Quotulatiousness

April 11, 2017

The return of Jane Galt

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

Megan McArdle, who used to blog as “Jane Galt”, did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit:

I’m Megan McArdle, a columnist for Bloomberg View, covering business, economics, public policy and the latest in kitchen gadgets. Ask me anything!

[…]

[–]LegalInspiration 5 points 6 hours ago*

In the short, medium, and long terms, generally speaking, would you say the US as a political and civil society is screwed? If so, how screwed would you say it is? If that’s too argumentative, maybe a more polite way to phrase it is: Do you see the gradual disruption of national unity post WWII as something that will cycle within a set of sustainable boundaries, or will the trend continue long term to the point where the US is no longer sustainable as a coherent and singular entity?

    [–]janegalt[S] 4 points 5 hours ago

    A couple of decades ago, I toyed with the idea of writing a novel where the US broke up into two countries: Liberalstan and Fundamentalistalia. Back then I thought it was a metaphor; now I’m less sure. The country feels more divided than it has in my lifetime, or that of my parents. It may be the worst it’s been since the Palmer Raids; maybe the worst since the Civil War.

    That said, to quote Adam Smith, “There’s a lot of ruin in a nation”. I think we have plenty of room to turn it around. But I think to do so, we need to think creatively about a kinder, gentler nationalism. Not the kind that says “Whee, let’s invade other countries”, but the kind that emphasizes love of country and the things we have in common–not the love we’ll grudgingly dole out after the nation has perfected itself, nor the things we’ll have in common after all those wretches in the other half of the country see the light and/or die. But love of each other right now, despite our many flaws.

    Every country needs a certain amount of myth making, and a certain amount of irrational pride in itself to hold it together. That’s particularly true for America, which can’t derive a national identity from, well, not being America. I think a lot of people imagined that tearing down all the myth making, and disparaging that irrational love of country, would turn us into good global citizens. Only it turns out that the opposite of nationalism isn’t globalism; it’s tribalism. And the tribes are gearing up to make war on each other in a way that the US hasn’t seen for a long time.

[…]

[–]TJIC1 4 points 6 hours ago

You are libertarian – but a “pragmatic” one who suggests / acknowledges that gov is necessarily going to end up in pretty much every corner of everything, and that the space of reasonable policy debate is small changes at the margin. This seems to suggest that we will never repeal FDR innovations like ignoring the 9th and 10th amendment, changing commerce clause to read “Federal gov can do whatever it wants”, etc. What’s the best we can hope for for liberty? What we have today – a modern welfare state where USG consumes 30% of economy and regulates everything from toilet flushing to proper woods to make a guitar fretboard from?

…or a welfare state where USG consumes 50% of the economy?

…or 90%?

[–]janegalt[S] 5 points 5 hours ago*

    The gap between real and ideal for libertarians is certainly wide, and I am less hopeful than I was twenty years ago that we’ll ever close it. I hate the “read whatever the government wants to do into the Constitution” jurisprudence that was required to enable the New Deal, and the fact that judges have appointed themselves to replace poets as the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

    At some point as a commentator you have to decide whether to advocate for first best or eighth best policy. I’ve generally decided to advocate for what I think is politically realistic, rather than what I think is ideal. I think you need both kinds though–the compromisers need the hardline idealists to provide a sort of compass point, and the idealists need the compromisers to provide the actual movement in the right direction.

    That said, this last election was very bad for libertarian ideas, representing a rejection of both our ideas about social policy, and those about political economy. I think libertarians have a lot of hard work ahead thinking about where we can realistically make advances in the next decade or so. I wish I knew the answer to that. My best guess is: the middle class entitlement state is not going to be rolled back. There may be some room for progress on America’s incredibly inefficient regulatory state, which would be a great boon for both economic liberty, and growth. I think the GOP will try to do tax cuts, but will fail to accomplish anything significant, for much the same reasons that their health care bill failed: there’s no money, and no public appetite for a tax cut that mainly benefits the affluent-to-rich (as it will have to, because at this point, the middle class and below don’t pay significant income taxes).

