Ancient critics of Athenian democracy, such as Plato and Thucydides, argued that the state was dysfunctional because the citizens who ruled it through direct democracy were often too ignorant and irrational to make good decisions. For example, Thucydides claimed that Athens launched the disastrous Sicilian expedition, which led to the fall of the Athenian Empire, because the ignorant citizens had no idea how large and populous the island of Sicily was, and thus were easily snookered by demagoguery in favor of the ill-advised high-risk venture.
For centuries, critics of democracy pointed to Athens as a prime example of why the ignorant masses should be barred from wielding political power, especially directly. These critiques of Athens had a major impact on the American Founding Fathers. They were a key factor leading them to include a number of anti-democratic features in our Constitution.
The good news is that modern scholarship suggests that Athenian voters were more knowledgeable and did a much better job of making decisions than the longstanding conventional wisdom supposes. The bad news is that ancient Athenian citizens could avoid some of the pitfalls of ignorance in part because they had important advantages that voters in modern democracies mostly lack. Relative to modern counterparts, ancient Athenian voters dealt with a government with a much narrower range of functions, had far stronger incentives to acquire relevant knowledge, and often had direct personal experience with the most important functions of the state, which made it easier for them to assess leaders’ performance. I summarized these points in greater detail in this review essay. While ancient Athenian democracy did a better job of surmounting political ignorance than it is often given credit for, some of the reasons for its relative success should lead us to be more rather than less concerned about the enormous extent of political ignorance today. Jonathan Gruber’s assessment of the American voter may be more accurate than Thucydides’ take on ancient Athens.
It’s also worth remembering that, by modern standards, Athens was closer to being a narrow oligarchy than a democracy. Because women, slaves, and the city’s large population of resident noncitizens were excluded from the franchise, only a small fraction of the adult population actually got to participate in politics (though still a much larger one than in most other ancient states). Athens’ enemies often saw it as a nightmare of democratic egalitarianism run amok. But that was because their own oligarchies were far narrower still.
Ilya Somin, “The modern case for studying ancient Athenian democracy”, The Volokh Conspiracy, 2015-01-30.
May 29, 2016
May 28, 2016
Sean Gabb believes the Brexit side has already lost the yet-to-be-decided referendum on staying or leaving the European Union:
Though we have nearly four weeks yet of campaigning, I find it hard to believe that the European Referendum will end in other than a crushing defeat for the Leave Campaign. For many on our side, this will be the end of their hopes. They have spent twenty five years – sometimes forty – connecting everything bad in this country with membership of the European Union, and pressing for a referendum. They now have their referendum. It will be lost. Age alone will give many of them nowhere to go. Some will pass the rest of their lives complaining that the vote was rigged. Most will drift away into confused silence. My own view is that the Referendum was always a mistaken strategy, and that its loss will bring an end to one of the less valuable chapters in the history of our movement.
The failure of the Leave Campaign can in part be blamed on the personalities involved. They are generally chancers and incompetents. If there is some reason to believe they were bought off in advance, nothing involving Boris Johnson was bound to end other than in defeat. I have always thought him a sinister buffoon. The only reason he became and stayed Mayor of London was that he was running against Ken Livingstone. Even I might have voted for him. Everything else achieved in his life has been the effect of sucking up to the right people. I have barely anything good to say about Michael Gove, and nothing good about Michael Howard or the others whose faces I see in my occasional skim of the BBC website.
In part, though, the failure is structural. The Leave Campaign has no plan for how to leave and what to do afterwards. It has none because none of the many plans on offer has general support. The Remain side can unite round a clear and simple message: we are better off in the European Union. The Leave side is a loose coalition with nothing in common beyond wanting to leave the European Union. Do we repeal the European Communities Act, scrap virtually all the regulations from Brussels and elsewhere, and practise unilateral free trade? Or do we disengage using the treaty mechanism, and then keep most of the regulations? Or do we try for a Keynesian siege economy? There is no agreement. If the Leave Campaign were to speak in details, it would disintegrate. The alternative, of being torn apart by the Remain side, is ruinous though preferable. So long as the campaign remains in being, something might turn up before polling day.
As I don’t follow British politics at the retail level, I know Boris Johnson more from this little parody than from anything he’s actually done:
May 25, 2016
In her latest column for Taki’s Magazine, Kathy Shaidle looks at the #elbowgate scandal in parliament:
No, Trudeau’s hissy fit was profoundly unparliamentary, even for him. He’s previously stuck out his tongue at opposition members. This isn’t even the first time he’s cursed in the House. Again: Like father, like son…
And — in any workplace beyond the Hill, perpetrated by any man with a poles-apart pedigree — it would be a fireable (and possibly criminal) offense.
