A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the beginning of the Zabern Incident. Well, now it’s got a whole load more serious.
There have been further incidents in Alsace. Mainly these have involved locals insulting soldiers and the soldiers reacting with extra-legal brutality but they haven’t been without their farcical side. In one incident, the participants in a court case managed to get caught up in riot and various judges, clerks and advocates found themselves spending a night in the cells. In another, Lieutenant Förstner, the 18-year old who sparked it all, went out on a shopping trip. Normal enough if you discount the escort of four soldiers with bayonets fixed.
And now it’s reached the floor of the Reichstag. And the Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, has lost a vote of confidence.
The Times 5 December 1913 p9
In a democracy (e.g. France which in this very week in 1913 has also no-confidenced its Prime Minister) that would mean it’s time for the Chancellor to pack his bags. But not in Imperial Germany. In Imperial Germany the Chancellor is answerable to the Kaiser not the Parliament. Democratically elected representatives can huff and puff as much as they like but they are not going to blow the Prussian Army’s house down. At least not for another 5 years.
This kinda sorta brings me on to an observation: the end of monarchy is a bloody and protracted affair. In England the process began in 1642 and was probably all over by 1700 and involved a couple of civil wars and a military dictatorship. In France it took about 80 years (1789-1871) and involved three revolutions, a terror and a twenty-year war. In Germany (at least the Western half) it lasted from 1914 to about 1948; in Russia from 1917 to 1989; in Spain from about 1920 to 1980. In each case millions died. Oh, and China of course (1911-1980).
The only exceptions I can find are Portugal (although that had a period of dictatorship) and Turkey (dictatorship again). Japan is almost impossible to categorise not least because you have to decide who you take as the monarch: the Emperor or the Shogun?
Getting back to Imperial Germany, the tragedy is that here we see them within touching distance of a proper, functioning democracy. So near and yet so far.
“The “rise of the four-car family”, as some media outlets are referring to it, exposes the hollowness of young adults’ claims that they can’t afford to move out. For here we have adults who clearly have pretty decent levels of disposable income – cars, after all, are quite expensive to buy and maintain – yet who insist on staying in the rooms they grew up in. So I don’t buy the newspaper claims that the rise of the four-car family is yet more evidence that Britain’s “cash-strapped youngsters cant’ afford to fly the nest”; it isn’t hardship that keeps loads of young adults at home, but cowardice, an unwillingness to do what just about every generation before them did: take a risk, leave home, suffer deprivations, live off Pot Noodles, and in the process gain something that money could never buy – a feeling of genuine moral autonomy.”
- Brendan O’ Neill
He’s got a strong point here (says yours truly who left home to live in student digs at the age of 18 and has never lived with his folks since apart from a period of one month during some professional training course I was on. In fact, when I stay with Dad for more than a few days I get cabin fever, love my father though I do).
I could not wait to leave home not because of any dislike of my parents, but because I just wanted my freedom even if that meant having to go without a few things. For some time I rented, and lived sometimes in shared accommodation with others that wasn’t always ideal, but it did mean that when it came to choosing to buy a house, my now-wife and I had a decent lump of capital saved up. I could have done this sooner in a less affluent part of London had I really wanted to do so, but the property market wasn’t right and renting made more sense. Getting a mortgage wasn’t the big deal for me that it seemed to be for a lot of my peers.
This may be a part of a process whereby people are putting off becoming “grown up” until later in their 20 and even 30s than used to be case. There are many drivers of this; official policy, after all, wants at least 50 per cent of school-leavers to go into higher education, when, arguably, that is too high and more should be getting into vocational training and work a bit sooner, and avoiding the drag of student debt. But O’Neill ought to also realise that affordable rental properties in places such as London, where much of the work is, is scarce, and much of the reason for that are our planning laws. It is a lot easier to boot out these adults from the nest when there is a realistic place for them to go.
In general, though, I think O’Neill is on the money and right to be scornful, although generalisations can be unfair on people who stay with their folks for entirely rational reasons (including looking after parents who might be infirm, etc). Quite what the longer-term impact on our society, even our politics, will be from a generation that did not fly the coop until its 30s is anyone’s guess. In the light of what Brian Micklethwait had to say recently about the ideas of Emmanuel Todd, it might be worth exploring the idea in more detail.
