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Terrible arguments excusing what is going on in Hong Kong

On social media I have come across this sort of “argument” used to justify Beijing’s attempt to put its boot fully on the face of people in Hong Kong:

Britain has no right to interfere in any way, even to protest. That’s because the evil British conquered Hong Kong in the 19th Century, got the locals hooked on opium, and ran it as a colony. Colonies are evil, even if they have the benefits of the English Common Law, reasonably non-corrupt officialdom, and all the rest of it. So it is better that Hong Kong be taken over and turned into the rest of China, with all its charming qualities.

If I wanted to engage in “whataboutery”, I could respond (and did, to wind up a couple of particularly nasty interloctors) with the following points:

China has conquered places of its own. Its treatment of Muslims, Christians and others in different parts of China, including the use of internment camps, etc, has been a disgrace. If today’s Chinese want to play the imperial victim card about Scotsmen taking over Hong Kong and turning it into a capitalist dynamo, they might want to look in the mirror a bit first.

China is a repressive state – and while by far from being unique in that regard, its practices (organ harvesting, internment, intense state surveillance, etc, etc) makes it an egregiously bad place by any sort of pro-liberty metric. Whatever the real or alleged sins of the British Empire, what is happening now is clearly a threat to liberty, and we should judge it on its merits.

There is also a curious sort of moral inversion one sees here. A place (Hong Kong) is a former colony and another place (China) takes it back from said former imperial power. Hong Kong is gradually squeezed; there are protests, and the fears of protestors are widely discussed. And the best that those who try to defend China is to say “oh, but Opium Wars!”

Of course, there is a distinct possibility that some of the people making the Opium War point are in fact bots produced by the Chinese state, or trolls working for Beijing. That point cannot be ruled out.

64 comments to Terrible arguments excusing what is going on in Hong Kong

  • Snorri Godhi

    The most obvious reply is that HongKongers got richer than the British, and much richer than the Chinese, long before Hong Kong was turned over to China.

    And of course, much of the credit goes to a Scot: JJ Cowperthwaite. But at least as much of the credit goes to the Chinese work ethic and entrepreneurship. And the fact that HongKongers did not waste time grouching on social media.

  • bob sykes

    Britain signed a face-saving treaty in order to avoid the embarrassment of being kicked out. Hong Kong is an integral part of China (like Taiwan), and the Chinese will use whatever force is needed to put down the demonstrations. Britain knew that up front in 1997. If you’re not willing to fight a nuclear war with China, sit down and shut up.

    A few years down the road, the US will have the same choice. When Nixon and Kissinger went to China, they recognized Taiwan as part of the mainland.

  • Shan Shih

    I agree with Bob Sykes. Every major nation has agreed to the proposition that HK is part of China. Since China is a great power, this means that no level of international pressure short of war can force China to treat HK differently from any other city/region that is also recognized as part of China (see especially Kashgar). The demonstrators in HK are delusional if they think any other nation will go to war to protect them from the Chinese government. Chinese governments going back 2,000 years have been quite willing to use massive levels of violence to eliminate groups which threaten the “peace of the state”. The demonstrators in HK either do not know Chinese history or they think the world is different now. As to whether the Chinese government would be morally justified in taking such action, or whether it would be good for China if they used violence to get rid of the current demonstrators… my opinion is not relevant. My point is: the government of China can and likely will use overwhelming force against HK, and no one will step in to save the HK demonstrators,

  • Flubber

    “If you’re not willing to fight a nuclear war with China, sit down and shut up.”

    Well, that isn’t a frightening forecast for the 21st century is it?

    Go totalitarian state!

  • Henry Cybulski

    Bob Sykes: Hong Kong belongs to the people that live there, not to China or its government. Ditto Taiwan, Gibraltar, the Falklands and others.

  • George

    The root of the tension between the mainland and Hong Kong is that the latter is turning “baizuo”. HK is a few decades behind the western world in succumbing to the baizuo catastrophe that is destroying the west. An example headline to illustrate this is “Same-sex couples win right to joint tax assessment in rule change” – not from the Guardian but from the South China Morning Post.

    Thanks to the horrors of war and communism, the mainline is several decades further back still in the baizuo process. It is therefore still sane, i.e. nationalist. Among other things, it means that China doesn’t tolerate Islamic terrorism, now a routine feature of western Europe. As here, the baizuo hate their non-baizuo compatriots with a passion and this is why the Hong Kongers are protesting.

    China will go the same way as the West in the longer term, three or four decades hence, by which time the last vestiges of western civilisation will have gone.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    It is surprising that people can get so exercised about what might happen in Hong Kong, versus what is actually happening in, say, Venezuela.

    It is also surprising that some English people seem to be unable to look at the totality of their ancestors’ history. Arguably colonialism was inevitable once European societies developed ocean-going ships and became industrialized. Arguably English colonialism did some good in some places in the world. Indisputably, Queen Victoria was the largest drug dealer the world has ever seen, with long-lasting negative effects on China and elsewhere. Indisputably, the English were for centuries the world’s largest dealers in the African slave trade, with ramifications that continue to the present day.

    What happened, happened. We cannot change any of it, and we are not responsible for things done by long-dead people. All we can do is be honest with ourselves about the past, and not sugar-coat it. Going forward (which we can change and we are responsible for), we also have to be honest with ourselves: What exactly can today’s UK do if China decides to incorporate Hong Kong into the Mainland China system? Send China a strongly worded letter in French? Refuse to buy mobile phones, computers, electronics, and much else from China? Send the UK’s entire military to re-invade Hong Kong? How much pain is the average Brit prepared to endure to do something for the people of Hong Kong?

    The days of the Empire on which the Sun Never Set are long gone. Bad things happen in the real world, and often there is not a lot we can do about it.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Indisputably, the English were for centuries the world’s largest dealers in the African slave trade, with ramifications that continue to the present day.

    Actually, that is very much disputable. I saw an estimate in one of Angus Maddison’s books, that half of the slaves carried across the Atlantic, were carried by the Portuguese. Most of the rest were carried in about equal numbers by the British and the French. There might have been a period when the British dominated the trade, but i doubt it.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Kerist, guys, are you all on the Beijing payroll? 😕

    It is surprising that people can get so exercised about what might happen in Hong Kong, versus what is actually happening in, say, Venezuela. Writes Gavin.

    It may surprise you, but it is logical: better to protest to prevent bad shit happening than hold candle-lit vigils after the shit has taken place.

    Also don’t fall into the “whataboutery” error: there has been plenty of protest in Venezuela (getting coverage as shown here)

    It is also surprising that some English people seem to be unable to look at the totality of their ancestors’ history.

    Some can, some cannot. There is also the error of self-abasement and of constantly going on about how terrible the West was in commercially exploiting a trading post such as HK and so on, and making it a colony. Bad things were done there. The point is though that HK for several decades was, by the standards of the local region, run in a liberal sort of way (Sir John Cowperthwaite has been mentioned already) and it became a fabulously prosperous place, a beacon of free enterprise capitalism sitting right next to Mao’s communist hell. And that, I suspect, is why Beijing has a chip on its shoulder and wants to squeeze the individualistic life out of HK.

