare for them in advance. A wise ruler comprehends the true value of a virtuous counsel and the wisdom of foresight. In fact, the wise counsel concerning the grave matters, is the only power a leader can truly trust and rely. 

Hence, regardless of one's ideological lens, one could not deny the fact that there is an intense uncertainty, unease and discord in our contemporary world. Uncertainty of social order, economic insecurity and political instability is becoming norms and while the world is not facing a threat of a global conflict (yet), the perpetual global anxiety and strife, is nonetheless, real and lethal. The fabric of a social gravity globally is out of sync and when needed the most, the serious analysis is ignored and is replaced by short-term talking points in order to misdirect the public to create powerful illusions: unemployment is going down; a revolutionary spring will replace thousands of years of tribalism with western liberal democracy; inequality is a myth; debt - both public and private is under control; binge money printing will lead to economic growth; inflation is manageable; and the economic crisis is turning the corner. Well, you get the idea. In short, it is a celebration of a conventional wisdom in an era of a serious need for wisdom, thoughtfulness and foresight.

Moreover, in many parts of the world, the governments of all political stripes are scrambling for short-term solutions to help them through to the next business cycle, the next election, the next political transition. The result is a global crisis of legitimacy in the majority of the nations. Additionally, what is also essential to realize that those who are supposed to be the voice of reason, advice and foresight, are also occupied with short-term victories and glories.

The concept of time also plays a crucial role in terms of the true value of the virtuous counsel and wisdom of foresight. The path of social, political and economic decline and eventual collapse is gradual and slow. History is littered with examples of past empires where the decay began long before the actual collapse.  No matter whether civilizations commit suicide culturally, economically, or politically, the downfall is very protracted. It takes centuries for an imperial overstretch to undermine a great power. Political leaders in almost any society -- primitive or sophisticated -- have a little incentive to address problems that are unlikely to manifest themselves for a hundred years or more. For that reason and that reason alone, the responsibility of providing a virtuous counsel and wisdom is no easy task. In that context, souls with wisdom and foresight who can see the coming anarchy are often labeled as fear mongers and false alarmist. But, in fact, they are anything but. Plato's Allegory of Cave analogy can be perfectly applied to this concept. Accordingly, it is vital that one must always know the difference between fear-mongering and prophecy. Fools are destroyed by their own complacency. Sharp vigilance and critical assessment of one's own surroundings and how they relate to the larger picture of events are nothing but a wisdom of foresight. That and nothing else has the capacity to preserve the sanity of a social, political and economic order in any given society. Charlatans come and go; yet it is a cardinal task of a mature mind to assess, analyze and advice the governing authority of the coming danger and current simmering situation. 

It is widely acknowledged that the human experience of the social environment is relentlessly complex. Our political and economic perspectives are formed through a dynamic and ever-changing interaction between abstract idealism, purposive strategy, emotive inclination, and intuitive response. They are the provisional response to an always-incomprehensible world. Understanding why individuals, including rulers believe what they do and evaluating the comparative validity of their beliefs require a mode of analysis that acknowledges the entangled nature of the problems it attempts to address. That in the essence is the true value of virtuous counsel and the wisdom of foresight. The contemporary world is an urgent need of these virtues.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Revenge of Geopolitics and the Retreat of a Liberal Order (II)

Yes, no matter what lack of seriousness with its lack of foresight might think, whatever perfidious counter-revolutionaries might say! The destiny of the republic is not yet fixed, and the vigilance of the people’s representatives is more than ever necessary.

It is not the pomp of denominations, not victory, nor riches nor fleeting enthusiasm that constitute the republic; it is the wisdom of laws and especially the goodness of mores; it is the purity and the stability of the maxims of government.

The laws are to be made, the maxims of government to be assured, and the mores to be regenerated. If one of these things is missing there is in a state naught but errors, pride, passions, factions, ambitions and cupidity. Far from repressing vices the republic would then only allow them freer expansion, and vice necessarily returns us to tyranny. Whoever is not master of himself is made to be the slave of others. This a truth that applies to peoples as well as individuals.

