Thursday, January 31, 2008 83 Comments

How I stopped believing in democracy

The other day I had lunch with an old friend, Erik, whom I hadn't seen in a few years. Erik is five or ten years older than me, has a philosophy degree from Berkeley, writes Internet standards for a living, and is generally a very stable, responsible and successful guy, unlike of course yours truly. He lives in Germany and is married to a German, and his politics are quite solidly progressive.

I was confident that I had informed Erik of this blog. But I think it got lost in a long email. So I had the rare opportunity of really solidly failing to explain the point of UR.

"It's a neo-f -," I said. "Um, no, it's not really a neofascist hate blog. I just call it that sometimes to shock people. It's a, what it is, is an anti-democracy blog."

"An anti-democracy blog. Well, that's certainly..."

"You've got to admit, it's an under-served market," I said.

"Well, I'd certainly agree with that."

"Yeah," I said. "It was actually about a year and a half ago, I decided I didn't believe in democracy anymore. It was great. Just like deciding not to believe in God."

"More like deciding not to believe in God about 250 years ago," Erik said. He actually said this. I don't believe I've cut a single line from this exchange.

In fact, I had actually never thought of quite it this way. But yes - disbelieving in democracy in 2008 is a lot like disbelieving in God in 1758.

For one thing, you disagree with basically everyone in your society. For another, your thoughts undermine the theory of legitimacy on which your government is founded. For a third, acknowledging your beliefs, let alone evangelizing them, is not exactly an effective way to make friends or influence people. And for a fourth, your original reason for believing in it was that when you were very small, grownups told you that it existed and was good.

Of course, the same could be said for disbelieving in, say, Australia. I am pretty confident that "Australia" is more or less what everyone thinks it is. I am not at all confident that the same can be said for "democracy." If you share similar suspicions, please feel free to read on.

I had a very peculiar upbringing. I (a) had a father who taught philosophy, then joined the US Foreign Service; and (b) skipped three grades before high school. I was never acculturated in any discernible way into any tradition I could even start to define. My father's parents were Great Neck communists and my mother's were Tarrytown Republicans, but both these worlds had been soundly rejected. There was a bit of Whole Foods avant la lettre, but small other trace of general hippieness. It was an almost Socratic upbringing. We didn't even do Christmas trees. We believed in nothing.

And we never, ever had a TV. That was absolutely unthinkable. But I did read a lot of science fiction - Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Harry Harrison, and of course Heinlein. My favorite, though, was the great Hal Clement, who wrote what I still think may be the best SF novel ever. In the pure literary department, there was always a lot of basically negative and unconstructive material sitting around, including Mark Twain, Hunter S. Thompson, Jaroslav Hašek, and that great satirical novel of the '70s, The Serial.

I hasten to assert, however, that none of this included any kind of anti-democracy agitation. And certainly nothing in any sense right-wing. My parents may not have been hippies, but they weren't monarchists, either. They were civil servants. When we were in the US, we listened to NPR. When we were outside the US, we listened to the BBC. The thought of tuning to VOA in the latter, or any commercial radio station in the former, was impossibly gauche.

(In retrospect I'm sure VOA was easily as left-wing as the BBC, if not more. But it didn't matter. The name was enough. And I'll bet the BBC was probably better, anway.)

As you can see, there is a certain amount of contempt in this perspective. This makes sense, because it's more or less the perspective of the global ruling class. For example, the only real sport I learned as a kid was squash. When my father was consul in Oporto, we would go to Le Meridien and play squash. At the time this struck me as completely normal. I'm not sure where my father learned squash, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't in Great Neck. Perhaps they teach it in the Foreign Service orientation class.

I was introduced to America, the real America, in the following manner: I went from being an 11-year-old third-former in an ersatz British public school in Nicosia, to a 12-year-old sophomore in a genuine American public school in Columbia, Maryland. I am still picking little bits of Maryland out of my skull. (Of course, Columbia is not really Maryland proper - hence the name. It ain't Frederick. But it's not Silver Spring, either.)

For example, the first thing I remember from my first year in Maryland was something called a "pep rally." For those of you who did not attend an American public high school, a "pep rally" is basically a straight ripoff of what Albert Speer did at Nuremberg, except that (a) it is indoors, (b) there is not quite as much fire, and (c) there is less saluting, more screaming, and about the same amount of chanting.

If you are an American raising kids abroad and you want to reintroduce them to your country, I highly recommend this sort of shock-and-awe approach. Having to deal with an American high school was not pleasant, but it gave me a certain respect for America: it exists. Once you go to college, you are no longer in the real America. You are in a fortified outpost of future America, which has been planted in the real America to enlighten and assimilate it. Respect is not on the menu.

Perhaps for some distance I should deploy my usual euphemism, "Plainland." Do you have any idea how weird a country Plainland is? History still exists there. Nowhere else in the world is there any significant political division whose heritage predates 1940. Both Republicans and Democrats worship FDR, but Democrats worship him a little more. My mother's mother now swears she voted for Kennedy in 1960. I know for a fact that she voted for Nixon. I'm pretty sure they were FDR-haters. Not that the Old Right wasn't smashed, not that its particles weren't broken into tinier particles, not that even a trace of it reached me in my formative years. But some atoms survived, and you can tell.

In Europe, forget it. Europe was conquered in 1945, but it was not conquered by Plainland. It was conquered by Georgetown. As I wrote here, the ideas now popular in Europe are obvious descendants of what the most influential people at State believed in 1945. The various so-called "parties" in Europe are mildly-flavored versions of this belief system, which becomes completely homogeneous in the upper elite. Brussels has no politics at all. It doesn't need it. The situation is under control.

What Europeans call "anti-Americanism" is actually a belief, generally quite sincere, that America is not living up to her own ideals of 1945. "Anti-Americanism" might be better described as "ultra-Americanism," or perhaps "Georgetownism." And it certainly has nothing to do with the any pre-1940 negative perceptions of America. There is minimal cultural continuity between Europe before the war and Europe today. All the institutions were purged, all the individuals have finally kicked it. The Dutch who let you smoke weed in their cafes and the Dutch who ruled Indonesia might as well be on different planets. The former are thoroughly ashamed that they are even descended from the latter. And the latter are dead, which is probably a blessing.

So: my first political opinions were, of course, Georgetownist. I remember going to school in Nicosia the day after Reagan was elected in 1984. I was terribly embarrassed. I felt that my country had more or less taken a crap in its pants. To the Georgetownist, America exists so that it can lead the world to democracy and peace. Obviously Reagan did not stand for either of these things. He stood for Plainland and "pep rallies." Of course I knew little of either, but I had a sense that they were out there, waiting.

Here's how George Kennan, grand doge of the Georgetownists, expressed this conflict in a 1984 lecture, American Diplomacy and the Military (reprinted in American Diplomacy):
No wonder, in the face of all this confusion, that our greatest mistakes in national policy seem to occur where the military factor is most prominently involved.

But I wonder whether this confusion is not compounded by certain deeply ingrained features of our political system. I am thinking first of all about what I call the domestic political selfconsciousness of the American statesman. By this I mean his tendency, when speaking or acting on matters of foreign policy, to be more concerned for the domestic political effects of what he is saying or doing than about their actual effects on our relations with other countries. In the light of this tendency, a given statement or action will be rated as a triumph in Washington if it is applauded at home in those particular domestic circles at which it is aimed, even if it is quite ineffective or even self-defeating in its external effects. When this is carried to extremes, American diplomacy tends to degenerate into a series of postures struck before the American political audience, with only secondary consideration being given to the impacts of these postures on our relations with other countries.

This situation is not new. We have only to recall Tocqueville's words, written 150 years ago, to the effect "that it is in the nature of democracies to have, for the most part, the most confused or erroneous ideas on external affairs, and to decide foreign policy on purely domestic considerations." Nor is this, in essence, unnatural. Every statesman everywhere has to give some heed to domestic opinion in the conduct of his diplomacy. But the tendency seems to be carried to greater extremes here than elsewhere. This may be partly explained by the nature of the constituency to which the American statesman appeals. In the European parliamentary systems, the constituency is normally the parliament - because the ministry can fall from office if it loses parliamentary support. In our country, unhappily, the constituencies are more likely to consist of particularly aggressive and vociferous minorities or lobbies. These, for some curious reason, seem more often than not to be on the militaristic and chauvinistic side, either because there is some particular nation or ethnic group abroad which they want our government to support, or because they like to wrap themselves in the national emblem and beat the jingoist bell as a means of furthering their partisan purposes. American administrations seem to be particularly vulnerable [...] to just this sort of intimidation, presumably because they do not want to be placed on the defensive by being charged with lack of patriotism. And the effects of this are ones we have had occasion to note, both in connection with our policies in third world areas, such as Vietnam or Lebanon, and in connection with the problems of arms control and the relations among the great military powers.

If there is any substance to what I have just been saying, then this is simply further evidence for the fact, to which many wise observers besides Tocqueville have drawn attention, that our political system is in many ways poorly designed for the conduct of the foreign policies of a great power aspiring to world leadership. I, in any case, believe this to be true, and I consider that the trend of events in these recent years has revealed deficiencies in this system which even Tocqueville could not foresee.

What are we going to do about it? It would be naive of us to expect, or even to hope, that these features of our governmental system are going to be corrected within our time. To try to correct them abruptly might well do more harm than good. In many respects, they represent the reverse side of the great coin of the liberties we so dearly cherish. And in this sense I see no reason why we should be ashamed of them. If this - our political system with all its faults - is the only way that a great mass of people such as our own, stretching from Florida to Alaska and from Maine to Hawaii and embracing individuals of the most diverse ethnic and cultural origins - if this is the only way such a mass of people can be governed without the sacrifice of their liberties - then so be it; and let us be thankful that such a possibility exists at all, even if it is not a perfect one.

But the one thing we can do, in the face of this situation, is to take a realistic account of this unsuitability of our political system for the conduct of an ambitious and far-reaching foreign policy, and to bear these limitations in mind when we decided which involvements and responsibilities it is wise for us to accept and which would be better rejected. Obviously, a number of the responsibilities we have already accepted, including some of the very greatest ones - NATO and our obligations to Japan, for example - represent solemn commitments of which we cannot divest ourselves at any early date. There is nothing for us to do but to meet these commitments as best we can, recognizing that the peace and safety not just of our country but of much of the rest of the world as well depends on the way we meet them, and trying to place them, wherever we can, above the partisan political interests that every American administration is bound to have. But when it comes to the acceptance of new responsibilities, let us, at long last, try to bear in mind the limits of our national capabilities and the price we are obliged to pay for our liberties. Let us recognize that there are problems in this world that we will not be able to solve, depths into which it will not be useful or effective for us to plunge, dilemmas in other regions of the globe that will have to find their solution without our involvement.

This is not a plea for total isolationism, such as our grandfathers and great-grandfathers cultivated. It is only a request, if I may put it that way, for a greater humility in our national outlook, for a more realistic recognition of our limitations as a body politic, and for a greater restraint than we have shown in recent decades in involving ourselves in complex situations far from our shores. And it is a plea that we bear in mind that the interaction of peoples, just as in the interactions of individuals, the power of example is far greater than the power of precept, and that the example offered to the world at this moment by the United States of America is far from being what it could be and ought to be. Let us present to the world outside our borders the face of a country that has learned to cope with crime and poverty and corruption, with drugs and pornography. Let us prove ourselves capable of taking the great revolution in electronic communication in which we are all today embraced and turning it to the intellectual and spiritual elevation of our people in place of the enervation and debilitation and abuse of the intellect that the TV set now so often inflicts upon them. Let us do these things, and others like them, and we will not need 27,000 nuclear warheads and a military budget of over $250 billion to make the influence of America felt in the world beyond our borders.
I can't imagine a better presentation of the Georgetownist worldview. Kennan was of course a titan, and he delivered this text as a lecture to students of diplomacy who are no doubt applying it today. It strikes me as completely sincere and thoroughly well-intentioned. It contains many points of actual wisdom with which I even agree. It even criticizes democracy - sort of.

And yet it is a product of 1984. And the last 25 years have left some holes in it which, if you look closely, do not wear well at all. To put yourself in the right mood for picking apart these holes, let's take a look at this picture.

Notice the light shining through the curtains on the left and the right? What we see here is a badly staged photo-op. Hollywood routinely shoots indoor night scenes during the day, but they generally would put some black Mylar on the windows. For some reason this was not done, and so the comedy is inadvertent.

Think about how many people had to screw up in order for this photo to make it to Time. Maybe only three or four. But it is an invaluable "blooper," because it shows you something you weren't supposed to see. The mechanism is visible. The film set appears. Crop an inch off the left and right sides, and you see men meeting by candle-light - perhaps discussing some critical decision, in a time of stress and hardship. Restore the curtain, and you have something much more interesting.

What does this have to do with George Kennan? The people who brought you that photo have the same worldview as Kennan. They are Georgetownists to a T, every one. I guarantee it. So it seems quite reasonable to at least suspect that if they are trying to pull the Mylar over your eyes, so is Kennan. Of course, "Salem Mohammed" is no George Kennan, but even here at UR, we have to crawl before we can run.

Here is the sun behind Kennan's curtain:
In our country, unhappily, the constituencies are more likely to consist of particularly aggressive and vociferous minorities or lobbies. These, for some curious reason, seem more often than not to be on the militaristic and chauvinistic side, either because there is some particular nation or ethnic group abroad which they want our government to support, or because they like to wrap themselves in the national emblem and beat the jingoist bell as a means of furthering their partisan purposes.
Suppose you heard this, not in 1984, but today. Would it strike you as an accurate description of reality?

The "aggressive and vociferous minorities or lobbies" certainly exist. They march in Dolores Park on a regular basis. What "particular nation or ethnic group" do they support? Um, the Palestinians? Duh. By "national emblem," Kennan of course means the kaffiyeh. Problem solved.