    There’s not a whole lot the UK can do. It should have granted UK passports to HK residents back at the time of the handover agreement. It would at least have given some sort of leverage. Today, the Western firms located in HK could withdraw capital and people and that would hurt China more than the latter might want to admit. China’s financial system is not as robust as it looks and it needs external capital. Wrecking Hong Kong is therefore not a good idea.

    George: I understand that the term “baizuo” refers to western liberal “elites” and is a term of abuse. Coming from a country that harvests organs of prisoners and executed people, persecutes gays and has imposed a brutal one-child policy (not exactly family values, eh?) that has taken the surveillance state to unprecedented levels, and that interns Muslims and persecutes Christians, a term of abuse from that regime is not a term of abuse at all.

  • If you’re not willing to fight a nuclear war with China, sit down and shut up.

    Vintage Bob nonsense. You do not need to be willing to go to war to score political points over other nations. It is good to raise the political cost to China for its actions and deny them the legitimacy they seek (indeed crave). Put it this way: unless China is willing to fight a nuclear war with the UK, they can shut the fuck up & just get used to the idea the rest of the world is allowed to make critical remarks about the Chinese government.

  • Shan Shih: My point is: the government of China can and likely will use overwhelming force against HK, and no one will step in to save the HK demonstrators

    Without a doubt. But they will pay a political cost & their long pursued policy of normalising the ideas of “China as a global influencer” will suffer as a result. And it behoves those who see the nationalism of the Chinese Communist Party as a Bad Thing to maximise that political cost and do as much damage to China’s political standing as possible.

  • Penseivat

    Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese government as it was obvious it could not survive in its current form once the 99 year lease on the New Territories, where the farms, reservoirs, and dairies were, ended.
    However, the Chinese government agreed to treat Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Area for 50 years, taking it up to 2047. The fact that the Chinese government has reneged on this agreement shows that the Chinese government cannot be trusted to abide by the treaties it signed. I have no idea what the Chinese version of ‘Taqiyya’ is, but it is obvious it is in full flow.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Perry de H: “… maximise that political cost and do as much damage to China’s political standing as possible.”

    What Chinese political standing? All the right people already think that China’s government sucks — and it has about as limited an effect as all the right people thinking that President Trump is a wild & crazy racist. China is going to get invited to all the best international meetings, come what may. As far as anyone can tell, the main difference between US Lefties and Chinese Communists is that US Lefties care what the rest of the world thinks about them, whereas the Chinese Communists don’t.

    There are things the UK could do besides splutter and pout. The UK could prohibit the importation of iPhones and other mobile phones with Chinese components — but then the UK would have to deal with the mother of all Millenial protests. UK universities could send all their Chinese graduate students back home — but then research in the UK would come to a grinding halt and universities would be seriously short of funding.

    It has taken the Chinese government more than 3 decades of serious concerted effort to get to the point where they can thumb their nose at the UK and the West. If we want payback, it would probably take us about the same length of time working hard to get to the point where China would take the UK seriously. Is the will there in the UK to do that?

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Snorri G. “There might have been a period when the British dominated the [slave] trade, but i doubt it.”

    I feel for you, Snorri. It can be tough to look at what our ancestors did. In the meantime, here is a fun fact — Everyone has heard of the South Sea Bubble, and the economic chaos caused by the collapse of the South Sea Company’s over-inflated value in the early 1700s. But do you know what the business model of the South Sea Company was? What was the tremendous profit opportunity which caused English investors to fall over themselves bidding up the value of the company?

    Spain had awarded England’s South Sea Company the contract to supply African slaves to Spain’s colonies in South America and the Caribbean. Because in those days, if someone wanted African slaves, he went to the English.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I feel for you, Snorri. It can be tough to look at what our ancestors did.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/18/africans-apologise-slave-trade

    Well, there were the Egyptians (who built the pyramids?), and the Romans of course, and the Vikings, and the Irish (Dublin was a major slave-trading centre from the 9th to the 12th centuries), and the Aztecs, and who can possibly forget the sack of Baltimore by the Barbary slave traders? Moses owned slaves. Muhammad owned slaves. The Islamic caliphs owned slaves. The Catholic Church owned slaves. Scottish coal miners were bound by the “Anent Coalyers and Salters” Act. The Africans enslaved one another constantly, with complex social hierarchies and traditions around the practice.

    “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
    Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.
    Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people,
    because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.
    And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”

    Ephesians 6:5-9

    Slavery was near universal in antiquity, and thus, we’re all the descendents of slaves and owed an apology, just as we’re all the descendents of slavers and thus (if you think guilt can be hereditary) owe one. Let’s not be racist here, and pick out only those cases (like transport across the Atlantic) where the slaver happened to be white. All of humanity was responsible.

    The most significant moral distinction in the history of slavery was not about who once did it – because *everyone* did. It was who was responsible for abolishing it – an event for which we should all give thanks.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    NIV: “who was responsible for abolishing it [slavery]”

    Technology, and fossil fuels — lots & lots of CO2-generating fossil fuels. Human faces attached to that were people like James Hargreaves and James Watt, and the many other inventors and entrepreneurs who advanced technology to the point where slave labor simply became economically uncompetitive. You are exactly right that slavery is the normal state of mankind. And if the usual suspects ever succeed in imposing their Green New Deal, it is a near-certainty that slavery will return in some form or another.

    But to return to Johnathan’s topic, the critique of England’s role in the Opium Wars is real. Of course, that does not excuse the behavior of the Chinese government with respect to Hong Kong today. However, it is useful is to remember that when England was top dog, it was known to the rest of the world as “Perfidious Albion”. Throughout history, the top dog has tended to waive the rules. No-one should be surprised that top dog China is paying little attention to a piece of paper saying ’50 years’ now that the relationship between England & China is the reverse of what it was in the 19th Century. We live in the real world, and while there is very little the UK could do constructively to apply pressure to China over Hong Kong, reality is that the UK will not even take those limited steps.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Better to take limited steps than nothing at all. There has to be some price for being vile. In my experience that matters more than some might assume.

  • China is reneging on the agreement and this indicates something about China’s political direction – and about whether we should stop using Huawei, stop letting China censor Hollywood’s films, etc. There is a great deal we could do, much of it prudentially to our advantage, short of nuclear war. (BTW, China has more to lose than we from nuclear war – it’s huge population is it’s high card dealt by history, as our vibrant and world-wide culture is ours. However we both have much to lose.)

    Indisputably, the English were for centuries the world’s largest dealers in the African slave trade, with ramifications that continue to the present day. (Gavin Longmuir, August 3, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Utter rubbish. There was a period in the 1700s when UK-flagged vessels were indeed the largest single carrier of slaves across the Atlantic but ‘centuries’ merely betrays ignorance of the history. The Portuguese started far earlier and continued longer, only eventually being halted by the Royal Navy’s undeclared war against them in the early 1850s. After they had finished ending the north Atlantic trade and the first-to-last twice-as-large south Atlantic trade, the Royal Navy started in on the east African slave transports, which, first to last, took more slaves from Africa than both put together. Snorri is wrong to suspect the UK was never the largest single intercontinental carrier – there was indeed a period when that was so – but we are talking decades, not centuries, and the much longer durations of both Portuguese and Muslim activities mean they flatten us in overall totals.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Johnathon, at 5:53 p.m. you wrote,

    “Kerist, guys….”

