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An obvious point about Socrates and Plato that is often overlooked

Yes it is true that Socrates was killed by a democracy (Athens), thus showing that liberty (the freedom to say things that people other people hate and therefore call “hate speech”) and democracy are not the same thing. However, this is also true of any other form of government – and the only difference that the system of government that Plato (the most well known student of Socrates and arch-enemy of democracy) wanted to create would have made, is that that a “Socrates” speaking against the state would have been executed without a jury trial, and with no freedom to speak in his own defence.

51 comments to An obvious point about Socrates and Plato that is often overlooked

  • Jorb

    Jury trials and speaking in your own defense is also not guaranteed by democracy. A simpler and more recent example is the US constitution, esp the bill of rights. This is primarily a list of things that the govt (democracy) can NOT do to an individual.

  • Eric Tavenner

    Democracy is just the tyranny of the majority.

  • K

    Just shows he didn’t pay off the right media outlets.

  • Democracy has always been the “least worst” system of self-government. The fact that it has become a well paid managerial opportunity for the Community Organiser types at both the council and government level exacerbates the problem.

    When becoming an MP meant you had to have done something beforehand to provide support for (what was then) an unsalaried position the candidates were more level headed.

    If you look around at some of the councillors, MSP’s and even some of the MP’s they are little more than teen Trots (even when they are SNP teen Trots).

    Put simply, we’d have a bit more stability (and piss away less tax money) if politics at all levels wasn’t seen as “a profession”. Paying councillors was definitely a step too far, even when it supports the likes of good people like Paul Marks, it enables the bad ones far more.

    We have more government than we can afford. Hopefully, getting rid of the EU level of waste will allow us to focus back on our own waste (including the idiocy of devolution).

    I’ve never been a sentimentalist, but when the primary job of the council was picking up litter and emptying the bins there was a lot less discontent.

    Going back to Socrates and Plato, I’ve never liked the idea of the state being able to silence those who simply express opposition to the government, whether that silencing be through censorship or state murder.

    Periodically gutting the state so that it has the power of a wounded rabbit is always a good idea. Indeed the problem with the American Revolution is that it has only happened once.

    We need some of that constitutionally limited government here in the UK.

  • Julie near Chicago


    “Periodically gutting the state so that it has the power of a wounded rabbit is always a good idea.”

    Some old dead dude name of Jefferson:

    “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

    Great minds. But JG is less bloodthirsty. :>))

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    A lot of philosophers, like Plato, imagined that a better world can be made only by inverting the current one. Plato lived in a democracy, so thought that the Spartan system was better. Confucius lived in a world of multiple, warring, Chinese monarchies, so imagined that one empire would be better. Thomas Moore, creator of ‘Utopia’, lived in a feudal society, so imagined that a bureaucratic, communist, society must be preferable. I suppose that it’s only if you are a contrarian that you get noticed!

  • IIUC, Plato’s philosopher kings would have been as absolute as the Athenian assembly, which routinely broke in upon its own laws. (Late in the Peloponnesian war, the assembly ran amok one day and demanded to impeach the whole Board of Generals for not rescuing survivors of the victorious battle of Arginusae. By the randomness of Athenian democracy, Socrates was chairman of the prytany that day, and refused to put the illegal proposition to the vote.)

    It was experience – reflecting on what had actually been created from the long history that starts with ancient Saxon customs – that caused English and American philosophers to think of ‘separation of powers’. The ancient Greeks were always looking for absolute solutions, so were always doomed to fail.

  • Snorri Godhi

    It was experience – reflecting on what had actually been created from the long history that starts with ancient Saxon customs – that caused English and American philosophers to think of ‘separation of powers’.

    That might be true of English and American philosophers, but please note that Aristotle already presents a remarkably “modern” description of the separation of powers in his Politics. Further, the description is such that it seemed to me that Aristotle meant to explain the working of the current system, rather than propose a reform; although he also presented a cogent argument for not having legislators sit in judgement and decide what their laws actually mean.

  • John B

    ‘A simpler and more recent example is the US constitution, esp the bill of rights.‘

    But these were based on the more elderly Common Law and Magna Carta, the US Cobstitution just wrote down what already existed… and currently is largely ignored when it suits those in charge.

    Trial by jury is the only guarantor of freedom as it allows for jury-nullification, the refusal to convict even when technically the accused is guilty under what is perceived as an unjust law.

    There is no ‘separation of powers’ when the three branches of government rely on each other for their jobs and salary.

