Quotulatiousness

July 20, 2014

The struggle of progressive comedians to be funny without offending

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:44

Jon Gabriel attends a panel discussion on progressive comedy at Netroots Nation. It wasn’t very funny:

Netroots Nation is an annual conference for online progressive activists. Over the past few days, the group held their ninth annual event in Detroit — America’s finest example of unchecked liberal policy.

Unbeknownst to the organizers, I attended the conference to see what the other side thinks about economics, education and the midterms. If their presentation on comedy is any guide, conservatives don’t have much to fear.

“The Left is supposed to be funnier than the Right, damn it,” the panel description stated. “So why do we so often sound in public like we’re stiltedly reading from a non-profit grant proposal?”

This defensive tone was apparent throughout the hour-plus session, brought up repeatedly by speakers and audience members. Much like a co-worker who doesn’t get anyone’s jokes but insists, “I have a great sense of humor!”

[...]

The audience had several questions about what they were allowed to joke about and even how comedy works. A white septuagenarian proudly stated that she no longer tells jokes to black people because that might expose them to unwitting racism. Camp and White sadly noted that her preface of “I’m not a racist, but…” confirms that she is, in fact, a racist.

Another audience member asked how progressives can shut down funny, effective lines coming from the right on talk radio, blogs and Twitter. “The right has short, pithy things to say because they lie,” Halper replied.

She explained that clever jokes by conservatives aren’t actually funny because such people lack empathy and nuance. “Progressives are more nuanced, statistically speaking,” Halper said. The science is settled.

July 11, 2014

QotD: The Utopian urge

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

Whereas a conservative writer might warn that humans are just as likely, if not more likely, to bungle things when applying past experience to new plans for society as when trying to fix their own private lives — and an optimistic libertarian writer might note that people are far more rational in planning their own lives than in planning others’ — left-liberals have a tendency to think that humans’ ability to plan collectively is inversely proportional to their ability to plan their lives as individuals.

A more concrete example: the most neurotic of my fellow New Yorkers tend also to be the people most likely to think sense and order can be imposed on our messed-up lives from above. Politics becomes a route to redemption. Or as one comic book industry professional who is a self-proclaimed communist put it when I first met her here seventeen years ago, “Capitalism is a terrible system — it allowed me to get $60,000 in debt.” The left-liberal imagining being saved from herself is analogous to those social conservatives who look at their own bad habits and conclude that the whole world badly needs religion.

Todd Seavey, “Sci-Fi is Socialist, Like Most Art”, The Federalist, 2013-12-26

June 16, 2014

QotD: New Zealand in 1954 – a “fake utopia”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Pacific — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Monowai cast off just two days after the then still-secret Castle Bravo H-bomb was detonated at Bikini Atoll. They docked in Auckland on March 5 after an uneventful passage of four days. Their stateroom had been uncomfortably cramped, but at least the ship was clean. Not as much as could be said for the hotel in Auckland — and the food they were given all during their stay in New Zealand.

They arranged a tour of the countryside as fast as possible, running into a snarl of red tape and incredible union featherbedding that gave his professional Democrat’s conscience twinges. They endured several days in Auckland, over a weekend buttoned up tighter than even Sydney — “Australian closing hours are inconvenient, but New Zealand closing hours are more in the nature of paralysis” — before they were able to book a tour of North Island — a beautiful place. Waitono, their first stop, did a great deal to take the taste of Auckland out of their mouths. The Glowworm Grotto fascinated them.

Otherwise, the trip itself was moderately grim. In the thermal geyser country of Wairakei and Rotorua, a guide, displaying all the characteristics of petty bureaucrats everywhere, disparaged Yellowstone’s geyser field and Robert had enough. For a moment he lost his temper and sense of discretion enough to point out the facts and drew down the guide’s righteously arrogant — and factually wrong — wrath.

Of New Zealand in 1954, he said it was a place, “where no one goes hungry, but where life is dreary and comfortless beyond belief, save for the pleasures of good climate and magnificent countryside”. Worst of all, it was grim because of the very features that had made him most hopeful for it — the British pattern of socialism, the overpowering, oppressive, death grip of the unions stifled all spirit of progress, all incentive to better the thousands of petty, daily inconveniences this often truculent, beaten-down people burdened themselves with as much as their visitors. “New Zealand is a fake utopia,” Heinlein concluded, “a semi-socialism which does not work and which does not have anything like the degree of civil liberty we have. In my opinion, it stinks.”