Most readers likely share my dismay that human resources has siphoned so much power from other corporate departments like accounting or sales, as our society’s slow-motion sex change continues. But that’s the world liberals have created, so one might reasonably suspect that — ha! Had you going, didn’t I?
You see, Trudeau calls himself a feminist. All. The. Time. And for those few who haven’t sussed this out by now, that doesn’t mean he treats women equally and respectfully. That would be cwazy tawk! No, it means that, when he elbows one in the boobs, it’s no big deal. Because his feminism “shots” are up to date. He’s immune. See: “Clinton, Bill” and “Kennedy, Ted” for homegrown examples.
Oh, and “Ghomeshi, Jian” for one northern varietal.
I’ve written about Ghomeshi before: the women’s-studies major–turned–minor musician–turned–major Canadian broadcasting “star” and progressive pinup — until he was accused of slapping around his girlfriends. That case went very badly for the girlfriends, but accusations nevertheless persist that Ghomeshi and his fart catchers created a “toxic work environment” at the CBC. One I was forced to subsidize via government extortion, and where his “inappropriate” “sexist” behavior was tolerated and “enabled” zzzzzzz so sleepy…
Alas for, well, this column, “three’s a trend,” not two. But having no such professional scruples, amateur journalists from Victoria to St. John’s gleefully reposted this photo of Ghomeshi and Trudeau looking chummy as shit, along with an #Elbowgate hashtag and cheeky “We’re feminists!” captions.
May 24, 2016
In Monday’s Morning Jolt newsletter, National Review‘s Jim Geraghty overheard Donald Trump Jr.’s breakfast conversation and wrote about what he heard:
We live in a world where congressional Democrats voted to pass Obamacare without reading the full text of the legislation, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee thinks the U.S. has already landed astronauts on Mars, Congressman Hank Johnson fears the island of Guam will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize, Maxine Waters warns that because of spending cuts, “over 170 million jobs could be lost”; Nancy Pelosi asserts that “every month that we don’t have an economic recovery package, 500 million Americans lose their jobs,” Harry Reid contended, “Everybody else [besides GOP members of Congress], including rich people, are willing to pay more [in taxes]. They want to pay more,” Republican senator Thad Cochran declared in 2014 that “the Tea Party is something I don’t know a lot about,” and of course, Representative Todd Akin proclaimed, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
There’s no shortage of lawmakers who seek to make sweeping changes to laws, without understanding the basics of the topic at hand. Take Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado:
To your last question: ‘What’s the efficacy of banning these magazine clips?’ I will tell you, these are ammunition, they’re bullets, so the people who have those now, they’re going to shoot them. So if you ban, if you ban them in the future, the number of these high capacity magazines is going to decrease dramatically over time because the bullets will be shot and there won’t be any more available.
(DeGette is mixing up clips and ammunition. The magazine is what holds the bullets and is almost always re-used.)
In other words, we’ve had no shortage of high-ranking government officials who have no clue about what they’re talking about, are spectacularly misinformed, dumber than a bag of hammers, are simply crazy, or all of the above.
In light of all this, Trump probably thinks, How hard can it be? Simply by virtue of not being a moron, Trump feels he is destined to govern better than they do. Indeed, it’s a low bar to clear.
Idiot lawmakers are part of our problem in this country, but our circumstances wouldn’t be significantly improved if we replaced dumb, misinformed progressives with smarter, better-informed progressives. Barack Obama gets the presidential daily briefing every morning, which is presumably chock full of the best information our government can gather about what’s going on in the world, focusing on the most dangerous places and menacing threats. If he doesn’t want to see ISIS rising, no amount of briefings can get him to see ISIS rising.
But the problem with DeGette, and Cuomo, and most of our worst elected officials is that they mix a refusal to learn, acknowledge, or accept new information and a philosophy based upon some shaky-at-best assumptions: that government officials know best, that they will put the public or national interest ahead of their own interests, that the impact of basic forces like supply and demand can be mitigated by regulation, that disarming law-abiding citizens will lead to less crime, not more, and so on.
I am not sure that many politicians are good on this score, but Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are likely as bad as it gets on crony capitalism. Forget their policy positions, which are steeped in government interventionism in the economy, but just look at their personal careers. Each have a long history of taking advantage of political power to enrich themselves and their business associates. I am not sure what Cruz meant when he said “New York values”, but both Trump and Clinton are steeped in the New York political economy, where one builds a fortune through political connections rather than entrepreneurial vigor. Want to build a new parking lot next to your casino or start up a new energy firm — you don’t bother with private investors or arms length transactions, you go to the government.
