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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Paul Marks on the influence of Germany on British and American political thought

Last Thursday, exactly a week ago, there were two speaker meetings occurring in London, both of which I wanted to go to, both addressed by Samizdatistas.

I picked the one at Christian Michel’s home, addressed by Philip Chaston, who talked about various efforts by English science fiction writers to talk up apocalyptic threats to mankind, such as climate threats and invasion threats of various kinds, by writing stories about such things actually happening. It was a very good talk. But because of attending that talk, I missed the talk given by Paul Marks to Libertarian Home that same evening, about the influence of Germanic thought upon the English speaking world.

My journey through tube-strike-deranged London to Philip’s talk looked like being – and in fact was – easier than the journey to Paul’s talk might have been, but I do confess that the biggest reason I chose Philip’s talk was my guess that Paul’s would soon be viewable on video. That guess has now been proved right. The talk only lasted a little over twenty minutes, and I highly recommend it. For those allergic even to that much video, Simon Gibbs has also appended some admirably detailed notes on what Paul said.

The big thing I want to add to what Paul Marks said is to emphasise the extreme importance of the subject he chose to talk about. Because of how the Germanic version of state-worship eventually turned out in the twentieth century, the Anglo-Saxon world has ever since been understandably embarrassed by how huge had been Germany’s intellectual and political influence upon it. The entire episode is well on the way to being forgotten by all but a few libertarians, of the Paul Marks variety. Yet for several decades, the military prowess of Prussia and then of the greater Germany that was assembled around Prussia, seemed to many like a crushingly effective argument for statism and against liberty. Even Germany’s World War One war effort, eventually an utter failure, was still a mightily impressive effort while it lasted. Both those who admired Germany’s intellectual and political notions and those who hated them believed such things to be necessary for national success. To put it another way, even those who hated Germanic political culture also feared it, and regarded it as something that simply had to be copied, rather as there was a similarly misguided little spurt of enthusiasm in the West for the methods of the Sputnik-era version of the USSR. But the urge to copy Germany went on for far longer and was far more strongly felt and defended and argued for. Germanic thought became dug into Anglo-American academia, for example, and the consequent intellectual poison has yet to be purged.

While most others prefer to forgot this story, we libertarians have everything to gain from keeping the memory of all this very much alive. We should all pay attention to the tale Paul told last Thursday, and be passing it on to everyone we argue with about both the attractiveness and the effectiveness of the freedom idea, in contrast to the kinds of ideas that deranged nineteenth and twentieth century Germany, and which are still deranging the world because of Germany’s earlier example.

British relations with Washington: the old ways are best

A feature of British reporting on American affairs is that even newspapers that sell themselves as right wing or too grand to take a side in US politics take their tone straight from the Democratic party. For instance, this Times report of the State of the Union address appears in the news section, not the opinion pages, yet in this paragraph

Offering a shopping list of practical plans to speed up growth and give people new ladders of opportunity into the middle class, he told members of Congress: “I’m eager to work with all of you”.

the writer, David Taylor, takes it for granted that President Obama’s plans are “practical” and indubitably will “give people new ladders of opportunity”. Was there not room for a little “intended to” anywhere in that line, Mr Taylor?

Again, this report from Peter Foster in the supposedly right wing Telegraph takes one look at Obama performing the standard politician’s trick of admitting to the fault of excessive reasonableness, and falls in love:

However, that optimism was tempered with a frank admission that America’s politics had become paralysed by the “rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government”. The president wearily admitted that reversing the tides of decline “won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything.”

We all understand where the problem lies: with the rancorous ones who argue about the proper size of government. If only they would stop doing that our weary hero could rest.

I am ready to be told in the comments that the Dems and the Repubs really are not that different. Allow me to agree in advance. It is just that the way that the Times and Telegraph maintain faithful station like Greyfriars Bobby long after their better paid friends in the Boston Globe and New York Times have noticed that the object of their devotion is politically dead is making a vein throb. Which reminds me, we were not always thus. As the great Malcom Tucker put put it during his visit to Washington (2 minutes 10 seconds into the clip):

“We burnt this tight-arsed city to the ground in 1814 and I’m all for doing it again.”

(Warning: occasional words in the compilation of scenes from In the Loop linked to above are not viciously obscene.)

