EUROPE as a CIVILISATION

Civilisations are a mix of culture, identity, heritage and values resulting from various historical events and are not created overnight. Although they change over time, they cannot change overnight either without revolution and societal disintegration. When asked to describe European and more generally Western civilisation, there is often confusion or even a complete lack of knowledge about it. Some pretend that it does not exist or is responsible for all the world’s problems; others suggest that the whole notion of civilizational content belongs to the political extreme right so there is nothing to discuss. If indeed the West represents nothing or it represents evil as suggested by political, economic or cultural Marxists or by others simply not thinking, then the West will not survive as we have known it. Neither China nor Islam deny their wish to replace the West today.

As a matter of historical fact and not of opinion, if civilizational content is unknown, ignored or denied, the civilisation in question collapses for the obvious reason that there is no agreement about what constitutes its fundamental base and no wish for it to continue. Countries (or blocs of countries like the European Union) simply become geographical spaces like international airports; the space contains different people, but those inside it share no common roots or foundations. The collapse occurs from internal dissent or external conquest or both when forces destroying the civilisation are more unified and cohesive than the civilisation being replaced. The historical examples are numerous and proved time and again as witnessed by the disappearance of the Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Mameluke, Ottoman, Russian, French, British, Spanish and Portuguese Empires just to name some from in or around Europe. Elsewhere, the Aztecs, Incas, Mayas no longer exist in the Americas, nor do various dynasties and Empires in China or Japan etc.

Disappearing civilisations are rarely replaced peacefully. At best, relatively bloodless internal dissent leads to collapse as happened with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991; more often the internal dissent leads to civil wars as seen in Europe during the 20th century in ex-Yugoslavia, Greece, Spain and Portugal. Alternatively, external forces take over and as an example, Nazism was militarily defeated in 1945. Although everyone might agree that almost anything replacing Nazism is better, sometimes the replacing system is worse. Nazi Germany itself replaced the weak, but nevertheless democratic Weimar Republic and Russian Czarism, although absolutely undemocratic and even feudal, was replaced by something far worse in what became the Soviet Union. Colonies of the former British/French Empires became independent mostly between 1945 and around 1970, sometimes following prolonged wars and other times by agreement. Again, whether the newly independent country is better for their populations than the previous colonial status is uncertain. 

With the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man” (1992) suggested that Western liberal democracy would triumph everywhere as the final form of human government, an opinion greeted by predictable if naïve enthusiasm by many. As a response to his former student, Huntington disagreed in “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” (1993) arguing that future wars would not be between countries, but between 9 distinct world civilisations: Western, Orthodox, Hinduism, Chinese, Japanese, Latin-American, African, Buddhism and Islam. Huntington also suggested that Islam was the biggest, but not the only threat to the West. At the time of real free speech in the 1990s, some said Huntington was too negative whereas others said he was absolutely right. (Today, Huntington might be ‘cancelled’ by the woke crowd on social networks; his views might even be illegal as ‘offensive’ or ‘leading to hurt feelings’ or classified as a ‘hate crime’ contrary to islamophobia laws.)

Civilisations are often described as multicultural or monocultural and some confuse cultural diversity with multiculturalism and North Korean robotic public behaviour with mono-culturalism. It is alleged that monocultural societies are boring and stupid questions are asked like what is wrong with Chinese restaurants in France? The answer is nothing, but civilizational models are not about details like this. Cultural diversity is per se neither good good nor bad and inevitable anyway with modern communications, but many believe that any diversity is necessarily positive since experiences can be shared and everyone gains from the mix. Those in the West preferring the (never literally) monocultural version used to be described as intolerant and are now accused of racism

Politicians and various pressure groups make speeches about deconstructing history, statues are removed, names changed and sometimes the central foundations of a society are denied as if houses can be built starting with the roof. Identity politics sees all history from a racial or sexual orientation perspective and others see economic factors as the sole explanation. These theories are not only doubtful, but overly simplistic, the proof being that there are so many of these them that by definition one of them alone cannot be the explanation. The racial version is currently fashionable; white people are supposed to be automatically racist having a privileged status compared to black people, an assertion itself perfectly racist. It leads to permanent grievance cultures and societies in this situation will collapse in time for the reasons mentioned.

