Democracy

D.G. Ritchie’s Philosophical Justification for State Interference

Okay, this is going to be a long extract, but bear with it. It all needs to be said. One of the arguments I’ve seen Libertarians use to defend their ideology of a minimal state and absolute laissez-faire free enterprise and zero state welfare, is that liberals and socialists don’t have any philosophical arguments to justify their position beyond pointing to the practical, positive effects. I’ve seen this line stated by one of the more notorious Libertarians, Vox Day. Not only is Day a supporter of the miserable and immiserating economics of vons Hayek and Mises, but he has extreme right-wing views on feminism and race. You can tell just how far right he is by the fact that he calls Donald Trump ‘the God Emperor’ and refers to Anders Breivik, the man who called 70 odd children at a Norwegian Young Socialists’ camp, a saint. He really is despicable.

In fact, the philosophers of the New Liberalism, which appeared in Britain in the 1880s, like T.H. Green, D.G. Ritchie, J.A. Hobson and L.T. Hobhouse, produced philosophical defences of state interference to justify the new change in direction taken by the Liberals. These had broken with the stance of the old Radicals, who were firmly against state legislation. Instead, these philosophers argued that state interference, rather than reducing human freedom, actually enlarged it by empowering the individual. Ritchie, in the piece below, attacks the simplistic notion of the state versus personal liberty expressed by Herbert Spencer, the founder of Social Darwinism, and provides a philosophical justification for collective ownership not just in nationalization but also municipalization. In his The Principles of State Interference of 1891 he wrote

Underlying all these traditions and prejudices there is a particular metaphysical theory-a metaphysical theory which takes hold of those persons especially who are fondest of abjuring all metaphysics; and the disease is in their case the more dangerous since they do not know when they have it. The chief symptom of this metaphysical complaint is the belief in the abstract individual. The individual is thought of, at least spoken of, as if he had a meaning and significance apart from his surroundings and apart from his relations to the community of which he is a member. It may be quite true that the significance of the individual is not exhausted by his relations to any given set of surroundings; but apart from all these he is a mere abstraction-a logical ghost, a metaphysical spectre, which haunts the habitations of those who have derided metaphysics. The individual, apart from all relations to a community, is a negation. You can say nothing about him, or rather it, except that it is not any other individual. Now, along with this negative and abstract view of the individual there goes, as counterpart, the way of looking at the State as an opposing element to the individual. The individual and the State are put over against one another. Their relation is regarded as one merely of antithesis. Of course, this is a point of view which we can take, and quite rightly for certain purposes; but it is only one point of view. It expresses only a partial truth; and a partial truth, if accepted as the whole truth, is always a falsehood. Such a conception is, in any case, quite inadequate as a basis for any profitable discussion of the duties of Government.

It is this theory of the individual which underlies Mill’s famous book, Liberty. Mill, and all those who take up his attitude towards the State, seem to assume that all power gained by the State is so much taken from the individual, and conversely, that all power gained by the individual is gained at the expense of the state. Now this is to treat the two elements, power of the State and power (or liberty) of the individual, as if they formed the debit and credit sides of an account book; it is to make them like two heaps of a fixed number of stones, to neither of which you can add without taking from the other. It is to apply a mere quantitative conception in politics, as it that were an adequate ‘category’ in such matters. the same thing is done when society is spoken of as merely ‘an aggregate of individuals.’ The citizen of a State, the member of a society of any sort, even an artificial or temporary association, does not stand in the same relation to the Whole that one number does to a series of numbers, or that one stone does to a heap of stones. Even ordinary language shows this. We feel it to be a more adequate expression to say that the citizen is a member of the body politic, than to call him merely a unit in a political aggregate…

Life Mr. Spencer defines as adaptation of the individual to his environment; but, unless the individual manages likewise to adapt his environment to himself, the definition would be more applicable to death.