    Tsk.

    Correction. Should have been, “Kee-RIST, guys….” /tease :>))

    .

    Seriously, and unsurprisingly, that’s an excellent comment altogether. (As far as I can tell, the torture of Falun Gong (Falun Dafa) members and other political prisoners continues.)

    And as for Venezuela, in the U.S. at least the general feeling of at least many on the “right” (whatever that is!) is that we should back anybody who looks even slightly less like Chavez-Maduro, hence have been stumping (in pixels anyway) for Guaidó. Some have even talked about sending U.S. troops to Venezuela, though not necessarily for reasons of military action per se; others say No, not for any reason whatever. The Foot has an article at

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Guaido .

    .

    Perry, at 5:58, my boldface:

    “It is good to raise the political cost to China for its actions and deny them the legitimacy they seek (indeed crave).”

    Absolutely, positively. The part in boldface is precisely why I have been strongly against the Nixon-Kissinger rapprochement ever since it happened. That step is what opened the door to the legitimacy of China, under Mao and the ChiCom regime as fit to be received by the more-or-less civilized nations of the world. To the point of getting one of the five seats on the Security Council! It’s true that the later regimes have forgone some of the excesses of Mao, but they’ve got a long way to go before I’d consider them “civilized.”

    It is true that there have been improvements in the condition of many Chinese — as long as they stay within strict rules that make Singapore’s look positively easygoing. (Several people here — at the very least Perry, Johnathan, and Wobbly Guy, I think — know a heckuva lot more about how it goes in Singapore than I do. I’m going by what I see on the Internet, which is 100% trustworthy, reliable, and never Wrong, even when it carries 100% contradictory info.)

    . . .

    I think that the ancient Hebrews (at the time of Moses) did not have chattel slavery. There were many limits on what the slave-holder could demand of the slave. (In that particular case, distinctly NOT a slave-owner, regardless of modern-times conventional misusage of the term.) Also the slaves were to be freed in 7 years and in Jubilee yearsz.

  • Julie near Chicago

    And Niall, once again unsurprisingly, rings the bell on both points. Doubleplusgood, except for the first point, which is more like ++^^++ good, if you take my notation.

    Sez I, who am strongly laissez-faire.

  • bobby b

    In my naivete, way across the oceans here, I never thought that China would allow the anomaly of HK to continue to exist apart from the rest of its people, and shielded from its governance.

    It lacks Taiwan’s status as a separate piece of land – it’s right there as part of the mainland. The Chinese leaders must see HK as a daily arrogant provocation – a loss of ruling face in the minds of the rest of the Chinese people – and, given how aggressive China has become in areas not even connected to their land, I was somewhat baffled that they’ve allowed HK to go its own way even to date.

    Imagine if Cuba held Miami the same way. Imagine if, as a part of Brexit, the EU took London. Who would put up with it? And the current Chinese government would seem to rank as the least likely to ever put up with it.

    So, how can anyone express surprise? It might happen a bit sooner than you expected, but did you ever expect it not to happen?

  • Bogdan the Aussie

    Bob Sykes is a Communofascist stooge who is poisoning Conservative blogosphere on a wide and regular basis…

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I think that the ancient Hebrews (at the time of Moses) did not have chattel slavery.”

    Exodus 21:2,7,16?

    “There were many limits on what the slave-holder could demand of the slave.”

    I think there have been under most systems of slavery. That slavery is subject to rules and laws, not an ‘anything goes’ arbitrary power, does not mean it’s not slavery. Like military conscription, the term can be applied to all sorts of sophisticated social institutions other than the classic whips-n-chains stereotype.

    And don’t go making excuses for Moses! He was as much a slaver as the white plantation owners in the British Empire. But in the same way, it was part of the culture of the times. We judge them by our moral standards today, but those standards had not yet been invented in their day. They did not think of slavery the same way we do – it was just how the world worked – the way things had always been. In just the same way future generations will judge us by their future standards.

    Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Niall Kilmartin expostulated: “Utter rubbish.”

    Thank you for the correction, Mr. K. Yes, you are of course correct that the trans-Sahara and Indian Ocean slave trade from East Africa was very large. My remark was addressed only to the trans-Atlantic slave trade — where we seem to be in broad agreement that the English were indeed active slavers and for a significant period of time the largest participant, even if modern Brits wish that had not been so.

    Yes, the Royal Navy gets points for later activities on suppressing the Atlantic slave trade, even if this was done in part as a form of economic warfare against other Europeans, particularly the French. But by that time the (Atlantic) slave trade was dying anyway because of economic developments driven by the Industrial Revolution.

    Two centuries from now, will Chinese participants on the then-equivalent of the internet debate China’s policy in the early 21st Century towards Hong Kong? Will they be willing to be honest with themselves? Only time will tell.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Gavin, on the form to date, Chinese debate internet or otherwise won’t be talking about the possible inadvisability, never mind outright Wrong, of her present policies on and agendas for Hong Kong. Grrrrrrrrr.

    By the way, they have a nice Social Credit System they’d like to sell you and us.

    .

    By the way, Johnathan, did I mention that that’s an excellent posting?

    And on re-reading it, I sense an eerie similarity between certain Westerners’ defence of China vis-á-vis Hong Kong and certain Westerners’ defence of all things Muslim. But maybe that’s just me.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Bobby b tries to draw a parallel between HK/China and if London was an independent entity, and asks how the rest of the UK will think of such a situation amid Brexit. The analogy doesn’t really work. London is immensely rich and much of the fortune of the rest of the UK hinges on it. It would make no sense, if London had egal autonomy, for the rest of the UK to crush it to make a nationalist point.

    As a libertarian I’m all for city-states and lots of independent jurisdictions competing and interacting with one another. China, let’s not forget, was once a grouping of separate feifdoms mekfed into one via conquest. China is sore that HK has been a successful, liberal place and wants to crush it. For what: a fucking teenage sulk about the British Empire

  • Jon Eds

    Russia has been economically isolated and has an economy roughly the size of the Netherlands (which has 10% of the population of Russia). They are still causing plenty of trouble in their near and not so near abroad. The situation in Russian Ukraine is perhaps similar in some ways to that in Hong Kong. The point is that either engaging politically or economically, or not engaging, is unlikely to change the nature of the beast, so perhaps we should avoid making the beast stronger by trading with it, or, how about this, not filling our weapons labs with engineers of Chinese ethnicity (but recently naturalised UK/US citizens).

    One might also observe that the EU, having done quite a bit to bring about the trouble in the Ukraine in the first place, has proved utterly incapable in dealing robustly with Russia (as they have proved useless in dealing with the invasion across Europe’s southern border). In fact, the German government’s grovelling to Russia gives me some hope about Brexit! Money clearly does talk.

    All that said, I have mixed feelings about these protests. The Chinese government is evil and all, but we know that what the protesters want ultimately just leads to a ‘mother’ dictatorship rather than the current ‘father’ dictatorship the Chinese have. In fairness though they probably don’t know this.

