Quotulatiousness

November 4, 2017

Dierdre McCloskey on populism

Filed under: Economics, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

A recent paper, “Populism Is Zero Sum Under Majority Rule” [PDF], prepared for the Stockholm meetings of the Mont Pelerin Society:

Populism revives the ancient ideology of zero sum for an age of majority rule. Liberalism, by contrast, is a recent ideology of positive sum, with rights for minority groups, which often generate the positive sum. The pioneering management theorist of the 1920s, Mary Parker Follett, called it “win-win.” Populism speaks instead of “win-lose,” and darkly suspects that the minority groups are the source of the “lose.”

Populism can be given what the philosophers call an “ostensive” definition, that is, pointing to instances one after another until the point is clear. All right, to speak only of those who achieved substantial if often temporary political power, the Gracchi, Savonarola, William Jennings Bryan, Mussolini, Juan Peron, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace, Hugo Chávez, Silvio Berlusconi, the Tea Party, Jeremy Corbyn, Marine Le Pen, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump. Zero sum prevails. Italy in the 1930s can be rich and, especially, glorious only by foreign conquest, incompetently pursued. Southern whites in the 1880s can only be dignified if blacks are not. America in the late 2010s can only be made richer if China and Mexico are made poorer.

What has been odd and definitive of populism during the past couple of centuries, though, is not the zero sum, an old and commonplace assumption about the economy, but majority rule as the default in politics. “Democracy,” after all, has only recently become a good word. Majority rule was until the nineteenth century regularly described as mob rule. Odi profanum vulgus. It was to be disdained, and only a tiny group of radical priests and levellers disagreed. “When Adam delved, and Eve span/ Who then was the gentleman?” John Ball asked in 1380, for which he was drawn and quartered. In 1685 the Leveller Richard Rumbold, facing the hangman, declared, “I am sure there was no man born marked of God above another; for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him.” Few in the crowd gathered to mock him would have agreed. A century later, many would have. By 1985 virtually everyone did, at least in declaration.

Populism, then, is democracy in the polity when obsessed with zero sum in the economy. Socialism is a populism with a grand theory attached. Neither is strange. After all, zero-sum thinking is deeply natural. It is the default, certainly, for humans and for other great apes. Herd animals and social animals behave “charitably” towards their herd or society, it may be, though all animals will fight for territory, or else avoid the fight from a sense of justice. A dog will not steal another’s bone.

Modern populism was expressed by the Louisiana governor Huey Long in 1934 as “Every man a king.” A classical liberal can warmly agree, as against the affection for hierarchy among conservatives. In the eighteenth century kings had rights, and women had none. Now, thankfully, it’s the other way around.

But Huey’s way of achieving the rights was that of both Bad King John and his enemy Robin Hood, characteristic of the feudal and now the socialist and populist order, of violence. “It is necessary to scale down the big fortunes,” he said, “that we may scatter the wealth to be shared by all of the people.” Scale down by governmental violence one person’s earnings by trade and betterment, in order to give to another person, and all will be well. Zero sum. Win-lose.

October 25, 2017

QotD: Oligarchies and universal franchise democracy

Filed under: Government, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Fortunately the ideologues had a solution to overcome these minor imperfections of limited franchise democracy… universal franchise.

The more recent concept of Universal Franchise Democracy, is founded on the ridiculous, and incorrect, early 1900’s assumption that all Europe’s problems can be traced back to a limited voting Oligarchy.

Clearly if the ‘ruling classes’ in a state are the rich and powerful – i.e., the naturally conservative propertied elements who make the economy work and provide the productive jobs – then the chattering classes who want change will need to enfranchise the not-rich and not-powerful, so they can ride the wave of demand for change into their ideal world. In fact so they can direct it to provide taxpayer funding for non productive jobs… For people like them.

It is certainly no accident that the modern ‘ruling class’ is the nouveau-rich chattering classes – and the power base they have established in the completely unproductive taxpayer-supported lawyers and civil servants and union officials – who lead inevitably to ‘leaders’ who have the right and duty to lecture their stupid populace for not being politically correct enough… People like Merkel, Obama, and the European Union President. (Go on, name him? He has more practical power to interfere in his ‘citizens’ lives than either of the other two. Who is he?)

It is not just the Australian Union Movement of which we can say ‘they used to consist of the cream of the working class, now they consist of the dregs of the middle class’. All the petty tyrants who gorge in the taxpayers trough, and who try and force the ignorant peasants under their care down the correct path – whether medieval monks selling indulgences, or modern human rights lawyers banning free speech on issues they disapprove of – tend to be the dregs.

