Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Austria on the Edge: A Borderline Nation

Both geographically and culturally, Austria is a nation on the edge.

Large parts of Europe share a cultural history. As different as Germany and France might be, they both emerged from the Frankish Empire, along with Benelux lands of Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg. This Frankish influence extended through southeastern Germany into Austria, but ends somewhere before the Hungarian border.

It’s worth noting that the name ‘France’ derives from the name of the Germanic tribe, the Franks, which moved into the region - previously known as ‘Gaul’ - as a stabilizing influence to calm the chaos which filled the ‘power vacuum’ left by the retreating Roman occupational forces.

Western Austria shows its kinship to Bavaria more clearly than eastern Austria, but both bear a Germanic stamp.

To understand the cultural genesis of these regions, the reader must think back a millennium or so, to a time when the map of Europe looked very different. Instead of the modern nation-states which now organize the continent, there were many small kingdoms, with somewhat fluid borders, organized into local coalitions, and overseen by an overarching but likewise fluid empire.

There was no “Germany” or “Austria,” but rather dozens of kingdoms and duchies filled the map.

The Frankish Empire, which metamorphosed into the Holy Roman Empire (HRE), was a loose network which united most of these small entities. These little kingdoms grew and shrank, merging in marriages, dividing in inheritances among a monarch’s children, occasionally trading bits of land back and forth, or being altered in the course of warfare.

The Frankish Empire, which began in late 400s, expanded in various directions, including eastward. The term ‘march’ is used to denote “a frontier or border area between two countries or territories,” according to one dictionary. Long before the word ‘Austria’ was used or invented, this region was known as the ‘eastern march’ - the edge of the Frankish Empire, later the edge of the HRE.

Bavaria - or Bayern - was the springboard on the eastern end of the empire from which expansion into Austria was made.

From the Germanic Osten meaning ‘east’ and Reich meaning ‘empire,’ the name Österreich emerged. ‘Austria’ is a literal Latinization of the same. Thus eventually and gradually the modern nomenclature arose, as historian Steven Beller writes:

Austria began its history in the late tenth century as an eastern march of the duchy of Bavaria. It was during this period that an area in the Danube valley came to be known as ‘the eastern land’, in Latin ‘terra orientalis’, or ‘ostarrichi’ in the local German of the time. The first written evidence of this early medieval equivalent of ‘Österreich’ dates from 996. In the eleventh century the march was sometimes referred to as ‘Osterlant’; the Latin version of ‘Austria’ first appears in a document in 1147.

So ‘terra orientalis,’ ‘Osterlant,’ and ‘eastern land’ are linguistic equivalents in Latin, German, and English respectively. Of course, the spellings have changed slightly over the centuries.

These old terms took on troubling new meanings in the twentieth century. When the Nazis took over Austria in 1938 and annexed it, they called in Ostmark, meaning ‘the eastern march.’

The Austrians regained their freedom and political independence in 1945, and rejected the name which the Nazis had placed onto their country. Since then, Austrians have found the term Ostmark to be an offensive and troubling reminded of the seven years during which their nation suffered under National Socialist domination, as Steven Beller reports:

As Austrian historians were at pains after 1945 to prove, the march was never actually called the ‘Ostmark’. Nevertheless, it was as an eastern march of the German kingdom under Bavarian suzerainty, a military district on the Germans' south-east frontier, that Austria started its career.

Prior to 1933, there was nothing troubling about being the eastern extension of Frankish or Germanic heritage. Indeed, it was a mark of high civilization.

But the way in which the Nazis perverted culture caused the Austrians in the postwar era to find ways, in this case linguistic ways, to distance themselves from twentieth-century Germany.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Tolerance and Its Role in Western Civilization

One of the distinctive features of Western Civilization is the notion of religious tolerance. This freedom of religion is one of several characteristics which defines this unique set of values which constitutes the Western worldview. But already the mention of ‘Western Civilization’ should give occasion for pause, and for clarification.

It is difficult to find a suitable name for the institutions and ways of life which now shape people in every part of the world. The term ‘Western’ was applied because Europe, which was not the source but rather the incubator of this civilization, is west of Asia, and more precisely, west or northwest of those parts of Asia which contributed essential parts of what would become Western Civilization.

Europe is west of Babylon and Mesopotamia, and west of Persia and Jerusalem. Europe came to view itself as the “West.” Yet those locations to the east are indispensable parts of the emergence of Western Civilization. The “West” could not have come to be without the “East” - without Hammurabi or Moses, without Darius or Abraham. So ‘West’ is a misnomer in terms of origin. The “West” came out of the “East.”

