Relativism, Yes

The commentator thus commented my first comment to Rob’s post, saying: “Was the above (specifically regarding our values versus terrorists) a defence of moral equivalism?”. Well – apart from endorsing Islamic terrorism, which of course I don’t – if being a relativist means (as I think it means) not believing in absolute truths valid forever and outside any historical and social context, yes, I am a convinced relativist. Also democracy to me is relative (I can see many readers jumping up in their chairs).

Separation of state and religion, ok, I like it a lot, but this is not enough to proclaim our superiority over other civilizations (such as the Islamic) plus why should secularism be an absolute truth? As regards democracy, it doesn’t seem in my view the ideal solution for some people, plus it is not granted, as many analysts now start to recognize, that economical growth automatically will lead to more democracy. The case of Russia and China is often indicated as instructive from this point of view. And I believe it really is.

This reminds me when all the world applauded (me included) when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev started to swiftly democratize the Soviet Union. At the same time all the world protested (me included) when the Chinese students asking for more democracy (hence imitating the Russians) were crushed by the military in the Tien An Men Square in 1989 (watch above a famous movie regarding that tragic episode).

But then, what the heck has happened? Who the heck was right? The Russians (who accelerated democracy) or the Chinese (who hindered it because they thought it would tear down a country of 1.5 billion people)? I have lived almost one year in Russia (in the year 2000) and I have witnessed the almost TOTAL collapse of a society and all the terrible consequences that ensued (this country now pulling itself together thanks btw to its new Caesar, or Tzar, Mr. Putin: can this be by mere chance?).

I know Anglo-Saxons are very sensitive about this democracy thing. They use it as a propaganda weapon, not many doubts about it, but there is something deeper. If democracy was invented by the ancient Greeks, only the British and the American people in modern times were capable of creating truly great democracies (plus, isn’t the Indian democracy – the biggest in the world – somewhat derived from Great Britain as well? I hope Falcon won’t be upset 😉 ).

We admire the Anglo-Saxons for what they have achieved, for this great contribution and influence in all this. But if they do not really try hard to understand the rest of the world, especially those very old civilizations so different from theirs (and ours), and if they do not get out of their mental schemes, I am afraid their decline (and ours, unfortunately) will be swifter than expected. They (especially the Americans) cannot expect they can export their political solutions (that took so many centuries to develop, from Magna Charta on) to totally different historical and social environments (like Iraq or Afghanistan) which might embrace these solutions in the long run, who knows, although it is not granted at all, I am sure it is not granted at all, not many doubts about it. In any case, I am for democracy, that’s for sure. I just wanted to add some elements of reflection.

The Ugliest of Tyrannies

I know almost nothing about Professor Norman Geras’ thought but in your quotations, Rob, he condemns the:

“apologists for terrorism, the mumblers and rootcausers, the people seemingly capable of understanding everything except the need for drawing a clear line between those who uphold the politics of democracy and those dedicated to their destruction. The left today …is a loose movement which is able … to mobilize … to oppose conflicts fought by the Western democracies against the ugliest of tyrannies and/or reactionary social and political forces…”.

Well, first of all I do not consider myself belonging to the left any more, hence many things he says here and elsewhere do not regard me much; secondly, I see in his words some hypocrisy, sorry to say that, exactly like in Tony Blair’s words (but I may be wrong and I’ll try to read more of his writings).

The thing is I am not blaming America for being a superpower and for fighting (sometimes badly, I’ll admit) for her interests. I love and admire America. And I believe she is a true democracy. But – as I said – I also believe that empires and powers (such as the Romans, the Turkish Ottomans, the Victorians, the USA etc.), are not ruled mainly by idealism or ethics; they are rather ruled most of all by Realpolitik, namely by practical considerations regarding their interests.

So, according to Norm, as you call him, am I an apologist of terrorism if I say that a democracy like America now says she fights against “the ugliest of tyrannies” (it is still to be proven for which reasons) while, at the times of Henry Kissinger, she fought for “the ugliest of tyrannies” (Greek colonels, ruthless dictators all over South America etc.)?
My opinion is that this passage by Norm is a bit abstract and apologetic, not to mention a few apparent doses of historical amnesia.