The dregs, of the intellectual fervor, of the previous generation, of wrong thinkers.

The dregs of any intellectual movement eventually have to accept that their ideal is hogwash. Even Marxists have started to admit that after a century of promoting Communism, they can no longer hide the hideous nature of Communism. Still, they are not going to give up their world-view just because the evidence against it is so overwhelming that continued attempts to argue in favour of it become ridiculous. Instead they move smoothly to supporting another, equally ridiculous ideology that they think will support their worldview. Say Environmentalism, or Multiculturalism.

Nigel Davies, “The Solution is… European Union/Multiculturalism/Communism… Name your poison!”, rethinking history, 2015-12-26.

October 14, 2017

Brexit hangover – a proposed deal for the “Remoaners”

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Spiked, Brendan O’Neill offers an olive branch to the Remoaners:

I propose a deal with Remoaners: Leavers will stop calling you enemies of democracy when you stop behaving like enemies of democracy. Sound good?

By Remoaners, I don’t mean the 16.1million who voted Remain, the vast majority of whom are not part of any elite, and a huge chunk of whom now accept Brexit must happen. I don’t even mean those sad people who traipse through the streets shouting ‘Brex-shit!’ and who agitate, or at least tweet, for Britain to stay in the EU: the rights to protest and speak are essential to democracy and these people must be free to fulminate for as long as they like against the democratic will. No, I mean those sections of the elite who have sworn their financial, political and institutional clout to the cause of preventing or diluting Brexit. You guys: we’ll stop calling you destroyers of democracy when you stop trying to destroy democracy, cool?

The war on Brexit – which is a war on the largest democratic mandate in British history, on the very right of the masses to decide the fate of their nation – is getting serious. For too long Leavers have had a tendency to chortle at the myriad spittle-producing haters of Brexit in business, politics, the law. But it’s not funny anymore, because they’re in the ascendancy. Not courtesy of democracy; the people have rejected their preference for oligarchy over democracy, for technocracy over debate, for expertise over the public’s opinions and beliefs. No, their rise, their influence, is built on their economic supremacy and behind-closed-doors influence, on the fact that they are wealthier, better connected and – let’s be frank – more ruthless than us, the demos.

The seriousness of this bloodless coup d’etat against Brexit has been perfectly and brutally summed up this week in the elitists’ suggestion that we revoke Article 50. Not content with seeking to wound Brexit – by, for example, suggesting we stay under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, or institute a second referendum even before Brexit has become a reality – now they’re openly calling for the whole thing to be reversed. The Observer revealed on Sunday that, contrary to what some ministers have intimated, Article 50 is revocable. This is all the proof we needed, said a QC in the Guardian, that it is ‘not too late to step back from the Brexit brink’. Translation: the plebs, the unwashed throng, took us to a political cliff edge with their strange, prejudiced passions, and now it falls to the clever, the legally minded, the rational, to put Britain back on course.

October 10, 2017

QotD: The base conditions for democratic society

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, Middle East, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The absolutely vital elements of a successful democratic component of government (note – component of a system, not the entire system): is that there be a literate population; a free and enquiring press; a well developed and just rule of law; and a tradition of give and take being acceptable to the society.

Tribal societies have none of these things. That is why democracies have consistently failed in African countries where tribalism is still the most important element. (In fact politics in some of these places is still largely a competition between which tribal groups served in the imperial militaries, versus which served in the imperial civil services. With very bloody competition between the two.) The fact that illiteracy is rampant; free presses almost non-existent; and the rule of law where judges are not beholden to tribal interests, or simply threats, doesn’t exist: makes democracy impossible to sustain.

Muslim culture has none of these things. A system where a woman’s evidence in court is one third of a man’s – and dhimmitude is recognized even if slavery officially isn’t – is unlikely to have these things. And for literacy, free press, or rule of law, see Africa, but doubled.

It is also possible to suggest that without a clear understanding of the logic of natural laws, you can’t have a democracy. The fact that Muslim scholarship specifically rejects natural law on the basis that Allah can cause anything, so there are no ‘natural laws’, means you cannot have these things. The reason the Muslim world lost its scientific supremacy of the 11th and 12th centuries relates specifically to their decision to turn their back on empirical evidence. Without that basic understanding, I do not believe democracy is possible. (In fact that basic approach helps explain why democracy is actually anathema to good Muslims, and why Boko Haram literally means ‘Western education is evil’!)

