Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Social Trusts and the Shadow of Kershaw's History

The topic for the moment is social trust, with a side order of ethnic animosity.  I'm inspired by Roger Scruton's admirable essay in Prospect   where he defines social trust:
[S]ocial trust—the sense that we are bound to each other by a shared loyalty, and that we will stand by each other in emergencies. Social trust comes from shared language, shared customs, instinctive law-abidingness, procedures for resolving disputes and grievances, public spirit and the ability of the people to change their own government by a process that is transparent to them all.
I'm a huge fan of social trust, perhaps due to the fact I grew up in a place where nobody has bars on the windows and if   you dropped your wallet in the parking lot, you could be      pretty sure somebody would return it to you be evening.  We had one cop.  He was part time and if you got into mischief, I think he would have just called your mother.  It's the kind of thing you get (or we think you get) in Scandinavia, maybe Switzerland and New Zealand, possibly parts of Canada.

But my attitude was not always so benign,  In truth I found the home place boring and was desperate to cut myself loose.  I dreamt of getting to Damon Runyon's New York (I   never got there, perhaps because it did not exist). In adulthood' I've had the good luck to sojourn in a lot of places but I've often said that my vacation of choice would be Izmir in  1912 before the expulsion of the Greeks and the murder of the Armenians.   Which is to say, I like social trust but I              also like "diversity"--a word whose modern meaning did not, in my youth, so much as exist.

But thar's the problem, isn't it?  "[S]hared language, shared  customs."  Really?  Do we need shared language, shared customs?  Put othe other way round, can we build social trust without them?  I must say, I certainly hope so.   I want a woworld where we can have it both ways.  And this is where Ian Kershaw comes in, via his splendid history of inter alia,  the restructuring of Europe in the aftermath of World War I.  

You can see where this is going.  Retrieve your old history notes from your mental storage-bank and you'll recall how the post-War period experienced (a) an efflorescence of creative nationalism; plus (b) a wave of venomous hostility to anything perceived as outside the particular nationalist model.

The famous Wilsonian program of self-determination turned into a cruel hoax.  Italians grabbed Germans.  Germans inflicted themselves Czechs.  Romanians got Hungarians and Hungary got Slovaks.  Russians, no thanks to President Wilson, gained and kept just about everybody in sight.  And nobody understood the Balkans (as usual).  Indeed, the places that accomplished most by way of establishing ethnic homogeneity were those in which it was done by brute strength--think Greece and Turkey.  Some of these restructuring stood the test  of time better than others.

Some of these new orderings proved durable--Italy still has its Germans today.  Others lasted a long time.  But remember what happened in the Balkans in the 90s. No, don't remember it, the whole fiasco is just too unpleasant.  

I don't mean this to be the end of the story.  I certainly don't want it to be.  But it does seem that establishing social trust across cultural boundaries is a challenge enough to daunt the best of us.  I'll try to think about it some more, but meanwhile, will somebody turn off the damn TV?  (Bleak joke.  We don't have TV, which means we are safe from the GOP convention).


Ebenezer Scrooge said...

It's easy to build social trust without shared language or customs. Just have shared enemies! Oh, wait . . .

joel said...

The novels of Dawn Powell will give you a New York to savor, IMHO