William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

June 10, 2014

QotD: Robert Heinlein on socialism

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

Socialism can be good or bad, depending on how it is run. Our national parks are an example of a socialist enterprise which is beautifully run… Here in the USA, where we have much more socialism than most people appear to believe, we are good at it in some spots, fair in others, lousy in some. In general I have come to believe that we here are usually better off with private ownership government policed than we are when the government actually owns the deal and a bored clerk looks at you and sneers when you complain. But I don’t hold it as an article of faith, either way — people ought to be able to organize their affairs to suit their convenience, either individually or collectively. They ought to be free to do either one. They ought to be free.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Robert A.W. Lowndes, 1956-03-13 (quoted in William H. Patterson Jr’s Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

May 27, 2014

The argument against raising minimum prices for alcohol

Filed under: Economics, Government, Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:37

Earlier this year, A Very British Dude explained why “evidence-based” policy making isn’t actually what it says on the label, and illustrates it with the example of minimum pricing for alcohol:

Who could possibly be against “evidence-based” policy?

The problem is very simple. It’s almost impossible to conduct experiments in the social sciences. No government can alter one economic variable and measure the outcome. The noise to signal ratio is absurdly high. What you’re left with is explanations of the data that may or may not stumble on the actual causality.

Some things are obviously and self-evidently stupid. Socialism for example — high marginal tax-rates, nationalisation, closing down markets where possible in favour of state monopolies failed. And in as perfect an economic experiment as any undertaken, two nations, both shattered by war and populated by Germans went head to head. The Capitalist system turned out to be much, much less shit than socialism. Yet many social “scientists” still seem intent on manufacturing evidence that the solutions once tried in East Germany are not only feasible, but that any other approach is both doomed to failure and wicked.

Instead of evidence-based policy, what you often get is policy-based “evidence”. You have the same political arguments, dressed up in a kind of pseudo scientific hocus-pocus.

Take the “debate” about minimum pricing as a classic example.

First make a heroic assumption. Assume a fall in alcohol consumption per head is desirable (it isn’t, what we want to do is reduce “problem” drinking). Second, ignore the fact that your desired outcome is happening anyway. Third, ignore all the evidence that “problem” drug-takers have a lower elasticity of demand and assume that minimum pricing will mostly affect the consumption by alcoholics. Fourth, express these assumptions in a spreadsheet, with no real-world evidence. Fifth, describe this spreadsheet as a “model“. The zeroth step is, of course to get a university to describe you as “professor” first. Then you’re able to tout your guesswork and call it “evidence”, to politicians, and unmolested by any critical thought on the Today program and be paid handsomely from tax-payers’ funds to make this “evidence” up into the bargain.

So you have an “evidence-based” policy to impose a minimum unit price on Alcohol. It’s regressive, and probably won’t work. It will reduce moderate drinking by sensible people, making them at the margin, unhappier. It is unlikely to reduce problem drinking, but may make problem drinkers substitute clothes, or food, or heating for their more expensive booze. Nice one. Everyone’s poorer.

May 21, 2014

Society, socialism, and statism

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:07

At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson refutes the imported “you didn’t build that” notion being pushed by Kathleen Wynne on the campaign trail the other day:

… individual men, women and families are society. So are NGO, private corporations, small businesses and local community groups. All combined are a society. It was the height of intellectual impertinence by the Left to adopt the word socialism. The Left doesn’t believe in society, it believes in the State. It is Statism not Socialism that is their true creed. If you believe in strengthening society then you should believe in freedom because it is freedom that makes a society possible. True socialists are believers in free markets, free minds and free association. Statism is the enemy of society.

Too often the argument is made that either we must be rugged individualists or harmonious collectivists. This is a false dichotomy. One can be perfectly individualistic living in a family and in a community. Individualism is not the same thing as being aloof or standoffish. An individualist can work in a soup kitchen, a corporate office or mowing a lawn. It depends on what values that individual chooses to hold and the abilities he possesses.

By way of contrast there is nothing so inharmonious as collectivism. By denying man’s basic individuality it creates a never ending civil war of all against all. This is why the most collectivist societies are the most violent and repressive. They are fighting a war against human nature and losing all the while. The most peaceful societies are the most individualistic. In these societies individuals choose their partners, employers and friends. Violence is largely unnecessary in a society built on consent. It is necessary only against those who reject the principle of consent.