It must not be supposed that we wish to blind ourselves to the many real difficulties and objections which there are in the way of remedying and preventing evils by direct State action. If assured that the end is good, we must see that the means are sufficient and necessary, and we must be prepared to count the cost. But, admitting the real difficulties, we must not allow imaginary difficulties to block the way. In the first place, as already said, State action does not necessarily imply the direct action of the central government. Many things may be undertaken by local bodies which it would be unwise to put under the control of officials at a distance. ‘Municipalisation’ is, in many cases, a much better ‘cry’ than ‘Nationalisation’. Experiments may also be more safely tried in small than in large areas, and local bodies may profit by each other’s experience. Diffusion of power may well be combined with concentration of information. ‘Power’, says J.S. Mill, ‘may be localized, but knowledge to be most useful must be centralized.’ Secondly, there are many matters which can more easily be taken in hand than others by the State as presently constituted. Thus the means of communication and locomotion can in every civilized country be easily nationalized or municipalized, where this has not been done already. With regard to productive industries, there may appear greater difficulty. But the process now going on by which the individual capitalist more and more gives place to enormous joint-stock enterprises, worked by salaried managers, this tendency of capital to become ‘impersonal,’ is making the transition to management by government (central or local) very much more simple, and very much more necessary, than in the days of small industries, before the ‘industrial revolution’ began. The State will not so much displace individual enterprise, as substitute for the irresponsible company or ‘trust’ the responsible public corporation. Thirdly, and lastly, be it observed that the arguments used against ‘government’ action, where the government is entirely or mainly in the hands of a ruling class or caste, exercising wisely or unwisely a paternal or ‘grandmotherly’ authority-such arguments lose their force just in proportion as government becomes more and more genuinely the government of the people by the people themselves. The explicit recognition of popular sovereignty tends to abolish the antithesis between ‘the Man’ and ‘the State’. The State becomes, not ‘I’ indeed, but ‘we.’ The main reason for desiring more State action is in order to give the individual a greater chance of developing all his activities in a healthy way. The State and the individual are not sides of an antithesis between which we must choose; and it is possible, though, like all great things, difficult for a democracy to construct a strong and vigorous State, and thereby to foster a strong and vigorous individuality, not selfish nor isolated, but finding its truest welfare in the welfare of the community. Mr. Spencer takes up the formula ‘from status to contract’ as a complete philosophy of history. Is there not wanting a third and higher stage in which there shall be at once order and progress, cohesion and liberty, socialistic-but, therefore, rendering possible the highest development of all such individuality as constitutes an element in well-being? Perhaps then Radicalism is not turning back to an effete Toryism, but advancing to a further and positive form, leaving to the Tories and old Whigs and to Mr. Spencer the worn-out and cast-off credd of its own immaturity.

In Alan Bullock and Maurice Shock, eds., The Liberal Tradition: From Fox to Keynes (Oxford: OUP 1956), pp. 187-90.

Libertarianism was discredited long ago, when 19th century governments first started passing legislation to clear slums and give the labouring poor proper sanitation, working hours and education. Its philosophical justification came later, but I think also effectively demolished it. The people promoting it, such as the Koch brothers in America, are big businessmen seeking to re-establish a highly exploitative order which allowed industry to profit massively at the expense of working people. It became popular through aligning itself with left-wing ideas of personal liberty that emerged in the 1960s, such as the drug culture, and in the ’90s produced the illegal rave scene. In the form of Anarcho-Capitalism, it also appealed to some of those who were attracted to anarchism, while attacking the communist elements in that philosophy. Its adherent also try to justify it by calling it Classical Liberalism.

But it’s still just the same old reactionary ideology, that should have finally gone out with end of the Nineteenth Century. I think that as more people become trapped in poverty as a result of its policies, it’ll lose whatever popularity it once had. And perhaps then we can back to proper political theories advocating state intervention to advance the real, practical liberty of working people.

Spitting Image on the ‘No Confidence’ Vote Against Thatcher

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/12/2018 - 6:52am in

Corbyn’s finally tabled a motion of ‘No Confidence’ in Tweezer after her refusal to allow a meaningful vote on the pathetic deal she’s made with Brussels. So I though I’d put up this video from Andrewscottuk’s channel on YouTube of a classic Spitting Image sketch about Thatcher. It’s a spoof on the ‘No Confidence’ vote the Tories held about Thatcher, which resulted in her resignation, and shows parliament singing ‘Go Now’ to her.

Enjoy!

And I hope the same thing happens to Tweezer, and she gets the message: Go. Now!

Jeremy Corbyn Calls for ‘No Confidence’ Vote on Tweezer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/12/2018 - 6:38am in

So it’s finally happened. Despite the SNP telling the world that Corbyn is content to leave Theresa May in power for now, the Labour leader has done precisely the opposite: he’s tabled a motion of ‘No Confidence’ in May. This video from RT shows him announcing that he is doing so, and was posted c. 6.45 pm, today, Monday 17th December 2018. Mr. Corbyn says

The Prime Minister has obdurately refused to ensure that a vote took place on the date she agreed, she refuses to allow a vote to take place this week and is now, I assume, thinking the vote will be on the 14th January, almost a month away. This is unacceptable in any way whatsoever. So, Mr speaker, as the only way I can think of ensuring a vote takes place this week, I am about to table a motion which says the following:

That this House has no confidence in the Prime Minister, due to her failure to allow the House of Commons to have a meaningful vote straight away on the withdrawal agreement and framework for future relationships between the UK and European Union, and that will be tabled immediately, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.

John Bercow replies with “I think the honourable gentleman for what he said. It requires no response from me, but it’s on the record.”

May listens quietly throughout Corbyn’s speech with that silly smile on her face, before leaving the debating chamber in silence.