So the concept that an ‘Arab Spring’ could work in the Middle East is a sad indictment on the Western media and ‘intelligentsia’s’ failed understanding about how democracy works.

In fact the entire deluded Western project of attempting to impose ‘republics’ on tribal societies as part of post-colonialism, is an indictment on the western fantasy that republics are workable, let alone good things.

Let’s face it, no western republic, even in the most educated, literate, and rule of law-abiding parts of the Anglosphere, has survived a first century without a collapse and or bloody civil war. The most ‘successful’ Western republics have included the American (see above), French (see above), Weimar (heard of the popularly elected Adolf Hitler?), Italian (50 governments in 50 years), Greek (how’s that brilliant financial planning going?) and Polish (are they on their 3rd, 4th, or 5th?). Those are the good ones. 90% of all republics ever founded in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, have collapsed into dictatorship, civil war, mass murder, or ethnic cleansing, within 20 years of being set up.

And that’s what we thought would work in the Middle East?

Nigel Davies, “The ‘Arab Spring’, 1848, and the 30 Years War/s”, Rethinking History, 2015-09-19.

October 9, 2017

Reviewing Democracy in Chains as speculative fiction, rather than as history

James Devereaux critiques the recent book by Nancy MacLean which was intended to tarnish the reputation of James McGill Buchanan by tracing the intellectual roots and influences that shaped Buchanan’s life and work.

Nancy MacLean, in her new book Democracy in Chains, has allegedly revealed the master plan of right-wing political operatives, funded by the Kochs and inspired by James McGill Buchanan. MacLean pulls no punches as she describes a right-wing conspiracy meant to bring about “a fifth column movement the likes of which no nation has ever seen.” (page 127) Alas, the major problem with her account, as her fellow Duke Professor Mike Munger summarized, is it is “a work of speculative historical fiction.” MacLean’s contribution is a failure of academic discourse more likely to increase unfounded paranoia and division than to reveal any hidden agenda. MacLean’s bias bleeds into nearly every aspect of this book and taints her interpretation of the facts and sources beyond any reasonable interpretation could support. At one point she ponders the genius of Buchanan but determines it to be an “evil genius” for his work, much of which discusses the difficulties of democracy (page 42).

Why, one may feel justified in asking, dwell on speculative fiction? Unfortunately, when speculative fiction enters the popular culture, is applauded, and treated as fact, a measure of scrutiny is required. MacLean has received a fair share of positive press. NPR wrote that Democracy in Chains is “a book written for the skeptic; MacLean’s dedicated to connecting the dots.” That is if the dots were points on a corkboard tied together with red yarn. Oprah’s book club put it in their “20 books to read this summer” list. The Atlantic’s review praised the book as “part of a new wave of historiography that has been examining the southern roots of modern conservatism.” Slate also wrote a review.

A Deluge of Error

MacLean’s revelation regarding this “stealth plan” for a “fifth column movement” focuses on the relatively obscure, but well-respected, founder of public choice economics Nobel laureate James McGill Buchanan. MacLean weaves a fascinating tale but one that paints Buchanan and sympathizing libertarians as radicals determined to undermine democracy for the purpose of satisfying elitist urges, squashing the underdog, burdening the minority, and exploiting the poor. Unfortunately for MacLean, and those heaping praise, it is clear this tale rests on ransom-note-style citations, cutting and pasting together portions of phrases to change the meaning and support her narrative. In certain places it appears she has woefully misunderstood the source material or did not care – the notes do not match the claims. By cobbling together this mish-mash of selective quotes and speculation MacLean errs twice: first in describing Buchanan’s views and second in describing the motives of Buchanan and anyone sympathetic to his view.

A litany of scholars have examined the book and revealed a deluge of error. Russ Roberts wrote that MacLean owed Tyler Cowen an apology, courteously gave her room to respond, which she used to double down on her claims despite the obvious selective use of unfairly parsed phrases which attributed a view to Cowen he did not hold. Steve Horwitz, Michael Munger, Jonathan Adler, and David Bernstein have found issues with her citations and claims (Adler aggregated them at the Washington Post). Most thoroughly, Phil Magness has dissected numerous errors, misquotes, and general failures of citation found within the book, it appears to be an ongoing project. The errors which have compiled are such that they undermine credibility in the reading. As others have listed her poor citations, mangling of quotes, and selective editing, this will not be the focus of this review.

