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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

For anyone confused by Eastern Christianity: As an Arab guy in diaspora, I have spent a lot of time hanging out with both Eastern Catholics (mostly Maronite and Chaldean, but also some Coptic Catholics and Greek-rite Melkite Catholics) and Orthodox (mostly Coptic, but my roommate sophomore year of college was an Eastern Orthodox Palestinian), even though I’m neither myself. This is the distinction I’ve found (mostly from that roommate, who ended up getting a degree in theology):

"Catholic" v "Orthodox" is about polity, i.e. who gets to call the shots in the church. More specifically, it’s whether you think the Pope is the Top Christian and everyone (who's Christian) should listen to him, or if he’s just the Patriarch of the Latin Church who deserves respect but is just another top prelate among many others.

The rite thing is about what you actually say and do in church. It turns out the Pope doesn’t really care what you actually do in church day to day as long as you recognize him as Top Christian and doesn’t deviate from Church doctrine. Eastern Orthodoxy has pretty much exactly the same doctrine as Catholicism outside of the pope thing (and maybe the filioque), so all an Orthodox church needs to change to become "Catholic" is say "ok we recognize the Pope as Top Christian now" and they’re now Catholics. But if you walked in, you’d be forgiven if you thought they were Orthodox. ("Rite" is usually also about liturgical language, but ever since the Vatican II switch to the vernacular for Latin-rite churches, this distinction is a bit blurrier.)

NOTE: None of this addresses Eastern v. Oriental Orthodoxy, which is a whole 'nother can of worms.

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I suppose the thing to add is the political/historical reasoning for Eastern Catholics.

If you go back to the Late (ie Christian) Roman Empire, there were five Christian Patriarchs, the four most important cities of the Empire (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople) and Jerusalem (for obvious religious/symbolic reasons; Jerusalem was always the least powerful). The power struggles of the four non-Jerusalem Patriarchs took place in both theology and hierarchy, but they also each developed their own rites (formal rituals of the church): Latin, Greek, Syriac and Coptic. Other languages would adopt one of the four rites, usually translating (some would mix several rites together) - the exception here is Armenians who already had their own (Armenia became Christian before Rome did and was never subject to a Roman patriarch).

After the Muslim conquests of Antioch (638), Jerusalem (637) and Alexandria (641), and the independence of Rome (756), the three Patriarchs in Muslim territory became largely irrelevant. Rome was a small independent state, but was religiously in charge of a vast and growing patriarchate in the west. As a result, it built a position that the Pope was Top Christian and that was that, as accepting that political boundaries could be religious boundaries would restrict the Pope to having authority over just a small part of central Italy.

Constantinople was subject to the Emperor, but the remaining Empire was still huge (all of modern Turkey, Greece and much of Bulgaria, plus Cyprus, bits of Italy, and Crimea) and the Patriarch retained authority over Christians in Muslim lands (of which there were still very many, conversion took centuries) - the nominal Patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem were dependent on the Emperor and Constantinople.

As a result, the Emperors started to make the political concession of an independent Patriarch to other states so that they could have their own Emperor-Patriarch relationship much like he did with Constantinople. The result was the Bulgarian, Georgian, Serbian and Russian Orthodox Patriarchs for those then-independent states.

After the fall of Constantinople (1453) and the Ottoman conquests of Bulgaria and Serbia, only the Russian Patriarch (founded in Kiev in 988, moved from Kiev to Vladimir in 1299 and then to Moscow in 1325) was truly independent, and the Moscow Patriarchate started to regard itself as the effective head of the Eastern Church much like Rome was the head of the West. It was officially a "Major Archbishop" until 1448 and Constantinople didn't recognise it as an (equal) Patriarch until 1589.

So, when a huge chunk of Orthodox Ukraine came to be under Catholic Poland-Lithuania, they decided (under no lack of political pressure) to join themselves to be under the Pope rather than the Patriarch of Moscow - Moscow did not offer the option of forming themselves into their own Patriarchate as perhaps Constantinople might have done. The result was the Ruthenian Uniate Church, now the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

When Russia conquered Ukraine, they suppressed the "Uniates", as they called them, and mostly succeeded in forcing them to convert (back?) to Orthodoxy. Note that the only practical difference was who your priest's boss was; you still went to the same church and followed the same rituals every Sunday.

The Russian Empire suppressed the independent Patriarch of Georgia, and they weren't truly independent again until national independence in 1991. Ukraine's Orthodox church was briefly independent in 1921 (during a period of national independence during the Russian Civil War) and that survived in exile and underground. A second independent Ukrainian Orthodox church was founded on independence in 1991; the two independent churches (each with their own Patriarch) finally managed to merge in 2018 and their head was downgraded from a Patriarch to a Major Archbishop in exchange for their recognition by the Patriarch of Constantinople (new independent churches are normally headed by a Major Archbishop or Metropolitan Archbishop, e.g. Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Poland, Czechoslovakia; only Romania (1925) has formed a new Patriarchate since the Russians). Moscow still doesn't recognise the independence ("autocephaly") of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and runs its own non-independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

There are a bunch of other Eastern Catholics; they are a mix of breakaways from other Orthodox churches ("Greek Catholic", or "Greek Byzantine" churches), breakaways from Oriental Orthodox churches (Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Syriac) and some fractions of Christians in the Middle East who never really accepted the local (Antioch, Constantinople) patriarchs in the first place (Maronites, Melikites).