It’s true that no one makes it completely on their own. That doesn’t diminish their accomplishment, their essential independence or the conceit of those seeking to profit from their success. An individual may live in a society, but that does not make him a slave of the state.

Update: Kevin Williamson hits some of the same notes in this article:

It seems to me that Nozick, like some conservatives and most thinkers on the left, errs by conflating “society” and “state.” He is correct about our obligations to society: We have a positive moral duty to, among other things, care for those who cannot care for themselves. But this tells us very little — and maybe nothing at all — about our relationship to the state. The state is not society, and society is not the state. Society is much larger than the state, much richer, much more complex, much more intelligent, much more humane, and much older. Society, like trade, precedes the state. Government is a piece, but so are individuals, families, churches, businesses, professional associations, newspapers — even Kim Kardashian’s Twitter following plays its role.

[...]

Where those who see the world the way Nozick eventually did go wrong is in failing to appreciate that, absent official coercion, we do not have to take turns expressing those items of importance: The pope can think as he likes about this or that, Stephen Hawking can agree or disagree, and all are free to choose their own adventure. It is only in matters of politics that one set of preferences becomes mandatory.

But mandatoriness seems to be the attraction for many. The most enthusiastic support for the Affordable Care Act, to take one obvious example, never came from those whose main concern was its policy architecture; well-informed and intellectually honest critics left and right both knew that it was a mess. People supported the ACA as an expression of our national priorities, that we were coming to regard health insurance as something akin to a right, that we were becoming more like the European welfare states that our remarkably illiberal so-called liberals admire, that we regarded insurance companies and insurance-company profits as a nastiness to be scrubbed away or at least disinfected. The policy has been revealed as a mess, but the same people support it for the same reason. Similarly, prosecuting as civil-rights criminals those who do not wish to bake cakes for gay weddings is mainly an act of communication, that one is no longer free to hold certain opinions about homosexuals. The new enlightenment is mandatory.

[...]

The mysticism surrounding the state — its near-deification — is a source of corruption, to say nothing of boneheadedness. If the state is to be an instrument for expressing our deepest longings, values, and moral sentiments, then there can be no peace — our values are, as Nozick noted, frequently irreconcilable, and only a philosopher could believe that we can take turns when it comes to abortion or wealth confiscation. That is not how things work. If, on the other hand, the state is a machine for protecting property — from thieves, invaders, and possibly the more energetic members of the American Bar Association — then we can have peace, at least a measure of it. Outside of certain very well-defined parameters, nobody’s values need be mandatory.

May 8, 2014

George Orwell was a socialist, despite what many right-wingers piously believe

Filed under: History, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:09

I’m not sure how you could characterize the great George Orwell as anything other than a socialist, unless you’ve never actually read any of his works:

Orwell's press card portrait, 1943

Orwell’s press card portrait, 1943

One wonders whether the confusion stems from what [Krystal Ball] thinks she knows about Orwell’s politics? Contrary to the devout wishes of many conservatives, it remains an indisputable fact that George Orwell was a socialist. He was not “confused” about his politics. He was not a “capitalist in waiting.” He was not merely “living in another time.” He was a socialist, and he believed that, “wholeheartedly applied as a world system,” socialism could solve humanity’s problem. By contrast, he was wholly appalled by capitalism, which he described as a “racket” and which he believed led inexorably to “dole queues, the scramble for markets and war.” Abandoning a comfortable upbringing that had included an education at Eton and a stint as an imperial policeman in Burma, Orwell not only went out into the streets to discover how the other half lived but went so far as to risk his life for the cause, fighting for the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. (He was shot by a sniper, but survived.)

When the Right seized upon 1984 (which his publisher quipped to his irritation might be worth “a cool million votes to the Conservative party”), Orwell reacted with controlled anger, explaining in a letter that was published in Life magazine that,

    my novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is not intended as an attack on socialism, or on the British Labor party, but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralized economy is liable, and which have already been partly realized in Communism and fascism.

So far, so clear.

And yet, admirably, he never lost his independence of mind, writing in the very next line of his explanation that,

    I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe (allowing of course for the fact that the book is a satire) that something resembling it could arrive. I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences.

This fear came to preoccupy him — and to the exclusion of almost everything else. “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936,” he explained in Why I Write, “has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it.”

