COMMENTS ON WHY DO WE DIFFER?

The November 2013 issue of Hungarian Review carried a stimulating article under the above title by James C. Bennett and Michael Lotus, based on researches of historical anthropology. However its argument has some weaknesses. To begin with, it has a tendency towards monocausality, reducing everything to a single factor (family types in this instance). This basically ignores the role of accident, happenstance and chance in human affairs, not to mention unintended consequences.

Here I would like to draw attention to Deepak Lal’s work, Unintended Consequences, claiming that the spread of the nuclear family in Europe was triggered by the insistence of the Western church through Canon Law that inheritance laws should privilege male descendants. This had the result that maybe two-fifths of deaths were intestate and the Church benefited as ultimus haeres. Hence family types had a variety of origins. Then there is the concept of developmental stages referred to by the article. This concept was indeed most developed by Marx, but it is implicit in the linearity and dynamic movement of both Christianity (encoded as “salvation”) and the Enlightenment (encoded as “progress”). In reality, this is only an assumption of linearity that is superimposed on the historical reality of Europe, which was far more haphazard than “progress” would allow, cf. Norman Davies’s Vanished Kingdoms. Thirdly, what we see in Europe today is a clash of reality-definitions and a corresponding epistemological crisis. I am inclined to see that something new emerged in the 1990s, the so-called “Third Road”, allowing much of the old Marxist left to abandon state planning and to sign up to the Washington consensus. Something had to be given after the collapse of Soviet communism and acceptance of the market was the move that allowed the left regain the initiative and to build a hegemony in the last decade or more.

Fourth, it would be very helpful if the authors could specify their theory of modernity and, equally, their theory of power. They refer to both, but it is quite unclear what precisely they mean by these terms.

Then there is the question of the authors’ reading of Europe and the EU. The problem with a free trade area, as we can see from the decade of EU membership, is that it privileges stronger economic actors and impedes the formation of both monetary and human capital as the exogamous actors impose their own norms andruthlessly eliminate local competition. Look at the weakness of small and medium enterprises in the EU-12 – their lack of capital is severe, as well as of knowhow.

All economically strong states went through a period of protectionism and became free market champions only when they had the economic power to withstand its vagaries. From this perspective, if there are no EU transfers (structural and cohesion funds) to Hungary (say), then the answer must be protectionism.

The article entirely ignores a whole range of activities by the EU in elaborating unified standards as a part of the single market. If Europe were to revert to a free trade area, then what would happen to food safety, to environmental protection, to the fight against organised crime and so on? Small states are at an inherent disadvantage here and, without some central norm-setting in which they have a voice, they would simply be dumped on by larger actors. That requires a degree of central control legally and politically.

Finally, the authors write: “A particularly dense web of cooperative institutions might grow up along the Danube, returning to the natural community formed by the Dual Monarchy, but without the subordination of ethnic groups that plagued the old regime, and led to its demise.”

There is no such thing as a “natural community”, and if there were, Austria– Hungary would not be an example of one. It was a product of history, a construct, the outcome of dynasticism, land-grabs, conquest, suppression of localities (where it suited the imperial centre, e.g. Joseph II), cooptation or power plays. By what criterion was Bukovina, say, part of a “natural community” of the Danubian region or Galicia or Bosnia?

More to the point, the entire region suffers still from having been a part of one (or more) empires and their post-colonial status is unrecognised. So don’t get too dewy-eyed about Austria-Hungary, it was a long way from having been a liberal polity.

If you think otherwise, then please explain what the Reichsrat said about the Declaration of War in 1914 and why Hungary’s grave misgivings about the war were simply overridden by Vienna.

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