Sunday, December 06, 2015

Review of Tuchman's "The Proud Tower"

Anyone who has read Barbara W. Tuchman's more famous work, The Guns of August, will already know that she far exceeds the average historian in raw ability to set words in front of each other. Her prose is lucid, engaging, evocative, and deeply moving in a way that the modern historian simply cannot match. Even more than in The Guns of August, Tuchman distinguishes herself in The Proud Tower by demonstrating a particularly discriminating ability to insert choice quotes from contemporaries; the 'pithiness' much lauded in an era when oratory skills were still the primary currency of societal influence. Mere "color," a professor once described these bon mots to me in dismissal. Color goes a long way, however, in enlivening a world with which we are only familiar in black and white photography.

Barbara W. Tuchman, The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890-1914 (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996).

What struck me about The Proud Tower, first published as a series of literary articles in the 1960s, then, was not Tuchman's virtuosity as a writer--which I had expected--but rather the unanticipated contemporary relevance of many of the period's societal and political debates and moods which she so vividly details. The chapters, which each cover a particular trend, evolution, or twist in history, invite the reader to compare and contrast with modern problems. The parallels are often striking. More importantly, the dissimilarities which emerge as Tuchman sketches each issue are instructive in helping the reader think through change and recurrence in political life.

The Proud Tower opens with a survey of the last truly aristocratic government of the United Kingdom, Salisbury's coalition of conservatives and liberal unionists formed after the 1895 election, and closes with the assassination of the French socialist leader Jean Jaur├Ęs on the eve of the war. The scope is mostly confined to Britain, France, Germany, and the United States. The structure of her writing varies between chapters revolving around biographies and those which focus on key struggles. In the first category are her sketches of Tom Reed, speaker of the House of Representatives who broke the power of the "silent quorum" as a minority veto but whose traditionalist non-interventionism was overwhelmed by a cresting wave of imperalist fervor, and Richard Strauss, whose music was both a reaction and a representation of the emotional evolution of the dark undercurrent of fatalistic nationalism in contemporary German society. In the second category are Tuchman's descriptions of the Hague Peace Conferences, the rise and fall of anarchist violence ("propaganda of the deed"), the Dreyfus Affair, and the last hurrah of the British Liberal party--a constitutional restriction on the veto power of the House of Lords--before it lost the progressive mandate to Labour.

Where to begin with the comparisons?

1. The Rabble are Rising

A theme which runs through the collection of essays is the end of government by the privileged and the rise of populism as the foundation of political legitimacy and power. Not only was Salisbury's 1895 government dominated by aristocrats, the Liberal opposition was as well. The ideal that government was best left to those accustomed to the effort, educated by a lifetime managing vast personal estates accumulated over the centuries, was dead by the time the House of Commons voted to pay members an annual salary of 400 pounds in 1911. This "Transfer of Power," as Tuchman describes it, was characterized by the extension of universal manhood suffrage (and soon after the war, women's suffrage as well), and the organization of labor into parties and unions.The efforts of the conservatives, in Britain and elsewhere, to hold firm against the tide of popular power, appealed to the belief that only the privileged had the necessary disinterest to think of the national interest first and personal aggrandizement last. They saw the rise of professional politicians as marking the ruin of political independence.

The shift in political power caused by universal suffrage and the rise of working-class parties was unprecedented, yet a further evolution in the basis of political organization is presently threatening as great a leap as the one described by Tuchman. That evolution, of course, is the destruction of 'party elites' and partisan intellectuals at the hands of social media and direct appeals to the electorate. In the United States, the Republican Party has Donald Trump on its hands; in the United Kingdom, the Labour elite was trampled under by Jeremy Corbyn's rank and file. In Spain, new parties have pulled the rug from under the old Socialist and Popular Parties, while in Italy the rise of protest parties shows a new political vitality. The erosion of support for the traditional right in the United Kingdom (to UKIP), in Germany (to AfD and others), in France (to Marine Le Pen), and in Switzerland (to the SVP) demonstrates the widespread elimination of policy intermediaries. Of course, this trend has hurt the left in many of these states, with conservative-by-nature working-class voters finding new voices outside the traditional left-right divide - this is most clear in Poland where the victory of the Law and Justice Party is as much a product of the discrediting of the left as the rise in nationalism. 

