Politics and Civilization

William Pfaff, syndicated political columnist for the International Herald Tribune (Paris), is probably the most perceptive writer in the world today on European affairs, particularly as they affect and are affected by American policy. He is not as much of a political philosopher as some others, like Jacques Ellul and the late Bertrand de Jouvenel, but he has an amazingly detailed grasp of history spanning continents and millennia nevertheless.

Pfaff is particularly alert to all aspects of the political situation in Germany and Central Europe. He has a high appreciation of the value of the multinational societies that we smashed in World War I: Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. His thesis is that nationalism is a phenomenon of recent origin, having first arisen in England and France in the course of the Hundred Years War. In the history of Europe, according to Pfaff, nationalism has frequently been a disruptive and destructive force, most recently in the breakup of what used to be Yugoslavia.

Pfaff thinks that America's naive commitment to democracy as we understand it and to national self-determination has caused it to make frequent blunders whose effects on the peace of nations will be far-reaching. The principle of self-determination, which was so exalted by Woodrow Wilson during and after World War I, required the breakup of what had been two fairly harmonious societies in the prewar period, Austria-Hungary...

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