How he understood it was changing by the day. “Collectivism,” he warned in a 1944 book review, “leads to concentration camps, leader worship and war.” More important, perhaps, he admitted that this might always be so, suggesting that “there is no way out of this unless a planned economy can somehow be combined with the freedom of the intellect, which can only happen if the concept of right and wrong is restored to politics.” Like Wilde before him, he held that freedom of the intellect to be indispensable. The question: Could socialism accommodate it?

It is de rigeur these days to cast Orwell as being merely an anti-totalitarian socialist — a “democratic socialist,” if you will — and, in doing so to parrot the graduate student’s favorite assurance that, because Marxism has never been tried in any sufficiently developed country, its critics are condemning merely its “excesses.” Certainly, Orwell did not believe that the Soviet Union was in any meaningful way a “socialist” state: “Nothing,” he charged, “has contributed so much to the corruption of the original idea of socialism as the belief that Russia is a socialist country and that every act of its rulers must be excused, if not imitated.” But, dearly as he hoped it could be realized, he also never quite managed to convince himself that his form of socialism was possible either — let alone that it could coexist with the English liberties he so sharply championed. For Orwell, it was not simply a matter of distinguishing between the “good” and “bad” Left, but worrying whether the former would lead always to the latter — a concern that the British literary classes, which indulged Stalin’s horrors to an unimaginable degree, did little to assuage.

February 22, 2014

Venezuela’s crisis

Filed under: Americas, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:10

With all the attention being on Ukraine’s political upheaval, there’s another political crisis happening in South America:

How is Venezuela doing? Well, tens of thousands of protesters are in the streets, the army’s been sent to crush revolt, an opposition leader has been arrested and supporters of the government just shot dead a former beauty queen. It’s going to hell in a handcart, that’s how it’s doing.

After Hugo Chavez died he was replaced by Nicolas Maduro, a man of considerably less talent who bears a striking resemblance to an obese Burt Reynolds. A Venezuelan friend explains that Chavez’s titanic personality held his revolution together, reconciling its various contradictions with his charismatic nationalism. By contrast, “Maduro has let the worst people take over” — surrendering authority to radical mobs and corrupt officials in a bid to keep them all on side. The result? Bad economic management, inflation at 56 per cent, rising unemployment, food shortages, shocking levels of crime and an increasing reliance on government control of the press.

The Left always insisted under Chavez that some meddling in the media was necessary because it was otherwise controlled by dark, foreign forces (read: people who disagreed with Chavez). But Maduro is now threatening to expel CNN, which is about the fairest and most balanced news source on the planet. CNN’s crime was to report on the recent protests that have engulfed the capital. And good for CNN. Coverage on what’s happening in Venezuela has been eclipsed by events in Ukraine, so for those who don’t know here’s what’s happening on the ground.

  • On February 12, the opposition held a massive rally that resulted in bloodshed. Three people were killed, including two opposition protesters and one pro-government activist. The National Guard was dispatched to prevent further rallies.
  • Violence quickly spread out across the country. Some 3,000 troops were sent to pacify the city of San Cristobal, where the government also cut off transport links and the internet.
  • Opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, was forced to hand himself over to the National Guard on charges of inciting violence.
  • The President blamed America for starting the conflict and has expelled US officials.
  • Local TV stations have gone into lockdown and simply aren’t reporting the fighting. Venezuelans are relying on social media, which includes some false reporting. The opposition lack a single national TV outlet to be heard on.

December 26, 2013

Socialism and science fiction

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:01

Todd Seavey declares that science fiction is inherently socialistic:

Tim Kreider called for visionary — and anti-capitalist — science fiction in a recent article in New Yorker. Tyler Cowen replied that we may be safer if plans to remake society, sometimes in violent fashion, remain the stuff of fiction, and he wonders if any sci-fi captures that point.

I suspect Kreider would reply that he’s not calling for the immediate remaking of society so much as a tentative effort to understand it in all its complexity — but any social conservative who has watched deconstructionists ignore the lessons of tradition, and any free-marketeer who has heard intellectuals’ warmed-over Marxist attempts to understand economics, can tell you where overconfident explanations of society often lead.

[...]