I note with pride that two hundred years ago arguments about the proper size of the federal government were settled in a decisive yet still gentlemanly fashion. Wikipedia’s account of the burning of Washington says that “The British commander’s orders to burn only public buildings and strict discipline among the British troops are credited with preserving the city’s private buildings.” We even spared one of the more useful government buildings:

It is written that a loaded cannon was aimed at the Patent Office to destroy it. Thornton “put himself before the gun, and in a frenzy of excitement exclaimed: ‘Are you Englishmen or only Goths and Vandals? This is the Patent Office, a depository of the ingenuity of the American nation, in which the whole civilized world is interested. Would you destroy it? If so, fire away, and let the charge pass through my body.’ The effect is said to have been magical upon the soldiers, and to have saved the Patent Office from destruction.

Despite this lapse, Major General Robert Ross did burn to the ground the White House, both houses of Congress, the War Office, the State Department and the Treasury, although I gather someone has rebuilt them since.

First thoughts on America 3.0 – the Emmanuel Todd connection

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

A light has gone from my life

I did so enjoy contemplating the coming inevitable defeat of Julia Gillard and the Australian Labor Party. Unimportant in the greater scheme of things, I know, but just to contemplate the ululations of grief and ritual cries of “misogyny” that would have come from the Guardian the morning after the next Australian election was a little thing that gave me a few snatched moments of innocent pleasure in this hard world.

Now, however

Mrs Thatcher clones

An unexpected pleasure, leftists chocking at the sight of people celebrating Margaret Thatcher, has just got even better.

The Daily Mail informs us that the “Thatcher haircut” is the rage in central London, with one salon claiming to be overwhelmed by demand.

Italian-born Christina Bellucci, 37, a digital consultant, said she felt the look reflected a modern attitude.

‘This is a strong style and gives me authority,’ she said.

‘When I walk out the door I feel a few inches taller, it gives me power without sacrificing any of my femininity.’

On this day in 1775

The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave . . . Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.

- Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775, at the second of the Virginia Conventions.

The full speech is available here It’s not long so, as Glenn Reynolds would say, “read the whole thing.”

The Anglosphere is not doomed

“The world financial crisis has provoked a stark feeling of decline among many in the West, particularly citizens of what some call the Anglosphere: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. In the United States, for example, roughly 73 percent see the country as on the wrong track, according to an Ipsos MORI poll—a level of dissatisfaction unseen for a generation.”

So write Joel Kotkin and Shashi Parulekar. And as they go on to point out, the idea that the English-speaking nations are in imminent danger of being crushed by some sort of Asian/other menace is – with all due respect to the likes of Mark Steyn and Co, wildly overblown. And of course, given that trade is not a zero-sum game, there is nothing to lose from the hopefully long-term enrichment of countries such as Brazil or India.

R, Facebook, Anglosphere?

R is a programming language for statistical analysis and visualisation that I’m taking an interest in for a work project. It’s another open source tool that makes us richer. One way it does that is by being used by Steve McIntyre to plot climate data and replicate (or not) the hockey team’s research.

While researching R, I found R-bloggers, and in particular a post about the use of an R-generated image in Facebook’s IPO filing. The image was originally created a couple of years ago by Facebook intern Paul Butler.

But when Paul switched from plotting every friend pair to instead plotting every city pair with a great-circle line whose transparency was determined by the number of friend-pairs in those cities, something beautiful emerges: a clear image of the world, with friendship bonds flowing between the continents

Paul posted a Facebook page about it and also linked to a high resolution version of the image.

The Anglosphere should be discernable in the image, or at least the original data. Lines from Britain to the USA do look brighter than those from Europe. Many of the lines obscure each other, unfortunately. A 3D version might help.

More map porn can be found on Reddit.

Back to the Anglosphere future?

It’s been pretty quiet here today, and all the things I’m am personally working on need more working on before they’re ready. But, if it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, well, here are a thousand words:

AnglosphereFlag.jpg

I found this at the top of a piece by Daniel Hannan about how Britain might just be being pushed out of EUrope and back into the Anglosphere.

I won’t be holding my breath, but I have long thought this to be an attractive idea.

A good old Ashes wallow

My fellow Samizdatista and cricket fan (but Aussie) Michael Jennings has been accusing me of not celebrating enough when England have done well in the recently concluded Ashes cricket series. My message throughout the series, to anyone who would listen, has indeed been: wait for it, wait for it. Both to England fans exulting and to Aussies wanting to pitch straight into their speculations about why Australia is now a failed state, I have been saying throughout, needed to wait until the crushing England win that looked ever more likely as the series proceeded was actually achieved. Or not, as the case might have been.