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Oh, and "Oriental Orthodox":

Remember I said that Antioch and Alexandria and Rome and Constantinople had fights about theology as well as hierarchy?

Well, those were also fights within the Alexandria and Antioch churches, and Rome and Constantinople worked with the ultimately winning factions within them, but they didn't manage to suppress the losing sides. The losing side in Antioch were anathematized as "Nestorians" and eventually founded the national church of Persia ("the Church of the East"). The losing side in Alexandria were anathematized as "Monophysites", but were still dominant with the local population, forming the Coptic and Syriac Churches. These would eventually go into communion with the Armenian Church (which developed entirely separately from these churches inside the Roman Empire) as the Oriental Orthodox. There are real theological differences between the three groupings - the Church of the East, the Oriental Orthodox and the Chalcedonians (which includes both the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholics - and most Protestants for that matter).

The Church of the East used to be huge, as it spread into India and formed a significant minority within the Mongol Empire. However, the fragmentation of the Mongols completely screwed it over, as Muslim Khans forced/incentivised conversion and the population collapsed. There is still a distinct (Assyrian) Church of the East, but most of the few remaining adherents have formed into one of the Eastern Catholic churches - the Chaldean Church, accepting the Chalcedonian theology but retaining their Syriac rite.

Oriental Orthodoxy was mostly in lands conquered early by Islam, but is still dominant in Armenia, and the Coptic branch converted Ethiopia, so the Ethiopian Church is Oriental Orthodox (and the Eritrean church declared independence from the Ethiopian when national independence came in 1991). The main Coptic branch (in Egypt) and Syriac branch (in Syria and the neighbouring countries) have both been persecuted off and on for centuries and are relatively small minorities.

The Church of the East and the Syriac Oriental Orthodox Church originally both used the same Syriac rite, but that split resulted in the rites being different enough that the Church of the East's is the East Syriac Rite and the Syriac Oriental Orthodox's is the West Syriac Rite (originally also used by the Eastern Orthodox Antioch Patriarchate). There are various breakaway Eastern Catholic churches that use both of these rites.

Aside: the Eastern Orthodox, unlike the Catholics, do not acknowledge that there are six ancient Rites of the church (Latin/Roman, Byzantine/Greek, Armenian, West Syriac, East Syriac and Coptic/Alexandrian), but rather hold that each autocephalous church can develop its own liturgy/rite as it chooses. However, in practice, they all use the Byzantine/Greek rite.

There is also the mess that is Malabar - the "Saint Thomas Christians" in that province of India. They claim to have been founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle. Lacking the political power to suppress theological disagreements ("heresies"), they have ended up with just about every possible combination: two Eastern Catholic churches (one West Syriac, one East), three separate oriental Orthodox churches, a Church of the East branch, three separate episcopal Protestant churches (one Anglican, one Lutheran and one Reformed), as well as a bunch of non-episcopal Protestant churches that retain parts of the Syriac ritual. Only the Eastern Orthodox aren't represented there (possibly because the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch gave up on the ancient Syriac rite and switched to the Byzantine Rite in the tenth century).

Both the Church of the East and the Oriental Orthodox reject their designation as "Nestorian" and "Monophysite" respectively, the Oriental Orthodox call themselves "Miaphysite", while the Church of the East denies that it is different from the Chalcedonian tradition - they say that the Chalcedonians (Greek or Latin speakers) don't understand Syriac properly.

The formal difference is that they both agree that Christ has two natures and one person, but the Church of the East says he has two qnome (a Syriac word) and the Chalcedonians that he has one hypostasis (a Greek word), and the Church of the East says that those are different things while the Chalcedonians say that qnoma is just a translation of hypostasis and therefore the Church of the East are heretics. Nestorius, who spoke Greek, said there were two hypostases, which is where the whole "Nestorianism" thing comes from.

Miaphysites say that Christ had two natures that are united as one, while Chalcedonians say that they are united but still distinct (monophysites say that he had only one nature).

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founding

Thanks for all this detail! I've known most of these terms just as words on the religion layer in the map while playing Crusader Kings III, so it's nice to know much more about the actual history and theology here!

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Incidentally, if you ever wonder why any of this matters, the fundamental reason is that Christ's sacrifice on the Cross has to be meaningful.

Jesus Christ is the Word, and the Word is eternal, so it cannot die on the Cross.

