Neutrality – The Case for Sustainable Commerce – Part II



The progressive refinement of neutral principles over the centuries became a hallmark 20th Century global international protocols. It didn’t end conflict. That was neither the hope nor the aim of neutrality. It did, however, help to sustain and govern important aspects of international commerce through conflicts as ranging and intense as two World Wars.

What is the fundamental difference between engaging in commerce compared to engaging in conflict?  Even in the height of conflict, warriors know the war will eventually end, and they focus relentlessly on an ultimate outcome in the form of winners and losers.  In contrast, commerce is based in the objective of sustainability, a never ending supply of profitable transactions in which mutual gains will ensure an endless stream of transactions.

Neutrality is and has been a diplomatic “Option C,” where a choice between Options A or B demanded conversion of friends and customers into a theater of enemies and allies. Neutrals and the associated codes of conduct deal with establishing non-alignment, meaning not taking sides with combatants in a conflict.  The flip side of that coin is establishing clear alignment all other parties, where possible, to facilitate sets of stringent rules for sustained profitable commerce during but separate from intense conflict.

Neutrality is decidedly not an analogue to the early Keynesian concept under which he proposed that free trade itself would create sufficient political reluctance to disrupt trading, and would tend to reduce international aggression and war.  The threat of turning lucrative customers into mortal enemies would seem a natural disincentive.  Yet, Britain, France and Germany were among the strongest of trade partners prior to 1914. [4]  So much for that theory.  As Europe and the world would experience firsthand, “The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny.”

Rather than acting as a deterrent, neutrality instead served to sustain free trade to the extent possible for both neutrals and belligerents alike despite the intense worldwide conflicts.  Though not without difficulty, neutral commerce survived, despite direct and sometimes formidable challenges to the policy. The formal protocols of the neutrality option have proven durable enough to have transcended more than a millennium of geopolitical folds and faults, having had at least some stabilizing effect on commerce in desperate times.

Could it do the same for culture? Can organizations use the Principle of Neutrality to have a stabilizing effect on their businesses, despite the ongoing and often intense intercultural conflict outside of their organizations?  In what context might it be framed?

Albert Weeks, Professor Emeritus of International Relations at New York University, disagreed with Sam Huntington’s reckoning that “Civilizations” of aggregated cultures constituted the new macro filter for understanding global conflict. Weeks, however, most certainly understood and acknowledged the state of the global cultural union. Inferring culture as equating to a “fault line,” Weeks states:

[Huntington’s] endeavor, however, has its own fault lines. The lines are the borders encompassing each distinct nation state and mercilessly chopping the alleged civilizations into pieces. With the cultural and religious glue of these “civilizations” thin and cracked, with the nation state’s political regime providing the principal bonds, crisscross fracturing and cancellation of Huntington’s own macro-scale, somewhat anachronistic fault lines are inevitable.

Some might feel that Weeks’ argument seemed to offer subtle support the very point that Huntington espoused.  Either way, Weeks’ direct reference to the “cultural and religious glue of these “civilizations” [being] thin and cracked,” could be viewed as a jumping-off point for examining some form of address as an economic approach to the fractious quality of the international cultural landscape.  Weeks actually implies, though perhaps unintentionally, that political boundaries play a dual role as cultural fault lines as well. The overlapping relationship of culture to codes of conduct in war and commerce under the strains of cultural and diplomatic differences, based on Weeks’ perspective, fits nicely with the idea of cultural neutrality in concept, if not currently in practice.

Weeks also referenced French philosopher Raymond Aron, who wrote, “men have believed that the fate of cultures was at stake on the battlefields at the same time as the fate of provinces.” [1]  That would be correct, where any culture has all of its eggs in a single national basket.  This writing of Aron, completed well before the advent of borderless global terrorism and asymmetric warfare, of course held to Aron’s traditional view of civilizations and the one-to-one relationship between a nation-state and a culture. [2] However, he had already begun to wrestle with civilizations that did not quite fit within the confines of his stated ideal.