  • Paul Marks

    My point, which I had hoped was obvious, was that Plato thought he was making an argument against democracy by pointing to the death of Socrates – but under the system of government that Plato himself wished to create, there would have been no jury trial and no right to speak in one’s offence. A “Socrates” critical of the state would, under the system of Plato, have been done to death without anyone having heard of him – just a nameless victim.

    Hopefully people will now understand the point.

    As for political systems generally – the people must be able to peacefully get rid of a government they can not stand. If people do not wish to call that “democracy” I am fine with that. It is the PRINCIPLE not the WORD that is important.

  • Paul Marks

    Well that was very irritating – I just typed a long comment but got the lack of valid address thing (even though I typed the normal address into the box) and lost it. Please no one tell me I should have cast this or that magic spell before trying to post the comment. I will try again…..

    To be fair – there is always a danger of people not understanding a short post because, in order to be short, a lot detailed explanation is left out.

    Hopefully when my longer post, on film and television science fiction and “social liberalism”, appears things will go better – as I go to great lengths to explain each concept as it comes up.

  • Paul Marks

    The United States Constitution and democracy.

    I am well aware that the United States is supposed to be a Constitutional Republic (rather than a pure “democracy”) – but the central principle of being able to vote out of office the politicians is maintained, just as it was in Republican Rome.

    Indeed one of the problems with the American Republic is the undemocratic Supreme Court – which can not be voted out of office, and has proved to be a week reed in defending the basic limits on government power.

    Nor is this recent or on unclear matters – even in the 19th century even the most obvious matters were sometimes not dealt with correctly.

    For example, the United States Constitution is clear that Congress only has the power to “coin” money (not to PRINT like the old Continental Congress with its “Not Worth A Continental”) – Article One, Section Eight, and that only gold and/or silver coin may be “legal tender” in any State.

    Yet even the first “Greenback” judgement said that the government did have the right to print money (which it clearly does NOT) and only found against the government on other matters, the second “Greenback” case even reversed that – declaring, in effect, that the Constitution was a nullity and that the Federal government could (in monetary matters) do whatever it wanted to do, a taste of the 1930s (the death of the United States as a Constitutional Republic) – way back in the 19th century.

    One would have hoped that people of average intelligence would read at least the Article One of the Constitution of the United States before making a judgment – but the judges are not of average intelligence, they are “intellectuals” of very high intelligence and are (therefore) able to “interpret” black to mean white, and dry to mean wet.

    It is unlikely that a randomly selected jury would have the degree of learning and intelligence necessary for the level of intellectual corruption (declaring that black is white, and wet is dry) that is the stock-in-trade of professional judges. At least professional judges that need never fear being voted out of office – and so can strut about like the one of Plato’s “Guardians”.

    The argument against democracy (and it seems a very STRONG argument) is that politicians will promise the people benefits and services that can not, in the long term, be afforded. However, it should be noted that the people very rarely actually ask the government to invent these things (there are no mass protests with ordinary people chanting “we want a Prussian style state education system – and we want it now!”). What actually happens is the “educated” elite think up various benefits (such as Social Security) and services and then introduce these things – only after that are the people “educated” to support these things. The benefits and public services they did not actually ask for.

    The “Truth In Accounting” website is correct – many American cities and States and the Federal Government itself are heading to bankruptcy (in fact if not in name) – but the people never actually asked, in advance, for any of these benefits and services. It was the “educated” and highly intelligent (very high IQ) people who come up with these benefits and services – and impose them for “the good of the people”.

    If judges are not elected (and subject to competitive and regular re election) then who appoints them is of great importance. Just about the WORST way is to have the “experts” (such as the Bar Association) deciding . One is almost certain to get “Progressive” judges (Plato’s Guardians) that way. Not good people to be making decisions about soon to be bankrupt American cities.

  • Paul Marks

    On Civil Liberties a good example is the sorry treatment of the 4th and 5th Amendments of the Bill of Rights – obscenities such as “RICO laws” have been allowed through by the Supreme Court. As has the general “evolution” of the Federal “Justice” system, to the tyranny (the “Conviction Machine”) it is today.

    The Supreme Court even did nothing about terrible series of vicious crimes that is “Civil Asset Forfeiture” – only where THE PEOPLE THEMSELVES (as in the cases of Nebraska and New Mexico) have demanded action has it been taken to roll back the savage crimes that are “Civil Asset Forfeiture” – appealing to the nine people in funny robes did not achieve anything.