Speech given from the tribune of the Convention
(May 26, 1794)
Maximilien Robespierre 1758 - 1794

Societies, without a doubt, are complex entities. A serious analysis of any social order requires a comprehensive understanding of its unique historical, religious and economic arrangements and how these arrangements have shaped the national psyche of a particular society. Since, there has not emerged a unified global society with unified norms and attitudes, how different societies interact with each other, is the crux of conducting foreign relations. That is how the empires of the past behaved. That is how the present nation states behave or ought to behave. It is that behavior of conducting foreign relations among states with different norms and traditions is the context through which one must analyze the concept of order or disorder and how that relates to the geopolitical paradigm and power politics in world affairs.

One of the most challenging tasks of assessing and understanding the international order is to shun ideological walls and norms. Theories and ideologies are not fully capable of capturing the rapidly changing realities on the ground. Understanding the complexities of the contemporary global order through established paradigms serve little or no purpose. What is truly required is a comprehensive understanding of social, economic and political environment of different players in the international arena and how those elements have shaped their unique national psyche through which each actor comprehends the international order. A seasoned statesman knows this reality in his soul. Boethius (480 - 525) knew that reality so did Metternich (1773 -1859). George Kennan (1904 - 2005) is also in that league of extraordinary masters of diplomatic craft. I do not have to tell you that the likes of these statesmen are rare commodity in contemporary times. Foresight and wisdom have given away to sound bites and charlatans.

States, regardless of their political, economic and social arrangements, are not an eternal entity. Their survival requires constant assessment of their existence through coercion, diplomacy and war. States that are in suspicious and dangerous neighborhoods are in a perpetual state of vigilance and guard. When states are not governed in their entirety, the regional and international order is bound to disintegrate. Order must be at the forefront of legitimacy and governing. That, in short, is an essence of geopolitics. Geopolitics, in that sense, has always been a lurking element all things international affairs. Order, regardless of its ideological roots, is closely linked with the affairs of geopolitics.

After the readjustment of the global system in 1990s, the world was eager for a stable order. The fear of nuclear conflict between the two giants dominated the post-World War II global order. The surrender of communism and central economic planning was a proof enough, among the elites in academia and government that the history will continue to happen; but not in a grand fashion as it had been. Capitalism and the liberal order, as the thinking went, had no workable alternative. The collapse of the Soviet Union had settled that question for eternity.  The liberal economic and political order was within reach for many nations. Yet, the shrinking of the Soviet map did not materialize that scenario. Even though the evil empire had vanished; what did not disappear is the search for a global order and mutual equilibrium among major nations. Yes, the "end" of the Cold War did not cause the mushroom cloud, but no new global architecture that reflects the rapidly changing realities of power in influence, both in the realm of economics and politics, has emerged in its wake.

The much celebrated yet partial settlement of the Cold War marked an unrequited beginning still without an end with perpetual turmoil in the global system. The ongoing rivalry between the EU (NATO) and Russia over Ukraine, which led Moscow to seize Crimea; the intensifying competition between China and Japan in East Asia; or the subsuming of sectarian conflict into international rivalries and civil wars in the Middle East are some of the stark realities of this global disorder. Of course, the ongoing disorder in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to create chaos in already tormented region. The ill-defined and much vaunted policy of military intervention, in some fashion, is a result of a failed attempt by the West to create a global order based on western values of economic and political liberalism, in other societies. Liberty, justice and laws, as concepts, are defined in a particular historical and social context and how one society defines these concepts may not be compatible with the other.

The 19th - century world was managed by few key powers overseeing their colonies, and the 20th - century by power blocks. But the complexities and interconnectedness of the 21st century, are far too fastidious for even a lone superpower like the U.S to manage. Disorder in the global system has taken a new meaning where no region of the world is immune to any crisis happening far away from its shores. The intensity of the connected world is the reality of our modern times; but so is the speed of the crisis spreading from one region of the world to the other. The twin realities of contemporary global order demand a serious thinking and foresight of an epic proportion from contemporary statesmen. The absence of international cohesion on major global issues is an immediate challenge.