As a group, the political elites are bemoaning there new irrelevance in much the same tone as the conservative heirs of Lord Salisbury. Without the guidance of the established political intellectuals, cries the Eurocrat in Brussels, the free-trader in Washington, and the economist in Buenos Aires, the people will run the state into the ground! The old model of consensus-seeking centrists tottering on the backs of uneducated masses is failing, but what will replace it is still emerging. It remains unclear whether the current destruction of political elites is one iteration in an endless cycle of political death and rebirth, stretching back to the nineteenth century, or the advent of a new politics built on greater citizen participation and polarization enabled by new technology and new media.

2. The Bomb, the Pistol, and the Terror

The anarchists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were successful in their immediate goals, but hardly relevant as a political force compared to the trade unionists and organized Socialists. As related by Tuchman, six heads of state or government were assassinated by anarchists in the twenty years before the war: a president of France, two prime ministers of Spain, an empress of Austria-Hungary, a king of Spain, and one president of the United States of America. That list, of course, does not include Alexander II of Russia, killed in 1881. The list also does not include the numerous deaths caused by indiscriminate attacks, such as the bombing of Paris' Cafe Terminus in 1894, and which strained the fabric of urban European society as forcefully as the two terrorist attacks in the same city this year. From 1892 to 1894, Paris was subjected to:
"A two-year reign of dynamite, dagger and gunshot [which] killed ordinary men as well as great ones, destroyed property, banished safety, spread terror and then subsided."
I read Tuchman's accounts of the anarchists and their deeds in the shadow of the recent Paris massacre. The parallels between anarchism and Islamic extremism are unnerving, but only run so far. The problem facing law enforcement officials was similar: how to identify those individuals or groups, motivated by a common but disorganized ideology of violence, who might emerge from political apathy to conduct unpredictable and undeterrable acts of mass violence. Anarchist intellectuals encouraged propaganda of the deed, but were always at arms length from the suicidal perpetrators of actual attacks. Indeed, the "lone wolf" character of anarchist violence insulated those intellectuals from the law in much the same way preachers of religious extremism are protected at present. 

 Where the comparisons fail, however, is in the content of the ideology and what this meant for the terrorists' grand strategy. Anarchism, famously, opposes political organization as antithetical to its goal of a stateless society. Isolated anarchists conducted their attacks in an attempt to spark a revolution that would overthrow the aristocratic order and introduce a better world through a mass uprising. The goals of Islamic extremists, to the degree they are properly understood, appear to be more narrowly coercive: punish western societies for interfering in Muslim countries, and introduce enough pain that they accede to the inevitability of recognizing the Islamic State. Anarchism failed in part because a 'spark' was not enough to generate a revolution; the strategic underpinnings of anarchist tactics was fundamentally flawed. The validity of the strategic underpinnings of Islamic terrorism are harder to mark up as a failure. One might note the aftermath of the 2004 Madrid train bombing, after which the Aznar government's support for the invasion of Iraq cost it its mandate.

3. Dreyfus and the Political Divide

The Dreyfus Affair dominated the political landscape of France from 1894 to 1899, and going by Tuchman's description of the divisiveness of the scandal, in recent decades nothing of as intense a furor has totally consumed one society's political elite. The story of poor Captain Alfred Dreyfus gives the lie to claims that modern democratic politics are somehow more rancorous than in the past. The extremes of passion engendered by the affair, as described in Tuchman's account, must be read to be appreciated. I will only summarize the events.

