This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Image: Flickr/Fibonacci Blue)

The Mueller Report Is a Challenge for Democracy to Solve

Samuel Moyn


It would be hard to imagine a scenario that casts harsher light on the limits of American governance than the aftermath of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s report—or one that demonstrates how lucky the country is that he chose to make the resulting mess a problem for democracy to solve.

Mature democracies must balance two contending imperatives. One is to permit regular and serious monitoring of government, especially the executive with its ever-expanding authorities. The other is to keep that monitoring from becoming just another mode of political opposition. This is especially fraught at a moment across the world in which political elites—inside and outside of government—are repeatedly scandalized by choices the people seem to be making at the ballot boxes. What if we creatively interpret Mueller’s handiwork as responding to precisely this dilemma? (Read more)


Staying in a customs union after Brexit won’t resolve the Irish border issue

Pascal Lamy

The Guardian

Common sense has at last prevailed. The UK parliament has rejected the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and stepped back from the cliff edge. But while the limited extension of the article 50 timetable postpones the threat of no deal until the end of October, it does not remove it. Unless parliament can reach agreement about how to break the impasse, the new cliff edge will soon come into view. It is vital that this does not happen. A way forward must be found.

It is therefore significant that Labour is holding discussions with the government. Perhaps these talks can eventually lead to a compromise and a change to the political declaration. If they do, it is important that any new proposal is properly scrutinised. It would be a mistake to sign up to something that cannot carry popular consent, or is not sustainable in the long term. (Read more)


Indonesia’s Democracy Is Becoming More Conservative

Vincent Bevins

The Atlantic

The results are still coming in after Indonesia’s mammoth general election, and it appears that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has won another term in office. His challenger, the former general Prabowo Subianto, might yet challenge the results, and Jokowi has held off on declaring victory.

Regardless of the winner, though, Indonesian politics as a whole has taken a more conservative direction.

The world’s fourth most populous country is a pluralist, multiparty democracy that officially extends civic and religious freedoms to everyone living across a staggeringly diverse archipelago. But by the time anyone even showed up at the polls, both the structure of this young political system and Jokowi’s turns toward the religious right meant that many issues were already decided. (Read more)


Notre Dame: a history of medieval cathedrals and fire

Jenny Alexander

The Conversation

Many great churches and cathedrals have suffered catastrophic fires over their long histories and medieval chronicles are full of stories of devastation and ruin as a result – but they also tell of how the buildings were reconstructed and made better than ever.

The devastating fire that destroyed the roofs and spire of Notre Dame in Paris demonstrated the vulnerabilities of medieval cathedrals and great churches, but also revealed the skills of their master masons. The lead-covered wooden roof structure burned so fast because the fire was able to take hold under the lead and increase in intensity before it was visible from the outside, and it then spread easily to all the other sections of the roof.

Notre Dame was saved from total destruction because the medieval builders gave it a stone vault over all the main spaces, and also on the tops of the aisles which meant that the burning timbers and molten lead couldn’t break through easily. (Read more)


Sudan’s Revolution and the Geopolitics of Human Rights

Eric Schewe


Sudanese Army leaders removed President Omar al-Bashir from power in a coup d’etat on April 11, 2019. This move came after five months of mass demonstrations in the major cities of the country. The demonstrations were sparked by sharp reductions in the bread subsidy but sustained by widespread resentment toward government corruption and the country’s decades of civil war in Darfur and the region that is today South Sudan.

Al-Bashir is the latest dictator to fall since the start of the regional unrest in 2011 in the so-called “Arab Spring.” The hopeful momentum of those movements has seemed crushed in recent years by violent repression in large states such as Egypt, and brutal civil war in Syria. Early in April 2019, however, large-scale protests resulted in the resignation of Algeria’s 20-year president Abdulaziz Bouteflika, who had sought a fifth term. These events in Algeria and Sudan signal that the ideology and organizational tactics of youthful mass democracy movements has survived. (Read more)

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