    That said, we should also remember the progress that has been made on the liberty front. In 1944, FDR had the head of Montgomery Ward arrested for thwarting his war planning board; in 1952 Truman nationalized the steel mills. That stuff doesn’t happen any more, and a lot of the worst New Deal regulations have gone away. Police practices are way better than they were before Miranda and other decisions made sure that defendants knew their rights (I’m not saying they’re perfect, but they’re definitely better). And if you’re a minority or a woman, all sorts of legal discrimination has been erased over the last fifty years. Those are major victories for libertarians, and we shouldn’t think that there’s some golden age we’re falling away from. We’ve lost a few, but we’ve won a few too.

April 1, 2017

Hello Angry Losers

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 31 Mar 2017

A Word To The Patronising Minority

March 28, 2017

The next Scottish referendum

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Brendan O’Neill says that despite the common assertion that those in favour of Brexit can’t object to Scottish independence, the people who supported Brexit have a strong case to argue against Scotland splitting away from the United Kingdom:

The argument is that if you backed Brexit, then you haven’t got a leg to stand on when it comes to opposing Nicola Sturgeon’s latest stab at Scottish independence. They’re the same thing, innit? ‘No one involved in Brexit, or who supported Brexit, can make any argument against Scottish independence except emotional ones’, says a writer for the Spectator.

Actually, the opposite is the case. Brexiteers are precisely the right people to put the case against Scottish independence. Because the argument against Scottish independence is the same as the argument for Brexit. Namely that people should not shy away from democracy, with all the debate and disagreement and difficulties it involves, but rather should embrace it. That instead of hiding from our responsibility to engage in national public life, or handing that responsibility over to ‘expert’ external bodies who will do decision-making on our behalf, we should accept this responsibility, and cherish it. Where Brexit represented a brave reclaiming of the institution of democracy, Scottish independence is driven by a sense of exhaustion with it, and by a rather elitist urge to opt out of it.

To many observers, Brexit and Sturgeon’s campaign for Scottish independence are the same thing: attempts to rupture longstanding unions. (Very longstanding in the case of the UK: 310 years. Not so much in the case of the EU: 24 years.) But the bigger, more important question is surely why these unions are being called into question.

[…]

For leftists in particular, many of whom threw their lot in with the idea of Scots independence during the Indy Ref of 2014, Scottish independence is attractive precisely to the extent that it allows them to circumvent what they see as the backward, Tory-esque thinking of a majority of Brits, especially English people. They, and also many in the SNP, fantasise that Scotland is a progressive, socialist-at-heart nation, and these fine instincts are being stymied by the votes and attitudes of dumb English people. Solution? Cut yourself off. Avoid even having to have the argument with the ignorant masses, never mind having to win it, by creating your own siphoned-off pseudo-independent nation in which you’ll always get your own way.

As one left commentator said during Indy Ref, the left’s flirtation with Scottish nationalism is driven in part by its irritation at ‘the sheer scale of the defeats suffered by the left’. One radical writer described Scottish nationalism as a ‘potential escape mechanism’ for leftists north of the border tired of living under governments in Westminster elected by the low-information right-wing hordes south of Hadrian’s Wall. And that’s what ‘independence’ is for Sturgeon and Co, too: an ‘escape mechanism’, a means of fleeing from the consequences of democracy into your own aloof, agreeable statelet.

This is why this independence movement seems to have so little to do with actual independence, as confirmed by the SNP’s desire to break from Westminster only to wrap itself in the interfering arms of the oligarchy in Brussels: because modern Scottish nationalism isn’t about independence at all. Except, perhaps, independence from the masses. From the British throng. From democracy. From a demos that has proven so disappointing to always-angry Scottish nationalists and to British leftists who see an independent Scotland, shorn of the millions who currently make up British democracy, as an opportunity to create the state-socialist utopia that they know a majority of Brits would find unappetising.

