Between 1945 and about 1965, atom bombs and then hydrogen bombs were devised and demonstrated by the two biggest Great Powers, and then manufactured and attached to rockets in sufficient numbers to cause any all-out war between these two superpowers very probably to be a catastrophic defeat for both, to say nothing of being a similar catastrophe for all other humans, within a few hours. This new kind of destructive power also spread to a small club of lesser Great Powers.
This did not happen overnight. It didn’t all come about in 1945. But it happened pretty quickly, historically in the blink of an eye. It changed the world from a place in which Great Wars between Great Powers had to be prepared for, at all costs, to a place in which Great Wars between Great Powers had to be avoided, again, at all costs. That is a very big change.
I do not assert that all wars have ended. Clearly they have not, as one glance through a newspaper or news website will tell you. Small powers still have small wars, and Great Powers regularly join in, in small ways. Sometimes, Great Powers start small wars, like the one in the Ukraine now. But even these small wars have been getting less numerous and smaller in recent decades. Small wars can get big, so even small wars are now discouraged by Great Powers.
Nor do I assert that all preparations for war by Great Powers have ceased, or that they should. But more than ever, the purpose of such preparations is to enable mere confrontations to be emerged from victoriously or failing that satisfactorily, rather than for such preparations – such weapons – constantly to be “used”, in the sense of being fired, fought with, and so on. The purpose of weapons is to scare, as well as to win fights, and they are being “used” whenever anyone is scared by them. Great Powers will still spend lots of money on weaponry.
But what has not happened, for many decades now, and what still shows no sign of happening despite all kinds of diplomatic, ideological and financial turbulence, is an all-out fire-every-weapon-we-have war involving two or more Great – by which I of course mean nuclear – Powers. In this sense, countries like mine, and almost certainly yours too given that you are reading this, have become peaceful in a way that they have never experienced before in all of human history before 1945.
In case anyone mentions Iran, I don’t believe that Iran’s leaders want to use nuclear weapons, as in: detonate them. I think they want to scare their enemies while trying to win other, non-nuclear victories, just like any other nuclear power. I didn’t believe Chairman Mao when he played the nuclear madman either. He was just trying to scare people, and he succeeded also.
And if you want to say that like all historical trends, this one could end, because of this or that imaginable or unimaginable circumstance, then I of course agree with you. History keeps on happening. But for the time being, the trend is as I have described it. We now, still, live in an age of peace more profound than any of our ancestors have ever experienced.
There have already been many, many consequences of this historic turnaround, this Great Change, and there will surely be many more. Indeed, I would say that just about everything of importance, not just politically but in the wider culture, that has happened to the world, anywhere and everywhere, between 1945 and now, can only be understood properly if you factor in the invention of and the deployment of nuclear weapons.
Do I really mean that? Yes, I really do mean that. Indeed, I offer the world, and in particular the Samizdata commentariat, a challenge. Tell me about a change that has happened in the world in recent times, any change, to absolutely anything, and I will be able to show you, at about one or at the most two or three removes, how your particular change has been affected by this great thermonuclear transformation, this Great Change, that I have just described. Indeed, there is nothing in the entire world, I assert, that has not been affected, often very profoundly, by this Great Change. (I don’t promise actually to answer all such comment-challenges on the spot. I merely announce that if I had nothing else to do for the next week, I could. So, let’s make it a team effort. Let those of us who already understand the truth of what I am saying respond as a tag-team to those who are still unconvinced.)
Talking of team efforts, let me offer the example of sport, and in particular the inexorable rise in the importance and in the social and economic impact of professional sport, during the last clutch of decades.
→ Continue reading: From the Great Peace … to the ordeal of Adam Lyth at the Oval cricket ground
Republican politicians stink. This is because real Republicans don’t go into politics. We have a life…
Democrats, on the other hand, are brilliant politicians. And I mean that as a vicious slur.
– P. J. O’Rourke
I recently had a clean-out of my home, and one of the things I chucked out was a small stack of recent and not-so-recent newspapers.