Dreyfus was the unintentional victim of well-founded suspicions that a French artillery officer on the General Staff was leaking secrets to the Germans. The hunt for the leak produced Dreyfus as its main suspect; he was tried in late 1894 and found guilty. Dreyfus' prosecutors were sure of his guilt, but could not extract a confession; as a result, they fabricated proof. The army closed ranks around the prosecutors and protected the fabrications as military secrets for the next five years until Dreyfus was re-tried and freed. To earn him that re-trial, a motley alliance of politicians and public intellectuals (a native specialty of France) labored intensively through publication of the facts and lobbying of successive governments, to establish doubt in the military's case. The conservative establishment pushed back against the allegations of a stain on the military's honor, and used every tool of the law to prevent justice.

I first learned about the Dreyfus Affair in the context of the history of European anti-Semitism. Dreyfus, a Jew, was suspect because of his identity, and the anti-Semitism of both his military prosecutors and the anti-Dreyfusards who defended them is well illustrated by Tuchman's account. To her credit, however, Tuchman also sets the affair in the context of other pressures in French society: nationalism, liberalism, raw personal ambition, and militarism. All of these factors played a role in influencing which camp the main players found themselves. I know of several book-length takes on the affair but haven't had the time to read any of them. If, like me, you are unfamiliar with the story, Tuchman's chapter is an eye-opener.

4. Richard Strauss and the Rise of China

Richard Strauss--not him of the Viennese waltzes, but rather the composer of that famous theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey--was an odd choice for Tuchman's chapter on the political climate of Germany on the eve of the war. It was an odd choice because Strauss was not a political actor and his music was not particularly beloved of the Kaiser and the other men of power. Wilhelm II disliked, for example, the explicit and sensuous themes of Strauss' opera Salome and opposed a debut in Berlin. While Strauss admired the Kaiser in the 1890s, the feeling was never mutual; Wilhelm's tastes were too orthodox. "You are one of the worst... All modern music is worthless," the emperor once informed Strauss after a concert. (page 308).

Listening to his works, it is not difficult to imagine the scenes which greeted the debuts of Strauss' masterpieces. Tuchman writes of the confusion in the audience, followed by chaos, and finally applause and approbation across Europe's capitals. Strauss' operas and tone poems were booed in the concert hall, but earned mass appreciation over time. But Tuchman's implicit argument, that there was a certain atmosphere of decay and politico-emotional self-destruction embodied in Strauss' music that could only have been produced by Wilhelmine Germany, cannot be evaluated except by ear. Read the chapter, then have a listen.

Last year, on the centenary of the First World War, there was a deluge of thought pieces comparing Imperial Germany to modern China. The argument runs something like this: both countries are hyper-nationalistic, economic powerhouses, challengers in an international power system (see: Graham Allison's Thucydides Trap), and resigned to fight for its space in the sun. Therefore, expect war. What is interesting about Tuchman's portrayal of the political mood in late-Imperial Germany is that the cultural datapoint, or at least the musical datapoint, does not to the argument. China is not a contemporary cultural and intellectual superpower in the way that Germany was at the turn of the century. China has no Nietzsche, and it has no Wagner or Strauss. In addition, it is utterly absent of the "nero-ism" Tuchman portrays in the cultural climate in Germany, and for that, maybe, we should be grateful.

5. Arms Control at the Hague

Finally, Tuchman's account of the Hague Peace Conferences, called by the Tsar to the general astonishment of political society, are a reminder that the foundations of the modern liberal international order were hard fought for. The conferences had three committees corresponding to three agendas: arms limitations, arbitration, and humanitarian rules in war. The committees had varying degrees of success, but each contributed to the future development of norms which now form the basis of modern international society.

Arbitration, of course, has been under attack for a long time (outside of the WTO) the norm of peaceful settlement of international disputes has always been fragile and under-appreciated. The challenges come from multiple directions: China's non-participation in the UNCLOS arbitration on the South China Sea is famous; Russia's flaunting of the ITLOS ruling on its detention of the Arctic Sunrise less so. More fundamental to the disintegration of support for peaceful dispute-settlement was the U.S. withdrawal of compulsory jurisdiction for the ICJ--a move both short-sighted and destructive. But there are also reasons for optimism, such as the upsurge in territorial cases filed by Latin American states. 