March 20, 2017

Scotland … here they go again

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

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is eager to get the voters back to the polls for another go-around for Scottish independence (well, not independence-independence, but separate-from-Britain-but-desperate-to-stay-in-the-EU-independence). Stephen Daisley comments on the situation as of Saturday:

The SNP has managed to spin normally sceptical hacks the line that Downing Street was caught on the back foot by Miss Sturgeon’s Monday surprise. It’s true that the timing was news to Number 10 — received wisdom ran that the Nationalist leader would unveil her gambit at the SNP annual spring conference in Aberdeen this afternoon.

But the UK Government has known since 2014, when Miss Sturgeon’s party refused to accept their 55% to 45% defeat, that another push for separation was a matter of ‘when’, rather than ‘if’. Contingency plans have been in place for some time, both to push back a referendum do-over until after Brexit and, if need be, to fight one immediately. The Nationalists are not dealing with that nice Mr Cameron anymore.

And Theresa May’s response to Miss Sturgeon’s demand was more cautiously-worded, better thought through, than the contributions that became common from David Cameron during the first referendum. Crucially, she did not dole out a flat No; instead, she said Not Yet.

[…]

Next week, she will ask MSPs to vote for a Section 30 request, petitioning Westminster for the power to hold a second referendum. There is no mandate for the Scottish Parliament to pursue such a policy. The constitution is reserved to the UK Parliament; a party winning a Holyrood election on a manifesto of surrendering Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent or withdrawing Scottish troops from an international conflict would not be thought to have grounds for pursuing such policies.

Even if this point were conceded — it is done so from first principles by the eager constitutionalists who populate the Scottish academy — there is another flaw in the Nationalists’ argument. True, they came first in the May 2016 election and their manifesto envisioned ‘Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will’ as cause for a re-run of 2014’s ‘once in a generation’ poll. But the Nationalists failed to secure a majority of seats at Holyrood for that proposition, winning only 63 out of 129. Fortunately for the SNP, they have six to spare in the shape of the Scottish Greens, once a conscientious party of the Left but, under Patrick Harvie, a Me-Too faction for the most triangulating government since New Labour.

Every time the Nats get themselves into a jam, every time it looks like they might finally have to stop girning and start governing, up pop the six little anoraks, festooned with CND badges and brimming with good intentions, and they come to the rescue. Time after time, Mr Harvie drags the SNP out of a hole and gets nothing in return except a pat on the head. That isn’t leadership; it’s the political instincts of Lassie.

The Greens’ amening of Miss Sturgeon’s gambit is different from previous acts of handmaidenry because it breaks the party’s pledge to the voters. In the manifesto they were elected on last May, the Greens promised:

‘Citizens should be able to play a direct role in the legislative process: on presenting a petition signed by an appropriate number of voters, citizens should be able to trigger a vote on important issues of devolved responsibility. As we proposed on the one year anniversary of the Independence Referendum, this is the Scottish Greens’ preferred way of deciding to hold a second referendum on Independence. If a new referendum is to happen, it should come about by the will of the people, and not be driven by calculations of party political advantage. In such a referendum the Scottish Greens will campaign for independence.’

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

March 14, 2017

British India During World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, India, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 13 Mar 2017

India was part of the British Empire during World War 1 and it was of vital importance to the war effort. Resources, manufacturing power and over 1.3 million men that served in the Army meant a great price for India to pay during the war. But even before the conflict, the call for independence grew louder and louder.

February 21, 2017

QotD: Leaving the European Union

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Government, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In the 25 years since I began writing seriously here about the European Union and what our membership of it has been doing to Britain, I have learnt (among much else) three things.

The first, which came quite early as I began to understand the real nature of the supranational system of government we now lived under, was that we should one day have to leave it.

A second, as I came to appreciate just how enmeshed we were becoming with that system of government, was that extricating ourselves from it would be far more fiendishly complicated than most people realised.

The third, as I listened and talked to politicians, was how astonishingly little they seemed really to know about how it worked. Having outsourced ever more of our lawmaking and policy to a higher power, it was as if our political class had switched off from ever really trying to understand it.

Christopher Booker, “Our politicians want to lead us out of the EU, but they don’t seem to have a clue how it works”, Telegraph, 2017-02-04.

