Thursday, December 14, 2006

Our Liberal Media - NOT

The Washington Post salutes the descent of Pinochet to Phlegethon and Antenora by claiming that since he produced "Latin America's most successful country", he was right. The Post editorial board has opened its mouth without bothering to consult its own archives. The Post's own article on the subject shows that he changed his policies - but not enough.

According to the World Bank's statistics, Pinochet had two depressions in his term, one ending in four-figure inflation in 1975, and the other in 1981-2; and he never escaped double-digit inflation. He managed slightly less than 2% productivity gains through these swings; and that includes the years after he abandoned Friedmanite fundamentalism. Chile's present success is the credit of Roberto Aylwin, the (elected) Christian Democrat. I will leave others to point out the moral bankruptcy of supposing that Pinochet was justified in persecution because he was right; J. S. Mill did this long ago, and his reasoning applies as much to economics as to theology. But to suppose that Pinochet was justified by an economic record much worse than that of Ford or Carter adds to it blatant ignorance, if not intellectual dishonesty. Among the things we badly need is a Right worth the effort of debating, rather than debunking; and a major newspaper that rises to the level of the blogosphere.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

An armed society is a rude society

There is a distinction between politeness and formality.

An armed society may well be a formal society, especially when dealing with the use of weapons, or it may not. The Old West seems to have been rather less formal in real life than in the formula Westerns - two of the losing side at the OK Corral were unarmed. Likewise, Sir Thomas Malory may have come from a formal society, although one somewhat unravelling under the stress of the Wars of the Roses (consider the rape charges), but did he portray one? Longstreet's Georgia Sketches are also informative, both of the existence - and the limits - of formality.

It will, however, be a rude society. When rudeness may be dangerous, men will be rude to show their courage. A skilled duellist was often rude to demonstrate he could afford to be - as Lord Cardigan was. Similarly, Alexander Hamilton frequently pressed on a duel to show himself manly, and win political concessions; it was a shock when Burr challenged him.

That's why lesser swaggerers were rude; behaving like Lord Sharpshot was a cheap way to claim the prestige of Lord S.'s skill and virility - such as that was.

The most scurrilious period in our history was the 1790's, when a set of dueling pistols was a household accessory; second place I would accord to Brann the Iconoclast, who wrote at Waco in the 1880's; third to the antebellum seditionists who cheered the ruffian Preston Brooks - armed societies all.

This is not my conjecture: Thucydides said of Athens, as Thackeray of England and Twain of our South, that they did not acquire civilization until men had ceased to go armed. Those who prefer to learn the hard way may visit the slums of Miami, or New York.

So much would be true even of a hypothetical armed and equal society, like the cads* of Beyond This Horizon. In a society which is armed and unequal, like the ones we have actually known, there was in addition the systematic rudeness required to enforce the pecking order: "I don't need to be polite to *you*; out of my way."

[*Yes, cads: Gentlemen, after an affront in a crowded restaurant, do not draw projectile weapons and blaze away upon the spot. The real Code Duello provided means to settle (by correspondence and the good offices of friends) whether there is a real affront, whether it can be resolved amicably, and (if those fail) how it can fairly be settled by more direct means.

At the least, gentlemen would go outside. Even if one trusts one's own aim will not hit a bystander, there is no ground for such confidence in one's opponent - especially if he is wounded while firing.]

[I do not contend that the Code Duello was a high moral standard, or that it worked out fairly, or that it was always kept to. I simply contend that Heinlein, who adorns his page with the phrase, was writing in ignorance.]

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Iraqi Sovereignity

I see that the Monarchist line now includes the assertion that the Iraqi people became sovereign on the Kalends of July last. The Greek Kalends are more likely.

How sovereign are they?

They are subject to a Constitution unilaterally revised by an American. The Iraqi Government was appointed by an Algerian, subject to the approval of that American. The government is itself a massive block in the legislature; the rest was chosen by an unelected body in a log-rolling session, during which they violated their own rules.

The Iraqi government has a foreign army in its country, much larger and enormously better armed than its own forces. The head of that army appoints the Iraqi Minister of Defence; and its officers daily overrule the Iraqi government's decisions on internal affairs.