Tuchman notes an early attempt at the Hague Peace Conferences to ban an entire class of future weapons: bombs dropped from the sky from balloons. At the time, there was not even a word to describe this tactic given its novelty. A five-year ban was agreed on, the Russian military delegate noting that "the various means of injuring the enemy now in use are sufficient" (page 262). This historical dead-end poses a severe challenge for proponents of a ban on autonomous weapons, another class of future technologies which may well prove too useful to belligerents to keep out of arsenals. 


There is little of Tuchman's book which does not draw you in better than any airport page-turner. For the avid consumer of politico-historical narrative, The Proud Tower is as entertaining as it is informative. The only mild criticism I can muster against Tuchman is that her anti-German sentiments, fashionable in Anglo-Saxon society for long after the wars, show through at odd spots.

It is unfortunate, however, to be forever in the shadow of the knowledge that The Guns of August was so widely criticized in latter years for missing what was and what was not important in the causes of the First World War. I don't know enough history (or historiography) to assess whether a similar criticism is valid against The Proud Tower, but the shadow of doubt is hard to escape. Nonetheless, Tuchman's prose always runs ahead of that shadow and enjoying the book on its entertainment value alone is likely no great sin.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Summer Reading in Review

Just a brief recap of what I've been reading over the last few months, before I forget my impressions.

China Mieville, The City & the City (New York: Ballantine, 2009)

I've always been a fan of China Mieville, in part because he is an LSE PhD who dabbles in international law, and in part because his prose is so admirably awkward. Several of his novels are quite good, certainly his Bas-Lag series (The Scar, Perdido Street Station, and Iron Council) but also newer material like Embassytown and Kraken. That said, The City & the City is probably one of his weakest efforts, alongside King Rat (which had a deus ex machina featuring drum'n'bass music IIRC).

Mieville's career conceit has been to write one novel in each genre. Embassytown was his hard sci-fi effort, for instance, while Railsea was a homage to Moby Dick. The City & the City is his attempt at the crime novel, and for the first third or so it zips along quite well per the typical murder mystery format. It's the ending that lets down the reader, with an anti-climactic twist reminiscent of The Scar.

Karl Leyser, Communications and Power in Medieval Europe, Two Volumes, Timothy Reuter, Ed. (London: Hambledon, 1994)

These two volumes had been on my list of to-read books for several years now, constantly being pushed aside during grad school. I had almost forgotten that Leyser was a historian, not a political scientist; I went into these two books expecting a more systematic treatment of the relationship between communication and power, but instead got a loosely connected series of essays from across Leyser's areas of expertise. Leyser taught during an era when the modern pressure to "publish or perish" was less acute, and as such many of the essays were only collated and sent to press posthumously.

Despite my initial misconceptions of the collection, I learned quite a bit about subjects with which I was less familiar. It is hard for me to pass judgment when I know so little of the modern literature in this field. Leyser was primarily an expert in the Carolingian through high medieval periods of German history, with a parallel focus on Anglo-Saxon England. The themes in the collection range from queens and queen mothers in Ottonian rule to the role of reversions to the Imperial crown in provoking the Saxon revolt against the Conradines in the mid-late 11th century (Leyser argues that this revolt was largely separate in origin from the Investiture Controversy - I had not known this). There is definitely much to learn for the uninitiated, and it helps that Leyser's writing is very easy to read despite a fair number of typos in what seems to have been a very lightly edited text.

Simon Winder, Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)

I saw this on the shelf at a local bookstore over the winter and got stuck into the first chapter before having to pull myself away at that time. I finally had a chance to revisit Winder's follow-up to Germania (2010), which I haven't had a chance to read, in July. Danubia is a five hundred year run through the Habsburg territories of eastern Europe, with a large focus on Hungary and the archducal lands in Austria. I have to say that it was a bit of a disappointing tome, despite many charming revelations. A broad criticism would be that by covering too much, Winder fails to give much depth to any one topic. A more petty criticism would be that his frequent digressions into travelogue narration adds little to the flow of the book while introducing jarring shifts in tonality--he swears a lot for no good reason, much like Stephen King (who I can't read, sorry).

