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About Jack van den Berg

Jack van den Berg has a Bachelor and Master in European Studies. Is interested in Technology, Politics, Philosophy, and Pop-culture. Writes sporadically for an audience unknown, more because most of his friends are sick and tired of all the unwarranted monologues. Gotta vent someplace aye?

Christianity has been the bedrock of our European society for centuries, it was the glue that hold everything after the fall of the Eastern Roman empire together. Christianity also provided us with a common identity. The values we gained are still reflected in many constitutional laws of European Member states. But with the decreasing of the number of people that identify as religious, what importance can Christianity still have in modern day politics besides raising questions?
On April 9 Macron gave a speech to the French Bishops trying to appease the Catholics and addressing his view and the role that religion should play. Macron called for Catholics to get involved in politics and highlighted in this speech the various topics of the French Church’s concerns such as immigration, bioethics and religious tensions. The final verdict of his speech is that: “He wants an open Catholicism, that is to say a Catholicism that “raises questions” rather than one that sets red lines and gives lessons. “

I think this is a very noble approach, while Christianity can often portray a heavy dose of narrowism, its importance cannot be overlooked. All religions give a sense of belonging or at least an identity, which is often lacking in our progress driven society. If the individual is always centred, how can you find meaning other than in yourself?

A true virtuous society for me should be one that shares belief in objective moral goods and practices necessary for human beings to embody goods in community. The sharing is precisely what I want to differentiate here. Our current idealistic liberal approach can never bear any fruits of a real sense of belonging cause it stands polar to the community life.

Christianity perhaps could be here the guiding hand whether you are a deist or not. It’s focus on thy neighbour and in general those close around you are rather refreshing.

The big paradox then comes of how to infuse a community into the globalising political environment. Globalisation and communitarianism are often portrayed as a false dichotomy in which it is not correct that only one of the option must be chosen and that there are no alternatives.

Christianity can show to be the exemplar of the good community life. To go against issues such as abortion and same sex marriage will undoubtedly cause religion to be more popular than it already is. Rather it should shift its focus on policies that directly aid neighbourhoods by inspiring a sense of belonging therein and pointing to our past which we all share.

It is a Church from which I do not expect lessons, but rather this wisdom of humility,” Cameron concluded, “because we can only have one common horizon and seek every day to do our best to accept the inescapable lack of tranquility that follows our actions.

Democracy has been heavily challenged over the course of history and has found its place in the bedrock of our western ideals. In the various media outlets I have encountered articles stating that so and so leader is damaging the democracy of the nation, or that acts implemented are of authoritarian nature. To be undemocratic is framed one of the biggest crimes of humankind. But as many political philosophers have already pointed out is democracy as a political structure only the least worse of all available options. However, this raises several questions to me. Is there nothing else past democracy that can structure and rule our liberal society? And is democracy not simply past its best time? Is a new political structure, just like creating a new colour, simply unthinkable?

In the graph below you can see what would happen if all the US voters who abstained from voting were counted towards the electoral race anyway. A landslide victory of 445 electoral seats. This quite surprises me, as it is hard to fathom why it is that society, is just not that interested anymore in participating in the governance of their country. Or maybe it is merely that indeed democracy has lost its peak.

[graph] by Philip Kearney

The most famous writer on post-democracy is Collin Crouch who divides the democratic life span in stages These stages are formed in a parabola, where there is build-up, a peak of democracy and decline. The Post-democratic stage is in the decline era, which we now find ourselves in.

"A post-democratic society is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell. The energy and innovative drive pass away from the democratic arena and into small circles of a politico-economic elite."

Besides for individual countries this can also be said for the EU in its entirety. Habermas for instance states that the because of the rising power of the European council and the undemocratic institutions such as the ECB and the IMF.

