Wednesday 12 November 2008


It is said that a Roman dux was accompanied in his triumphal procession by a slave whose task was to remind him by a constant whispering in his ear that he was not a god but a man: hominem te memento, memento mori, hominem te memento, memento mori, and so on. The fantastical idea strikes me that our times could benefit from an office somewhat akin to that which is said to have accompanied the triumphator of the ancient world, but say, an office of the demagogue-whisperer, whose task would be to remind the popularly-elected governor of his true nature — oligarcham demagogicum te memento; non modo non est vox populi vox dei, sed etiam vox tua non est vox populi — lest out of egomania and veritable democratic piety there be concocted in the demagogue’s soul a volatile formula:
Vox populi vox dei est,
Vox mea vox populi est,
Ergo est vox mea vox dei.
Yet we live in enlightened times, or so I am told, and therefore something so strange as this office could not be taken seriously, not because it would stand against all the most sacred and cherished principles of these times; on the contrary, such an office might easily be instituted as a salaried one alongside that of every demagogic oligarch, each to be overseen by a committee of well-remunerated academicians, lawyers, bureaucrats, and popular journalists with felicitous connections that tend more towards the social than the neuronal. Rather it would discourage not just a condition for the existence of modern popular government, but also a condition for its growth. The extension of this power involves not just cynical manipulation and mendacity on the part of governors and other interested parties. Also greatly advantageous thereto is the genuine belief, or the delusive sop to conscience, on the part of governors and governed alike that this power is exercised and extended on behalf and for the good of all, such that any discouragement to this belief must be seen as a discouragement to progress.

Popular Election

It is true that popular election is in principle a competition open to all. No shyster or mountebank is precluded even on the grounds of decency. Yet, as I have just foreshadowed, it is not true that popular election is in practice a competition open to all; for, whether by control of the selection of candidates by political parties or by the unsuitable character of some men, there are many who are unable to stand for popular election. Naturally, for instance, a man of honour is precluded on the very grounds of his honour from becoming a demagogue.
He who, in the consciousness of duty, is capable of disinterested service of the community does not descend to the soliciting of votes, or the crying of his own praise at election meetings in loud and vulgar phrases. Such men manifest their strength in their own work, in a small circle of congenial friends, and scorn to seek popularity in the noisy market-place. If they approach the crowd, it is not to flatter it, or to pander to its basest instincts and tendencies, but to condemn its follies and expose its depravity. To men of duty and honour the procedure of elections is repellent; the only men who regard it without abhorrence are selfish, egoistic natures, which wish thereby to attain their personal ends. To acquire popularity such men have little scruple in assuming the mask of ardour for the public good. They cannot and must not be modest, for with modesty they would not be noticed or spoken of. By their positions, and by the parts which they have chosen, they are forced to be hypocrites and liars; they must cultivate, fraternise with, and be amiable to their opponents to gain their suffrages; they must lavish promises, knowing that they cannot fulfil them; and they must pander to the basest tendencies and prejudices of the masses to acquire majorities for themselves. What honourable nature would accept such a role? Describe it in a novel, the reader would be repelled, but in elections the same reader gives his vote to the living artiste in the same role. [1]
Popular election certainly does not measure anything so airy as a spontaneous and indivisible will of the people; indeed it rarely measures the will of the majority of people even on the simple and manufactured matter of choosing one rather than another of the presented candidates. It serves only as a rather effective mechanism for the selection of bad governors, whose oligarchy is nevertheless seen as rightful for its having been the answer delivered by the greater part of those who do not understand the question.
.....It is always well to be reminded of that delusion whereby the empowerment of the governors through the mechanism of popular election is interpreted to mean the empowerment of the governed. Even some of the governors believe it.

[1] K.P. Pobyedonostseff, Reflections of a Russian Statesman, tr. R.C. Long (London: Grant Richards, 1898), pp.37-8. (I suppose we must count it to the success of the democratic ideal that few men of honour, but many men of keen participation, can now be found.)

Saturday 8 November 2008


“Every school in England will get a specialist Holocaust teacher to promote tolerance and combat racism”, reports The Telegraph. [1] “[T]he new expert staff members will also be encouraged to lead other lessons on multiculturalism and fighting extremism”. It is safe to presume that they will not be encouraged to fight their own ideas. “One teacher from every secondary school will be invited on a two-day course to ensure themes surrounding the Nazi genocide are treated sensitively in the classroom.” Experts after a two-day course! But then I must admit that “experts” sounds better than “ideological co-ordinators”. It is just a shame that Trevor Phillips’ Equalities and Human Rights Commission has not yet sent out its own specialists; for children could also begin to learn that social progress against racial interest can be achieved only by promoting blacks to positions of power. [2]
[1] News Bulletin: “Holocaust Teacher for Every School”, The Telegraph, 8th November 2008.
[2] Chris Irvine, “Trevor Phillips: Racism would stop Barack Obama being prime minister in the UK”, The Telegraph, 8th November 2008. (As any fool can tell you, racial interest or aggression exists only in whites, especially insidious in its “institutional” form.)

Thursday 6 November 2008

The Van-Carterian Defence

“A party apparatchik . . . says the election means, ‘All of us have to give up our cynicism,’ and I think I might punch him in the face.”

Carter van Carter, “Over and Done”, Across Difficult Country (weblog), 5th November 2008.

The Grand Elector

“My vote mattered,” says some poor fellow [1], who seems to be giving delighted and succinct expression to the quite remarkably dim belief that his vote was decisive.

EskerPaleo, commenting on the transcript of Barack Obama’s speech, “Obama acceptance speech in full”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 5th November 2008; original emphasis.

The Holy Obama

Against the odds I have striven to ignore the American presidential election, yet I have been lured from my mental cave by all those “eloquent voices of hope and expectation” raised in honour of a “magnificent human being” who has been elected “[t]he first President of the World”. It is said that now “the grown-ups have celebrating to do”, and that the news has already brought hope “to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world”, news of a man who will lead us all “from some dark and terrible place”. No longer need we “cry over all the horrible things that have been done in our name . . . Now for tears of joy!”. Yet after this “moment of greatness for all humanity” [1], after “the justified euphoria” has died down, let us soberly “fly with hope, with . . . eyes wide open” and “let Obama . . . get on with healing the planet” — let him “[r]ide the wind and soar . . . for all our sakes”. Nevertheless, and if “the world” does not mind, I shall be watching from my cave, whither I shall soon be crawling back.

[1] Wangari Maathai, “The US has truly overcome. And the world is joining in”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 6th November 2008. (All other quotations are of sundry dolts commenting on Maathai’s article, or on the transcript of Barack Obama’s speech, “Obama acceptance speech in full”, Ibid., 5th November 2008.)