Not. Actually, if anything, he is thinking of the infamous "Israel lobby." I think I once saw a pro-Israeli crowd in New York. It was maybe ten or twenty people. Of course, it wasn't in 1984, either. On the other hand, when I think of "aggressive and vociferous" in 1984, what I think of is the anti-apartheid divestment movement. Was there ever an anti-Palestinian divestment movement? Promising not to invest in companies that do business with Arab states that support Palestinian terrorism? Maybe I just missed it.

Of course, the "particular nations" that Kennan expects his audience to think of - the candles - are the Cuban emigres, the Taiwanese, the South Vietnamese, etc. The "particular nations" he does not expect us to think of - the sun behind the curtains - are the Palestinians, the Cuban socialists, the Maoists, the North Vietnamese, etc. All of which have enjoyed the support of remarkably large and influential "aggressive and vociferous minorities or lobbies."

Moreover, the second list is much longer. It includes essentially the whole Third World. And the two lists could never be confused with each other. Sending the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang, in 2008, constitutes engagement. Sending the New York Philharmonic to Pretoria in 1984 would have been something else entirely.

Kennan's lecture made sense in 1984 because in 1984, Plainlander anticommunism was still a viable political force. If barely. Today, to argue the same case, you would have to come up with some kind of nonsense about anti-terrorist "aggressive and vociferous minorities." Who are so aggressive and vociferous that they put yellow ribbons on their cars. Have you ever seen or heard any trace of an anti-terrorist, let alone anti-Islamist or anti-jihadist, march, parade, meeting or demonstration? Are our colleges full of anti-Islamofascist Cheneyite activists? The suggestion is laughable, and Kennan would be too smart to make it.

What hindsight shows us is that Kennan was projecting. He and his audience genuinely perceived themselves as beset by a mob of pitchfork-wielding Plainlander peasants. When Dean Acheson, Kennan's boss and a truly devious and arrogant man, wrote his autobiography, he called his chapter on the Hiss affair "Attack of the Primitives." I don't think Kennan would ever be so crude, but the attitude is certainly the same.

But when we step back and take a broader view, we see easily that these "militaristic and chauvinistic minorities" were stronger - in terms of their influence over decisions in Washington - in 1924 than 1934, stronger in 1934 than 1954, stronger in 1954 than in 1964, stronger in 1964 than in 1974, and so on right down to now. With a brief exception, for obvious reasons, in 1944. On the other hand, we could easily take the series back to 1844. North America is not exactly new to militarism and chauvinism.

And where the heck is the John Birch Society today? If the "Primitives" are indeed "attacking," they are doing an awfully bad job of it. Because they seem to be going in reverse. On the other hand, this state of affairs is not at all inconsistent with the hypothesis that their actions (often quite hostile) are actually best classified not as aggression, but more properly as resistance. "Cet animal est très méchant: quand on l'attaque, il se défend."

This is how Kennan can sacralize democracy while castigating politics. He has seen, personally, a wide range of problems caused by clumsy attempts to execute a foreign policy which is somehow both Primitive and Georgetownist. He knows perfectly well that, in almost every post-1945 military conflict, Primitives have lined up on one side of the ball and Georgetownists on the other. In fact, he knows that there is a huge nest of Primitives right on the other side of the Potomac. (Perhaps, for balance, we could call them Arlingtonists.)

Kennan's words are deftly chosen, but he means exactly what he says. He has seen innumerable screwups and disasters, wars and tragedies, caused by this organizational schizophrenia. In fact, in a substantial percentage of postwar conflicts, Georgetownists have been rooting for one side and Arlingtonists rooting for the other. Sometimes rooting isn't all they do, since the Arlingtonist specialty is, after all, war. So quite a few of these little events could be described, by a malicious and negative person, as civil wars by proxy. Which is - let's face it - nasty.

It is entirely understandable that Kennan, being more or less the Georgetownist to end all Georgetownists, would believe that, if Washington had followed a purely Georgetownist foreign policy without Arlingtonist meddling, none of these awful things would have happened. As a counterfactual, the point is irrefutable. And also unverifiable. And there's certainly no shortage of Arlingtonists who believe precisely the opposite.

And, as a wise elder statesman, here is his solution: learn to live with the Primitives now, and do your best to evangelize them out of existence. Win your battle domestically, "elevate" your subjects "spiritually and intellectually," and you will be able to pursue your Georgetownist visions of global democracy and world peace without a bunch of Birchers carping about homosexual communist "rock music."

The reason Kennan likes Europe is not just that parliamentary systems are more apolitical - it is that Europe has no organized Primitives. Thanks to its postwar can of whoop-ass, Europe is way ahead of us in its Georgetownist Gleischaltung. Nothing like the Republican Party of 2008 would be tolerated in Europe today, let alone the Republican Party of 1984. (And if you want a real trip, find some of Governor Reagan's speeches from the '60s.)

What happened in Europe was that its entire intellectual operating system was reinstalled. There were Arlingtonists in Europe, and not all of them were Nazis. And it wasn't just Germany that got reprogrammed. Europe has spent the last fifty years abolishing a set of perspectives that constituted the entire mainstream political spectrum in 1900. It is only Plainland that was not completely conquered by the Georgetownists. And it is far more conquered now than it was in 1984.

So we have completely reframed the story that Kennan is trying to tell. Instead of the struggle of a decent public servant against chauvinist demagoguery, we have the struggle of a Machiavellian bureaucrat to govern the world and abolish his enemies. Which of these stories is truer? Neither. Both are completely consistent with the facts. History is always the Necker cube. (It would help, though, if we knew whether Kennan ever owned a long-haired cat.)

And notice one thing that we have not learned about the struggle between the Arlingtonists and the Georgetownists, the Primitives and the Brahmins. We have learned who won and is still winning. We have learned that at least one side is willing to tell a lie or two, or at least shade the truth - hardly shocking in the twentieth century. What we haven't learned is who was right and who was wrong. In fact, maybe they're both wrong.

And this is how I stopped believing in democracy. Let's go back to the God analogy.

What's amazing about the whole God thing is that people actually used to believe in God. Almost no one believes in God today. The most they are willing to give Him is that he "exists." Perhaps there is a Heaven and maybe even a Hell. But before you find people who actually believe that God actually uses His alien black-magic superpowers to actually affect events on Earth, you have to scrape pretty deep in the barrel. We are all deists now.

Before this change, there was an entire branch of philosophy called theodicy, whose goal was to figure out how God and evil could coexist. Doesn't it strike you as completely and utterly obvious that the answer is "they don't"? Why didn't all these incredibly smart people - Aquinas and Leibniz and Pascal and so forth - just consider the null hypothesis?

I think the answer is that when you really believe in God, the belief that God is good and makes good things happen is completely woven into your cerebral cortex. If you were to stop believing in God, you would instantly solve the problem of explaining all the evil things that have happened in the world. You would also instantly create the problem of explaining all the good things that have happened. For which your present explanation is that they happened because they were good, and therefore God wanted them to happen.

Similarly, as a kid raised on the IHT and the Economist and other Georgetownist goodness, I had a simple, pretty explanation of the world. There were two kinds of governments: democratic ones and undemocratic ones. The first kind were good and the second kind were bad. History was the story of humanity's progress from bad, undemocratic governments to good, democratic ones. The rest was all details.

One can certainly arrange the facts in this way. But, first, history is not a list of facts. And second, when we do arrange the facts in this way, we find that we have a number of facts left over, which require additional explanations. Of course these explanations can be assembled. Pretty much any theory of history can explain pretty much any fact. However, the more patches of this sort you have to apply, the more you miss your simple, pretty story.

And there is an even more upsetting observation, which is that the process of explaining why democracy isn't perfect is remarkably similar to good old theodicy. Perhaps we could call it demodicy - the problem of explaining how democracy can coexist with evil.

Perhaps you've noticed that democracy has not exactly worked out perfectly in Iraq. Oh, there were elections. Elections, sure. But after the elections, did Iraq turn into Belgium? Um, no. How can we explain this? Almost any way we want:
  • Democracy cannot be imposed by occupying troops.
  • American troops have committed human rights violations, which makes Iraqis hate us.
  • America supports Israel, which makes Iraqis hate us.
  • Iraqis must overcome their tribal conflicts, which make them hate each other.
  • Iraqis marry their cousins and have low IQs. They are too stupid for democracy.
  • The "oil curse" makes Iraqis want to fight for cheap oil money.
  • Iraq was brutalized by colonialism, from which it is still recovering.
And on and on and on. For each of these we can construct examples, counterexamples, refutations, rebuttals, and in short an entire tangle of scholastic philosophy. Classic demodicy.

Or let's look at another example: democracy in South Africa. Of course by "democracy" I mean multiracial democracy. It is not okay to have an election in which only white people can vote. It's actually worse than having no elections at all. It's a sort of blasphemy, like appointing your horse to the Senate, electing a crack whore as Pope, or giving Pol Pot the Nobel Peace Prize.

Of course this was absolutely huge when I was in college. It was by far the most important thing in the world. I think if God had told the average male student at my college that, if he agreed to remain a virgin for life, democracy would come to South Africa, he would have instantly agreed. And in 1994, a miracle! No virginity required. Even the evil white people voted for it.

Recently, something interesting happened in South Africa. The power went out. Apparently this is not a temporary or accidental development. South Africa will have rolling blackouts for the next few years. Not a small issue in a place where ordinary life as you or I know it depends on extreme security systems and armed response teams. Here is a thread in which people like you and me debate whether or not to flee the country. Here is a sample:
I myself am deciding to leave, but I have other commitments at the moment that don't allow me to. But in time, I will. I have been involved in crime as well, and almost everyone I know has been touched by crime in some way. It used to be a case when we read articles in the newspapers about crime, now it's a case of hearing it happening to someone close to you. I myself, have been mugged twice, stabbed 3 times, once in the lung, and hit on the head...while I was a student who just started writing my final exams. Thereafter another incident and I was beaten up repeated and landed in hospital. A close friend of mine was killed while outside a fast food store, waiting for his order. When does it stop? I agree, we are so used to hearing about crime, that it has become the norm. Our country is full of it! There's no place left in our daily papers to add in all the stories. Killings and rapes are now moved to page 3 or 4. Front page is now set aside for the most gruesome or horrific stories. Shock sells, and it's getting harder to shock our nation because violent crime is now also the norm. Yet, in countries abroad, where violent crime is not witnessed on a daily basis, a story of a missing dog could easily be placed on the front page. Is there hope for SA? I honestly don't know. But we are in big trouble. I also was optimistic - but now I realise no one will help us - the government doesn't give a damn. The corruption and power crises is another story on it's own. If everyone that could afford to leave - left, what then? Some of my friends, and I have been saving for the past year, not to buy a new car (which will be hijacked and taken away), but to leave. Like the government said...leave if we want...If they won't help us - we should help ourselves.
I do not witness violent crime on a daily basis. I have never seen a story of a missing dog on the front page. In fact, I have never been stabbed anywhere at all, not even in the lung.

However, I was in a bookstore the other day and found a pile of Napa Journals from May 1940. This was a broadsheet rag put out in Napa, CA. On one, the top headline was that the Nazis had invaded France. There were some other stories of a similar nature. And down near the bottom, but definitely on the front page, the Journal saw fit to inform its readers that the police had arrested a man who was wanted for passing a bad check in Fresno. Hm.

In any case, while poking around for news on the subject I stumbled on a little blog called "SA Rocks." From its about page:
After reading the incredibly upsetting anti-SA blogs from expats around the world I decided to make a stand. This blog is that stand. I am standing up for all the good in SA. For all the great things that SA citizens do and for all the people who love this country. I love this country and I believe in it and the success that is soon to come.

SA Rocks is not a website dedicated to blindly praising South Africa. I understand that every country has flaws and I do not deny the flaws of South Africa. I do feel that there are enough people who berate our country and it’s time for people to start acting and thinking positively about South Africa.
Indeed. My attention was immediately drawn to this post, which has to be seen in context. This one is good, too. Demodicy in its purest and most desperate form.

I shouldn't make fun of these people. They really, really don't deserve what is happening to them. No one deserves to be stabbed, especially not in the lung. But the question remains: did someone make a mistake? Did they do X, when in retrospect they should have done Y? And was believing in democracy part of their motivation for doing X? What does it even mean to believe in democracy, anyway?

Hopefully we have now passed the point of mere skepticism. We are ready to reason in a structured and sensible way. At this point I recommend that you take a break from the essay, and have a beer or two, or other beverage of choice. Have to keep those neurons loose.

There are two pertinent questions. One: what does it mean to believe in democracy? Two: if you don't believe in democracy, what do you believe in?

As I see it, there are two ways you can believe in democracy. One, you can believe in democracy as an end - that is, as a goal which is good in and of itself. Two, you can believe in democracy as a mechanism by which some other goal can be achieved.

If you believe in democracy as an end in itself, I really cannot help you. You might as well believe in, say, water polo, as an end in itself. It is impossible to reason about ethical axioms.

I think most sensible people who believe in democracy see it as a mechanism. Or more precisely, as a remedy.

Looking at history, they note that there are two kinds of governments: good ones and bad ones. Misgovernment is an extremely dangerous condition, and when we look at democracies we see that they are not, in general, misgoverned. Ergo, democracy, ie the process of holding elections which are basically free and fair in a multiparty state with a free press and all the rest, is a remedy for misgovernment, much as salvarsan is a remedy for syphilis.

Our problem here is that we are thinking empirically, which is to say pseudoscientifically. History is not an experiment, because we cannot control it. If we were testing a remedy for syphilis, we would assemble two groups of syphilis patients who were the same in every possible way, except that one got the remedy and the other didn't. We cannot do this for democracy. There are no control governments.