All the best,

Man of Roma

25 thoughts on “Western Values, Again (2)

  1. Hi M_o_R, I had a quick read, and since I am very busy at the moment, I’ll take my time … However, it seems to me that the ground has been cleared of any potential confusion and misunderstanding. See you soon (I hope). Best


  2. MOR, Splendid response to my question. I don’t believe in relativism when it comes to society; the ever battle of right and wrong if you will.

    I most certainly agree that democracy must be allowed to form itself to particular societies at different stages of their evolution. You can’t just install democracy like you download software. It’s an evolutionary process where its values are instilled within the people and find expression in institutions thus giving the full weight of its legitimacy.

    You are most correct about America. Realpolitik has a strange way of finding its way into the political process no matter what the idealistic beliefs are of a particular nation: shit happens if you will.

    However, in America there remains a multitude of great political ideas Americans can draw upon. America is a battle between Wilsonian and Kissngerian principles it seems. This makes for fascinating politics – outside Hillary and Obama of course who are boring me to tears.

    PS: I did not jump out of my chair.



  3. @The Commentator

    Dear Commentator, glad lol you didn’t jump out of your chair when I wrote that even democracy can be relative (as you can see I sometimes make mistakes: I wrote ‘up in the chair’).

    I don’t believe in relativism when it comes to society

    Right or wrong notions can differ according to which society we belong to, in my view: take homosexuality, punished by death in Iran but allowed legal weddings elsewhere, like, if I’m not wrong, in California or in Zapatero’s Spain.

    My conception of relativism is more … anthropological than philosophical (or spiritual). Even taboos can differ from culture to culture (anthropologists keep on telling us), and taboos are such complex and profound elements of our psyche and somewhat linked to our notions of good and evil.
    But I agree with your description of democracy as an evolutionary process and not something that can be ‘installed like a software’ (nice metaphor).

    As far as America and realpolitik, I agree this great country has to cope with the fact of being both a great superpower (with all it implies of sometimes necessary Machiavellian practices to pursue her interests) and a nation with a strong initial idealistic imprinting.

    Man of Roma

    I laughed when I read Hillary and Obama bore you to tears 😉


  4. Democracy – Choose your own despot. 😛

    I think you are correct when you say -> They (especially the Americans) cannot expect they can export their political solutions (that took so many centuries to develop, from Magna Charta on) to totally different historical and social environments

    Democracy should NOT be thrust upon the people, but rather the people should accept it. Forcing it upon them ultimately defeats the very purpose of democracy.

    If everyone fought their wars, without any “foreign interests” there would be no need for war. 😉


  5. @Man of Roma

    I never knew my irreverant comment can inspire two posts… ( Never forget to take credit for something you have not done!!! 😉 )

    By the way, isn’t the discussion becoming too serious for lesser mortals like me to understand???

    Thirdly, I never knew you took so much pains to ensure that ur readers are not offended??? ( For the first time I am thankful for the extremely low popularity of my blog. I hope it stays that way. Responsibility doesn’t go with my rep. 🙂 )

    PS: I just wanted to say that I went through your posts but it would take some time before I really put some relevant ( or Irreverant ) comment.


  6. @Ashish
    Democracy – Choose your own despot.
    If by this you mean that many democracies are not real ones, I agree, and thinking now about our Italian democracy I’d better shut up not to get too depressed lol 🙂

    I wholly agree that forcing democracy upon the people ultimately defeats the very purpose of democracy, as you say. The last US administration has made so many mistakes, in my opinion.
    Pls do not miss Nita’s post and discussion (145 comments!) on the world possible future scenarios and the role in them of the BRIC countries (as you know BRIC stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China). So far I only commented on her post wondering if the English language will dominate India in 50 years.
    People from all over the world comment her, as one can see from her ClustrMaps locations and from her commentators.