The contemporary global order has number of influential states but no single entity is truly strong enough, that can implement the norms of international legitimacy at the global level. The current global challenges are way too complex and big to be managed by one entity alone. Yes, there is a massive interdependence with global economy and supply chains, but only limited global political systems. An effective global interdependence that protects and preserves the state legitimacy, is essential in a world, where there is no higher authority to manage the disputes and mitigate the conflicts. In the geopolitical marketplace, legitimacy is based on effectiveness.

The modern era is facing a predicament which has created a perpetual paradox of competing interests among nations on a global scale never experienced in history. The balance of power has no center and nowhere this paradox is more visible than the situation of the global economic system where the ongoing economic crisis has shown the weaknesses in the global collective response to rising unemployment and debt levels in many nations. The disparity of wealth distribution among and between nation states has created a feeling of what some have referred to the betrayal of the liberal economic order. The economic disparity in any society is nothing new. It had existed in ancient Greece. It had existed in Imperial Rome. It existed even pre-Capitalism. But what is new is the awareness of it across the board. Slums in Latin America, Africa and Asia are fully aware of the richness in their own societies and others. The economic anxiety in many nations has created an unstable political environment for the governing structure at the state level which translates into the global level. The age of revolution may be over; age of resentment has not passed.

These political and economic realities of  modern global order transcend traditional physical boundaries of each state and there is no way of knowing how one disaster in one corner of the globe will impact another. The barrage of joint declarations and fancy communique, by the participants in any number of international matters, are not enough to show the international solidarity. A common global cohesion must emerge to tackle the global challenges. Yet, the capacity of international diplomacy to create the Renaissance idea of forging an international community is not in sight. Yet, the issues of crucial importance from global capitalism to political and military interventions are creating a havoc on the global order.

What is clear is that the traditional approaches in conducting foreign relations, based on realism or idealism, have little to offer in our contemporary global situation. For the US, the traditional debate about engagement and isolationism has also run its course. One of the advantages of thinking in geopolitical framework is to advance the national agenda based on the following questions: What are the national strategic goals; how are they related to international order or disorder and what is the most prudent path to achieve them in a volatile world? Those were the questions in 1648 for the Treaty (peace) of Westphalia; 1814 for the Congress of Vienna and in 1945 for the Potsdam Conference. These questions are staring at our statesmen and women in contemporary times for answers and strategies. The road ahead to answer these questions must avoid a linear thinking as a reflective tool.

In a world where nations and societies, no matter how deeply connected, practice and preach different virtues from justice to war to equality to economics, an emergence of geopolitics is a natural outcome. How to manage these different virtues in a competing global system is the true revenge of geopolitics.

Friday, 10 October 2014

The True meaning of a Nobel Prize....

To bring a change, a real change, one must be a leader, visionary and courageous soul. One must inspire to be a good and decent human being. It is not an easy road. One must shun all the noise and follow the true path of redemption and positive change. Malala Yousafzai, winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, is in many ways, a symbol of true social change. Her winning shows that you do not need an army or lethal weapons to take on the ideology of hate, extremism and bigotry. As a young woman from Pakistan, Malala knows the value of education especially for girls. Her thirst for knowledge frightens those who are afraid of enlightenment and social progress. Her voice sends shivers to the followers of extremism and violence. But above all, Malala stands tall in front of those who still consider a woman to be a lower entity.

No amount of army and bomb power will create suitable conditions for a true progressive change in any society as long as women in that society are kept outside the social arena and discourse. The change must come from within and the last true hope for a society which preaches hate, violence and extremism, women are that hope.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Revenge of Geopolitics and the Retreat of a Liberal Order




A history which aspires to traverse long periods of time, or to be universal, must indeed forego the attempt to give individuals representation of the past as it actually existed. It must foreshorten its pictures by abstractions; and this includes not merely the omission of events and deeds, but whatever is involved in the fact that Thought is, after all, the most trenchant epitomist.

