Monday 24 October 2011

Perishing Democracy

I was recently reminded of the brave, bold words of Abraham Lincoln, delivered at the consecration of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg in November, 1863. Then he said that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. It may not be perishing from the earth, but it’s certainly perishing in Europe.

Reflecting on this, I remember reading an insightful opinion piece on the Charlemagne page of The Economist on the mind, the collective mind, of the bureaucrats who run the European Union. I’m being disingenuous because no mention was made of a ‘collective mind’ – a ‘hive mind’ for the Trekkies among you-, that’s my particular spin. Rather the point was made that hard-line Eurosceptics believe that there is a Minotaur at the heart of the Brussels labyrinth plotting a dictatorship, which the author considers to be “cheap demagoguery.”

I certainly consider myself on the hard wing of scepticism when it comes to the whole European project (actually, no; I'm a Dawkins-style atheist), but I have never advanced that particular view. I believe, rather, that the Eurocrats, my preferred term, represent a new senatorial elite, a post-democratic elite; that they are, by this standard, just as much of a danger to democratic self-determination as the advocates of an old-style tyranny. They are the philosopher-kings, the guardians, of Plato’s Republic; the priests, if you prefer, of the sacred flame.

Their outlook, their attitude and, yes, their condescension, is based on the single guiding idea behind the Treaty of Rome and all that followed: nationalism is a ‘bad thing’ and democracy, insofar as it embraces nationalism, is not that desirable when it comes to advancing the interests of the Community as a whole; and the interests of the Community are their interests.

This credo of anti-nationalism carries distinct risks, at best making the Eurocrats push for higher levels of integration than most Europeans - and here I mean real Europeans - are willing to bear; at worst it makes them sound hostile to democracy. They are the philosopher kings after all; they know best. When the French and Dutch voted against the EU constitution in 2005 the view in the labyrinth was that it was nonsense to put such complex proposals to ordinary voters. They don’t hate democracy; they just equate democracy with selfishness and populism.

The only effective counterweight to this frightful condescension is a pan-European democratic movement, but nobody believes in that, or if they do they are most awfully self-deluded. As far as the European parliament itself is concerned I find myself partially in agreement with Charlemagne, who wrote;

The European Parliament is the great disappointment of the European project. It is the revenge of the B-team; an assembly lead by posturing second-raters dedicated, in their every waking moment, to grabbing new powers at the expense of national governments…ordinary voters have no idea who represents them in the parliament, or even whether the left or the right dominates there…As a result, the parliament has utterly failed to capture the public’s imagination.

I say partially in agreement because I’m not disappointed at all: the parliament is a joke; it will always be a joke, the biggest sinecure in human history, a retirement home for political mediocrities and clowns. It makes the idea of Europe look ridiculous, the idea that the Continent is more than a collection of nation states. And long may that continue.

That brings me back to the benevolent philosopher kings in Brussels, those people in the high castle who know what is good for us, who will deliver what is good for us, whether we like it or not. And what is not good for us is government of the people, for the people, by the people.

For God's sake let's do the sane thing and get out. I'm utterly tired of my country being held hostage to German history, this endless blue crucifixion. And on that hangs another tale entire. :-)


  1. Tbh I'm far more scared of that kind of "post-democracy" then I am of tyranny. Tyrants are single men - post-democrats represent something far more insiduous and all encompassing, something far more totalitarian actually, even if it moves slower initially.

  2. Ah, Mademoiselle Fitzgerald-Beaumont . . . last of the Romanovs, or first representative of a Twenty First Century New Order? Only time will tell . . .While I completely agree with your position on the European Union as currently constituted, I'm going to be bad-mannered and quote you against yourself.

    On one hand, I'm delighted that you've quoted my hero, Lincoln, and tellingly. But I'd like to ask how you would relate the sentiments you've quoted with the theodicy contained in the third paragraph of his Second Inaugural, a speech he gave only a bit more than a year later, in the passage beginning "If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences, etc." The reason I ask the question is because of the post you wrote after being bewitched by your American family friends into writing an impassioned defense of the American South's odious heritage.