  • Nico

    Supreme Court precedent in the U.S., for the first approx. 100 years of the Republic, protected the right to argue at trial for jury nullification. Then the SCOTUS got it wrong late in the 19th century, and now the jury trial guarantees nothing. Indeed, you don’t even really have a right to a jury trial in the U.S. since Prohibition because the courts are so overloaded that they have to accept plea deals, which means prosecutors have tremendous leverage: all they have to do is overcharge and scare the defendant into taking a plea, and presto, no trial.

    Liberty is in a sorry state throughout the world today.

  • Paul, you may be aware that Salmon P. Chase, when sixth Chief Justice of the United States, ruled that Salmon P. Chase, when 25th United States Secretary of the Treasury, had violated the constitution by issuing greenbacks during the civil war. When a later court reversed that ruling, so acquitting Chase of acting unconstitutionally, Chase presented a strongly-worded dissent.

  • Paul Marks

    I am aware of that Niall – but even Salmon P. Chase accepted that the government had the right to print money (it does NOT have that right), his point was that contracts that stated that payment should be in gold and silver could not be voided by such a measure, it was this that the 2nd Greenback case violated (outrageously so). However, people said “it does not really matter – as we have stopped printing Greenbacks anyway”.

    That was to come back to destroy the limited government Republic in 1935 – when the Supreme Court ruled (five votes to four) that the government COULD void such private and public contracts and force people to accept payment in paper when the contracts said physical gold or silver. AND that the government could actually STEAL privately owned gold (by order of the Thief in Chief – Franklin Roosevelt).

  • Paul Marks

    Nico – I fully accept the superiority of traditional German law over English and American law in this area.

    “Plea deals” and all the rest of it are outrage – and traditional German law is quite right to reject the concept.

    Traditional Scots Law did the same – under two simple principles.


    A person should only be punished for what they have actually done – not some other offense (that they have made a deal to plead guilty to) that they did NOT do.


    The punishment should be in proportion to the crime – and that pleading guilty should NOT get a person a substantially reduced punishment.

    “Saving the court time and money” should NOT mean a third of your punishment. As for pleading guilty to some thing you did NOT do, in order to be let off something you did do, that is PURJURY – and should be punished. And all the lawyers and officials who knowingly engaged in such dishonest deeds should be punished as well – they should all be locked up (if they do this) including the judge.

    As for the claims that the courts will be saturated and will break down.

    Nico has a answer to that and I agree with him – the “victimless” crimes are NOT crimes at all, and should not be in the court system in the first place.

  • Derek Buxton

    I must agree with John Galt, we have far too much “government” made worse by the “civil service” who whilst of little knowledge appear to run everything. We need cuts sooner rather than later in all parts of the Governence of our Country!

  • Runcie Balspune

    The concept of liberty is far more important than democracy, because almost inevitably the latter follows the former, the reverse is not always true.

    Democracy is failed by one important element – the political party. Without this, many of the problems of democracy would disappear. Partisanship is the carpetbagging of democratic principals, and it is in itself an illiberal act, once an exclusive political party gains a majority, the candidates are no longer decided by plebiscite, it becomes just another self-nomination committee removed from the actual vote.

    A simple ban on the exclusiveness* of political party membership would resolve this, to be able to transform political parties into single-issue political movements where candidates can pick and choose which ones they support, rather than tying themselves to a singular party manifesto (and its supporting funding), and where there could be multiple candidates for the same issues. Sure the ballot paper would get longer, but adopting preferential or multi-voting would resolve that one.

    * by this I mean you cannot have a political organisation that prevents membership on the basis of being a member of another political organisation.

  • NickM

    I am very curious as to your lost SF post. Very.

  • Runcie Balspune

    The punishment should be in proportion to the crime – and that pleading guilty should NOT get a person a substantially reduced punishment.

    You can look at it like this: plead innocence – and when you are found guilty you get additional time.

    Imprisonment is more than just punishment, it is also reconciliation and repentance. Pleading guilty to reduce a sentence is just a more convenient form of accepting your guilt whilst imprisoned for an early release, a common form of rehabilitation.

    Of course, second time around you get the full term.

  • Paul Marks

    Without political parties people would have no idea where a candidate stood politically – all candidates say they stand for the good of all, the point is WHAT POLICIES DOES THAT MEAN. As Edmund Burke pointed out – that is what a party is for, if you know what the party stands for you have some idea what the candidate stands for. It is most certainly NOT perfect – but it is better than no idea at all.