Since the publication of Maclean’s book, Don Boudreaux at Café Hayek has been hammering her work on an almost daily basis.

September 21, 2017

QotD: Teaching

Filed under: Education, Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

At every level, our society has been idiotized, in fulfilment of the democratic ideal. As I am reminded by each and every remark, from all candidates in televised political debates, we are now living in Flatworld.

God created, and continues to create, men and women of extraordinary diversity, in natural interests, native motor abilities, and the potential for what the Greeks called “genius.” That is to say, not simply brains, but what can be done with the brain you were provided.

I have noticed from my own teaching experience that, the smaller the class, the harder on a teacher. This is because the needs of individuals can better be discerned. The hardest teaching is under the old, indeed mediaeval, tutoring system: the one-to-one that used to be standard in places like Oxford and Cambridge, which continued to distinguish them from the drive-in, red-brick, fake universities. For at that “tutorial” level, student and teacher are both fully exposed, each to the strengths and limitations of another, non-abstract, human mind. It becomes impossible to “go through the motions.”

And it is like this, ultimately, in the tutoring of Christ Our Saviour. Every one of His students is a difficult case; the smart ones usually the most difficult. And so, likewise, with parent and child; with master and apprentice. It is so, by analogy, wherever men try to teach one another. The sermons and parables, the public lectures, are only the beginning of it. Then comes a process of discovery: “Which part of this do you not understand?”

Compare: the ideal of the “lowest common denominator,” appropriate perhaps for the management of pigs and cattle, on a large industrial farm. But evil when applied to human beings.

David Warren, “Democracy versus God”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-11-10.

September 18, 2017

QotD: …of (some of) the people, by (some of) the people…

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… it IS possible to have a Res Publica – by the people – government, but only as long as it is by the ‘deserving’ few. The worst excesses of these proto-democracies can be undercut by an extreme limiting of the franchise – preferably to an effective oligarchy of voters narrow enough to be more self-interested in keeping control against the uneducated and undisciplined rule of the genuine majority, but this is hard to achieve. The Serene Republic of Venice achieved it for almost a thousand years by limiting the franchise to the great and the good families, and the early United States managed to hold it together for about 90 years by limiting it by racial profiling as well as property franchise… but note that both were, like all the Greek and Roman republics, slave based societies: so their claims to be genuine democracies are hopelessly confused to anyone with a consistent or comprehensible ideological viewpoint. In their case ‘the people’ simply meant, the deserving few that we will allow to vote.

This limiting of the franchise to the deserving actually continues in very successful – one could even say the ONLY successful – republics of the modern world. The ancient Greek and Roman franchises were honestly based on ‘those who contribute get a say’. Contribution a that time being buying the expensive armour yourself, putting in the training time, and taking the risk in the front lines of battle: to prove you put the good of the state and your fellow citizens above your own interests. (Though it is notable that their Republics almost instantly graduated to imperialistic and aggressive expansion, which pretty quickly made republican government unworkable, and inevitably led to such champions of democracy as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.)

The only long term successful modern Republic – Switzerland – still has compulsory military service; as does Israel, the only successful democracy ever established in the Middle East.

The other ways to limit the franchise – Like the first (1770’s), second (1860’s) and third (1880’s) American attempts of a franchise limited by race/property; or the first (1790’s), second (1820’s) or third (1860’s) French attempts at a property based franchise (which often saw as few as 20% of people with a vote): were actually much less successful than the equivalent slow Westminster style expansions of the franchise under a developing constitutional monarchy. (No Western Westminster system state has ever had a coup, let alone a civil war.) France has had 5 republics, 3 monarchies and 2 emperors in less than 200 years; and the United States has similarly run through several major reformations of their race/property franchise system since their – 600,000 dead – little debate about their system.

(The American comparison with France is amusing. The first American republic was smashed by the Confederate Defection; the second was an anti-democratic imposition on the South – with no voting rights for Confederate ‘activists’ – after the Confederacy War of Independence was crushed; the third ‘republic’ was when the white southerners were re-enfranchised and promptly disenfranchised the blacks who had been the only voters in the south for the previous 20 years – and whose elected black representatives had not been allowed in the front door or the dining rooms of Congress; the fourth republic… well you get the idea. The US system, with all its defections, jumps and retreats, simply can’t be called a continuously expanding development the way Westminster systems are.)

Nigel Davies, “The ‘Arab Spring’, 1848, and the 30 Years War/s”, Rethinking History, 2015-09-19.

