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We Are Not Alone In An Unfriendly Universe

Coen van Wyk

Posted on January 27, 2019 09:43

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No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less… John Donne, 1642

Today’s political upheaval is based on a need to build walls, to protect against a seemingly uncaring, unknown world. Yet our international system is based on the opposite: that we are integrally part of a greater whole, that we belong, that we make a difference.

Jan Smuts, Commando leader in the Boer War, forced the British Empire to the negotiating table by invading the heartland of the Cape province. A passionate patriot, he became convinced that South Africa had a greater role within the British Empire than alone, outside.
 
Smuts was invited to the Imperial War Cabinet in both World Wars, which enabled him to join Woodrow Wilson in the Versailles negotiation, draw proposals for the League of Nations, and help write the preamble for the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

J C Smuts



As a student Smuts came to know the works of Walt Whitman, and developed the idea that a structure, scientific, organic, or political, can be “more than the sum of its parts.” He wrote that, eventually, there should be one law for all humanity, an idea he proposed as basis for the League of Nations, and again as foundation for the United Nations.

A product of his time, Smuts saw a United Nations based on leadership of the “white nations” and as Prime Minister of South Africa did not entertain the political aspirations of the black population. However the essence of his thinking merits re-examination in the light of today’s political fragmentation.

The basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that all humans are part of the same reality, that recognition of the rights of all could end the wars Smuts and his generation was steeped in. Imbued with the then fresh horror of the German death camps Smuts and his collaborators sought to construct a system that would transcend national rivalries and competing ideologies.

Proxy forces, mercenary activity and personal rivalry that led to political confrontation in the run-up to two World Wars was the result of the Westphalian system. Competing sovereignties led to the death of millions and the impoverishment of vast parts of the world. The United Nations system and its concomitant European Union sought to correct the errors, to create one law for all, and to acknowledge the universality of human life, aspirations and dreams.

No man is an island. The fallacy of Smuts’ policies in South Africa are summed up in his reply, when someone asked him in 1948: ‘What about the problem of the blacks?’ Smuts replied: “Every problem has a solution. This one doesn’t, so by definition it’s not a problem.’

In our modern political world no man is an island. A wall built is a wall against the self. Proxy forces supporting dictators, death squads in South America, central Africa, the Middle East engenders immigration towards Europe and the United States.

John Donne warned:

‘Never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’
 

Coen van Wyk

Posted on January 27, 2019 09:43

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Source: WashPost

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