A Summary of Highlights
Quotes and comments from 50 Political Classics
This is a series of comments based on highlighted extracts made from a selection of the 50 books discussed by Tom Butler-Bowden. It also includes personal observations related to the extracts and some contrary remarks when contradicting an author’s opinion.
Overall, Tom’s book is a very valuable contribution to the history of politics. This brief essay aims at emphasising what I consider the real pertinent factors as observed by this august selection of writers. Seldom has there been a compendium of resources, as put together by Tom in such a succinct and unbiased manner that runs the gamut of history and political thought.
For anyone interested in this book, or any others in Tom’s “50” series, please check out the attached link.
I wish to gratefully acknowledge Tom’s approval to use and distribute this synopsis of his book.
Graham Paterson Jan. 2017
HIGHLIGHTS from the BOOK
From the beginning, politics was something owned by the people. Government by a despot, or a tyrant, isn’t about politics, it’s about control and rule.
All politics should be about how we interpret what is “good” and what is “bad”.
The concept of “self-sufficiency” tends to be a spurious one, as people, when isolated, are not self- sufficient. While they may be able to use the resources immediately available to them, it really only represents their means of survival.
On the other hand, if a nation is well endowed with natural resources, it can become self-sufficient to the extent the resources cover the nation’s needs, but if the resources don’t do that, then the nation must look for its needs from others.
It seems few people can really define what they mean by “equality and freedom”. People are not created “equal” therefore “equality” has to be measured in other terms. Probably the most relevant is “equality of opportunity”, but even that is dependent on a great many variables. Irrespective of how unequal people may be in terms of strength and intelligence, a good society ensures an equality based on law. Likewise, “equal pay for equal work” is also conditioned by variables in relation to the physical and intellectual makeup of the people involved. As for “freedom”, all “freedom” is constrained by the responsibilities that must go with it. Absolute “freedom” does not exist, not within any given society anyway. All “freedom” is relative, but the less restrictions placed on the individual determines the quality and style of Government. “Freedom” matters little if we cannot have a sense of equality with our fellow members of society.
Change only occurs when people are not cowed by the status quo, but successful change depends very much on the guarantee of free speech.
There are three motivations for political action, one is to keep “power”, another is to increase “power” and a third is to demonstrate “power”. In each case “power” means control of the people.
Politics always comes down to human nature, or the bio-psychological drives to live, procreate and dominate. (Hans Morgenthau 1948)
Aristotle believed the purpose of political “science’ was to find the system with the most advantages and the least disadvantages; although it was not clear as to which class he was referring to, the rulers or the ruled.
Mencius believed the strength and longevity of empires rests on the benevolence and good relations between the people and the State, and not on vainglorious conquest and expansion.
According to Hamilton and Madison a good Government allows for protection from violence, the preservation of private property rights, and the provision of uniform regulations for commerce.
Orwell’s observation regarding revolutions was that despite the best intentions, they mostly just substitute one ruling class for another.
According to Mancur Olson, the longer a society exists the more likely its policies and laws become driven by special interests, cartels, unions, farmers, and lobbyists.
Aristotle recognised that democracy was a messy and inefficient system, but it tends to have more sustainability than oligarchies, tyrannies and dictatorships.
The alleged separation of church and State is not just a Western concept, but a principle that is the basis of good government the world over.
Essays on Freedom and Power
Lord Acton wrote essays on freedom and power, and made the claim in 1877 that “Liberty is not the means to a higher political end; it is itself the highest political end.”
However, “liberty” and government are like the poles of a magnet – good government attracts “liberty” and bad government repels the concept of “liberty.” The problem throughout history has been to find the right blend, if and when any government so chooses to look for it.
Lord Acton defined federalism as a central Government that is strong enough to get things done, but whose power is balanced by the States.
He also observed there is no obvious link between “liberty”, democracy and equality, but as far as “equality” was concerned, what really mattered was equality of opportunity.
Democracies are always faced with two main choices, either the rule of the majority, or “mob”, as in a political party, or rule of law.
Democracy with full suffrage is not worth much if individuals are not protected by a solid Constitution, and laws that vouch for their individual freedom to believe and say what they want and to associate, or not associate, with whom they wish.
Finally, in Lord Acton’s opinion, and in actual reality, democracy is only desirable to the extent it enhances and preserves a sense and quality of “liberty.” If it does not try to achieve this, casting a vote in a ballot box is a hollow act.
As someone else has cynically said, “If casting a vote in a ballot box actually achieved anything, we wouldn’t be allowed to vote.”
Why Nations Fail
While economic institutions are critical in determining whether nations are poor or prosperous, it is politics and political institutions that determine what economic institutions a nation has.
Stability and transparency are noticeably lacking in the poorest nations where failed political institutions are a common factor.
Rich countries tend to have broadly distributed political “rights” with their Governments accountable to the people and economic opportunities open to most people. As with most things the devil is in the detail, and so it is in definitions of the above terms.