Uncontrolled or "natural" experiments produce misleading results. If the way we test our syphilis remedy is just to sell it, then see if the people who buy it do better than the people who don't, we are simply finding ways to confuse ourselves. Perhaps patients who have mild syphilis are more likely to try the pill those with tertiary paresis. Perhaps it's not that elections create good governments, but that good governments are more likely to hold elections. By compiling the facts of history and expecting some objective algorithm to magically arrange them in the most plausible narrative, we think we are being scientific. In fact we have only rediscovered artificial stupidity.

Moreover, any such narrative will probably be replete with exceptions, which leads us back into demodicy. Iraq is a democracy and it's a hellhole. Dubai, right next door, is a monarchy, and it's about as pleasant as anywhere in the Persian Gulf could get. Why? Again, we can supply as many explanations as may be required.

And worst, we are not really thinking from scratch. We are starting with our conventional proposition, that democracy is a mechanism which produces good government, and trying to disprove it. Imagine if we applied the same algorithm to God.

Instead, let's start with what we actually do know and try to work forward.

We know that personal influence over the actions of a government, or power, is greatly sought after by members of our species. We know that in a democracy, power is shared equally among the democracy's citizens, each of whom has one vote. Therefore, since each citizen will favor a government that serves his or her interests, no one has more power than anyone else, and the government they all elect will serve, on average, the interests of all.

This is certainly one theory of democracy. Call it Theory A. Let me share another, theory B:
In all society or government are right to be enjoyed, burdens to be borne, and trusts to be discharged.

Among the rights are the right of property; the right of locomotion; the right to appropriate and dispose of the proceeds of our own labor; the right to worship according to conscience; and the right to protection from from society in the enjoyment of all these rights, and the right to have all the legal processes and remedies provided to make this protection effectual. These are called civil rights, and when we speak of civil equality we mean that these rights belong alike and equally to all citizens, to all classes, to all colors, to all sexes, to all ages, and to all grades of intellect, society, and worth. [...]

Among the burdens of society and governments I may mention: working the public highways; providing public buildings; paying the public taxes; defending the public safety, etc, etc. These burdens ought to be borne by all according to fitness and capacity, for these burdens constitute the consideration we pay for the protection we get. Women and children, lunatics and idiots do not work the highways or defend the society with arms, because their positions or capacity forbid; but they are all citizens - or members of the society - and pay taxes. These are called burdens because they are borne, not for ourselves only, but for others - for the public.

Lastly, in every society or government there are trusts to be discharged. Offices are to be filled; laws are to be made, executed and administered, else there could be no rules or process for protection; and agents are to be selected for all these purposes. The whole business of selecting agents to discharge duties, as well as the discharge of the duties themselves, comes under the head of trusts. They are called trusts because they are powers exercised not for one's own good but for the good of others - for the public. The authority to vote is, therefore, a trust reposed, and the exercise of the authority is the exercise of a trust - the trust of selecting agents to provide and execute the laws by which rights are to be protected. All men are born to rights - which are personal - affecting each person only; but no man is born to a trust - to a power which affects all other members of society. You had as well say a man is born to an office as to say he is born to a vote for that office. So, again, all trusts imply capacity and integrity. No man has a right to be intrusted to discharge a duty affecting others who does not understand that duty, or has not integrity to be trusted with its faithful exercise.

How can the rights of the members of society be safe if the protection for those rights is to be provided or applied by ignorant or vicious agents? And how can ignorant and vicious agents be avoided if ignorant and vicious persons are born to the right to select them?

Rights are personal - born with persons - belong to the person, and affect the person; but trusts are relative - and born with society - belong to society - and are for the good and under control of society. How is any man born with a right to take my rights, or to select another to take my rights?

Suffrage, then, is not a right - it is not a privilege - it is a trust, and a most solemn and sacred trust. It is the trust of preserving society, of securing rights, of protecting persons.

Would you select an ignorant, or vicious, or untrustworthy man as your trustee, or the trustee for your wife or your child in the smallest concerns of life? How, then, would you make a trustee of an ignorant or vicious man to discharge these great duties, on the wise and faithful discharge of which all rights, and all protection, and all things depend?
Obviously, this wasn't written yesterday. But don't you find it compelling?

There are two possibilities. Either we can define good government, or we cannot.

If we cannot define good government, how exactly we can agree that democracy promotes good government is entirely beyond me. In practice, what theory A tells us is that good government constitutes whatever democracy produces. Everyone's interest is weighed, and if its weight does not prevail it's just too bad. You have brown hair, so the blondes have decided that you will be ground up and put on the rosebushes. We have returned to the theory of democracy as end. And this end is definitely a dead one.

Theory B is much more interesting. It asserts that we actually can agree on what good government is. Good government is government that protects its citizens' civil rights, minimizes the burdens it imposes on them, and faithfully executes its trusts. Any system for constituting a government that achieves this goal is a good one. Any system that does not is not. As Deng Xiaoping put it, "if the cat catches mice, who cares if it's black or white?"

Well, I'm afraid that's just the problem. The author of the above text was Sen. Benjamin H. Hill, of Georgia, in his Notes on the Situation. Senator Hill was many things, but one of them was a Redeemer. And the point of the above passage, which I have carefully elided, was that Negroes shouldn't be allowed to vote.

So we have a slight problem. If we follow Hill's argument that suffrage is a trust, we are pointed in a distinctly undemocratic direction. And we can follow that direction farther than Hill himself would be willing to go. Why should all white men be allowed to vote? Surely a pair of testicles and a pallid skin is hardly proof positive that the bearer of this anatomy is a responsible trustee, not "ignorant and vicious"? Surely we can devise a more effective test?

And, if our goal is really just the faithful execution of a trust, why assume that electoral suffrage of any sort is the most effective way to constitute it? Surely the shareholders of Google have entrusted its management with a tremendous trust - $170 billion worth, last time I checked. Surely this is worth as much as Georgia, or at least Georgia in the 1870s. How does Google just skate along without any suffrage at all, whereas Georgia needs elections? And which trust would you guess is more effectively exercised?

On the other hand, if we recoil in horror from Senator Hill and his sheet-wearing buddies, we are left with his arguments. If we can define good government, we can take an engineering approach to designing a system that ensures it. Moreover, we can evaluate the expected results of this system by criteria that are, if not quantitative, at least factual and absolute, rather than ethical and subjective.

Our goal is an animal that catches mice. We can add other requirements as well. Our mouse-catcher must be able to use a catbox. It should be able to purr and sit on a lap. It must not eat the baby. And so on. If what you want is good government, design for good government. If what you want is something else, why? Perhaps you're part of the problem - there is, after all, a problem, and somebody's got to be part of it.

And is there any reason to think that democracy - Hill's kind, or our kind, or Odinga's kind, or anyone else's kind - is the output of this sort of engineering process? If not, what possible reason can we have for believing that it is the most effective mechanism for this purpose? Surely the existence of other mechanisms which are less effective is irrelevant. (Also, it is really asking too much to inflict long S's on people, but I can't resist a link to Dean Tucker.)

All this is interesting. But does it really get us all the way toward not believing in democracy? I don't think so.

Daniel Dennett's new neo-atheist book is called Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Obviously as an atheist myself I find this kind of material too boring for words, and in fact I bogged down pretty hard in Dennett. But I do like the title, and I think the analogy remains useful.

It expresses an interesting way of persuading people to become atheists. Most people are theists not because they were "reasoned into" believing in God, but because they applied Occam's razor at too early an age. Their simplest explanation for the reason that their parents, not to mention everyone else in the world, believed in God, was that God actually existed. The same could be said for, say, Australia.

Dennett's approach, which of course is probably ineffective in almost all cases, is to explain why, if God doesn't exist, everyone knows who He is. How did this whole God thing happen? Why is it not weird that people believed in Him for 2000 years, but actually they were wrong?

Perhaps the same approach will work in spreading this edgier mental virus^H^H^H^H^H vaccine of ademotism. If democracy isn't tha shizzle, why does everyone believe in it? How did it get to be so big? Because we have to admit that one very, very simple explanation of how it got to be so big is that it is, indeed, tha shizzle.

Ergo, our goal is to understand democracy as a historical phenomenon. This is getting long, so perhaps we'll take a good whack at it next week.

In case you wonder why you should care, however, let me drop in the punch line.

There's something else about not believing in God in 1758. Which is that pretty much the only 18th-century writers that anyone cares to read in 2008 were, if not downright atheists, at least freethinkers of some variety. An enormous volume of writing was published during that century, and almost all of it was devotional or otherwise conventional nonsense. Only specialists read it. Perhaps this is unfortunate, but it's how it is.

What would you get if you tried to compose a canon of 20th-century writers, whose only criterion for inclusion would be that its members had to express or demonstrate some kind of doubt or skepticism on the value of democracy? Your writers - of fiction, poetry, essays, journalism, whatever - would certainly be in a decided minority. On the other hand, the same could be said for the 18th-century atheists. And if you compared this canon to the stuff that they make freshmen at Stanford read these days, would it be more readable, or less?

83 Comments:

Blogger mnuez said...

Another brilliant piece. Thank you.

I read some time ago the alternative that you proposed and I've got to say that I didn't quite see its wonders. I'd love to read more on the subject of plausible alternatives.

Again, thanks for your fabulous contributions to the world of human thought.

mnuez
www.mnuez.blogspot.com

January 31, 2008 at 4:34 AM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

Have you ever seen or heard any trace of an anti-terrorist, let alone anti-Islamist or anti-jihadist, march, parade, meeting or demonstration?

Brilliant as always, but (as sometimes) you can take a point too far. Such things happen all the time--but they're held by fringe types and not covered by the MSM.

January 31, 2008 at 6:17 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

As a very firm, reasoned believer in God, I've always thought the theodicy problem exceedingly dumb. If God were involved in our lives to such a degree, we would have no free will. Unfortunately, the world of Judeo-Christian mysticism was co-opted by politicians as early as the 3rd century AD and turned into the bloated state that we know and love as The Church (and all of its neo/crypto-extensions).

But anyway, I have to agree with mnuez a little here -- I don't see that the corporate governance model would have any more reason to be polite and proper than the democracy model.

As to what Mr. Davies says, well -- the question was not that they happen, but "have you seen" them? And the answer is no -- they are fringe types and, unlike anti-war protesters, have no bearing on our policital sichiations.

Peas,
GMP

January 31, 2008 at 7:20 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

So we have completely reframed the story that Kennan is trying to tell. Instead of the struggle of a decent public servant against chauvinist demagoguery, we have the struggle of a Machiavellian bureaucrat to govern the world and abolish his enemies. Which of these stories is truer? Neither. Both are completely consistent with the facts.
So, which one goes into revipedia?

January 31, 2008 at 7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the most thought provoking blog I have ever read in my entire life.

January 31, 2008 at 7:49 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

If we can define good government, we can take an engineering approach to designing a system that ensures it.

Not necessarily. Some problems are subjects for engineering; some are not. If you have a very complete theoretical understanding of a domain, and if you also have tools capable of manipulating all aspects of the elements in the domain -- only then can you assuredly engineer.

Take as example, this similar proposition: If we can define a Dyson sphere, we can take an engineering approach to designing a system that ensures it. No, we can't.

Or this proposition: If we can define a woman's love, we can take an engineering approach to designing a system that ensures it. Dream on.

It's interesting that the very example you used, of the cat as a solution to "our goal is an animal that catches mice", is not something that humans engineered. Rather, we evolved it, and that based on a very close solution already evolved by nature, completely independent of us.

January 31, 2008 at 8:06 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

On not believing in democracy... well, if you really only lost your faith a few years ago, I lost my faith long before you did. (What took you?) But I agree it is an interesting problem. I think your analogy (if it is an analogy) to God-belief is quite apposite and intriguing. Actually I am more inclined to take this not as analogy. Rather democracy is a religion, where the people/state replace God. I think you'll want to make up one of your funny words for this concept, since it needs to be contrasted with "mere" democracy in its meaning of "voting to set policy". Perhaps Goddemocracy would do?

Looking back on it, I can recall one extremely significant signpost, to me, in my loss of faith in goddemocracy: reading Starship Troopers as a boy. Although Heinlein's society is democratic, it is not goddemocratic, at least not in our form. The francise is restricted to those who have served the state, supposedly at certain risk and/or discomfort. This was a revelation to me at the time, immersed in the state church system (aka public schools). It is the heresies, the close-but-not-quite, that are most challenging for any meme. If we can imagine that any restriction in the francise will improve the function of democracy... then maybe others will too. And that way lies loss of faith, because we can imagine restrictions so severe as to eliminate the socialism inherent in goddemocracy.

I agree with your general attitude about God: few really believe any more. That's one reason why I sometimes call the USA post-Christian, or post-Protestant. Some of the outward forms are still there, and many cultural attitudes, but underneath, it's entirely different. You don't really believe in God if you think he just exists, and maybe kickstarted the Big Bang. An inactive God may as well be dead. The people, and the state, have replaced Him. Thus modern liberalism as a Christian heresy. Goddemocracy.

Hearkening back to a previous post, one way we might look upon the problem of "defeating" Washcorp, is the problem of defeating Goddemocracy. So long as people believe in Goddemocracy, Washcorp will abide.

January 31, 2008 at 8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We are all deists now."

I think you live in too much of an echo chamber if you don't see people who still believe in God (and one that affects worldly events) on a daily basis.

I don't agree with their beliefs, I'm just sayin'.

January 31, 2008 at 8:57 AM  
Blogger Charles Butler said...

1). Do you work at a job or anything like that?

2). Democracy seems to be a political system in which citizens periodically vote for representatives of political parties who will then go on to do all sorts of wonderful things and will presumably have their megalomania controlled by the fear that they will not repeat. Unfortunately and interestingly, its apologists smugly trace its lineage to ancient Greece - a democracy to put the old SA model to shame.

3). The confusion of democracy with the odd and seductive concept of liberty, now reduced in practice to whether we should be allowed to download music from P2P networks, is another matter.

4). A very interesting character from the 1920's is Miguel Primo de Rivera - the Spanish rationalist/reformist dictator who resigned his post, presumably in disgust. He is categorically (sensing the levitation of danders) not to be confused with his son, José Antonio, creator of the falange.

