Leiden Law Blog

An old, dying Empire versus a rising Earth Community

An old, dying Empire versus a rising Earth Community

If there was one line of Trump’s inauguration speech on 20 January, that kept echoing in many minds – and in mine too –, it was ‘From this day forward it is going to be only America first’. I heard someone comment that this entire speech could have been held a year ago, because it still sounded as if he was campaigning for presidency. Indeed the tone of anger, opposition and struggle had not yet disappeared, and I’m sure it will persist, because the complete outlook of Trump is founded on it.

The old Empire song

Somehow this week the song Old England by the Waterboys from the 1980s quite often came to my mind. It emphasises that although ‘old England is dying’, ‘still he sings an empire song, still he keeps his navy strong, and he sticks his flag where it ill belongs’. Of course imperialism, which has always mixed well with patriotism, has been the driving force behind much of Western history and has also existed in America with its Manifest Destiny. And now that Trump has claimed America for the Americans first and wants to make it ‘great’ again, the empire turns out to be not fully dead yet.

Opposition and denial

It is no coincidence that this new manifestation of patriotism has emerged also in several other Western countries: Wilders who wants the Netherlands for the Dutch first, a Brexit Britain for the British first, and so on. Populist politicians answer the call of a lot of Western people who apparently feel confronted with a threatening development they must collectively oppose.
Although the ‘new patriots’ passionately put their fellow countrymen and women on a pedestal, and want to protect them badly from anything that comes from abroad, I think this is only a surface projection of a much deeper sense of inner denial: the denial of the ongoing development towards global interconnectedness and of a growing awareness of our embeddedness in the surrounding natural world. In this sense the new patriotism differs from its predecessors.

Moving towards an interconnected world

To put this in perspective the ideas of David Korten are interesting. In his book The Great Turning (from 2006) he has argued that ‘the way of Empire’, which has been around for 5000 years, is leading to environmental and social collapse, and therefore unavoidably we are moving towards an Earth Community. According to him, this process entails an entire transformation of our culture: ‘The turning from Empire to Earth Community has two primary elements. First is a turning from money to life as our defining value. Second is a turning from relations of domination to relations of partnership based on organizing principles discerned from the study of healthy living systems.’ (p. 295) It can hardly have escaped anyone’s attention that through the centuries there has been an ongoing movement towards globalisation, and that especially in our time the world is becoming increasingly interconnected.

A cultural synthesis and planetary awareness

Although with regard to globalisation the focus has often been exclusively on the economy, this process is even more significant in a cultural and spiritual sense: increasingly we have become familiar with the rich diversity of cultures on our planet, which have existed and still exist all over the world. In retrospect the Western world has even started to reevaluate the various indigenous cultures that it had struggled against so persistently for centuries.
This development has triggered human awareness in an unprecedented way: there is the promise of a global cultural synthesis in which the best from all cultures can be integrated – to become a true melting pot. And this happens in a context of an even larger planetary awareness, which has gradually spread since the pictures of earth made by the Apollo astronauts at the end of the 1960s have become transformative icons.

Fearful, defensive minds

But although the old Empire is definitely dying, it does not easily give way to the rising Earth Community, as the popularity of the populist movement clearly shows. The old collective identities, which have been handed down to us through the centuries, no longer fit and are even showing serious cracks. Yet it turns out that a large number of people seem unable to open their minds to the presence of these worldwide changes. Fearfully, they react by clinging even tighter to their secure collective identities, enlarging them, defending them at all cost. With the sad result that new walls are being erected and border controls are being reinstalled everywhere.

The damage done and the role of law

I think the increasing number of people who feel they belong to an Earth Community are aware of the tremendous damage that the Empire has caused and will continue to be causing under the rule of the populist movement. In particular, on a macro level the natural environment will continue to suffer badly. As is well known,Trump has denied that climate change exists. In this he is a real spokesman for the entire the populist movement: climate change is absent on any populist agenda. But now that it has become clear that in 2016 the global temperature has risen one full degree, who can seriously keep on denying the reality of climate change? That’s why it is high time to get ecocide recognised as a major crime, as suggested by Polly Higgins, and to get the rights of Nature or of Mother Earth recognised by all countries, as advocated by Cormac Cullinan.