Since Kreider appreciates the science of ecology (central to Kim Stanley Robinson’s books), he might think of the problem of overly-simple models as comparable to the dangers of creating a terrarium and expecting it to replicate all the nuances of an entire rain forest. Such an experiment might well be worth a try but probably only if done with its drastic limitations in mind — perhaps even with the primary purpose of illustrating those shortcomings. Frank Herbert, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Kim Stanley Robinson just barely begin to gesture feebly at the rich complexity of real societies – which have subtle, often unnoticed, subsidiary systems — and all three writers notoriously had to put a hell of a lot of work into it even to get that far.

Most writers, understandably, are still struggling to capture accurately what something as simple as, say, an awkward Christmas dinner feels like. They struggle even when drawing heavily from their own family experiences. We probably ought to admire the humility of their ambitions.

Coincidentally and tragically, as I write this, word reaches me that Ned Vizzini, one of my fellow New York Press veterans and the young author of the sci-fi novel Be More Chill, about the difficulty of fitting in in high school, has committed suicide, despite much of his short writing career having been devoted to trying to understand depression. His very life depended on figuring out one phenomenon with which he had direct experience, and he still couldn’t quite master it. Should the rest of us pretend to have figured out civilization?

November 30, 2013

Shock, horror – the National Socialists were socialists!

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:43

Daniel Hannan on the remarkable — but somehow unknown to many — fact that the NSDAP (the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, aka Nazi party) were actually socialists:

‘I am a Socialist,’ Hitler told Otto Strasser in 1930, ‘and a very different kind of Socialist from your rich friend, Count Reventlow’.

No one at the time would have regarded it as a controversial statement. The Nazis could hardly have been more open in their socialism, describing themselves with the same terminology as our own SWP: National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

Almost everyone in those days accepted that fascism had emerged from the revolutionary Left. Its militants marched on May Day under red flags. Its leaders stood for collectivism, state control of industry, high tariffs, workers’ councils. Around Europe, fascists were convinced that, as Hitler told an enthusiastic Mussolini in 1934, ‘capitalism has run its course’.

One of the most stunning achievements of the modern Left is to have created a cultural climate where simply to recite these facts is jarring. History is reinterpreted, and it is taken as axiomatic that fascism must have been Right-wing, the logic seemingly being that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists were nasty. You expect this level of analysis from Twitter mobs; you shouldn’t expect it from mainstream commentators.

September 22, 2013

The lasting influence of the Frankfurt School

Filed under: History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:00

Lee Stranahan talks about the Frankfurt School’s continuing importance in modern liberal thought:

For a decade, the Southern Poverty Law Center and others on the left have been trying to hide and distract from one of the main origins of both radical academia and media hostility towards capitalism: the ideology of cultural Marxism and Critical Theory that arose from the Frankfurt School.

The SPLC and others dismiss the facts about the German think-tank and its subsequent influence in America as a conspiracy theory. Understanding these attacks is an object lesson in how the left creates self-sustaining mythology by demonizing the people who dare expose their ideology while misdirecting their own followers as to the real story behind liberal ideas.

Organizations on the institutional left such as the Southern Poverty Law Center didn’t just appear out of nowhere or in an ideological vacuum. The SPLC in particular has a specific role of designating organizations as ‘hate groups’, often smearing mainstream conservatism by falsely tying it to tiny, violent and racist organizations.

The SLPC’s designation of what does and doesn’t constitute a hate group has clear foundations in the world of academic political correctness and censoring of speech it considers ‘racist, sexist and homophobic’; all terms that it defines in leftist terms and very selectively. For example, in the wake of last year’s shooting at the headquarters of the Family Research Council, the SLPC went out of their way to double down on it’s claim that the FRC is a ‘hate group.’

Even political correctness, however, didn’t just suddenly pop up out of thin air; it has its basis in a group of academic Marxist philosophers that came together in Germany between World War I and World War II called the Frankfurt School. Their cultural Marxist approach would go on to have a profound influence in the United States after many in the Frankfurt school fled Germany and came to America in the 1930s.

April 14, 2013

An alternative Britain would be “Cuba without the sunshine”

Filed under: Britain, History, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:06

Dominic Sandbrook recounts the history of a slightly different Britain: one where Margaret Thatcher lost to Jim Callaghan in 1978:

As historians now agree, Mrs Thatcher never really stood a chance: Britain was not ready for a woman prime minister. As she herself had remarked only eight years earlier: ‘There will not be a woman prime minister in my lifetime — the male population is too prejudiced.’