5). Did I ask you if you had a job?

January 31, 2008 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Leonard is spot-on.

The problem with UR is the underlying assumption that, somehow, engineering will fix all of this.

I know engineers. As a whole, they tinker, not fix things.

But more problematic is MM's constant assertion that there are no controlled experiments in history. Good engineering depends upon accurate modelings, which are impossible when "planning history."

Having said that, this blog is hard to beat in interesting observations and looking at things from alternate perspectives.

January 31, 2008 at 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

250 years seems about right. A century earlier and one could well have been consigned to the flames oneself for a public declaration of atheism - but by the 1750s, only one's books were, as in the example of Helvétius's De l'esprit.

I am not sure whether the modern god is democracy or egalitarianism. I am inclined to think the latter rather than the former.

The intellectual class makes all sorts of noises about tolerance, but it is clear it will not tolerate heresies against egalitarianism, as shown by the recent treatment of Larry Summers or James Watson. These people have suffered the 21st-c. equivalent of what happened to Helvétius.

Our present elite - call them brahmins, universalists, progressive internationalists, what you will - is most peculiar in that it gives every indication of being an elite, and of being conscious that it is an elite, all the while mouthing egalitarian platitudes. It is as if these are indispensable liturgies, credos or paternosters, lightings of candles or incense, spells or mantras, to protect and preserve its elite status.

In any event, that the primary obeisance is to equality rather than to democracy is shown by the willingness to swallow completely undemocratic government (e.g. Cuba or Mugabe's Zimbabwe) while straining at partially democratic government (e.g. apartheid-era South Africa or Smith's Rhodesia). It is better that none have the franchise than that some have it when others do not.

I suggest that, when the history of our era is written in 250 or 300 years, assuming there is a civilisation left to read it, World War I will be seen as the kind of turning point that happens once in a millennium, if that. It basically brought to an end the Europe of nation-states ruled by hereditary monarchs, which had been inaugurated by the coronation of Charlemagne as emperor.

We are probably already well into an era of barbarism comparable to that which followed on the fall of the western Roman empire, yet are as unconscious of it as the Romans of (say) the time of Theodoric the Great were. Our intellectual class displays the same kind of florid and stunted expression we find in the works of Cassiodorus, the leading policy wonk of his day. To compare the writing of some modern denizen of the universities or think-tanks to that of a Madison or Randolph gives one a similar feeling to that of setting the writing of Cassiodorus alongside Cicero or Cato the Elder. The mediocrity and decadence of the more recent thought is in both cases shown by the manner in which it is expressed. We can take comfort only in the observation of Adam Smith, namely, that there is a lot of ruin in a nation.

January 31, 2008 at 11:09 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Michael S

Certainly many of our arts show a post-collapse elan. I imagine that the scratchers and gougers of 5th century Rome also defended their childish works as progress.

January 31, 2008 at 11:59 AM  
Blogger Charles Butler said...

michael s.-- I suggest that, when the history of our era is written in 250 or 300 years...

That is an indefensible assertion. We have no way of knowing what the present ideological needs that will determine the viewing of history will be in three centuries - any more than we can know whether living under barbarism was a better or worse fate than under Roman civilization, much as it suits us to think that the latter was to be preferred. It is possible to surmise from the really cheesy efforts of the visigoths to copy Roman culture that they may have thought that they were direct heirs of same.

January 31, 2008 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger baldvin said...

Please, please, somebody who knows what kerneltrap.org or similar services do: could somebody create something similar for UR? I beg in the name of hard-working people... :)

January 31, 2008 at 12:59 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mr. Butler - all assertions about the future, except perhaps for those that can be made from the application of celestial mechanics, are indefensible in the sense that it is impossible to demonstrate them by reasoning back to axioms, and we won't be around to tell à posteriori whether they were right.

I do not think my assertion that World War I will be seen as a major historical turning point requires any assumption about "ideological needs" of future historians. Put what interpretation on it they may, there is so simply a division between the ordinary arrangements of Western society as it was before 1914 and those that have prevailed since 1918

Four great empires, ruled by Charlemagne's descendants, that controlled most of the world's surface, fell as a consequence of that war. A fifth was fatally weakened by it, though it took a while for it to collapse. The entire remainder of the twentieth century was devoted to sorting out the consequences. The fall of the Romanovs was followed by a brief and ineffectual democracy under Kerensky, and then Boshevism. The fall of the Hohenzollerns in Germany led to the brief and ineffectual Weimar republic, and then Nazism. The fall of the Habsburgs in Austria-Hungary led to the splintering of its former territories, which soon became prey to the Nazis, and then to the Soviets after World War II. That war led to the Cold War and also to the collapse of the British empire.

We are not done with this process of sorting-out, since the current conflicts in the middle east are consequences of the post-WWI dismemberment of the Ottoman empire, and the conflicting promises made by the victorious Allies: to the Zionist movement in the Balfour Declaration, to the Arabs by Allenby and Lawrence, and to themselves in the Sykes-Picot agreement. A clear end is not in sight.

Does anything I have written above require particular "ideological needs" to view? I don't think any of these observations would be disputed between monarchist or communist, Nazi or New Dealer, Likudnik or al-Qaidist. Each will of course have his own opinion of the events in question, but I doubt if any could dispute that together they reflect massive change, stemming from the events of 1914-18, in what had for a millennium been essentially the settled and customary political, social, and economic arrangements of the civilised world.

I agree that it is more speculative than the foregoing to argue that we are in a period of decline into barbarism rather than embarking upon some more hopeful new departure. On the other hand, the signs of decline seem obvious and numerous to me, while optimistic signals are hard to detect. If you have seen any, what are they?

January 31, 2008 at 1:26 PM  
Anonymous ml said...


Theory B is much more interesting. It asserts that we actually can agree on what good government is. Good government is government that protects its citizens' civil rights, minimizes the burdens it imposes on them, and faithfully executes its trusts. Any system for constituting a government that achieves this goal is a good one. Any system that does not is not. As Deng Xiaoping put it, "if the cat catches mice, who cares if it's black or white?"


Gotta agree with the others. I agree with your analysis, Mencius, that defining good government as democracy isn't a proper end-point; I disagree with your proposition that defining good government as limited government which protects the rights of its citizens as a proper end-point as well. Because I could just as easily define good government arbitrarily as something else, for example as government that redistributes the most wealth among its citizens to equalize inequality. Basically you're replacing one null hypothesis with another. If instead you look beyond that and argue instead that, fundamentally, good government is government that is (a) sustainable in the long term , (b)stable in the long term and (c) productive in the long term, you would have a firm basis in which to challenge competing visions of good governance.

January 31, 2008 at 1:48 PM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

Mencius, I'm surprised to hear that you stopped believing in democracy so recently. To the best of my recollection, I have never believed in democracy, neither that it is good in and of itself, nor that it is necessarily the best system for achieving some desired set of practical results. The problems with democracy and in particular universal suffrage seemed obvious. Its appeal was considerably less so. For example, how could anyone object to a requirement that voters at least be literate?

The "manufacturing consent" theory that democracy functions more to justify policy to the voters than to get input as to what policy should be can help explain the stability of democracy, but to me it doesn't explain the enthusiasm for it. Those that buy into the theory, it seems to me, ought to consider the fundamental deceitfulness of the process disgraceful, and those that reject the theory or have never even considered it obviously can't be supporting democracy on the basis of it.

January 31, 2008 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

"For a third, acknowledging your beliefs, let alone evangelizing them, is not exactly an effective way to make friends or influence people."

Depends whom you want to influence. Goethe, Voltaire and Hume had a decent enough time of it, after all. Dennett's book sounds almost painfully 1758, actually. The "enlightened" were scrambling over themselves trying to explain why everyone had been duped by this 'god' business. Their answer wasn't very good, by our standards. (Unless you're 18, in which case it is terribly brilliant.)

January 31, 2008 at 3:48 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Of course, the same could be said for disbelieving in, say, Australia.
I don't think Australia has anything to do with the theory of legitimacy on which the government is based.

Tarrytown
Never heard of it.

Nowhere else in the world is there any significant political division whose heritage predates 1940.
Nepal still has a genuine monarchy. I think most of Latin America is basically unchanged.

The various so-called "parties" in Europe are mildly-flavored versions of this belief system, which becomes completely homogeneous in the upper elite.
What about Vlaams Belang and Jorg Haider? Those are rather mainstream in their countriy's politics, but would be unnacceptable here.

The Dutch who let you smoke weed in their cafes and the Dutch who ruled Indonesia might as well be on different planets.
Pim Fortuyn may have been a Universalist in some sense, but he (along with Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders) have more balls than most of our politicians. Speaking of the tolerant Dutch though, check out Defeat the Modernity at Marginal Revolution.

All the institutions were purged, all the individuals have finally kicked it.
Aren't there still some genuine monarchies left like Monaco?

Think about how many people had to screw up in order for this photo to make it to Time.
None. It says they were doing it to "emphasize" their plight, or admitting that it is staged.

They are Georgetownists to a T, every one. I guarantee it.
I've read polls of self-described political leanings in media/journalism and while lopsided it isn't 100%.

The "aggressive and vociferous minorities or lobbies" certainly exist. They march in Dolores Park on a regular basis. What "particular nation or ethnic group" do they support? Um, the Palestinians? Duh. By "national emblem," Kennan of course means the kaffiyeh. Problem solved.
We live in very different world. I've never met any Palestinians, but I've known several former inhabitants of Israel. I've never heard anyone tell me in person they support the Palestinians, but a good number of gentiles have said that of Israel. At my college the pro-Israel folks had a more visible presence than the pro-Palestinian ones (which seemed entirely comprised of Muslims). None of that should be surprising given the stats I've pointed out before that you dismiss. I've seen and laughed at the pictures at Zombietime, but they don't seem representative or important.

Not. Actually, if anything, he is thinking of the infamous "Israel lobby." I think I once saw a pro-Israeli crowd in New York. It was maybe ten or twenty people.
When you think "Israel lobby", think AIPAC. By their own admission they are quite powerful. There really isn't an equivalent Palestinian lobby, in part because Palestinians really are dislikable enough that even other Arabs in the region could care less about them other than as a stick to use against Israel. I would like to see your review of Mearsheimer (who, contra Paul Gottfried, is a righty).

Was there ever an anti-Palestinian divestment movement?
I don't think they have anything to divest in.

Promising not to invest in companies that do business with Arab states that support Palestinian terrorism?
I think Iran might be the largest right now. Really, I think genuine supporters of the Palestinians should be angry at the Arab states for making the Palestinians permanent refugees without rights within their borders. Bernstein writes rather Moldbuggy here and Bernsteiny here. I think the Israel lobby has been more succesful in getting the U.S government to prohibit doing business with supporters of Palestinian terrorism than their opposites have been in preventing business being done with Israel.

Of course, the "particular nations" that Kennan expects his audience to think of - the candles - are the Cuban emigres, the Taiwanese, the South Vietnamese, etc.
And if you refused to recognize the importance of at least the first you're about as loony as you would be for ignoring the Israel lobby. A lot of folks in Miami don't believe in free speech on the issue have carried out attacks on people they perceive as the enemy. Ron Paul was regarded as insane for saying in the Univision debates that we should end the completely ineffective trade-embargoes on Cuba and other places (and he's supposed to be an isolationist!). No other Republican would dare touch the issue. Just because they're right that Castro is a horrible dictator doesn't mean they haven't caused our government to enact idiotic policies toward Cuba. The China Lobby was real, but mostly consisted of people in D.C with connections to Chiang rather than any sort of grass-roots movement. I don't think the South Vietnamese in America even care, and if the ones in Vietnam had been that concerned they might not have lost the country (Sailer riffs on that here)!

The "particular nations" he does not expect us to think of - the sun behind the curtains - are the Palestinians, the Cuban socialists, the Maoists, the North Vietnamese, etc.
I already discussed the Palestinians, but I don't think there are many Cuban socialists in America. What few may exist have certainly done a shit job of ending sanctions against the regime, though since I believe the regime benefits from them (as did South Africa's National Party) maybe they're supposed to do nothing about it.

Sending the New York Philharmonic to Pretoria in 1984 would have been something else entirely.
I think our governments were on good terms, so we were already plenty engaged.

Have you ever seen or heard any trace of an anti-terrorist, let alone anti-Islamist or anti-jihadist, march, parade, meeting or demonstration?
Yeah. Even ones made up of Muslims. A number of such events.

Are our colleges full of anti-Islamofascist Cheneyite activists?
Kennan was talking about the real world rather than colleges. But I note that many on the right seem to think of American liberals as a sort of fifth-column for Islamists, essentially revealing that they've had no new ideas after the Cold War and can't recognize the absurdity of their own.

What hindsight shows us is that Kennan was projecting.
I don't know much about Kennan, did he ever wear a kaffiyeh?

But when we step back and take a broader view, we see easily that these "militaristic and chauvinistic minorities" were stronger - in terms of their influence over decisions in Washington - in 1924 than 1934, stronger in 1934 than 1954, stronger in 1954 than in 1964, stronger in 1964 than in 1974, and so on right down to now.
I think in the early twentieth century we had a lower opinion of immigrants and didn't let them interfere with out politics much.

And where the heck is the John Birch Society today?
Here, opposing the militarist neocon dominated right.

On the other hand, this state of affairs is not at all inconsistent with the hypothesis that their actions (often quite hostile) are actually best classified not as aggression, but more properly as resistance.
Now you sound like a liberal. Big bad Sassam is persecuting Norman Podhoretz all the way from Iraq!

This is how Kennan can sacralize democracy while castigating politics.
It didn't sound like he was sacralizing democracy. He said it was a flawed system but might be the only one that might preserve liberty. My beef with what he said is that he didn't consider that Alaska and Maine might well be ruled by completely separate governments.