    I abundantly forgive you for any missteps of youth, whether you can forgive me for raising these issues is another matter . . . ;)

    So I'll raise the bar and truly test your equanimity and capacity for forgiveness. Continuing on the subject of the deepest ground of Lincoln's politics, may I raise the issue of your post defending the English royal family and the British monarchy as an institution? I agree with your appeal to intuition and emotion, but I question the direction of your intuition, in this case. And I do so as I await with hopeful anticipation the elaboration of your fascinating insight that Europe remains hostage to German history.

    Quite apart from the petty Germanic antecedents of the Saxe-Coburgs, aka Windsors, and their dining partners the Battenbergs aka Mountbattens, et. al., I would suggest that the German political sensibility has had a profound, malign influence on English history through the insinuation of German princelings into the English monarchy, and their abuse of their position to perpetuate its most atavistic features in the face of the centuries-long evolution of the splendid, unique, and non-pareil world-historical gift to the world of British democracy.

    My case begins on your chosen battlefield, Stuart history, with Prinz Rupprecht, aka Prince Rupert. I shall fall silent . . . do you care to defend our friendly half-German Cavalier? (by the way I lived in Heidelberg for three years myself as a teenager).

    More to the point--the Hannovers, aka Hanovers. Continuing the battle, as the gentleman that I am, on your chosen ground, although now switching sides to lament for the Stuarts themselves, what do you make of the butchery at Culloden effected by the German Duke of Cumberland and his buddy the German Duke of Hesse? Appalling, I would say, but then I have a tender heart . . .

    I also indict the German George III as the principal culprit in the fateful lurch to the Right by England, and away from realising the full potential of its Glorious Revolution, which occurred when the German George III forced Lord North into a foolish confrontation with the Americans, and then became irrevocable when George III connived to elevate Pitt into a minority government solely for the purpose of endorsing the pillage and plunder of Britain's regime in India (ie in support for the East India Company and Warren Hastings). For George's personal responsibility, so out of keeping with the best of the British political tradition from the signing of the Magna Carta onwards, I commend to your attention Chapter Four of Conor Cruise O'Brien's great biography of Edmund Burke, THE GREAT MELODY.

    To recapitulate, I agree with you whole-heartedly about the European Union, and particularly so if you intend to invoke the totalitarianism at the heart of Plato, as demonstrated by Popper in THE OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES, your use of the phrase "philosopher kings" for the Eurocrats is apposite, and I am sincerely interested in the implications of your views about the European Union for some of the other foundation stones of your world view.

  3. Only UKiP will get us out Ana. The Tories no longer have the wit or the balls.

  4. Anthony, I think in some ways it already has. :-)

  5. Jeremy, I agree with that. It's not Orwell's future; it's Huxley's.

  6. Chris thanks, for this first class contribution. I can admire Lincoln as a wordsmith; he had the same kind of poetic feel for language as Winston Churchill. What I find less admirable is the way in which he subverted aspects of the Constitution to create an executive power that made poor old George III look like Thomas Paine!

    What I defended was the idea of the Confederacy, which appeals, Scarlet O’Hara fashion, to my conservative and romantic sensibilities. I did not defend slavery, which was indeed an odious institution.

    I defend monarchy, even monarchs with German ancestry, because it’s part of the warp and weave of England, part of who and what we are. The thing is that while you in the States got rid of the institution of monarchy you did so in such a way that perpetuated and institutionalised its power, frozen, if you like, at a particular period in time.

    In England the power of the Hanoverian sovereigns was already in decline at the time of the Revolution, and was to decline still further, till our kings and queens, as Walter Bagehot put, became one of the decorative elements of our constitution. It amuses me that only a few decades after the Revolution certain Americans were calling themselves Whigs, struggling with the executive power of ‘King’ Andrew Jackson, reprising battles fought in England in the seventeenth century!

    Oh, Prince Rupert is one of my poster boys! Please go to a piece headed They Called Her Babylon, posted on 5 November 2009. That’s who I would have been if I had been alive in the seventeenth century.