    Btw, I subscribed to ClustrMaps but still didn’t figure out how to make it work. According to it I receive no visits at all, but I actually didn’t paste the code on my blog site yet so it might work only if actually inserted in my blog.

    All the best, Geek warrior!


  7. @Falcon
    Isn’t the discussion becoming too serious for lesser mortals like me to understand?
    Lesser mortals? Are you kidding? Commenting your comments is one of the hardest tasks I have here, you irreverent young man 😉

    I never knew you took so much pains to ensure that ur readers are not offended
    I know, I am becoming too soft lol. I was more flippant and aggressive at the beginning of this bloggin’ adventure. The thing is my blog has a will of its own.

    I went through your posts but it would take some time before I really put some relevant ( or Irreverant ) comment.
    Well, my blog is full of comments of yours that are very relevant (and irreverent… 😉 )


  8. I have many thoughts on your post, but I’ll keep it to a simple observance.
    The “tank man” as he is called, is a true hero. My son just had this whole scene tattooed across his back.
    No one really knows what became of this brave man, as the event was not published in China at the time. I hope only good followed him.
    Cream rises to the top.


  9. @Maryann
    Mmmmm… who knows what happened to him, really, such a brave person. Your son, really? Wow.

    I have many thoughts on your post
    Then why don’t you express them here, Maryann? I’d love it so much.

    All the best from Roma and Italy, dear Maryann


  10. @Justrecently

    Yes, human rights, for example, for its people and external people also. But this is my personal (idealistic) view. What I just ‘observe’ is that idealism doesn’t seem to correspond to the ‘realistic’ practices of political powers and diplomacies all over the world. Even democracies like America have bypassed these basics in the name of national interests.

    See for ex. Guantánamo, or the support, “under the Nixon and Reagan administrations, of authoritarian regimes that were human rights violators in order to, theoretically, secure the greater national interest of regional stability. Detractors would characterize this attitude as amoral, while supporters would contend that they are merely operating within limits defined by practical reality.” (Wikipedia: Realpolitik).

    This is also relativism.

    What can be important for an individual can be less important in a context of heads of States facing much wider interests (like overcrowded China’s leaders and the Tibetan desire of independence: it is not by chance that also there some human rights were denied ….can China afford…..).
    Hard topic, in any case, and these are things that make one glad not to have such tough decisions to take.

    Ciao, and welcome to my blog.


  11. Yep, you have to insert the ClustrMaps code in your blog [use a text widget on the sidebar.. its your best bet on] to start getting info. Theres some other things you might like, like finding out MyBlogLog users who visit your blog [trust me, lots of people have accounts there.. me too], check it out at 🙂


  12. @Ashish
    Thank you! As I can see, you take your new job as MoR‘s GCA (Geek Chief Assistant) very seriously! 🙂


  13. I agree that standards and practice are different stories. As for Tibet, I doubt that China can afford to let it go. But it could do better to convince Tibetans that China is the right place to be for Tibet. That would be realpolitik at its best. As for America, I can only hope that the next president will do away with Guantanamo (that would be a nice first step), and that European governments will not continue to distrust their own people. Let’s see what WE can do.


  14. In the above video in You tube, it also reminds me about what happened in 1989, June 4 at Tiananmen Square. The Chinese students asking for democratic rights and freedom of speech and then they were crushed by the caused numerous casualties. It was sad to see those scenes again.

    The China government didn’t admit what they did in this event till now, they didn’t think they did wrong and always tried to avoid to talk about it and tried to let this incident fade away through time.

    There are still few groups of people who ask for democracy and Human Rights in here. There is a group ” HONG KONG ALLIANCE” recommending the ” One World, Universal Human Rights, One Dream and Rectify June 4th Verdict”, they always wish to draw citizens’ attention, to let more people know about this incident, and wish the China government would rectify June 4th Verdict…I know it’s still a long way to go.. but I still believe it would be rectified one day since I can see the China Government has changed a lot compared to the past.


  15. @Man of Roma

    There is little I can say on the topic….just some little points that are worth consideration…

    >>Separation of state and religion

    The concept is great but at a certain level it fails to bring a dynamic change…And is it necessary?