Warren Meyer, “2016 Presidential Election: Battle of the Crony Capitalists”, Coyote Blog, 2016-05-13.
May 22, 2016
The most important weapons of al-Qaeda and the rest of the Islamist terror network are the suicide bomber and the suicide thinker. The suicide bomber is typically a Muslim fanatic whose mission it is to spread terror; the suicide thinker is typically a Western academic or journalist or politician whose mission it is to destroy the West’s will to resist not just terrorism but any ideological challenge at all.
But al-Qaeda didn’t create the ugly streak of nihilism and self-loathing that afflicts too many Western intellectuals. Nor, I believe, is it a natural development. It was brought to us by Department V of the KGB, which was charged during the Cold War with conducting memetic warfare that would destroy the will of the West’s intelligentsia to resist a Communist takeover. This they did with such magnificent effect that the infection outlasted the Soviet Union itself and remains a pervasive disease of contemporary Western intellectual life.
Consider the following propositions:
- There is no truth, only competing agendas.
- All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
- There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
- The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
- Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
- The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
- For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But “oppressed” people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
- When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.
These ideas travel under many labels: postmodernism, nihilism, multiculturalism, Third-World-ism, pacifism, “political correctness” to name just a few. It is time to recognize them for what they are, and call them by their right name: suicidalism.
Trace any of these back far enough (e.g. to the period between 1930 and 1950 when Department V was at its most effective) and you’ll find a Stalinist at the bottom. Among the more notorious examples are: Paul de Man — racist and Nazi propagandist turned Stalinist, and founder of postmodernism; Jean-Paul Sarte, who described the effects of Stalinism as “humane terror” and helped invent existentialism; and Paul Baran, who developed the thesis that capitalism depended on the immiseration of the Third World after Marx’s immiseration of the proletariat failed to materialize.
Al-Qaeda didn’t launch any of these memes into the noosphere, but it relies on them for political cover. They have another effect as well: when Islamists characterize the West as “decadent”, and aver that it is waiting to collapse in on itself at the touch of jihad, they are describing quite correctly and accurately the effects of Western suicidalism.
Stalinist agitprop created Western suicidalism by successfully building on the Christian idea that self-sacrifice (and even self-loathing) are the primary indicators of virtue. In this way of thinking, when we surrender our well-being to others we store up grace in Heaven that is far more important than the momentary discomfort of submitting to criminals, predatory governments, and terrorists.
Eric S. Raymond, “Suicidalism”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-09-13.
May 21, 2016
May 20, 2016
Laws are no longer made by a rational process of public discussion; they are made by a process of blackmail and intimidation, and they are executed in the same manner. The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly devoid of principle — a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him, he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology or cannibalism.
It is the aim of the Bill of Rights, if it has any remaining aim at all, to curb such prehensile gentry. Its function is to set a limitation upon their power to harry and oppress us to their own private profit. The Fathers, in framing it, did not have powerful minorities in mind; what they sought to hobble was simply the majority. But that is a detail. The important thing is that the Bill of Rights sets forth, in the plainest of plain language, the limits beyond which even legislatures may not go. The Supreme Court, in Marbury v. Madison, decided that it was bound to execute that intent, and for a hundred years that doctrine remained the corner-stone of American constitutional law.
H.L. Mencken, The American Mercury, 1930-05.
May 18, 2016
May 17, 2016
Richard Anderson responds to the uproar that the PM’s lovely wife somehow has to put up with the indignity of too small a staff to handle her “official duties”:
There is no job called “First Lady of Canada.” Until somewhat recently — Margaret Trudeau incidentally — the wife of the serving Prime Minister was hardly ever mentioned in public. Laureen Harper spent nearly a decade in the role without bothering anyone and with minimal support. The office of British Prime Minister has been in existence for nearly three centuries and even specialist historians would be hard pressed to name more than a handful of Prime Ministerial wives. There is nothing in the laws, customs or traditions of our system of government that regards the spouse of the PM as anything more than a bystander to the functions of the state.
But that was then. As we are continually reminded: It’s 2016!
Justin’s father dispensed with the hum-drum limitations of his role as First Minister, creating the modern Imperial Prime Minister who rules with a rod of iron. It was under the elder Trudeau that ministers became clerks and back-benchers so much parliamentary cannon-fodder. The thing about absolute monarchs — or sandal-clad philosopher kings — is that there is no limit to their purview. All things fall under their sway. Consequently those who serve under the New Sun King’s remit must wield great power as well. To suggest otherwise is the gravest example of lèse majesté.