The thing Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson fail to point out is their criteria for defining “failure”. Their assumption is that all nations have to be judged on western standards where wealth and prosperity is measured in money terms. In respect to “globalisation” that standard is probably true, but that denies a nation the “right” to be independent and self sufficient.
The State is really the only institution that can achieve things like transparent property rights, freedom of exchange, a legal system to enforce contracts, a planned and coordinated road system to support commerce, and initiate universal health and safety standards.
However, when the politics sets up the legal and economic institutions to benefit the more elite sections of the community, the rest of the people lose the ability and incentive to improve their lot.
Unless the political system gives people the opportunity to participate in a labour market where they can choose the area of work that best suits their talents, and offers the greatest productivity, the nation is on the path to failure.
Although the availability of natural resources does have a direct bearing on a nation’s prosperity, the nation’s success or failure will depend on how well a government can manage what is available.
Governments come in two major forms, extractive or inclusive; the former is controlled by the elite, which uses their power to extract as much of the nation’s wealth for themselves, while the latter seeks to ensure the maximum distribution of that wealth amongst the general population.
Control of the media is a very important plank for any extractive regime, but it is the lack of rational assessment for the policies put in place by elites and powerful on the political and economic institutions that ultimately leads to their demise.
While institutions like parliamentary democracy, a free press, an independent judiciary, and property rights, can take generations to bed down, their benefit tends to provide the best economic outcomes for the most people. Paradoxically, it is suggested that by giving rein to the people’s greed and/or selfish motives can, in the short term, lead to a better result for the greater majority. That is the “invisible hand” theory of Adam Smith, but of course, there are, or should be, limits, as to the extent one’s greed and selfishness is allowed to extend.
Rules for Radicals
When people say they want a better world, Saul Alinsky asked, “Exactly what sort of better world do you want, and how do you plan to achieve it?” The answer to that question is, of course, the very thing most revolutionaries fail to articulate.
Most significant changes in history have been made by revolutionaries, but in their haste for change they rarely understand its mechanics.
Successful change has to be organised. The one trait an organiser must possess is the ability to communicate and inspire people. Another trait is the deployment of humour, but very few in the rebellious ranks really understand how to use it effectively.
An organiser has to start with the world as it is, not as they would like it to be. Some say you have to work within “the system” in order to change it, not dropping out and “doing your own thing”.
But, a “successful” revolution will only occur when the people themselves have decided they want things to change.
And that, according to Sun Yatsen, happens “When we talk of revolution it is to sweep the house clean and start rebuilding it on a better foundation. But this type of "revolution" will only succeed when the concepts can be easily understood by everyone, and that pre-revolutionary mental state becomes a reality. That pre-revolutionary mental state is when the conscientiousness of change begins to solidify and becomes capable of specific demands for a genuine, practical, common sense and positive answer to the irrational, and money centered politics currently practiced.
It is this understanding of concepts easily handled by everyone, ordinary people as well as officials, which must occur if there is going to be any success in achieving a proper change. Reforms are not the answer because; tyranny cannot be cured with words. Unfortunately, this psychological pre-revolutionary mental state is a phenomenon least understood of all”.
The Essence of Decision
Herbert Simon demonstrated that all rationality is limited by knowledge and the ability to process the information.
Fundamentally, this means that all decisions carry an element of risk because, there is no way anyone can guarantee they have access to all the information available, or that it has been properly evaluated. Reason and logic are only applicable to the extent of one’s experience and knowledge of any issue.
Political action, and in fact, most legal action, is shaped by a range of actors and interests, and it can be a hazardous occupation to choose the best option amongst them.
The Great Illusion
Human irrationality, which encompasses fear, greed and pride, is the usual cause of war. It has always been thus and always will be. Economic integration in Europe may have kept a degree of “peace” among the different nations, but it is clearly no barrier against the human need to dominate and control others.
Norman Angell tries to make the point back in the 1870’s that if war was simply a matter of economics it would happen much less often. That tends to fly in the face of history and reality. Most wars are intimately related to the economics of banking and weapons manufacture, and in earlier times, the confiscation of loot for the benefit of the victors.
Their observation about nations competing “peacefully” to win business shows that those nations with the better military force tend to win the day. In the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest, the weaker nations will inevitably be the poorer nations.
War has long been portrayed as the means GOD uses to weigh up the virtue of nations, as war is believed to bring out the elements of loyalty, tenacity, heroism and inventiveness in human nature. Despite the injunction “Thou shall not kill”, it seems GOD is only too willing to allow the killing of those who are unwilling to kowtow to “his” demands.
While Angell considered warfare an exercise in futility, he acknowledges that a nation with an expanding population and increasing industry, and possibly with a shortage of raw materials, is pushed into territorial expansion.
As has often been observed, war is simply politics by a different method.
Because Aristotle believed that man, by nature, is a political animal, he made a quantum leap in deciding that the “State” was a creation of nature. In effect, it seems he reverses the relation between cause and effect.