February 6, 2017

“Compulsive believers … should terrify you”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Guardian, Nick Cohen says you shouldn’t be concerned about compulsive liars: it’s the compulsive believers you should worry about:

Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers. Their votes give the demagogue his power. Their trust turns the charlatan into the president. Their credulity ensures that the propaganda of half-calculating and half-mad fanatics has the power to change the world.

How you see the believers determines how you fight them and seek to protect liberal society from its enemies. And I don’t just mean how you fight that object of liberal despair and conservative fantasies, the alternately despised and patronised white working class. Compulsive believers are not just rednecks. They include figures as elevated as the British prime minister and her cabinet. Before the EU referendum, a May administration would have responded to the hitherto unthinkable arrival of a US president who threatened Nato and indulged Putin by hugging Britain’s European allies close. But Brexit has thrown Britain’s European alliance into crisis. So English Conservative politicians must crush their doubts and believe with a desperate compulsion that the alleged “pragmatism” of Donald Trump will triumph over his undoubted extremism, a belief that to date has as much basis in fact as creationism.

Mainstream journalists are almost as credulous. After decades of imitating Jeremy Paxman and seizing on the trivial gaffes and small lies of largely harmless politicians, they are unable to cope with the fantastic lies of the new authoritarian movements. When confronted with men who lie so instinctively they believe their lies as they tell them, they can only insist on a fair hearing for the sake of “balance”. Their acceptance signals to the audience the unbelievable is worthy of belief.

[…]

As their old world is engulfed now, the sluggish reflexes and limited minds of too many conservatives compel them to cry out against liberal hypocrisy, as if it were all that mattered. There is more than enough hypocrisy to go round. I must confess to wondering about the sincerity of those who protest against the collective punishment of Trump’s ban on visitors from Muslim countries but remain silent when Arab countries deny all Israeli Jews admission. I too would like to know why there was so little protest when Obama gave Iran funds to spend on the devastation of Syria. But the greatest hypocrisy is always to divert attention from what is staring you in the face today and may be kicking you in the teeth tomorrow.

The temptation to think it a new totalitarianism is too strong for many to resist. Despite readers reaching for Hannah Arendt and George Orwell, strictly speaking, the comparison with fascism and communism isn’t true. When I floated it with the great historian of Nazism, Sir Richard Evans, he almost sighed. It’s not just that there aren’t the death camps and torture chambers, he said. The street violence that brought fascists to power in Italy and Germany and the communists to power in Russia is absent today.

The 21st-century’s model for a strongman is a leader who makes opposition as hard as possible, as Orbán is trying to do in Hungary, but does not actually declare a dictatorship, for not even Putin has done that.

H/T to Guy Herbert for the link.

January 21, 2017

Fighting on Alpine Peaks – Call for Self Determination I THE GREAT WAR Week 130

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 19 Jan 2017

The winter of 1916/1917 is the harshest one so far in the war. Nowhere do the soldiers suffer from these extreme conditions than on the Italian Front in the Dolomites. The fighting there is fierce already but the cold, avalanches and height make it even more brutal. After the failed peace negotiations, the cry for ethnic self determination can still be heard all around the world. And German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann sends a fateful telegram to Mexico that is today remembered as the Zimmermann-Telegram.

January 11, 2017

QotD: Seasteading

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

It’s an enticing idea though hardly an uplifting one, a pricer version of the escapist Free State Project. Yet the underlying rationale behind those fleeing to New Hampshire, or trying to establish civilization in the middle of the ocean is the same: We’ve lost the battle for freedom at home.

This defeatist mentality is common among refugees. It is also understandable among those whose countries have fallen into dictatorship and civil strife. America is neither a dictatorship nor on the verge of a second civil war. Adam Smith observed that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation. It will take more than eight years of Barack Obama to fell the most powerful nation on earth.

There’s a strange irony with projects like Seasteading and the Free Staters. The type of people naturally attracted to these movements are hardly weak willed or easily deterred. A list of advocates for setting up some small piece of libertarian paradise reads like a Who’s Who of Silicon Valley. Men and women who feel confident enough to creatively destroy entire industries but, somehow, feel incapable of winning a political argument against those often less intelligent and accomplished than themselves. There is more than a whiff of nerds being intimidated by the cool kids.