Mrs Trudeau is not a trained psychiatrist, counsellor, medical expert or technical advisor of any sort. She has a degree in communications and once worked as a personal shopper for Holt Renfrew. Her resume is so thin it makes her husband look like George C Marshall. Like her husband she is the child of upper class Montreal privilege. What actual help such a being could provide to the “people” of Canada is hard to define. Perhaps a pep talk on the importance of being born rich and beautiful and marrying well.
The voters demanded change last October. We replaced a flawed man of substance with a man-child as Prime Minister. Not surprisingly Canada’s new “First Lady” is as useless and vain as her predecessor was accomplished and professional.
In a comment on a post about the leader of the British Green Party stepping down, David Thompson explains why he finds the party’s policies to be distasteful:
Green Party policy […] advocates massive and unbudgeted state spending, crippling eco-taxes, forced “organic” food production, and a deliberate shrinking and discouragement of international trade in order to curb the evils of consumerism. Curiously, they denounce ‘austerity’ (i.e., modest reductions in the growth of public spending), while envisioning a world in which no-one can buy anything too fancy, or from too far afield. And they see no need to retain an army or navy or air force, all of which they dismiss as “unnecessary.”
In policy NY203, the party says its goal is “to see the concept of legal nationality abolished.” Apparently, they want a Citizen’s Income, in which everyone is subsidised simply for being, while abolishing any notion of actual, legal citizenship. They imply that a country, a society, having some control of its borders, however partial, is racist, and that the world and its wives should be free to breeze into Britain and avail themselves of our already overstretched benefits system.
This dissolving of our territorial and cultural boundaries, and the abandonment of our ability to defend ourselves or anyone else, along with uncontrolled mass migration from the shitholes of the Earth, and the subsequent collapse of our welfare infrastructure and general economy, to say nothing of social unrest, riots and other unpleasantness… all of this would, we’re told, create “a world more equal, more balanced.”
And yet they ask, “What are you afraid of, boys?”
I think this may be where entrenched, impervious idiocy becomes… well, something close to evil.
May 16, 2016
In the Toronto Sun, David Akin looks at Bernier’s campaign to be the next federal Conservative leader:
“I want a freer and more prosperous country,” Bernier said. “And the way to do that is to have a limited government. I’m a real Conservative. I believe in freedom, responsibility, fairness and respect. That’s the four themes of my campaign. Every public policy will be based on these four themes.”
He is convinced that a campaign of ideas will win both his party’s leadership and the prime minister’s office.
But some of those ideas may be a tough sell in some regions.
No more corporate handouts for the likes of Bombardier or General Motors, for example.
And even though his riding has a huge number of dairy, egg and poultry farmers, he vows to end the high tariffs that protect them from foreign competition and force consumers to pay higher food costs.
He will offer to caucus colleagues and to the party’s grassroots a more inclusive style of leadership than Stephen Harper’s.
Riding associations should be free to pick their own candidates, Bernier said, without interference from the leader. And if MPs want to debate issues or introduce legislation that is at odds with the leader, Bernier would be OK with that.
Bernier, like Harper, has no intention, for example, of going anywhere near abortion but if any of the 10 Conservative MPs at the annual anti-abortion rally last week wanted to introduce a private members’ bill on the subject, they would be free to do so and his caucus would be allowed a free vote.
Bernier would personally focus on smaller government.
“Be a strong government, but in your own jurisdiction. When you have a smaller government, you have more freedom; when you have more more freedom, you have more prosperity,” said Bernier.
“I believe in free markets and I think we must speak about what we believe to Canadians with passion and with conviction.”
May 13, 2016
Megan McArdle on the pointlessness of trying to analyze any given policy of Donald Trump:
Critiquing Donald Trump’s policy pronouncements for being implausible feels a bit like belittling bathroom graffiti for its weak use of metaphor and inappropriate deployment of the conditional rather than the subjunctive. Sure, you may be technically correct, but you’ve failed to grapple with the essentials of the form. And neither the author nor his audience is likely to take your criticisms to heart.
But what can we pundits do? The man is now the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party. For the next six months, he will be saying things. Much of what he says will be unbearably silly, if not horrifying. These periodic eruptions must be either dealt with or ignored, and neither option seems very appealing.
May 12, 2016
The left are secularists, but they are extremely poor secularists. As you may know, I’m a secularist myself. I’m a nonbeliever, and to the extent I’m willing to entertain any belief at all, it’s only because I’m a skeptic. That is to say, I’m skeptical of my nonbelief.
