Trick or truth?
(1) Treatise on Electoral Democracy (2) editorial response (3) a curiosity in Afghanistan (4) book of the month next scheduled date for distribution 14-1-2013
Coming into the office for coffee Monday morning we were astonished to find a copy of the following tract waiting for each of us. There was even one for Manos on the shelf in the broom cupboard.
Dear senior members of the office, kind of you to say I was not needed for your meeting about the letter from the woman in Bratislava. I was sorry to hear that after two hours you still weren’t able to come up with any satisfying ideas about ‘fighting injustice without violence but with intelligence’. Actually Friday evening Zoltan and I put our heads together over Java and Bath Olivers and we did think of one possible large-scale solution. If by chance you might be interested to see it, herewith. We admit it probably has to be a long term approach, will need enormous resources in energy and money, and may fail more often than not. Also we accept it is only relevant to countries with some sort of claim to be democracies. On the other hand, when it does work it really will bring a bright new dawn, as the cliché has it. The thing is to find a way of changing the country’s constitution to eliminate electoral democracy. Churchill notoriously described democracy as the worst system except for all the others, but that remark was made by someone who had done well out of the system, and who moreover was thinking of the system as then directed by the ruling class to which he belonged. We intend our suggestion seriously. Anyone looking round the world with eyes open can see that some governments can manage electoral democracy without serious inconvenience to the rest of the inhabitants and all their interests, but such governments are only a tiny minority. It is a trifle easier, admittedly, when the various parties fix things up so as to arrive at some degree of sharing of the spoils of power (which by the way we think is much closer to what happens in western Europe than many realise. And if you are tempted to quarrel over that point, take a look first at the difference between the average wage and the average politician’s financial package in every nation between the Urals and the Atlantic.) Taking a broad view across the world it is as plain as the beard on Manos’ chin to see that in any country with elections and a population of more than a few thousand the parties, which inevitably develop, briskly encourage divergences of view and interest to become explicit and then to grow increasingly hostile to contrasting views and conflicting interests; more important, in most cases parties steadily enlarge the schedule of tactics which they each use in order to gain or hold power at the time of the elections. These include – not exhaustively – lying, corruption, fraud in electoral procedures, manipulation of the judicial system, and of course violence. Not one of these will be in the interests of the mass of the population. Every single one is, now, a standard feature of elections around the world, and of political practice in the periods before and after elections in countries purporting to be democracies. Anyone who thinks these remarks exaggerated has simply not taken advantage of abundant available information from the four corners of the earth.
When a nation has fallen victim to the system of party democracy, can it be rescued? Change will certainly be resisted by parties which fear their loss of access to power and tangible assets. Certainly there is no easy escape route. But if for example a campaign of argument and persuasion, free of violence (which lowers the intelligence level of all concerned), is sustained through an evident period of national decline until the state experiences some major shock, escape is possible. (We are not specifically considering forthcoming events in Britain, France or Italy here, only thinking in general terms.) We would point out that it is only in the rare case when an autocrat, or a small tight-knit oligarchy not merely holds power but is confident of a secure hold on it, that there is some small chance of that power being exercised so as to give a conscientious measure of disinterested justice for members of the population, with no need to favour this or that group in order to shore up support and increase the chance of continuing to rule. In a democracy what chance has a poor farmer if the government decides that a highway shall be built across his or her land and through the family home? At the time of writing what sort of verdict would be given on electoral democracy as practised in, say, Spain over the past twenty years? We candidly admit that efforts at transition from democracy to an autocracy of goodwill are historical rarities, and even more rarely succeed even when attempted by a would-be benevolent autocrat. Most such manoeuvres have a high risk of installing greater injustice in the short term at least, but that is no sufficient reason for continuing to tolerate the deplorable defects (obvious but disregarded by theorists and by those with advantage to gain from the system) guaranteed with electoral democracy. An escape attempt can succeed and open the way to a balance of action which will be overall less inhumane, as for example when de Gaulle attained what was for a time personal power in France in 1958, bringing in particular an end to the brutal conflict in Algeria. And let us add that at this very time hundreds or even thousands of people are required to move out of their beloved homes of decades in the east of London so that those may be demolished and replaced by new ‘up-market’ apartments, far too expensive for the evicted to afford, in order to shape part of the ‘legacy’ of the Olympics ordained by a ‘democratic’ government; if those people have any hope of redress it is to be looked for in decisions made by a non-elected judiciary. My respectful regards, Jeremy.