August 30, 2017

QotD: Democratic education

Filed under: Education, Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… a passage transcribed from one of Étienne Gilson’s public lectures in the early 1950s, and let it be said that a man in the Deep South who signs himself N.W. Flitcraft, found it first. (He is here.) Gilson has been one of my own “heroes,” or guiding lights, these last few decades:

    “If our school system exists, not in view of a chosen minority, but in view of all, its average level should answer the average level of the population as a whole. Hence the unavoidable consequence that the best gifted among the pupils will be discriminated against. Nor should we imagine that creative minds will multiply in direct proportion to the growth of the school population. The reverse is much more likely to happen. In aristocratic societies, genius has often found access to higher culture, even under adverse circumstances; in democratic societies, it will have no higher culture to which to gain access. Since equality in ignorance is easier to achieve than equality in learning, each and every teacher will have to equalize his class at the bottom level rather than at the top one, and the whole school system will spontaneously obey the same law. It is anti-democratic to teach all children what only some of them are able to learn. Nay, it is anti-democratic to teach what all children can learn by means of methods which only a minority of pupils are able to follow. Since, as has been said, democracy stands for equality, democratic societies have a duty to teach only what is accessible to all and to see to it that it be made accessible to all. The overwhelming weight of their school population is therefore bound to lower the centre of gravity in their school systems. The first peril for democracies, therefore, is to consider it their duty, in order to educate all citizens, to teach each of them less and less and in a less and less intelligent way.”

Pause, gentle, then read that through again, until committed to memory. I cannot think of a better single-paragraph explanation of how John Dewey’s “democratic vistas” sent us all to hell. Verily, I wish I’d been armed with that when asked, some forty-six years ago, why I was leaving school with only a Grade X education (plus, to be fair to me, nearly one full term of Grade XI). It explains everything, in less than three hundred words.

David Warren, “Democracy versus God”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-11-10.

August 2, 2017

QotD: The fundamental problem of the Middle East

Filed under: Government, History, Middle East, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Western media and intelligentsia don’t seem to have a clue that the issues in the Middle East are not related to competing political ideologies, but to competing religious tribalism.

The ongoing conflicts throughout the region, and in other parts of the world, are not about democracy versus monarchy; or fascism versus communism; or imperialism versus freedom. Or indeed any of the other childish ideologies Western journalists fell in love with during their undergraduate post-modernist deconstructionalist courses by failed ex-Trotsky’s, who simply can’t accept that the last century has proven how appalling and basically evil their over-simplistic ideologies are. (Yes Comrade Corbyn, that’s you and your gushing twitteratti I am slamming!)

In fact the problem in the Muslim world is that they are entering the third decade of the Muslim Civil War.

The Sunni’s and Shia’s are at about the point that the Roman Catholics and the Protestants were at in Europe in the 1620’s to 30’s, and it is only going to get worse. That war was ideological, and paid very little attention to national boundaries. This one is the same. The Christian 30 Years War is about to be repeated in a Muslim civil war, and 30 years might be an optimistic number.

Interestingly the Christian’s split over 3 or four centuries, into Orthodox and Roman, then split again into Albigensian and Protestant etc. Eventually it got to the point, after 14 or 15 centuries of slow development, that major conflict broke out. Is it co-incidence that the Muslims have followed a similar path? Is it inevitable that after 14 or 15 centuries of existence, they too are having a major internal conflict? Or is it just that a century of renewed prosperity and development (largely brought on by Western intrusion into their secular affairs) has given them the semi-educated proto-middle class who traditionally stir up revolutionary stuff they don’t understand?

Whatever the reasons, stupid Westerners are eventually going to have to admit to a few realities:

  1. No matter how much you fantasise about the functionality of republics and democracy, you can’t impose systems that don’t work in places that don’t have the necessary pre-requisites.
  2. No matter how much literacy or free press you do manage to push in, you can’t impose rule of law and understanding of natural law on societies that have very specifically rejected such concepts for 8 or 9 centuries.
  3. No matter how much your secularist ideologies (developed from safely behind 2 millennia of Christian teaching that accepts rule of law and natural law) is offended, you cannot expect a similar acceptance from people whose cultural development of such beliefs is several centuries behind the West.
  4. No matter what you want to believe, the Muslim civil war is happening.

Let’s hope we really are at least half way through the 30 years…

Nigel Davies, “The ‘Arab Spring’, 1848, and the 30 Years War/s…”, rethinking history, 2015-09-19.