The more monocultural societies have the prima facie advantage of social cohesion since the vast majority of the population are likely to agree with its main principles and objectives. Examples include Sweden until 20 years ago and Japan, Taiwan or South Korea today. Indeed, some Central/East European countries refusing extra-European immigration could be said to be more socially cohesive today than some in Western Europe. Anyway, monocultural societies either exist or not for historical reasons and cannot be created artificially. Probably the worst example concerned obscene racial purity theories in Nazi Germany which led to an industrial style genocide of 6 million European Jews considered as Untermenschen (sub-humans.) Regrettably, racism seems to be a human characteristic among all peoples, (but not all people) and those suggesting otherwise are looking the other way. There are too many examples: 800 000 Tutsis were slaughtered in Ruanda by Hutus during 3 months in 1994, the millions of Chinese and Koreans massacred by the Japanese before and during World War 2, the 1,5 million Armenians killed by Turks in the Ottoman Empire during and just after World War 1.

(European Empire colonisation also led to deaths of many indigenous peoples, but not usually deliberately with an intention of creating a racially pure and artificial monocultural society, but essentially for spreading Christianity and/or gaining economic power.)

Attempts to create uniform religious opinion has been seen in numerous conflicts. European wars between Christians lasted for centuries and elsewhere millions of Muslims have died in Sunni-Shi’ite disputes over Islamic doctrine, an obvious example being Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s. The much-discussed Israel-Palestine dispute has led to about 80 000 deaths since Israel was recreated in 1948, (about 25000 Jews and 55000 Muslims,) but over 5 million Muslims have died during the same time in intra-Muslim wars that continue today as in Syria or Yemen with less or little media attention. Islam spread to different territories by replacing previously established religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism or Hinduism in contrast to Western led Christianity.

Attempts to create uniform political opinions has led to perhaps even worse results. The Soviet policy of forced industrialisation and farm collectivisation in the 1920/30s led to a deliberate decision to starve millions of Ukrainians who then welcomed the Nazi invasion as a liberation. In the 1960s, similar Chinese objectives during the ‘Great Leap Forward’ from Mao Zedong led to 35-45 million deaths (some say many more) and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970s killed 25% of its own population in an attempt to impose standardised thinking. It continues with millions of North Korean victims because of ‘Juche’ philosophy, repression in Tibet and among Uighur Muslims.

As a response to these atrocious examples, multiculturalist ideas developed in the West by the 1980s encouraged by people mixing more with international travel and immigration. In Western thinking today, (but not all over the world) it is considered normal that all citizens should be treated equally whatever their origins and various Western constitutions specifically say so. However, multiculturalist theory as a basis for society is much more than legal equality and accepting cultural diversity. It suggests:  

1) that any cultural mix can coexist, a theory belonging to Hollywood/Bollywood. Apart from those believing in cultural invasion and replacement of the host society, most people agree that minorities should adapt to the majority and not the contrary. Therefore, minorities should integrate with the majority culture by assimilation or at least adaptation which assumes that the minorities wish to do so and their cultural references are sufficiently compatible with majority culture for this to happen. It also presupposes that the majority agree about their core values since it is hardly the fault of minorities for not integrating if it is unclear into what. This is seen with mixed messages when Western countries offer social welfare to polygamous fathers or illegal immigrants who are treated better than local, law-abiding citizens. Politicians defending these practices claim to be open-minded and generous; most are frightened of being accused of racism. 

2) that societies should not be based on any specific cultural model, the ludicrous idea mentioned previously that countries have no dominant cultural heritage as if they arrived from nowhere. Both the current French President and Canadian Prime Minister have recently affirmed that there is no central cultural base in their countries. Whether they actually believe it and are totally ignorant is doubtful; a more likely explanation is woke virtue signalling by politicians trying to capture minority votes.