The Deputy Editor writes: Jeremy clearly put a lot of work into the above with his friend Zoltan. We are always glad to encourage the young in efforts to improve their grasp of the world, and naturally it is often only through mistakes that they can, slowly, learn. That is why we decided to expose the above to a wider audience. It was not fair, though, to suggest that we ‘came up with’ no satisfying suggestions. We thought of quite a number, the only drawback being that they do not work. A short extract from the rough draft of the report I had already made:
Letters to politicians? Thrown into the bin by their secretaries. Writing to high-class journals, other leaders of public opinion? Don’t exist any more, and anyway they would only publish a balance of views which matches what their owners think already. Protest marches? Utterly useless, except for giving police practice at photography. Social media? Does anyone think that getting out messages to influence the minds (such as they are) of the facetube generation can ever produce effective action, now that governments have woken up to the idea of switching social media off? Sanctions? About as effective as a ‘code of conduct’ put up by some industry damaging a nation’s health, but too wealthy for governments to legislate against. Sleeping with the enemy? Or (for those who can’t bring themselves to go that far – the worst perpetrators of injustice are often physically as well as morally repellent) sweet-talking them at expensive dinner parties and dropping the odd remark about this or that prisoner who has been waiting eight years in prison without charge? Can anyone give an example where that’s got the prisoner out?
Opinion piece from occasional contributor Dryas Lisheng of Pusan
The interesting factor about the recent comment in Afghanistan by the British royal prince with the controversial career in the pages of the popular press was not that he said he had been killing Taliban. As a member of the British forces sent half across the world to bring a modern democracy to Afghanistan whether its population democratically want it or not – being democratic does not just mean ‘agreeing with what we say’, or does it? – he could not possibly refer to them as ‘insurgents’ (let alone as ‘the resistance’). The curious point was not, either, that it had not occurred to him that killing people in a foreign country with which his own country was not at war might be considered an act of the highest illegality (quite apart from the moral aspect). Nor was it surprising that he produced that old chestnut about taking a life to save a life; soldiers may need to take this line to avoid traumatic stress syndrome, which after all lasts a lot longer than the moment of death of the other party in the event (I do not raise the issue of the future situation of the family of the other party). In any case, if it really is a matter of one life balanced against one other this is not so inequitable as the balance when drones are used, taking typically several lives in order not to save but to take another life (in the standard case without reliable evidence that the latter belonged to someone who really counted as an enemy; admittedly some of those who survive the incident will certainly count thereafter as enemy – but is this an efficient way to conduct one’s policy?) However, none of these is the intriguing factor. What is remarkable is that the British military posted this controversial scion of their nation’s first family, without real attempts at secrecy and without regard for the Taliban declarations that he would be a special target, to this dangerous helicopter assignment and kept him there for five months.
*Editorial note: we would remind Ms Dryas who mentions democracy that democracy means the will of the people as expressed by those qualified to express it; this naturally rules out the young, the insane, and all those whose access to the truth has been impeded, or who have been exposed to incorrect views by dishonest propaganda, or whose judgment is warped by improper social pressures, or whose ideas have been shaped through education in an undesirable system. We trust Ms Dryas will not deny that a truly valid judgment of what is needed in a particular society and should be produced by the democratic will there can in general only be made by those with a clear and correct view, observing from outside.
Book of the month Etienne Bagleigh-Dubois and Louise Sokolenkova (edd.) ‘Slaking the wildebeest’s thirst for knowledge’ Peppercabbage Press, Chiangmai (publication date not yet set) Gives an account of the world’s only hospital specialising in mental illnesses of spin-doctors, and the circumstances of its closure
honor hominesque honesti floreant