July 29, 2017

QotD: Imposing “democracy”

Filed under: Government, History, Middle East, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

To be fair, the British set up monarchies, in the hope that they would become constitutional monarchies (which were their experience of something that might actually get somewhere). Jordan seems to be succeeding; the Gulf states are so successful few want to change; and Egypt was derailed by the Soviets and Americans playing Cold War games. The French tried to set up republics (god knows why, their’s [had] never worked) in Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, and other places. In the words of Dr Phil, ‘How’s that working out for you?’. The Americans successfully undermined the Egyptian and Iranian attempts to get constitutional monarchies off the ground, and celebrated the resulting republics… very briefly. The second in particular no longer looks a very clever move.

The latest American attempts to force republics on Afghanistan and Iraq have been absolute disasters.

Afghanistan might, might… have worked if the Americans had understood that such a tribalised society required a House of Lords of all the powerful tribal leaders and major clerics, to balance [the] elected representatives. (But of course it would still need some sort of monarch to make it work, because, as Machiavelli pointed out, you need 3 powers in balance, so any two can stop the third from dominating!).) Or they could just have a system where the two major components completely ignore each other while they compete for control, and leave an easy opening for the return of the Taliban.

Iraq might, might… have worked with a federal system of at least a dozen ethnically based states that each had two representatives to a senate that had the right to block the excesses of an elected house where a 50% majority could get revenge on everyone else for every slight since the death of the prophet. Or they could go for a more simplistic version of a republic, and get what they inevitably got.

Why couldn’t the Americans have kept their big fat ideologies out of it, as they largely did after the first Gulf War. Kuwait is no great shining beacon, but it doesn’t suffer from the American idealism that lead to Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt and Iran!

Nigel Davies, “The ‘Arab Spring’, 1848, and the 30 Years War/s…”, rethinking history, 2015-09-19.

July 25, 2017

QotD: The republican form of government

Filed under: Government, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… it IS possible to have a Res Publica – by the people – government, but only as long as it is by the ‘deserving’ few. The worst excesses of these proto-democracies can be undercut by an extreme limiting of the franchise – preferably to an effective oligarchy of voters narrow enough to be more self-interested in keeping control against the uneducated and undisciplined rule of the genuine majority, but this is hard to achieve. The Serene Republic of Venice achieved it for almost a thousand years by limiting the franchise to the great and the good families, and the early United States managed to hold it together for about 90 years by limiting it by racial profiling as well as property franchise… but note that both were, like all the Greek and Roman republics, slave based societies: so their claims to be genuine democracies are hopelessly confused to anyone with a consistent or comprehensible ideological viewpoint. In their case ‘the people’ simply meant, the deserving few that we will allow to vote.

This limiting of the franchise to the deserving actually continues in very successful – one could even say the ONLY successful – republics of the modern world. The ancient Greek and Roman franchises were honestly based on ‘those who contribute get a say’. Contribution at that time being buying the expensive armour yourself, putting in the training time, and taking the risk in the front lines of battle: to prove you put the good of the state and your fellow citizens above your own interests. (Though it is notable that their Republics almost instantly graduated to imperialistic and aggressive expansion, which pretty quickly made republican government unworkable, and inevitably led to such champions of democracy as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.)

The only long term successful modern Republic – Switzerland – still has compulsory military service; as does Israel, the only successful democracy ever established in the Middle East.

The other ways to limit the franchise – Like the first (1770’s), second (1860’s) and third (1880’s) American attempts of a franchise limited by race/property; or the first (1790’s), second (1820’s) or third (1860’s) French attempts at a property-based franchise (which often saw as few as 20% of people with a vote): were actually much less successful than the equivalent slow Westminster-style expansions of the franchise under a developing constitutional monarchy. (No Western Westminster system state has ever had a coup, let alone a civil war.) France has had 5 republics, 3 monarchies and 2 emperors in less than 200 years; and the United States has similarly run through several major reformations of their race/property franchise system since their – 600,000 dead – little debate about their system.

(The American comparison with France is amusing. The first American republic was smashed by the Confederate Defection; the second was an anti-democratic imposition on the South – with no voting rights for Confederate ‘activists’ – after the Confederacy War of Independence was crushed; the third ‘republic’ was when the white southerners were re-enfranchised and promptly disenfranchised the blacks who had been the only voters in the south for the previous 20 years – and whose elected black representatives had not been allowed in the front door or the dining rooms of Congress; the fourth republic… well you get the idea. The US system, with all its defections, jumps and retreats, simply can’t be called a continuously expanding development the way Westminster systems are.)

