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The End of the Automatic Society

Daniel J. Elazar

Just as democratic republicanism became the political hallmark of modernity, the market became the economic one, resting on the maintenance of free trade in the international arena and laissez faire capitalism at home. Free trade in the nineteenth century liberal sense failed to provide the answer since it was an extension of the nineteenth century conceptions of the "automatic society" (that is, that government could be replaced by the market or the march of history, or the unshackling of humans' original goodness) and suffered from the same defects. Those who brought about the revolutions of modernity understood that all society was framed by government and that it was the institutions of government that gave each society its identity and character. In time, however, their theories developed into a kind of mechanical understanding of "society" as superseding civil society and existing in and of itself, with or without government. The ideologies of the nineteenth century, however widely separated they were in how they sought to achieve the ideal society they envisioned, shared this in common, that their goals could be achieved by releasing automatic social mechanisms which would "naturally" move things in the right direction. This is true whether we speak of laissez faire which saw the market as the appropriate automatic mechanism, anarchism which saw the goodness of humanity once released from the shackles of civilization as bringing about the desired result, or marxism which saw historical processes as doing that, or whatever.

By the mid-twentieth century, each of these attempts had failed. Laissez faire capitalism led to growth and prosperity for some but social and economic injustice for others and, ultimately, the Great Depression for all. The others led to one or another form of totalitarianism and World War II. Free trade, too, ran afoul not only of illegitimate interests of different peoples and polities but of their legitimate interests. While its value was increasingly recognized, so, too, was the need to harness it within some kind of framework that provided for those regulations and encouragements necessary for free trade to be most advantageous. Moreover, World War II clarified several points: one, that states potentially powerful militarily somehow had to be harnessed to one another to prevent further all-out catastrophes, and, two, that peoples would not submit to rule by others whom they did not see as linked to them in some meaningful way.

All of this was topped off by the introduction of nuclear energy into the equation. The atomic bomb and its successors made it clear to all but the world's crazies that absolute sovereignty was no longer possible, that even the strongest power in the world was limited in what it could do to make its power felt without generating a catastrophic reaction. The "balance of terror" of the Cold War years generated by Soviet imperialism but restrained by their nuclear realism, was an effort to harness the old state system to new realities.

A balance of terror could only be a temporary device. As both great powers and many lesser ones feared, others less interested in maintaining a balance would acquire the same weapons of terror in due course with unforeseen but not very hopeful consequences. So within the balance of terror, especially outside of the very oppressive Communist bloc which tried to use new versions of old imperialist techniques to preserve the power of its leading state and ruling class, small efforts began to go beyond the old system to find new ways to gain control of the situation to everyone's mutual satisfaction.

Thus was born the European Community, now the European Union, initially a network of treaties establishing functional linkages between the various states of Western Europe, anchored on the effort to bring the two great European rival states, France and Germany, together on a peaceful basis so as to prevent future wars between them. In due course the European Community evolved from joint functional authorities established by international treaty to confederal arrangements to, with the adoption of the European Union Treaty of Maastricht, confederation. Soon similar efforts were underway in other parts of the world, not necessarily directly influenced by the EC experience but stimulated by the same recognition of similar needs.

Simultaneously, the two great Cold War power blocs under the leadership of the superpower dominant in each, tried to build ostensibly looser but equally binding links in the realms of economics and defense. Those fostered by the Soviet Union were old fashioned imperial ties in a new ideological guise. Hence, it was not surprising that they collapsed with the collapse of the Soviet empire in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Fortunately, those developed for the free world were those developed by the United States which had the generous view that it was in its interests to rebuild Europe and make its components into partners, even though that might bring with it moments of heartburn for the U.S., because in the long run that would be better. So after World War II the United States rebuilt both its allies and its former foes in Europe and the Far East, generously providing its own resources in order to do so.

In a sense, the postwar world backed into the new paradigm but did not seek it per se. Their first task after World War II was to resurrect the old state system with a minimum of modifications, that is to say, reconstruction of the Axis Powers on a rehabilitated basis so that they could be readmitted to the family of nations, reconstruction of the war-torn Allies so that they would be able to function again as equal members of the world community of states, and a minimum of collective security arrangements to try to insure world peace, of which the United Nations was one. As a result of the beginning of the Cold War, the UN became more symbolic than effective, although it was fortuitous that the USSR and its satellites had walked out of the UN before the outbreak of the Korean War which left that organization free to take a one-time stand on an issue of that magnitude and to throw its support and cover behind the U.S.-led defense of South Korea.

In the meantime, NATO had been set up as a Western collective security pact which, in retrospect, we see as a major step toward the new paradigm. While it was far from establishing a confederal arrangement, it did establish what Karl Deutsch felicitously referred to as a "security community" under the aegis of the United States, then clearly the only Western superpower. On the other hand, while efforts to establish federations or decentralized states in West Germany, Japan and Italy successfully served as part of the rebuilding process and a small number of federations succeeded in surviving decolonization in countries such as India, Pakistan (more on paper than in practice but still surviving), Malaya-Malaysia, and Nigeria, efforts to federalize aggregations of pre-existing states as federations such as the abortive United States of Europe did not succeed at all.

In the 1950s, however, the Western European countries did begin to pursue what they called functional rather than federal solutions to their problems of union on a more limited basis. These slowly evolved into confederal arrangements to take the lead in bringing about the paradigm shift. So, too, in the Caribbean. Although Britain tried to create a West Indies Federation but failed, confederal arrangements uniting most of those same islands emerged out of the wreckage. Islands are, but definition, insular, hence federation was too much for them but, although they sought independence, they also perceived that they needed to share certain functions, e.g. currency, higher education, supreme court.

Similarly, Spain in an effort to preserve the older statist model but within the context of its economically stronger peripheral regions' drive for autonomy, made some wise decisions to introduce regional decentralization throughout the country. Thus its leaders launched it on the road to federalization thereby controlling the successimist impulse of the Bosgness and Calatans and others. In 1970s Italy effectuated the regional system that the Allies introduced into its immediately postwar constitution. Belgium confronting with intensifying ethnic problem between Flemish and Walloons, moved toward federalism in an effort to resolve its problem.

Thus without in any conscious way abandoning the state system, the federal paradigm in essence snuck up on an increasingly substantial and significant segment of the world. After 1977 all of this was much enhanced by the new economic realities which led to constituent states of existing federations having to insert themselves in the international system as states for purposes of economic development, a drive that has only gained momentum since.

So the new paradigm began to emerge slowly without conscious planning and gained momentum as time passed. In the mid-1970s even the European Community looked like it would not survive. Then in the 1980s it picked up momentum along with all these other forms of federalism, while the growing weakness of the Soviet empire and the Soviet Union itself contributed to the growing transformation of worldwide international treaty arrangements such as the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) and the then newly established Council on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) to more constitutionalized leagues of nations that became dependent upon membership within them. Each of this is a story in itself, a story that needs to be told to better understand the full dimensions of the paradigm shift.

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