What came first, the chicken or the egg, or in this case the individual or the State?
According to Aristotle’s reasoning, the State is made up of households, and while households must be a “monarchical” system that recognises the fundamental inequality between members, a State should be composed of “freemen” and equals, and ruled according to a Constitution.
What he doesn’t clarify is who actually writes this Constitution, and that has been the fundamental unanswered question throughout history.
Two Concepts of Liberty
Isaiah Berlin was a Latvian Jew who became a British diplomat in Washington and Moscow, but in the 1950’s he raised the question in this essay, “Should we be free to act as we wish, and if not, to what extent should we obey, and whom should we obey?”
But that only raise a further question, “What do we actually mean by “freedom”?
Berlin made the distinction between “freedom” and “liberty”. “Negative liberty is the extent to which we are free from interference.” Hobbes, on the other hand summed it up as, “A free man is he that is not hindered to do what he has a will to do.”
Berlin defined positive liberty as, “The freedom to be conscious of oneself as a thinking, willing, active person, being responsible for their choices and being able to explain them by reference to their own ideas and purpose.”
Berlin was also aware that “perfection of humanity is a dangerous myth.”
A rational society is guided by laws, which do impede and restrict individual freedom, but should aim to benefit the overall society. That was supported by Locke who said, “Where there is no law there is no freedom.”
Berlin was in agreement with Fichte who said, “No one has rights … against reason.”
When it comes to lawmaking the real question is, “It is not a matter of who is in power, but how much power any Government should have.”
The answer to that question depends entirely on the fact that politics is indissolubly intertwined with philosophy – as Ayn Rand said, “It is philosophy that has gotten us into this mess and it is only philosophy that will get us out.”
It seems that the “science”, “discipline”, “profession” of propaganda had much of its origin from the Vatican in 1622 when they set up their “Office for the Propagation of the Faith”.
Edward Bernays did his apprenticeship during the First World War as a propagandist for the Woodrow Wilson Government in promoting the road to war for the US. He parlayed this experience into creating a new field of “Public Relations”.
He firmly believed that, “Only through the active energy of the intelligent few can the public at large become aware of and act upon new ideas.” This belief was followed up with, “Most news stories are not accounts of spontaneous happenings, but come from a particular institution or body that has produced a report, or created a policy that it wants to get over to the public and shape opinion.”
Reflections on the Revolution in France
Edmund Burke wrote these comments on the French revolution of 1789, but they were written as a response to Richard Price’s assertion that England needed her own revolution.
Burke admits the English system is not based on equality, or democratic principles, as it gives weight to people with property. The House of Lords is an example where only people of substance and wealth, often based on inherited property, are eligible. Burke believed that the Lords were able to discuss matters of national importance without making decisions for their own financial benefit because, they were wealthy enough to be impartial.
He was also in favour of hereditary lineage because, it perpetuated families and could foster “some decent regulated per-eminence”, and some preference given by birth is “neither unnatural, unjust nor impolitic.”
While Burke recognised Britain’s propaganda of “civilising India”, and other such outposts of the Empire, he saw it as a simple lust for enrichment. He viewed the French revolutionaries in the same way, despite their high ideals; it was really just an ambitious grab for power and property.
Although Carl von Clausewitz wrote his 600 page epistle, “On War” in the 1800’s, it is probably the most renowned research on the psychology of war that is still applicable today.
War is by nature a matter of extremes. An obvious statement, but the psychological dimensions of war can never be a “science”. Even as an extension of policy, it is a blunt instrument.
Bringing moderation to war is a logical absurdity. Any side that holds back on the basis of morality, or worrying about loss of life, immediately loses the upper hand to the enemy.
For any so-called “civilised” nation the act of war is always an act of policy. War is simply politics by another method.
When the motivation for going to war is clear and strong, the goal for military action will be understood. If the motivation is unclear and no obvious political goal is spelled out, as with the current “war on terror”, then the military actions are likely to be protracted.
Clausewitz believed that war was good for “character building”, and unfortunately, the stupidity of this belief is very much a relevant and persistent belief by a great many people today. The perpetuation of war through the RSL in Australia is a good example.
Ghandi discovered the principle of Satyagraha – non-cooperation, or non-violent struggle. Unlike normal conflict, in which we become inflamed by emotion, the action of Satyagraha is based on a detached stubbornness that gains strength from the quality of its principles.
A Satyagraha approach is power when undertaken correctly.
Anarchism and other Essays
Emma Goldman was a Lithuanian born in 1869 and shared the beliefs of many anarchist, particularly in her distrust of voting and democracy. The Parliamentary system has done little to fix the social wrongs and inequality. Labor laws and child protection laws have rarely been followed, and back in the 1800’s, exploitation was rife (It actually remains much the same today – GLP)
Goldman saw Parliament as a stage for ambitious politicians to strut their stuff, while hoodwinking the gullible public into thinking they are actually achieving something. (Nothing much has changed over the past couple of centuries, except that politics has managed to slaughter millions more people)
Goldman defined anarchism as “The philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made laws, and the theory that all forms of government rests on violence. That makes them wrong and harmful and also unnecessary.” Anarchism can also be defined as the sovereignty of the individual.