Corbyn’s finally done something to force May to call a vote on the Brexit deal, as well as striking a blow at May herself. I was hoping for something like this, along with many others. I was furious at May’s decision last week to travel again to the EU to seek yet more concessions, and the results of her bungling. As Mike showed on his blog, she achieved nothing except to make things worse as the EU removed some of the clauses which would have worked in our favour.

May is an absolute liability to this country and the welfare, health and livelihood of its citizens. Thatcher had the good grace to leave when the Tories held a ‘No Confidence’ vote against her, and she actually had more votes than May. But then, there were also riots breaking out all over the country protesting against her iniquitous poll tax.

Does that mean that the people of this country have to do the same to get rid of her? I sincerely hope not, but this is what it looks like. And despite all her verbiage about people coming back together to get the best deal for Brexit, she has done nothing of the kind to do this. The country is still as divided as ever, and the pundits in the papers over the past month have been worrying about this almost as if a civil war was about to break out. Which it isn’t, thank heaven, and the newspaper’s predictions and alarms just show how hysterical and alarmist they are.

I hope this vote succeeds. I hope that it forces the vote on the Brexit deal to be held this week, before Tweezer can postpone it further into Never-Never Land. And I hope she goes. Now.

Adolf Hitler on Lord Rothermere’s Support

Here’s another interesting snippet from Hitler’s Table-Talk (Oxford: OUP 1988). The Daily Mail is rightly notorious for having supported the Nazis and Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in the period before the Second World War. It’s why it’s got the unaffectionate nickname the Heil, from the Nazi salute.

And every so often that past comes back to bite them. Several times over the past few years the peeps on the internet have dug out articles from the rag from the 1930s supporting the Fascists to show what a vile newspaper it is. They did when the paper tried to attack the former Labour leader Ed Miliband, by running an article smearing his father, the respected Marxist intellectual Ralph Miliband, as ‘the Man Who Hated Britain’. Miliband was a Jewish refugee from Belgium, who fled here from the Nazis. And while he hated British capitalism, its class system and the public schools, he joined the army and fought bravely to defend this country against Nazi tyranny. Unlike the father or grandfather of former Mail editor, Paul Dacre, who was well out of the line of fire as a domestic showbiz correspondent.

The Mail also got sharply reminded of its anti-Semitic past when it again tried smearing another Labour leader, Miliband’s successor, Jeremy Corbyn, as an anti-Semite. And then two months ago Private Eye had fun when it revealed that the newspaper had spiked an article on a 1930s German tennis star, who had opposed the Nazis. This courageous athlete had been blackballed by the Wimbledon tennis club because he was gay. And the people, who led the campaign included Dacre’s father and Geordie Greig, the present editor of the paper. It also revealed that Greig’s father or grandfather was also a member of one of Oswald Mosley’s wretched think tanks, founded to spread Fascist and corporate state thought.

Hitler had personally met the Heil’s notorious owner, Lord Rothermere, several times, and mentions the support the newspaper magnate had given him in his after dinner conversation, which was recorded in the pages of the Table-Talk. The Fuhrer said

The first time the Princess ___ visited me, she brought a letter from Rothermere. I asked Neurath if he considered it advisable for me to receive her. His reply was that, if we could get Rothermere on our side, it would be a terrific accomplishment; and that, at all costs, I must hear what she had to say. When the scarecrow appeared, I muttered “For God and Fatherland” and braced myself to receive her.

In his letter Rothermere said he would gladly use his Press to further a rapprochement between Britain and Germany. We subsequently exchanged a series of letter, one of which was very important. I had written to Rothermere to say that I had no grounds for hostility towards Italy, and that I considered Mussolini to be an outstanding personality; that if the British thought they could ride roughshod over a man like Mussolini, they were greatly mistaken; that he was the incarnation of the spirit of the Italian people (in those days I still had illusions about the Italians); that attempts to strangle Italy were futile; and that Italy, as Germany had done before her, would look after herself, and finally, that Germany could be no party to any action directed against Italy or Italian interests.

Thereupon Rothermere came over to see me, and the Princess accompanied him. I must admit I prefer a friendly little kitchen wench to a politically minded lady! Nevertheless, the fact remains-the attitude of the Daily Mail at the time of our re-occupation of the Rhineland was of great assistance to us, as it was also over the question of our naval programme. All the British of the Beaverbrook-Rothermere circle came to me and said: “in the last war we were on the wrong side.” Rothermere told me that he and Beaverbrook were in complete agreement that never again should there be war between Britain and Germany. (p. 685).

The Heil always has been a viciously right-wing, racist rag, and Hitler appreciated the support it, and the press barons Beaverbrook and Rothermere had given him. Its claims to support this country against immigrants and the Left are grotesque and disgusting. In the 1970s various Tories, including the Times, were considering launching a coup to overthrow the minority Labour government of time. I’ve no doubt that if Corbyn did get into power, the Mail would also enthusiastically support anyone who would try to overthrow him. They’d smear him as a Communist and Trotskyite to justify the coup, of course, just as the Americans have smeared as Communists the democratically elected Socialist and left-wing leaders of the foreign governments they’ve toppled. And the Tory BBC would be willingly complicit.