    Yes, Culloden was bad but really there is far too much hand-wringing here and – Scottish – gnashing of teeth. Rebels then were never handled gently and the conduct of the Stuart monarchy to those who fought at Sedgemoor in 1685 was not that much better than the Hanoverians towards the rebels of 1746.

    You’re far too hard on poor old George. You in the States may not remember him with much affection but I think we still do, as a man who, in so many ways, was as much the first British king as he was the last king of America; sorry, barring Andrew Jackson and all the other republican monarchs!

    Keep watching. :-)

  7. Nobby, some have. You must have noticed from Comrade Dave's recent panic. :-)

  8. Ana, True. But he is the leader and he won in the end. UKIP is the only way.

  9. Nobby, they will never make a breakthrough at a national level, not to any significant degree.

  10. Ana, I believe that UKIP are making ground all the time. It took the Labour Party decades to challenge the prevailing order. For example, two of my closest friends were staunch Labour. They are now UKIP. The Tories have failed the British people. Labour have failed the British people. The Liberals are a joke. There is only Party that can unite the country and provide it with a reasonable future: UKIP. If the Tories had any sense they would offer the people a referendum on the EU. The failure to honour such a significant election promise is a betrayal of government. Our only hope is UKIP.

  11. What worries me Nobby is that UKIP is now, at least to some extent, in the same position to the Conservative Party as Labour was once in relation to the Liberals. I really don’t think we will see the same process that saw the reduction of a nineteenth century party of government to a Parliamentary rump, but the rise of UKIP may mean that we never have an effective right-wing majority again. If it had not been for UKIP we would now have a Tory majority and no flabby deals with Corporal Clegg, Vince ‘I don’t believe it’ Cable and the rest of that ghastly crew. I share your frustration over the referendum, as do many other Tories, but things are moving here, if by slow degrees. We may not be at breaking point with the Continentals but - in the light of the current and predictable euro fiasco - I do not think we will take much more of their nonsense.

  12. Ana, I realise that with your extraordinary indefatigable energy you've moved along by two posts, but I thought that, even so, I'd briefly return to the scene of one of our past scraps, now a distant memory to you, no doubt . . .

    Firstly, with your comment "the States got rid of the institution of monarchy you did so in such a way that perpetuated and institutionalised its power, frozen, if you like, at a particular period in time" you scored a hit, a very palpable hit. You're right that the Executive branch can be thought of in that fashion, and it's an interesting point.

    Broadly, I still believe that the American system of government was a pure example of the best of British democratic ideas enacted on a tabula rasa, and that in reaction to the loss of the American colonies, England lurched to the Right, choosing--instead of the model perceived to have failed in America--to follow the pillage and plunder model established in India under Warren Hastings.

    I have great respect for the original model of Westminster parliamentary democracy, having lived in London for two years right after you were born, and for the past 16 years in Australia, but as a general principle the origins of anything are only of limited interest--what matters is the current actual condition. In that respect, the current conditions of the UK and the United States leave much to be desired. I read your post on Obama with great interest and agree with it, as well as with the comments made by Wilson.

    Briefly back to George. You have my respect, and if he has yours, he has mine, too. I just want to raise one issue, before resiling from the controversy. 18th Century historiography was dominated in modern times by Lewis Namier, who imprudently adopted the German document-focused approach to historical research. I say imprudent, because 18th century British politics was an exceptionally talky, intimate, sophisticated pursuit in which only a limited amount of what really happened was committed to writing. Your comments about nuances and "whispers" in your latest movie review is directly relevant to understanding the real processes of 18th century British politics, and my view is that, as a result of Namier's excessive confidence in his grasp of the extant documents, his interpretations were deeply flawed, and as a result George III has a better reputation than he deserves, and Edmund Burke, for example, is not held in sufficiently high esteem.