Madsen Pirie describes how he invited his University of Brighton audience to look at the world “through neo-liberal eyes”, rather than through the sort of eyes they are probably more used to using:
Others look at what is and compare it with a vision in their mind of what it might be. We are more empirical, comparing it to what was. Life expectancy about 150 years ago was about 30 years, and had been so for millennia. Now it is about 68 years globally, and higher than that in developed countries. We look at death to mothers in childbirth, and see it is now a tiny fraction of what it was even at the turn of the previous century. We look at infant mortality and see how that, too, is now a tiny fraction of what it was. Many of the diseases of the past have been conquered or controlled, and although there are new ones now that we live longer, we are in the process of controlling those, too. In the past most people battled to survive at subsistence level, whereas now we have more people above poverty and starvation than ever before in the history of humankind.
In other words we see things as being better than they were. Of course we can imagine a future which will be better than our present, but the empirical approach is to compare present with past, examine what made the difference, and attempt to do more of it. What made the difference was economic development and wealth creation, not the redistribution of existing wealth. It was opportunity, not equality, that drove progress, and we who support freedom want to see more of it, so that the future world will be as different from the present as ours is from the past.
I agree with everything there, except that very first sentence, about how “others look at what is and compare it with a vision in their mind of what it might be”, the implication being that we “neo-liberals” don’t do this.
I think it is truer to say that we do indeed think in exactly the empirical yet optimistic way that Pirie describes, but that we also compare what is with what might be. The difference is not that we look to the past and our opponents look to the future, but that we look more intelligently at the past than they do, and we also look to a different and better future.
I do not welcome, for instance, a future of “equality”, the sneer quotes there being because equality of the sort that is equal enough to satisfy the sort of people who demand equality will require someone to impose it, and that someone has to be unequally powerful to be doing such imposing. If you truly believe in equality, then you – you personally – will do what you can to improve the circumstances of those at the bottom of the heap. The poor will keep their freedom, thereby ensuring that whatever improvements you offer them really will be improvements. And you will not contrive these improvements by robbing richer people, because that will require you to be – unequally – powerful enough to do that, and there goes your precious equality. It will be equality that does not apply to you.
But just because I do not dream silly dreams of imposed equality, this does not mean that I dream no other dreams, dreams of freedom, dreams of progress, and yes, dreams of greater equality, that really is that, rather than just inequality that has been rearranged a little, in favour of new equalising rulers.
And nor does it mean that Madsen Pirie himself refrains from any such dreaming. He dreams – does he not? – of a future world that is – in a good way – “as different from the present as ours is from the past”. And he compares, as I do, that dreamed future with the present, to the present’s disadvantage.
When I were a youngling, fanfic was a despised genre. The internet has made it less despised, more common and apparently more nearly legal in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of way. To quote the link from TV Tropes above:
No statement on the legality of fanfic has ever been given in American formal law or in its courts. Some argue that it’s a form of copyright infringement; however, see “Legal Fictions: Copyright, Fan Fiction, and a New Common Law”, and note the above precedents.
Authors often have conflicted reactions to fan fiction set in “their” universe, which sometimes leads to a Fanwork Ban. J. K. Rowling has largely embraced Harry Potter fan fic, albeit with certain limitations, for example, and Tamora Pierce advises aspiring writers that fan fiction can be a good way to hone one’s writing skills. By contrast, Sir Terry Pratchett acknowledges it exists and is cool about it, pointing out that everything works so long as people are sensible about it. He adds two caveats: anyone doing Discworld fanfic shouldn’t even think of doing it for money, and authors should take care not to put it where he might see it. George R. R. Martin, author of the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, expressed his disdain for the practice, saying that “creating your own characters is a part of writing.” He’s even gone so far as to threaten legal action should he become aware of any fan fiction set in the Westeros universe. In contrast, writer/journalist James Bow makes a rather firm case for supporting fan fic, pointing out that it forms a stepping stone towards creating your own characters and setting. As far as media businesses are concerned, reactions have ranged from Archie Comics demanding immediate removal to Paramount Pictures taking some of the better Star Trek fanfics and having them published in print books.