It occurs to me — as a skeptic and secularist — that if you seek to put away Magical Thinking, you put it all away. If you disbelieve in God, then you really ought to disbelieve in Transcendence as well, and Rightwing Sorcerers, and Magic Words, and Sustaining Myth-Lies, and all the rest of it.
One amusement to me, as a lonely disbeliever on the right, is noticing this about the Left: The Left imagines that their disbelief in God frees them from superstition.
In fact it does no such thing. The Left’s disbelief in God does not free them from superstition — rather, it frees the superstition to infect all other modes of their thought.
Rather than thinking in terms of the divine and magic in the area of theology and metaphysics — which is really where thoughts about the divine and magic should be contained — the left, being Bad at Secularism, instead permits superstition, myth, and magic to flood into all other compartments of their ship of the mind.
Rather than keeping religious thought confined to religions matters, as the openly religious do, the left, which is intensely religious but believes it is not, instead employs religious thought in all modes of thinking, particularly in politics (where The Government easily steps into the place of God as the Large, Abstract Power That Lords Above Us), but also in what they call “science.”
You know, the science which personifies the Earth as a deity who seeks vengeance upon polluters and people who drive cars.
These Bad Secularists do not call this religion. They will not acknowledge it as fundamentally magical thinking, “pre-logical” and falling into the same primitive thought patterns still kicking around in the human mind which require that every extraordinary event be conjured by Mighty Sorcerers, or sent by the gods as punishment for a Grievous Sin.
And yet those who preen as being the most Free From Superstition are in fact the most shackled by it, because their very vanity will not permit them to see the ridiculous magical mythology they surround themselves in. Thus, within one single day, the Bad Secularists at the New York Times will posit that magical rightwing sorcerers directed the communist crocodile Lee Harvey Oswald to snatch the Princeling Kennedy from the river’s bank, and the Bad Secularists at the Washington Post likewise weave mythic strands around Lee Harvey Oswald, Marxist, Soviet Defector, and world’s first known Tea Partier.
And thus all the world’s Devils are grouped together, ranked in Might and put into their diabolical hierarchy, Satan on top, Baal and Moloch next, and so on, down to Sarah Palin and the Koch Brothers.
We live in an age of religious hysteria. And the religious hysteria is not coming from the usual quarters, the self-acknowledged religious. Instead it comes from the irreligious, whose liberation from god only loosens the leash of their illogic and preference for mythic structures over reality.
You don’t need God to be religious hysteric.
All you need is a Dogma and a Devil.
May 8, 2016
Lenin and Stalin wanted classical-liberal individualism replaced with something less able to resist totalitarianism, not more. Volk-Marxist fantasy and postmodern nihilism served their purposes; the emergence of an adhesive counter-ideology would not have. Thus, the Chomskys and Moores and Fisks are running a program carefully designed to dead-end at nothing.
Religions are good at filling that kind of nothing. Accordingly, if transnational progressivism actually succeeds in smothering liberal individualism, its reward will be to be put to the sword by some flavor of jihadi. Whether the eventual winners are Muslims or Mormons, the future is not going to look like the fuzzy multicultural ecotopia of modern left fantasy. The death of that dream is being written in European banlieus by angry Muslim youths under the light of burning cars.
In the banlieus and elsewhere, Islamist pressure makes it certain that sooner or later the West is going to vomit Stalin’s memes out of its body politic. The worst way would be through a reflex development of Western absolutism — Christian chauvinism, nativism and militarism melding into something like Francoite fascism. The self-panicking leftists who think they see that in today’s Republicans are comically wrong (as witnessed by the fact that they aren’t being systematically jailed and executed), but it is quite a plausible future for the demographically-collapsing nations of Europe.
The U.S., fortunately, is still on a demographic expansion wave and will be till at least 2050. But if the Islamists achieve their dream of nuking “crusader” cities, they’ll make crusaders out of the U.S., too. And this time, a West with a chauvinized America at its head would smite the Saracen with weapons that would destroy entire populations and fuse Mecca into glass. The horror of our victory would echo for a thousand years.
I remain more optimistic than this. I think there is still an excellent chance that the West can recover from suicidalism without going through a fevered fascist episode and waging a genocidal war. But to do so, we have to do more than recognize Stalin’s memes; we have to reject them. We have to eject postmodern leftism from our universities, transnational progressivism from our politics, and volk-Marxism from our media.
The process won’t be pretty. But I fear that if the rest of us don’t hound the po-mo Left and its useful idiots out of public life with attack and ridicule and shunning, the hard Right will sooner or later get the power to do it by means that include a lot of killing. I don’t want to live in that future, and I don’t think any of my readers do, either. If we want to save a liberal, tolerant civilization for our children, we’d better get to work.
Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.