    Romantic conservatism is a dangerous brew--Bismarck is an outstanding example (despite my admiration for him). Like Bismarck, you are an exceptional individual who could easily be mistaken, by yourself as well as by others, as a representative example of what your background is capable of producing, and therefore as its best advertisement and justification for existence. See yourself clearly for the exception that you are, and you will be more likely to practice your romantic and conservative politics without causing a political tragedy somewhere down the line in the mid-twenty first century, esp. given your "Vae Victus" approach to losers . . . ;)

    Finally, a word on Lincoln. Your characterisation of him as a wordsmith (which is dismissive, even though you included Churchill, whom I assume you admire) leads me to speculate, where I cannot know, that perhaps you didn't refresh your memory of that speech by re-reading the passage I mentioned. In the Second Inaugural, Lincoln articulates a politics of redemption, forgiveness, and love. That is such a radically different view of Lincoln than the cynical, Meineckean version so common that you'll probably dismiss it outright, so I'll say no more on the matter . . .

  13. "If it had not been for UKIP... ."


    If it had not been for David Cameron's refusal to offer a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty UKIP would no longer exist. It would have disbanded.

  14. The EU is an ideological animal intent on joining together European nations and peoples economically and politically. Why? Because the French and Germans went to war and lost far too many times. They don't trust themselves to independence because of a failed military history. Past sovereign identity is largely seen as an embarrassment. By contrast the British people have never felt ashamed of their past or identity. Not until a Guardian writer and a British Prime Minister expressed their own shame of British history was I aware that educated people could be so stupid. It might well be that they are so in thrall to the European project that they seek to undermine what people believe about their own place in world history by saying that it is shameful. In doing so people would be less likely to resist being part of a Federal European State because, as it is argued by David Cameron & Polly Toynbee, the British people have very little to be proud of. In other words we all share the same collective guilt and must accept the way of the EU and Brussels. Of course, DC and PT are not interested in the truth of the matter. They rarely are. What matters to them has nothing to do with our history or our ancestors, what matters is EUROPA. Sovereignty and national identity must be relegated for the 'bigger picture' as Tony Blair liked saying. What these twits in their arrogance and pomposity fail to grasp is that the British people and a magnificent history has shaped the world and usually for the better. From Shakespeare to Nelson to Wilberforce to Churchill; the history of the world would have been very different had British men and women not been employed to act according to a unique cultural and national identity.

  15. "...things are moving here, if by slow degrees."

    The game is up Ana. People have lost trust and patience with both main Parties. Cameron says that now is not the right time for a referendum. When is the right time? I will tell you, never. He does not want a referendum yet time and again moans about the EU having too much power. In Australia he says that Brussels is damaging British financial interests. Can you believe this man? On the one hand he has the power to solve the problem by offering the people a referendum on the EU yet he consistently fails to do so only to surface from a deep pit of ignorance to say that he is concerned about the EU for the aforementioned reasons. The bloke is off his bloody rocker. Apart from tribal reasons Ana is there any other reason why you would not vote UKIP?

  16. Chris, yes, I agree, our Parliamentary system is presently in a lamentable state, largely due to the impact of the European Union, alien, negative and undemocratic. I have a couple of articles in the pipeline here, one of which I will be posting tonight.

    Hey, I certainly hold Burke in the highest esteem! I admire him as much as I despise Paine, and I mean the post Commonsense Paine. I think it was J. H. Plumb who wrote of George that he was a limpet that never found his rock, a judgement that I don’t think can be bettered. If you like he was the second ‘unready’ of English history, thinking of that word in the old Anglo-Saxon sense of the meaning.

    Actually, no, I do use wordsmith in a complementary sense. It’s a talent that few politicians have – none now that I can think of -, a real feel for words and the cadence of language. Churchill had it and Lincoln had it, almost to a poetic degree. I can’t listen to the Gettysburg Address without feeling tears welling up.

  17. Nobby, as I said to Chris, I have a couple of EU articles I'll be posting, bearing on the present crisis. My political sympathies are all with last Monday's rebels, the new as well as the old guard. It's obvious that the leadership was seriously unsettled by the determination of the rebels, even in the face of all sorts of threats. This is something that cannot be ignored in future.

    Yes, I suppose I am tribal, a Tory by upbringing, affection and tradition. But if I thought that UKIP had a serious chance of making a breakthrough in national politics I would change my vote. The EU is fast becoming the great issue of our times, as much as German rearmament was in the 1930s.