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Samizdata quote of the day

There is an argument, I think, for having people who want “a strong leader” shot immediately on the basis that it will save the dictator time later.

– David Aaronovitch, discussing these findings by the Pew Organisation in The Times (£). Unlike Pew, neither Mr Aaronovitch nor I find it very comforting that only – only! – 26% of the UK population thinks “a system in which a strong leader can govern the country without interference from parliament or the courts would be a good way of governing this country”.

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33 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Julie near Chicago

    I gotta say, Guy, I agree with your and Mr. Aaronovitch’s opinions. And I like the dryer-than-dry tone of the quote. :>))

  • mila

    Interesting that support for autocracy is significantly higher in the Anglosphere than in “socialist” continental Europe.

  • Chip

    Methinks many of the people who shudder at the thought of strong leaders are the same people who eagerly vote for more taxes, regulations and intrusive government power.

    It’s the same result dressed up in the cloak of ‘fairness’ and ‘equality.’

  • Laird

    Great quote!

  • Shlomo Maistre

    What’s a “strong leader” as compared to simply a “leader”? Real leaders are very rare.

    When Steve Jobs took over Apple in the late 90s he did a lot of extremely unpopular things. He vaporized whole departments, fired lots of people, terminated a lot of projects treasured by very smart and dedicated people who had worked at Apple for a long time like OpenDoc and Cyberdog. As a Salon article explained “many employees developed a fear of encountering Jobs while riding in the elevator, afraid that they might not have a job when the doors opened.” Steve Jobs took control. He took the company by the balls and forced it to do what he wanted. Steve Jobs elevated people to positions of authority because they agreed with Jobs’ vision not because they were popular or well liked or had worked at Apple for their whole careers and were next in line. He was a leader because he had the authority and power to brutally change the direction of Apple against the wishes of many long-time and respected employees of the firm who had tremendous professional credentials, experience, and knowledge in their own right. He over-ruled them; he ruled the company.

    I know our history teachers taught us in high school that the President of the USA is a leader but is it true? Is the President of the USA a leader if she/he cannot fire everyone who works for the Environmental Protection Agency or, say, the Department of Education? The permanent bureaucracy of the US government enforce the law how they want, when they want and on whom they want. Is someone who gives big speeches on national TV more of a leader than someone whose job is insulated from public opinion? Is the President of the USA a leader if his ability to get things done is significantly impacted by his approval ratings on an ongoing basis? Is the President of the USA a leader if the primary incentive driving his actions is to popular with the public to be re-elected in the next election? These are serious questions worthy of deliberation.

    I think that by “strong leader” most of those 26% mean “leader” because everyone (except me) thinks that the Prime Ministers and Presidents of modern Western democracies are leaders when in reality they are leaders in name but not in the real authority and actual power that they have.

  • Mr Ecks

    Lots of human beings are thick as pigshit. If you asked a load of 29 year olds if humans should be killed at age 30–as in “Logan’s Run” say–a sizeable percentage would still agree it is a good idea.

    A good leader in a good cause might do much good. But such a thing is rare as Hen’s Teeth. So rare as to be a fluke not worth considering.

  • Mr Ed

    What is a ‘strong’ leader? What does that mean? Is it a leader who is intransigent, determined, a corner-cutter, decisive, pig-headed or obstinate? Is it a leader who will not be deflected from doing a good thing because of a ‘Twitter storm’ or chatter in the media?

    John Major struck me as a strong leader in that he was determined to do the worst thing possible except that he liberalised Sunday trading in England and Wales. He was barely able to carry through the Maastricht Treaty due to strong opposition from principled backbenchers, but that was a question of Parliamentary arithmetic, not leadership. He might be regarded as ‘weak’ in that he caved to the Left and adopted their slogans ‘A Classless Society’ and he created in the Cones Hotline a faint echo of Lenin’s Rabrkin, the Workers and Peasants’ Inspectorate. Was he a weak leader because he got distracted from doing his job by shagging Edwina Currie?

  • If only the huge number of bolsheviks that Stalin killed had been shot earlier, Stalin would never have ruled. It was in the mid-thirties that Stalin normalised killing party members in huge numbers, by which time his murder total was already circa 10 millions, and even the great purge struck several non-party people for each party member.

