Monday, November 28, 2011

The Reluctant Empress and The Fallen Eagle

As the contemporary Eurozone appears as a neo-Holy Roman Empire, it is only fair to draw comment on the conduct of its "Emperor" (or "Empress"), Angela Merkel of Germany.
The current state of the Eurozone puts Germany in a morally awkward position. Having long recovered its status since the Second World War as the economic centre of Europe, its status as the home of the ECB and Europe's economic sentinel puts it in a position of unrivalled power compared to its Eurozone co-partners.
The awkwardness comes from the fact that since the fall of Hitler, Germans have been psychologically hard-wired to resist any temptation to use its strategic and economic muscle beyond its boundaries. The idea of a potential (Eurozone) "Fourth Reich" no doubt brings out most Germans in a cold sweat; their instinct is for pacifist non-intervention and stepping out of the spotlight at the earliest opportunity, as though they are terrified that somehow a jack-booted storm-trooper lies just under their skins, ready to burst out.
This thinking can be seen in the words and actions of the neo-Holy Roman Empress, Angela Merkel. As the governments of the Mediterranean collapse one after another, they are replaced by (non-elected) administrations that happen to fit the wishes of the Holy Roman Empress; she wishes exactly what the markets wish for: a return to fiscal sanity in the regimes south of the Alps. And while those new (imposed) regimes are there to sort out their respective financial mess, they still ask for further help from the Empress.
And the Empress Angela, partly for reasons of financial principle, and partly (it appears) out of fear of appearing too dictatorial, shies away from any thought of doing more for her southern clients. The mere thought of her being able to have such power over the fate of other nations, and using it, brings her, like her compatriots, out in a metaphorical cold sweat.

There are some odd comparisons to the attitude that Emperor Angela has to her new, financially-dependent, Southern European clients, and that which the USA had to the rest of the world prior to the First World War.
By the start of the 20th century, the USA was an empire in all but name, in that it possessed colonial dependencies (recently won from Spain), and was a world power of increasing influence. In spite of that, many Americans were (and still are) in denial about their imperial status. They were loathe to interfere in affairs beyond their immediate vicinity, notwithstanding what the first President of the American Empire, Theodore Roosevelt, called "policing" in the Western Hemisphere - such as the creation of the Panama canal (by supporting Panama's independence from Mexico), amongst others. It took the First World War, and the European Powers' mass suicide of the First World War, to get the American Empire to take an interest in what happened beyond its shores.
Likewise, it may well take the even more drastic financial collapse of Italy, Greece or Spain, for the Empress Angela to realise that Germany may well eventually have to grasp the nettle of financial responsibility for the rest of the Eurozone, come what may. Like it or not, Germany may eventually have to realise the reality of it's own financial "White Man's Burden" - The Reluctant Empress may have to accept her imperial financial obligations, and rule the fiscal roost over Italy and Greece, regardless of her feelings on the matter.

There is one more take on this issue: that the financial perspective that Angela Merkel takes on the bailouts of Italy and Greece is remarkably similar to that of the Republicans' view of how to deal with the American economy. Merkel believes that the way of dealing with Italy and Greece's economic mismanagement is not to help them (through an injection of foreign funds), but to force them to deal with the issue by themselves (through cutting government expenditure); likewise, the Republicans' believe that the way of dealing with the American economy is not to help it (through a federal injection of funds), but to force the government to deal with the issue on its own (through cutting government expenditure).
This issue of financial responsibility brings into sharp light the reality of America and Europe in the 21st century; that, from a financial point of view, they are run in more or less a similar manner, with similar issues of sovereignty over fiscal responsibility.

In other words, the EU/Eurozone and the USA are both post-modern empires built on some kind of federal structure.
The former is ran in a similar way to the medieval Holy Roman Empire: a loose, semi-autonomous network of minor states and princelings, held together by an imperial figurehead, whose power is more important within the Empire than without.
The latter is ran more like the Roman Empire of ancient times; divided into clearly-marked provinces ("states") with their own governor, but ultimately held accountable to an imperial centre ("Washington DC"), ruled by a Emperor who, counter-intuitively, has more say, and usually more interest, in foreign affairs than those within the confines of the Empire.
In that sense, like the Holy Roman Emperor of medival times, Empress Angela has more clout within the Eurozone that she does compared to the influence she has on other imperial world leaders. Conversely, like the Roman Emperor of ancient times, Emperor Barack has more influence on world affairs than he does in his own squabbling Senate.
This makes these two major Western powers of the 21st century, facing each other on opposite sides of the Atlantic, political giants but also political deadweights, in some ways, compared to the likes of China or Russia.
The European Empire of Empress Angela is too concerned about its own parochial intricacies to allow its figurehead be taken seriously by the rest of the world; at the same time, the American Empire of Emperor Barack may well be taken seriously by the rest of the world, but the relentless machinations of his fractious political elite prevent him from fully taking advantage of it.
Thus Western civilisation is represented on the world stage by a Reluctant Empress and a Fallen Eagle.

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