3) that cultural relativism should apply suggesting that if several (perhaps contradictory) cultures exist in a society, then necessarily they are all of equal importance and it is racist to suggest otherwise. In 2014, ex-President Obama referred to “achievements and contributions of Muslim Americans to building the very fabric of our nation.” Although the speech also referred to other religions, the claim is absurd since Muslim presence in the USA was almost non-existent until the 1980s. To quote Orwell, “who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past” and rewriting history is well-known in totalitarian regimes. Even worse is moral relativism suggesting that any behaviour related to cultural origins is acceptable. Perhaps female genital mutilation is OK? Moral relativists suggest that this is an inexistent non-problem in the West, a complete lie as shown by hospital records, but curiously criminal prosecutions are rare. (Theoretically for a lack of evidence, but in reality for the usual fear of racism allegations.) Social Justice Warriors play the anti-racism card again when proclaiming that tolerance of minorities means accepting all their ideas and that everything is a matter of opinion. This is nonsense; if nothing is right nor wrong, there are no basic values and anarchy replaces societal cohesion.

Some suggest the US melting pot proves that multiculturalism can succeed without a basic heritage, but this is untrue for 2 reasons: firstly, as those who have lived in the USA know, the different ethnic groups in the USA do not mix as much as Hollywood suggests; secondly and contrary to ex-President Obama’s opinion, what became the USA was created on a specific civilizational model with a Judeo-Christian heritage whose basic ideas were accepted by almost all Americans whatever their personal beliefs and origins. There are many parallels between the US Constitution and the Bible as seen “In God we trust.”  The US Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Some Founding Fathers signing this Declaration of Independence were slave owners so the concept requires nuancing even though the objectives were noble.) Indeed, societies collapse without agreement about basic values and it was precisely disagreements about civilizational questions concerning slavery that led to the American Civil War. (Contrary to views of critical race theorists, it was white people in the West who abolished slavery first in their empires.  Slavery in the Ottoman Empire and among African tribes themselves was worse and still exists in many other societies.)

People with diverse heritages moving and settling around the world do not suddenly become like those in their new host country. French people do not suddenly become Chinese by moving to China so why is it expected that those moving from African or Islamic societies to Europe suddenly become European? By integration through assimilation or adaptation they could do so and their children or grandchildren even more so, but this also assumes that ‘being European’ (or Western) actually means something. Traditionally, this refers to 5 main ideas:

1) Christian (or Judeo-Christian) religious heritage

European religious heritage dates from the acceptance and/or imposition of Christianity over centuries from around 300 CE to 1200 CE, but Europe was never exclusively Christian. North African Islamic conquest started in 711 CE and led to a Muslim heritage in Spain and Portugal for over 700 years until the ‘Reconquista by Catholic Monarchs, enforced by the Inquisition from 1478. The Ottoman conquest in South-Eastern Europe until it was stopped militarily just outside Vienna in 1683 meant another Muslim heritage until the 19th century when independence movements succeeded in re-establishing Christianity in Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Rumania. The Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1922, but its European legacy today are Muslim majorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo. (In modern Turkey, the region around Istanbul is in Europe.) With (legal and illegal) immigration since the 1970s, Muslims now represent about 8% of West European populations, considerably more in some countries and particularly in the age group producing children. Since Muslims on average have 2 x more children than non-Muslims, demographers estimate a Muslim majority in 2 or 3 generations in some West European countries. (This will not happen in Central/Eastern Europe since the governments concerned refuse Muslim immigration.)

Jews had originally settled in Europe before Christianity even developed, probably arriving in Marseille with the Greeks 2600 years ago when the city was founded and certainly arriving with the Romans 2000 years ago. However, for invented anti-Semitic reasons (Jews kill Christian babies for their blood to make unleavened bread, Jews poison Christians by infecting wells etc,) for centuries Jews in Europe suffered discrimination. This included massacres (pogroms), torture, forced conversions, having their property confiscated and ultimately being expelled, starting from England in 1290 and copied elsewhere. Expulsions varied from a few years in parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to 450 years in Spain, but Jews were eventually allowed back into Europe for 2 reasons: 

1) a people spread all over the world had contacts in their diaspora (‘dispersion’ Greek) that helped develop trade. Jews were forbidden from owning land so not farmers, forbidden from joining guilds so not artisans, forbidden from universities so excluded from most professions, forbidden from the military since considered as disloyal so apart from commerce not much was left. They were usually poor simply buying and selling in local markets, but a few had international commercial contacts that Europe’s Christian Kings found useful. (During their expulsion, Jews had settled in Muslim countries in North Africa or the Ottoman Empire where they were tolerated and generally better treated and in some cases made welcome for the same commercial reasons.) 