    I think the most useful thing the UK could try and do is help talk down the situation, and hopefully prevent the students throwing away their lives (quite possibly literally) on this fool’s quest.

  • Itellyounothing

    Hong Kong was at times treated awfully by the British Empire and eventually made very rich and very free. China seems to only want to take their liberty. It’s motives are worse. If the UK had handed over UK passports in 1997, the UK might well have benefited from the influx of industrious freedom loving people…..

    As to Taiwan, I don’t fancy China’s odds. Their military Sea lift capacity is too small and their newly built carriers are 2 generations away from being able to operate near Taiwan and not get wrecked by land based forces. If the US stops overtly supplying Taiwan with new toys, Israel or Russia or Britain or pick one would probably still do it. Taiwan itself probably has the technological base to do horrible things to anyone attempting to force a landing……

    China is too big to force to do anything short of Nuclear war, but political means can certainly be used to embarrass them.

    “Perfidious Albion”. Every country powerful enough gets unkind things said about it.

    I remember the Scots played an outsize role in the slave trading, in part because Scots law was more accepting of Slavery than English law…..
    England has some dirty history. Every nation does. I am very bored of the sins of the English being play up whilst various others are played down.
    England’s populace was busy being raided by Barbary pirates for slaves at the same time as English voices lead the charge to end the Atlantic slave trade.
    The olden times were rough. Lets all face our national history good and bad. No country looks great under that microscope.

  • Gavin Longmuir writes on August 3 at 3:40 pm:

    It is surprising that people can get so exercised about what might happen in Hong Kong, versus what is actually happening in, say, Venezuela.

    In one way, the people of Venezualia have got that for which they voted. Those of HK (in at least two ways), not.

    In the same place, Gavin writes:

    … Indisputably … Indisputably …

    Unsurprisingly he gets lots of objection to his “bold” assertions that the disputable is indisputable.

    Gavin writes later on August 3, at 7:25 pm:

    UK universities could send all their Chinese graduate students back home …

    Best not. A Western higher education (especially when mixed with 3 or more years of Western residence and lifestyle) is a good way overall of weakening the hold, over its population, by any dictatorial foreign government.

    Such historical blamings, whether for slavery, drug peddling or otherwise are, IMHO, an attempt to spend effort and other stuff on guilt-tripping the living for the actions of the dead. As we all know, the past cannot be changed – only one’s view of the past. And one’s view of the past is very much a personal thing, on which there is no agreement.

    It is, surely, far better to spend that effort and other stuff on changing the future for the better. This is not least because, though that may be very difficult, it is not beyond possibility.

    As for those of the USA who think the view of the past slavery will be improved by the demanding of other peoples’ effort and other stuff, they need to remember that very often it is their own ‘colleagues’ (closer in time) who not only decided to fight a civil war to maintain slavery (well beyond the time when the British had given up on it) but also, having lost, introduced Jim Crow laws (and sometimes worse) to maintain skin-colour discrimination for as long as they could (which was certainly many decades).

    As for government drug peddling, or rather peddling ‘legalised’ by government, is that not the policy of many who read here – perhaps in response to an arguably failed “war on drugs”. Just what is it that differentiates such a policy now from the British policy around the time of the Opium Wars (the “war for drugs”).

    I have no time for the guilt-trippers claim that it is at all about ‘correcting’ or ‘recognising’ a historical wrong. The only thing they are interested in is shouting for votes or shouting against their political opponents. And no matter how many (or how few) votes they get (nor how much effort, money and other stuff is spent), they won’t stop calling for more. And that is more calling for more votes, because its those and not recognition of guilt, recognition of who was guilty, or recognition of who is now guilty (clearly none who did not do it) that they seek.

    Best regards

  • Jacob

    Are slavery or opium wars the only crimes committed by humanity? The 100 million murdered or starved to death in Communist (Maoist) China in the 1950s and 60s are not a terrible crime against humanity? Or the 60 Million murdered by the USSR ?

    Current progressive-liberal whites are very selective in the historical crimes they condemn and villains they fight.

    As to Hong Kong – it is not clear that the Chinese government has committed any crimes there. OK, there was the extradition law, a power-grab attempt. They have retreated and shelved that law conceding the point to the demonstrators. Fine, what now? You can’t have permanent protests, life needs to revert to normalcy. I don’t understand why the protests go on. Do they want independence? That would be nice, but not reasonable.

  • staghounds

    All the worldwide ire and punishment after Tienanmen Square was certainly effective.

    The Tank Man film was great theatre and won all sorts of journalistic prizes.

    And the day after it was taken, the tanks were still there and the man has (been?) disappeared.

    The Chinese learn.

  • bobby b (August 3, 2019 at 11:06 pm), your point about what one could ‘expect’ China to do – i.e. as opposed to observing the finite time limits of the treaty – was said by and on behalf of Adolf Hitler in the 30s as he grabbed back bits of Germany that had been alienated or demilitarised. And when the British ambassador said that Britain preferred treaties to be honoured, Hitler instantly replied,

    Excuse me but I think that cannot always have been the case. For example, in 1812 there were treaties saying there was not to be a German army but in 1815 I do not recall the Duke of Wellington saying to Blucher, “Your army is illegal, please leave the battlefield.”

    As regards the realities of treaties and expectations, there are people and nations it is wise to give some slack to, and there are people and nations it is most unwise to let play you. The more I see of China today, the more I like Trump’s tariffs against them, despite not being keen on tariffs in general. I guess they seem a bit like sanctions to me.

  • Mr Ecks

    The UK could offer to take up another 99 years lease on HK with the Chinese getting the tax that they are getting now plus 5% and solve everybody’s problem. They would have agreed to the deal , will still keep all the cash benefit –which they will lose if HK just becomes a chicom-repressed shithole with thugs on every street corner. The HK folk go back to pre 1997 conditions and everybody wins without violence and no publicity black eye for the commie shite.

  • Are slavery or opium wars the only crimes committed by humanity? (Jacob, August 4, 2019 at 12:29 pm)

    It is peculiarly appropriate for libertarians to see past the ordinary rhetoric on the war that ceded Hong Kong. The ban on opium imports was a nice little earner for many a corrupt mandarin. The emperor was doubtless sincere in wishing his subjects would refrain from opium, but his methods were such as should let us on this blog look past the narrative. As the modern drugs war replaced the social attitudes in which Sherlock Holmes could be the Yard’s favourite consultant in between taking his 7% cocaine solution, the opium wars became unfashionable well before before modern PC happily took up the tale, but between the desire if the mandarins to keep getting their pay-off and the desire of Jardine Matheson to cut out the middlemen in selling the Chinese what they would buy, whether good for them or not, we should be able to see both sides. The crazy Imperial Chinese trade policy was to sell lots to the British Empire and buy nothing from the British Empire. That policy was why opium (the only thing the Chinese public wanted enough to break the law to buy) became the commodity that the British Empire, less clueless than the Chinese about economics, pushed in its determination that the Chinese government, so eager to see their subjects sell lots of things, must be less hostile to their buying something.