Of course, this places her in direct opposition to the State, which has always demanded that people must be subservient. To Goldman, people are “the heart of a society” and the institutions the people create are there to support the people.
Anarchism is the great “liberator” from the two forces that keep most people captive – religion and property. Religion makes people subservient to an imaginary “god”, while property corrupts individuals and divides society.
The Federalist Papers
The Federalist Papers were written in the mid 1700’s and included a quote from Thomas Paine, written before the war of independence against the British. “If there is any true cause of fear respecting independence, it is because no plan is yet laid down. Men do not yet see their way out.”
Hamilton argued that “the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty” to counter the complaint that a strong central government would lead to tyranny and mask the quest for “rights”. It’s a two edged sword he is playing with unless there are defined ways to control “the vigor of government”.
The debate on confederation used the Greek example of “whoever happened to be the strongest at the time could dominate the others”. Madison and Hamilton believed that a full and proper union of the States would require a system where each Statehad equal “rights”, which is what they (hoped to) achieved by having equal representation in the Senate.
Hamilton was adamant that “separation of government into executive, judiciary, and legislative bodies, check and balances in the law-making process and popular rather than direct representation” were essential elements for the Constitution.
The Road to Serfdom
In 1927 F A Hayek and Ludwig von Mises founded what was to become the Austrian Institute of Economic Research, the staunch advocates for a “free” market economy, and an arch enemy of the socialist type of economy advocated by Marx/Lenin and applied in Russia.
They were very much against the economic ideas of Keynes and claimed, “Attempting to provide more for those without brought with it less freedom for the whole and thus a gradual erosion of the traditions of the individualist, liberal West.”
They were aware that “the greater the complexity, the more impossible it is to get an overview of what is happening.”
Hayek had a view that, “Under the rule of law by which liberal societies operate, laws are intended for such long periods that it is impossible to know whether they will assist particular people more than others”
He makes the point that the key issue about the rule of law is that it (supposedly) safeguards equality. It assumes that no one is going to be treated better because of their status or connections, but he admits that the rule of law does nothing to protect against economic inequality. (In other words, money can purchase the required decisions if “correctly” applied)
It is also assumed that the powers of government are circumscribed by a Constitution, or by laws set well in advance of it coming to power. (But that can be influenced by the makeup of the nation’s highest Court and the way they decide to interpret issues)
According to Hayek, the old rule, which he takes as gospel, “He who does not work shall not eat” has been replaced by the totalitarian principle of “He who does not obey shall not eat”
Because of the day and age of the period in which Hayek and von Mises lived, their approach to economics was coloured by their distrust of anything related to socialism, and hence, their virtual uncritical endorsement of “free” market principles that has developed into today’s neoliberalism and corporatisation of big business.
Although this book was written in the 16th century by Thomas Hobbesit contains pertinent observations about human nature and war. Much of this was related to England’s civil war and Cromwell’s defeat of royalty.
Hobbes observed “For so long as every man holdeth this right, of doing anything he liketh, so long are all men in the condition of Warre”
In the time before government, laws and civilisation, people lived in a state of continual fear of violent death and war. There was no sense of a “greater good”, only people pursuing their own desires for power or pleasure, or luxury.
In this state before civilisation, “the life of man was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
If there is no government there is no law and if there is no law there can be no injustice. In a state of war, right and wrong mean nothing (except to the victors) and dishonesty and aggression are the cardinal virtues.
The only thing preventing conflict between individuals is the existence of authority, be it the leader of a family, a clan, a region, or a country. The word of authority must be accepted as final, if only on the threat of pain, isolation, exile or death.
If contracts are to mean anything there has to be an ultimate enforcer.
To Hobbes, “Democracy is simply a kind of formalised state of nature in which competing interests make for permanent instability”
It is somewhat surprising that the concept of “democracy” even gained a mention by Hobbes in that day and age, although some commentators see Hobbes’ political philosophy as “liberal” and thus, important in the development of Britain’s liberal traditions.
On the other hand Hobbes’ philosophy has been held responsible for fascism and totalitarianism, on the basis that no polity can be maintained without authority.
Later writers like Acemoglu and Robinson find that states fail, not because of economics, but primarily because they lack centralised power.
The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order
Samuel P Huntington was influential in US politics in the 1970’s and was perceptive in stating, “The major sources of conflict in the 21st century will be cultural and religious, and not economic.”
What is universalism to the West is imperialism to the rest. Huntington suggests that the greatest potential flashpoint in Asia will be from America challenging China in its attempt to dominate this part of the world.
For Muslim countries that have experienced upheavals and change through US clandestine or overt interference, Islam provides a continuous sense of identity.
It is similar to the influence of the Orthodox Church in Russia with its history going back a thousand years.