If Christ is simply divine, wearing his body like humans wear clothes, then there is no sacrifice on the Cross, he just sheds his body.

But if he is just human, then his death on the Cross is no different from anyone else's death.

So he must be both divine and human, so that the divine cares about the death of the human. Yet, if he is entirely combined (this is Eutychianism, the most extreme monophysitism) then he ends up being not really human either, but a new thing that is a combination of divine and human (at which point, how can He be the same as God the Father?)

And now you can see how you end up with arguments about how the combination can work. You'll note that over time both the Oriental Orthodox and the Church of the East edge away from the two cliffs of pure separation (Nestorianism) and pure combination (Eutychianism), but come up with different formulations of exactly how the divine and human are combined but also separate from the Chalcedonian (Catholic/Orthodox) answer.

Note that this is only really an issue if you hold that Jesus was God (the Son); if you abandon the Trinity and hold that Jesus is merely the son of God and not God the Son, then the idea that the divine (but lesser than God) Jesus died on the Cross is entirely OK. God's son died on the Cross and was resurrected by God works fine. That's the Arian position. The problem is that it directly contradicts the first chapter of the Gospel of John ("In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God....And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us"). You can resolve that by decanonising that Gospel (Arians never accepted it), but throwing out entire books of the Bible is mostly seen as a bit much.

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Also useful to note here that recently (i.e. since the 90s I think?), some scholars (including some Miaphysites) have come to consider the possibility that there's not much of an intellectually coherent distinction between the Miaphysite position and the Chalcedonian one, i.e. that they're two different ways of saying the same thing. Not that this has much practical effect, of course. (This is half-remembered from something a Coptic acquaintance told me.)

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If you take the position that the vast majority of Christians take - Jesus was, in some sense, both human and divine, and that those are neither entirely separate nor entirely merged - then it's pretty easy to see the case that all three positions are difficult to distinguish.

But I do think that this is driven by the modern empiricist epistemological position that ancient scholars definitely did not accept - that the exact nature of God is, by nature, ineffable. Ancient scholars very definitely think that you can explain reality by philosophy, where moderns tend to believe in empirical testing or faith, neither of which are suited to reaching definitive conclusions about the nature of God.

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The upshot is that there are currently three different Greek Rite churches in Ukraine: the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (under the Pope), the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (autocephalous, in communion with all other Eastern Orthodox except the Russians) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (self-governing but not autocephalous, under the Russian Orthodox Church, in communion with all other Eastern Orthodox except the OCU, the Patriarchate of Constantinople and anyone else that recognises the OCU, so far that's Alexandria, Greece and Cyprus).

From the point of view of someone attending a church, you'd struggle to tell which one you are in, unless they do a sermon about the war.

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The Greek Church's position on OCU autocephaly is another interesting ding on the whole "Catholicism vs Orthodoxy" thesis.

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Hmmm. I've lived in Ukraine so got a few opportunities to go to Orthodox Churches. I'm no theologist but they feel extremely different from Catholicism as practiced in Western Europe.

They felt almost pagan, Roman cults with a Christian coating. Arguably, close to what Catholicism must have been in the Dark Ages, prior to the Reformation. Catholics may have rejected Protestantism but, ultimately, they were influenced/forced to evolve under its impact.

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The first time I attend an Orthodox Divine Liturgy, my reaction was “Wow, it’s almost like Christianity is a Mediterranean mystery cult from the first century.” But in a good way.

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Oh, they absolutely feel different. The heritage is actually Byzantine for most of the Eastern Churches, so I don't think "Dark Ages" is the best term; "medieval" (in a non-pejorative sense) is probably pretty accurate though. Did you ever have a chance to visit a Ukrainian Catholic church and compare?

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I meant Dark Ages as early medieval. No pejorative implication per se. Well. Hm. Maybe if the idea is to compare that period to Rome golden age or Renaissance but even there I'm well aware it's a complex topic and that things like personal hygiene were higher in medieval times than during Renaissance/early modern period.

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No, alas, I didn't. I visited one or two but not during service. I had a couple of Ukrainian catholic acquaintances (the nanny who worked for us was Ukrainian catholic) but not close enough to go to baptisms/marriages stuff.

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The music in Orthodox Christianity is so creepy in the best possible way.

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I believe there are a handful of other doctrinal differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy too, but most outside observers (at least in America) would view the two churches as being much more similar to each other than either is to Protestantism. However, many Orthodox Christians would disagree with that and instead see Protestantism and Catholicism as being much more similar to each other than either is to Orthodoxy.

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founding

Biologists might say that contemporary Catholics and Protestants form a clade, but that Protestantism has a lot of additional mutations beyond the one that separated the western clade from the eastern clade, so that the relatively basal Catholics are morphologically a lot more like the Orthodox. They're like lungfishes, who are in the same clade as the tetrapods (land vertebrates) despite looking a lot more like the other fishes.