That's not to say the book isn't worth a read. The Habsburgs are endlessly fascinating, yes, but the true value of this book is in illustrating the social dynamics that wrecked parts of Europe that suffered less glamorous fates during the early modern period. His accounts of war, devastation, and repopulation in Hungary and Galicia (the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, i.e. the hunk of the Polish state that Austria received in the former's dismemberment in the 18th century) are particularly moving and provided inspiration for my last blog post. While his accounts of his travels themselves are rather pointless, the art history that is linked into this narration can be enjoyable at times.

Catherine Merridale, Red Fortress: History and Illusion in the Kremlin (New York: Picador, 2013)

I know less of Russian history than I would like, having only previously read a few of the classic novels and plays and Robert Massie's annoyingly superficial biographies of the Greats: Peter and Catherine. Merridale's Red Fortress was therefore very helpful for fleshing out my familiarity with the Muscovite state. Naturally, the book covers much more than just the Kremlin--the focus on the complex is largely an excuse to write a general history of the political development of Russia.

I took notes on Merridale's text, which is something I don't often do while reading for pleasure. She has a knack for snark:
"As one political scientist put it at the time [late perestroika]: 'too much freedom makes many Russians feel uncomfortable.' This sort of commentary flatters western prejudice, which is why it has persisted through so many complete changes of regime." - p. 7.
Her primary argument which ties the long history together is simple:
"the single genuinely continuous thread is the determination of successive Russian rulers to rewrite the past" - p. 16.
 Other interesting tidbits:
  • The "Third Rome" analogy began life as a warning in the 1520s that all great empires could crumble. (p. 56)
  • Zoe Paleologus' dowry was the Morea, which was actually controlled by the Turks at the time. Another flash of brilliance in Byzantine diplomacy. (p. 63)
  • The Italian poet Luigi Pulci described Zoe thus: "A mountain of fat...All I could dream about all night were mountains of butter and grease." (p. 64)
  • The wars in the mid sixteenth century nearly destroyed the Muscovite state. One statistic showed that acreage of land under cultivation in Vladimir, Suzdal, and around Moscow dropped by 90% in the decade after 1564. (p. 133)
  • The inquiry into the death of Ivan the Terrible's youngest son, Dmitry, a potential claimant to the throne, concluded that he had cut his own throat while playing with a knife. (p. 142)
  • In the period of turmoil between 1606 and 1612, there were eight self-appointed "true tsars" fighting each other for the Muscovite throne. (p. 161)
  • In 1610, the heir to the Polish throne, Wladislaw, had a real chance to be crowned Tsar with the support of the surviving boyars, but essentially blew it by waiting too long to arrive in Moscow and allowing the Orthodox church to drum up opposition to the prospect of a Catholic monarch. (pp. 164-166)
  • A Scotsman, Christopher Galloway, designed a clock for the Saviour Tower with seventeen hourly divisions that marked off time between sunrise and sunset. Erected in 1626, the face of the clock turned, rather than the hand. (p. 185)
  • Under Aleksei Mikhailovich, the second Romanov tsar, the importation of scientific equipment and literature from various German lands led to the first introduction of German technical words into the Russian language. (p. 205)
  • On Paul, Catherine's successor, and his aversion to reform: "he seemed to combine the worst qualities of a spiritual mystic with the sadism of a sergeant-major, while his Francophobia (which was at least as much about his mother as about Robespierre) was jarring to a court raised on the philosophes)". He banned words such as 'fatherland', 'citizen', and 'club' because of their supposed connections with the revolution. (p. 257)
  • In describing Paul's murder, "It ought to have ranked among the most popular crimes in Russian history (an interesting shortlist to compile), but instead it became another cursed regicide". (p. 258)
So lots of fun material.