    Sadly, this reflection belongs firmly in the “Bell the cat” school of political problem-solving. Pointing out how routinely revolutionaries end by slaughtering each other – when they do not start that way – is less useless, but must struggle against the tendency of any who would become such to think learning from the past is beneath them, is not needed by their vast intellect, and is in any case politically incorrect.

  • djc

    “Every advocate of central planning always — always — envisions himself as the central planner.”

    And every advocate of a ‘strong leader’ imagines the dictator will be of their mind.

  • Watchman

    I note the question as phrased does not actually indicate a dictator, and in fact is not even indicative of support for autocracy, since a strong leader unconstrained could be envisaged by those answering the question as functioning in a democracy (there is a school of Trump supporters for example that seem to believe he should be able to act on his pronouncements, but would not as far as I know want him to abolish elections or the term limit). So potential support for a dictator would be lower than 26% of the population – my suspicion is that a lot of those who might are left-wing and angry at the ‘system’.

    Also, as presumably the question was asked in different languages in different places, it is not sure that everyone is answering the same question. Context will always be important. The somewhat anomalous Indian figure for example must be understood in the light of a perception by much of the population that government and the legal system are set up to oppose the popular will, and a strong leader is needed to break this system (if you’ve ever dealt with the Indian civil service, this becomes a very understandable view), so basically a much more widespread and mainstream view of the UK’s left-wing angst. All of that said, the results from Venezula were very telling…

  • Jacob

    What if we changed the question from “strong leader” to “good leader”?
    Maybe people want a leader that has a coherent world view, that knows his way around, that does what he promises and leads the country to some good place?

    Maybe, given Theresa May, they wand the diametrically opposite of her?
    Maybe they want another Margaret Thatcher?

    You need to be very careful before you start shooting people.

  • morsjon

    It’s a dumb question as clearly all of us would like a strong leader who does the things we approve of. Most people will not interpret the question as ‘on average over time, is a strong leader system going to produce better outcomes than a democracy’.

  • pete

    Reminds me of this.

    Asked if acts of violence against those who publish images of the Prophet Muhammad can “never be justified”, 68% agreed that such violence was never justifiable.
    But 24% disagreed with the statement, while the rest replied “don’t know” or refused to answer.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-31293196

  • It’s a great pitch. It worked for Mussolini.

  • staghounds

    A leader is someone you follow, not someone you obey.

    Why do we use the word “leader” when we talk about someone whose place is built on compelling people to do things?

    No one needs or wants a “leader” to tell him what to eat, what to watch, what to wear, or after whom to lust. We all do the things we want or think we ought.

    The political “leader” is there to make other people do what we think they ought in the public world. And they never “lead” by actually getting in front and doing the thing first.

    That’s not a leader, that’s a driver. Kincaid divided officers into “go ons” and “come ons”, and we don’t often see the latter.

  • Deep Lurker

    An alternate explanation is that rather than being stupid-evil, lots of people are giving crazy and extreme answers deliberately, screwing up the pollsters and anyone who tries to rely on their results. I’ve been given to understand that this is a problem known for decades. Seeing the way that the proportion of people even willing to answer has dropped, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the problem wasn’t worse today than 30 or 40 years ago.

    When the polling response rate is down to 9%, it only takes a few percent of people willing to give “Cthulhu for President! Why vote for the lesser evil?” answers[1] in order to screw the poll results over.

    [1]If I understand UK English correctly, the technical term is “taking the piss.”

  • Watchman

    Shit, you mean the Cthulu for president campaign is not real? That’s several hundred wasted volunteer hours then…

  • Paul Marks

    Well this system was tried in this country.

    Under “Lord Protector” Oliver Cromwell – and his appointed Major Generals (I think there were ten of them – very decimal).

    On the one hand Christmas was banned (is that a mince pie in your hand? ARREST HIM!) and adultery was punishable by death.

    But, on the other hand, if there had been railways (there were not) they would have “run on time” – or, at least, there would have been the entertainment of watching the station master hanged.

    S.M.s comments are interesting – and I do agree with some of them.

    A private company is not the same thing as a company – no one had to work for Steve Jobs (they could quit), a President should not be allowed to just order ordinary people about contrary-to-the-law.

    On the other hand – S.M. has a real point about people who voluntarily choose to work for the government.

    The whole late 19th century concept of a “Civil Service” is an outrage (S.M. is quite right about that), if the elected President can not hire-and-fire their own staff how is it right to make them “take responsibility” for what the government does.