The worldwide religious revival is counter to the consumerism, secularism, and relativism that characterises the modern day Western world, which in many non-Western eyes, is synonymous with the degeneration of the West.
Huntington considers the conflict between liberal democracy and Marxism that has largely identified the 20th century will be seen as a mere blip in the much longer and deeper animosity between Christianity and Islam.
There is a fundamental divide between the Western idea of separation of religion and State compared to the Islamic concept that everything is ordered in the name of God.
Actual fighting is only the most overt manifestation of a long term battle of civilisations. However, a lot of the conflict is between Muslim States themselves, and to date, there is no Muslim State strong enough to referee, or resolve, conflicts within the Islamic world. A profound clash of civilisations will definitely occur if this problem can be overcome.
Huntington sees countries as being described as “cleft” or “torn” where the “cleft” occurs when a nation is split along religious lines, eg Christian and Muslim populations. “Torn” nations are those like Turkey and Australia; countries cast in a definite mould, but try to present themselves as something different. In the case of Turkey, it is very definitely a Muslim country, but its leaders see it as a westernised country and try to make it part of the EU. Australia is very definitely a part of the Western culture, yet wants to make itself part of Asia, which most Asian countries are reluctant to accept.
The Rise and Fall of Great Powers
Paul Kennedy’s assessment of history shows that “Economic superpowers tend to become militarily dominant. This creates a vicious circle of high military spending and low civil investment, hence the decline in power.”
When nations become “wealthy” is when they start to realise that their “wealth” needs to be protected, especially if other nations are perceived as growing powers. The simplistic answer to any such perceived threat is to build up the military strength that will dominate others.
Over the 500 years of history that Kennedy studied, the rise in military spending shows a clear correlation to the decline of the so-called, great powers of their times.
The ability to defend a nation is usually short term compared to maintaining economic growth as the long term requirement for national identity. The hard part is finding the right balance.
The Gettysburg Address
The Gettysburg address by President Abraham Lincoln, consisting of 272words in ten short sentences, and taking just 2 minutes to deliver, is considered as one of the greatest addresses in US history, and indeed, world politics.
Lincoln firmly believed that “A nation founded on liberty and equality that sticks together through challenges and hardship will never fail.”
While many in the West take democracy for granted today, it should not be forgotten how important republican principles were to the people of Lincoln’s time. They had their war of independence to throw off the cloak of imperial domination from Britain, and had come through four years of civil war to hold their new born nation together. It was a hard beginning for an independent republic, but a beginning that had to be won if the nation was going to be governed “by the people, for the people and of the people.”
Two Treaties of Government
John Locke was another of the 16th century Englishmen who cast considerable influence on British political traditions, despite the fact he believed “people prefer their politics to be based on reason rather than tradition”.
He was also a firm believer in the principle that all people have a natural right to their own life, labour and property that no ruler should be allowed to take away.
Locke introduces this concept that people have natural rights at birth, which include the right to their life and to freedom.
However, he seems contradictory in claiming that God gave Adam lordship over the Earth and this domination extends to kings. Therefore, monarchs have a divine right to rule, and by necessity, are above the law. But if a King does not act for the good of the people, it is justified in deposing him.
According to Locke, natural justice exists whereby all have a “right” to punish an offender. However, this gave way to the concept of an independent judiciary to weigh up matters of crime and justice.
The consent of a person to give up his personal right to punish an offender and place it in the hands of an independent judiciary is the basis of a civil society.
It seems Locke is the founder of several ideas we take for granted today: human rights, universal suffrage, the wrongness of slavery, and the welfare State; based on the idea that those in honest need have a right to ask for help from those with surplus.
Discourses on Livy
Niccolo Machiavelli wrote this in the 15th century, but his observations are just as pertinent today. Only those societies that allow conflict as part of their system would remain robust.
However, he also observed that no matter what form of Government a society might choose it always becomes corrupt over time. Monarchies always turn to tyrannies, aristocracy to oligarchies, and democracies to anarchies.
It is the tension between the people and the nobility that are the origin of all laws favourable to freedom.
Another of his observations is, “No more useful or necessary authority than the power to accuse, either before the people, or before some council, or tribunal, those citizens who in any way have offended against the liberty of their country.”
However, any such accusation must go before a court to test its validity.
This power to accuse can have a sobering effect on people in authority by making them ponder on doing their duties properly and incorruptibly.
The Communist Manifesto
In 1845 Marx wrote, “That most philosophers try to interpret the world in different ways, but the point however, is to change it.”
The Communist Manifesto was a joint effort by Marx and Engels around 1847 which is about the class struggle that has endured over the centuries.
He says “Humans need higher aims in order to live meaningful lives: having enough to eat is not enough.”
Greed and profit motives were not the drivers of society, but rather the symptoms of a corrupt social system with the wrong priorities. Individuals were only instruments of the system and only by overturning the system itself would people actually be free,
While Marx and Engels were preaching revolution there seems little evidence of a practical concept for what might result from the revolution, hence the debacle that resulted in Communist Russia and China.