G.W.F Hegel
The Philosophy of History (Introduction)
1837

One could attest, without any hesitation that, conventional wisdom is a relentless enemy of thought-provoking prose and analysis. A serious analysis strategically avoids making predictions and forecasting. It detests ideological labels and it certainly loathes the compartmentalization of values and vision. It does, however, lay out a clear and concise assessment of a given event or a situation and builds on a solid foundation of historical understanding of an epic proportion and fully crafted conceptual framework. It may sound a trivial labor but it is not. Because of that reason and that reason alone, certain occupations and expertise have no conceptual ability to grasp the beauty of a serious analysis. It is for this reason, that one must realize, the task of forecasting in a social science realm is a dangerous path. Events and social order do not work in a linear fashion. They have no set mechanism to operate from and within. The human world has a unique and cruel way of punishing the followers of a linear thinking when it comes to analyzing the grand questions of social order, justice, power and how nations rise and decline. It was the result of a linear thinking, which, at the end of the cold war, celebrated the triumph of a liberal order at the global level. The surrender of communism and central economic planning was a proof enough, among the elites in academia and government, that the history will continue to happen; but not in a grand fashion as it had been. Capitalism and the liberal order, as the thinking went, had no workable alternative. The collapse of the Soviet Union had settled that question for eternity. Yet, the shrinking of the Soviet map did not materialize that scenario. Even though the evil empire had vanished; what did not disappear is the search for a global order and mutual equilibrium among major nations.

States, regardless of their political, economic and social arrangements, are not an eternal entity. Their survival requires constant assessment of their existence through coercion, diplomacy and sometimes war. States, that are in suspicious and dangerous neighborhoods, are in a perpetual state of vigilance and guard. That, in a nutshell, is an essence of geopolitics and it has made a spectacular comeback for the last few years. Of course, the idea of a comeback of a geopolitics is a surprise to many in the western world. But, in societies where tribal loyalties and territorial integration are paramount interests, the idea of geopolitics is very much alive and has taken a much broader role in defining their core strategic interests. The promised land of a global liberal order, after the fall the Berlin Wall, is lost in the realities of raw politics of global power and regional domination. This is the new reality and must be seen that way. Additionally, this is the lens through which one must analyze, understand and assess the ongoing situation in Ukraine, how Russia is managing the conflict, the overall analysis of the relationship between the west and Russia; the ongoing bloody turmoil in the Middle East; the brewing troubles in the Indian ocean and the attempt to consolidate power by Shia minority over large Sunni population in the Islamic world. The global order has returned to its central question of managing the geostrategic interests in a world of suspicion and control.

The end of history narrative after 1991, followed by the events in Europe created a false sense of purpose and security from the Western perspective. In a linear thinking manner, many observers conflated the temporary geopolitical conditions of the post-Cold war world with the more final outcome of the struggle between liberal democracy and Soviet communism. That was, in essence "the end of history." The prevailing discourse in the west, was that the geopolitics had no place in liberal order, and the peace dividends were finally here to be enjoyed by all law-abiding nations. Recent events from Asia to Europe have demonstrated otherwise. The revenge of geopolitics is enhanced by two major factors, and they are both related.

The first factor has to do with the global order where many nations do want to participate, but by the same token, advance fiercely their desire to protect their internal institutions. By not being able to control the global environment as they wish, states are constantly looking around to at least control the immediate neighborhoods to develop a buffer zone for their own security from international threats. Protection and preservation of state legitimacy are essential in a world where there is no higher authority to manage the disputes and mitigate the conflicts. How to be a part of a broader international order without giving an inch of its sovereignty, states are facing what I call "the legitimacy paradox". When feel threatened in their own backyard, it is natural for a nation-state to advance its own security, including annexing a part of another nation with strong historical and cultural ties. That is how the Crimea case must be understood and analyzed. The broken Western promise of not expanding the NATO alliance to Russian borders has also played its role in escalating the ongoing situation. Each nation views the concept of security from its own vantage point, and that leads to competing interests in the context of the geopolitical framework.  

The second factor corresponds to an effective global mechanism, or lack thereof, through which major powers such as the current members of the security council balance the global and national interest based on some common ground. Because each nation has a unique history of assessing its own economic, social and political security, it is extremely challenging to develop a common theme on major global challenges. It is the contemporary situation, in regards to managing the foreign relations, when one talks about the global order. 

In the above described factors, what is clear that the possibility of a large conflict is very remote (though in some regions this remains a possibility). Yet, what is clear in the context of geopolitics, is the intensification of regional hegemony through interference in other nations by using the proxy groups to either destabilize or weaken the competing actors in the regional sphere to gain control and influence. Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate this point.