    Niall Kilmartin expostulated: “Utter rubbish.” (Gavin Longmuir, August 3, 2019 at 11:56 pm)

    I’m reminded of the Niven & Pournelle book ‘The Mote in God’s Eye’, where a clever but tactless character says “The Senator’s talking rubbish” and is instantly told that the polite way to put it would be “That happens not to be the case.” “Hey, I like that”, says Mr Tactless before resuming literally rubbishing the (fundamentally right-wing) senator’s point, but later, to a left-wing scientist that Niven & Pournelle handle with some tact but don’t fundamentally like, he uses the tactful phrase (to comic effect in the reader’s mind).

    I concede the justice of ‘expostulated’. This old post of mine (one of only two that ever got an instalanche) more tactfully expresses my rebuttal of the PC guilt trip. By an absolute standard, all cultures have pasts to repent, including ours (ours is where it is today because our predecessors saw that and did repent, making it very improper for us to repent of them). In the face of the relative standard set by other cultures, ours is not the one to denounce.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Now this, from UN Watch, H/T thenewneo.com — speaking of China:

    A piece at UN Watch explains the U.N. resolution condemning Israel as the worst country in the world for women’s rights, which saw only the U.S. and Canada dissent, in greater detail. First, from RedState.com

    https://www.redstate.com/slee/2019/07/25/un-passes-resolution-condemning-israel-womens-rights-violations-iran-saudi-arabia-among-voting-pass/

    Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan were among members of the UN’s 54-nation economic and social council, a principal organ of the world body, who voted to single out and condemn Israel yesterday as the only country in the world that violates women’s rights.

    The Jewish state was harshly and repeatedly condemned in a resolution, adopted 40 to 2 with 9 abstentions and 3 absent (see breakdown below), for allegedly being the “major obstacle” for Palestinian women “with regard to their advancement, self-reliance, and integration in the development of their society.”

    From https://unwatch.org/no-joke-un-singles-out-israel-a-worlds-only-violator-of-womens-rights-iran-saudi-arabia-yemen-among-the-voters/

    Voting Record: Resolution Condemning Israel for Violating Women’s Rights

    YES: Andorra, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Benin, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Ghana, India, Iran, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Mali, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, South Korea, Russia, St. Vincent, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Yemen.

    NO: United States and Canada

    ABSTAIN: Brazil, Cameroon, Germany, Jamaica, Mexico, Romania, Togo, Ukraine, and United Kingdom

    Shameful altoget

    updateher.

    .

    Mr Ecks’ solution would make a lot of sense from my POV, if (IF) it were possible and if (IF) the UK were sensible enough to get Mr. Cowperthwaite’s shade to run it, with the laws returned to what they were in his day.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see either the UK or China going for it, in the real world of today.

    update:

    https://www.israellycool.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/world4.jpg

  • bobby b

    “The analogy doesn’t really work. London is immensely rich and much of the fortune of the rest of the UK hinges on it. It would make no sense, if London had egal autonomy, for the rest of the UK to crush it to make a nationalist point.”

    It would certainly make no sense if the goal was actually to crush it.

    China’s goal is to re-take HK – to cast the offending foreign power usurpers out of its mainland – just as England’s goal (in the event the EU took London) would be to re-take London back into the fold.

    “Crushing it” is simply a tool to use in re-taking it.

    “bobby b (August 3, 2019 at 11:06 pm), your point about what one could ‘expect’ China to do – i.e. as opposed to observing the finite time limits of the treaty – was said by and on behalf of Adolf Hitler in the 30s . . .”

    Your note is valid. I’m not defending China’s actions – just saying I’m not surprised. They have always seen HK as a part of their own country, taken by (at the time) stronger foreign invaders. I doubt they feel that the call of honor is forcing them to wait decades for its return.

  • The UK could offer to take up another 99 years lease on HK with the Chinese getting the tax that they are getting now plus 5% and solve everybody’s problem. They would have agreed to the deal (Mr Ecks, August 4, 2019 at 3:57 pm)

    Mr Ecks, the ruling Chinese communists were offered exactly that deal back in the early 80s by Margaret Thatcher’s government at the very start of the post-lease negotiation. They made it unmistakably clear they were not interested.

    While what you suggest is abstractly in China’s economic interest, since when did a ruling communist party put the country’s economic interests before the rulers’ power interests. Xi is rather obviously focussed on asserting control. The best chance for the people of Hong Kong is to make the cost to Xi’s face seem non-trivial, but that will become a dangerously two-edged sword if Xi is stupid enough to let it seem he will lose credibility by easing off.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Gavin Longmuir August 3, 2019 at 3:40 pm: ”What happened, happened. We cannot change any of it, and we are not responsible for things done by long-dead people. All we can do is be honest with ourselves about the past, and not sugar-coat it.”

    Johnathan P’s original complaint was that individuals on some other internet site asserted re the current situation in Hong Kong: ”Britain has no right to interfere in any way, even to protest. That’s because the evil British conquered Hong Kong in the 19th Century, got the locals hooked on opium, and ran it as a colony.” It is worth noting that no-one on Samizdata has made that assertion. We also have to accept that the observations about Britain’s colonial past and aggressive Opium Wars against China are factually correct.

    So what can we do? Most of us would probably accept that UK direct action to support the people of Hong Kong is a non-starter; China has over a billion people, one of the world’s pre-eminent militaries, and is the Workshop of the World – simply put, the UK is not in the same league as modern China.

    From a realpolitik perspective, the UK will soon separate from the EU and will need to find its own way in a cold world. Many of us would guess this would not be a good time for UKGov to pick a diplomatic fight with big rich China, which one would hope would become a growing market for UK products. Diplomatic actions would anyway likely be fruitless and get no support from any other country. We have to recognize staghound’s point – Tiananmen Square happened in 1989 … yet about a decade later in 2001 the international community honored China by awarding Beijing the 2008 Olympic Games. The Chinese government has taken the measure of its Western counterparts.

    So it is down to what can individuals do? Tut-tutting on the internet seems a little too close to a Libertarian version of the empty posturing associated with Social Justice Warriors – and will have zero impact on the Chinese government. There are things that could be done by UK individuals, universities, companies – but they all would carry a price. This brings us back to the question I originally asked Johnathan: ”How much pain is the average Brit prepared to endure to do something for the people of Hong Kong?”

  • K

    The question is how painful can HK make the process of being subsumed into the Chinese state? Painful enough to kick the can down the road another 10 to 20 years? That’s certainly possible.

  • neonsnake

    Tut-tutting on the internet seems a little too close to a Libertarian version of the empty posturing associated with Social Justice Warriors

    Outrageous!

    …but true

    😉

    Well said, Gavin.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Nullius:

    That slavery is subject to rules and laws, not an ‘anything goes’ arbitrary power, does not mean it’s not slavery.

    Agreed; but then, you also have to accept that not all slavery is the same. Slaves in the Caribbean had a life expectancy of 7 years iirc. That was perhaps not as bad as in Nazi concentration camps, or Soviet gulags (or other commie forms of slavery), or the Congo “Free” State; but worse than any other sort of slavery that i can think of, including slavery in the American South. (And certainly including my favorite slavers, the Vikings.)

    Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you.

    That’s all what i ask for: that people judge me by my standards. My standards are absolute: everybody ought to follow my standards. If they don’t, they are wrong.

  • Julie near Chicago

    “…[E]verybody ought to follow my standards. If they don’t, they are wrong.”

    Tell it, Brother! LOLOL 😎

  • bobby b

    “…but true”

    I think y’all are expecting a movement out of an anti-movement attitude. I doubt it could ever happen.

    A desire for more personal autonomy and less majoritarian control is somewhat at odds with the concepts of mobilizing the mob to group action. If you have libertarian tendencies, your first impulse for social change agents isn’t going to be to gather together some large group to pressure others to your viewpoint.

    People devoted to “get out of my way and leave me alone” aren’t going to be natural group motivators. They’re talkers – convincers – who work on a small scale.

    The most accomplished libertarian-types are working on local-scale issues, convincing city councils and boards that the the best action is often no action. We’re drogues, trying to stifle the impulses of people who think “leading” always has to involve new laws and regs and ordinances.

    There’s really no viable large-scale movement that can serve such goals.

  • Tut-tutting on the internet seems a little too close to a Libertarian version of the empty posturing associated with Social Justice Warriors

    Edmund Burke, discussing how to resist the French revolutionaries, notes the key point that while failed attempts to fight, to rebel, whatever, discredit their authors and so sure-to-fail attempts should be avoided where possible (he notes that sometimes one cannot morally avoid fighting even in poor circumstances), the situation is quite otherwise with arguments and articles since “only Reason is hazarded”. If, like the OP (and me) you see certain arguments excusing the Chinese rulers as immoral and/or illogical, a well-reasoned expose is a very proper thing to write. Until this Brexit thing came along, we had little reason to think the fat lump of the politically-correct elite who knew what was best could be effectively disconcerted from taking us where they wished – but that never stopped us from writing posts.

    ”How much pain is the average Brit prepared to endure to do something for the people of Hong Kong?”

    More if we suggest they should than if no-one talks much about it. Fearsome predictions about how poor we will be after Brexit have not yet achieved the repeal of article 50. Fearsome predictions about how poor we will be after the irate Chinese stop trading with critics of their HK policy may have even less effect. I guess we will see.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby, above at 10:07: excellent points both. Very well said.

    .

    Another approach is to form “movement” groups around a single issue, including starting such a movement as a submovement within, say, the Tea Party Movement. (We, as individuals, might put a little time into resuscitating that.)

    Of course, individuals coming together to campaign for local candidate X for Mayor, or whatever, amounts to a small “movement.” OTOH, the NRA and either GOA or SAF (I forget which is currently out of favor) are nationwide movements with a libertarian goal.

    Also, despite the fact that apparently some people associate self-reliance with subsistence farming (no doubt of the hardscrabble sort), little things like carpentry clubs that focus less on carving and more on major projects like building houses (or pergolas) might attract some people who’d enjoy that sort of thing, and would (I’d think) naturally end up somewhat more independent and more independent-minded.

    Heck, one could work in other areas of construction, such wiring, plumbing, roofing, etc.

    (Self-reliance involves having some skills, being minded to build on those at least to some extent, and having a habit of looking to yourself first to solve a problem. It means not expecting help to come to you courtesy of the Great Frog — or The Gov. It does not exclude being part of a community, in the sense of a “bunch,” of people who tend to get together for bigger projects like barn-raising or dragging one of those monster pickups out of a ditch.)

    Self-reliant people are able to look after themselves reasonably well. And they can solve problems by “thinking outside the box.”

    And the home-owner in Suburbia or the apartment-dweller in Gotham can both be pretty self-reliant, in the ways that matter to them. You don’t have to live on a farm to be self-reliant. And, you think ahead. Should I buy a gas stove or an electric one? Well, pal, assuming you’re on the gas line or use LP gas, you can still cook and even keep one room above freezing when the ‘lectric goes out, if you buy a gas stove.

    OTOH, if the gas main breaks somewhere (do they ever?), my little one-burner hot plate still allows me to make fried chicken….

  • Julie near Chicago

    Niall,

    Yes. Arguing both privately and publically for various of our libertarian-ish positions has a purpose and does help to advance our rather DIY attitudes toward living. (DIY: Meaning, don’t expect to get your needs and wants met by either handouts or theft. Let alone by force!)

    Right now, “libertarian” is a dirty word, except where it’s not — Some people think Dave Rubin is awful because he’s a libertarian, whereas others like him because they think he is, and other people dismiss him as being a leftie. Whatever he is, it seems as though a lot of the pundits, at least, like to call themselves libertarians, whereas before they were just various tints of conservative.

    All that because I was thinking that in arguing for a libertarian position, it might just as well not to use the word “libertarian,” unless you think you’ve got the deal pretty well wrapped up.

    For instance, a lot of commenters at thenewneo.com, as well as Neo herself, have expressed distaste for libertarianism, which they think of as referring to either unserious people (the goings-on at the LP nominating convention*! and sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll) or else people who don’t care at all about the poor/infirm/needy/disadvantaged, but rather are concerned above all with grabbing whatever they want for themselves.

    But factual articles, opinion pieces, and TedX talks do reach people, and so do some of the more-or-less conservative talk shows.

    Yet underneath all that, there’s the discussion of politics, history, and philosophy that goes on hereabouts and elsewhere, and in postings and discussions at other websites, and also the support we get from being a bunch of people with a strong interest in common, that’s part of the intellectual fuel that keeps libertarianism going.

    Without the discussions, the ideas would be less focussed, and less clearly expressed, when we’re out in public.

    And we keep each other fired up, at least to some extent.

    *Of course the Dems’ nominating conventions have always been supreme pillars of sobriety and straightforward clear-thinking serious discussion. And utterly lacking in any hanky-panky, to boot.

  • Chip

    At the time of the Opium Wars, the use of opium in the UK and elsewhere was both common and legal. US president Harrison was prescribed ilium in 1841 and no one thought it unusual. In Singapore today, the art museum building has a plaque thanking opium companies for their generous donations in the late 1800s.

    Opium didn’t have the reputation it has today.

    As for China, it had been importing opium for centuries before the wars. The Chinese rulers weren’t opposed to opium – they were aghast at the amount of silver leaving the country to pay for it.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    While what you suggest is abstractly in China’s economic interest, since when did a ruling communist party put the country’s economic interests before the rulers’ power interests. Xi is rather obviously focussed on asserting control. The best chance for the people of Hong Kong is to make the cost to Xi’s face seem non-trivial, but that will become a dangerously two-edged sword if Xi is stupid enough to let it seem he will lose credibility by easing off.

    Niall is right about the double-edged nature of this.