    For example in the United States if Republicans, at least at State and local level, win elections government spending and taxes are likely to be lower than if Democrats win – asking the candidate will not tell you much (as they will all say they will keep your taxes down), but checking if there is an “R” or a “D” will give you at least a vague idea where they stand – that was the point of Edmund Burke and it is also true of Britain with Conservatives and Labour.

    For example two days ago Runcie Balspune I helped block 15 million Pounds of wild local government spending – do you think that the people who supported the idea of the spending would say in their election address “I am in favour of wild government spending” – of course not. So how are the voters supposed to know? They have an idea (a vague idea – but some indication) on the basis of whether the local council candidate is Conservative or Labour – if they just knew the name of the candidate and read the election address (as in your idea Sir) the voters would know NOTHING of importance.

    “You can look at it like this……” – with respect Rancie Balspune you can only look at it like that if you have been asleep. The criminal justice system in both the United States and England and Wales is increasingly rotten – and at the heart of that is, for example, this obscenity of “if you confess you will get substantially less punishment” – only someone who has been asleep for many years could think this anything to do with “reconciliation and repentance”.

    It is all about saving the time of the court system. And there should be a firm rule AGAINST it – after all if someone really was filled with repentance they would demand the FULL punishment (otherwise their repentance is a sham) – indeed they would hand themselves in without being arrested at all. That is why this whole “Prisoner’s Dilemma” thing is a nonsense. If someone has committed a real crime then they should confess – and DEMAND the punishment. And if the “crime” is not a real crime at all (if it is some Thomas Hobbes nonsense – some arbitrary whim of the ruler or rulers) then the LAST thing you should do is INFORM upon someone else (thus having them punished for what is not a true crime). On the contrary one should say, if the enemy are going to find one guilty anyway “this person had nothing to do with what you falsely call a crime – I did it entirely on my own!”

  • Paul Marks

    NickM – I send in many things, they mostly do not appear. Such is life.

    I will see if I can find it and sent it to you.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – justice delayed is justice denied.

    There should be a fixed amount of time that someone can be held before trial (no vague terms such as “reasonable” – a limit of a certain number of days) – Scots Law used to be superior to English and Welsh law in this respect.

    A legal system should be about clear rules derived from natural justice (natural law) simple enough for the average person to understand – and expressed in language that the average person can understand.

    The problem is that legal systems are clogged up with things that are, properly speaking, not crimes at all.

    As the late Harold Prichard (Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford) used to say – “if the average person on the bus passing this hall could not understand my lecture, having made a good faith effort to do so, the fault is MINE, not theirs”.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Without political parties people would have no idea where a candidate stood politically

    You can still have political parties, just not _exclusive_ ones. This rule means they would then become political movements rather than parties.

    They could cover a range of issues or just one.

    Certainly two parties are simple, but how do you explain the large amount of countries with more than two, Germany has had three main ones for ages, and now has one more, Israel has over a dozen!

  • Paul Marks

    Runcie Balspune.

    A political party is (or should be) a voluntary association of people who share a particular political outlook – they should neither be funded by the state, or regulated by the state.

    I agree with you that there should be as many political parties as people wish to set up. People should be free to vote for the candidate of any political party, or for an independent candidate.

    It is up to them.

  • Julie near Chicago

    The downside to that is that you can end up electing a candidate whom very few people want.

    If there are five candidates on the ballot, and the vote comes out that 21% vote for A, 19% for B, and 20% each for C, D, and E ….

    E.g., 21% for Alex O-C, 19% for Shrill, 20% each for Cruz, Sanders, and Rubio —

  • Paul Marks

    Sadly so Julie – sadly so.

  • Snorri Godhi

    If there are five candidates on the ballot, and the vote comes out that 21% vote for A, 19% for B, and 20% each for C, D, and E ….

    That’s never going to happen in a FPTP system; at least, not after the system has settled down into a stable 2-party system, as it inevitably will.

    It can happen in the 1st round of a French-style 2-round voting system, but that would be no problem: the 2nd round would take care of that.

    In a PR system, the 5 parties would get about the same number of representatives: a problem, but not an insoluble one.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “That’s never going to happen in a FPTP system; at least, not after the system has settled down into a stable 2-party system, as it inevitably will.”

    That’s even more likely to result in electing a candidate who very few people want. It means that people are consistently voting for parties that don’t represent their actual views, because they know that only the big two parties have any chance of being elected, and if they vote for a minor party that represents their actual views, rather than the least bad of the biggest two parties, then the wrong lizard might get in.

    “It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”
    “You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
    “No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
    “Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
    “I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
    “So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
    “It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
    “You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
    “Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
    “But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
    “Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri, you’re talking about an extension to the scenario — either what it might evolve (or devolve) into, or adding tweaks to it.