Current Reading

I'm trying to read Diarmaid MacCulloch's history of the Reformation, but it is slower going than I expected. It looks like a solid piece although the chapter headings suggest a morass of sticky topics in the latter third.

I picked this volume up in a San Francisco bookshop way back three years ago, but again haven't had time to look into it. For a brief period in 2012-2013, I soaked up quite a few books on political aspects of the early modern period including a few histories of the Thirty Years War and large gobs of the historical sociology literature that followed Charles Tilly and so on. I am hoping MacCulloch's book will round out the purely religious aspects of my familiarity.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

What the Iran Deal and the EU's Humanitarian Crisis Have in Common

After not writing for a while, I was determined to resume the effort both as a conscious attempt to prevent rusting and because abandoning this endeavour a second time felt ignoble in so many ways. Luckily, the world has been full of fun happenings that merit comment.

Two of the most important events of this summer have been the conclusion of the "Iran Deal" and the humanitarian crisis in Europe. At first glance, these two might seem worlds apart in their causes and implications. The experts who opine on the two are in distinct sets - one is a 'hard' security problem and the other speaks to compassion, cooperation, and identity politics. That said, they both perfectly underline one axiomatic truth of negotiations in international relations: no effective agreement is possible if it does not take into account the core interests of the affected parties.

The "Iran Deal" (formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; abbreviated as the JCPOA and sometimes rendered as "jick-pow" by tone-deaf government analysts) is a negotiated agreement between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the subject of the latter's nuclear program. The negotiations have been on and off for more than a decade, conducted first by the EU3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), but only gained traction in late 2013. The nature and purpose of the negotiations have been well covered by the media - I don't see cause to go through those again. To sum up: everyone (who isn't a useful idiot) suspects Iran has a nuclear weapons program based on extremely convincing but entirely circumstantial evidence, but a combination of sanctions and diplomatic pressure have convinced Teheran to seek negotiations to get out of the dead-end into which it has driven itself. The agreement limits the scope of Iran's civil nuclear program and establishes monitoring and verification mechanisms, in exchange for a lifting of sanctions. This is a gross simplification, and I could spend hours talking about it.

The Iran Deal has been heavily criticized for conceding too much to the Iranian side. Honestly, I sympathize with this criticism: I was moderately shocked at Iran's ability to smuggle in an 11th hour commitment to lift UN sanctions on the import of conventional arms. These sorts of last minute concessions were a genuine surprise, and will likely lead to a deterioration of regional security. Nonetheless, on balance the Iran Deal is much, much better than no deal. If we bear in mind that there is no negotiated settlement possible that takes into consideration Iran's primary interests, it becomes apparent that the JCPOA is probably not far from the best deal that could be had.

Take, for instance, the issue of "anytime, anywhere" inspections. From the perspective of the verifying party, it is obvious that the only way to prevent cheating is to be able to demand and get access to all suspicious facilities. By not accepting this demand, Iran's bona fides appear suspect. The correct way to think about this is to consider whether any of the P5+1 would have accepted "anytime, anywhere" inspections in a verification mechanism applied to themselves. Would, for example, the United States allow foreign experts anytime, anywhere access to intelligence or military headquarters, or the president's bedroom? Leaving aside the question of military sensitivity, there is also the problem of domestic legal rights. Would an "anytime, anywhere" regime conflict with civil liberties?

I don't want to speak too much about the Iran Deal. Tugging at any one knot of the problem easily produces a lengthy string of legal and political ramblings. I think the deal's advocates have explained well in the media why we must take into consideration that axiom of negotiations I noted above, that no deal is effective and sustainable without due regard for all parties' interests, when judging the Iran Deal.

Now, consider the EU humanitarian crisis (strictly, it isn't just an EU crisis as the origins are outside Europe and non-EU countries have also been affected). The western European states who have advocated loudly for a quota and redistribution system to alleviate pressures in front-line states have chosen to ignore the axiom I discussed above. Instead of seriously taking into consideration the interests of the eastern EU states, they have defaulted to moralizing, lecturing, and buck-passing. As a result, their primary objective--a cessation to the suffering--has not been achieved.