But now that England have indeed achieved their 3-1 (away) victory (there first away win at five-day cricket against Australia for nearly a quarter of a century, which included three innings victories which trust me is crushing), I am now celebrating, with a long posting last night at my personal blog. Well, really it’s about ten blog postings – with handily placed asterisks to enable you to skip to the next one, should you be inclined to.

Topics include: Jimmy Anderson’s girlie-man wicket celebrations, Alastair Cook sounding like Noel Fielding, the role of and nature of luck in sport (and in life generally), the inverse relationships between good individual bowling figures and team success (well, that’s mostly in the first and only comment so far, also by me) and between national economic and national sporting success. Plus, the fascinating contribution made to cricket folklore by the Radio Four shipping forecast, which, amazingly, caused Radio Four listeners to miss the final moments of all three England wins.

If you’re the sort that enjoys that kind of thing, enjoy.

Samizdata quote of the day

“No one died in any of these imperial takeovers of British soccer teams, no wildlife killed, no beaches littered with tarballs. But perhaps the outraged columnists in the UK should inform their football-obsessed readers that, like BP, most everything is globalized these days—from the strikers on their favorite club, to the companies headquartered in London. BP is a multinational corporation with American subsidiaries and workers, Swiss well operators, and a gaffe-prone Swedish chairman. And McDonald’s—that often-invoked symbol of American cultural hegemony—is no longer run out of Ray Kroc’s garage. The dreaded hamburger giant uses local products, employs regional officers and franchisees, is staffed by high school students from Flanders and Dortmund, and is eaten by almost everyone on Earth. Sarah Palin’s lame attempt at vilifying “foreign” BP, or Barack Obama’s subtle attempt to underscore the company’s non-American roots, is little different than former BBC reporter Andre Gilligan complaining that London is “owned by Americans,” with its streets “lined with New York Bagel shops, Manhattan Coffee Company outlets.” The stakes are different, of course, but the sentiment is much the same; if the city goes to pot, if the oil well explodes, it ain’t our fault. Obama is a blame-passing protectionist. Palin is an attention-seeking populist. And the poor British columnists are giving me reflux, that fashionable and incredibly painful American disease.”

- Michael C. Moynihan

His right, of course. Given the amount of anti-American BS that regularly comes out of the UK intelligentsia (or what passes for it), a certain amount of “take some of that, Limeys!” is understandable. Another point that adds to the angst here, of course, is that so many British people imagined, naively, that that post-racial, leftie POTUS would not lower himself to the sort of nationalist rhetoric allegedly indulged by his Texan predecessor. But then we should remember that even a supposed “progressive” such as Gordon Brown was able to come out with lines such as “British jobs for British workers”, a remark that must have surely raised a sour expression among the many US expats who work in the City over here.

Bangalore changing to Bengaluru says that English will keep on pulling itself together

This sounds like the kind of thing that our own Michael Jennings is fond of saying:

“I was recently waiting for a flight in Delhi, when I overheard a conversation between a Spanish UN peacekeeper and an Indian soldier. The Indian spoke no Spanish; the Spaniard spoke no Punjabi. Yet they understood one another easily. The language they spoke was a highly simplified form of English, without grammar or structure, but perfectly comprehensible, to them and to me. Only now do I realise that they were speaking “Globish”, the newest and most widely spoken language in the world.”

That’s journalist Ben Macintyre, quoted by Robert McCrum, in a recent Guardian piece about the global evolution of the English language. But, McCrum then asks, will English, having spread so widely, and like Latin before it, then fragment into distinct languages? Or will the effect of what is loosely called globalisation mean that enough English speakers who start with their local variant of English will want then to move towards a more internationally tradeable, so to speak, version of English, and make the effort? Will they try to add some of that grammar and structure that Ben Macintyre spoke of? And will global standard English, particularly as spoken by the more globe-trotting sort of American and in due course by most Anglos, itself hold out its hand, as it were, making its own effort, and come half way to meet Globish, to ensure that English, although changing faster than ever before, nevertheless remains one language, or at least one linguistic continuum? Will English, in other words, keep on pulling itself together? Note that Ben Macintyre had no problem understanding the Globish that he heard in Delhi, and would presumably have no problem speaking like that.

My guess is that there are powerful unifying forces at work here, as well as fragmenting forces. What follows began life as a separate posting, and was mostly written before I encountered the above article. → Continue reading: Bangalore changing to Bengaluru says that English will keep on pulling itself together