Hitler Against Politicians and Nazis Functionaries on Management Boards

Hitler’s Table Talk (Oxford: OUP 1988) is also interesting for what it reveals about the Fuhrer’s attitude towards politicians sitting on the boards of private companies. He was against it, because he believed that it merely allowed the companies to enrich themselves corruptly through getting their pet politicos to give them government subsidies. Hitler said

No servant of the state must be a shareholder. No Gauleiter, no Member of the Reichstag and, in general, no Party leader must be a member of any board of directors, regardless of whether the appointment is honorary or paid; for even if the individual were actuated solely by the interests of the State and even if he possessed the integrity of Cato himself, the public would lose faith in him. In capitalist states it is essential for a great enterprise to have in its employ men of influence – hence the large numbers of members of Parliament and high official who figure on boards of directors. The amounts disbursed to these personages in directors’ fees, share of profits and so on is more than recouped by one or two fat government contracts which they are in a position to secure for their company.

The Danube Shipping Company, for example, paid out eighty thousand Kronen a year to each of the dozen Members of Parliament, who sat on its board of directors. But it recouped itself many times over for this expenditure through the influence these men were able to exercise in its favour. All the competition was eliminated and a virtual monopoly was gained – all to the detriment of the state, or, in other words, of the community. It must therefore be accepted as an absolute principle that no Member of the Reichstag, no civil servant and no party leader must be in any way connected with business of this nature. (pp. 594-5).

When an official retires from state service, he should not be allowed to enter a line of business with which he previously had official dealings. For one may be quite sure that any firm would be gladly employ him – not on account of the services he could render, but for the connections which he undoubtedly would have. If this were not so, then directors would not earn fees amounting to thirty-six marks a year-and more. Further, it is a scandal that men of this kind should usurp the positions to which others have a prior claim, namely, those who have passed their whole lives in the service of an enterprise and have risen, step by step, to the top. This one characteristic is alone sufficient to demonstrate their immorality of the whole system. (pp. 595-6)

Hitler had discussed the case of the Danube Shipping Company and it corrupt connections to the German parliament on a previous occasion. He said

The problem of monopolies handed over to capitalist interests interested me even in my boyhood. I’d been struck by the example of the Danube Shipping Company, which received an annual subsidy of four millions, a quarter of which was once shared out amongst its twelve directors. Each of the big parties was represented in this august college by at least two of its members, each of them pocketing about eighty million kronen yearly! One may feel sure that these mandarins saw to it that the comrades voted punctually for the renewal of the subsidy! But the Socialists were acquiring more and more importance, and it happened that none of their lot was on the board. That’s why the scandal broke. The Company was attacked in the Parliament and in the press. Threatened with being deprived of the subsidy, it replied by abolishing the passenger-service. And since the politicians on the board had already taken care that no railway should be built along the Danube, the riverside populations were the chief victims of these arbitrary measures. A solution of the conflict was found quite rapidly-and you can imagine which! Quite simply, the number of members of the board was increased to fourteen, and the two new seats were offered to two well-know Socialists-who hastened to accept them.

What makes England so fragile is that her whole economic system is founded on similar principles.

From the moment of our seizure of power, having my own set ideas on the subject, I took the precaution of forbidding every director of a company to be a member of the Reichstag. Since men who have interests in a private company cannot be objective on a great number of questions, I likewise forbade office-holders in the Party to take part in business of a capitalist complexion. The same prohibition applies, by the way, to all servants of the state. I therefore cannot allow an official, whether he belongs to the Army or to the civil administration, to invest his savings in industry, except in companies controlled by the state. (pp. 366-7).

Hitler was a murderous tyrant, and he and his foul regime were responsible for the deaths of 11 1/2 million innocents in the concentration camps – 6 million Jews and 5 1/2 million assorted gentiles. He was responsible for a War that killed 40 million or so. And if he had won the War, he would not only have exterminated the Jews, the Gypsies and the disabled, but also the Slav peoples of eastern Europe, the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians.

But in the instance, Hitler is absolutely right, however offensive it is to say it. The corporate system, which has emerged in America and Britain is a menace to politics and society. In America, private companies heavily donate to the main political parties and the campaigns of individual politicians. It’s why Congress is now notorious for not doing what ordinary electors want, but passing legislation that only benefits big business. This has resulted in massive disaffection amongst the American public, only 19 per cent of whom has said in polls they trust the government to work for them. And because Congress no longer expresses the wishes of the people, but the capitalist oligarchy, a study by Harvard University a few years ago concluded that America was no longer a functioning democracy.