    An elected politician can not (reasonably) “take responsibility” for staff they did not hire and have no right to fire.

    “Ah but no modern minister could possibly hire and fire the staff – there are too many now” well then THE GOVERNMENT IS TOO BIG AND SHOULD BE SMALLER!

    A more serious criticism is that a President (already head of state AND head of government – and that is dangerous) could become a dictator.

    In Britain we counter this by the armed forces being loyal to the Queen NOT the Prime Minister.

    In the United States the “New Jersey Plan” would have had the President appointed by the Senate (not elected) and subject to dismissal – and the Senate representing each State equally (and with Senators appointed, not elected, as they were till 1913) and no House.

    I suspect that would have been a better system. Although, actually, normally an American President has actually less power than a British Prime Minister.

  • Bilwick

    Perhaps they’re influenced by that great American political philosopher Chris Rock, who said that the president of the US is like the father in a family, and you should do what Daddy tells you to do!

  • Paul Marks

    Bilwick – this “Chris Rock” person, if he was serious, needs a punch in the face.

  • Laird

    Paul, Chris Rock is a comedian. He is never serious.

  • Moldbuggist

    Andrew Jackson shut down the Bank of the United States over the objections of Congress and the Courts.
    Pinochet saved the country from starvation and implemented economic reforms that have secured a good standard of life to this day, neither of which he could have done without clearing the government apparatus of Communists.

    So that’s two unambiguous examples of a strong leader governing ‘without interference from parliament or the courts’ doing good things. You think that the bad examples outweigh the good? Fine, you’re probably right, but here’s the catch: there’s not a single example of a leader governing in the preferred mode of Guy Herbert and Communist Aaronovitch who has made anything better and there never will be. Thatcher failed, Reagan failed. Our system has one rule: the Left wins. So if you are David Aaronovitch and you think it’s great the the state grows every day then I guess democracy works a charm, but if you are a “Libertarian” who is there to do more than just act a a court jester for social democracy then maybe it’s time to roll the dice?

  • Thatcher failed

    Wrong. So wrong I can only assume you are too young to have lived through the years that came before, when we were truly circling the drain before the 1980s hit the Left like a cavalry charge. I was one of Thatcher’s shock troops in that I was deeply involved in the nitty gritty of making privatisations actually happen. And happen they did.

    If Thatcher had failed, the UK right now would be Venezuela with less bananas, worse weather and zoos that had been cleared of meat decades ago.

  • Thailover

    Alas, it’s almost disheartening how inured mankind (that includes women, PC-ers) is in the tribalist mentality, and “rugged individualism” seems to remain, for most people, a completely alien concept.

    They either want to defer to “a strong leader” (chief) who defies or works around parliament/congress/courts (tribal council), or they want to defer to the tribal council itself; i.e. the chief as leader, or be led by the tribe itself or a group of leaders. Self sovereignty seems to be understood by very, very few, and “negative rights” i.e. Liberty, seems frighteningly misunderstood, even in America where these ideas were championed in the 18th century and led to the founding of our current nation. Even individualism seems ubiquitously misunderstood by the masses to be misanthropy and disdain towards the idea of voluntarily cooperating with others. The idea that the already civilized use laws as common guidelines for civilized behavior, and that criminals cannot be made civilized by laws because they are people who, by definition, ignore laws and the consequences thereof, is understood by shockingly, and I means shockingly, few. Even the idea that wealth is created and therefore not part of a zero-sum scenario seems bewilderingly obscure to most people.

    We as a species might be hopelessly driven towards collectivist thought and desire for authoritarianism (people wanting a master) and authorities (people wanting to be a master). Tribal leaders and tribal followers…I suppose this is the consequence of millions of years of being a tribal-group species.

    I am certainly not recommending anarchy, but rather a small, limited government of the people and for the people that does not have economic or political power to sell to corporate entities, but does have the power to secure our individual rights…and that’s all.

  • Thailover

    “If Thatcher had failed, the UK right now would be Venezuela with less bananas,…”

    Great quote.

  • Thailover

    “Bilwick – this “Chris Rock” person, if he was serious, needs a punch in the face.”

    First I thought that you were talking about Kid Rock (who is considering a run in government, as ridiculous as that sounds), and my second thought is that he already receives the frequent punch in the face at various Waffle Houses.