He knows perfectly well that, in almost every post-1945 military conflict, Primitives have lined up on one side of the ball and Georgetownists on the other.
I don't know how straightforward that is. The Democrats got us into Korea and the more isolationist Republicans quickly ended the war, but there was a lot of support for Dugout Doug's belliggerence on the right. The "best and brightest" of the establishment left gave us Vietnam, though it handed over the right (which did eventually end it). Many Democrats in Congress (including Al Gore) supported the first Iraq war, the neoconservatives banged on the table for intervention in the Balkans (McCain was initially skeptical but came around) and a lot of the establishment left again supported the war in Iraq. It might even with good reason be called Bubba's War (riffing off another militaristic Democrat).

And it wasn't just Germany that got reprogrammed.
Your link doesn't work.

It is only Plainland that was not completely conquered by the Georgetownists.
I thought there were still other countries that were part of the "Red Empire". Also, a number of countries joined in the invasion of Iraq.

the IHT and the Economist
I don't know what the former is, but I think the latter supported the Iraq war. Speaking of that, you would love this documentary on the British far-left in the Thatcher years, which features one former radical who now works for the Economist.

But, first, history is not a list of facts.
Sure it is. It's one damned thing after another.

Pretty much any theory of history can explain pretty much any fact.
"Theories of history" are stupid. I think most historians would even agree with me on that.

But after the elections, did Iraq turn into Belgium?
I think you have a point, especially when you point out Kenya, but so does IOZ.

I think if God had told the average male student at my college that, if he agreed to remain a virgin for life, democracy would come to South Africa, he would have instantly agreed.
My guess is that the average male student even at Berkeley is ignorant and apathetic toward foreign policy.

I do not witness violent crime on a daily basis. I have never seen a story of a missing dog on the front page. In fact, I have never been stabbed anywhere at all, not even in the lung.
And yet you rant about how the Universalists assisted racist paramilitaries in making our cities unlivable for the white population.

However, I was in a bookstore the other day and found a pile of Napa Journals from May 1940. This was a broadsheet rag put out in Napa, CA. On one, the top headline was that the Nazis had invaded France. There were some other stories of a similar nature. And down near the bottom, but definitely on the front page, the Journal saw fit to inform its readers that the police had arrested a man who was wanted for passing a bad check in Fresno. Hm.
I don't know about Napa specifically, but I believe that nationwide the crime-rate is currently lower than it was in 1940. As Pinker notes, the "Great Sixties Freakout" was a brief deviation from a long-running secular trend.

The SA Rocks blog is indeed funny in a pathetic way. I wonder what you think of democratic & independent India though.

Looking at history, they note that there are two kinds of governments: good ones and bad ones.
A think they're more a spectrum of badness.

Our problem here is that we are thinking empirically, which is to say pseudoscientifically.
My guess is that the majority of scientists do not share your attitude towards empiricism. The ones I've met seem much more partial to Bacon than Descartes.

History is not an experiment, because we cannot control it.
The absence of a double-blind experiment is unfortuanate, but it doens't mean you've got nothing. You like to generalize from historical examples all the time.

If the way we test our syphilis remedy is just to sell it, then see if the people who buy it do better than the people who don't, we are simply finding ways to confuse ourselves.
It's still evidence. Even authority is.

Perhaps it's not that elections create good governments, but that good governments are more likely to hold elections.
I think that's actually a rather mainstream idea in academic political science.

Why should all white men be allowed to vote? Surely a pair of testicles and a pallid skin is hardly proof positive that the bearer of this anatomy is a responsible trustee, not "ignorant and vicious"? Surely we can devise a more effective test?
You're starting to sound like Bryan Caplan. By the way, you promised him a good reaming that you never delivered on. You also promised to take on the Universalist tenets of community and equality as you did social justice and pacifism.

How does Google just skate along without any suffrage at all, whereas Georgia needs elections?
I believe as a publicly traded corporation, Google does have elections for board members. As you can read in John Flynn's biography of J.P. Morgan, corporations can suffer from similar ills of democracy.

Senator Hill and his sheet-wearing buddies
I thought Hill was supposed to be a moderate.

If we can define good government
"Good" is inherently subjective, you are already wrong, just stop.

Obviously as an atheist myself I find this kind of material too boring for words
Maybe you'll like Vox Day's "The Irrational Atheist". The godless John Derbyshire and Brent Rassmussen both recommend it. Vox originally was going to include Dennet in his "unholy trinity", but has decided he's one of the atheists worthy of his respect. From what I've heard of Dennet, that seems reasonable. I like Dawkins more than Harris and Hitchens also, but I'm more familiar with his popularization of science than atheism.

What would you get if you tried to compose a canon of 20th-century writers, whose only criterion for inclusion would be that its members had to express or demonstrate some kind of doubt or skepticism on the value of democracy?
Mencken would probably be your best bet from this century. Twain and Beirce did a good job in the previous one. I think Caplan is probably the most notable one currently. I like his term "democratic fundamentalism", turning around the charge of "market fundamentalism".

Your writers - of fiction, poetry, essays, journalism, whatever - would certainly be in a decided minority.
Some disagree.

Robin Hanson seems to be mocking democracy here, when he links to this Tyler Cowen post, which is quite pathetic. I discuss the legitimacy accorded democracy, among other things, here.

I've been introducing an acolyte of Popper & Hayek to the UR school of political science and he genuinely seemed surprised by that critique of democracy.

mnuez:
I thought you were always going on about heartless Darwinian libertarians who are just a step away from Nazism. What gives?

G. M. Palmer:
unlike anti-war protesters, have no bearing on our policital sichiations.
Anti-war types have accomplished fuck-all.

Leonard:
So, which one goes into revipedia?
I thought all points of view were supposed to be allowed, but the reactionary one would win on even terms because it is correct or something like that.

If we can define a woman's love, we can take an engineering approach to designing a system that ensures it.
I think some of the commenters at GNXP believe just that.

That's one reason why I sometimes call the USA post-Christian, or post-Protestant.
We certainly don't believe like we used to. GNXP has a good post on post-Christian Europe here.

Charles Butler:
Do you work at a job or anything like that?
I was confused on that as well, but apparently he does work as a programmer.

Unfortunately and interestingly, its apologists smugly trace its lineage to ancient Greece - a democracy to put the old SA model to shame.
I think the actual founders looked away from Athens and towards Rome, but their thoughts aren't that relevant for today.

Anonymous:
This is the most thought provoking blog I have ever read in my entire life.
I think some of the other ones on my blogroll are at about that level. Take in your Mencius with a mix of disparate others so you don't wind up like the poor deluded fools who think the Asia Times' Spengler has anything to contribute.

Michael S.
Our present elite - call them brahmins, universalists, progressive internationalists, what you will - is most peculiar in that it gives every indication of being an elite, and of being conscious that it is an elite, all the while mouthing egalitarian platitudes.
They hate rival elites and support the people under them. So are they not evil like the other elites? Heavens, no! They're commitment from egalitarianism serves to distinguish them from the people they hate, and if some of the hateful ones also express something like egalitarianism, it must be phony.

In any event, that the primary obeisance is to equality rather than to democracy is shown by the willingness to swallow completely undemocratic government (e.g. Cuba or Mugabe's Zimbabwe)
We're still embargoing Cuba, you know. Also, Castro's policies toward homosexuality offend many Universalists. Zimbabwe is regularly denounced in publications like the Economist. It is really only other Africans that still seem to support him.

I suggest that, when the history of our era is written in 250 or 300 years, assuming there is a civilisation left to read it, World War I will be seen as the kind of turning point that happens once in a millennium, if that. It basically brought to an end the Europe of nation-states ruled by hereditary monarchs, which had been inaugurated by the coronation of Charlemagne as emperor.
I think you'll like the Wilson Revolution Unplugged blog. World War 1 is as you describe it and too seldom remembered. I think the Spanish American War, War Between the States and English Civil War are also important steps in how we got to where we are today.

We are probably already well into an era of barbarism comparable to that which followed on the fall of the western Roman empire
Who are the Germanic Barbarians coming to sack the city? Mexicans? They're just not that frightening. I think when we enter our decline it will be more like Spain or Britain. Not with a bang but a whimper and all. I think it's further off than you bunch judging by my favorite barometer, the "foot-vote".

Madison
He seemed dead wrong in what he predicted for this country when he was a Federalist. I give him credit for jumping ship though.

George Weinberg:
For example, how could anyone object to a requirement that voters at least be literate?
I think the prohbition on literacy tests was adopted when a significantly larger percent of the population was illiterate and "grandfather clauses" were used to allow favored illiterate groups to vote. Nowadays confusing ballots and disenfranchising felons are starting to be looked on similarly.

but to me it doesn't explain the enthusiasm for it.
Most people don't vote. Where have you been?

Conrad H. Roth:
It's a shame you're done blogging, though I didn't actually read it much. I predict you will start back up again someday though. You're still wasting time here, after all.

Their answer wasn't very good, by our standards.
I don't think I've actually read any examples. I did think Etienne de la Boettie's theory was laughable and the only reason I can give for libertarians praising it is the same as for religious people respecting creationism.

January 31, 2008 at 5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only thing I remember about Mission of Gravity is that the main character used a slide rule. Interstellar travel, and slides rules!

If we can define a woman's love, we can take an engineering approach to designing a system that ensures it.

We'll get there, and meanwhile we can settle for the next best thing...

Nowhere else in the world is there any significant political division whose heritage predates 1940.

There is that one that dates back to the death of Hussein in 680. Still relevant today. =)

January 31, 2008 at 6:10 PM  
Anonymous Tripp said...

moldbug: "Our problem here is that we are thinking empirically, which is to say pseudoscientifically."

TGGP: "My guess is that the majority of scientists do not share your attitude towards empiricism. The ones I've met seem much more partial to Bacon than Descartes."

Me: Whoa, I was pretty sure moldbug was just leaving out an obvious intermediate step. Thinking about facts as if they were the results of a controlled experiment is science IF you did a controlled experiment, and pseudo-science if you didn't. So, empiricism is A-OK if you have an experimental democratic country and a control country identical in every way except it's not democratic. If not, it's a misapplication. And I bet moldbug really digs Bacon.

January 31, 2008 at 6:19 PM  
Anonymous Statsquatch said...

This is a great blog. The John Birch society (www.jbs.org) is still around but it has declined. There use to be a JBS book store in my home town but it closed after a Starbucks moved down the street.

January 31, 2008 at 6:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

boys, boys, boys... most of us are less citizens in this day and age and more employees (and if we're lucky mercenary contractors) anyway, and while 'democracy' does act as a founding mythology or some such, at this point it's functionally atrophied into atavistic ritual or kabuki theatre or what have you.

we have a disnified celebrity culture clerisy for most of the aspirational masses, and you expect their collective will as expressed by the 40% of them that bother to vote on any given occasion (if not to educate themselves on 'the issues') actually translates into effective gov't? well, yes :P

like start with the premise that most people don't give a shit...

besides, as transnationals morph into corporatist states, and nation-states return the favor and increasingly practice state-capitalism, democracy as an institution shrivels and your dream of a world made only of shareholders and slav^H^H^H^Hemployees will be realised -- your plans compleat!

January 31, 2008 at 7:06 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Your post made this Leonard Cohen tune start going through my head.

If the "Primitives" are indeed "attacking," they are doing an awfully bad job of it.
They managed to elect the faux-primitive Bush twice, and have since broke free of their mainstream minders and are screwing up the Republican primary with one of their own (Huckabee).

I felt that my country had more or less taken a crap in its pants.
Sounds about right, although what does that make the present administration? Extending your metaphor is best left as an exercise for the scatological imagination.

Can't believe you'd link to Ralph Peters, whose redrawn map of the middle east is one of the most retarded pieces of commentary to come out over the last few years (not least because while merrily altering the borders of every country in the region and inventing several new ones, he neglected to do anything about Israel and the Palestinian territories). If that's the cream of red state thinking, they deserve to be beaten back into the hills, or plains, or holes. It's like the Bush approach to foreign intervention on steroids and raised to the 10th power. I thought your job was to make this stuff intellectually palatable, not make intelligent people run away screaming. What happened to Edward Luttwak?

And for the most part, what tggp said.

January 31, 2008 at 10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say you sound a bit naive - "Oh my God, democracy doesn't work!"

Perhaps in America people still believe in democracy. In Europe it is accepted that democracy cannot work on EU scale. The official doctrine is "postdemocracy" where "stakeholders" confer with the relevant Brussels offices.

After seeing the disastrous effects of democracy in between the First and Second World War, in Europe it was accepted that total democracy doesn't work. (The "intelligent" constitution of III French Republic which was used as a model by most of Europe had something to do with this). The whole aim of post-war Europe was to limit democracy by creating professional bureaus which are independent from voters.

The bureaucratic system of Europe doesn't work either, but you cannot accuse it of being overly democratic.

In France which was the origin of the failed republican system it was overthrown by a coup d'etat. Now they have a quasi-monarchy, which is distinguished by the tight oligarchy ruling it and the degree of contempt they feel for the voters.

Here you can find an interesting description of the last elections in France.


Extant



In short: don't mistake the propaganda fed to the masses with the reality. Reality is that most "democratic" countries are democratic to a degree, but are designed to keep the elite on top.

The difference between Europe and USA is that in USA you need more money and less elite support to get elected.

Baduin

February 1, 2008 at 12:32 AM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Support from unusual quarters on MM's view of the American-Israeli relationship. They even call it a proxy-war on behalf of a U.S political faction.

February 1, 2008 at 12:50 AM  
Blogger Charles Butler said...

Michael S. -

I took no issue with your opinion on WWI. Whatsoever. To me, it's abundantly apparent that the present is a mere logical outcome of the end of the nineteenth century. As for interpretation's relationship to ideological needs, one need look no further back than the half century leading up to the present in which Fidel Castro has gone from being liberator to pariah with no noticeable change in his actual behaviour - this not to mention Che's transformation to a mere fashion statement.

