Living with Today's Caesar
European Culture to American Civilization"
The U.S. victory in Iraq and its long-term consequences are being widely debated in the media and the various think tanks around the world. The motives identified range from the control of Middle Eastern oil, to safeguarding Israel's security. Future predictions focus on the growing alienation between the Western and the Muslim worlds, leading to more not less terrorism in the future. Some observers are more worried about the emerging global order, in which powerful countries can act unilaterally without the UN's endorsement, to pre-empt possible (and not actual) threats to their security, thus destroying the post-war international diplomatic and political system based on the UN Charter, to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation state.
But in this fateful debate, one important dimension remains unexplored - the historical evolution of the Western World and the intricate relationship between Europe and America.
The phenomenon that we are witnessing today was predicted almost half a century ago by the famous French writer Mr. Amaury de Riencourt in his book published in 1957, under the title of "Coming Caesars". With remarkable foresight, he says in the introduction to his book:
Tracing the historical roots of the contemporary political scene, Mr. Riencourt draws a distinction between culture and civilization. Culture grows in young societies, creating new values, artistic styles, new sciences, new legislatures, new moral codes and new intellectual and spiritual structures. It emphasizes the individual rather than the society, original creation rather than preserving the old. Civilization on the other hand represents the crystallization, on a gigantic scale, of the preceding cultures' deepest thoughts and styles, basically uncreative and culturally sterile but efficient in its mass organization, practical and ethical, spreading over large surfaces of the globe, finally ending in a universal state under the sway of a caesarian ruler.
In the light of this interpretation,
Mr. Riencourt refers to the momentous phase of our contemporary history,
when the European culture is evolving into the American civilization.
"The twentieth century is the dramatic watershed separating the European
culture that lies behind us from American civilization that lies ahead."
"Political power in the
western world" he says, "has gravitated towards the United States
and within the US, in the office of the President. The power of the President
of the United States has grown with the growth of America and of democracy
within America, he is at once the chief of the most powerful armed forces
in the world; he is the only statesman in the western world who can make
major decisions alone in an emergency. He is in control of de facto empire
into which the scattered fragments of the dissolving British Commonwealth
are being merged."
The positive driving force
in this situation is neither political nor strategic; it is essentially
psychological - the willingness to follow in any emergency, economic or
military, the leadership of one man. This is in part a reflection of the
growing mistrust of parliaments, congresses and representative assemblies
in most societies.
This evolution has coincided
with the "impulsive emotionalism of American public opinion which
swings wildly from apathetic isolationism to dynamic internationalism."
The American public wants to personalize issues and responsibilities and
instinctively looks towards their sole leader to take them to victory
against actual adversaries (like the Soviet Union) or imaginary foes (like
Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein).
Such concentration of power,
Mr. Riencourt reminds us, is no accident resulting from unexpected emergencies
but the natural outcome of an historical evolution. "The approaching
Caesars are no longer historical accidents, temporary tyrants or reactionary
dictators who attempt to turn the clock back, all of whom are merely replicas
of classical Greece's tyrants.
Those short-lived despots
have nothing in common with the Caesars who eventually will organize the
universal empire toward which their civilization has been tending. The
coming Caesars are the lethal product of centuries of historical evolution,
each succeeding generation having unconsciously added its stone to the
towering pedestal on which they are going to stand."
While this historical explanation
of how President Bush is becoming the de facto Caesar of the 21st century
and changing the course of our history is revealing, a more sobering part
of Mr. Riencourt's message concerns the future of our planet, "What
happens today germinated generations ago. Yesterday's seeds are today's
blossoms. We must recognize what kind of seeds we are sowing today if
we want to know what tomorrow's blossoms are going to be
"Whereas in the past
a new culture has always sprung from the ruins of an antecedent civilization
and blossomed forth, the wreck of our own western civilization might well
mean absolute death for the entire human race, what was only an episodic
death in the past might be final tragedy tomorrow.
"Modern man's technological power will no longer allow him to make those grievous mistakes that past civilizations were free to indulge in - nor can he ignore the lessons of a past that other civilizations did not possess, Man's technical knowledge makes it possible for him to build heaven on earth or destroy his planet, and his historical knowledge makes it possible, for the first time, to avoid those deadly shoals on which every other civilization has destroyed itself."
The writer is a former foreign minister of Pakistan
See also: Real Lessons of 9/11