    Just to be clear.


    Nullius, I accuse you of dragging Douglas Adams into it again! *g*

  • Runcie Balspune

    People should be free to vote for the candidate of any political party

    Equally, people should be allowed to stand for a political party, and not be excluded by them.

    The stranglehold of political parties is by their exclusive tribalism, take that away and let representational democracy be what it should be, a representative of the people, chosen by the people, not some monkey lucky enough to be chosen by a star chamber for the right to wear the correct coloured rosette.

    The downside to that is that you can end up electing a candidate whom very few people want.

    Preferential voting or multi-voting solves this problem.

    In a PR system, the 5 parties would get about the same number of representatives: a problem, but not an insoluble one.

    PR is party biased, it is even more of a problem than FPTP, non-partisan independent candidates are hosed by it.

  • Nullius in Verba


    I plead guilty!

    “Preferential voting or multi-voting solves this problem.”

    All voting systems are subject to the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem and the Gibbard theorem. (Which as I’m sure you all know and has only briefly slipped your recall 😉 are simpler versions of the more famous Arrow’s Impossibility theorem.) The problem is unsolvable.

  • Julie near Chicago


    G-S Theorem, knew all about it, merely slipped my mind, yeah right. 😆

    Nevertheless, I’m inclined to agree with your conclusion:

    “The problem is unsolvable.”

  • bobby b

    “You can still have political parties, just not _exclusive_ ones.”

    But political parties aren’t public entities – they’re private organizations, which are free to limit their own membership.

    Remove their ability to exclude members of other parties, and I can guarantee that I’m going to be attending the 2020 Democrat primary here in Minnesota and voting for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. Similarly, many Democrats will be attending the Minnesota Republican primary and voting for their favorite guaranteed loser.

    I agree that it is unfortunate that our system strongly encourages everyone to line up behind one of only two teams, but the solution – if one is truly needed – does not lie in forcing private associations to admit everyone who wants in.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Adding to bobby’s point, it’s not as if parties here have never formed and replaced old parties, even in Federal elections. Most notably, the Republicans ousted the Whigs, and elected Lincoln.


    bobby, why not come on down here and help us Illinois libertarian conservatives (or conservative libertarians) vote for unelectable Dems in the primaries. After all, we have open primaries.

  • Snorri Godhi

    In reply to Nullius @10:45pm (and i suppose to Julie as well): i certainly did not mean to say that the winner in a FPTP system is always favored by a majority: i only meant that, in a FPTP system, votes will not be spread between 5 parties. That is, not with high entropy, except possibly for the first election under the new system.

    I had forgotten about the democracy ruled by lizards. When i read that, i probably did not realize how close it is to our own democracies.

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so bobby b – which is why the Progressive movement “reform” of political parties is so irritating (to put it mildly).

    For example in many States a Communist or a Nazi can “register as” a Democrat or a Republican and vote in a Primary – or even be the candidate (this actually happens in places which are hopeless – so no mainstream member of the party has bothered to register as a candidate). So the media have a field day saying “Republican Nazi pushing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (or whatever) when most Republicans have never even heard of the person.

    A political party really be a private club – no money from the government, and no regulation either. And the party should be able to say “sorry, but we do not want you as a member”. So no “registering as” – actually join a political party and pay the annual membership fee.

    “Voting in the other primary of the other party for the most HOPELESS candidate” – yes of court that happens, and is yet another horrible consequence of the “Progressive” reform of American political parties in many States.

  • Paul Marks

    “Electoral Reform”.

    It used to be the case that only people who paid the British local property tax (the “Rates”) had a vote for local government – that would be totally unacceptable today (as voting is no longer seen as having a say over how the money you have paid is spent – but as a basic right).

    However, it is quite FALSE that only property taxpayers having the vote in the United States was a “racist” measure – it was true in States where there were no black people (so racism was NOT the motivation). Indeed in the Founding Era WOMEN who paid the State Property Tax in such States as New Jersey had the vote. These days New Jersey has the highest Property Taxes in the United States – and Property Tax money is taken away from “rich” areas and given to “poor” areas for often blatantly political reasons – in one of the most corrupt States in America.

    The one “Electoral Reform” I have, at times, had sympathy for is the two rounds of voting they have in France and Louisiana – with many candidates in the first round and then the top two going head-to-head in the second round.

    But I have been faced with the question “does it produce better government?” And, NO, I can not say that it does.