For a second reason, ‘West’ is a misnomer, because the ‘West’ is now everywhere. If this civilization hatched and matured in Europe, it is now found in China and India, in Africa and South America. The “West” is neither west nor east, but all around the world.

The West is in China, which no longer binds women’s feet. The West is in India, which is working to abandon the practice of suttee or sati. The West is in Africa, which seeks education and universal suffrage. The West is in South America, which works toward the recognition and freedom of the individual.

Gandhi studied in England, where he harvested ideas from John Locke, from the Magna Carta, from Edmund Burke, and from the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Mao proclaimed himself a Marxist, i.e., the follower of a German Jew. In rather non-Western places, the West is making itself felt.

So whatever the West is, it is misleading to call it the ‘West’ - it came from the East, and is now everywhere.

What else can we call it? Some historians use the phrase ‘Judeo-Christian Tradition,’ which points again to sources: Both Judaism and Christianity arose outside of Europe, in Asia. To be sure, the unique set of values and worldview which emerge from Judaism and Christianity have greatly shaped Western Civilization. To that extent, the name ‘Judeo-Christian Tradition’ might be correct.

But Judeo-Christian values have now spread widely, into many cultures which are neither Jewish nor Christian. The indignation and outcry against torture, the desire for respectful treatment of women, and a worldview which values mathematics and the observational sciences are infiltrating the minds of many who are Hindu, Buddhist, or atheist. To call this civilization ‘Judeo-Christian’ is perhaps historically correct, but ignores the fact that Judeo-Christian values have been adopted, individually and collectively, by millions of people who are neither Jews nor Christians.

The popularity of the environmentalist ‘green’ sentiment in the early decades of the twenty-first century are directly attributable to the Judeo-Christian ethic. While the Mesopotamians saw the physical world as an accidental product of the activities of various gods and goddesses, and therefore unworthy of special protection, the Hebrews saw the earth as a divinely-planned artistic creation, worth nurturing and preserving.

The observation will be made: the West has not always behaved according to Western values; Jews and Christians have not always instantiated Judeo-Christian values. Have crimes been committed by the West? Yes. Have Jews and Christians sinned? Yes.

It is in the West’s sins that we can perhaps most clearly see its distinctiveness. Occasional acts of torture, committed by the West, have called forth public furor - in the West. The harshest condemnations of the West’s sins have come from the West itself. Other civilizations expressed less outrage - even when they were the victims of the West’s crimes.

The members of other civilizations don’t protest when their own civilizations commit torture: that is simply what is expected. Torture is not merely tolerated in those civilizations: it is expected. It is institutionally enshrined.

In the West, crimes against human dignity, crimes against human freedom, provoke outrage. That is why Western Civilization began the movement to end slavery, and began the movement for women’s suffrage.

Women in Western cultures take their right to vote for granted, and are now moving toward other forms of legal and social equality. In non-Western cultures, slavery still exists; in non-Western cultures, the explicit inferiority of women is articulated and embodied in legal codes and societal attitudes.

A third candidate for a name is simply “European Culture.” For the reasons outlined above, it should be clear to the ready why this name is as insufficient as the other two.

The conclusion is reached: it cannot be “Western Civilization,” nor can it be the “Judeo-Christian Tradition,” and it also can’t be “European Culture.” But whatever it is, it nurtured and expressed distinctive ideas - ideas not found elsewhere - ideas that every human life deserves individual recognition and dignity, ideas that human beings all seek freedom, find a measure of fulfillment in it, and find further fulfillment in struggling to gain it, both for themselves, and for others.

This unique perspective has now infiltrated much of the world: in every nation, there are individuals who are ‘Western’ - ironically, on both sides of the Chinese civil war: Mao’s communism was the product of Marx, a European; Chiang Kai-shek looked to create a European-style nation-state governed by freely-elected representatives with a free market.

The West’s roots go back thousands of years, and milestones along the way can be identified. Between 311 and 313 A.D., Roman Emperor Constantine, through a series of legislative maneuvers, made the Christian religion legal. For nearly three hundred years, Christians had been persecuted: arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and executed, simply because they followed Jesus. The Romans had murdered tens of thousands of Christians.

When Christianity finally became legal, the older pagan religions of Rome were also still legal. Constantine created one of the first, if not the first, societies with religious tolerance. Side-by-side, various religions coexisted.

Constantine, himself a Christian, had established religious tolerance. But that tolerance soon encountered resistance. Some within the empire wanted one single religion to established as the official religion, and other religions to be marginalized or even outlawed. It became necessary to defend religious tolerance, as author Mark Koyama illustrates:

In the late 4th century, the Roman senator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, a pagan, issued a plea for religious pluralism: “We gaze up at the same stars; the sky covers us all; the same universe encompasses us. Does it matter what practical system we adopt in our search for the Truth? The heart of so great a mystery cannot be reached by following one road only.”