2) the schism in the Christian church in 1054 CE between the Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox versions, followed by the Anglican and Protestant movements in the 16th century led to religious wars between Christians that lasted for centuries. One consequence was a view that the established Christian church was perhaps not 100% correct on everything and that other religious believers should be allowed into Europe. Since Jews had already lived in Europe for centuries they were the obvious group and France was the first European country to grant Jews full citizenship after the 1789 Revolution. Other countries followed, Jews legally became full citizens throughout Europe in the 19th century even if persecution and discrimination against them continued and still does. 

There is some debate whether traditional Western religious heritage should be described as Christian or Judeo-Christian, but what is certain is that the fundamental principles of this heritage come from Judaism and concerns 2 main beliefs: firstly, there is one unique God, literally indescribable, responsible for everything in the universe including creating mankind in His (spiritual) image. Human life requires protection as God made men and women perfectly, but gave mankind a free will to act that has most definitely not always been used acceptably. Secondly,  a fundamental base of society should be the Bible’s 10 Commandments given by God to Moses on Mont Sinai, then by Moses to the Jews as God’s ‘selected’ or ‘chosen’ people for all humanity. For Jews, this part of the Bible is the Torah (‘law’ or ‘teaching’) and followers of the (Jewish) Jesus logically accepted these Commandments as sacred, becoming Christians believing Jesus to be the Messiah (‘Christ’ in Greek.) Christians consider the Torah as the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible improved by the New Testament relating the life of Jesus and what became Christian faith and doctrine. 

Just about everyone knows the 10 Commandments: there is only one God, you do not worship idols, you do not take God’s name in vain, you do not kill, you do not steal, you do not commit adultery, you do not lie, you honour your parents, you must not be jealous about material possessions of others and you take a day of rest every week. ‘Rest’ in Hebrew is ‘sabbath’ and is on Saturday for Jews. Since ‘Saturday’ is translated as sabato, sabado, sobota, суббоmа (subbota) in different European languages, the religious origin is clear. (Christians and Muslims changed their day of rest to Sunday and Friday later although some minority Christian groups still keep Saturday as their holy day.) The 10 Commandments are always displayed in synagogues and often in or near churches, courts and parliaments in Europe and other Western heritage countries such as the US Supreme Court. Being near courts proves the obvious point that not everyone obeys them.

There is no suggestion that those of different religions, philosophies or faiths or none (Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Sheikhs, Shintoists, Confucians, atheists or agnostics etc) are somehow unable to agree with these commandments. The issue should be whether they accept this Judeo-Christian heritage as a part of Western heritage and integrate by assimilation or adaption if necessary. However, this assumes that this heritage is defended as mentioned earlier since these ideas were not created by modern politicians!

Some Western democracies such as France or the USA are constitutionally secular meaning there is no official state religion and secularism indeed developed from a principle that all citizens should be treated equally whatever their beliefs. However, many European countries have the official state religion of Christianity and still accept religious freedom as in England, Malta, Denmark, Italy, Iceland, Greece, Poland, Norway or Hungary. In practice, Western democracies with official religions mean little more than the Head of State follows that religion and perhaps it is taught in public schools, but with the possibility for those from other religions to opt-out.  Public holidays follow Christian festivals, but they also do in France and the USA.

Christianity no longer dominates daily life in much of Europe although it does in parts of the USA and Latin-America; everywhere in the West, heritage and traditions exist and it influences social behaviour more than is often realised. More people attend church services than go to football matches. Public buildings such as courts and schools might have symbols like a crucifix and Sunday commercial activity is often limited. Christian influence on politics has declined, but not disappeared with European political parties describing themselves as Christian-Democrat or similar titles even though they attract non-Christian voters. 

2) Greek philosophy

The origins of Greek philosophy date from around 600 years BCE with the aim of finding answers to the mysteries of the world in a non-religious way, but the Greek philosophers were nevertheless partly influenced by Jewish religious traditions since Judaism was already established. Indeed, some of these philosophical concepts already existed in the Torah/Old Testament that was first translated from the original Hebrew into Greek in Alexandria about 300 years BCE, at precisely the most important moment in Greek philosophical development. (Alexandria is now in Egypt, but was then part of the Greek Empire and the New Testament was originally written in Greek as the ‘lingua franca’ at the time around 50-100 years after the death of Jesus or Christ.)