  • bobby b

    Julie near Chicago
    February 9, 2019 at 1:59 am

    “bobby, why not come on down here and help us Illinois libertarian conservatives (or conservative libertarians) vote for unelectable Dems in the primaries. After all, we have open primaries.”

    Open primaries are insane, unless they’re imposed in a state in which one party consistently wins, in which case they help to cement in their position, and they’re evil instead of insane.

    But then Illinois is still governed on the Mayor Curley model of political science. 😛

  • Paul Marks

    Snorri – I may be a lizard (I have often been alleged to be cold blooded – at least about anything that relates to politics), but we lizards do sometimes get long standing disputes to settle.

    Local politics is not all about the horrible Paul Marks blocking 15 million Pound swimming pools because he is a greedy, fat, bald (half) Jew who can not swim anyway, there are other matters.

    For example the “thousand years of injustice” that put the village of Pipewell under the Iron Heel of the Parish of Wilbaston. The case that was presented to us (some years ago now) at the Research and Development Committee was that a thousand years of oppression had to be ended and the village of Pipewell returned to its rightful Parish of Ruston. Some cynics suggested that, in reality, some local people had fallen out (rather than there really being a thousand years of oppression), but that was not for me to say (one way or the other). The fact remained that most people in a village wanted the village to be moved from one Parish to another Parish (and Ruston is actually a bit closer to Pipewell than Wilbaston is), so the committee agreed with the suggestion.

    True this is not exactly conquering Gaul – but I am not Julius Caesar, I am not interested in conquering places. Settling local disputes is quite enough for me.

    I must buy myself an iron fob watch to be like my idol – the local councillor (the “Perpetual Chairman of the ….. Committee of …….) in the Peter Simple column. Of course you young people most likely do not know who “Peter Simple” (Michael Wharton) was.

  • Paul Marks

    booby b.

    My favourite Mayor Curley story is from the First World War – some British people came over to Boston to seek money and volunteers for the war effort. Knowing that Mayor Curley was rather anti British (to put it mildly) they were expecting a cold welcome from His Honour – and they were surprised when Mayor Curley welcomed them warmly and gave them some assistance in seeking volunteers.

    Eventually someone plucked up the courage to say to His Honour that they thought he was anti British and were glad to be proved wrong – “Oh I am anti British” replied His Honour, “which is why I want pro British people in Boston to go over to Europe and GET KILLED”.

    A total scumbag – but Mayor Curley did have a way with words.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul: it seems to me that your comment was not so much a reply to me as letting out steam; and that is fine for me.

    In return, let me tell you of a sensible-but-crazy constitutional reform that i have conceived: all members of the Lower Chamber (in any country) should spend at least 300 days/year in their constituency, teleconferencing and voting via internet, but spending much of their time talking face-to-face with their constituents. Perhaps they should also be encouraged to keep working part-time at their day job.
    Also, they should be kept under constant surveillance when visiting the capital city, to prevent them from talking to any power broker while there.

    BTW i believe that i am no younger than you, perhaps even a few years older. But i don’t eat carbs: i only drink them, in the form of beer.

  • Paul Marks

    It was not letting off steam Snorri – it was meant as a light hearted example of how local politics works.

    As for older than me. As Mr Ed how old I really am. Some say I was ancient even when Ambrosius Aurelianus was trying to fight off the mass “free migration” of immigrants (the Guardian and the BBC were not around to condemn him at the time).

    Beer is good – but I prefer mead (if I can get it).

    On your Constitutional Reform – New Hampshire and Texas have elements of this. The lower House of the New Hampshire State Legislature is so large, relative to the population, that ordinary people have a good chance of being elected to it – of course the downside to that is that people in the lower House of the New Hampshire State Legislature are not paid much (but that is not a bad thing). To read the New Hampshire Constitution of 1784 is to see what Classical Liberalism (Old Whig ism) was about when it was at its height – for example it clearly was NOT anti religious (it was not a century later under Prime Minister Gladstone either – a view of 19th century British liberalism that puts atheist radicals such as Jeremy Bentham, James Mill and J.S. Mill at the centre of things, is seriously warped in terms of historical understanding, such “Westminister Review” Radicals had more in common with modern academics who set Reading Lists than they had in common with most 19th century British liberalism – or American liberalism in the 18th or 19th centuries).

    New Mexico does not pay members of the State Legislature at all – and I have seen no evidence that it gets worse candidates because of this. The members of the House of Commons were not paid till 1911 – again there is no evidence that the standard of Members of Parliament improved when they started to be paid.