Before binning them I took photos of their front pages, because front page photos, I find, can often make very evocative souvenirs. Plus, unlike the actual newspapers, they don’t clutter up my home. (Just my hard disc.) I also often take photos of front pages when I am out and about in London. Maybe (although I promise nothing) I’ll do one of those “a year in newspaper headlines” postings, come the end of the year.
I haven’t gone through this latest clutch of front page photos properly yet. My camera always sees more than I do, until I really look at what I’ve got. But, I have already been smiling at this front page headline:
Someone’s having a laugh, right? I don’t think it’s just me.
And the date above the newspaper headline …:
… tells me that one of the someones having a laugh is the Evening Standard. Nice one, gentlemen.
Here, for those who care, is the story.
I have been reading Derek Wilson’s book about The Plantagenets, which is a succinct, blow-by-blow history of England’s monarchs from the beginning of the reign of Henry II in 1154 to the death of Richard III at Bosworth in 1485 at the hands of Henry Tudor. It’s good. All the various blows are briskly and engagingly described. If that’s the sort of book you are looking for, look no further.
In 1471, it seemed at the time as if the fighting had ended. The chapter covering 1471-1485 begins thus (on page 259 of my paperback edition):
After half a century of governmental breakdown, baronial strife and dynastic uncertainty the country needed internal and external peace and a firm hand on the tiller, and Edward IV certainly settled things down for a dozen years. …
But as anyone familiar with Medieval English history knows, and as Wilson then of course immediately relates, the fighting wasn’t quite done. This same paragraph then continues:
… However, following his death at the age of 41 his family managed to tear itself apart, provoke fresh conflicts and pave the way for a challenge from a minor branch of the Lancastrian dynasty, something which had up to that moment seemed inconceivable.
But then, Wilson switches in his immediately following paragraph to a different story:
Beyond central politics profound changes were taking place in these years. Commerce – especially the trade in woollen cloth – flourished, and a wealthy capitalist, mercantile class emerged. Renaissance influences from the continent began to affect cultural life and provoke new patterns of thought. But most revolutionary of all was the appearance of cheap books from the new print shops, which brought the world of ideas within the reach of many more people.
Now I want to make it clear that I have no major complaint to make about Derek Wilson, or his book. His aim with it was to tell the story of the Plantagenet kings, and he succeeds very satisfactorily. What I am here regretting is the absence of a point which he might have made here, maybe in a mere couple of phrases. I am not accusing Wilson of failing to understand the point I am about to make. I am merely noting that, for whatever reason, this is a point that he does not, at this highly relevant moment in his story, make himself.
Wilson could have connected the two paragraphs above, with half a sentence which added something along the lines of: “Perhaps partly because the aristocracy were consuming their energies fighting each other rather by meddling with commerce …”, and then noted that commerce at this time flourished.
For my point is that this royal “hand on the tiller” that Wilson says the country so much needed can sometimes be rather too firm.
→ Continue reading: An infirm hand on the tiller has its advantages
There are many reasons for my diminished Samizdata productivity. For my friend Johnathan Pearce, it is pressure of work. With me, it has been more like laziness and cowardice. As I get older, I find that my desire to tell others what to think, although still vestigially strong, is now in decline. I find myself more and more interested simply in noticing or learning about how things are, and (increasingly) how they once were. If I tell others what they should think, they sometimes hit back with great vehemence about how I should dump what I think and think something different, and us oldies don’t enjoy even virtual fighting as much as we used to. I think what I think, you think what you think, and let’s just leave it at that, is my attitude, more and more. This doesn’t quite chime in with banging away here, day after day, about all the various and numerous people who are wrong on the internet. Faced with the choice between (a) getting back into the swing of posting stuff here, or (b) wandering about in London taking photographs of how things in London merely are (or are in the process of becoming), and writing about such things at my personal blog, I more and more choose the photoing and the personal blogging option.
I’m talking about photos like this one, which I took recently, of the Shard:
I posted this photo at my personal blog a week or more ago, and ruminated upon why I particularly liked the way the Shard had been looking that day.
But then came this comment, from a blogger in South Africa whose blog I like and who likes my blog, an expat from Sheffield who calls himself 6k:
I hope you have permission to take that wonderful photograph. Or rather, I hope you won’t need to have permission to take such wonderful photographs in future.