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That may be true, but if you compare the list of core Catholic teachings and core Eastern Orthodox teachings—the creeds, primarily—they’re pretty much the same and that’s what matters for the distinction between Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic. The reason the Eastern Catholics can be Catholic and look so Orthodox is that there just isn’t that much of a difference in the theology—or more precisely, that Orthodox positions are within the bounds of acceptable difference within Catholicism—and the Pope doesn’t care whether these churches continue to follow Eastern ritual so long as they’re still listening to him on policy.

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This view of centering explicit beliefs and creeds is what an Orthodox Christian would describe as the primary thing making Catholicism and Protestantism so similar. An Orthodox person would probably point out that Orthodoxy is *vastly* more interested in mysticism and direct experience than the academic ruminations over beliefs and theology (and, notably, this is one of the big differences between the Latin rite and the Eastern Catholics as well)

Of course, I think that distinction only matters at the level of really committed and intense belief. The external forms and explicit beliefs are probably more significant to your average layperson who is interested in Christianity as a cultural marker more than anything.

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I think that developed as a way of patching over doctrinal differences that the early Orthodox church had a lot of schisms and internal conflicts over, where Rome was able to take a specific doctrinal side and win decisively.

Indeed a large part of the history of the split between Rome and Constantinople is Rome anathematising people and excommunicating them, and Constantinople, while it generally agreed with Rome on the theological point, wanting to be more compromising and being less inclined to throw excommunications around.

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Very true, and interesting, but also goes to my point about why Eastern Catholics can exist. Because the Latin Church doesn’t have strong opinions on mystical direct experience stuff, you can believe in all that and still be Catholic.

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“Because the Latin Church doesn’t have strong opinions on mystical direct experience stuff, you can believe in all that and still be Catholic”

Related:

https://www.distractionmagazine.com/santeria-little-havana-big-charm/

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Interestingly, there's a convergence there on the "direct experience" point between Orthodoxy and certain newer-fangled American forms of Protestantism like Pentecostalism and a subset of nondenominational megachurches. But the two groups are so, so, so culturally alien from each other than there'd never be any kind of formal meeting of the minds.

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And Catholics don't care it you leave out the "filioque" (which we recognize as an addition to the Nicen Chalcedonian Creed, but a harmless one) whereas historically the Orthodox DID object to including it. Consequently, Catholics could receive communion in an Orthodox church, but not vice versa.

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IIRC, the Catholic version of the Creed in the Greek language still doesn't have the filioque in, which means it is literally word-for-word the same as the Orthodox.

There was some sort of effort at a compromise between the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch on the basis that is was a disagreement on translation from Greek to Latin rather than as being on substance - I think they actually agreed on that but still couldn't reinstate communion for other reasons.

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Are the "other reasons" the Pope thing or something more complicated?

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Papal Infallibility and the Immaculate Conception are theological disagrements, and the other is the question of whether the Patriarch of Rome has a primacy over the other Patriarchs that is only one of honor, or whether there is an authoritative difference.

Also, they need to deal with the multiple Patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria and Jerusalem (each one has a Greek Orthodox Patriarch, and Antioch has a Syriac Catholic, a Melkite Catholic and a Maronite, Alexandria also has a Coptic Catholic, and Jerusalem has a Latin Patriach; the Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch also claims both Alexandria and Jerusalem), and the Catholic church would have to acknowledge the non-ancient Orthodox Patriarchs (Bulgaria, Georgia, Serbia, Russia, Romania) as being Patriarchs.

And probably a bunch more things that I don't know about.

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Woah, this is some hyper local insight I can appreciate.

(lapsed RC who grew up in Dearborn)

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Yeah, these days Sterling Heights is a Chaldean colony; my mom loves going to the Middle-Eastern-goods supermarket they opened because it's closer than Dearborn. The Maronites and other Lebanese (and Palestinians) mostly stayed in Dearborn--except for the rich ones who moved to West Bloomfield. (This is true of both Christian and Muslim Lebanese/Palestinians.) The Copts are heavily concentrated in Troy because that's where their big church is.

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Which is a real change from a couple decades ago. My wife grew up there and it was colloquially called Sterile Whites.

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I actually chuckled out loud at that one. I think I remember my dad using that phrase once. (He came over in the 70s and so is familiar.)

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Greetings, fellow SE Michigan native!

(lapsed RC who grew up near Dearborn, whose mother grew up in Dearborn, and whose father worked at Ford NAAO in Dearborn; these kinds of side discussions always make me smile)

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

Lol yup—plus Troy for the Copts. But the roommate was actually from Jackson, funnily enough.

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“The PRC is a fundamentally more formidable entity than Putin’s Russia, and I think we’re a long way from getting a grip on what to do about it.”

For the moment, allow its own internal contradictions to play out while we prevent it from playing conquistador in East Asia.

There’s no way to know exactly how the current challenges facing the Chinese state, and the interplay between a citizenry that’s come to expect quite a bit of economic freedom and yearly improvement and a centralizing, totalizing state will play out, so let’s not try just yet.