    Texas – in Texas members of the State Legislature only meet a few days a year (under the Constitution of 1876 – Classical Liberalism was not dead when that Constitution was written). Which is why Texas never had such things as the forced sterilisation of the “inferior” – as the State Legislature never had the time to pass such “Progressive Reforms”.

  • Paul Marks

    Even Aristotle holds that government should educate the people of the Polis to be “just and good” and control their lives – it seems to have a very (late) Greek thing to hold that the state should shape the population to lead “the good life”.

    Greek writers such as Lycrophon who held that the government should be confined to punishing attacks on the bodies or goods of others, were far less fashionable – and their works do not survive. I named myself “Lycrophon” when the internet started (1989 I think it was) in memory of the man Aristotle sneered at in the “Politics”.

    As a libertarian I should detest Ancient Rome – the slavery, the vicious conquests, the late Republic (and Empire) welfare for the city mob.

    However, I like the sound of the language and Romans (in their great days) did not hold that the state could make men just and good. The FAMILY (not the political gathering) was the centre of Roman life.

    And there is something deeply practical about the Romans – listen to Classical Latin (short and to the point – a good language for the law courts and the battlefield) or hold a gladius in your hand (point of balance towards the hilt – for control).

    From the way that stones in Roman forts are shaped (to make them easier to throw from the walls) to the groves cut in the lead bullets fired from the slings of Roman soldiers (to make the noise that terrified the barbarians), I like the Roman Army – evil bunch of plundering murderers though it was.

    And then there is the sponge on a stick – washed every time it is used, and stored in vinegar.

    “Not important” – if anyone thinks that let them wipe their backside with their hand after defecating and carry on campaigning (as was done in post Roman armies right up to the First World War and beyond).

    Am army destroyed by disease is not an army – the Romans knew that.

    And a Roman soldier got better medical treatment than soldiers got as late as the American Civil War – only in modern times are the carvings of Roman military surgeons at work fully understood.

  • Paul, the Romans were not so practical at economics. In the later empire at least (this may explain why it became the late empire) the almost invariable reaction to any kind of shortage was to impose price controls. On one occasion in Antioch, increasing severity as a bread shortage grew worse under this regime (wow, fancy that!) eventually led to the bakers being so brutally punished for violations of the maximum price law that the survivors fled the city en masse.

    In A.H.M.Jones “The Later Roman Empire”, the author quite naturally writes of Roman economics, “When force failed, other methods were sometimes tried”.

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so Niall – and the work of the late Professor Jones is upstairs in this house.

    But that was after centuries of military dictatorship. As you say – the practices of the “Late Empire” (especially after Diocletian) explain why it became the Late Empire.

    Traditionally (in the old Republic) law was NOT Thomas Hobbes style “commands of the ruler” – but the judgements of the Praetor (judge) in civil disputes, and of the jury in criminal cases.

    And before the rise of Populari politicians neither the civil not the criminal law was about the price of bread. That was a matter for buyers and sellers – although it was bread that the Gracchi brothers (especially the younger one) exploited to gain votes – the obscene bread subsidy system for the Roman mob (which caused late Republican Rome to become dependent on tribute from the Provinces) being the invention of the younger Gracchi brother.

    Even after centuries of interventionism (of Thomas Hobbes style commands-as-law) such things as price controls feel unnatural in Roman Law – it is based on PRINCIPLES not arbitrary “the price of X should be Y – because I say so and will chop of your head if you disagree”.

    The whole “just price” and “fair wage” thing is based on nothing but arbitrary commands (orders) – it made no sense under Charlemagne and the other Medieval and other rulers either.

    It is like trying to make sense of a certain 1891 Encyclical by Pope Leo XIII – which starts (in the very first paragraph) with falsehoods (the idea that poverty and immorality have grown – in 1890-1891 when had there been LESS poverty? when had there been LESS “moral degeneracy”? before in history) and then demands interventionism (although not socialism – which it opposes) in a vague, unclear way – that could not be used as the basis of principled policy.

    Which means that the whole “Christian Democrat” project in Europe and Latin American is NOT based on clear principles.

  • Snorri Godhi

    This thread got back to life! And so much to comment on, that i’ll have to be selective.

    First, i neglected to congratulate Paul for saving taxpayers’ money. I do so now.

    Second: however unprincipled, the Christian Democrats did a decent job in Germany and Italy after ww2, returning the countries to something like normalcy. They went downhill pretty steeply in Italy, and now in Germany; but let’s give credit where it is due.