The dream of running away and creating a perfect society, or at least a better one, is hardly new. It must have been in the minds those early colonists who spread across the Mediterranean in the wake of the Greek Dark Age. It was, of course, the impetus for British settlers to establish their colonies in North America and the Antipodes. There are times when the only sensible thing to do is leave.

The cost, however, is enormous. Creating a new society, even while carrying the best of Western Civilization, is a dangerous and incredibly complex undertaking. It took the thirteen American colonies more than a century and half to reach anything like a critical economic and political mass. This is the basic flaw in Seasteading, even leaving aside the enormous cost of building the infrastructure. Societies are not computer software, they cannot be programmed or adjusted at will. They must evolve organically over time if they are to survive. This is why many Seasteading proposals come off as pitches for high-end hotels and conference centers. The social element is missing.

Richard Anderson, “A Billionaire’s Utopia or How To Run Away From Your Problems”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2015-05-28.

July 23, 2016

QotD: Separatism and the EU

Filed under: Europe, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All the current nationalist parties of small nations in Europe — the Scots, the Welsh, the Basque, the Catalans, the Flemish — strongly support membership in the European Union, which is dedicated to, and even predicated upon, the extinction of national sovereignty. One would have thought that these parties wanted, at a minimum, national sovereignty. The contradiction is so glaring that it requires an explanation.

The human mind is not a perfect calculating machine, and no doubt all of us sometimes contradict ourselves. Perfect consistency tends to be disconcerting — but so does glaring inconsistency. It’s possible that the nationalist parties’ leaders don’t perceive the contradiction, being so blinded by ideology that they are simply unaware of it. But another possible explanation exists: by leading their nominally independent countries, they forever will be able to feed at the great trough of Brussels and distribute its largesse in true clientelistic fashion. The nationalist leaders certainly lead their people, but by the nose.

[…]

Oddly enough, I have not seen the contradiction between current nationalism and support for remaining in the European Union referred to in the press, though I don’t read every paper in every language. This is surely one of the first times in history, however, that the expression, “Out of the frying pan into the fire,” has become not a warning, but the desired destination of substantial proportions of whole populations.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Nationalist Contradictions in Europe: Why do breakaway political parties want to remain in the European Union?”, City Journal, 2016-06-27.

July 4, 2016

The SNP manages to be “a party of protest and a party of government at the same time”

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

John Kay discusses the differences between the English anti-EU vote and the Scottish anti-English vote:

As a schoolboy in Edinburgh, I was taught that, long before the union with England, Scotland had been a cosmopolitan country. The ports on the east coast showed the influence of trade with the Netherlands and the Hanseatic League. The Scots language demonstrated continental influences. The citizens of Edinburgh would shout “gardyloo”, supposedly from the French “gare de l’eau”, before throwing their slops into the streets from the windows of the tall tenements of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Even then, this example of early Scots sophistication did not convince. And the claim that their vote to stay in the EU — all districts of Scotland voted Remain in the referendum, and 62 per cent of the nation’s voters as a whole voted to stay in the EU — is the product of a broad-minded outlook not seen south of the border also misses a crucial point.
The reality is that the discontent with established politics that erupted in the Leave vote elsewhere in the country has found expression in other ways. As one student of Scottish politics, explaining the UK Independence party’s lack of traction north of the border, put it to me two years ago: “People in Scotland who are disgruntled and suspicious of foreigners [the English] already have a party they can vote for.”

The fracturing of the opposition Labour party’s traditional support in depressed areas of the north of England, which was decisive in securing an Out vote, paralleled the collapse of Labour’s vote in the west of Scotland in favour of the Scottish National party in the general election of 2015.

The great achievement of the SNP, now in government in Holyrood and with MPs in Westminster, has been to be a party of protest and a party of government at the same time. This is an achievement Brexiters will find hard to emulate.

H/T to both Colby Cosh and Tim Harford for the link.