My first reaction was: Hey, 6k liked my photo! But I did also notice the next bit. What?!? Need permission?!? What is he talking about?!? What 6k was talking about can be found here, that being a link he helpfully supplied in his comment, immediately after the words quoted above.
→ Continue reading: On the future of photography in public (and on what I think of the EU)
I would have had this as today’s Samizdata quote of the day if I hadn’t already done one earlier:
It is fashionable for the left to say we need big government to deal with big business. The opposite is true. Only big business can survive big government.
I plan on using that.
It is from an interview with Carly Fiorina by Jennifer Rubin, for the Washington Post. The rest of it is well worth a read also.
I have no idea what chance Carly Fiorina has of being the next President of the USA, but the nearer she gets to it, the happier I will be. Vice President maybe? Or would that be to underestimate her?
If Antarctic ice continues to grow, the trickle of refugees may become a stampede, as Antarctic climate scientists, some of whom have been there for years, are forced to leave their traditional habitats.
– Breitbart’s Eric Worrall laments the impact of climate change.
I agree with Mr Quotulatiousness that this, from a posting at the Coyote Blog from July 7th of last year, deserves to be made much of:
One of the factors in the financial crisis of 2007-2009 that is mentioned too infrequently is the role of banking capital sufficiency standards and exactly how they were written. Folks have said that capital requirements were somehow deregulated or reduced. But in fact the intention had been to tighten them with the Basle II standards and US equivalents. The problem was not some notional deregulation, but in exactly how the regulation was written.
In effect, capital sufficiency standards declared that mortgage-backed securities and government bonds were “risk-free” in the sense that they were counted 100% of their book value in assessing capital sufficiency. Most other sorts of financial instruments and assets had to be discounted in making these calculations. This created a land rush by banks for mortgage-backed securities, since they tended to have better returns than government bonds and still counted as 100% safe.
Without the regulation, one might imagine banks to have a risk-reward tradeoff in a portfolio of more and less risky assets. But the capital standards created a new decision rule: find the highest returning assets that could still count for 100%. They also helped create what in biology we might call a mono-culture. One might expect banks to have varied investment choices and favorites, such that a problem in one class of asset would affect some but not all banks. Regulations helped create a mono-culture where all banks had essentially the same portfolio stuffed with the same one or two types of assets. When just one class of asset sank, the whole industry went into the tank.
Well, we found out that mortgage-backed securities were not in fact risk-free, and many banks and other financial institutions found they had a huge hole blown in their capital.
I remember having all this explained to me at the time, although I do not now recall who by. I do recall the word “Basel” coming up a lot.
My title above is in the past tense, but I presume problems like this have since got worse rather than better. What will be the dates of the next financial crisis, I wonder?
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. So he went on Twitter instead and called Michael Gove a ‘vile reptilian evil tory scumbag’, and linked to a cartoon of Iain Duncan Smith stealing a paralysed woman’s wheelchair. And lo, he felt better and went for a £3.50 caramel macchiato with some mates from the BBC.
– Libby Purves, who lives behind the Time paywall, has some fun with Matthew chapter 19. Mick Hartley quotes from the Purves piece at his blog, in a piece entitled Virtue signalling. You can’t Read The Whole Thing at Mick Hartley’s, but you can read a bit more of it.
It is being claimed by the losers in this election that the winners campaigned on fear. Which they did. But what is wrong with fear? What is wrong with being scared? It is a very rational thing to feel, in the face of something scary.
The experience of the British electorate is that when the Labour Party promises to do stupid things, it is very stupid and you shouldn’t vote for it. So far so adequate. But when Labour promises to do only sensible things, that is when it is truly dangerous, because then it is liable to win, and to wreck the finances of the country. It does this every time it gets into power. Who wouldn’t be scared of that? Who, when campaigning against this wrecking ball of a political party, wouldn’t appeal to the fear that so many entirely sensible voters feel about such a scary thing?