And Britain is very much suffering from the same situation. A recent study showed that most politicians in parliament were held directorships in at least one company, and so a significant proportion of them – well over half – were millionaires. During New Labour’s period in office, very many company directors and senior managers were put in position of government, frequently on those bodies that were supposed to be regulating their industries. And this followed the pattern set by John Major’s Tory government, which became mired in a scandal over this sleaze. George Monbiot, who is very definitely not a Nazi, described the situation under New Labour in his book, Captive State. As did Rory Bremner and the Johns Bird and Fortune in their book, You Are Here. Private Eye has also continually reported the close connections between politicians, civil servants and private companies, and the revolving doors between government and industry, particularly regarding defence. And again, this bears out what Hitler said:

What makes England so fragile is that her whole economic system is founded on similar principles.

And you know that when a mass-murderer like Hitler is right, something is very, very seriously wrong. This has got to change, and private enterprise has to be forced out of politics.

American Right-Winger Wants to Impose Fascist Dictators

Bit of American politics, which shows how the mask slips occasionally from the faces of respected conservative political pundits to show the real Fascist underneath.

In this video from Secular Talk, host Kyle Kulinski discusses recent tweets from Eric Erickson and what this says about the right-wing bias in the supposedly liberal media. Erickson’s been a fixture of the American news media for years. He had a job as contributor at CNN, in October this year, 2018, he was on Meet The Press, and was the subject of a glowing article in the New Yorker, a supposedly liberal paper. Kulinski points out that, especially in contrast to himself, who has only been on Fox News twice, Erickson’s certainly isn’t a fringe figure. He is very definitely a part of the mainstream media. The lamestream media love him because he’s nominal anti-Trump. But he posted a series of tweets stating that he wanted American to impose another dictator like Pinochet on the countries of South America.

Erickson tweeted:

The US spends $618 million in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. We could double that and it’d still only be 11% of the cost of the wall. And we cold deploy the money to find and prop up the next generation of Pinochet types.

These countries are corrupt. We will not exterminate that corruption. But let’s not pretend we should let corrupt autocrats thrive who work against our hemispheric interests and cause refugee caravans to approach our borders.

Support strong leaders who will force through free market reforms and promote economic stability even with a heavy hand.

In reply to Josiah Neeley’s comment that there might be holes in this plan,
Erickson responds with ‘I think there might be some helicopters in this plan’.

Kulinski explains that the last comment refers to Pinochet’s habit of murdering his political opponents by throwing them out of helicopters. He then reads out a piece from Think Progress, which explains that Pinochet was the Fascist dictator, who seized power in Chile after overthrowing the democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, in a CIA backed coup. He ruled from 1973 to 1990. Pinochet tortured, murdered and exiled his political opponents. In at least 120 cases they were killed by being thrown out of helicopters into the sea. Pinochet’s thugs also assassinated Orlando Leteiler, a former Chilean diplomat, and two other bystanders in car bomb in Washington D.C. in 1976.
But all this is fine in the eyes of the far-right, because he also brought in free market reforms.

Kulinski goes on to warn his audience that this is what lies underneath the façade of respectability the next time they hear a right-winger sanctimoniously declaring that they believe in freedom, democracy and human rights. The next time Erickson is cheering on America’s next intervention in Latin America, it will be because it has nothing to do with freedom and human rights. Erickson has told everyone that he prefers Fascists like Pinochet, who rule through terror and institute free market reforms.

Kulinski states that this brings him back to the point he made at the beginning of his piece about the bias in the American media. They will run extensive pieces on the right and extreme right, because they view them as inherently sexy and interesting. It’s the age of Trump, and they want to provide some insight into a growing right-wing movement. That’s why they’ll publish features on Trump supporters and real neo-Nazis in the mid-West and Richard Spencer, but won’t cover the resurgent socialist and progressive left in America. Neither he, Cenk Uygur, Chakyaborti, or Zack Exley, the founders of Justice Democrats, have got glowing individual reviews in the press. Left-wing groups like the Justice Democrats, Our Revolution and a number of others named by Kulinski, have won 41 per cent of their primaries, and there are now 13 candidates backed by them going to Washington. They’re moving the Democrat party left, and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has also defeated another right-wing opponent. These groups didn’t exist an election cycle ago. But they’ve got no coverage, because the press sees left-wing activism as boring. He mocks them, saying that they wave away people demanding proper healthcare as boring, but get terribly excited when they find someone who believes in an ethno-state and wears a suit. Which is clearly a reference to Richard Spencer, the very conventionally dressed founder of the Alt Right.

Kulinski argues that this imbalance is due to the media overreacting to accusations of liberal bias. They’re so terrified of it that they go overboard to be kind to the right. And so there are no articles giving positive coverage to the idea that Bernie Sanders might run in 2020. Instead they try to shove on American voters establishment types like John Kerry, who lost to George ‘Dubya’ Bush and Hillary Clinton. But when it comes to the left there’s silence. And so the chickens have metaphorically come home to roost when Erickson makes his Fascist tweets.