The western EU states have a strong interest in acting in a way that comports with the liberal ideological foundations of the European regional order. This is a noble motivation and should be applauded. Some of the western states also have an interest in accepting migrants to reverse demographic decline - according to some analysts this is a rather important consideration for Germany. The southern Mediterranean EU states have a different set of interests; while they generally share the liberal motivations of their northern neighbours, they have a more pressing logistical and financial interest in distributing the cost of receiving refugees.

The eastern EU states, and here I am speaking principally of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic (yes, the Visegrad Four - who said the group was good for nothing?) but also Croatia and the Balkan states, have different interests. As best as I can frame it, these nation-states have expressed an interest in preserving their territory and state for the primary national group - Hungarians, Poles, Slovaks, and Czechs. That is their bottom line: they do not want other national groups settling in their territory and changing their national composition. Rather an understanding, accepting, and working around these interests, the western EU leaders--and most commentators--have adopted a strategy of attempting to delegitimize the eastern EU states' stated interest and to shame them into changing their policy.

This will not work, and continuing down this path will only damage Europe's unity. What Europe needs now is a negotiated agreement on how refugees and migrants will be distributed and who will bear the costs for their salvation. The first step toward agreement must be a recognition by the western EU states that they do not have the right or the ability to decide what are their negotiating partners' interests. The V4 and other eastern states share interests that are deeply grounded in national identity and Europe should not bash itself apart against these sturdy constructs.

Take, for example, Hungary. Three are three aspects to Hungary's history that play to a deep national defensiveness. First, as any Hungarian will tell you, the country's territory is much diminished compared with its medieval glory. Prior to its defeat by the Ottomans and subsequent centuries of rule from Vienna, the medieval kingdom of Hungary included both present-day Slovakia (Hungarian kings were crowned in Bratislava, then known as Pozsony or Pressburg in German, through to the nineteenth century) and Transylvania, now part of Romania. Second, following the Battle of Mohacs in the early sixteenth century and the election of a Habsburg as king, the Hungarian national territory became a permanent buffer between Austria and the Turkish threat. The population and land that remained in crescent-shaped royal Hungary were repeatedly abused by marauding Ottoman vassals and the Habsburgs themselves. As a border territory, perennial raiding and low-intensity warfare led to depopulation, resettlement by Germans and other ethnic groups from across the continent. Essentially, the Hungarian lands were used by the greatest of the European ruling families to absorb the violence of Turkish expansion. Third, as the front line between Christian Europe and the Muslim world, there is an obvious religious aspect to the construction of national identity.

Never mind that no such thing as a Hungarian national identity existed prior to the eighteenth century, and never mind that many other ethnic groups shared that territory. Never mind the long history of Hungarian petty nobles oppressing their subject Romanian, Slavic, and Jewish subjects. Unfortunately, only the Hungarian people get to create their national myth. As outsiders, we do not have the right, the authority, or the power to compel Hungarians to discard their silly sentiments about long-dead rulers and borders. If the country says it is not ready to share its territory with other national groups, we cannot say that it must. Attacking and attempting to delegitimize the Hungarian national identity only entrenches positions and alienates fellow Europeans. It is not just Hungary - Poland struggles with as equally as tragic a national history but at least its approach to this crisis has been tempered by a desire to be a leader within the EU.

Europe cannot afford the discord this crisis is generating. After the ill-will generated by the Greek bailout talks and in the face of renewed Russian hostility, the EU should be focusing on moving forward in areas of agreement while downplaying disagreements. Ultimately, the moral good of European unity is as weighty as the fate of the Arab world's refugees. Fortunately, it appears that the EU commission is moving toward accepting that some states will not take more refugees but may be convinced to offer up money to share the cost of resettlement. It is a shame it took so long for the states to recognize this way forward, for there are costs to delay.