May 27, 2015

The dis-United Kingdom

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Mark Steyn on the result of the British general election:

It would be churlish to deny oneself the pleasure of hooting at the politico-media establishment, but, when that’s done, this is a deeply unhealthy electoral result. The Conservatives won because Labour got wiped out in Scotland and the Liberals got wiped out in England. But the reality is that, for a supposedly United Kingdom, the country no longer has any national political party. England and Scotland have taken on the characteristics of Northern Ireland — hermetically sealed polities full of weird, unlovely regional parties (“SNP”, “Conservative”, “Labour”) that have no meaning once you cross the border, and whose internal disputes are of no relevance to the other three-quarters of the kingdom: Nobody outside Ulster cares about “official” Unionists vs the more red-blooded Democratic Unionists. And so it goes with the Scots Nats and Labour in Scotland: nationalist socialists vs unionist socialists; Likewise, with the Tories and UKIP in England: transnationalist conservatives vs nationalist conservatives.

Wales is the exception that proves the rule, where UKIP outpolled Plaid Cymru, albeit with no seats to show for it. The Scottish National Party got 4.7 per cent of the UK vote, and 56 seats. UKIP had nearly thrice as many voters — 12.6 per cent — but only one seat. That discrepancy is because there is no longer any such thing as “the UK vote”. I far prefer the Westminster first-past-the-post system to European “proportional representation”, but it only works if you have genuinely national parties. If the system decays into four groups of regional parties, the House of Commons will look less and less like a genuine national parliament, and more and more like some surly conditional arrangement — Scottish Kurds, Tory Shia and seething Labour Sunni triangles.

The composition of the new house would strike any mid-20th century Briton as freakish and unsettling. It’s a bit like Canada in the Nineties — where Reform couldn’t break out of the west, the Bloc Québécois dominated Quebec, the rump Tories clung on in the Atlantic provinces, and Ontario and a few seats hither and yon gave the Liberals their majority. The difference is that the Bloquistes are pretend separatists; the Scottish National Party are not.

And that’s before you take into account the competing nationalist dynamics of the Anglo-Scottish victors: secession from the UK north of the border and detachment from the EU south. Cameron is a wily operator and one notices he uses the words “United Kingdom” far more than his predecessors. But saying will not make it so.

May 5, 2015

The weirdness of the British political situation

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

Charles Stross calls the current situation a “Scottish Political Singularity”:

The UK is heading for a general election next Thursday, and for once I’m on the edge of my seat because, per Hunter S. Thompson, the going got weird.

The overall electoral picture based on polling UK-wide is ambiguous. South of Scotland — meaning, in England and Wales — the classic two-party duopoly that collapsed during the 1970s, admitting the Liberal Democrats as a third minority force, has eroded further. We are seeing the Labour and Conservative parties polling in the low 30s. It is a racing certainty that neither party will be able to form a working majority, which requires 326 seats in the 650 seat House of Commons. The Liberal Democrats lost a lot of support from their soft-left base by going into coalition with the Conservatives, but their electoral heartlands — notably the south-west — are firm enough that while they will lose seats, they will still be a factor after the election; they’re unlikely to return fewer than 15 MPs, although at the last election they peaked around 50.

Getting away from the traditional big three parties, the picture gets more interesting. The homophobic, racist, bigoted scumbags of UKIP (hey, I’m not going to hide my opinions here!) have picked up support haemorrhaging from the right wing of the Conservative party; polling has put them on up to 20%, but they’re unlikely to return more than 2-6 MPs because their base is scattered across England. (Outside England they’re polling as low as 2-4%, suggesting that they’re very much an English nationalist party.) On the opposite pole, the Green party is polling in the 5-10% range, and might pick up an extra MP, taking them to 2 seats. In Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (who are just as barkingly xenophobic as UKIP) are also set to return a handful of MPs.

And then there’s Scotland.

Having lived through a couple of near-national-death experiences here in Canada, I’m less than enthused that the country of my birth is now having similar threats from the Celtic fringe. I’m a fan of Charlie’s writing, and I think he’s someone who thinks interesting thoughts, but I hope he’s wrong in this area.