  • Thailover

    Slow-mo wrote,

    “What’s a “strong leader” as compared to simply a “leader”? Real leaders are very rare.”

    Leaders provide vision and inspiration for the actions of others.
    Rulers direct, even mandate, the behaviors of others in a rather uncompromising way.

    Obama seemed to be woefully ignorant of the distinction.

  • Thailover

    Pete is correct. Polls are manipulative garbage, i.e. tools of propaganda.

    Not only can one get the response one is looking for by phrasing the question in a particular way…not only can people “over-sample” i.e. bias results by asking groups that are not representative of the public at large, but people also interpret the data in irrational ways.

    If 75% of people polled are unequivocally against hanging people who blaspheme “the prophet”, then Stoner Bob’s response of “duh…huh?” is considered part of the alleged 25% that are presented as not opposing hanging people for said blasphemy.

    “Polls” said the confidence rate of Slithery being elected as POTUS was about 96%, and innumerate idiots actually believed it, even though Trump was routinely drawing stadium-filling crowds and Slithery couldn’t draw flies.

  • Laird

    Thailover, every president since Reagan (and many before him as well) seems to have been woefully ignorant of the distinction.

  • mikee

    My saintly mother has said for decades that a dictator, one who agreed with her views exactly, would be her preferred form of government.
    Having been raised by her, all I can say is there are few dictators capable of her totalitarianism.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    A private company is not the same thing as a company – no one had to work for Steve Jobs (they could quit), a President should not be allowed to just order ordinary people about contrary-to-the-law.

    I’d concur that in an ideal world nobody should be able to order people about contrary-to-the-law.

    There also should be peace in the world but there never is and never will be.

    Unfortunately, as with so many things, the question is NOT “how do we prevent an inevitable fact about the universe?”. Rather, the question is “how do we mitigate the consequences of an inevitable fact of the universe?”

    Nobody should be able to order people about contrary-to-the-law, but rulers of nations have always been able to do this, they always will be able to do this, and there always have been and always be such rulers. Insofar as thought is productive towards the ends of achieving a more free society, we should ponder how society could change to mitigate the unfavorable consequences of people in power ordering other people about contrary-to-the-law.

    I think that insofar as those in power doing the ordering about of others are secure in their position, insofar as their de facto powers are derived not by their own actions but by the beliefs of others, insofar as the instruments through which they order about others are stable, the consequences are, well, a bit less unfavorable for de facto liberty of people in society.

    S.M.s comments are interesting – and I do agree with some of them.

    […]

    On the other hand – S.M. has a real point about people who voluntarily choose to work for the government.

    The whole late 19th century concept of a “Civil Service” is an outrage (S.M. is quite right about that), if the elected President can not hire-and-fire their own staff how is it right to make them “take responsibility” for what the government does.

    An elected politician can not (reasonably) “take responsibility” for staff they did not hire and have no right to fire.

    Indeed.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Andrew Jackson shut down the Bank of the United States over the objections of Congress and the Courts.
    Pinochet saved the country from starvation and implemented economic reforms that have secured a good standard of life to this day, neither of which he could have done without clearing the government apparatus of Communists.

    So that’s two unambiguous examples of a strong leader governing ‘without interference from parliament or the courts’ doing good things. You think that the bad examples outweigh the good? Fine, you’re probably right, but here’s the catch: there’s not a single example of a leader governing in the preferred mode of Guy Herbert and Communist Aaronovitch who has made anything better and there never will be. Thatcher failed, Reagan failed. Our system has one rule: the Left wins. So if you are David Aaronovitch and you think it’s great the the state grows every day then I guess democracy works a charm, but if you are a “Libertarian” who is there to do more than just act a a court jester for social democracy then maybe it’s time to roll the dice?

    thread winner

  • but rulers of nations have always been able to do this, they always will be able to do this, and there always have been and always be such rulers

    Which is why you need to occasionally cut some king’s head off with an axe or bayonet a ‘strong leader’ death and stick the video up on YouTube like Muammar Gaddafi as a warning about the limits of power.

    but if you are a “Libertarian” who is there to do more than just act a a court jester for social democracy then maybe it’s time to roll the dice?

    I’ll see your Andrew Jackson and Augusto Pinochet and raise you a Joseph Stalin and Léopold II. The best strong leaders are the ones who end up hanging upside down with their mistresses in Piazzale Loreto.

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