    About the Romans, i’d like to mention that Alfred Sudre, in his Histoire du Communisme* claimed that the concept of private property was central to Roman law, so much so that even marriage was seen as a transfer of property from father to husband. Clearly, that was going too far, but it is important to realize that the character of the Roman polity changed a lot from early republic to late empire.

    * i give the French title because afaik no English translation is available.

    Quentin Skinner’s essay on a third concept of liberty is also very much worth reading in this context. (In fact, it might be the single political essay that most influenced me.) He claims that the Roman historians were a central influence in instilling a spirit of liberty in the Roundheads.

    Probably Paul Marks knows Quentin Skinner much better than i do, maybe even personally. I wish to put on record that i reject the inferences that Skinner draws from his third concept of liberty: i draw my own inferences.

  • Paul Marks


    I agree on Roman Law – one can argue with some of its principles (and I would argue with some of its principles – for example on rivers), but it clearly supported the principle of private property and the family.

    I never met Quentin Skinner – but I certainly value the Blue Books of Cambridge that were produced under his influence. Rather than trying to work out the political opinions of various great philosophers by their philosophical works, Professor Skinner and his associates tracked down the times (letters, articles and so on) where the various great philosophers actually revealed their political opinions. Why just speculate when you can read?

    A very simple idea – but only a “simple idea” when someone else (in this case Professor Skinner) has thought of it.

    Also one does not need to be a German style “Historicist” to understand that historical circumstances are likely to have an effect on what sort of problems a political philosopher is likely to tackle.

    For example, Thomas Hobbes lived at a time of domestic war (the 30 Years War in the German lands wiped out a third of the population – and, of course, there were the Civil Wars in the British Isles) – his major concern was essentially “how do we prevent domestic war?” – I think he came up with the WRONG answer (his answer being concentrate all power in a single place – a single person or a single institution, with no traditional limits or checks and balances), Despotism – as with the Ottoman Empire in the time of Mr Hobbes himself (that people are likely to fight over who is to be the Despot escaped Mr Hobbes – the Roman Empire had his system of government and it was certainly not free from Civil Wars, and hereditary monarchy does NOT solve this – see dynastic Civil Wars).

    On the other hand Montesquieu was living at a time of relative peace – but with a very interventionist and rather arbitrary state. So, naturally enough, his main concern was how to limit the power of the French Monarchy and bring it under the Rule of Law.

    On Christian Democracy – I AGREE with you Snorri that it is vastly superior to socialism, and the 1891 Encyclical REJECTS socialism and is CORRECT to do so.

    My point is more of a long term one – if one keeps saying (in effect) “well we will have a few regulations and some government spending – rather than socialism” that leads to problems over time as-one-keeps-doing-it.

    Fairly low government spending and regulations in Christian Democrat Germany and Italy in the 1950s, becomes the crushing government spending and regulations of today.

    Also remember the influence of NON CDU people in Germany and NON Christian Democrats in the government of Italy – both in the 1950s.

    In Italy in the 1950s the Classical Liberal Party still existed and was in government – it was not kicked out till the early 1960s. It had a major effect on policy – meaning that Italy in the 1950s was a rather smaller government country than Fascist Italy in the 1930s, the 1950s and early 1960s being the “beautiful time” in Italy.

    In Germany it is quite correct that Ludwig Erhard had a massive influence on DEREGULATION from 1948 onwards. But there was also the influence of the Finance Minister – who came from the Bavarian CSU (which had a rather different interpretation of Christian Democracy from the CSU). His name escapes me – but he was largely responsible for the restraint on government spending in Germany in the 1950s.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul: thank you for your reply.
    I’ll add a couple of remarks just to show that i read your comment.

    * Hobbes: before recommending absolutism (no checks+balances), he should have considered that the main reason why Machiavelli, Polybius, and arguably Plato recommended checks+balances, was to make the State more stable. At the very least, Hobbes should have explained why he disagreed with them!

    The experience of Imperial China should also have been a warning; though i am not sure that Hobbes would have known about that.

    * Italy: there were actually 2 vaguely-classical liberal parties in the so-called First Republic (end of ww2 to end of cold war): the Liberal Party and the Republican Party.

    I have on my bookshelves an interesting book, After the Welfare State, edited by Tom Palmer. It includes a chapter on Italy by P. Falasca. Signor Falasca claims that the beginning of the end of the Italian economic miracle was in the 1960s, when the Socialist Party joined the Christian Democrats and other “centrist” parties in government.

  • Paul Marks

    Snorri I fully agree with the points you make in your last comment.