The Fourth Revolution
This book was written by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge and in the synopsis I could find only one comment worth highlighting – the biggest challenge facing the world over the next couple of decades is fixing government.
It seems the Fourth Revolution is about “slimming the welfare state and re-emphasising personal freedom” by promoting privatisation and minimal government – all the stock answers of the neocons. Their ideas are based entirely on the current financial setup and they seem to have no concept at all of monetary sovereignty. GLP
The Subjection of Women
Although John Stuart Mill is far better known for his writings on the economy he was a strong advocate for women’s suffrage when elected to the British Parliament in 1865.
He quite rightly believed no nation could afford the subjection of women in any field if they wished to call themselves a civilisation.
The traditional desire to maintain the status quo is based on the belief that things must be as they are for good reason, hence they should be maintained.
From the earliest times there are two facts about women that have been known – the importance of women to men and their weaker muscular strength.
Mill was also well aware that “those who possess power never wish to lose any of it.”
“Everyone who desires power desires it over those closest to him, and women are generally in no position to bargain for more power, or rights, hence, the family is likely to be the bastion of inequality.”
Although this was written in the 1800’s it remains very true throughout the world in 2017.
Another question Mill raised was, “Is there ever any domination that did not appear natural to those who possessed it?”
Mill did make the observation that what might be considered “unnatural” is far more likely to be “uncustomary”.
The power most women automatically possess comes from their being attractive to men, but in all other respects, it is common they are educated to be submissive and to live completely for others without any ambitions of their own.
Such have been the customs and attitudes toward women right up to the early 20th century when some notable change has occurred in some areas. Unfortunately, the misogynist attitude is still very prevalent in many parts of the world, including the so-called Western liberal democracies.
In every walk of life we all know the value of originality and genius irrespective of the gender in which it occurs
Politics Among Nations
Although Hans Morgenthau was an adviser to the Kennedy and Johnston administrations, he was also an activist in opposing certain Government actions.
In his book, he concluded that “The currency of international politics has always been raw power to influence and dominate physically.”
Some 19th century liberals believed that constitutional democracy would, in time, replace absolutism and autocracy, and thereby, eliminate the cause of war. Of Course, that has remained wishful thinking through to the 21st century, and will remain so well into the future, as long as the politicians and lawyers get to write the Constitutions. GLP
However, Morgenthau was perfectly correct in observing that “Politics always comes back to human nature, and the bio-psychological drive to live, propagate and dominate. Whether domestic, or international, the motive for political action is of three basic types; to keep power, to increase power, or to demonstrate power.”
Morgenthau believed we cannot apply purely moral standards to politicians, as they can only be judged by political standards, and that is, whether they maintain the power of the State.
Prestige is a major element in the eyes of most politicians, as they depend on how other people see them in order to acquire their sense of self esteem.
Essentially, a lot of politicians are second raters, who depend on others, or their political party, in order to assess the value of their own worth.
The Rise and Decline of Nations
Mancur Olson wrote this book around the 1960’s and made some astute observations about the way the US Government operated, and by extension, other governments in the western world.
“Over time, stable societies generate interest groups that will do anything to protect their members, at the cost of the society at large.”
“The longer a society is around the more likely it is that its policies and laws will be driven by special interest groups, but not all groups are equal.”
“Stability has a cost, and perhaps the only way to change the status quo is through a revolution, or war, which provides the opportunity to “reset” the equilibrium.”
According to Olson many capitalist corporations believe it is more productive to get a larger slice of the economic pie rather than push for a larger pie.
In a market economy it is a fact that in a society’s struggles for goods, services and wealth, no one can win without another party losing.
The people who mainly benefit in an environment driven by special interest groups are those who understand the levers of power.
In Olsen’s assessment “nation’s decline not because they are overtaken by the interests of left or right, or because the Government grows too large, but because the process that is meant to deliver benefits for all is corrupted by the few.”
To a large extent Olsen is obsessed by the concept of economic growth as the vehicle for a society’s survival and believes that economic stagnation is the result of greater stability. However, there is no discussion on how any nation maintains indefinite economic growth, or economic dynamism.
Although better known for his other publications, Thomas Paine published Common Sense around 1774, which expounded the axiom that “self determination is the right of every people and every nation, but it still requires courage to turn it into reality”.
“Until an independence is declared the Continent (read Australia) will feel like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business from day to day, yet knows it must be done, hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is continually haunted with the thoughts of its necessity.”
Paine believed every revolution needs to be powered initially by emotion.
He also believed that Governments of any kind are a necessary evil, and considered that security has to be a fundamental purpose.
(Presumerably, Paine was talking about the security of the people and not the “security” of the Government, which today seems to have become the Government’s highest priority. GLP)
While the monarch is held to be sovereign, he/she is also distinctly separate from the people, and supposedly, stripped of real power. In 1780, Paine asked the question, “Why have a monarch at all?”