The Iraqi Government has somewhat less sovereignity than the late and unlamented People's Republic of Germany; perhaps down there with the Ukrainian S.S.R. - also member states of the United Nations. This may change; but, in the meantime, how much is left for the Iraqi people?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Portrait of a Type

The Man and His Newspaper

Gilbert Keith Chesterton

At a little station, which I decline to specify, somewhere between Oxford and Guildford, I missed a connection or miscalculated a route in such manner that I was left stranded for rather more than an hour. I adore waiting at railway stations, but this was not a very sumptuous specimen. There was nothing on the platform except a chocolate automatic machine, which eagerly absorbed pennies but produced no corresponding chocolate, and a small paper-stall with a few remaining copies of a cheap imperial organ which we will call the Daily Wire. It does not matter which imperial organ it was, as they all say the same thing.

Though I knew it quite well already, I read it with gravity as I strolled out of the station and up the country road. It opened with the striking phrase that the Radicals were setting class against class. It went on to remark that nothing had contributed more to make our Empire happy and enviable, to create that obvious list of glories which you can supply for yourself, the prosperity of all classes in our great cities, our populous and growing villages, the success of our rule in Ireland, etc., etc., than the sound Anglo-Saxon readiness of all classes in the State "to work heartily hand-in-hand."

It was this alone, the paper assured me, that had saved us from the horrors of the French Revolution. "It is easy for the Radicals," it went on very solemnly, "to make jokes about the dukes. Very few of these revolutionary gentlemen have given to the poor one half of the earnest thought, tireless unselfishness, and truly Christian patience that are given to them by the great landlords of this country. We are very sure that the English people, with their sturdy common sense, will prefer to be in the hands of English gentlemen rather than in the miry claws of Socialistic buccaneers."

Just when I had reached this point I nearly ran into a man. Despite the populousness and growth of our villages, he appeared to be the only man for miles, but the road up which I had wandered turned and narrowed with equal abruptness, and I nearly knocked him off the gate on which he was leaning. I pulled up to apologize, and since he seemed ready for society, and even pathetically pleased with it, I tossed the Daily Wire over a hedge and fell into speech with him. He wore a wreck of respectable clothes, and his face had that plebeian refinement which one sees in small tailors and watchmakers, in poor men of sedentary trades. Behind him a twisted group of winter trees stood up as gaunt and tattered as himself, but I do not think that the tragedy that he symbolized was a mere fancy from the spectral wood. There was a fixed look in his face which told that he was one of those who in keeping body and soul together have difficulties not only with the body, but also with the soul.

He was a Cockney by birth, and retained the touching accent of those streets from which I am an exile; but he had lived nearly all his life in this countryside; and he began to tell me the affairs of it in that formless, tail-foremost way in which the poor gossip about their great neighbours. Names kept coming and going in the narrative like charms or spells, unaccompanied by any biographical explanation. In particular the name of somebody called Sir Joseph multiplied itself with the omnipresence of a deity.

I took Sir Joseph to be the principal landowner of the district; and as the confused picture unfolded itself, I began to form a definite and by no means pleasing picture of Sir Joseph. He was spoken of in a strange way, frigid and yet familiar, as a child might speak of a stepmother or an unavoidable nurse; something intimate, but by no means tender; something that was waiting for you by your own bed and board; that told you to do this and forbade you to do that, with a caprice that was cold and yet somehow personal. It did not appear that Sir Joseph was popular, but he was "a household word." He was not so much a public man as a sort of private god or omnipotence. The particular man to whom I spoke said he had "been in trouble," and that Sir Joseph had been "pretty hard on him."

And under that grey and silver cloudland, with a background of those frost-bitten and wind-tortured trees, the little Londoner told me a tale which, true or false, was as heartrending as Romeo and Juliet.

He had slowly built up in the village a small business as a photographer, and he was engaged to a girl at one of the lodges, whom he loved with passion. "I'm the sort that 'ad better marry," he said; and for all his frail figure I knew what he meant. But Sir Joseph, and especially Sir Joseph's wife, did not want a photographer in the village; it made the girls vain, or perhaps they disliked this particular photographer. He worked and worked until he had just enough to marry on honestly; and almost on the eve of his wedding the lease expired, and Sir Joseph appeared in all his glory. He refused to renew the lease; and the man went wildly elsewhere.

But Sir Joseph was ubiquitous; and the whole of that place was barred against him. In all that country he could not find a shed to which to bring home his bride. The man appealed and explained; but he was disliked as a demagogue, as well as a photographer. Then it was as if a black cloud came across the winter sky; for I knew what was coming. I forget even in what words he told of Nature maddened and set free. But I still see, as in a photograph, the grey muscles of the winter trees standing out like tight ropes, as if all Nature were on the rack.

"She 'ad to go away," he said.

"Wouldn't her parents," I began, and hesitated on the word "forgive."

"Oh, her people forgave her," he said. "But Her Ladyship..."