My impression is that fanfic has become like music downloads, a tide that washes past all breakwaters of law or justice. What do you think? What do you recommend? Come on, out with it! – what have you written?
When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it
- Frédéric Bastiat, Economic sophisms, 2nd series (1848)
But another story provided a fun distraction from all the hard work campaigning for tax cuts: it is the thirtieth anniversary of the first NOW! That’s What I Call Music album. There’s no bigger ‘Now’ fan than our Political Director Jonathan Isaby who has a complete set of all 86 albums! He spoke to Sky News and other TV stations about his collection.
- Matt Sinclair of the TaxPayers’ Alliance provides a little light relief, in the latest TPA mass email. (Link in the quote added.)
Recent comments by Boris Johnson about IQ and wealth inequalities have set alight debate.
There’s a double standard that has always confused me. Society is contemptuous of people who make their money using their looks – the celebrities and glamour models and reality TV show winners and so on – but impressed by people who make money using their brains. And yet the people who make money with their brains – whether they’re CEOs or scientists – are just as much winners of the genetic lottery as is any bosomy Page 3 girl or chisel-jawed Calvin Klein model. Why do we admire one, but mock the other?
Asks Tom Chivers.
My response is that there isn’t much difference; what I think is going on here is that people think looks are superficial, but brainpower isn’t, and that it is “deeper” in some way and therefore more deserving of respect. The question is a fair one: both our genetic inheritance in terms of brains and beauty are results of a biological and social lottery with some getting a lot and some getting little at all. The way to think about this in broader terms is that just as none of us in any sense “deserve” our looks, brains or muscles, so none of us do not “deserve” them, either. Also, if a person is born with great intelligence and this enables him to create wealth, he might not “deserve” it, but neither do those lucky enough to be born in a world containing this person, so they do not deserve the fruits of that wealth, nor do they have the right to seize it on some spurious redistributionist, Rawlsian grounds. (As in John Rawls, the egalitarian thinker who used the dodgy argument that lack of desert for inherited traits gave the State the right to seize the fruits of said, without pausing to think that the rest of humanity did not deserve that which had been seized, either.)
There can be no coherent notion of desert without the existence of a being who has the power to give out all these different qualities and abilities, and who has some sort of decision-making power that says A will get ravishing beauty, B will be ugly as sin but very clever, and Johnathan Pearce will be both fiendishly bright, good looking, and athletic (might as well get that out of the way). The premise, in other words, is wrong: “desert” has no meaning without such a belief. Existence, including what we got born with, just exists. (In other words, I think notions of desert in this sense are a hangover from belief in an all-powerful God or gods).
To put it another way, the whole edifice on which we choose to moan about the “unfairness” of different qualities of birth is built on sand. Far better, in fact, to focus on the notion that we all must have the freedom to rise as high as our abilities can take us, and to cultivate the moral and practical qualities to that end, and ensure governments get as far out of the way of this process as possible. And to remember that character, quite as much as how much brainpower you have, is important.
These ten quotes by Che Guevara are getting quite a mention around the blogosphere, and deservedly so.
David Thompson includes a link to them in his latest clutch of ephemera. Instapundit linked to them. And now I’m doing it here.
This is exhibit number five of the ten, picked pretty much at random, to illustrate the atmosphere of these ghastly pronouncements:
To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.
This posting is now at the top of this long list of Che Guevara postings here, but will surely sink downwards in the future, as we all continue to point out what a monster this man was.
I realise that the sums of money that get spent on “culture” are very small potatoes indeed when set beside other sorts of government extravagance.
Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that there is a connection between this report about France’s “new wave of culture-focused building projects”:
A Napoleon III villa in a Parisian suburb, squatted by artists and musicians; a cathedral-like hangar, the vestige of Dunkirk’s naval industry that used to define the life cycle of the entire city; a new, 240m-long bridge in the French Alps. This is just a sample of France’s recent crop of architectural projects, and they have at least one thing in common: they are all cultural facilities that offer a draw both through their content and their site.
… and reports like this one from the BBC about French economic pessimism, or this one entitled Is France the new Italy?
Hollande’s Socialist administration faces protests over taxes and burdensome regulation not just from business leaders, as you might expect, but also from farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, truck drivers and soccer players. …
Leaning heavily on higher taxes, the government has been slow to get public spending under control. France’s ratio of public spending to gross domestic product is now 57 percent – the highest in the euro area.