Without any decisive global arbiter, it seems that this "re-emergence" of geopolitics, is not some temporary arrangement. What is also crucial to realize that with no one unilaterally deciding the course of the events, each nation is in the process of adjusting its global posture even the US. After two prolonged wars (which are still going on) along with the fiscal situation, the US is facing an internal functional fatigue and external challenges and this unique combination is testing the limits of its influence across the globe and that is creating its own challenges within many regions.

What is clear is that the traditional approaches in conducting foreign relations, based on realism or idealism, have little to offer in our contemporary global situation. For the US, the traditional debate about engagement and isolationism has also run its course. One of the advantages of thinking in geopolitical framework is to advance the national agenda based on the following questions: What are the national strategic goals; how are they related to international order or disorder and what is the most prudent path to achieve them in a volatile world? Those were the questions in 1648 for the Treaty (peace) of Westphalia; 1814 for the Congress of Vienna and in 1945 for the Potsdam Conference. These questions are staring at our statesmen and women in contemporary times for answers and strategies. The road ahead to answer these questions must avoid a linear thinking as a reflective tool.

In a world where nations and societies, no matter how deeply connected, practice and preach different virtues from justice to war to equality to economics, the existence of geopolitics is a natural outcome. How to manage these different virtues in a competing global system is the true revenge of geopolitics.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Leviathan Dilemma and the Nature of Legitimacy in Modern Times

Nature has treated man less like a mother than a step–dame. She has cast him into mortal life with a body naked, fragile, and infirm; and with a mind agitated by troubles, depressed by fears, broken by labours, and exposed to passions. In this mind, however, there lies hid, and as it were buried, a certain divine spark of genius and intellect; and the soul should impute much of its present infirmity to the dulness contracted from its earthly vehicle.

Third Book of Cicero's Commonwealth 
On the Republic (51 BC)


Irrespective of a cultural, geographical or historical burdens, all societies, primitive or modern, revolve around a crucial question of governance and how it drives its legitimacy and consent. Beyond doubt, one must admit that it is with absolute legitimacy, a true authority is established and exercised; regardless of the political and social arrangements of the polis. A true authority with absolute legitimacy is quite different from totalitarianism. A mature debate and argument must make that crucial distinction between authority and totality in the context of Leviathan. The confusion regarding authority and totality has deep implications on the populace and social mind frame.

The core question was and remain to understand and analyze the relationship between legitimacy and authority from Socrates to John Rawls. In so many ways, one can attest that, the governing question continues to haunt the global political community - not always in a most tranquil and civil manner and many times in a bloody way. Divers cultures, social norms, economic relations and institutions shaped the questions of governing in different forms in different societies. However, the central point was and continues to be, to assess and analyze the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed. That in a nutshell is the story of politics and political discourse since the time immemorial. Of course, the concept of power is an integral part of a legitimacy and governing equation. The power relations in any society do play a significant role in terms of defining the key players and their attitude towards the legitimacy and consent equation. Power, as a tool, either political and economic, does define the political and economic atmosphere; for better or worse.

In a world of instant communication and 24- hour news cycle, events, mostly involving the war, occurring in distant lands, are broadcast in living rooms all across the globe (Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Argentina etc). The live images along with a non-stop "commentary" has become a force of its own and this has major implications on the regime apparatus. The impingement of an event, either political or non-political, in a modern world, does not confine to defined borders alone. The news travels and travels far, and the ripple effect can modify the ability of a state to manage or mitigate the shock. Management of the crisis (sudden  or perpetual) and the creation of a national confidence through a clear vision and road map to attain that vision is the hallmark of the awesome leadership and spectacular governing legitimacy.

Within this context, one can unequivocally declare that the political structure in the majority of the nations today is facing the chronic and perpetual governing and the legitimacy crises. The erosion of a confidence in governance is, in fact, a result of a legitimacy crisis. It appears that both the political leadership, and the institutional structure in many contemporary societies are stuck in a perpetual failing and are unable to find the way out. The ability of a Leviathan to deliver and protect basic economic and political needs is coming under increased strain and pressure as the challenges mount and resources shrink. One must not succumb to a temptation to declare that the building of a large defense apparatus on a borrowed money, or the deep level of surveillance or intrusiveness on its citizens, is a sign of a well-functioning and priority-driven Leviathan. It is not. We must always, but seldom do, distinguish between reality and rhetoric; a true wisdom and a conventional wisdom.