    Of what little I know of history, I guess Arabs were a divided lot, continously until Prophet united them in the name of religion and laid the foundation of a strong state…

    Secondly, even during the Indian freedom movement, Gandhiji used to call a “prathna Sabha” or a prayer meeting.

    To call for a revolution u need masses to connect to the cause emotionally and what a better way to target the sentiments than religion…
    Not to forget the basic aim of any religion is to promote unity!!!

    Secondly, No doubt Indian Democracy or Mobocracy WHICHEVER YOU CHOOSE, in its current form comes from Britishers, but it is not that we were entirely alien to the concept of democracy…

    On the contrary, it was invented in India

    This claim, is sometimes contested by city of Arwad in Syria, but it is certain that Republic of Vaishali was older than greeks.

    As for Arwad, Syria.. go find about it yourself. I certainly don’t promote such claims. 😛


  16. @AutumSnow
    I hope to comment on your comments today.
    Thanks for your contributions! 🙂


  17. I did a quick read of parts I & II. Personally, these questions don’t interest me too much. I have certain basic assumptions:

    1) Extremists don’t represent “society”
    2) In the age of mass media, it’s hard to tell what is important to people, and what simply excites them for the moment.
    3) Decadence is hard to pinpoint while it’s developing – trends take a long time, even today
    4) There are no absolute values, but if we are to live according to reason, we must accept the need for argument – otherwise, we must accept the life of beasts
    5) Claims of western superiority make me laugh – see my post:
    6) Memories are so short (see no. 5). Also, the Islamic world is still coming out of an era in which it was under colonial subjegation. News comes fast, change comes slowly.
    7) Politics and culture is very much “generational.” The main point is to avoid mass destruction so the next generation has time to mature, and maybe work things out, if only from exhaustion with the killing…
    8) Why bother arguing about Islamic terrorists? I can’t accept the virtue of mass murder. Not by Muslims, not by the USAF, nor the RAF or the Wehrmacht. If Al Queda had more money and polish, they wouldn’t seem so insane, just like any other murderous state apparatus. Sort of like Hussein, who was our gallant democratic ally for so many years…
    9) America doesn’t like to be snubbed by its proteges. Thus, GWBush Sr. invaded Panama and caused the death of hundreds of innocent slum dwellers (who recalls this now?) simply because he couldn’t take his former stooge, Noriega, taunting him on TV. This is a lot of what was at the core of our problem with Iran, now dragged out over 30 years…

    I could go on, but you get my drift.


  18. @Lichanos

    Dear Lichanos, what can I say… I *totally* agree with you, no doubt. I also read your linked post, and also there I am with you 100%!

    I was sorta pulled into all this by some friends’ posts that in my view needed some pinpointing. Moreover, some topics (that may be obvious to you) seen from here they sometimes are not that much.

    You say: why bother arguing about Islamic terrorists? I can’t accept the virtue of mass murder. Not by Muslims, not by the USAF, nor the RAF or the Wehrmacht.

    I can’t accept it neither. Islamic terrorists – like any terrorist – are repugnant to me. What I meant by indicating that place in Bali, Indonesia (= Kuta), where they hit – a place I knew very well before, and after, it became corrupted – is that they not by chance hit a place that is a symbol of Western decadence (sex tourism etc.). I mean, they are not that blind in their hate. These are also signals that need some reflection, don’t they.

    (I am here more referring to the other post: *Western Values, Again 1*)

    I know. Hard to define what decadence is. I am a relativist. I wrote something about it in *this post* about ancient Roman sexual mores (last section of it).

    And I am not against sex, as you can read all over my blog. My views about it are instead very open. But I cannot but feel sad when areas of the wonderful Balinese island (a great civilization indeed) get corrupted because of Western money. It seemed right to me to insert this in posts regarding the western *values* we are exporting in other countries.

    What the heck are we in truth exporting?

    That is a big question, of course (and my angle being from here, of course). I am wrestling with all this. Nothing that can be discussed now and here.


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