Nigel Davies, “The ‘Arab Spring’, 1848, and the 30 Years War/s…”, rethinking history, 2015-09-19.

July 15, 2017

Another critique of Nancy MacLean’s book smearing economist James M. Buchanan

Filed under: Books, Economics, History, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In the Washington Post, a fellow Duke professor airs some concerns over MacLean’s recent character assassination attempt, Democracy in Chains:

Professor Nancy MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains has received considerable attention since its release a few weeks ago. A recent Inside Higher Ed article reports on the critical reviews and Professor MacLean’s allegation that these critiques are part of a coordinated, “right-wing” attack on her work. The book’s central thesis — summarized elegantly in the Inside Higher Ed piece – is that Nobel Prize-winning economist James M. Buchanan “was the architect of a long-term plan to take libertarianism mainstream, raze democratic institutions and keep power in the hands of the wealthy, white few.” MacLean concludes that Buchanan’s academic research program — known as public choice theory — is a (thinly) disguised attempt to achieve this purpose, motivated by racial and class animus.

As president of the Public Choice Society (the academic organization founded by Buchanan and his colleague Gordon Tullock), I am writing to respond to Professor MacLean’s portrayal. Since she believes that critiques of the book are part of a coordinated attack funded by Koch money, let me begin with a disclosure. I have no relationship with the Kochs or the Koch organization. I have never received money from them or their organization, either personally or to support my research. I have not coordinated my response to the book with anyone. I do, however, have a personal connection to Buchanan. My father was a longtime colleague and co-author of Buchanan’s. I am also very familiar with Buchanan’s academic work, which relates directly to my own research interests. In short, I know Buchanan and his work well, but I am certainly not part of the “dark money” network Professor MacLean is concerned about.

There are many things to be said about Professor MacLean’s book. For an intellectual historian, the documentary record constitutes the primary source of evidence that can be offered in support of arguments or interpretations. For this reason, intellectual historians generally apply great care in sifting through this record and presenting it in a way that accurately reflects sources. As numerous scholars have by now shown (see here, and links therein, for an example), Professor MacLean’s book unfortunately falls short of these standards. In many instances, quotations are taken out of context or abbreviated in ways that suggest meanings radically at odds with the tenor of the passage or document from which they were taken. Critically, these misleading quotations are often central to establishing Professor MacLean’s argument.

[…]

What then, of “chains on democracy”? It is true that Buchanan did not think much of unfettered, majoritarian politics and favored constitutional rules that restrict majority rule. But the foregoing discussion should already make clear that this conclusion was not based on an anti-democratic instinct or a desire to preserve the privilege of a few. Instead, Buchanan’s careful analysis, originating in his seminal work with Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of Consent, led him to the conclusion that in choosing a political framework (“constitution”), all individuals will typically have good reasons to favor some restrictions on majority rule in order to protect against the “tyranny of the majority.” As he argued, democracy understood simply as majority rule “may produce consequences desired by no one unless these procedures are limited by constitutional boundaries” (Buchanan 1997/2001: 226). In other words, what justifies “chains on democracy” for Buchanan are his commitment to individual autonomy and equality, and his emphasis on consent as a legitimating principle for political arrangements. To paint his endorsement of constitutional limits on the use of political power as motivated by an anti-democratic desire to institute oligarchical politics is to fundamentally misunderstand Buchanan’s sophisticated, subtle approach to democratic theory, which was committed above all to the idea that political arrangements should redound to the benefit of all members of a community.

July 4, 2017

QotD: Direct democracy and representative democracy

Filed under: Government, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Progressives generally are sentimentally supportive of direct local politics — they especially favor the ideals of the New England town meeting, where everyone who showed up had a say. The reason why this form of local government was generally abandoned is that it is simply too time-consuming for larger communities, and allows the motivated minority to capture control. Election of representatives was an advance which allowed voters to go about their own lives most of the time while exerting control through their representative, who had time to understand the issues thoroughly and vote in council in the best interests of the voters. Being in the 1% of local voters who cares deeply enough about an item to show up at a public meeting about it does not mean your feelings about it are more important than the views of those who didn’t show up; the once-every-few-years election is more likely to reflect what most voters want.

Jeb Kinnison, “Real-life ‘Hunger Games'”, According to Hoyt, 2015-09-25.

July 2, 2017

QotD: Not (yet) ready for democracy

Filed under: Government, History, Middle East, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The absolutely vital elements of a successful democratic component of government (note – component of a system, not the entire system): is that there be a literate population; a free and enquiring press; a well developed and just rule of law; and a tradition of give and take being acceptable to the society.