The current posture taken by the US is probably close to correct as a holding pattern, so long as we can get Germany to be serious about its role and that of the EU.

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Noah Smith just had a great newsletter about the problems with the PRC

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What Hu Wei advocates is essentially a reversion to the pre-2012 (possibly even pre-2008) mean, in which the CCP gradually softens into the PAP or LDP and China evolves into a country with enough goodwill and trust abroad to gently wrest the reigns of global leadership from the US when it's wealthy enough and the latter has botched something big enough.

There was, from 1995 to 2010 or so, every reason to expect that the CCP's upper echelons would be content stuffing a ton of money in their pockets and softening their grip on absolute power in favor of a one-party democratic arrangement in which their successors left them alone while squabbling for power within the Party instead of without.

Then, somehow, a true believer ended up in charge. We'll see what happens after he dies, hey?

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"The PRC is a fundamentally more formidable entity than Putin’s Russia, and I think we’re a long way from getting a grip on what to do about it."

Outgrow it. A US with 1 billion people (or even fewer) would dwarf China's GDP, especially if lots of the additional people came from China.

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Cut ties and turn it into a giant North Korea. And, if they're happy like that, it's perfect. No one has to enjoy western decadence and freedoms. They can all stay hard as wood, pure of mind and willing to sacrifice their children for the greater glory of the PCR. We'll enjoy our lattes, our animes and our polyamorous relationships.

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I'll be the first to admit that the chances of this are slim, but everything else -- trade wars and industrial policy -- would only make things worse.

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I think one of the fun boondoggles in "Clash..." is the lumping of Europe with the English speaking worlds, which is not something I think most people in Europe would agree with. Indeed, Britain's weird place in the world makes more sense if you see it as a cleft country between the English-speaking and European worlds.

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founding

I think there's something important about a continuum between the English speaking colonies, then the UK/Ireland, then the non-German Germanic speakers (Netherlands and Scandinavia), and then the German speakers, and then the Romance speakers.

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Maybe...that was a common theory at the turn of the 20th century, with Germany seen as the third Anglo-Saxon power along with Britain and America in the minds of some British Imperialists. I'm not convinced it really fits given that how long the migration waves into Britain were, and that modern-day Germany is dominated by areas other than those that were historically close to Britain

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I'm sad that https://nativebriton.wordpress.com/ was so short lived

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I lol'd.

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I was confused by the blue and green "countries currently sanctioning Russia" map you had since I thought South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore are all imposing sanctions on Russia now, which goes against the point that this is a "western" thing. Later in the piece you confirm that South Korea has imposed sanctions.

Turns out that map represents the *2014* sanctions imposed after Russia's annexation of Crimea and NOT the current sanctions imposed after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It's at the top of this wikipedia article[1], which is confusing, but it's clearly labeled.

You should fix this labeling since the way it is now muddles your point about whether it's the west vs. Russia or democracies/developed countries vs. Russia.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_sanctions_during_the_Russo-Ukrainian_War

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This should be updated to reflect 2022 sanctions: https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/hbh4c/1/

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This is really useful, but some corrections:

Slovakia and Cyprus are in the EU and should be shown as such.

Kosovo, Albania and North Macedonia all joined the sanctions

https://europeanwesternbalkans.com/2022/02/28/north-macedonia-kosovo-albania-join-sanctions-on-russia-montenegro-announces-them/

Montenegro has announced it will, and then reversed itself several times.

Bosnia's efforts to join the sanctions were vetoed by the Serbian member of its collective presidency, and Serbia is not involved in sanctions.

Greenland is governed by Danish sanctions.

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Note that Albania's participation means that many yachts in the Med can only head for Montenegro or Bosnia, both of which have very short coastlines and very limited port facilities - or else they have to cross to the African side, or take the long journey east to probably Turkey, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or Israel.

TRNC is the most politically safe option; it's often been a place where fugitives of various sorts have been able to hide.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

Great piece. Definitely think there's something of a Huntingtonian reasoning to a lot of the arguments before the war that NATO expansion was bad and that we should abandon Ukraine to Russia's sphere of influence. It appears natural if you've already intellectually consigned Ukraine to Russia's orbit, especially if you're unaware of the centuries of tension, conflict and outright oppression between the two countries that accompanied periods of partnership.

Separately, it's worth noting that although Ukraine and Russia might poll for similar levels of belief, Ukraine is a much more religious society in terms of devotion and practice. Church attendance is much higher in Ukraine, partly as unlike Russia the churches have always been independent of state power.

The granting of the 'Tomos' by the Ecumenical Patriarch in 2018 that officially granted autocephaly - independence and autonomy - to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was also a massive deal. It accomplished three things - first it fatally weakened the power of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine. Second, it united the competing Orthodox churches in Ukraine into a single, mainstream denomination.

