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

Samizdata quote of the day

Canute’s point wasn’t that he could control the tides and waves. Rather, that fawning courtiers needed to learn the lesson of the limit to State competence. A thousand years later we’re still waiting for the lesson to sink in.

Tim Worstall

7 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • CaptDMO

    Sea levels to rise 5 feet in 10 years!!!!!!
    Yet no one is building levees or sea walls. No one is moving buildings.
    I guess it’s better to gamble on the “expert” prediction of total devastation, and wait for someone to rebuild it for you.

  • Dalven

    Because no one believes sea levels are rising 5 feet in 10 years. The evidence from people’s actual actions is that no one believes sea levels are rising 6 inches in 10 years.

  • Why would I bother seeking wisdom from someone who can’t do something as simple as controlling the tides and waves?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Canute’s point wasn’t that he could control the tides and waves. Rather, that fawning courtiers needed to learn the lesson of the limit to State competence.”

    I don’t think Canute believed for one moment that the courtiers actually believed he could control the tide! The point he was making was that he didn’t want or need the flattery and lies that some other leaders did. If you told him a ridiculous lie to his face, he wasn’t going to nod and smile because it happened to be flattering to himself, he was going to call them on it. He wanted the truth. (Or at least, something a little less obviously untrue.)

    There are various lessons that could be drawn from this about free speech. For example: if you forbid the expression of views you don’t like, you’ll live blind to all peril floating in a bubble of lies. Another is that if you tolerate and reward liars just because they say they agree with you, you select for the most poisonous, backstabbing and dishonest, the most corrupt seekers after power. One is that such obvious lies carry the insulting implication that you are a ruler who sets their own self-regard ahead of the truth. That’s a pretty offensive statement to make about a king! Which in turn has less than flattering implications about the king’s intelligence/wisdom, that you thought you could get away with the insult.

    A wise leader should include people who disagree with him among his advisers: who will argue with him, and present contrary views, acting as devil’s advocate. Another observation to be made from Canute’s story is how few rulers have such wisdom. Most people want to drive out from their own company the people who disagree with them, not encourage their presence.

  • Mr Ed

    One of my idle daydreams is to put a waterproof statue of wise Cnut and his courtiers on the banks of the Thames at Westminster so that every tide washes over him and submerges his courtiers, as a monument to his wisdom and the folly of statism. Spring and Neap tides might be an issue.

  • In some ways, it was unlikely Canute should ever rule England. After Alfred and successors turned Wessex into England, only an Aethelred the Unready could lose powerful England to Sweyn and Canute.

    “When the enemy was in the east, the army was in the west. When the enemy was in the north, the army was in the south.”

    You get a real sense of popular frustration at the defeats because – unlike in Alfred’s day, when Wessex fought for its life – they knew there was no reason for these defeats. The sheer amount of money Sven got out of England, before he finally realised that Aethelred was so useless he could sanely attempt to conquer it, was astounding for the time. (Certain modern analogies may occur to readers. 🙂 )

    Sweyn Forkbeard was a viking pirate. His son, Canute, became interested in being a good ruler. His conversion was sincere. He cared – indeed, to a degree that sometimes surprised his subjects, he was ready to weep when he cared enough. His “don’t flatter me” trick with the tide appears very characteristic of the man.

    When you look at what happened next – return of the old line in the ineffectual person of Edward the Confessor, then William the bastard becoming William the right bastard a.k.a the Conqueror, then Henry resuming the old line and on and on – did it matter? I think it probably did matter that the England the Normans conquered was not in as bad shape as it might have been.