Patience and hope

I have good faith that eventually the movement towards an Earth Community will be the stronger development which will prevail. We just have to be patient. In this respect the large-scale protests on the day after Trump’s inauguration – whose very diverse participants are representatives of the Earth Community – are quite hopeful. Surprisingly, he did not react, as though it hadn’t happened at all. But, as the saying goes, sometimes silence speaks louder than words…


Wim Bonis
Posted on February 8, 2017 at 17:22 by Wim Bonis

Thanks a lot Kevin for you comments. Interesting the way you point to the mutations of the populist movement. I had not really thought about this. I don’t think, however, that we are dealing here with ‘a change in the political paradigm’, but only with a minor change from one dualistic struggle – between left and right – to another one. I think a paradigm change would involve transcending this dualistic approach to life, moving beyond the focus on opposition and struggle.

I can understand why the mutations you talk about have occurred and will continue to occur. Although the populist movement claims to stand up for the common man and woman, it really owes its existence to constantly negating and opposing various groups in society, and these do not just involve political opponents: both Trump and Wilders have added the media, the press and the law courts to their collection of enemies. It can easily move its central focus from one opponent to another, because it derives its (negatively charged) power mostly from sources outside itself.

You argue that I could identify with the populist values like local produce and an emphasis on community because they chime with my ecological concern. Of course it is important to remain open minded and acknowledge that even some good might result from populist plans and decisions. And indeed, we should be cautious as well not to fall into the trap of opposing the populist movement in the absolute way it opposes others. But as far as I can see, its plans and decisions are primarily inspired by outdated economic and protectionist beliefs, by top-down thinking and a strong urge to control. I haven’t come across populist politicians yet who also take account of the ecology.

Kevin Walsh
Posted on February 7, 2017 at 00:34 by Kevin Walsh

There are some inherent contradictions in the term populism, not least that is not even a voting majority in the US, much to Trump’s chagrin. It is worthy of some definition, maybe in another blog; the election in France will certainly bring a spotlight to bear on it. There is a common thread in a reaction against globalisation. It promises a change to the political paradigm, from the party political divide of left versus right to a divide of nationalism versus liberal economics / globalisation. I think there is lot in the populist movement, certainly in France, that would chime with your ecological concerns. Small holdings, local produce and an emphasis on community are values I think you’d identify with; unfortunately they also come with restrictive definitions of who’s in that community! Noneheless, I think we’ll continue to see more of populism; we will need blogs to keep up with it’s various mutations!

Posted on January 31, 2017 at 11:14 by Reino

Thank you! History repeats itself, nowadays maybe retweets itself! Clinging to old and familiar values is human, I think. Apparently we do not learn from history. I am in favor of ecocide being recognised as crime! Bye!

Posted on January 28, 2017 at 19:05 by BonisW

Dear Harald,

Thanks for your comments on my blog. You have a point that probably only educated people can follow my line of thinking (and will read my blog!), and that the majority of the world population is still unaware of the existence and the beneficial power of an Earth Community. But this doesn’t mean that it does not exist and that its power is not rising. I see enough evidence around me of its increasing power. Like in the women’s marches on the day after Trump’s inauguration, when millions of women (and some men) in the US and elsewhere came together – not so much to protest against Trump but to celebrate life and to freely express their authentic selves in a world where borders between countries do not matter anymore.

Anyway, I think it is important to report about a rising Earth Community because it necessarily corrects the one-sided, negative reports on the populist movement – and puts it in a larger, more realistic and also more hopeful perspective. I agree with you that it is too late to still have an effect on the upcoming elections, which will also take place in the Netherlands in March. The popularity of populist politics probably will hold on for another while. But the world is also still full of unexpected, surprising changes. As I’ve said, we have to be patient.

By the way, I am not offering ideas which are completely new. There are a lot of excellent writers who have written already for more than a decade about the unprecedented changes which are taking place in our increasingly interconnected world. I’m only following in their footsteps. In my blog I referred to David Korten, but there are many others: Riane Eisler, Charles Eisenstein, Thomas Berry, Steve Taylor, to name but a few more. So if you are truly interested in this issue and have some time on your hands….

Posted on January 27, 2017 at 01:43 by Harald

young and well informed or better to say educated people may follow your line of thinking and a global earth community. But we are very very far away from making this happen or bring it to the understanding of the still mayority of the world population, not even to the western world of population. only think of the European Community. Who understands the organization, the benefits, the cost? all populists talk about the cost and not the benefits! so since months I question why the different organs of the EC are not able to publish in newspapers, TV etc details of their activities and advantages? They leave it to local politics to blame or to defend the EC according to their believes and populists ( see Brexit) are not ashamed to argue with totally wrong figures and the population in general hears only their populist propaganda. Too late anyhow for the upcoming elections in Italy, France, Germany etc

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