Tribal societies have none of these things. That is why democracies have consistently failed in African countries where tribalism is still the most important element. (In fact politics in some of these places is still largely a competition between which tribal groups served in the imperial militaries, versus which served in the imperial civil services. With very bloody competition between the two.) The fact that illiteracy is rampant; free presses almost non-existent; and the rule of law where judges are not beholden to tribal interests, or simply threats, doesn’t exist: makes democracy impossible to sustain.

Muslim culture has none of these things. A system where a woman’s evidence in court is one third of a man’s – and dhimmitude is recognized even if slavery officially isn’t – is unlikely to have these things. And for literacy, free press, or rule of law, see Africa, but doubled.

It is also possible to suggest that without a clear understanding of the logic of natural laws, you can’t have a democracy. The fact that Muslim scholarship specifically rejects natural law on the basis that Allah can cause anything, so there are no ‘natural laws’, means you cannot have these things. The reason the Muslim world lost its scientific supremacy of the 11th and 12th centuries relates specifically to their decision to turn their back on empirical evidence. Without that basic understanding, I do not believe democracy is possible. (In fact that basic approach helps explain why democracy is actually anathema to good Muslims, and why Boko Haram literally means ‘Western education is evil’!)

So the concept that an ‘Arab Spring’ could work in the Middle East is a sad indictment on the Western media and ‘intelligentsia’s’ failed understanding about how democracy works.

In fact the entire deluded Western project of attempting to impose ‘republics’ on tribal societies as part of post-colonialism, is an indictment on the western fantasy that republics are workable, let alone good things.

Let’s face it, no western republic, even in the most educated, literate, and rule of law abiding parts of the Anglosphere, has survived a first century without a collapse and or bloody civil war. The most ‘successful’ Western republics have included the American (see above), French (see above), Weimar (heard of the popularly elected Adolf Hitler?), Italian (50 governments in 50 years), Greek (how’s that brilliant financial planning going?) and Polish (are they on their 3rd, 4th, or 5th?). Those are the good ones. 90% of all republics ever founded in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, have collapsed into dictatorship, civil war, mass murder, or ethnic cleansing, within 20 years of being set up.

And that’s what we thought would work in the Middle East?

Nigel Davies, “The ‘Arab Spring’, 1848, and the 30 Years War/s…”, rethinking history, 2015-09-19.

May 3, 2017

Reforming Canada’s parliament

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the National Post, Andrew Coyne pours scorn on the “reforms” being put forward by Justin Trudeau’s government and suggests some alternatives that might help make the institution more democratic and less like the Prime Minister’s personal court, by scaling back the power of the PM and other party leaders in the house:

What would a package of reforms look like that was genuinely intended to make the government more accountable to Parliament? It would start, reasonably enough, by reducing the powers of the government over Parliament. Rather than allow government to decide when debate had gone on long enough, for example, it would assign that power to the Speaker — as the Speaker, in the best of the government’s current proposals, would be empowered to divide omnibus bills into separate parts, to be voted on separately. (Perhaps it will be applied to the current such exercise, the budget bill.)

Rather than give the government sole power to decide when to prorogue the House, it would make such decisions subject to a vote of the Commons, with a supermajority required to ensure bipartisan support. (The current proposal is merely that the government should be required to declare its reasons.) A similar constraint might be imposed on its power to dissolve the House. We might also place limits on the confidence convention, under which the government can designate any bill it likes as a confidence measure — the gun at the head by which governments ultimately ensure compliance.

I say government, but of course I mean the prime minister, whose control over any government is near absolute. So a genuine reform plan would also reduce some of his personal prerogatives, beginning with the number and range of offices that are his sole purview to appoint, to be doled out as rewards for obedience: notably, it would halve the size of the cabinet, and with it the number of parliamentary secretaries assigned to each minister.

It would likewise seek to reduce the powers of party leaders over ordinary MPs: by restoring the convention that leaders are elected by caucus, and removable by them; by eliminating the power of the leader (or “designate”) to veto the nominations of party candidates, in favour perhaps of a vote of the caucus or riding association presidents. MPs thus liberated, it would be possible to have more genuinely free votes — on everything. (There would still be confidence votes, of course, but MPs are capable of deciding for themselves whether a matter is worth the fall of the government; MPs who go back on a platform promise can likewise answer to their constituents, not the party whip.)

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