As to whether the barbarians were superior or inferior to the Romans, clearly it's the latter because they left us very little to create tales from. I do find it remarkable that, in a period of relative peace and more generalized prosperity than humanity have been accustomed to on the planet, that we have become plagued with such widespread discontent. Who woulda thunk?

Mencius -

Much as I love and admire this delicate structure you have created, is there more than a slight possibility that it is balanced on the point atop Ms. Rand's head? Come clean now.

February 1, 2008 at 1:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, wrong link


Extant

Baduin

February 1, 2008 at 1:10 AM  
Blogger TGGP said...

According to C. Van Carter at Across Difficult Country, the non-Nazi Arlingtonist MM speaks off almost assassinated Hitler, but decided not to because he didn't take him seriously at the time.

February 1, 2008 at 1:39 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

tggp:

i didn't say that anti-war protesters had a lot of bearing. They just have greater than zero -- Sheehan et al contributed to the loss of the House in 2006 -- now the Democrats have done fuck-all but that's their problem, not the anti-war folk (who, I agree, have better things to do).

gmp

February 1, 2008 at 5:27 AM  
Anonymous Lugo said...

On the subject of reprogramming Europe and eliminating home-grown Arlingtonists:

Patriotism lessons would glorify Britain's morally dubious past, say teachers

Some quick observations:

The Founding Fathers took what they thought was an "engineering approach" to obtaining the desired outcome of "good government". This worked, for a time, under the conditions that prevailed from 1789 to (perhaps) 1889. As we know, later politicians were able to create WashCorp without completely destroying what existed before (a la the Bolshevik Revolution). After 1933, the 1789 operating system had been hijacked and subverted, and none of the 1789 programmers would recognize what we have today. The 1789 operating system incorporated protections against the emergence of the other type of operating system that existed in 1789 (a monarchy) but did not incorporate effective protection against something the 1789 programmers never imagined - the emergence of a national security state / welfare state. The lesson is that any new operating system designed to create "good government" must have protection against the kind of "bad governments" we already know about but also against ones we haven't even imagined yet. This is a difficult problem - any software that humans create, other humans can subvert or hijack, if sufficiently motivated.

Also worth noting:

Many libertarians want to reboot to 1789 or 1889, and thus have democracy without WashCorp.

Mencius apparently wants neither democracy nor WashCorp.

The Brahmins want democracy and WashCorp - for now. I suspect we will evolve in the direction of having WashCorp without democracy. That's where Europe is going. "Democracy" there is defined as "the occasional opportunity to validate the irrevocable decisions of trans-national bureaucrats". And they wonder why the voters are apathetic...

February 1, 2008 at 6:22 AM  
Anonymous icr said...

I don't know about Napa specifically, but I believe that nationwide the crime-rate is currently lower than it was in 1940-tggp

That belief is based solely on the homicide rate,since reliable stats don't exist for other crimes(the FBI Uniform Crime Reports began only in 1957). The robbery rate is about 4X higher today than it was in 1957.

Because of vast improvements of trauma care over the last 40 years(many who would have been homicide victims in ealier periods now survive), the murder rate does not seem to be a good proxy for overall crime rates when comparing the post-Vietnam era and the pre-Vietnam era.

February 1, 2008 at 7:07 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

the murder rate does not seem to be a good proxy for overall crime rates when comparing the post-Vietnam era and the pre-Vietnam era.

Yes. Not to mention the difficulty of trying to compare the 1940 rates (pre antibiotics) with anything after widespread penicillin.

February 1, 2008 at 8:03 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

The lesson is that any new operating system designed to create "good government" must have protection against the kind of "bad governments" we already know about but also against ones we haven't even imagined yet. This is a difficult problem - any software that humans create, other humans can subvert or hijack, if sufficiently motivated.

Good point. Note that this line of reasoning makes anarchy attractive. So long as you have cheap exit, then you have solved the problem of "unknown hacks". Whatever they are, or may be, if you don't like the result, you leave.

Of course, then the big argument comes around to, what about exit? Can't they just hack that? And although there's a lot to be said both ways, at the very least it's a lot smaller and much better defined problem than the big hazy cloud of "define good government".

February 1, 2008 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger baldvin said...

Leonard:

So, which one goes into revipedia?

Both! I'm working in the last two years on something that is very close in many aspects to what MM described as "revipedia". One of the earliest ovservations while designing it was that wikipedia makes a mistake when tries to have just one page for one thing. It's the actual social network of the users that should govern which variant is more fit for a certain group, and which other for an other group. You can use the word "faction" instead of group, and then you get Uberfact coming into the picture too... :)

February 1, 2008 at 9:02 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

on "Revipedia"

isn't that what Google's knol project is?

gmp

February 1, 2008 at 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Randy said...

Lugo,

Good post. Especially about the need to counter unknown as well as known threats. I think a good starting point is to recognize that the political class will always be self interested, that is, profit motivated. I think MM is on the right track with formalism - though getting there is certainly problematic.

February 1, 2008 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger mnuez said...

As a side note - I think that we ought to have a longer discussion on what the role of "Government" ought to be before we work toward imagining/creating a system that carries out the the responsibilities/trusts that you seem to have assumed it should. I, for one, think that government should perhaps be judged on the basis of the overall happiness of its citizenry. Before I get tarred and feathered here and have every dystopian novel of the past century tossed at me, I should point out that I well realize the difficulty that we'd have in defining such amorphous terms as happiness, well-being n' all but I don't believe that approaching a very reasonable definition would be beyond the realm of our abilities. Indeed, I think Maslow already did it. Which is not to say that his model couldn't be improved upon but, by God, it's a damn fine model to work with.

mnuez
www.mnuez.blogspot.com

February 1, 2008 at 12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...after a Starbucks moved down the street."

A Georgetownist forward operations base! Run the bastards out!

February 1, 2008 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger baldvin said...

gmp:

on "Revipedia"

isn't that what Google's knol project is?


Good observation. It implements a part of it. Actually, not a small part, but not the whole thing either. Sure I was a bit scared, after putting a lot into my project seeing google coming up with knol. But I still think that ours have two critically important innovations that google knol does not --- so we'll see :).

One thing is for sure: revipedia, or even several revipedias are on the edge of coming into existence.

This is something similar to the special relativity or a few other things we credit Einstein with. Sure, Einstein was brilliant, but most of the things he got famous for were in the air then. Mr. Planck even did earlier a few things, which we still credit Einstein with.

MM is brilliant, extremely, which doesn't mean that revipedia isn't being developed by dozens of inventors all around the globe as of now, even since years.

Google has a bit more resources than I have :) :), so I might not be the winner, while I have much bigger flexibility, so I might be a winner if I have luck, who knows?

The point is: who cares? One thing is sure: somebody, be it Google or a sole inventor somewhere, will eventually create revipedia, and will create it pretty soon.

Which, if MM is right, pretty much means that the world is gonna change, very soon, and change more than we would think just by seeing the economic waves these days...

February 1, 2008 at 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Randy said...

mnuez,

"I, for one, think that government should perhaps be judged on the basis of the overall happiness of its citizenry."

That's pretty much what we have now. The problem with it is that it puts confidence artists in a position of power. Promise the moon, gain people's trust, then take their money and run. In fact, I think that if we want stable government that doesn't rip off the tenants, that has got to be the very first idea that we discard. People can take care of happiness on their own. What we need is a government that maintains order and security of persons and property - in return for a reasonable fee, of course.

February 1, 2008 at 1:06 PM  
Blogger mnuez said...

TGGP -


mnuez:

I thought you were always going on about heartless Darwinian libertarians who are just a step away from Nazism. What gives?




Eh? You mean I can't appreciate his points on democracy (and various attendant subjects) because he appears to be less in favor of universal healthcare than I am?

Not to mention the fact I don't have ANY opinion or preference either set-in-stone or even fully-felt at the present moment either. What I generally rail against is not Libertarianism (in its internet-era anarcho-capitalism definition) but Dishonest Libertarianism (that pretends to serve the good of the largest number of people) and Stupid Libertarianism (the kind that's adopted by folk just a little smarter than average because it's a political philosophy that's outside the mainstream and that doesn't have the emotional baggage that the word "Socialism" suffers from).

But I AM delighted to have my predilections remembered, even if slightly inaccurately :-) and to return the compliment, I'm pleased to be reading more of YOUR learned commentary as well (even if I do believe it likely that your Libertarianism is likely, at least partially, of the Stupid variety that I mentioned above - but I hope you correct me on that score).

Cheers,

mnuez

February 1, 2008 at 1:20 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

TGGP, your remark on my comment about the obeisance of the Brahmin elite before the idol of egalitarianism is exactly correct.

As for Castro and Mugabe, to be sure the U.S. government still embargoes Cuba, and the Economist has said nasty things about the way Zimbabwe is ruled.

Still, the embargo on Cuba is a relic of Cold War policy that is largely in place because of inertia. The U.S. political system makes it much harder to change extant policy than to leave things as they are, as long as there is a substantial minority that is very interested in keeping them as they are. Consider the number of legislative that have been blocked in the Senate for lack of a supermajority of 60%. I suggest U.S. policy towards Cuba is is an example of this inertia rather than a real reflection of the sentiments of our Brahmin elite. That they are an elite does not mean they get their way all the time - only most of it.

As for Zimbabwe, nasty things said in the Economist about Mugabe hardly rise to the level of orchestrated pressure that was mounted against white-ruled South Africa or Rhodesia, Today's Zimbabwe is plainly not treated as the kind of pariah state that they were, and this reflects the differing attitudes of the Brahmin elite. They may quietly sigh to themselves that Mugabe isn't a nice man, but he does not incite them to the high and righteous dudgeon that Verwoerd or Ian Smith did.

Descent into barbarism can come in many forms. Perhaps our society is not besieged by barbarians from without, but rather its members are themselves becoming barbarians. I'm reminded of an account I read many years ago of the Roman city of Bath in England. The Romans were sophisticated plumbers and had furnished the town with an excellent public water supply. After they withdrew the local people continued to use the Roman plumbing, but either could not muster the wherewithal or the knowledge to maintain it. As it gradually filled in with silt, they gradually abandoned it, until it ceased to function at all. They then reverted to getting their drinking water, doing their wash, and dumping their slops in the local creeks and rivers, as they had done before the Romans came. It was not until the late 19th or early 20th century that Bath had plumbing to rival what the Romans had installed two millennia ago.

This is indeed more likely to be the way in which western civilisation falls than by some invasion of latter day Huns or Vandals. Or, the Chinese may simply foreclose on their credits. It would be a neat historical reversal, doubtless appreciated by them, of the 19th-c. takeover of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service by Britain.

On Madison, yes, as a Federalist he was a failed prophet, and perhaps his "jumping ship" had to do with his recognition during his life that he had made a great misjudgment. Whatever may have been his predictive ability he was a far better writer than the typical politician or policy analyst today.

To your comments on George Weinberg's observation about requiring voters to be literate, it is a great tragedy of American politics that the arguments for a restriction of the franchise have historically been tainted by association with invidious discrimination on racial grounds. This enables those who, for their own reasons, wish to dispense with limits on the franchise simply to accuse their advocates of racism rather than addressing the question of whether the franchise is - to borrow Sen. Hill's words - a right or a trust. Jefferson observed that self-government could not succeed where a people were mired in ignorance and vice. We in the United States are in the process of demonstrating the truth of his aphorism. It is all too facile to dismiss this prospect from consideration because Jefferson was a slaveholder - and all too predictable that it should be so dismissed.

Mr. Butler, I'm not sure it is true that the barbarians left us very little to create tales from. The Franks in the Merovingian era were pretty barbaric, but consider the potential of the civil war between Sigebert of Austrasia and his half-brother Chilperic. Sigebert was married to Brunehault, a Visigothic princess. This couple is almost certainly that portrayed, through a very distorted lens, as Siegfried and Brunnhilda in the Niebelungenlied. Brunehault's sister Galswintha was the first wife of Chilperic, but he tired of her and was persuaded to murder her by his mistress Fredegonde. He then married Fredegonde. This queen then saw to the murder of Chilperic's children by Galswintha. These events caused Galwswintha's sister Brunehault to persuade Sigebert to make war on Chilperic. The war lasted forty years and ended in the deaths of Sigebert, Brunehault, and all their children. Fredegonde is probably the archetype of the evil stepmother found in countless fairy tales.

The chansons de geste recount somewhat later but still pretty barbaric times amongst other Franco-German royalty. From them come Ariosto's Orlando furioso and countless derivatives. The British Arthurian cycle has no clear basis in fact, but the German Arthurian cycle featuring Parzival and Lohengrin are muddled accounts of the origin of the house of Lorraine (=Lothringen). From this house came Godfrey of Bouillon, the leader of the First Crusade, which is the basis of Tasso's Giarusalemme liberata.

If we were to get rid of the tales the barbarians left us, where would be half of all the opera composed from, say, the time of Lully to that of Dvorak, not forgetting those that came between them, like Handel and Wagner? Had they done nothing else, north European barbarians provided plenty of raw material for librettists - though that hardly makes the fall of Rome less a setback for civilisation.

February 1, 2008 at 2:51 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

As long as we're talking about the Israel Lobby, here's an attack from the anti-Zionist far left on Walt & Mearsheimer.

G. M. Palmer:
Sheehan did not contribute. The majority of the country that now opposed the war did it. Sheehan probably scared a few people off.

Lugo:
Many libertarians are not so fond of democracy. There's a lot of hostility to it from paleolibertarians, and Bryan Caplan is probably the most notable critic of it today. Mencius says he wants to keep WashCorp but formalize it and make it less dysfunctional.

mnuez:
I remember you from Overcoming Bias where you were throwing around the term "Nazi". MM may not be a Nazi but he's a whole hell of a lot closer to it than the folks at OB.

