Friday, June 17, 2016

Westphalia or Wavy Gravy: The Agency Paradox



A couple weeks ago we looked at a bit of history — the history of our so-called Westphalian international system. We understand today’s system of states and state sovereignty be an outcome of treaties signed in Westphalia that ended the 30 Years’ War in 1648. If you read the treaty text, you would have noticed that actually, a system of states and state sovereignty were not explicitly established. Instead, the treaty reinforced an assortment of political arrangements that were already in effect. Furthermore, it emphasized the authoritative right that heads of autonomous territorial holdings had on decisions with regard to the people and conveyance of property rights within those distinct territories. The extent to which the treaty “established” sovereignty within territories is debatable.

The broader point the treaty does reveal is that authority over a particular polity is more broadly distributed than just a handful of powerful institutions: the Catholic Church, the Roman Empire, a Protestant union, etc. Those were not distinguished as the source of ultimate political authority. Political authority was affirmed as distributed, consequently distributing power beyond the Pope and the Empire. The next question then, is how should that power be used? That is a question premised on theory. Should power be extended or retained?

To help get a better perspective of extending power, let us listen to two complementary speeches. The first is by former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright given just couple weeks ago at the Harvard Kennedy School. The second is by former Chief of Staff of the Army and Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, also given at Harvard. They characterize a view of international relations that suggests state interests, such as gaining and retaining power, are best achieved through actively pursuing and promotion democratic ideals, namely American ideals.

Madeleine Albright commencement speech at the Harvard Kennedy School in May 25, 2016

See also an insightful interview on the HKS Policy podcast http://hkspolicycast.org/post/145254717870/former-us-secretary-of-state-madeleine-albright
 
George C. Marshall commencement speech at Harvard on June 5, 1947

Listen to George C. Marshall: https://youtu.be/dg9_GqXa770
 
If you are not feeling moved by this particular history and theory of international peace, then let me offer a cerebral alternative. Take a look at the 1960s hippie movement of peace and love through the eyes of non-violent activist, Wavy Gravy. In a fantastic documentary about him, you see how the idea of state power and power projection is to a certain extent, blunted, by the power of protest. There is actually an interesting connection between what Albright and Marshall explain about power and what a clown activist demonstrates about power. That is the agency paradox, which is the agency of power and the power of agency. So, if you do not want to listen to stodgy academic rhetoric about power and national interests, sit back and watch a clown eschew power through human interests in Saint Misbehavin': The Wavy Gravy Movie.

Saint Misbehavin': The Wavy Gravy Movie
 
More about Wavy Gravy at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wavy_Gravy

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Thank you for commenting. I appreciate your interest in the topic. It adds a little more to how we understand our world.