Up until the Treaty of Westphalia in 1684, empires were the natural entities of the global polity. They were the natural outcome of social and economic factors since the dawn of the age of agriculture and plantation. The creation of the state came about due to the disintegration and mismanagement of the affairs of the empires. The security of a collective identity of diverse groups in one single empire was also a crucial factor. But as the economic structure changed and the taxes mounted due to a constant search for new territories, diverse cultures felt no attachment to Pax Romana or Byzantine rule. In the end, it was the system of economic management and the tax collection, which paved the way for a modern state to emerge. The resources drained the ability of an empire to control, politically and economically, the masses, which were of many different identities. State was an identity stamp for diverse groups of people. One could say that the disintegration of the empire is still relevant as we see the chaos in Syria, Iraq and Gaza.

In 1919, the economist Alfred Marshall remarked: "the state is the most precious of human possessions, and no care can be too great to be spent on enabling it to do its work in the best way.” Marshal, one of the founders of modern economics and a mentor to John Maynard Keynes, this truth was self-evident. Marshall strongly believed that the best way to solve the central paradox of capitalism -- the existence of poverty among plenty -- was to improve the quality of the state. And the finest way to improve the quality of the state was to produce the best ideas. That is why Marshall read political theorists as well as economists, John Locke as well as Adam Smith, confident that studying politics might lead not only to a fuller understanding of the state but also to practical steps to improve governance.

In the classical sense and method, the idea of legitimacy in the context of governance for the Leviathan, rested upon the well-functioning economy and the protection and safety of the citizens of the state; both politically and economically. With all of its shortcomings and tragedies, a sufficiently working Leviathan was perceived as a last resort to tame the harshness of the market economy and social chaos. No other entity was and is capable of providing a political stability - a much needed requirement for a capitalism to flourish and thrive. The rule of law with limitations on excessive abuse is the basic requirement for a Leviathan to be a legitimate entity. One must be cognitive of this requirement in order to fully grasp the modern challenges facing the Leviathan.

Without a doubt, not all done by the state was perfect or proper, but it did provide a platform to counter the anxieties of the days. The lingering fear of economic and unemployment anxieties were the social nightmares of that time and the state apparatus was the only tool which could curb the further deterioration. Nowhere it was truer than during the Depression of 1930s. One could go on to argue about the causes and the main actors of that economic misery. But, one cannot deny the social and economic change which was to emerge due to the intervention from the Leviathan to mitigate the horrific impact of the Depression on the entire society. In fact, the legitimacy of both the market and state were questioned during that time. Capitalism's own survival was at stake. The economic intervention by the state was a natural outcome. Yet, the voices of contempt regarding state's intervention in the matters of economy carried on with their ideological assault. Eloquence is no substitute for hunger, poverty, unemployment and destitution. A true and strong democracy is only possible when citizens live well and economic order is capable of providing equal opportunity to all. A genuine progressive society must reach beyond the shallow labels of left and right. Alas! an elusive goal in a hyper-partisan political atmosphere in our contemporary affairs. 

The legitimacy question is still valid today as the ongoing economic crisis marches on. It is, like always, the anxiety of economic and political insecurity which has given rise to a feeling of illegitimacy of a Leviathan. In many parts of the world,  many instead see government as the root of many of the problems that plague their societies and express their contempt in protest movements and elections that sometimes seem more anti-government than pro-reform. In Brazil and Turkey in recent years, huge numbers of protesters have marched in the streets against the corruption and incompetence of their rulers. In Italy, since 2011, three prime ministers have found themselves defenestrated, and in last year’s national elections, voters awarded the largest share of votes to a party led by a former comedian. In may’s elections for the European Parliament, millions of British, Dutch, and French voters, frustrated with their countries’ political elites, chose to support right-wing nationalist parties -- just as legions of Indian voters turned to Narendra Modi during elections this past spring. In November, Americans will trudge to the polls more full of anger than hope. Presently, the governments of all kind are scrambling for short-term solutions to help them through to the next business cycle, the next election, the next political transition. One must see the trend in all these happenings. The governing and legitimacy crisis is the reality of modern times. And, once again, it is the anxiety of economic hardship and survival at the center of the legitimacy crisis. It always has.