Isn’t that a question that should be asked in 2017? GLP
“Monarchy is a form of idolatry and goes against the natural equality of human beings.”
How true is that statement, when people are prepared to fawn over “royalty” and allow themselves to be demeaned as “subjects” of the “Crown”, as though they have no self esteem unless it is in the shadow of their idol. GLP
Crito is a record of conversations between Crito and Socrates, as written by Plato in the 4th century BC. Essentially, the death of Socrates was a critical point in Plato’s life, and Crito is a rendering of part of Socrates philosophy because, Socrates never wrote anything himself.
According to Socrates, “Citizenship makes us party to a contract with the State, and unless we emigrate, we have no right to refute its laws.”
Socrates also believed that it matter who is giving criticism or praise because, “One listens to a revered teacher and discounts the opinion of others who know less.”
These are fairly dogmatic and subjective statements, which really cannot apply unless heavily qualified. GLP
Socrates’ belief was that we should all live according to a universal moral standard, which would have to be an ethical one based on reason.
Although laws are man made, the Greek Goddess Themis is the personification of a divine order that is often represented today as the lady of Justice, blindfolded in her objectivity and holding a set of balanced scales. Despite the law makers and the judges seldom living up to the standards personified by Themis, Socrates still felt it was wrong to disobey the law.
His argument was based on the belief that it was the people’s responsibility for allowing the laws to be made, and therefore, the people had no right to disobey.
The Open Society and its Enemies
This book by Karl Popper was apparently written around the middle of the 20th century after Popper had experienced two World Wars.
He observed, “The enemies of freedom have always charged its defenders with subversion, and have nearly always been successful in persuading the guileless and well-meaning”
He came to the conclusion, “It is better to be reasonable than clever because, it is a social attitude involving give and take, and not putting our thinking above others.”
Popper denounced Plato’s concept of a Republic as a closed society, but did agree with his definition of the stages of corruption available to any society.
“One starts with Timocracy – rule by aristocrats seeking fame and honour – followed by Oligarchy – rule by rich families – then Democracy – rule according to the majority, but in effect, lawlessness – and finally, Tyranny – a dictatorship of the few – the fourth and final sickness of a society.”
Popper decried the system that was seen as stable, where the wise ruled over the ignorant many, which was based on the natural inequality between men.
While compromise is often pictured as an evil, its results can lead to a better stability than things created by dictate or decree.
For Popper, people are not means to an end, but have a right to live their own lives, according to their own plans, as long as they do not hurt others.
However, in all historical ideas, the individual is nothing before the wider forces and movements of history.
Popper disagreed with the idea of social engineering because, “Those in the social system cannot be objective about it – they cannot really see what is going on and are mere expressions of larger forces”
Popper considers a “rationalist” to be, “Someone who supports intellectual activity as well as observation and experimentation.”
The essential feature of an open society involves freedom from taboos and fixed social relations, but it comes with an expectation of personal responsibility. Accepting that responsibility is the price we have to pay if we wish to live a life in freedom.
Discourses on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men
Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote this in the 17th century when he was involve with the education of children trying to teach them not to dominate others, but to have a feeling of equality.
One of the problems Rousseau recognised was, “the universal desire for reputation, honours and promotion – devours us all, excites and multiplies passion, and in turning all men into competitors, rivals, or rather enemies…”
Although the justification for a State can be shown, “in reality the state became the means for the rich to get richer and to lord it over everyone else.”
“When a ruler gave a certain family privileges of nobility, or rank, it glued that family to the system of power and its maintenance. The family’s original service to society was forgotten over time, and the family then existed to perpetuate its own power and wealth. Indeed, the more idlers who could be counted in the family the more illustrious it became.”
Rousseau declared that “A society should not exist simply to keep order and protect property, but must have some moral purpose.”
Three Principles of the People
Sun Yatsen is justifiably famous for leading the Chinese rebellion of 1911 that succeeded in overthrowing the Manchu dynasty.
While Sun Yatsen was a rebel in the true sense he knew that “Class struggle is not the cause of social progress, but was best seen as a social disease that spreads only when people are not seeing their lives improve.”
Although not a “communist” in the sense that the word is defined today, his vision was of a nationalist China that blended a market system with socialist principles (Socialism with Chinese characteristics) which is what has eventually evolved on the Chinese mainland.
Contemporary China has largely fulfilled Sun’s aims. To that vision, the Communist Party knows its primary role is not geopolitical, but keeping the population happy and prosperous.
Despite all the chaos Margaret Thatcher caused during her rein as Prime Minister of Britain, she wrote this hypocritical piece in her autobiography, “My political philosophy … is founded on a deep scepticism about the ability of politicians to change the fundamentals of the economy of society; the best they can do is to create a framework in which the people’s talents and virtues are mobilised, not crushed.”
Her view of history was that successful societies depend on the flourishing of individuals, but it cannot happen if personal freedoms are curtailed, or when the State is seen as the solution to all ills.