In her place, the Tories turned to the bumbling figure of Willie Whitelaw, an old-fashioned patrician Wet whom they decided would connect better with the British electorate.

In the meantime, the country was reeling from crisis to crisis. Scarcely had Callaghan returned to No 10 than his premiership was consumed in the notorious Winter of Discontent. As one group of workers after another — lorry drivers, railwaymen, bus drivers, ambulance drivers, caretakers, cleaners, even grave-diggers — walked out on strike for higher wages, the country ground to a halt.

Buoyed by his election victory, Callaghan was in no mood to compromise. Rather than break his declared 5 per cent national pay limit and risk higher inflation, he declared a State of Emergency and summoned the Army to drive Britain’s petrol tankers.

It was a catastrophic mistake. On February 12, 1979, a date that has gone down in history as Black Monday, fighting broke out between pickets and soldiers at one depot outside Hull.

In the chaos, one soldier — carrying live rounds, in contravention of orders — opened fire and killed five people. It was one of the most shocking moments in modern British history.

Callaghan resigned the next day, the last honourable act of a decent man overwhelmed by events. But contrary to his expectations, the Labour Party did not turn to his Chancellor, the bushy-browed Denis Healey.

Instead, they lurched to the Left and elected as their new Prime Minister Michael Foot, with his flowing white locks, walking stick and impassioned socialist rhetoric. The real power in the land, however, was Foot’s colleague Tony Benn, who replaced the disgruntled Healey as Chancellor. And in the next few years, it was Benn who presided over the most sweeping socialist measures any Western country had seen in living memory.

To the horror of many in industry, Benn insisted that Britain’s declining economy needed a dose of shock therapy. The top rate of income tax went up to 98 per cent, and the government announced a one-off 5 per cent ‘equality levy’ on households with income over £50,000 a year.

As frightened investors began to withdraw their money from the City of London, Benn introduced sweeping exchange controls. He also, in an attempt to shore up Britain’s crumbling manufacturing base, introduced the most stringent import tariffs in the Western world.

The reaction was pandemonium. As inflation shot over 25 per cent and unemployment went above two million, horrified European leaders insisted that Britain’s new policies were incompatible with membership of the Common Market.

But Benn was adamant. ‘You turn if you want to,’ he told his party conference in 1980. ‘Labour’s not for turning.’

The following year, as the economic picture continued to worsen, the Government introduced controls to stop people taking sterling out of the country. As a result, the foreign package holiday market collapsed — although landladies in Blackpool said they had never seen more business.

There were rumours that Foot was planning to move his turbulent Chancellor, but they were blown away when, in April 1982, Argentine forces landed in the Falklands.

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

April 1, 2013

QotD: The Social Democratic Moment

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

The 1960s saw the apogee of the European state. The relation of the citizen to the state in Western Europe in the course of the previous century had been a shifting compromise between military needs and political claims: the modern rights of newly enfranchised citizens offset by older obligations to defend the realm. But since 1945 that relationship had come increasingly to be characterised by a dense tissue of social benefits and economic strategies in which it was the state that served its subjects, rather than the other way around.

In later years the all-encompassing ambitions of the Western European welfare state would lose some of their appeal — not least because they could no longer fulfill their promise: unemployment, inflation, ageing populations and economic slowdown placed insuperable constraints upon the efforts of states to deliver their half of the bargain. Transformations in international capital markets and modern electronic communications hamstrung governments’ capacity to plan and enforce domestic economic policy. And, most important of all, the very legitimacy of the interventionist state itself was undermined: at home by the rigidities and inefficiencies of public-sector agencies and producers, abroad by the incontrovertible evidence of chronic economic dysfunction and political repression in the Socialist states of the Soviet bloc.

Tony Judt, “The Social Democratic Moment”, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, 2005

February 16, 2013

The socialist origins of Mussolini’s Fascist Italy

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:13

Everyone “knows” that Fascism is an ideology of the extreme right, and Communism is an ideology of the extreme left. Benito Mussolini’s fascist state was bankrolled by big business and the Catholic Church to suppress the democratic demands of the workers in the wake of the First World War. Except that isn’t actually true:

… Mussolini was every bit as much as man of the Left as contemporaries such as Eugene V. Debs. He was what would later come to be known as a “red diaper baby” (meaning the child of revolutionary socialist parents). As a young man, Mussolini himself was a Marxist, fervently anticlerical, went to Switzerland to evade compulsory military service, and was arrested and imprisoned for inciting militant strikes. Eventually, he became a leader in Italy’s Socialist Party and he was imprisoned once again in 1911 for his antiwar activities related to Italy’s invasion of Libya. Mussolini was so prominent a socialist at this point in his career that he won the praise of Lenin who considered him to be the rightful head of a future Italian socialist state.