And third, the Tomos specifically broke the idea that there is an Orthodox bloc. The Russian Orthodox Church broke from Constantinople and the rest of the Orthodox world in a huff, unable to accept that Ukraine was a country with a church that was separate to Russia. It was more important to Russia that it was able to try to boss Ukraine around than to be part of a wider cultural and religious community of nations with shared interests and values.

In this we see the true seeds of the present war - that while Russia may have believed that Ukraine was part of an Orthodox - and therefore Russian - civilization, Huntington was wrong. Ukraine has always been Ukraine, and nothing more or less than that.

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I mean, Ukraine and Russia (along with Belarus) were once the exact same polity, the Kievan Rus. So it’s just not true that Ukraine has always been Ukraine. Not that that justifies war.

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To be fair, if you want to go back to the Kievan Rus, that arguably means that (part of) Russia used to be Ukrainian--- not that Ukraine wasn't Ukraine. (That said, I don't think that going back so far really makes sense in this context.)

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Ukraine should be called "Russia" (for the Kievan Russ; now those dudes were BAD!) and Russia "Muscovy." :)

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I think there is something to the basic idea of a "civilizational" dynamic, but I think Huntington was dead wrong about what constitutes a multi-national civilization and why they come about. Certainly his fixation on religion is, to be honest, totally bizarre. Religion has had only a modest influence on great power politics for the last 200 years, and while it is one of the things that *can* provide glue for civilizational coalitions, it exercises that influence to a smaller and smaller degree. "Culture", traditionally conceived as being similarities in language and folkways is also not a useful barometer here.

The big piece missing from his analysis is *speed*. Because civilizations developed and fell so slowly throughout history it's easy to think that it is an intrinsically slow phenomenon. But if we look, we can see this process getting faster and faster over time. Mesopotamian civilization was beholden to the Sumerian cultural milieu for several thousand years, but France and Germany went from being distinct civilizations locked in a blood feud to being part of a united European identity very quickly.

With the advent of the internet, modern capitalism, etc. civilizations grow and shrink rapidly. The battleground is not necessarily formal but more of a hidden contestation of "pseudo-empires". The "West" is a real civilization, but its borders are not sharp and clearly delineated -- and they can change FAST. There is a Western core in Western Europe and North America, which is pretty stable, but the periphery of the pseudo-empire is not nearly so stable and waxes and wanes. Ultimately the formal alignment of a state with other states is only a part (and a smallish one at that) of this process. It's just as much economic and cultural.

China, likewise, wants to build an opposing pseudo-empire rather than continue to allow the tendrils of a seductive West to lure its people into submitting before they even know what has happened. This is probably bad for those people, and the West, but probably good for long-term permanence of a distinctive Chinese civilization with distinctive values. This is ultimately the biggest effect of Western social media being largely cut off in China -- part of it is censorship, sure, but part of it is just preventing Western cultural tendrils from taking root. You can see this in Xi's latest attempts to root out Japanese cultural influence in Chinese media. The Chinese pseudo-empire is not quite as interested in recruiting new member-states as the Western pseudo-empire, but it is expanding pretty quickly as well. In twenty or thirty years' time, I think we will find a pretty clearly understood set of countries that have decided to fully join the Chinese imperial core rather than continue to be sites of contestation between the two factions at the periphery of both.

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Which countries do you expect will voluntarily or involuntarily join the Chinese imperial core besides Taiwan? It will be a big deal if China takes back Taiwan, but it would be an even bigger historical moment if they try to do what Russia is doing to the Ukraine: conquer an internationally recognized independent country.

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Russia, certainly. Putin's death looms large over the future of the country and, barring something dramatic, it will be left adrift without a real prospect for independently cutting a "third path". This will be semi-voluntary. Voluntary in the sense that I doubt it will be through military force, involuntary in that I don't know they really have any other options (again, unless some kind of dramatic transformation happens that makes joining the West more comprehensible).

I think certain Central Asian countries will probably join in as well. As China's economy further develops, it will have need for trading partners handling some of the basic pieces of its supply chain.

I anticipate things will begin changing in North Korea sometime in the next few decades as well. At the moment, China is happy to simply have it as a deranged client state and is content to basically ignore it otherwise. However, as China's development continues, it's going to want NK to begin developing in earnest. I highly doubt Beijing is thrilled to have a reasonably populous and mineral-rich ally being more or less totally useless.

In general, I think the Chinese strategy will simply be to begin integrating and picking off nations that the West for one reason or another has scorned. This process has already begun in various parts of Africa and Latin America and I anticipate that in a few decades it will have matured, with those countries being clearly tied to China in the same way that e.g. Cuba was tied to the USSR.

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I just hasten to add that being picked off and tied to China is different than being integrated and I think it will be a really crappy deal for those countries so I don't see that trend going very far. So we'll see.

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I tend towards the same skepticism as mpowell does.

