Author : John E. Charalambakis
Date : December 28, 2014
I boarded the nonstop flight from Miami to Buenos Aires. As in the previous years during this time, it was destined to be an exciting flight. My fellow co-passengers in that specially-designed section of the plane were Montesquieu, Tolstoy, Mordechai, Callias II, Cromwell, Herder, and Arminius. I was eager to learn and reflect on the past while remembering the future.
Tolstoy took the floor and asked Callias II to give us his thoughts on the lines of the Greek poet Archilochus, which were found in an ancient fragment: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”. For Callias II, the diplomat, statesman, and businessman the invitation was too hard to pass. “There are two groups of thoughtful people” he said. “On one hand, you have those who relate everything to one single central cause and vision. According to them there is a single universal organizing principle that unites historical episodes towards a common purpose and direction”. “On the other hand” – speaking like a true economist – “there are those who pursue many unrelated ends, unconcerned about any moral or aesthetic principle that could unite them.” Tolstoy seemed to have liked the interpretation. In his life he had met people who led either centrifugal or centripetal lives. He was skeptical of those who in an all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory, and at times fanatical unitary interpretation of historical developments, they thought that their inner vision was superior to those who held a more pluralist than a monist worldview.
“There are however, realities that unite the people to a common purpose and vision” Montesquieu said. It was obvious to all that he was referring to liberty from despotism and to a system of government where the separation of powers is at the center of the political and economic vision in any society. “When despots rule, economic activity is disfigured, due to rules and regulations that do not allow free exchanges to form the natural prices. Eventually, misallocations take place that may destroy the potential of the people and their economy.”
“I know those despots well” Cromwell shouted. “In my time the King taxed the rich so much that they could no longer afford it, while he confiscated the property of the poor, all for the sake of his central government lavishes and the unjust wars he wanted to finance.” We all knew that it was not just the King, but also the Parliament that followed the beheading of the King and voted themselves as the new despots.
“But isn’t it the same today?” Herder asked. “I mean with the Eurocrats and the central bankers both of whom portray to know better than the sovereign people of the European member-states in the case of the Eurocrats, and of the markets in the case of central bankers who have an obsession to manipulate the price of money, especially around the zero-bound – in a desperate effort to assimilate the dissimilar – that has been creating so many abnormalities around the world?” Herder admired Leibniz more than Kant, despite being a student of Immanuel Kant. He had no sympathy for transcendental categories, which claim to determine experience a priori, and hence, his question about Eurocrats and central bankers that pay no respect to natural laws and domestic idiosyncrasies. He considers them suffering a hideous and dangerous confusion. His friendship and mutual admiration with Goethe is responsible for us understanding today that the language we use shape our thoughts and determine also the unique character of our nations.
“In human history, people are condemned to be free to choose” Jacobus Arminius declared. His anti-thesis to Calvinism was well-known. According to him human history is the amalgam of co-determination between God and human beings who make free choices. “God of course can know before-hand what will happen, but God is not a prisoner of that foreknowledge, thus his choice is not to know, and thus not to predestinate people and events. That actually makes him God, i.e. the ability to know and the power to choose to abdicate that foreknowledge.”
“I can testify to that” Mordechai (the royal warrior devotee) said. “When Haman ordered the annihilation of my people, history was moving in one direction.” Historical unfolding indeed seemed to have been pre-determined for good. The destruction of a nation was at works. However, “for such a time as this, the courageous freedom of my niece Esther – the queen – turned the predetermined events upside down. Haman died by the order of King Xerxes I.”
“Haman had become a despot with the King’s permission”, Montesquieu declared. He wanted us to remember that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. “Despots’ rules and absurd regulations suffocate lives, restrict freedom and movement of people, ideas, and all forms of capital, leading to wars – real and economic – which in turn devastate the nations’ potential.”
“Montesquieu is right”, Callias II proclaimed. “The best form of diplomacy is free trade relations among nations. I know, because I negotiated the peace treaties with both Sparta and Persia.” Callias II the businessman of the Laurion mines was also echoing us a business lesson. Lower barriers to the movement of goods and capital permit economic activity to flourish.
“I hope that this New Year will be the year that some world despots will see their power evaporate while for others it will signify the beginning of their end”, Cromwell said. “If needed, I can raise an army for that, and if heads need to roll, so be it. I have done it before, and no one can claim that the Constitutional Parliamentary Monarchy that eventually followed did not work.”
“These are issues that are truly impalpable and imponderable”, Herder pronounced. “I know well that nowadays we cannot find leaders like Cromwell, but we need to find ways to what Fourier called the realisability of all potentialities, when he proclaimed ‘All that can be is; all that can come into being will come into being, of not today then tomorrow’.”
“That’s exactly what I mean by stating that human history is co-determined” Arminius shouted. “I know it may sound like an oxymoron but this might be the year that is predestined to shape up the future in terms of geopolitics and geoeconomics. An Asian surprise seems to be at work. A European shakeup that later on may turn into a financial tsunami is forming, while the Middle East is in the process re-orienting itself.”
“I love watershed moments in history” Tolstoy proclaimed. “However, my irritation always has been with the fact that the arbitrary selection by historians of the factors that shape up history are either political or economic, neglecting the inner sources which endow all watershed moments and may well be the main culprits of unfolding changes. I have said it before that the histories that exist represent only 0.001 percent of the elements which actually constitute the real history of peoples.”
The pilot announced at that moment that our flight had been diverted. Instead of Buenos Aires we would be landing in a remote field. He suggested that “for such a time as this” some precautionary measures are advised. Everyone reached for the parachute.
Happy New Year!