    Meanwhile, GL’s implied suggestion that we can only shrug our shoulders, accept the “muh, Opium Wars bad!” argument is, well, lame, in my view. Yes, the UK after Brexit will be in need of new alliances and friends but even now under the embrace of Brussels, the UK already does a fair bit of trade with China, so it is hardly likely that after Brexit the U’s flows of trade with China are going to be dramatically different and require us kow-tow to China and not try to use what leverage we can. China, as I said, is a country with a rapidly aging population and it is not as if its leadership is one big, monolithic happy family. We can and should ensure that the destruction of a reasonably free entity (HK) carries costs. the UK is the fifth-largest economy in the world. Chinese people like to come and shop here, send their brats to our posh private schools and so on. They crave (as Perry has put it) a certain amount of respectability. Having mass protests, shootings and all the rest in a place where they had promised to protect local autonomy is not good for that image, and it will carry a cost.

    “But, Opium Wars, man”. FFS.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    GL, I would also add that commenting on these sort of blogs about shit happening in certain places is not just “tut-tutting” because if you take that view, why are you even reading and commenting on this blog? Haven’t you more urgent things to do?

    There is a thing out there called the “climate of opinion”. If those who are concerned about what is going on in various places don’t say or write anything, or draw attention to various evils, then bad things are more likely to happen. I have already stated that there are limits on what the UK can do (although I think that the UK should look to attract immigrants from HK, as it should have done in the 80s), but that does not mean the UK should or could do nothing whatever. And the point has been well made by Nigel S. here that post-colonial guilt reflexes are next to useless as a guide to what to do now. It has become a form of whataboutism.

  • neonsnake

    I rather took Gavin’s statement as an expression of frustration that individual action can sometimes feel like trying to boil the ocean, along with a note that the “SJW”s are actually affecting stuff (I read his “empty posturing” as sarcasm; quite possibly incorrectly on my part).

    Frankly, while we’re not very likely to affect UK/China policy by “tut-tutting” about it here on Samizdata, I see an enormous amount of value in countering people who feel that we have no right to interfere or even to protest against it.

    Nigel Sedgewick’s very even-handed post, and others’, do a more-than-sufficient job of explaining why “sins of the father” are (within this context) not an appropriate reason to ignore what’s happening in HK, and I’d only be repeating them if I attempted to give my own reasons.

    Tickling the back of my mind also, is that this should be a time when the SJWs, ourselves and basically everyone are aligned. Youth protests against oppressive government, masked faces, militarised police, tear gas, so on and so forth? Talk of opium trade and colonisation seems very much beside the point, to me.

    You’d have to perform some impressive mental gymnastics to think otherwise, I feel.

  • neonsnake

    The four posts from “August 4, 2019 at 10:07 pm” onwards, one from bobby b, one from Niall, and the two from Julie are all excellent, to my mind.

    I especially note this point from Julie:

    the support we get from being a bunch of people with a strong interest in common, that’s part of the intellectual fuel that keeps libertarianism going.

    Without the discussions, the ideas would be less focussed, and less clearly expressed, when we’re out in public.

    And we keep each other fired up, at least to some extent.

    While there’s a lot of debate and argument here amongst ourselves, the more useful posts and ensuing discussion help to focus our ideas and express them better whilst out in “public”; to bobby b’s point and Julie’s earlier point, small-scale, DIY attitudes can advance the movement, bit by bit, especially if we’re walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

    I see an enormous amount of value in talking some of the ideas over at “base camp”, as it were.

    As a pure “for instance”, I agree wholeheartedly with everything in Julie’s “self-reliance”-themed post (as she will well-know) – but there’s a great addition there encapsulated in the sentence “It does not exclude being part of a community” that I almost never focus on when I express similar sentiments, so that’s something I both can and should learn from – just an example of the value of this blog, and of “tut-tutting” as it were.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Johnathan Pearce wrote: “Meanwhile, GL’s implied suggestion that we can only shrug our shoulders, accept the “muh, Opium Wars bad!” argument is, well, lame, in my view.”

    Johnathan — Note carefully that YOU created that implication in something that someone else wrote — an implication which exists only in YOUR mind. That was YOU! And your erroneous implication. Perhaps the reason you were not able to change minds on that other forum is that you were failing to understand what those other people were writing?

    And you still have not answered the simple question:
    “How much pain is the average Brit prepared to endure to do something for the people of Hong Kong?”
    And we all can guess why you have not answered it.

    You do deserve some credit, Johnathan, for originally taking your perspective to another corner of the internet where people told you that you have no right to protest China — a perspective which you have not found here on Samizdata. You at least took your perspective to a place where you might possibly have been able to change some minds. Of course you can protest China until the cows come home. The issue is what difference are your on-line protests going to make?

  • Snorri Godhi

    This debate about tut-tutting on the internet reminds me of my feelings 13 years ago, at the time of the Cartoon Jihad. (I was residing in Copenhagen at the time.) I felt an impotent rage at the Anglo-American media. All what i could do was some tut-tutting on the internet … and that is how i discovered these sites called “blogs”.

    Tut-tutting is not useless, in that it helps to preserve sanity: you discover that there are other people who think like you, and unlike the media. Even better is if you discover people who offer reasoned criticism of your views.

    The realization of my powerlessness also led me to the concept of freedom from power, and the desirability of this freedom. I discussed this a short while ago in another thread, with neonsnake and others. It seems relevant here: HongKongers obviously enjoy a lot of classical-liberal freedom (freedom from coercion). What they don’t have is freedom from arbitrary power.

  • We all know one person who thinks tut-tutting on the internet is not useless – President Xi. If he thinks tut-tutting is pointless, why censor it? If he thinks tut-tutting on the internet is useless, why pay Google to help him hide these tut-tuts from the people of China?

    It is often said about global warming that it will be time to think it’s a crisis when the people who say it is act as if they believe it, instead of enjoying their jet-setting lifestyle (see Natalie’s latest post below). Conversely, I’ll consider that tut-tutting is pointless when Xi starts channelling the King of Prussia: “The people should say what they like and I should do what I like.”

  • neonsnake

    with neonsnake and others

    I have to say, I never quite felt I understood your idea of “the ruling class”.

    What they don’t have is freedom from arbitrary power.

    I’m not objective on this issue – I’ve spent an amount of my life living and working in the Far East, and have close friends in both Hong Kong and mainland China. The whole thing horrifies me. My mainland Chinese friends are largely western educated, so, y’know. They’re not exactly ok with the direction of travel. My Hong Kong-ese friends…well, I’ve got caught up with a march or two.

    *Shrugs*

    It’s difficult and complicated.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Neonsnake:

    I have to say, I never quite felt I understood your idea of “the ruling class”.

    Oh yes, i never got around to explain it.
    Except that i did, a couple of times on Samizdata, but perhaps you were not in the thread.

    The ruling class is the minority that holds most of the power of coercion and persuasion. (That is assuming that said powers have something like a Pareto distribution.) So the concept of power of coercion is necessary to understand the concept of ruling class.

    That is my definition, but i got the idea from James Burnham’s The Machiavellians, which does not include a definition.

    Actually, i got the germ of the idea from a careful re-reading of Machiavelli’s Prince, in which the concept of ruling class is implicit: he seems to have taken it for granted.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Snorri G: “The ruling class is the minority that holds most of the power of coercion and persuasion.”