This attitude led her to the belief in the “free market” system as espoused by Friedman and Hayek, and led to the privatisation of public assets and enterprises, which made the wealthier people into shareholders of properties, previously owned by the British people. It also turned the City of London into a “financial powerhouse.”
Unfortunately, Thatcher’s ruse in privatising publicly owned assets, without getting the rightful owner permission, has been adopted around the world as a way to compensate for the previous bad management practices of Governments. GLP
This book by Henry David Thoreau was written around 1850, but its philosophy is as meaningful today, probably more so, than when it was originally written.
However, Thoreau could not get past the fact that, “within a democratic system based on majority rule, weight of numbers crushes individual conscience. Matters are settled, not on the basis of right and wrong, but according to expediency. Politicians can be “bought off,” or may make deals to support someone else’s legislation in order to gain votes for their own. Voting is little more than a game that has only a tinge of morality about it; it does not settle or define questions of right or wrong, and therefore, an individual should not simply leave big moral issues to be decided by the majority.”
Thoreau asked the question, “Why do Governments always persecute the minority or individuals who make themselves “inconvenient? Should a Government not be listening to every dissenting voice to make sure their policies are not flawed or wrong? The fact that Governments do not do this suggests that their interests are with might rather than right.”
Democracy in America
Alexis de Tocqueville’s book was published in two volumes, the second in 1840 following his commission to study the American prison system. However, he used that as a pretext to do a full analysis of the American social and political life of the 1830’s.
To de Tocqueville he found the unusual contradiction of the American people between the deeply obedient and submissive attitude for their faith and a consuming love of religious freedom, and an openness to all new ideas of political organisation that would preserve such freedom.
In contrast to Europe where inheritance was a driving force in social conditions that formed the layers of privilege that affected generations yet unborn, America abolished the inheritance laws after winning their independence from Britain.
Everyone was expected to take part in political life, so Americans grew used to charting their own destiny. Their practice of Government at the local level helped them appreciate its limits, and combined with the love of freedom, there arose a preference for minimal, decentralised governance.
Yet, the writers of the Constitution realised that if the nation was to stay in one piece there would need to be a fair degree of centralised power. Moreover, they knew that there were some things only a centralise Government could do; such as organising an army, creating a monetary system, running a postal service, building main roads to connect the country, and levying taxes.
De Tocqueville saw the contrast with the American republic to some of those in Sth America, where the power of Government was imposed rather than shared.
The American Constitution did not promise happiness via the Government, but was only a framework for the fair pursuit of happiness, leaving the details up to the individual and his neighbour, individually or together.
De Tocqueville observed, “That civil associations were the key element in resisting the tyranny of the majority.”
The level of freedom was such that, “People could say what they liked, but there was such a wide diversity of opinions that it had no revolutionary effect.”
The more de Tocqueville considered the freedom of the press … “the more am I convinced that, in the modern world, it is the chief, and so to speak, the constitutive element of liberty. A nation which is determined to remain free is therefore right in demanding, at any price, the exercise of this independence.”
He also saw, “That the ability of American courts to judge that a particular law is unconstitutional forms one of the most powerful barriers which has ever been devised against the tyranny of political assemblies.”
De Tocqueville did observe a feature of the working class in America that it constantly strives to increase productivity and innovate, so as to either lessen the workload, or get more work done in less time. Although he contributed this to the democratic nature of the country, that is not necessarily the cause, although the nature of freedom definitely encourages innovation. GLP
“Democratic societies tend to level everything out, such that singular quality is replaced by the quest for abundance, and nobility of character is replaced by the desire for self enrichment.”
There seems a stark contrast between the American democracy of 1830 compared to the American democracy of the 21st century. So much of what de Tocqueville saw and admired seems to have been lost in the long torturous path to today. GLP
The Spirit Level
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett are modern day researchers who have made an extensive study of the effects of inequality.
Their findings show that inequality within a society is not just a problem for the have-nots, but is a problem that drags down everyone’s well being.
Their research showed that, “a larger number of physical and mental illnesses are strongly related to income and class.”
In richer countries, their research has indicated that poverty is more often having to make choices between having the basic requirements, or keeping up appearances. In such situations, what matters is where we stand in relation to others in our society.
The authors contend that if a new science is developed, called “evidence based politics,” it would show that the route to greater social well-being is through equality.
Their research delivered the obvious that income levels generate ways of living and tend to entrench social and health problems over time.
Again there is an obvious conclusion that when the inequality in a society is pronounced, the more people become focused on dominance.
The authors contend that inequality is entirely a political result, but one that can be changed through politics if the will is there.
The authors see the solution to inequality in transforming the poorer classes into the middle classes, but that can only be achieved through “growth”. However, they decline to say what this “growth” entails, how it is applied and who is responsible for it.
Perpetual “growth” is the mantra of the capitalist system, but it is the antithesis of the environmentalist. Is there a compromise, and is there another way? GLP