I don't believe, and none of the evidence suggests, that the Chinese Party-state is currently capable of providing the sort of benign or even benevolent leadership that allowed the Europeans, Japanese, Koreans, and others to grow into wealthy powers and even sometimes independent power poles within the American informal empire. What it wants, at present, are effectively tributaries and raw material suppliers, not allies and economic partners.

It is not yet rich and has not yet climbed the value chain far enough to feel terribly comfortable shipping lower-value-added processes abroad and building the sort of friendly economic constellations that the US, Germany, and Japan in particular have erected around and between themselves.

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Well, those are some interesting predictions. I guess we'll see how it goes.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

I think it would be hard to come up with a concrete definition of civilization that implies France and Germany are the same civilization without then further lumping in eastern Europe as part of Western civilization. I guess if you were solely interested in social & material technologies they would be the same civilization, but they were religiously distinct (a matter which seemed enormously important at the time) and their self-image was as two very different (and hostile) peoples. They were economically and politically quite different as well -- Germany of course was highly decentralized until very late in the 19th century, and while France certainly had decentralized governance it was nevertheless a single, unified state.

I think it would make sense to characterize early modern Europe as having a northern Protestant civilization including Germany, the UK, the Nordics & friends, and a Catholic civilization including France, the Habsburg territories, Spain, the Italians, etc.

If you go earlier than that, you might see three distinctive civilizations in the medieval European period between the Frankish "barbarian" kingdoms, the Greek/Roman east, and the pagans. This to my point that civilizations are not insurmountable and eternal obstacles of history, but rather fairly contingent things that can rise and fall in ever-shorter amounts of time thanks to the rising levels of "historical speed". Just because e.g. Egyptian civilization was thousands of years old does not mean we need to find thousand year old roots in a German or French civilization.

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Thanks for the article. Feels like Part 1 to a Part 2 about how increasingly rich “West” and “China” may present competitive alternatives to those aspiring poor countries.

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I saw a talk last year by Admiral Dennis Blair (who used to command the US Pacific fleet). He thought this—peaceful competition—was the most likely course for US-China relations in the future.

Another course for China would be to straight up invade people—say, Taiwan, for starters. But Blair thinks that wouldn’t happen, since China knows it’s hard to do a naval invasion right on the first try. Before the success at Normandy (Operation Neptune), the US had floundered in North Africa (Operation Torch).

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I'd be interested in reading a Fukuyama-informed deep dive on what US policy toward Mexico ought to be. Mexico isn't a bad country to live in by any means in the grand scheme of things, but it really ought to be doing better.

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Can't you just read what Fukuyama himself says on the subject? He's a pretty prolific author and has written about Mexico many times over the years. Here's just one example:

https://www.the-american-interest.com/2009/03/23/mexico-and-the-drug-wars-2/

tl;dr

Massive increase border security and help reform the judicial system.

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I'm specifically interested in Matt's take on it.

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Nothing against Fukuyama! I just think Matt could come up with a well-written take of his own that looks at Fukuyama but also other povs. I subscribe for a reason, and also enjoy making demands as a paying customer.

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Same. Would like to hear more on it, but I think the rough answer for what US policy for Mexico and other Central American countries should be is laid out midway through this article. Just replace "Ukraine" with Mexico" and "Germany" with "United States" and maybe delete the word "auto":

"the path to riches for Ukraine was really clear: try to follow Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia into a closer trading relationship with Germany and enter the Germany-centric auto supply chain."

For similar reasons (and others) as this is an obvious path for Germany and pulling up poorer, less well governed countries on its periphery, I think it is for US and countries to our south.

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You arguably don't even have to delete the word "auto".

https://tradingeconomics.com/mexico/exports-by-category

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One argument I'd make here is that Mexico is too big.

In Central/Eastern Europe, there have been lots of separate countries, so when one of them gets a really corrupt leader (Iliescu in Romania, for instance), other countries become more successful and this constrains the ability of a bad leader or a highly corrupt oligarch to push too far. A bad President of Mexico can enable corruption right across the country - or cartelism for that matter. There's no way that a state governor in Mexico could resist the cartels and federal corruption locally in the way that a single President or Prime Minister can clean up corruption in a given Central/Eastern European country.

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One of the most amazing things to me is how many people migrated from Mexico to the US (more than 10 million!) and its population just kept on growing.

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I think this article is obviously correct about the lack of true civilizational or religious conflict. But China is this weird unique case. But what makes it the most weird and unique is just mainly the enormous size of China. With 1B people you don't need to have a very high GDP/capita to operate as a world power.

One of the big questions of the next 20-30 years is just how much more China can advance economically with their existing system.

But even aside from that, one of the weird aspects of the PRC is just how absolutely nationalist it is. There is no sense that China wants to export culture or values or really have any effect on the world, other than the suspicion they might gobble up their neighbors if given the opportunity. They can do a lot to increase their power and dominance on the world stage, but it is an inherently auto-isolating approach. This is less USSR and more Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. It is weird to have a world with 2 major powers interested in great power conflict (Russia and China), but the rest of the modern world essentially having rejected that notion.