Greek philosophy emphasised the power of reason compared to religious beliefs that are sometimes illogical and absurd scientifically. Socrates developed questions and potential answers to test philosophical theories and make them more understandable. Plato, a generation later, taught that justice required philosopher Kings, responsible for enforcing laws and holding property in common. (Property then included women, children and slaves, so the semantic roots of democracy from demos (people) and kratos power were not as now understood.) Aristotle suggested that empirical observation of behaviour should carry more weight when organising societies and Greek philosophy gave one of the intellectual bases to what became the Renaissance in Europe from the 14th until the 17th centuries. The Renaissance started after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the migration of Greek scholars to Italy fleeing the conquering Ottomans. Renaissance humanism holds that mankind is the origin of most or all things and there was an enormous expansion of inventions, art, music, science, architecture and literature during this time, the huge speed of development partly due to the printing press developed by Gutenberg around 1440. 

The Enlightenment (or Age of Reason, Lumières, Aufklärung…) developed in the 18th century at more or less the same time in different European countries. Descartes, Locke, Goethe, Bacon, Spinoza, Smith, Kant, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Beccaria, Hume and others held that certain concepts (liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government and separation of religions from political control) should be based on reason not on superstitions, nor automatically on established practice. The philosophers came from different nationalities, backgrounds and religions, but they all held the view that society should be based on a mix of scientific explanation accompanied by the freedom to interpret and to reason and not simply based on unthinkingly following traditional religious doctrines. Some tried to reconcile religious dogma with objective observations and opinions whereas others were more radical and tried to abolish all non-scientific thinking. Some focused on economic development as in England, whereas others were more interested in anti-religious or anti-monarchy sentiments as in France.

Modern European thought recognises the importance of ideas and reason as well as religious faith, but the exact balance between the 2 is (by definition) uncertain. Beliefs are necessary to make sense of the world as not everything in the universe can be explained by science. Since the quantity of scientific knowledge has increased vastly in recent times, this can lead to the view that everything is already known or will be discovered or the entirely opposite view that everything is not known and will never be completely discovered. Animals hear and see things that are impossible for humans so a purely rational, scientific approach seems inadequate. To suggest that there are no absolute truths and that ideas can be debated is the fundamental contribution of Greek philosophy to modern European identity and etymologically, a long and impressive list of philosophical concepts come from the Greek language: theory, hubris, fantasy, ethics, synonym, metaphysics, metaphor, democracy, phenomenon, analogy, mythology, analysis etc. Modern debate would be quite impossible without these ideas, but then some religions did not encourage debate historically and some still do not. In climate or Covid issues today, those with different views from the mainstream are not encouraged and in some cases there is little more debate and tolerance than with Medieval religions with climate denial laws etc…

3) The Roman Empire

In 27 BCE, the Roman Republic that had lasted 500 years and conquered huge areas around the Mediterranean was replaced by the Roman Empire when Julius Cesar’s adopted son was given unchallengeable powers following his victory and annexation of Egypt 4 years previously. The RomanEmpire lasted 1500 years until the capture of Constantinople (now Istanbul) by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The apotheosis (another Greek word) was 117 CE following wars won by Roman legions and at the time this vast empire was the most extensive and complete political and social structure ever seen until the worldwide British Empire in the 19th century. The Roman Empire became too big to be governed by one central authority in Rome so in 285 CE was divided into a Western Empire managed from Rome and an Eastern or Byzantine Empire in Constantinople. However, the Western Roman Empire disintegrated relatively quickly as German immigration became inassimilable because of their number and unwillingness to accept loyalty to the Emperor. In 476 CE, the last Western Emperor Romulus Augustus abdicated to the German warlord Odoacer who placed himself under the rule of the Eastern Emperor rather than naming himself Emperor in the West. (The Western part effectively ended at that point leading to a historical debate as to whether there were 2 Roman Empires or only one that was divided). 