This crisis of legitimacy has been brewing for decades, but it has become acute in the last few years for two reasons. First factor deals with the finances of the state and how it shapes its ability to govern. The 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent global recession led to an explosion in public debt. The somber destruction of the job market in major economies drained the tax revenues which created its own challenges. It is in the realm of unemployment where the legitimacy of the Leviathan is the weakest and extremely crucial.

History has shown over and over the impact of unemployment on social order. The persistence inequality, especially in the realm of finance, poses a formidable challenge to the legitimacy of a Leviathan. In the imperial times, the masses believed that it was the divine destiny which had showered her blessings on the few. Empires felt no need to justify the concentration of power and wealth. This was the legacy of circumstances to ideas. It was not the case with the state apparatus. Legitimacy through the collective sharing and governance, at least in the liberal order, was the prerequisite of a well-functioning Leviathan. But the path of the legitimacy of the Leviathan especially during the economic turmoil , has always produced ugly results. The 1930s Nazi Germany is the most recent example of this reality. Before the crash of 1930s, 1.25 million people were unemployed in Germany. By the end of 1930 the figure had reached nearly 4 million, 15.3 per cent of the population. With the drop in demand for labor, wages also fell and those with full-time work had to survive on lower incomes. Hitler, who was considered a fool in 1928 when he predicted economic disaster, was now seen in a different light. People began to say that if he was clever enough to predict the depression maybe he also knew how to solve it. The rest, as they say, is history.

We are, as of this writing, facing an unprecedented unemployment problem. Scores of people in every corner of the globe lack a sufficient employment with decent salaries and benefits. And those who are lucky enough to have a steady paycheck, are looking over their shoulders to see when will the axe fall. It is said, unemployment is a temporary phenomenon; a sort of natural result of a market economy. Yet, data after data points to highly skilled individuals who are struggling to secure a decent way to survive. As the economic anxiety grows, the pressure on the state grows as well. The left-right divide may provide some fancy discussion about the pros and cons of state intervention; the reality is bigger than that. The provision and financing of the public good, a hallmark of the state existence, is in serious jeopardy as the costs continue to rise and the tax revenues continue to decline. This challenge has a limited policy options.

The second factor which has caused some serious damage to the legitimacy of a Leviathan is the structure and function of its institutions - both political and economic. The last thirty years have seen a rapid change from technology to demographics to power relations between nations and the speed of that transformation has altered the way, citizens were used to view their institutions. The traditional authority of the state within its borders is coming under increasing pressure from outside its borders. It is no longer the issue of a conflict between labor and management in a traditional manner. Capital has become an immensely mobile and can and, does fly on a whim, to a more friendly jurisdiction. Consequently, the tax policy is competing with the cheap labor from developing nations where the hunger for jobs is the only policy and option society has. In short, the authority of the Leviathan is challenged from outside and it is creating a doubt about its legitimacy and consent in an unprecedented way from within. There is no way to counter the forces of 21st century with 19th century institutions. The existing institutional design is not well-equipped to deal with the forces of a new world. The demography alone as a factor in nations like India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh, where the general economic conditions are poor, the institutional issue in the context of legitimacy and consent of the state, will be very crucial in days to come.

All the above plus the rise of the social and electronic media has created quite a complex situation for the governing class in many parts of the world. The intense connectivity among masses has created its own norms and principles which might or might not be compatible with the existing governing norms and principles. Moreover, for the first time ever in the history of the world, the most challenging issues are global in nature. Issues such as climate change, financial market vulnerabilities, and cyber-risks to global terrorism, weapons proliferation, and traditional competition for power are truly testing the limits of the state power - the most visible and powerful actor in any governing model regardless of the political climate in any given society.