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The demographic projections for China aren't great though. It will most likely begin to decrease in population before the US does. What effect this will have on the government, the economy, and fiscal state of the country, especially considering the massive debt they are piling up now, is at this point unknown, but it probably isn't good. There is something to the argument that we should just let China tumble on its own, because it probably doesn't need our help to do so.

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Yeah, I know about that. But a China with 700M people and a much larger per capita income would still be a very big deal. So I think we still have to think about the impact on the world of a very powerful China, not just hope the situation recedes quickly.

Yglesias has already made his case that the a great way to combat this is to take advantage of the interest in high skilled immigrants to move to the US (instead of China for example) and I agree with him completely on that question.

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Oh, I agree. We have to be careful about China right now. One major concern of mine are their advances in anti-ship and other ballistic missiles, which we appear to be behind on. If the US and China ever get into an actual war (hopefully not!), we probably won't be able use our greatest asset, our navy, anywhere west of Guam. We should also be diplomatically engaging many of the countries in east and south Asia, including India, so that they become more aligned with us instead of China. The TPP would have helped with this (it included Vietnam after all), but since that is no longer an option, we need to pursue other diplomatic opportunities.

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With regards to China, I think the US Navy should be investing heavily in more and better subs. Even as far back as WWII, it has always been incredibly dangerous to operate a surface fleet in range of land based air against a peer adversary but submarines definitely can. And I think the difference between the two has grown much larger since then based on the technological changes.

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And why is TPP not an option?

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I would love it if we joined the TPP, but no one in either party seems eager to do so. I think it is probably dead.

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WE are here to open the Overton Window of Progressive politics. :)

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See my response to mpowell below

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Yeah what did happen to the great clash with Islam of the aughts?

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Middle Eastern countries stopped using lead gas.

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deletedMar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022
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Also we killed a lot of the proponents of extremist political Islamism. (At the cost of also killing many thousands of other people too, but who's counting.)

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Yeah, the extent to which we made extreme political Islamism a very expensive and dangerous position should not be discounted. People who might have seen it as a way to political power are finding other avenues instead. The GWOT has been successful in that way even though it was a tremendously costly and clumsy method to achieve that.

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I think this is right but also there's more to the story than simply an endgame where it's "good government vs bad government". Branco Milanovic has a book Capitalism, Alone which outlines a new ideological struggle between two flavors of capitalism: Western style "liberal capitalism" and China style "political capitalism". And China appears to be making a big effort to export its version of governance to leaders of other countries, for example by giving them access to surveillance and internet censoring technologies while at the same time bringing them closer into their sphere of economic influence.

In general I think something that's absent from this sort of grand political science discourse is the idea that ideological possibility space supervenes on, is constrained by, and lags behind paradigmatic shifts in technology and industrial organization. You don't get the Enlightenment without the printing press, or Communism without the industrial revolution, or Fascism without radio and TV, or Chinese-style political capitalism without the internet. But since paradigmatic shifts are inherently impossible predict, it's therefore also impossible to predict what future ideological possibilities there will be in the future. Which I think poses real difficulties for "End of History" type arguments.

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I wonder how much Samuel Huntington was playing the computer game Civilisation when he came out with his theory? Has anybody else actually wondered this? Forty years ago, nobody thought Russia and Ukraine were Orthodox at all, but communist atheists. His whole theory strikes me as rubbish. "Sure, Korea and China have had major disputes over the centuries, but they all look alike and write a funny alphabet, so they are the same."

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Huntington struck me as more of a cribbage guy.

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founding

You might want to update a few of the side remarks about Serbia - they've actually voted against Russia and with the EU in several recent UN votes, rather than abstaining like India and Pakistan, or voting with Russia like Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

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I agree that Putin can probably be considered as an extra-large thug (a cartel but more so) --- especially given his connection to organized crime in the 90s. However, it's possible that there is an exportable ideology there. Say what you will about the neo-reactionary movement, but it is an ideology. Maybe Putin believes something along those lines. We can't read his mind.

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Certainly his many far-right fanboys in the West think so. An ideology doesn't have to be highly developed or even coherent to be influential.

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Agreed. That said, even many of his detractors think (or at least thought) that he’s playing n-dimensional chess, so I think many give him more credit than he deserves. I’m really curious if he thinks that he has an exportable ideology (and if so, if it lines up with his fanboys’ expectations).

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An interesting question. I don't think so but I'm not sure. His foreign clients don't have much obvious commonality. Trump and Farage do with each other but not with Assad. And I'm not aware that he's supported, even rhetorically, rightist authoritarians like Duterte and Bolsonaro outside what he perceives as his sphere of influence (I could be wrong here), which suggests he's practicing realpolitik, albeit clumsily.

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If you told me "The End of History" was a buzzfeed headline, I would have believed you.

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