(The Roman Empire should not be confused with the Holy Roman Empire that as someone once said was none of the 3, but a heterogeneous collection of cities, principalities, regions and small states ruled by various Kings and Emperors. It covered a large region of what is now modern Germany and territories around it from about 800 CE until 1800 CE as a vague attempt to replace the Western Roman Empire, but it achieved little despite its longevity and was the theatre for many religious wars. It was replaced by nation states in the 19th century.)

Pagan religions in the Roman Empire meant praying to gods with rituals and sacrifice rather than any faith or dogma. Judaism and Christianity were hated since followers essentially believed in one literally indescribable God at the origin of the universe and not one or several gods created by the Emperor at any particular moment. Sun, moons, stars, thunder and other objects contributed to Roman Empire rituals, but Jews and Christians refused to accept these ideas since in monotheist religions including Islam (later), God has no form. Jesus along with other Jews was crucified by the Romans rulers for causing unrest when refusing to submit to the official Roman policy and in 70 CE, Jews as a people were massacred and dispersed from their Kingdoms of Israel and Judea-Samaria renamed ‘Syria Palaestina’ in 135 CE to remove the Jewish origins. Romans persecuted Christians almost as much as the Jews for about 300 years after the death of Jesus until the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity, leading to it becoming the official religion and unifying force in a very disparate Roman Empire in 380 CE.

A major legacy of the Roman Empire was the development from Latin used in the Western Empire into the modern languages of Spanish, Catalan, French, Portuguese, Rumanian and Italian. (Greek was more important in the Eastern Roman Empire until the 15th century although it declined with Muslim conquest). All the official scripts in modern Europe, (Latin, Greek and Cyrillic) descend from systems used in the Roman Empire and Latin script is the most used in the world. The modern Western calendar is a version of Julius Cesar’s calendar with days relating to planets and the moon (although there is some evidence that the original idea came from Ancient Egypt). Roman architecture made a huge impact on urban development and inventions included apartments, public toilets, locks, keys, indoor plumbing and heating plus enormous developments in road, bridge and aqueduct construction. 

Another legacy of the Roman Empire concerns legal matters. Justinian’s texts, named after the Eastern Emperor, date from about 500 CE and highly influenced German civil law (“set of rules”) and the Napoleonic code which are the origins of the Roman Law system used in most of Europe today. (The alternative in the Western world is the English Common Law that logically spread to the previous British colonies and exists in about the same number of countries). The idea that arrests had to be justified by being written previously and not simply by arbitrary decision came from the Roman Republic 400 years before the Roman Empire. A Roman Empire Separation of Powers was the Senate, Assembly and Magistrates with the plebeians able to check the power of the patricians. The US Constitution specifically follows these ideas with ‘checks and balances.’ In US and other Western countries, political life today has vetoes, filibusters, quorums, impeachments and regular elections which were all in the Roman Constitution. Another important contribution of the Roman Empire concerns public administration with its provinces and governors perfectly recognisable in Europe today. 

4) Rule of Law

What is now understood as the Rule of Law originated in the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire as well as the famous ‘Magna Carta’ or Grand Charter from England in 1215. This established the idea of Habeas Corpus (‘that you have the body’) preventing unlawful detention without reason and due process, thus indirectly limiting the King’s power. Revolutionary movements in modern times, such as the US and French Revolutions starting in 1775 and 1789 respectively have always emphasised the ideas of equality and a limit to governmental powers. (Sadly in some modern dictatorships, the reality has been the exact opposite with absolute privilege for the ruling élite and discrimination against those disagreeing with them.)

The Rule of Law includes other concepts including the fundamental idea is that of equality before the law thereby limiting the power of rulers. (There is also a religious connection since the idea assumes that the rulers in question are not absolutely powerful, but are subject to some kind of higher power or God. Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong were all violently anti-religious.) In Western countries today, equality before the law is more and more questionable with, for example, phobia laws protecting Muslims, but not Jews, Christians or other religions. Another example concerns laws allowing transgender men now considering themselves women to compete in sports events against women and usually winning being physically stronger. There are many examples of positive discrimination, theoretically to prevent discrimination, but leading to other discrimination, the absurd and extreme example being critical race theory where white people are said to be institutionally racist by definition. 