Kulinski concludes by observing that this won’t stop Erickson appearing on the news media. But he asks his audience what kind of system allows and actively promotes loathsome clowns like Eric Erickson, while downplaying Social Democrats and those on the populist left. A broken system, a s****y system, a corrupted system, he answers.

In some ways it’s really not surprising that someone like Erickson should hold such horrific views. As William Blum has shown in his books and website, the Anti-Empire Report, this has been America’s policy in Latin America and elsewhere in the world since the end of World War II. America has supported Fascist coups and dictators in Chile and Guatemala, where the democratic socialist president, Jacobo Arbenz, was overthrown and smeared as a Communist because he dared to nationalize the plantations owned by the American United Fruit Company. Reagan backed the murderous Contras in Nicaragua, the right-wing Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, and the brutal Samosa regime and the leader of its death squads, Rios Montt, in El Salvador. And Hillary Clinton is no better. She endorsed the Fascist regime that seized power in Honduras in 2012. A regime that has rounded up and killed indigenous activists, trade unionists and left-wingers. Perhaps the only thing surprising about Erickson’s comments on twitter was that he’s honest about his support for Fascism.

And it’s America’s brutal policies in Latin America, that are partly responsible for the migrant caravan of refugees seeking to flee countries that have been denied freedom and prosperity by America.

Erickson’s tweets show what’s really underneath the mask of moderate respectability worn by American right-wing pundits. Which makes you wonder if our own Conservatives and Conservative media figures are any different. I very much doubt it. They’re just better at hiding it.

Score voting: a simpler, less distorting measure of voters’ will

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/12/2018 - 1:41pm in

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Democracy

Score voting avoids the vagaries and gaming that are intrinsic to preference ranking systems. It is simpler and more reliably reflects the will of voters. You have probably used it if you have completed a survey. We should use it in political elections.

Score voting: a simpler, less distorting measure of voters’ will

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/12/2018 - 1:13pm in

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Democracy

Score voting avoids the vagaries and gaming that are intrinsic to preference ranking systems. It is simpler and more reliably reflects the will of voters. You have probably used it if you have completed a survey. We should use it in political elections.

The 2018 Victorian election has turned up another result in which ‘preference whispering’ by minor parties has distorted the will of the people ($, William Bowe at Crikey), if we take the will of the people to be indicated by first-preference votes.

Minor parties scored 25% of upper house seats from 20% of first-preference votes, whereas the Greens scored only one seat with votes that exceeded almost all minor-party votes individually. In one case a primary vote of 1.3% beat a Greens primary vote of 13.5%.

A senate election in WA a few years ago hung on the chance flow of minor preferences halfway through the count. A slightly different flow would have swung the count to a different winning candidate, though the key preferences were not directly about that candidate.

Voting systems in some states and federal elections were reformed a few years ago to reduce this kind of distortion. The trouble is there is no perfect preferential voting system. Preferential voting is intrinsically prone to such distortions. There is even a mathematical theorem proving it can never be guaranteed to accurately reflect the will of the people.

There is however another voting system that is much less prone to distortion, and to the associated gaming commonly used to deflect voters’ intentions. It is called, variously, score voting, range voting or utilitarian voting.

You have probably used this system, just not in elections. It is used commercially to measure the popularity of products. It is also commonly used to determine voters’ approval of the performance of prime ministers and other politicians, and sometimes to choose among different policies.

This is the kind of survey in which you might be asked, about each alternative, whether you approve, disapprove or don’t care. The surveyor assigns a score to each option, such as +1, -1, and 0, and simply adds up the scores for each alternative. Sometimes the scale is extended to include strongly approve (+2) and strongly disapprove (-2).

So in an election a ballot paper would list all the candidates and ask you to rate each candidate. You could assign your score or degree of approval to any or all candidates. The candidate with the highest tally of scores would be the winner. If there were, say, five candidates to be elected then the five highest scorers would be elected.

This system has many advantages, the main one being it is simple and only minimally distorts the will of voters. There would be little opportunity to game the system because there are no flows of preferences that can be manipulated, simply a tally of scores.

There would be no such thing as an informal vote, because if you did not rate a candidate it would be taken to mean “don’t care”.

If you were equally comfortable with two candidates, you could give them both your full approval, and they would both benefit. If you wanted to maximise the chances of one candidate, you could give them maximum approval and all the others maximum disapproval. Conversely if you wanted to minimise the chances of a candidate you could give them maximum disapproval and all the others maximum approval.

There would be another important benefit. If all parties were very unpopular, as has been true in Australia for some time, then that would show up in the scores. For example a winning candidate might get an average score of only -1, and the other candidates -1.5 or less. In that case it would be clear that voters had chosen the least undesirable candidate, rather than one of whom they really approve.