“The ideal type of a national state is a political unit all of whose citizens belong to the same culture and wish to live in an autonomous community. An imperial state is one that is imposed, usually by conquest, on people of different languages and cultures. WE should probably add to this list at least a third ideal type—that of the federal state (Switzerland, for example), which involves neither homogeneity of culture nor imposed power. Moreover, our first two ideal types are never completely put into practice, and it is difficult to assign cases that fall between the two categories to either one or the other.” [3]

Apparently finding it “difficult to assign cases that fall between the two categories,” or even outside of them both, Aron may have found the greatest challenge with Huntington’s views precisely because of the rigidity of his stance that cultures are best served when their bounds are coterminous with their historic national borders. The inside-out notion of one or more countries, or worse yet, parts of countries transcending geographical bounds and clinging to a soft-bordered creeping cultural jurisdiction was apparently a little too messy for Aron’s sensibilities.

Aron’s view of the conflict structures of the times fell well within the ‘international blocs’ framework of his experience “that sovereign states “are engaged in a competition for power [and] conquests …. In our times the major phenomenon [on the international scene] is the heterogeneity of state units [not] supranational aggregations.“” He had not foreseen that globalization also represented a form of ‘cultural portfolio diversification‘ in which even the demise of an entire nations might no longer mean the disappearance of their entire cultural artifact.

For the purposes of a CultureNeutral® view, the important issue here is not who is right or wrong on the existence of civilizations comprising cultures rather than blocs.  Rather, Weeks, Aron and Huntington all agree that national sovereignty (governance) is categorically different and separable from cultural sovereignty, as clearly as are church and state. Those two can be and are in some nations fully integrated as theocracies, for example. Yet, their members can travel and move permanently from their national sovereigns, and the within what Aron refers to as “their host country,” retain their cultural identities and all that goes with them. All would seem to concur that it is neither an international mandate nor the modern natural order of things that political and cultural sovereigns are organically or intrinsically inextricable…even Raymond Aron.

Aron accurately describes the primacy of a nation-state’s political integrity, independence, inviolable territoriality and sovereign impermeability.  It is the case that nations aren’t the only entities that have inviolable sovereign borders, and certainly not the only entities that experience conflict.  Do cultures enjoy equivalents? Aron himself  in his Memoirs (1983) begins to bifurcate citizenship, doing more than merely implying cultural allegiance, citizenship and sovereignty that transcends national borders.

Reason would prevail over conviction if Jews today aspired to integration, if their Jewishness remained wholly spiritual. From the moment that their consciousness binds them to Israel, a State among others even if it presents certain particularities, non-Jewish Frenchmen have the right to ask to which political community they belong. As long as humanity is divided between “States of power”, Jews of the diaspora, free to determine their destiny, must choose between Israel and their “host country,” that has become their nation [patrie]. Citizens of the French Republic, they legitimately maintain their spiritual or moral ties with Israelis, but, if those ties with Israel become political and take precedence over French citizenship, they should logically choose Israeli citizenship.”

In tandem with his observation on loyalties, Aron clearly holds to the idea that “sovereign states “are engaged in a competition for power [and] conquests.”  Aron might logically ask, then, if there are equivalencies in cultures, as Huntington contends, then for what do cultures vie? That, on the face of it, is an existential question.

Come with us to: Neutrality – The Case for Sustainable Commerce – Part III

or:  Return to Part I


Copyright © 2013 Robert D. Jones – All Rights Reserved

[1] Raymond Aron, “Peace & War: A Theory of International Relations,” (2003 Edition), p. 295, Originally published in 1966

[2] Eventually leading to the September 11, 2001 and 1993 terrorist attacks on the New York City World Trade Center

[3] Aron, Raymond. The Dawn of Universal History: Selected Essays from a Witness to the Twentieth Century. Basic Books. 2003

[4] Donald Markwell, John Maynard Keynes and International Relations: Economic Paths to War and Peace. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. xv + 320 pp. $85 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-19-829236-8.

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