Michael S.:
We traded with Russia. We traded with China. We traded with Vietnam. Iran was our ally for much of the Cold War, now we have stupid ineffective sanctions against it. Syria is allied with Iran, we have stupid and ineffective sanctions against it. When someone like Ron Paul proposes changing policy he gets vitriol thrown his way. That's not simple inertia. I believe Britain now is the country most interested in removing Zimbabwe (through George Soros' Open Society Institute is active in that as well), but there does seem to be less animus towards him than Universalist pity toward Zimbabweans. In your example of Bath the people were already non-Romans who were ruled by Romans. The U.S was an outpost of English civilization since the first colonies, it is not going to revert to the way it was before because there aren't enough Native Americans.

it is a great tragedy of American politics that the arguments for a restriction of the franchise have historically been tainted by association with invidious discrimination on racial grounds
Such requirements would still today be racially discriminatory in practice.

February 1, 2008 at 3:41 PM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

I have seiois philosophical problems with the phrase "racially discriminatory in practice".

February 1, 2008 at 4:01 PM  
Blogger Alias Clio said...

Always interesting to read one of the few Internet denizens whose family background is similar - though not of course identical to - mine.

p.s. I always feel a bit sorry for the people from your website who turn up at my blog, presumably expecting the same level of intellectual engagement. Are you sure you want to keep me on your blogroll?

February 1, 2008 at 4:58 PM  
Blogger Black Sea said...

I would like to second michael s.'s comments about WWI. I think the point can't be made often enough, this was the continental shift, the meteor strike, and we live in its aftermath, profoundly shaped by it, and oblivious to it.

The West has had a 500 year run. Half a millenium ain't bad, but the tank is running dry. Europe is already receding to insignificance - even the Europeans see this - and America won't be too far behind. Not in historical terms. At least, this is how it feels.

And this feeling really kicked in about 90 years ago.

February 1, 2008 at 5:36 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Black Sea said:
Europe is already receding to insignificance - even the Europeans see this

Could have fooled me. Europe seems to be on a roll of expansion and development; everybody wants to get into the EU; the Euro is doing quite well against the dollar, they are much better positioned to deal with future energy problems (less dependence on internal combustion, a robust nuclear industry), their scientific output is matching the US. Of course both Europe and the US will have their relative importance decline as other powers like China rise, but I see no evidence whatever that "Europe is receding to insignificance".

Michael S said:
Today's Zimbabwe is plainly not treated as the kind of pariah state that they were, and this reflects the differing attitudes of the Brahmin elite. They may quietly sigh to themselves that Mugabe isn't a nice man, but he does not incite them to the high and righteous dudgeon that Verwoerd or Ian Smith did.

There are many reasons that two different countries get treated in different ways. In this case, "apartheid" and "Mugabe" are both nasty, but one is an entire system of ideas and governance and the other is just one particular thug. Mugabe is guaranteed to be removed by the passage of time, apartheid is (was) not. It's generally easier these days to get people worked up over an ideology than an individual.

February 1, 2008 at 7:00 PM  
Blogger Black Sea said...

"Europe seems to be on a roll of expansion and development . . "

As compared to 100, 200, or 300 years ago? Come on.

February 1, 2008 at 9:01 PM  
Blogger Black Sea said...

My point was really more cultural than statistical, but there is a crude but undeniable connection. If you are interested in some numbers . . .

in 1905, Europe had 25% of the global population.

It's current figure is 11%.

The projection for 2050 is 7.25%.

Europe reached its high point in population in the early 2000s, and has now begun its decline. The current population figure of 728 million is expected to drop to 653 million by 2050.

Of that population in 2050, 40% will be over the age of 60.

Think about that.

By 2050, not unexpectedly, Europe's share of the global economy is projected to decline from its current 22% to 12%.

Europe may be better prepared than the US to deal with future energy problems (the declining population will help), but I am skeptical that in coming years everyone will be clamoring to get into the EU, if such an entity still exists. EU enthusiasm has already cooled, and I fear that the subsidies which make EU membership so attractive to poorer, fringe nations are already receding to, well, I won't say insignificance.

It is true that, by mid-century, Europe will still "matter" as compared to, say, Central America; nevertheless it will hardly matter in comparison to the near global domination which it exercised prior to the 20th century.
It was in this sense that I used the words, "receding to insignificance."

Of course, 100 years ago, North America was a formidable rival to Europe, but this was something of an intra-familial struggle, given the deep European roots in North America.

Lest all this come across as Red State Euro-bashing, let me acknowledge that I happen to be quite fond of Europe, and I'll be sad to see her go. What's more, I did stipulate that the US will not be all that far behind.

Since, as I said at the beginning, my point was meant to be more cultural than statistical, I'll close with Milan Kundera on the survival of Europe, as a cultural, rather than geographic, phenomenon.

"European: One who is nostalgic for Europe."

February 1, 2008 at 10:34 PM  
Blogger baldvin said...

Black Sea:

I couldn't agree more (I'm living in Hungary, a recently joined state of the EU, previously being occupied by the USSR).

The only thing I see to slow down the fall of Europe a bit is the influx of young, hard working people.

Germany sort of imported some millions of turks do work instead and for the aging German society.

Sure, there is now a bit of a cultural problem: Germans can't really find a school where they can send their own children, as nobody really speaks the German language in German schools these days. Very good topic for the radios like BBC, sort of each month they discuss it, but there isn't really anything to do.

The same thing with the US, actually, just it is not turks but mexicans.

(Actually, Germany is a bit less evil then the US: at least Germany gave some rights to turks coming in. This "unlawful immigrants" bullshit that the US keeps alive is very contradictory: the very people who are coming to work are kept "unlawful", so they won't have rights, they can just do the work and be quiet...)

The expansion of the EU is not because eastern european countries just became EU-conform. A hundred years ago we were very much conform, just came the socialism, and we lost much.

The worst hit we took was not the losses in the world war, but the transformation of people in the socialist society. Nobody works here, just expects the state to keep him well.

But even this "nobody" is more than the EU had before the recent expansion. The EU needed both more markets and more people who are working, so it expanded.

I don't think it was enough to save it, but it was a good (the only thinkable) decision.

And, what's most interesting: it is not what the "people" in the EU wanted, it is what the leaders knew that's unavoidable.

We just became part of the Schengen area end of last year. A day before the opening of the borders, Austians have put "do not enter" traffic signs to *every* road crossing the borders (and not having an official border station).

So, we are part of Schengen, and on the same day, local authorities everywhere near the border decided to lock us out as much as the law allows.

Isn't it interesting?

So, statistical analysis, growing numbers, etc, doesn't always tell the real picture.

February 2, 2008 at 1:33 AM  
Blogger uh said...

"There are many reasons that two different countries get treated in different ways. In this case, "apartheid" and "Mugabe" are both nasty, but one is an entire system of ideas and governance and the other is just one particular thug."

So socialism isn't a system of ideas and governance?

February 2, 2008 at 3:32 AM  
Anonymous c23 said...

I lost faith in democracy at the same time for the same reasons (although I may not have had much in the first place, as I recall thinking that majority rule in South Africa was a terrible idea), but I'm still a long way from your anti-democratic point of view. Democracy seems to sort of work sometimes, not so well at other times, but you could say the same thing about monarchy, for example. Democracy as a panacea is obviously BS if you really think about it, but nothing seems to me to be demonstrably and obviously superior to democracy. Other forms of government have their own problems.

My conclusion, based on the same data, is that we shouldn't worry about pushing democracy abroad, or expect miracles in places like Iraq or Palestine just because they hold elections. Not that democracy should be dismantled in the US and replaced by a formalist dictatorship or whatever.

So this post doesn't come close to explaining how you really stopped believing in democracy. Based on what you've described in this post, your present view would be like writing your blog on a legal pad just because you realized that software, in general, sucks.

Maybe "how I stopped believing in democracy II" is in order.

February 2, 2008 at 3:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Baladvin said:

"The only thing I see to slow down the fall of Europe a bit is the influx of young, hard working people.

Germany sort of imported some millions of turks do work instead and for the aging German society."

Slow down? Unassimilable Moslem Turks? I take that although you LIVE in Hungary, you are not a a Hungarian yourself, or you would have not uttered such idiotic nonsense. If there is anything which would accelerate Europe's downfall, it is the import of your beloved Turks (togather with assorted Africans and Arabs). I give the EU another 20-30 years before the civil wars begin (the US may fall apart before that, notwithstanding a president McCain/Clinton/Obama, which is what it is likely to get)

God help us all.

February 2, 2008 at 5:39 AM  
Blogger baldvin said...

Dear Anonymamous,

my name is Baldvin, actually, that's the real one, and yes, I am Hungarian.

or you would have not uttered such idiotic nonsense.

As I gather, you are not quite sharing my views on the topic.

I could try to defend my position in many ways, but not on the level of your post, sorry, I won't even start.

Just a question. Do you know what would happen if Turkey would become a member of the EU? They'd simply vote us down on any matter.

Do you know that the US made a reasonable effort to convince Europeans to continue membership negotiations with Turkey? Maybe to pay Turkey this way because its help in matters in the Persian gulf, maybe for other things, who knows? (I usually thought, listening to the news, why on Earth doesn't the US continue membership negotiations with Turkey itself??)

Many of us are very much afraid what's going to happen when Turkey comes in, maybe it won't ever, negotiations were slowed down both by Merkel and Sárközy.

Now on the topic of the few million turks already brought into Germany: if you think that civil war will be here because they are unassimilable muslims, you just don't get it.

It will happen because Europeans didn't have enough children on the first place.

What do you think, why on earth are that many turks there?

Somebody in the German leadership just thought, "hey, why the heck don't we create a HUGE problem, we don't have anything to do otherwise"...?

No, somebody tried to solve a huge problem of the aging society.

Now one can argue that "trying to solve" something won't work (it always just makes things worse). This, I think is true.

However, slowing down the fall, that's what I was saying on the first place, was I believe the intention when "external manpower", let's refer to them this way for a moment, was involved.

And, if civil war comes in Europe, it will NOT be because there are muslims in Germany. If you will be interested why (I will be interested first about where to run), you will need to examine the economic interests of global players.

February 2, 2008 at 6:14 AM  
Blogger Charles Butler said...

Michael S. -

But I imagine that the vast majority of those works, Lully notwithstanding, were from cultures that would have been averse to referring to their own ancestors with the perjorative 'barbarian'. Their interest to the librettist was certainly predicated on their not being so, unless the works were no more than early versions of gangstah rap.

February 2, 2008 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

"Europe seems to be on a roll of expansion and development . . "

As compared to 100, 200, or 300 years ago? Come on.

No, as compared to 60 years ago. You said Europe was "receding to insignificance", so the most relevant information is its current state and projected future trajectory, not its state relevant to how it was in 1700.

Not that the place is without its problems. The whole EU effort could collapse and the continent could revert to intergroup warfare pretty easily, I suppose.

February 2, 2008 at 12:04 PM  
Blogger tc said...

And this is how I stopped believing in democracy.

Well, you didn't actually say how you came to that point. Did you always have a sort of gut feeling about it? Or was there some precipitating event that set you down the anti-democratic path?

February 2, 2008 at 12:32 PM  
Blogger mnuez said...

Randy -

I think we're all familiar already with the faults of democracy (it's virtues notwithstanding). You and I DO however appear to have a substantial disagreement with regards to what the goal of Government ought to be. "Happiness" left in the hands of anarcho-capitalism is the sort that often leads to revolutions and guillotines - and rightly so. the sort of recommendation that you offered is precisely what I've referred to a moment ago as Dishonest Libertarianism. You know better than to fork-tongue the claim that Libertarianism will allow "people to take care of happiness on their own". Every reader of this blog knows better, yet you claim it anyway.

Arguing for Social Darwinsim is just fine, provided that you admit to what your advocating. Trying to sound like a friend of living people however while advocating policies that will bring want, ruin, depression and lives of slavery to the vast majority of living people however is frankly dishonest and well-worthy of being railed against.

mnuez

February 2, 2008 at 12:36 PM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

The problem with defining good government is that people don't want it. They want, or are at least easily convinced to want, governments that subsidize their favorite kinds of industry, that overbuild their favorite kind of transportation infrastructure, and that provides helpful "stimulus" packages whenever the economy slows down. The biggest barrier to libertarianism, anarcho capitalism, or neo-cameralism is the basic desire people have to meddle in the lives of others.

February 2, 2008 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger Black Sea said...

mtraven said:

"You said Europe was "receding to insignificance", so the most relevant information is its current state and projected future trajectory, not its state relevant to how it was in 1700."


My original comment made it clear that I was speaking in terms of a 500 year time frame. The tip off, in case you missed, is here:

"The West has had a 500 year run. Half a millenium ain't bad, but the tank is running dry. Europe is already receding to insignificance . . ."

Nice try.

February 2, 2008 at 2:12 PM  
Anonymous Randy said...

Mnuez,

Dishonest Libertarianism, huh. Well this...

"Arguing for Social Darwinsim is just fine, provided that you admit to what your advocating. Trying to sound like a friend of living people however while advocating policies that will bring want, ruin, depression and lives of slavery to the vast majority of living people..."

...is just dishonest drivel from a propagandist in the service of the political class. People who believe in liberty are your natural enemies, so you scare your clients into believing that those who believe in liberty are their enemies as well.

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." H. L. Mencken

February 2, 2008 at 2:30 PM  
Blogger mnuez said...

"a propagandist in the service of the political class"


So that's what I am! Thanks a lot Randall! Cause here I thought I was a "reactionary imperialist stooge".

Anyhow, onto the substance of your rejoinder... What?

I do like the Mencken quote though. It's entirely irrelevant to anything that anyone said in this comment thread but I'm pleased to see Mencken quoted anyhow (even if this is one of those ideas that works better with the classic Goebbels quote on the subject).

mnuez

February 2, 2008 at 2:49 PM  
Anonymous Randy said...

