Friday, June 02, 2017

The intellectual origins of polarization, an illustration

A Twit-fit from some supposedly educated (as they make sure to point out!) luminaries on the left and right:

Both of these claims are wrong. Contra Chaplin, France and the Netherlands recognized America's "national statehood" before the Treaty of Paris. While the Treaty was diplomatically important, the only new source of recognition in it is from Britain. That of course is the most important source in some ways, since it signaled to the many smaller, weaker nations of Europe that Britain had relinquished its colonial claims and they would not risk repercussions by treating with the US. The US had to make separate treaties with each nation with which it sought diplomatic or commercial relations after the war. That road to "international recognition" is a far cry from "creation by the international community" in any meaningful sense.

Cruz, on the other hand, seems to believe that the US was created in an international vacuum. While this has a certain appeal since it frees us from dependence on foreign opinion and foreign assistance, it would mean that so long as any group declares itself autonomous, fights some battles, and produces a legal charter, it is a country. On these grounds, Quebec can probably qualify, along with a number of other separatist movements.

What's interesting about these two wrong explanations of American creation is what they betray about partisan assumptions. There is a central ambiguity in these Tweets - what is meant by the term "creation"? Chaplin gives no suggestion that Americans had any role in their own founding. The country seems to be the product of a multi-national meeting of powdered wigheads in Paris in 1783 who said, "How about we designate a little country out there in the New World, say between Monsieur France's claims in the north and Senor Spain's claims in the south? We shall call it America! Wouldn't that be splendid? I'll bet the inhabitants will be so pleased! Let's have a vote on it!" Of course, countries have been created this way, in the 20th century, by the UN. And one suspects that this is Chaplin's reflexive paradigm for national legitimacy: however it is that countries technically come to be or whatever their own national narratives, they effectively exist only by the generosity of a unified "international community," which could dismantle them at any time and to which they ought to defer as a result. According to Chaplin, we owe everything to everybody.

Cruz clearly takes "creation" to mean how America fashioned itself and what makes it internally complete. The inclusion of the Constitution gives this away, because if you think of national creation simply as what it takes to become a minimally functional, self-governing country, the US was one for over a decade before the ratification of the Constitution. The Constitution completes the creation of America for its citizens, but it doesn't change anything about our status with respect to the rest of the world. Still, even if you want to emphasize the American role in its own founding, which is a reasonable response to the suggestion that the US was created ex nihilo by an 18th-century UN Resolution, you still have to admit that the assistance of other countries (France, Spain) was essential to its creation, and that our internal political institutions were influenced by external political considerations (paying off debts, etc.). But according to Cruz, we don't own nothing to nobody.


Withywindle said...

The Netherlands was nothing until 1648.

Miss Self-Important said...

But who's counting? Not South Sudan, internationally recognized ca. 2011.