To see post-democracy as a stage of democracy itself is one way of defining it, another direction is to view it as something that comes after democracy. For the sake of length, we keep it within the Western concept. Another interesting figure who writes from this direction is Václav Havel, most known for his book The power of the Powerless. He states that the parliamentary democratic ideal is not the only option available to us. A post democratic society:

“Above all, any existential revolution should provide hope of a moral reconstitution of society, which means a radical renewal of the relationship of human beings to what I have called the ‘human order’, which no political order can replace.” A new experience of being, a renewed rootedness in the universe, a newly grasped sense of ‘higher responsibility’, a new-found inner relationship to other people and to the human community – these factors clearly indicate the direction in which we must go. -p.283

This is an interesting yet utopian approach. Can society really transcend political structures? It is hard to envision a harmony so pure all 7 sins have been eradicated from our behaviour. In such a situation it only takes one little lie to upset the balance. If we could bio engineer humans to remove any bad traits, perhaps then we can start seeing beyond governance.

My best bet still would be that this is only possible through technology. When we have reached a form of singularity, political entities will become obsolete. If all beings are one, why do you need an external force to govern itself?

To give my self more perspective on the current fake-news phenomena I will take a closer look at not the culprits thereof, but rather why it is more prominent over quality news. What draws people to news and articles that contain speculative, opinionated, or straight op false information? Why is the current news output cluttered with so much non-issue? And can anything be done against it that does not restrict the freedom of speech? These questions I think need answering to find the root of the problem.

We have all visited sites that are partisan and show a clear echo chamber and framing to support a single ideology. The articles highlighting the faults in the opponents are numerous and each a valid reason to cause worry or instill irritation.

As example; so many of those late-night talk shows repeat the same unnecessary Trump bashing sketches that it gets almost infuriating to watch. I, by no means, support the methods and policies of the current US president, but ridiculing him over and over must not sit well with his supporters. But that let me wonder as to why it is so popular. How is it possible that these shows with endless taunting and mockery of the same person scores high, regardless of the position he holds?

The number one reason I think what makes this such a success is that outrage sells. Getting people riled up is an effective method to go viral and thus receive more viewers. This strategy is somewhat portrayed in the 1984 book by George Orwell, where the citizens have their anger fuelled by daily videos of the number one enemy of the state. A video from CGP Grey describes the psychological reason behind this in quite a simple matter. Anger is the dominating emotion when it comes to how likely it is for you the share the impulse. On top of that, the more often it is shared the more aggravating these impulses become.

Anger impulses also polarizes the current topic at hand, when portrayed with a message that instil vexation you are more likely to create an us against them illusion in comparison when encountering positive content. A cute cat picture won’t make you despise cute dog pictures, but on topics such as, something complex as the current ‘trade war’ you are more tempted to take one of the two sides; in favour or against.

This conclusion is not some ground breaking new research, it has been and is used by marketing firms since its invention. The prominence of it in news however, seems to be on the rise. In the past there used to be a much clearer line as to what was factual informative news, and what was content to be enjoyed reading for its lack of objectivity. News now is diluted with so much non-issue that it can only increase that apathy we have towards it. Once we reach a point where everything becomes the most important thing, nothing will be important anymore.

The only positive note so far I find is that due to being aware of the abundance of non-issue and dishonest information we tend to be more critical to what we read, hear and see.

Inspired by the recent SpaceX launches I think a closer look is warranted at the laws governing outer space. Space policy or space law is governed by a treaty under the United Nations, its principles govern the activities of states in explorations and use of outer space. However, the treaty is deliberatively unclear and narrow. Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) are prohibited but any other form of weaponisation are not included in the treaty.

To supplement the Outer space treaty of the UN several multilateral initiatives were taken but ultimately did not gain enough support to be formalised. China, in partnership with Russia, put forward a treaty called The Treaty on the prevention of weaponisation of outer space, and the EU in similar fashion attempted to create a Code of conduct for outer space activities. The deadlock of these treaties can be explained due the very nature of the policy field. Only a very limited number of states have the capability for spacefaring, and those that have the means differ in interpreting the outer space treaty. No one wants to upset the current balance and satisfactory yet limited treaty.