"Her Ladyship made the sun and moon and stars," I said, impatiently. "So of course she can come between a mother and the child of her body."

"Well, it does seem a bit 'ard ..." he began with a break in his voice.

"But, good Lord, man," I cried, "it isn't a matter of hardness! It's a matter of impious and indecent wickedness. If your Sir Joseph knew the passions he was playing with, he did you a wrong for which in many Christian countries he would have a knife in him."

The man continued to look across the frozen fields with a frown. He certainly told his tale with real resentment, whether it was true or false, or only exaggerated. He was certainly sullen and injured; but he did not seem to think of any avenue of escape. At last he said:

"Well, it's a bad world; let's 'ope there's a better one."

"Amen," I said. "But when I think of Sir Joseph, I understand how men have hoped there was a worse one."

Then we were silent for a long time and felt the cold of the day crawling up, and at last I said, abruptly:

"The other day at a Budget meeting, I heard."

He took his elbows off the stile and seemed to change from head to foot like a man coming out of sleep with a yawn. He said in a totally new voice, louder but much more careless, "Ah yes, sir,... this 'ere Budget ... the Radicals are doing a lot of 'arm."

I listened intently, and he went on. He said with a sort of careful precision, "Settin' class against class; that's what I call it. Why, what's made our Empire except the readiness of all classes to work 'eartily 'and-in-'and."

He walked a little up and down the lane and stamped with the cold. Then he said, "What I say is, what else kept us from the 'errors of the French Revolution?"

My memory is good, and I waited in tense eagerness for the phrase that came next. "They may laugh at Dukes; I'd like to see them 'alf as kind and Christian and patient as lots of the landlords are. Let me tell you, sir," he said, facing round at me with the final air of one launching a paradox. "The English people 'ave some common sense, and they'd rather be in the 'ands of gentlemen than in the claws of a lot of Socialist thieves."

I had an indescribable sense that I ought to applaud, as if I were a public meeting. The insane separation in the man's soul between his experience and his ready-made theory was but a type of what covers a quarter of England. As he turned away, I saw the Daily Wire sticking out of his shabby pocket. He bade me farewell in quite a blaze of catchwords, and went stumping up the road. I saw his figure grow smaller and smaller in the great green landscape; even as the Free Man has grown smaller and smaller in the English countryside.

[Written nearly a century ago; Paragraphing slightly changed - but the type hasn't]

Friday, July 30, 2004

Federalist Historiography

This is not the worst book I've ever read; but it's probably the worst this year. I regret beginning to review with such an opinion, but it gives me the energy to finish. Chernow writes badly. He actually writes the sort of journalese that Fowler was trying to kill a century ago - and I thought he had succeeded. Chernow is capable of writing "lost in helpless [sic] confusion" and " [Nevis] society frowned on religious as well as interracial marriages." He is pretentious. He describes Hamilton's father as 'noble'; by Chernow's own account, he was the fourth son of the laird of a Scotch manor by a baronet's daughter. Gentleman? Yes. Armigerous? Possibly. Noble? Nonsense. He is ignorant. Chernow does extensively treat the Articles of Confederation. He does not mention, and does not appear to suspect, that they were not fully ratified (Maryland standing out) until 1781. He is servile. Every action of Hamilton, even his campaign to restore those New Yorkers who had given aid and comfort to the British, must be praised and adulated. One comment at Amazon called this a hagiography, and that's about right. What even he cannot whitewash, he omits. For example, around 1794, Hamilton leaked the secrets of the Cabinet to a hostile ambassador; even Samuel F Bemis, who generally supports Hamilton, must call this an "extraordinary action." Chernow omits this aspect of the conversation - but then he uses Hamilton's memoirs as his sole source, so I suppose this may count as more ignorance. Indeed, his archival research is very limited. Chernow has read, and relies on, the recent edition of Hamilton's papers; but beyond that, his sources are overwhelmingly recent, tertiary, and partisan. His publishers' claim that this is "authoritative" work is, at least, hype. (Other terms suggest themselves, but I am no lawyer.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Things I don't believe in

This will be a contrarian Blog. I have opposed the conventional wisdom all my life, and I see no reason to stop now. I do not believe in conspiracies of more than a dozen people, economic nostra, and creeds devoid of philology. When I was at university, 25 years ago and more, I was slightly right of center. I am now a flaming liberal. I haven't moved.  I expect, therefore, to spend more time opposing right nonsense - there's more of it out there. I do believe in intelligence guided by kindliness; I therefore respect scholariness - Wissenschaftlichkeit.