Which is why, by the way, Ed Miliband is not the basic reason why Labour lost, this time around. The main reason was the recent bad experiences of the electorate. “New Labour” turned out even worse than Silly Old Labour, because New Labour actually did some serious damage. The more cunningly it (by which I mean Prime Minister Tony Blair) misled us about the damage it would do, and then flat out lied about the damage it was doing, the worse that damage became. So, what could Ed Miliband do? He floundered and waffled, not because he is by nature a flounderer and a waffler. Others, unable to separate what he was saying from how he said it, will disagree with me, but I think that had Ed Miliband had a persuasive case to put, he could and would have put it very well.
Tony Blair recently said that Miliband had turned left, i.e. opted for Silly Old Labour, and that Miliband would consequently lose. But had Miliband presented himself as New Labour 2, he would have done little better, given the electorate’s recent experience of New Labour 1.
Because of all those opinion pollsters, I was becoming very scared that Labour might win. Which was why, with all his and their faults, regularly explained here, I wanted Cameron and his Conservatives to win, and with as little help as possible from inevitably even more statist small party collaborators. Was I wrong to be scared? I don’t think so.
Luckily, it seems that a decisive slice of my fellow-countrymen shared my fears. Maybe all those polls were right and this slice of Conservative support only made up its mind at the last possible moment, after all the pollsters had ceased their polling. No doubt quite a few baffled pollsters now think that, or at least want to. Or maybe David Cameron, in some nefarious Prime Ministerial way, arranged for the pollsters all to say that it was going to be a dead heat, to scare his more indolent and unwilling voters off their bums or away from UKIP. Whatever. My point is, all those frightened people were quite right to be frightened of the prospect of Labour government (especially one in league with the Scottish Nationalists), and the Conservatives were quite right to speak to those fears. It was their best argument. For many voters, it was their only argument. It was also a very good and persuasive argument.
As for the supposed superiority of the politics of hope, well, if this means hoping that tax-and-spend-like-there’s-no-tomorrow statism will turn out better next time, then the less hope anyone can be persuaded to feel about all that, the better.
I agree with commenters on the piece I did early this morning, who said that the result of this election is a least worst outcome. All the political people whose opinions I most dislike are weeping and wailing and gnashing whatever remains of their teeth (what with the world-famed past deficiencies of British nationalised dental care). And that’s very good. But, like Rob Fisher, and despite having strong preferences concerning the national outcome, I personally ended up voting for nobody. Nobody will do much of what I want, and nobody will refrain from doing big things that I do not want, so nobody was who I voted for. I considered both the Conservative and the UKIPper, but, as the deadline got nearer and nearer, I could not bring myself to vote for either of them. I presume that the Conservative was and will remain ‘my’ MP. Yes.
But the good news is that, having spent last night and the early hours of the morning watching the story of the election unfold on the telly, I can report that voting for nobody most definitely does send a message. Turnout matters. Does low turnout signify apathy? Maybe so, but apathy is still a message, and not a message that these fanatically political people like to be told. If not voting accomplished nothing, then why all the nagging, which happens before every election, from the sort of people whose political opinions I most dislike that I should be voting? Yes, refusal to select your least unappealing lizard does definitely irk the lizards.
Most of the politicians I heard on the telly overnight just took it in turns to say that since we don’t yet know the result I won’t answer the question, and let’s just wait and see. But the now rather elderly Peter Hain bucked this conversational trend. Hain used to be an MP but is not one anymore. He wasn’t bothered about saying something interesting but off-message, and he actually did say some interesting things. This election result, Hain said, is an anti-Westminster result. In Scotland this expressed itself in the huge breakthrough success of the SNP. In England, it took the form of the impressive pile of votes amassed by UKIP, and everywhere in the relentlessly diminishing votes gained over the longer term by both Labour and the Conservatives, and by the way that the Lib Dem vote fell off a cliff at this election, following their actual participation in government. And, said Hain, this anti-Westminster animus took the form of lots of people just not voting at all, as it has done for quite a while now. We hate you bastards! That was the message, said Hain. In other words, apathy does send a message, and there it was being received loud and clear, on the telly, by a Talking Head. (Hain’s cure for all this protest and apathy is quite different from mine, but that’s a different argument.)
→ Continue reading: Apathy sends a message
How can the Tories have won? We did so many tweets and photoshops. I just don’t get it. #GE2015
– Favourite-blogger-of-mine 6k spots a particularly choice tweet, by David Schneider.