As Instapundit likes to say, what can’t go on forever won’t.
What, I wonder, will those new culture palaces end up being used for?
A great deal longer ago than I now enjoy remembering, I rashly promised the authors of America 3.00: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century – Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come, James C. Bennett and Michael Lotus, that I would, very soon, write something here about this book. But this is not a regular book review. I have an agenda of my own to plug with regard to America 3.0, which is, in two words: Emmanuel Todd.
I have greatly admired Emmanuel Todd, the French anthropologist and historian, ever since, in a 1980s remainder shop, I first encountered English translations of two of his most important books, the English titles of which are The Explanation of Ideology and The Causes of Progress, my copies of these two books being among my most treasured possessions. America 3.0 is in no small measure the book that it is because Bennett and Lotus have also acquainted themselves with Emmanuel Todd’s style of thinking, and have applied it to America. And the most interesting fact about America 3.0, from where I sit, is that its publication may prove to be some sort of breakthrough for Emmanuel Todd in the place that James Bennett himself has dubbed the Anglosphere. My hope concerning America 3.0 is not so much that what it says about America will captivate lots of Americans, although I’d be very happy if it did, but that it may, because its authors based it partly on a foundation constructed for them by Emmanuel Todd, help to spark what I think is a long overdue debate throughout the Anglosphere, a far grander debate than a merely American discussion about America. This debate will encompass the entirety of Emmanuel Todd’s grand narrative, and will concern the entire world.
The historian Alan MacFarlane, author of, among other books, one called The Origins of English Individualism, whose work is aligned with that of Emmanuel Todd, is one of the few historians writing in English to have given Todd the time of day. The authors of America 3.0 tell me that in an email to them, MacFarlane said that Todd is “roughly right” in what he says. Which sounds like rather faint praise. But when you realise that what MacFarlane reckons Todd to be “roughly right” about is one of the most confidently reductionist, yet original and interesting, and above all persuasive explanations of the entire process of political and economic modernisation that has been accomplished and is still being accomplished by our relentlessly formidable and complicated and belligerent and inventive species, everywhere on earth during the last five centuries and more, and for at least the next several decades, then you begin to see where my admiration for Emmanuel Todd is coming from. Many very capable and admirable historians score eight, nine or even ten out of ten for their life’s work. Compared to them, I would give Todd about eight hundred out of a thousand and counting. The man is operating at a different level of explanatory reach to all other historians I have ever read, or have ever read about or heard of. Yes indeed, as MacFarlane’s comment illuminates, Todd has, over the years, got quite a few of the details of his grand narrative somewhat wrong, in fact he probably gets far more things wrong than most good historians ever get right. But what he does get right … well, it is an epic story, and furthermore, a story that I now believe, with MacFarlane, to be “roughly right”.
So, what has Emmanuel Todd been saying?
→ Continue reading: First thoughts on America 3.0 – the Emmanuel Todd connection
That’s the counterintuitive thing about totalitarian systems. They herd people into Borg-like collectives, yet every individual is savagely atomized.
I never felt so alone in my life.
- Michael Totten writes about the “total surveillance police state” that is Cuba.
It isn’t “counter-intuitive” to me, and probably not to Totten either, but I guess it still is to many. I worked out long ago that totally nationalising society totally destroys society, and that the greatest freedom of a free society is the freedom to choose what company you keep, both when you work and in your time off working.
I have only one thing to add to this Telegraph blog post by Daniel Hannan.
It is this: I am glad that Mr Hannan and other newspapers have not followed the usual timid practice when reporting stories of this type and obscured the name of the culprit. A storm of public anger is about the only weapon we have against the likes of Mrs L Small, head teacher of Littleton Green Community School, Colliers Way, Huntingdon, South Staffordshire WS12 4UD.
And if “our R.E. coordinator Mrs Edmonds”, she being the one with whom parents are invited to “discuss this further”, does not wish to join her boss in the stocks, she should direct her further discussion towards disassociating herself from the literally fascist tactics Mrs Small uses.
The L stands for “Lynn”, by the way. Lynn Small, head teacher of Littleton Green Community School, the one who coerces parents by threatening to harm their eight year old children.