January 19, 2015

QotD: Austria becomes Austria-Hungary

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

Shaken by military defeat, the neo-absolutist Austrian Empire metamorphosed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Under the Compromise hammered out in 1867 power was shared out between the two dominant nationalities, the Germans in the west and the Hungarians in the east. What emerged was a unique polity, like an egg with two yolks, in which the Kingdom of Hungary and a territory centred on the Austrian lands and often called Cisleithania (meaning ‘the lands on this side of the River Leithe’) lived side by side within the translucent envelope of a Habsburg dual monarchy. Each of the two entities had its own parliament, but there was no common prime minister and no common cabinet. Only foreign affairs, defence and defence-related aspects of finance were handled by ‘joint ministers’ who were answerable directly to the Emperor. Matters of interest to the empire as a whole could not be discussed in common parliamentary session, because to do so would have implied that the Kingdom of Hungary was merely the subordinate part of some larger imperial entity. Instead, an exchange of views had to take place between the ‘delegations’, groups of thirty delegates from each parliament, who met alternately in Vienna and Budapest.

The dualist compromise had many enemies at the time and has had many critics since. In the eyes of hardline Magyar nationalists, it was a sell-out that denied the Hungarians the full national independence that was their due. Some claimed that Austria was still exploiting the Kingdom of Hungary as an agrarian colony. Vienna’s refusal to relinquish control over the armed forces and create a separate and equal Hungarian army was especially contentious — a constitutional crisis over this question paralyzed the empire’s political life in 1905. On the other hand, Austrian Germans argued that the Hungarians were freeloading on the more advanced economy of the Austrian lands, and ought to pay a higher share of the empire’s running costs. Conflict was programmed into the system, because the Compromise required that the two imperial ‘halves’ renegotiate every ten years the customs union by which revenues and taxation were shared out between them. The demands of the Hungarians became bolder with every review of the union. And there was little in the Compromise to recommend it to the political elites of the other national minorities, who had in effect been placed under the tutelage of the two ‘master races’. The first post-Compromise Hungarian prime minister, Gyula Andrássy, captured this aspect of the settlement when he commented to his Austrian counterpart: ‘You look after your Slavs and we’ll look after ours.’ The last decades before the outbreak of war were increasingly dominated by the struggle for national rights among the empire’s eleven official nationalities – Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Romanians, Ruthenians, Poles, and Italians.

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

December 29, 2014

QotD: Austria-Hungary and the national minorities

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

How these challenges were met varied between the two Imperial halves. The Hungarians dealt with the nationalities problem mainly by behaving as if it didn’t exist. The kingdom’s electoral franchise extended to only 6 per cent of the population because it was pegged to a property qualification that favoured the Magyars, who made up the bulk of the wealthier strata of the population. The result was that Magyar deputies, though they represented only 48.1 per cent of the population, controlled over 90 per cent of the parliamentary seats. The 3 million Romanians of Transylvania, the largest of the kingdom’s national minorities, comprised 15.4 per cent of the population, but held only five of the Hungarian parliament’s 400-odd seats. From the late 1870s, moreover, the Hungarian government pursued a campaign of aggressive ‘Magyarization’. Education laws imposed the use of the Magyar language on all state and faith schools, even those catering to children of kindergarten age. Teachers were required to be fluent in Magyar and could be dismissed if they were found to be ‘hostile to the [Hungarian] state’. This degradation of language rights was underwritten by harsh measures against ethnic minority activists. Serbs from the Vojvodina in the south of the kingdom, Slovaks from the northern counties and Romanians from the Grand Duchy of Transylvania did occasionally collaborate in pursuit of minority objectives, but with little effect, since they could muster only a small number of mandates.

In Cisleithania [the German Austrian half of the empire], by contrast, successive administrations tampered endlessly with the system in order to accommodate minority demands. Franchise reforms in 1882 and 1907 (when virtually universal male suffrage was introduced) went some way towards levelling the political playing field. But these democratizing measures merely heightened the potential for national conflict, especially over the sensitive question of language use in public institutions such as schools, courts and administrative bodies.

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

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