Of Cabbages and Kings: the New Old World Order

One of the interesting things about history is how much times--any times really--conspire to surprise. I've often thought that mediaeval or semi-modern models of association and organisation were more viable than they were given credit for, for example, but that they were long gone. Each passing day of our new medievalism makes me think of how viable Hanseatic Leagues, and Holy Roman Empires would now still be, and of what they could teach us.

Two instant things have made me think of this. The first is located about a thousand miles east of where I am. When Eastern and Central Europe broke away from the Soviet empire, it seemed logical to me--and, yes, I know that I can be demented--that their Visegrad group should arrange an area of preferential trade and defence for themselves. In the long run, this would have been a better way for Poland, the Czechs and Slovaks, the Hungarians, and the Ukrainians, as well as the Balkan states, to grow. The EU, which might have been counted on at one time to normalise states was too ready to assimmilate and transform, and in the transformation was the trap of the Euro, which I have never been convinced of. Like the Association of South East Asian Nations, the states were a better fit with near neighbours if they wanted to keep their soul, and anyway, the Council of Europe might maintain the new standards of human rights.

Well, it didn't happen. Instead, the EU and emigration became vehicles for neolibral transformation, and time appeared to move on. I put things down to my semi-thought out nostalgia for things like the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires and left it at that. The East did join NATO, and the EU (but not the euro) and no one could fault them for it.

But--lo--what light through yonder flatscreen breaks? Visegrad as a group is not only alive, but it has developed a defence capacity, which is independent of NATO,and gives every appearance of being a viable structure for when NATO and the EU fall apart. The Hapsburg lands are now, as they always were, in the grip of various competing sodalities and realms, but this new addition is intriguing.

The liberal world order is fraying in odd ways. My second surprise of the past few weeks was how a 'League of Princes' was emerging in the Middle East and North Africa, reaching out to those threatened by republicanism. Calculating that they can no longer rely on western allies, given the Arab Spring and their own gimlet-eyed assessment of western wealth, the Gulf Co-Ordination Committee has been extending links to Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco as possible partipants in their own organisation, which shelved its own single currency temporarily last year.

ASEAN, the GCC, and Visegrad--third, overlooked forces are emerging everywhere. You might almost call it a New-Old World Order. They're all locked into bigger units, which overlap, and draw their legitimacy from multiple places. If you want a common pattern, however, they all seem to have worked out what a lot of trouble the West is in. How many more people have worked out, our basically silly media aside, that we're on the edge of the abyss of debt, collapse and permanent disruption, and are laying their plans accordingly?


Martin....I have realized late in life that the medieval period has been for the most part defamed ever since the Enlightenment period as backward, bigoted, diseased and superstitious. After extensive reading, outside the normal circle of accepted historians, I have come to the conclusion that most of what has been written about the medieval period is skewed by the ideology or the superstition of progressivism - the march of mankind towards a godless and technological society. Reading Belloc or Dawson to name two authors, you realize that the civilization called Christendom was the apogee of human achievement and stove to build a a communal/Christian society. Perfect? Far from it......but it also didn't have organized and financed abortion and euthanasia; Jewish or Armenian extermination programs; nuclear and civilian targeted wars; and promoted atheism which has led to family disintegration, addictions and a coarseness of life (despite advanced technology) and human denigration.

Yes, we live longer and healthier today and the terrors of disease and early death have been abated but how about our souls? Can we say the same thing?

p.s will be in London in a few weeks....perhaps let's meet for a pint? Patrick
Martin Meenagh said…
I'm not so sure that those things were not present in the medieval world--look at say, the Cathars, or the general condition of people in the West before Charlemagne's time. What I think that you see is far fewer people, so far fewer opportunities for the badness to get the sort of a grip that it does and to sway people--and you don't see urban capitalism, you're right, but depending on what period you look at you can see some fairly depressing stuff. I'm reading Tom Holland's 'Forge of Christendom' at the moment and have been thinking about that sort of thing. There's a part of me, too, I suppose, which wants to see the fourth crusade as a kind of chamber of commerce outing.

I'd be happy to have a pint in a couple of weeks. Let me know when you are around and we can make arrangements!

All best, M
Edward Spalton said…
If you Google "Beerdigung Ihrer Majestaet Zita" you will pick up a videoclip of the funeral of Empress Zita of Austria. This took place in 1989 and the streets of Vienna were lined with mourners. If I were a conservatively minded Austrian, I would probably have had a lump in my throat too. Her husband, the last Emperor Karl was beatified a few years back. To his credit, he tried very hard to achieve a negotiated peace in 1916 but Germany overruled him.

I hold no brief for the Habsburgs but the regimes that followed them were incomparably worse. Still it was the bone-headed ministers of the Empire who, with German backing, quite deliberately precipitated the Great War .
BTW Martin -Could you make the type a bit darker? I find the present shade a touch trying on the eyes
Martin Meenagh said…
Hello Edward, many thanks for your comment. I have made the type black--I hope that helps.

I tend to agree. The Austrian federal Republic (unlike the German) is not one of the jewels of Europe, and you do wonder what constitutional monarchies on Spanish lines would do for Greece, Russia or Iran. My girlfriend has given me some insight into the very Korean way that the Chosun peninsula departed with its monarchy--'they were rubbish and did nothing for us against the Japanese so we threw them out' which I don't quite think can be applied to some of the European republics. I am an Irish citizen as well as a British subject though, and think that the republican form of government is the best for the western isle--but that it wouldn't be fair or good in England. This country's history is so bound up with the crown, and so much depends upon it, that you'd be ripping everything up and embracing some nasty Austrian alternative just for the sake of it if you subjected the English to republicanisation. I think that the same goes for Canada and New Zealand....
Edward Spalton said…
Thank you for changing the type - a great improvement for senior eyes!

Your post reminded me of a fascinating book called "The Medieval Machine - The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages" by Jean Gimpel. It was first published in the Seventies and there are later editions. Second hand copies are available on Amazon (I checked).

All sorts of technical advances occurred during the Middle Ages and, of course, there were those great multi-national European corporations, the religious orders who were no slouches at trade and technology - nor of ripping off the tax authorities of mere kings and archdukes etc. Well worth a read.

Having done business in Ireland North and South for many years, I can (mostly) agree with you. But then what is a Church and Crown Tory Unionist, long deserted by the Conservative party and the Church of England, to do? I feel rather like Little Orphan Annie.

The Australian Monarchist League is doing stalwart work. A few years back they tried to start an Association of Commonwealth Realms but the time wasn't quite right. I think it is what "1066 and All That" would have called A Good Thing.

It is deplorable (for instance) that our papers carry no mention of the Canadian forces in Afghanistan who, with ours, are doing more than their fair share of the dying whilst our EU "colleagues" skulk in the safer areas.
Afghanistan was a silly place to go to fight a war but, as "we're here because we're here", we should acknowledge those allies who are worth having in a tight corner.
Martin Meenagh said…
My hat's off to the Canadian and Australian forces, as ever. Thank you for the comment, and the book recommendation, Edward.