Winning politicians love to claim they have a mandate for all their policies. It’s never that simple of course, but with this system you would have objective evidence they had not been “approved”, just tolerated as the least-worst alternative.

There is a web site that explores the details and nuances of score voting, run by the Center For Election Science in the US. One version, in which you simply either approve or disapprove, is called approval voting.

Technically it is called a cardinal voting system, as distinct from an ordinal voting system. You rate each candidate rather than putting all candidates in rank order. You can express your absolute level of approval, not just your “approval” of a bad candidate relative to worse candidates.

So let’s have ballot papers that survey our rating of candidates, elections that simply and straight-forwardly choose the highest-rated, or least-low-rated, candidates, and results that register our collective degree of approval or disapproval.

Feature Essay: Language Movements and Democracy in India by Mithilesh Kumar Jha

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/12/2018 - 10:47pm in

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Asia, Democracy

In this feature essay, Language Movements and Democracy in India, Mithilesh Kumar Jha draws on his recent book Language Politics and Public Sphere in North India (Oxford UP). In the piece, he argues that capturing the real and continuing tensions and challenges of democratic practices in India requires attention to how they are performed and understood within its numerous vernacular spheres, drawing particularly on the linguistic movements that have asserted the importance of ‘minor’ or ‘non-scheduled’ languages in the nation.

This essay is part of the LSE RB Translation and Multilingualism Week, running between 10 and 14 December 2018. If you are interested in this topic, all posts published as part of the week can be accessed here. If you would like to contribute on this topic in the future, please contact us at Lsereviewofbooks@lse.ac.uk

Language Movements and Democracy in India

Democracy in India, even if it had historical roots in the ancient past, is a new development and possibly a radical experiment in a caste-ridden society characterised by graded hierarchies. There have been numerous challenges to Indian democracy, and its contemporary phase is fraught with even bigger obstacles. The functioning of democracy and its failures are once again the subject of public as well as scholarly debates. Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of response. The first takes either an all-India perspective or examines the trajectories of Indian democracy through its various provinces. The second analyses these trajectories through categories like caste, class, gender or religion. These approaches have helped in understanding Indian democracy and its various fault lines. However, in Language Politics and Public Sphere in North India: Making of the Maithili Movement (OUP 2018), I have argued that they have failed to capture the real tensions and everyday confrontations to democratic practices that are enacted in its numerous vernacular spheres. It is in these spheres that the meanings and practices of democracy are constantly altered, confronted and also reinforced. Therefore, the study of language movements in modern India, I believe, could provide richer resources for examining and analysing the functioning of as well as the evolutions and challenges to democracy and politics in modern India.

Language movements have been debated in numerous ways since the beginning of modern vernacular education and classificatory exercises during colonial rule. During the nationalist phase, the question of ‘national’ language became, politically and emotionally, a very charged issue. The Hindi-Urdu debate is well-known and widely explored. In the first few decades after independence, India witnessed numerous linguistic riots, the linguistic reorganisation of states and clashes between supporters of Hindi and resistances to its ‘imposition’ as the ‘national’ language, especially from speakers of Tamil and other South Indian languages.

Since then, the language issue is seen as more or less settled, although there have been various studies that critically examine the Hindi-Urdu debates, the making of Hindi as the ‘national’ language, or the making of modern Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Panjabi and so on. But there are very few studies using language movements to understand the progress and limits of Indian democracy and its various contradictions. At best, language movements are treated merely as an identity issue. If they promote Hindi or other ‘major’ Indian languages, they are welcomed or promoted. But if they promote other ‘minor’ or ‘non-scheduled’ languages i.e. the languages which are not part of the eighth schedule of the Indian constitution, such as Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Braj, Tulu, Bodo and so on they are not only discouraged but also suspected.

Image Credit: Jalamb Junction Railway Station, Jalamb, Maharashtra, India, with station name in three languages (English, Hindi and the local language, in this case Marathi) (Ganesh Dhamodkar CC BY SA 2.0)

Language, with the beginning of print and the expansion of nationalism, is at the root of all modern social and political imaginaries. It simultaneously connects the self emotionally and psychologically with community, and that makes language a very powerful tool for social and political mobilisations. In the imaginaries of the nation, the role of a ‘national’ language is of prime ideological importance: the growth and development of one’s language is now seen as the growth and development of self and community. In modern India, Bhartendu Harishchandra’s (1850-85; a Benares-based Hindi writer and poet, also regarded as the father of the Hindi renaissance) idea of nija bhasha unnat ahai sab unnat kee mool (in the development of one’s language lies the roots of all development) became the rallying point for various linguistic communities in north India. However, this makes the language issue in a multilingual country like India even more problematic, especially when ‘minor’ and ‘non-scheduled’ languages begin to assert their demands and concerns. Usually, these movements are seen as parochial and impediments to the growth and expansion of the ‘national’ language – Hindi. However, millions of speakers of Indian languages continue to make sense of and participate in the democratic process through their vernaculars. Linguistic movements and assertions continuously alter and expand the meaning and practices of democracy in India. Therefore, without engaging with these, one’s understanding of Indian democracy shall always be incomplete or partial.