It is no surprise then that states are turning to national law for space law creation. There is an evident need for a regulatory framework that states are now filling with a patch work of national law. A model (ILA model) has been created on the formulation of said laws, however upon examination it is merely a template for national regulation.
States adopt regulations that fit their need and are based on their interpretation of the outer space treaty. These new laws will become the basis for future international arrangements simply due to the fact of leading by example. In this scenario however, how then will the interests of the states that do not have space access capabilities be guaranteed? To state that subsequent domestic laws replace the OST is not a given, the US for instance, has shown to include the OST in its new laws to merely be subsidiary to the original treaty. But even if there is no intent to be malicious in the creation of national space law, the domain of space policy will be influenced, and non-spacefaring must be wary.
Ensuring non-spacefaring countries having a presence in the creation of space law is the ethical thing to do, but a case can be made whether it is rational. Countries that have invested a lot of capital in the creation of their space program should not be limited by those that do not. A balance of the scope of the international framework is therefor of utmost importance, and also the reason that it should stem from an international body. The more traction the privatised space market gets, the higher the need for a proper binding international space legal framework.

Many political philosophers talk about the cycle of political structures, how from a monarchy or authoritarian model a democratic one can be moulded, and in turn also how democracies deteriorate.

Machiavelli as one of, if not the most famous political philosopher stated several tell-tale signs on when democracy declines. The first is a democracy that is based on heavy partisanship, not one that it is organised in political parties, rather that there is a strong divide into two groups who see each other as rivals and have complete opposite ideologies. It takes no further explanation that this is the case if you look at the social democratic vs the populist parties or Brexit remain or leave vote.
The second marker is an increase in inequality between the rich and the poor. The crisis of 2012 hit everyone equally, but the OECD reported that the household growth of disposable income has not yet recovered from the crisis, most notably for those in the lower incomes. Especially in the PIIGS countries the recovery rate when compared bottom 10% to top 10% differs a lot.

The final, and most important key event for a Machiavelli’s reasons for democracy’s decline is the eradication of the rule of law. The EU’s response to crises have always been problematic due to the cracks in the foundation caused by the reliance on the Monnet method. Normally new integration should create future and so on but the response to the EU crisis did not cause new economic centralisation. Due to the enormous pressure to full the functional gap between a single supranational currency and economic policies that was still intergovernmental the EU decided to go outside the constitutional framework to create an emergency credit facilitator. And put other important decision on the ECB’s shoulder which are immune to democratic accountability.

“European authoritarianism - such as the above-mentioned example - creates incentives for popular anti-system opposition and provides political opportunities for populist leaders, which meaningfully enhance the prospects of an anti-liberal, anti-European backlash.” – Christian Kreuder-Sonnen
If a legal polity does not conform to its own rule of law, it will only result in more future authoritarian behaviour. This can only result into a growing support towards protectionist parties. The populism cannot be entirely explained by this phenomenon, many more country specific factors can be pointed to as causation. Nevertheless Kreuder-Sonnen stresses that it does create extreme incentives for populist anti-system support.
With the immigration crisis no new authoritarian measures where created but the inaction strategy has failed equally, since the EU should have been the ones that could have at least attempted a proper solution rather than rely on the entrance country policies.
Next crises will be, without doubt, the deal breaker for the European community and the trajectory towards nation state importance cannot be reversed. It is a shame that there is no real integration strategy besides options mentioned in the whitepaper by the commission. How can any political entity create support if the future political structure is uncertain? Even a disintegration approach could be something worth mentioning if it all member states can find an unanimity agreement.
Maybe all democracies do have an expiration date as a lot of political philosophers prophesised, and the western liberal version has been long over-due. The return of the nation state does paint a sombre picture, for it will remove the EU as a top economic player. Especially as someone from the Netherlands we could have always relied on our membership to the EU to get a seat at the table, but that will surely all but be guaranteed if more member states will follow Italy’s footsteps.
I must say though not all is as dark as the previous paragraphs fear, if no new major crises develop, perhaps political stability can be ensured and the appeal for protectionist parties will lessen. These are just concerns that are apparent to me in the current discourse, but at least until the new EU election in 2019 I do not think we will found ourselves back on the path towards rapid integration or federalism.

Kreuder-Sonnen, C. (2018). An authoritarian turn in Europe and European Studies? Journal of European Public Policy, 25(3), 452-464