[. . .]

When the Italian Fascist movement was founded in 1919, most of its leaders and theoreticians were, like Mussolini himself, former Marxists and other radical leftists such as proponents of the revolutionary syndicalist doctrines of Georges Sorel. The official programs issued by the Fascists, translations of which are included in Norling’s book, reflected a standard mixture of republican and socialist ideas that would have been common to any European leftist group of the era. If indeed the evidence is overwhelming that Fascism has its roots on the far Left, then from where does Fascism’s reputation as a rightist ideology originate?

[. . .]

During its twenty-three years in power, Mussolini’s regime certainly made considerable concessions to traditionally conservative interests such as the monarchy, big business, and the Catholic Church. These pragmatic accommodations borne of political necessity are among the evidences typically offered by leftists as indications of Fascism’s rightist nature. Yet there is abundant evidence that Mussolini essentially remained a socialist throughout the entirety of his political life. By 1935, thirteen years after Mussolini seized power in the March on Rome, seventy-five percent of Italian industry had either been nationalized outright or brought under intensive state control. Indeed, it was towards the end of both his life and the life of his regime that Mussolini’s economic policies were at their most leftist.

After briefly losing power for a couple of months during the summer of 1943, Mussolini returned as Italy’s head of state with German assistance and set up what came to be called the Italian Social Republic. The regime subsequently nationalized all companies employing more than a hundred workers, redistributed housing that was formerly privately owned to its worker occupants, engaged in land redistribution, and witnessed a number of prominent Marxists joining the Mussolini government, including Nicola Bombacci, the founder of the Italian Communist Party and a personal friend of Lenin. These events are described in considerable detail in Norling’s work.

It would appear that the historic bitter rivalry between Marxists and Fascists is less a conflict between the Left and the Right, and more of a conflict between erstwhile siblings on the Left. This should come as no particular surprise given the penchant of radical leftist groupings for sectarian blood feuds. Indeed, it might be plausibly argued that leftist ”anti-fascism” is rooted in jealously of a more successful relative as much as anything else.

January 11, 2013

The old left, the new left, and the late Howard Zinn

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:13

In Reason, Thaddeus Russell reviews a recent book on the life of historian Howard Zinn:

There was once a radical left in the United States. Back then, it was common to hear on college campuses and in respectable left-wing publications that liberals and the Democratic Party were the enemies of freedom, justice, and the people. Democratic politicians who expanded welfare programs and championed legislation that aided labor unions were nonetheless regarded as racists, totalitarians, and mass murderers for their reluctance to defend the civil rights of African Americans, for their collusion with capitalists, for their use of police powers to repress dissent, and for their imperialist, war-making policies. There was widespread left-wing rejection of the liberal claim that government was good, and many leftists spoke of and stood for a thing they called liberty.

There was no better exemplar of that thoroughgoing, anti-statist left than Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History of the United States, whose death in 2010 was preceded by a life of activism and scholarship devoted to what could be called libertarian socialism. It is difficult to read Martin Duberman’s sympathetic but thoughtful biography, Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left, without lamenting how different Zinn and his ilk were from what now passes for an alternative political movement in this country. And for those of us with an interest in bridging the left and libertarianism, the book will also serve as a painful reminder of what once seemed possible. Howard Zinn’s life was a repudiation of the politics of the age of Obama.

[. . .]

Zinn was deeply influenced by anarchists, and this anti-statism kept him from doing what most of the left has been doing of late — identifying with the holders of state power. Some of Zinn’s friends, Duberman writes, resented his “never speaking well of any politician.” When many considered John F. Kennedy to be a champion of black civil rights, Zinn declared that the president had done only enough for the movement “to keep his image from collapsing in the eyes of twenty million Negroes.” Going farther, Zinn argued that African Americans should eschew involvement with any state power, and even counseled against a campaign for voting rights. “When Negroes vote, they will achieve as much power as the rest of us have — which is very little.” Instead, they should create “centers of power” outside government agencies from which to pressure authorities.

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