In the linguistic economy of India, we have the English elite at the top, followed by bilingual or trilingual elites with knowledge of English and one or more Indian languages. They have played a historical role in transmitting ideas like democracy or nation or swaraj (self-rule) in various vernacular spheres. Below them are the vast majority of monolingual masses with very little or no knowledge of Hindi, let alone English. In this kind of linguistic economy, one can very well infer the limits of one’s understanding of Indian democracy or polity if it takes into account the concerns of only one particular community. The majority of linguistic communities in India are still grappling with the questions of modernity, democracy, swaraj, nation and so on. And they are willing to reconcile their concerns with the nation’s, but not at the cost of their mother tongues. This make the issue of language and democracy in India even more fascinating.

Rammanohar Lohia (1910-67), the socialist ideologue, in his staunch opposition to English, understood the valuable role of Indian languages in the democratisation of state and society. He wanted Indian languages to be elevated to the status of English. However, the linguistic situation in India is very far from this ideal. English continues to be a ticket to enter into the ruling class of India. And it continues to reproduce a wide gulf between the elite and the masses. Shall India ever overcome this contradiction? Do linguistic movements have the potential to radically alter the privileges associated with a particular language?

Language, although in a limited sense, did provide a modern secular tool for people to connect together by transcending the boundries of caste, religion, class and gender. And a critical understanding of the rise and assertion of linguistic movements in different parts of the country will help one understand processes of domination and subordination. With the standardisation of a language, many languages, even those with rich literary histories, have lost their status, but the speakers of these languages are conscious of their distinctiveness. And when the opportune time comes, they do assert this. Many linguistic movements emerged as a challenge to their appropriation by a standard language. In north India, the speakers of Maithili, Bhojpuri, Awadhi and Braj are making such claims.

There is another aspect to these linguistic movements. There are tendencies towards reproducing the age-old and existing hierarchies within them, even when these movements have been fighting against their appropriation by a standard or ‘major’ language. Within their own spheres, they also try to marginalise their own ‘varieties’ or ‘sub/dialects’. Often these movements are appropriated by the dominant castes and classes. But it is also in these spheres that such dominations are challenged and countered. For example, in the Maithili movement, the leadership has been exclusively in the hands of upper caste Brahmins and Kayasthas. But such hegemony is being increasingly questioned in the movement’s contemporary phase. To democratise the state and its institutions, it is essential to democratise society. Can it be done without democratising vernacular spheres where real battles between democratic and undemocratic forces are fought every day?

Language movements in India provide a valuable source for understanding the trajectories of ideas like democracy, swaraj and nation in modern India. Indeed, deeper engagements with Indian languages and their literary spheres will not only broaden our understanding of Indian democracy and its various challenges, but also the entanglements of these communities with modernity. Were imaginaries in these vernacular spheres distinct from national imaginaries? How did these hierarchical societies and communities reconcile with modern ideals like democracy or equal citizenship? In other words, the real entanglements of democracy in India can be better explained by closely engaging with modern Indian languages and their public spheres. These spheres are not necessarily democratic, but without making them such, trajectories of Indian democracy shall always be incomplete.

Dr. Mithilesh Kumar Jha teaches political science in the Department of Humanities and Social Science, IIT Guwahati. His most recent publication is Language Politics and Public Sphere in North India: Making of the Maithili Movement (OUP 2018).

Note: This feature essay gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 


The Future of Politics: by John Burnheim

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/12/2018 - 11:10pm in

Politics is about constructing those public goods that are necessary for communities, are a minimum to deal with problems that threaten life itself.

In our present situation, the most serious problems are all posed on a global scale, as a result of the scale of our management of nature, the growth of populations, threats of nuclear war, the international monetary system and so on.

Our efforts to deal with these problems within the frame of nationalist politics are often counterproductive. If each is bound to put its national interests before all others, reasonable compromise is impossible.

Democracy is not helping, as long it pits the people of a nation-state against another, pits nation against nation. But the prospect of a global sovereign authority; like a magnified state threatens a horrific concentration of power.

The solution is a range of very specific independent authorities that each define the changes needed to solve their specific problem and demand that states accept and implement them. Many such authorities already exist, especially in such fields as communications. They work because there is little to be gained from defying them and dangers of retaliation.

They lack close democratic control. They are responsible mainly to expert opinion, which is inadequate to ensure general trust. Public opinion needs to be assured that the authority is needed and that is constitution is appropriate. As it operates it must be subject to a competent independent audit that assesses its work. My suggestion is that in each case this audit should be carried out or at least supervised by a small committee statistically representative of the most affected by decisions in the relevant domain.

In my view it is highly desirable that we start experimenting with such auditing.

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