By contrast, in the previous Persian Empire, various religions existed, but were geographically segregated. Under Constantine, Christians and Roman polytheists lived in the same towns and shopped in the same marketplaces.

Constantine is, then, an important milestone on the way to a mature version of Western Civilization. Senator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus is another. Symmachus is naively willing to embrace mutually contradictory propositions, which later Western philosophy would need to sort out, but there is a distinct seed of tolerance in his words.

Tolerance is a key ingredient to Western Civilization. Tolerance is allowing other people to carry on with ideas, words, or actions which are judged to be wrong or incorrect. Tolerance is asserting that one’s intellectual or political opponents have a right to exist, because they are human beings.

To show tolerance, a person is not required to affirm, support, accept, or welcome an idea which he opposes. Consider twentieth century American elections: Republicans and Democrats debated fiercely, and did not affirm, support, accept, or welcome either’s ideas: they opposed each other at every turn. But they demonstrated tolerance toward each other.

Western Civilization is in danger any and every time that there is an attempt to eliminate, silence, or stifle opposition.

Tolerance does not mean accepting, affirming, supporting, or welcoming opposing ideas. Tolerance means allowing someone else to believe or say what is firmly believed to be wrong. To tolerate is not to be silent; to tolerate is recognize someone’s right to say something which is confidently considered to be wrong - one person can tolerate another person’s ideas even while debating against those ideas.

Tolerance is the act of clearly identifying another person’s beliefs, words, and actions as wrong and incorrect, and maintaining that individual’s right to carry on, even while vocally and vociferously condemning those beliefs, words, and actions. In this concept of tolerance, the two key Western concepts are seen: the importance of the individual and the importance of freedom.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The End of Islamic Maritime Hegemony, for a While at Least: The Battle of Lepanto

In the early sixteenth century, the Muslim navies controlled the Mediterranean. Nearly all trade between Africa and Europe crossed that sea, and much trade with Asia was also shipped across that body of water.

Islamic fleets could demand any amount of money they wished for leaving freighters unharassed. Islamic pirates raided ships, not only taking the cargo, but also taking the crew to be sold as slaves.

Trade between Europe and other parts of the world was reduced. China and India experienced a decline in importing from, and exporting to, Europe.

Standard academic accounts tell that the Battle of Lepanto was “a famous naval engagement fought near the town of Lepanto in Greece, on the Gulf of Corinth,” on October 7, 1571.

This report of the battle, from a common encyclopedia, tells that the battle was between the Muslims “and the combined Mediterranean fleets of the” European “allies, principally the Venetian and Spanish craft.”

Those “allies” were organized by the Holy Roman Empire. The HRE, as the old joke goes, was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. It was, instead, a defensive coalition of European states. The HRE fluctuated between decades of neglect and times of critical importance.

When there was no threat of military attack, the HRE was of little importance and had little power, its emperor having little influence and being forced to placate the Electors. (The Electors were a group of princes who chose the emperor.)

But when the danger of armed offensive was real, the HRE suddenly galvanized itself and its member nations as a defensive alliance. This was the case at Lepanto.

The forces gathered at Lepanto were part of the Holy League, a special coalition which was formed principally of Spain and various Italian republics and kingdoms. Some parts of the HRE, like Savoy, were part of the Holy League, while others were not.

The Portuguese were not involved at Lepanto, their navy being committed to defend against Islamic naval attacks in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. The French were at odds with the Spanish, and so did not want to be in a coalition with them - indeed, the French had hired Muslim mercenaries to fight against the Spanish. Other HRE nations had signed temporary truces with the Muslims and did not appear at Lepanto.

It was, then, a somewhat unusual combination of navies that defending against the Muslims at Lepanto: “Under the command of Don John of Austria they obtained an overwhelming victory. Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, distinguished himself in this battle, receiving three wounds.

This battle marked a clear turning-point, “destroying the” Islamic “fleet and ending their supremacy in the Mediterranean.”

Considering the primitive bow-gun weapons then in use, the loss of life was remarkable.

Exact numbers of casualties do not exist, “being estimated at 20,000 for the” Muslims, “and 8,000” for the defensive fleets.

The allies brought into the fight 200 galleys and 8 galeasses (large three-masters, carrying cannon).

The Islamic “fleet numbered 273, but of smaller size on the average and fewer cannon.” The Muslims “employed” European “prisoners as galley-slaves and 10,000 or more were liberated by the” European victory.

With the Mediterranean now open, ships could move freely between Africa, Europe, and western Asia. The economic results were mutually beneficial to all three.