Mnuez,

Inapplicable to what you said? You propose that liberty causes poverty and slavery and you think that the Mencken quote doesn't apply? Well then, maybe you're not a propagandist. Perhaps you're just one of completely deluded faithful - reciting the creed.

February 2, 2008 at 3:04 PM  
Blogger mnuez said...

Personally, I love how you throw the word "Liberty" around. It's one of those feel-good words that simply Can Not be wrong. You know, like "Democracy". Or "Community" or "Love", etc. methinks however that rather than engage in the demagogic propaganda of rhetoric we ought to work at defining the terms that we use so that we can use them without silly Godwinesque rules and the like.

So, "Liberty".

Liberty to physically capture your neighbor's daughter and repeatedly copulate with her? Liberty to send misleading credit card advertisements to stupid, practically illiterate and desperate middle aged black folk in the 9th ward? Liberty to drive drunk? Liberty to claim that you somehow "own" the moon (or an island? or a few acres in the Virginia country) such that no one else is allowed to land there without your express permission and payment?

True "Liberty" is True Anarchism. It's what we commonly refer to as "the law of the jungle" or "might makes right", etc. etc. You would agree with me here that this sort of "Liberty" does often result in "want, ruin, depression and lives of slavery to the vast majority of living people", right? But this isn't the sort of "liberty" that you desire now, is it? No, you have no army and don't expect to have one any time soon either, so you don't particularly care for this sort of TRUE human liberty. The sort of liberty that often ends in, you know, lots and lots of people NOT being all too liberated by the time that its run its natural course.

You like LIMITED liberty. Liberty with what you euphemistically call "property rights", "proper policing" and other such safeguards. A Limited Liberty that will likely leave YOU with oodles and oodles of liberty and unensalved but that will, and has, and does leave the vast majority of humanity, depressed, poor, broken in mind and spirit and enslaved for life.


And I'll cut out now because a good friend of mine just came over to ask me for some help. He's a dedicated Republican Voter who, along with his entire family, would have been long dead had your Libertarian Standards (and his own feeble-minded beliefs) been applied. His wife would have died of cancer, his daughter of a heart condition and he would long ago have died of hunger. But you know what? He's stupid enough to continue railing against the "loony left" and to vote as extreme Republican as he can. Your talk of "Liberty!", marketing knowledge and big words impress the hell out of him and had not people like me been around to smartly vote against his vote, he and his family would now be dead.

mnuez



P.S. Errors of language, grammar or mad metaphors are to be chalked up to the fact that he's sitting two inches away from me and I'm thus slightly nervous as I type. I'm not terrible concerned however on account of the fact that I know that he realizes that he isn't likely to understand what I'm writing so he isn't even bothering to try to read it.

February 2, 2008 at 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Randy said...

mnuez,

"Liberty to physically capture your neighbor's daughter and repeatedly copulate with her?"

Yeah, yeah... Liberty is the Great Satan. Man, you religious types are a scary bunch. I know that you all have always run the world and that you probably always will, but if you ask me, that fact doesn't speak well for the human race. I suppose I'd better shut up now, before you all round up some pitchforks and firewood and try to burn me as a heretic.

February 2, 2008 at 4:42 PM  
Blogger mnuez said...

you religious types are a scary bunch...


Religious types?? What's wrong with you? If you want to engage in name-calling it would be much simpler to label me a communist or something. Your ad hominem darts are missing their mark buddy. If you honestly believe that anarcho-capitalistic "liberty" will bring the greatest sort of Maslowian good to the largest number of people I'd love to hear it. That was what I had originally recommended and that was where you jumped in to recommend Libertarian methods of achieving that. I'd love to hear what convoluted argument you could offer here.

If, on the other hand, the greatest Maslowian happiness for the greatest number of people, is NOT your interest, I've no quarrel with you. I only ask that you openly admit to the social-darwinistic ramifications of your policies. That's all.

mnuez

February 2, 2008 at 5:12 PM  
Anonymous Gary Glaucon said...

The cult of democracy is the most cleverly engineered form of government in history. Instead of controlling all the people by coercion, you only need to control a majority of people, and propaganda does it quite well.

February 2, 2008 at 5:44 PM  
Anonymous Randy said...

Maslowian happiness? Social Darwinism? I've got to admit, that's really pretty good propaganda. Do what we tell you and the whole world will be one big happy, happy, place. Follow those evil liberty believers and there'll be "human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together..." Yep... pretty good. I guess I can see why so many people believe it :)

February 2, 2008 at 5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey lemme try...

they generally would put some black Mylar on the windows
in the 70s they would just put it over the cameras to get day for night :P

an entire branch of philosophy called theodicy
there's one on pantheism too!

the belief that God is good and makes good things happen is completely woven into your cerebral cortex
ernest gellner (rational secular humanist & LSEist, if not a georgetownist) looks at three broad categories of human influence and endeavour -- production, coercion and cognition (the 'plough, sword and book') -- over the course of events from homogeneous 'in-group' hunter-gatherers, thru hierarchically stratified (and for the most part malthusianly stagnant) agrarian civilization, and on to (post)industrial man.

whereas the bulk of human civilisation so far has been dominated by coercive elements, mostly during 'agraria', since the industrial revolution production has become the motive force behind individual circumstance and well-being (except for the vestigial, but notable, conflagrations -- birth pangs? –- of the 20c). productive enterprise has taken on some of the trappings of coercion (corporate 'raiders', 'siege' mentality, etc.) but it is still, for the most part, in the service of production... iow, productive capacity has determined war-making ability and if waging effective war has moved into the sphere of the economic, then societies will 'compete' less thru military adventure than by who makes better 'stuff' (and, i guess, where people would rather live). [apologies if i just completely butch^H^H^H^H^Hmisrepresented gellner there.]

anyway, got a little sidetracked, his chapters on cognitive evolution i found esp interesting, particularly on concept formation, ritual and legitimation, but (and here's the point) at least in _one culture_ *god did not preclude reason* and perhaps more "miraculously" it allowed that culture to rise above all others.

so whether you believe culture is transmitted genetically or 'memetically' (or, diplomatically, some combination of both) -- the difference between favoring eugenics to education? -- and that "every culture must have its state, preferably its own," then you could say that some cultures are more suited to democracy than others (and people do, all the time).

at least since the protestant work ethic there's been a ready investigation, debate, and literature on what constitutes (an impartially?) successful society; it's healthy, if not a little obsessive, i guess. i gather that you're against thug rule and for argument from facts, and demystifying the 'democratic ideal' in favor of 'competent government' is commendable. everyone has their own opinion, but some are more congruent with 'reality' than others (hopefully imparting evolutionary advantage). so i guess i'm with the skeptical others in the thread tho who think that societies can be designed or engineered, at least from on high (or from a blog); i mean, not only are there good and bad governments, but whoa! there are also good and bad corporations, and good and bad people.

almost inevitably, i think, people generally just pick what works :P *shrugs*

tggp:
The China Lobby was real, but mostly consisted of people in D.C with connections to Chiang rather than any sort of grass-roots movement.
speaking of connections to chiang (and 50's SF, and a diplomatic childhood for that matter) cordwainer smith has an interesting bio...

February 2, 2008 at 6:53 PM  
Anonymous Randy said...

Anonymous,

Re; "...since the industrial revolution production has become the motive force behind individual circumstance and well-being..."

I think we've actually advanced beyond production too - or at least most of the western world has. I think of it as a "luxury economy" where, with few exception, our needs have been taken care of, well over half of the jobs that we do are in luxuries, and all future growth will be in the area of luxuries. What does the word "productivity" mean if we try to apply it to a musician, artist, professional athlete, home decorator, game designer, psycho-therapist, professor of obscure subjects, etc.? The modern market is less about production and more about trends - meeting immediate wants immediately.

February 3, 2008 at 2:51 AM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Human "needs" might be said to consist only of food, water and air. We had more than that even as hunter-gatherers. The distinction them and "wants" or "luxuries" is not useful from an economic perspective.

February 3, 2008 at 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Randy said...

tggp,

I think it does matter, first because the methods of production and distribution differ, and also because of the policy implications. For example, does it make sense to implement luxury and/or consumption taxes in a luxury economy? All that will do is limit growth and investment opportunities.

February 3, 2008 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

Human "needs" might be said to consist only of food, water and air. We had more than that even as hunter-gatherers. The distinction them and "wants" or "luxuries" is not useful from an economic perspective.

We didn't have that as hunter gatherers or farmers, or at least we weren't assured of them. AN and Randy's point was that the industrial revolution moved most people beyond any realistic worry of starvation and that this is cause for a fundumental rethinking of society.

February 3, 2008 at 12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Randy:
well over half of the jobs that we do are in luxuries
caldwell recently addressed just such an issue: "Why do presidential candidates touting their concern for the economy pose with factory workers rather than with ballet troupes? After all, the U.S. now has more choreographers (16,340) than metal-casters (14,880), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More people make their livings shuffling and dealing cards in casinos (82,960) than running lathes (65,840), and there are almost three times as many security guards (1,004,130) as machinists (385,690)."

gellner takes a few moments to contemplate and venture a 'future' for production, cognition and coercion in an age of abundance and social transformation...

on production: "Men seek life styles, roles, positions... They involve the use of material objects as tokens, but they are not made up of such objects... The illusion of clear criteria had been engendered by conjunction of the old scarcity with a temporary outburst of the 'rational' spirit guided by a single-minded pursuit of monetary wealth. In the long run, a multi-stranded evaluation must return for lack of any alternative -- hampered though this must be by the absence of a cogent background vision which could guide it... Affluent society simply chases its own tail."

iow, veblen's notion of conspicuous consumption (cf. positional goods) becomes even more conspicuous, altho khaldun might spot a local maxima.

btw, there's a whole emerging literature on 'alternative' economics and means of production, cf. information/attention/reputation economies, differential pricing and efficiency (varian has left berkeley btw to become google's chief economist), the wealth of networks, social capital/entrepreneurship and various (post-work schemes) other bits and sundry jetsam floating around in the noosphere.

on cognition: "Cognition does not seem to be in a parallel condition. Its open-ended perpetual growth does not engender any internal contradiction... Its single aim, the formulation of ever more powerful and more general explanatory, predictive theories, does not, like wealth, contain any inner absurdity."

conspicuously *ahem* missing from this analysis is any prospects for post-evolutionary/human adaptation née eugenics.

on coercion: "...the organization of power, the political ordering of society, and indeed of the international community, is an inescapable issue. The arguments which claim this problem is ceasing to be acute are misguided... politics, far from being on the way out, encompass more and not less of our lives...

"...the traditional state was seldom much good at anything, really, other than killing people and taking away their surplus. It may have, as Clifford Geertz has insisted, constituted a kind of national theatre... Modern society, on the other hand, has tremendous power...

"This cuts both ways. It means that the beneficiaries of privilege and possessors of powers no longer need to suborn and intimidate the rest, so as to discourage them from reversing a markedly unfavourable material distribution... The productive process is also complex, requiring intricate cooperation, accurate performance, and, often, independent initiative. It does not easily lend itself to direct coercion and a simple command system, and attempts to impose them lead to diminished efficiency...

"The complexity and interdependence, which makes it difficult for authorities to be unduly oppressive also, on the other side, make individuals and subgroups heavily dependent on the society and ill-equipped to defy it. Local autarchy is almost inconceivable...

"It is difficult to imagine the overall system to be anything other than corporatist in some measure... Societies which are ideologically anti-corporatist may of course refrain from formally avowing that such a system exists, and from endowing it with legal or ritual sanctions.

"Corporatist-style haggling between major interest groups may be, and perhaps often will be, complemented by the sovereignty of elections at which individuals vote as individuals, and at which parties soliciting votes can present themselves in any form. Among other things, this effectively symbolizes the fact that the corporate segments of this kind of society are not permanent, nor their membership hereditary. It does contribute an important check to the system.

"Developed industrial societies at present come in two main forms, liberal and ideocratic... in a society which is, in effect, a single employment system linked to a single orthodoxy, it is exceedingly hard for any one part of the system to give without imperilling the whole. Right-wing dictatorships with a plural economy can liberalize, and they have done so successfully: the rulers can retain their wealth even when they abandon their power positions, and thus they can be bribed into compromise. In a left-wing authoritarian system, where wealth comes only in the form of perks attaching to hierarchical positions, to give up these positions is to give up everything. So far, there is no example of a successfully completed liberalization of a left dictatorship, though admittedly some such liberalizations have been forcibly inhibited.

"Will liberal regimes perpetuate themselves? No one knows the consequences of the imminent universal leisure-without-privilege. Leisure classes in the past have had some psychic difficulty in disposing of their free time, as Pascal eloquently noted, notwithstanding the fact that they were free to contemplate, with joy, their own elevation. What will be the state of mind of a universal leisure class, devoid of any elevation to contemplate? ...consumption is many-stranded and intuitive, and products are designed to encourage this: what happens when consumption overtakes production and becomes the dominant element in forming the human psyche?

"Liberal societies have deprived themselves of powerful legitimations. [Scientific and rational 'truths'] corrode belief systems. Social cohesion cannot be based on truth. Truth butters no parsnips and legitimates no social arrangements... publicly accessible truth fails to separate members of a community from non-members.

"Will the need to counteract the discontent of swollen, leisure-endowed but status-less class bring about the revival of a new central faith, centrally enforced? ... The same solution need not prevail everywhere."

in this regard, gellner's take on islam is particularly interesting, esp in contrast with "ironic cultures" or, for that matter, universalism :P [if anyone's interested i can (liberally!) quote him more] it would also be interesting to know what his take on china's rise^H^H^H^Hpeaceful development would have been -- wrt "no example of a successfully completed liberalization of a left dictatorship" -- alas he died in 1995 (he called japan's success a "mystery").

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! thanks a lot! ^^

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March 2, 2009 at 10:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

~「朵語‧,最一件事,就。好,你西中瀟灑獨行。

March 6, 2009 at 6:13 AM  

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