Because of the global nature of the issues, the policy options available to nations, to manage these issues, are very limited and in many cases counterproductive in nature (QE for example). Within this context, the traditional responsibility of the state, which is to govern locally, is increasingly under pressure. As pressure on the state apparatus continues to grow, to provide a local greater public good for its citizens in a very global climate, the options to provide the local greater public good (political and economic security at the minimum) continue to shrink along with the financial capacity of the state. The ability to govern is facing some serious challenges and not all of those challenges are emerging at home. More and more, international events are defining the local debate- whether we realize it or not.

It is never easy to substitute conventional wisdom with serious discourse. But one thing is tolerably certain. The economic and social anxieties simmer for a long time before their colossal eruption. Social anger in a very connected world can be very dangerous to the entire social order. And, the first causality of any social anger is always the Leviathan.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Few words about the War and Gaza....

War is the ultimate human tragedy. The killings, mayhem, destruction and violence create their own string of violence. In an environment where reason and compromise are tossed aside and where the complete elimination of the other side is the goal, the human endeavor of a highest goal and maturity ceases to exist. Even with all the sound of death and chaos, there is a silence. The silence of an agonizing torture and a slow death of of a human spirit. The impact of a mortal shells and the hell from the sky do not ask for the permission to identify the real target for whom the bullets are intended. Very few wars have clear winners and clear losers. Most only have losers. Gaza is the latter.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Few words about Iraq and Afghanistan - has the journey accomplished its goals?

 This missive was written in 2011 and reflects accurately regarding what is happening in Iraq today. Afghanistan's fate is not different, either.


For a military campaign, which divided the global community, killed 4500 American soldiers and countless Iraqi’s and cost the US taxpayer more than $800 billion dollars, the ceremony to end the US involvement in Iraq was small and had no grandiose look. I watched the ceremony on Al-Jazeera and my mind raced back to 2003 when I was asked by a senior Canadian official if the war would happen and I had said yes. Moreover, I also, said that the US would not find anything because Saddam was telling the truth. He had destroyed the nuclear weapons program as he said on many occasions but I knew that the war would go ahead. Saddam was brutal but not stupid. He knew that his army will not have a living chance to fight with the US army and that is why he told Dan Rather of CBC in February 2003 that he did not want the war and the US should not attack Iraq because there were no weapons in Iraq.

But now, here we are almost a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan with no clear answer and claim to victory. The Shia-Sunni divide which under Saddam was at least controlled, is now the reality of politics in Baghdad and a day to day life in Iraq. This sectarian divide will continue to define the Iraqi society and for this reason, Iraq has a very bloody road ahead.  Talibans - who were supposed to be an extinct species, are back in full force and are planning to open an office in Qatar. President Karzai has not been able to control the crony system in Kabul and Iran is very much involved in the Iraqi affairs. To a critical eye, those are not the benchmark for a victory by any standard.


The US withdrawal from Iraq is something Iran was patiently waiting for. The current Iraqi administration is in more tunes with Tehran than with Washington and that is not a good news for the US administration. The last thing the US wants is the Iraqi government who is taking marching orders from Tehran. That was not supposed to happen. But that is now the reality in the region.

In Afghanistan, the situation is the same. President Karzai who is close to the Saudi Royal family, is talking with Talibans and by involving Saudi Arabia, President Karzai is trying to undermine the growing Iranian influence in the region. Moreover, the relationship between Kabul and Islamabad is at the lowest point. Pakistan has blocked the NATO supplies at the border with Afghanistan to show Pakistan’s protest to the US over the killing of Pakistan’s 27 soldiers by the US drone. President Obama tried to make a personal appeal to both President Karzai and President Zardari of Pakistan to re-start the negotiation and allow the NATO supplies to go to Afghanistan but they both refused. (President Zardari did not even take Obama’s phone call). Afghanistan and Iraq are strategic failures. They will continue to haunt the American foreign policy narrative for a long time. The involvement of regional actors in both places will make the US choices between bad and worse. 

The US wrote the introduction for Iraq and Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. The rest of the chapters will be written by the regional powers and what they will write might not make the US very happy in the long run. But that is the cost you pay when know how to get in but do not have an exit strategy.



Two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.


Karl Von Clausewitz
June 1, 1780 – November 16, 1831