The Rule of law also suggests that laws are supposed to be clear and understandable, something not always followed, but with the obvious idea that citizens know what they should or should not do. An application of this principle (also involving Human Rights) is that defendants in criminal trials have the right to defend themselves and to be legally represented. In civil disputes such as disputed contracts or negligence claims allegedly leading to physical harm or financial loss, this idea does not apply since the dispute is private between those concerned compared to criminality where there is a public interest. Class or group actions to share costs of legal representation are controversial since claimants have not suffered exactly the same prejudice. Another idea is that laws should not be retrospective since although being unaware of a law is no defence, defendants should not be guilty after doing something legal, but which became illegal afterwards such as a retrospective tax rule to catch tax avoiders who become illegal tax evaders; this is popular with the general public, but is manifestly wrong in principle. 

Perhaps the best-known idea is the Separation of Powers where an executive or government tries to influence the legislative (Parliament, National Assembly, Congress), but cannot force it to act. Politicians accept that their freedom to act should be limited not unlimited and arbitrary. As the role of judges is to interpret the law as decided by the legislature, the Rule of Law therefore includes independence of judges from political interference, even if there needs to be some system of judicial selection or election with direct or indirect democratic control. The Separation of Powers is seen all over Western constitutions and it is a clear objective of the US Constitution indirectly based on Montesquieu’s ‘L’esprit des lois’ in 1748.

5) Human Rights

All European countries are members of the Council of Europe, are signatories to the European Convention of Human Rights and accept the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and the International Court of Justice. The exact content of what constitutes Human Rights is controversial, but most agree that it includes:

  • Freedom of speech with limits and exceptions including: incitement to violence, incitement to racial hatred (most countries), holocaust denial (some countries), defamation (everywhere) meaning saying or writing untruths about a person having the effect of lowering their reputation, defence secrets or breaking copyrights, patents or other legally protected intellectual property. (Private opinions are never illegal for the obvious reason that it is impossible to control private thoughts).  
  • Liberty for journalists to write and report what they like within legal limits as explained in the above paragraph although disagreements exist concerning interpretations. 
  • Protection for those unable to defend (do business) themselves (children, mentally ill, the unborn?)
  • Criminal punishments that are not “cruel and unusual” from the English Bill of Rights, 1689 and copied in the 8th Amendment to the US constitution in 1791; death penalties are or are not cruel and unusual according to your point of view. ‘Enhanced interrogation’ techniques are also acceptable (or not) depending on your view when security forces deal with terrorism.
  • Right to defend oneself and close family including the right to be armed to do so in the case of the controversial 2nd amendment to the US constitution.
  • Right to own private property and not just to use state owned property:
  • Right not to pay confiscatory  taxation and not to have private property confiscated unless reasonable compensation paid and the confiscation legally justified such as for building new roads.
  • Right to trade locally, nationally or internationally, to create businesses and to make profit and the right to respect contracts as voluntarily agreed by those involved. 
  • Liberty of association for meetings, political parties, pressure groups or trade unions including for groups with restricted and invited members such as freemasons, alcoholics anonymous or prestigious golf clubs.
  • Equality between sexes for divorce, childcare and job opportunities; (women on average earn 15% less than men in Europe, but have the same salary for the same work, the difference being explained by careers interrupted when having children and choice of certain jobs)
  • Protection of the rights of sexual minorities against sexual orientation discrimination
  • Protection of gypsies or others with lifestyle minority behaviour 
  • Freedom of travel, to move inside a country or to change nationality if the rules of the host country are respected, subject to legally justified limitations such as terrorism
  • Freedom to change religion, to criticise religions, to convert others, to marry outside religion, to have no religion and to deny the existence of God.

Some of these rights are contradictory and many of them very recent. The right to strike has to protected, but others have the right to work. The rights of homosexuals to adopt children should be compared with the right of children to have parents of opposite sex. Freedom of speech might or might not include the right to blaspheme. The protection of minorities against the wishes of the majority is a huge issue seen in lifestyle minority behaviour and public nuisance. Transsexuals represent an insignificant % of the population, but are often allowed to compete in women’s sports because that is how they identify and they usually win being physically stronger. The list of issues associated with Human Rights is long and whether the right balance has now been struck is questionable. These are controversial issues and some prefer not to discuss them at all. 

© Philip BLOOM, Marseille, France, juin 2022. 
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