    To nit-pick — the power of persuasion is a power granted by the person who is persuaded. The person trying to do the persuasion cannot make his target adopt any view involuntarily. Some people automatically believe anything they hear on the BBC or CNN; other people listen but subject the propaganda to the smell test; and some people refuse to listen at all.

    The power of coercion (state-sanctioned violence) is the one that counts — and that is ultimately subject to the Mandate of Heaven. Whether it is Hong Kongers refusing to accept their puppet regime or Democrats refusing to accept Donald Trump as President, the ones who are coerced always get a vote — although exercising that vote can be extremely costly to the individual.

    In its traditional sense, the “Ruling Class” was something that people were born into — or occasionally married into. The Ruling Class segregated themselves from the hoi polloi — the Russian Ruling Class spoke French; the English Ruling Class sent their offspring to very exclusive private schools. At their (rather occasional) best, the Ruling Class did have a sense of noblesse oblige — they felt an obligation to do the right thing for their untutored peasants. The Ruling Class depended on a Subject Class willing voluntarily to be ruled.

    Today, we have something different — more like a “Political Class”. It is not necessary to be born into the Political Class (see, Bill Clinton) although it helps (see Chelsea Clinton). The Political Class includes a lot of academics, bureaucrats, media types as well as actual politicians — but they generally share a deep contempt for the punters who pay the taxes and put food on the Political Class’s table. Some day, this Political Class will find out that it, just like the old Ruling Class, is also subject to the Mandate of Heaven.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Gavin:

    To nit-pick — the power of persuasion is a power granted by the person who is persuaded. The person trying to do the persuasion cannot make his target adopt any view involuntarily. Some people automatically believe anything they hear on the BBC or CNN; other people listen but subject the propaganda to the smell test; and some people refuse to listen at all.

    On a strict interpretation of this paragraph, it is true — although you have some chutzpah to write this after spewing ruling-class propaganda about colonialism!

    But anyway: sure, the power is granted by the persuaded. The fact remains that the masses grant most of this power to a minority, including not only the BBC, CNN, the NY Times, and the rest of the old media; but also new media, schools, and universities. Otherwise, nobody would be concerned about their “bias” and their ideological imbalance.

    I myself am not concerned so much about “bias” or “balance” as about whether they use their power of persuasion to cajole people into giving more power to the ruling class.

    The [pre-French Rev.] Ruling Class depended on a Subject Class willing voluntarily to be ruled.

    Sure, but why were the subject classES (note the plural) willing to be ruled specifically by the ruling class of their time? because of the power of persuasion, held mostly by the Church in those times.

    You also have to understand the concept of principle of legitimization, or “political formula” (as Mosca called it). In the old times, the main political formula was the Divine Right of Monarchs (or Mandate of Heaven, which i assume is the same thing). Today, there are many political formulas, beginning with Representative Democracy: the idea that people who have been elected to office have a mandate to rule even over people who did not vote for them. But that has proven a poor foundation, since sometimes people do not vote “the right way” (eg Brexit, Trump, and much of continental Europe). So the ruling class has come up with Social Justice, ie the protection of minorities (ethnic, religious, and LGBT) AND with the need to listen to “experts” otherwise the world will end in 18 months due to CAGW (and women+minorities will be hardest hit).

    Today, we have something different — more like a “Political Class”.

    The political class is just a subclass of the ruling class as a whole. I suspect that the top civil “servants” collectively hold more power than the political class.
    Leaving aside general and admirals, since i should think that few officers would obey their orders if they planned a coup, we also have the old+new media, unions (especially teachers’ unions, since they have power of persuasion), university administrators, and “public intellectuals”.
    Also, all people wealthy enough to be able to buy a newspaper, or to fund an electoral campaign — even if they do not use their money for political purposes: we are talking about POWER of persuasion, not actual persuasion.

  • Snorri Godhi

    PS: it seems fair to give credit to the commenter elsewhere who persuaded me (heh!) to add “and persuasion” to “power of coercion”.

    I take the opportunity to note that nothing of what i have said should be interpreted as a statement that the ruling class is a united front. In fact, most of Machiavelli’s Prince is about the art of fighting rivals within the ruling class: M. thought that the ideal prince would endeavor to have no domestic enemies, except within the ruling class — which he would kill ruthlessly (the enemies, not the entire ruling class).

    The ideal situation, i believe, is one in which the ruled classes can exploit divisions within the ruling class, but such divisions are well short of civil war.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Gavin Longmuir August 5, 2019 at 9:32 pm: “The Political Class includes a lot of academics, bureaucrats, media types as well as actual politicians.”

    Snorri Godhi August 6, 2019 at 11:08 am: “I suspect that the top civil “servants” collectively hold more power than the political class.”

    Civil “servants” as in “bureaucrats”? There might be a case that a key part of the power of persuasion would be first to make an effort to actually understand what someone else is trying to communicate, instead of imposing one’s own misunderstandings on the words of other people.

  • neonsnake

    ) So the concept of power of coercion is necessary to understand the concept of ruling class.

    And, would the ruling class differ from person to person, depending on who has the power to oppress/coerce/persuade them?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Neonsnake:

    would the ruling class differ from person to person, depending on who has the power to oppress/coerce/persuade them?

    A thought-provoking question. My reactive answer is: no, the ruling class is the minority which has most of the power within a society as a whole. But what is a society? A family might be taken to be a society, and within each family there might be an alpha male — or more often these days, an alpha female — who has most of the power of coercion+persuasion. Still, i believe that, in a Western cultural+legal framework, such person-to-person power relationships are only minor nuisances, except for pathological cases.

    But i have mentioned unions, and we might also mention political parties: unions and parties have ruling classes at the top. These are part of the ruling class of the society as a whole, but of course they have more of an impact on some people than on others.

    If that does not answer your question, please let me know.

    Tomorrow i’ll address Gavin’s latest comment; though i am happy to say that the remaining disagreement is of minor interest to me.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    neonsnake wondered: “… would the ruling class differ from person to person, depending on who has the power to oppress/coerce/persuade them?”

    This brings us back to one of the fundamental truths — leaders are leaders only because they have followers. And they have followers because we human beings are herd animals (or social animals, if one wants to be polite) — although we don’t like to admit it. We are naturally inclined to do what the alpha male demands — sometimes out of fear, but more often voluntarily as part of going along with the crowd.

    Now that so many leadership roles are being handed to not-quite-alpha females, such as Ms. Lam in Hong Kong or Mrs. May in the UK or Frau Merkel in Germany, it is hardly surprising that many of us followers are not quite as willing to do what we are told as we once were.

  • neonsnake

    These are part of the ruling class of the society as a whole, but of course they have more of an impact on some people than on others.

    Of course. A better way of asking my original question might be – would different people affected differently by “the ruling class”? The answer would seem to be obviously “yes”.

    Personally, I would propose that there isn’t a single unified ruling class (you mentioned different fronts), but several, not necessarily aligned. Certainly, there will be always be groups who have influence, and those different groups will be at odds with each other, and will be vying for the support of/power over, the masses of people that make up a country (lets say country for ease), by defining what is and isn’t acceptable practice.

    I wouldn’t say that there is a single definable ruling class that are currently, successfully, influencing the direction of travel.

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