Wednesday, 25 April 2007

World Domination

George Monbiot calls for a world-government with direct popular representation. For a moment, even he is aware of the problem that such a system would bring, but then madness takes him once more:
Global democracy has a special problem — the scale on which it must operate. The bigger the electorate, the less democratic a parliamentary body will be. True democracy could exist only in the village, where representatives are subject to constant oversight by their electorate. But an imperfect system is better than no system at all. [1]
He is not quite right even when he senses the problem; for the bigger the electorate, the less the vote of a single person matters, which is more democratic, not less. A tolerable, even decent, democracy can exist in a small society because the individual is not dwarfed by the vastness of demotic power. But let us imagine something at the other end of the scale: a world-democracy. The world-population is about 6.5 billion, and perhaps 4 billion are of voting-age. If there were a representative for, say, every 100,000 of such persons, as is broadly comparable with the representation-ratio of the British House of Commons [2], then there would have to be 40,000 representatives in the world-parliament. If, on the other hand, we wished the world-parliament to be of manageable size, then we would have to reduce the number of representatives, such that, if we had, say, 1,000 representatives, then each would represent 4 million people.
.....It is rather odd, therefore, that a man who complains about the smallness of his representation on a national scale — a reasonable complaint in a large democratic state — should then seek representation on a global one; for however such “representation” is instituted, a single man’s vote would count for even less than it already does in a large democratic nation-state of today, and anyone bothering to get out of bed to vote in a global election would be doing so quite irrationally; for the chances of his having any appreciable effect on the outcome would be far less than the chances of his tripping over a discarded first-edition of Probability for Dummies on the way to the polling-station and plunging head-first in front of a bus driven by a hard-up student of political statistics. [3]
.....Calls for global governance have an exciting ring, however, and can even provoke wild fantasies of freedom, peace and universal fraternity, as one of Mr Monbiot’s commenters illustrates:
Yes! I have long argued that we need a one-world, secular government that is directly elected and leads us towards total unification. Just imagine: no more passports, no more borders, freedom to travel and live where we want, and to express ourselves as we want, with a proper global constitution that guarantees our rights to free speech and freedom of peaceful assembly everywhere. What joy when that day finally arrives! [4]
What on earth could make a man believe such things? What makes him believe that power on so vast a scale would be less, not more, inscrutable and inhuman than anything we have yet seen? Freedom and human warmth would be the least of things to come from it; for humanity and its greatest expressions — cultural as well as communal — lie in small circles.
Community, fraternity, charity — they are all possible only in the small, easily comprehended circles that are the original patterns of human society, the village community, the community of small and medium-sized towns, etc. These small circles of human warmth and mutual responsibility increasingly give way to mass and centralization, the amorphous agglutination of the big cities and industrial centres with their deracination, mass organization, and anonymous bureaucracy that end in the monster state by which, with the help of police and tax officials, our crumbling society is now actually held together. [5]
If a citizen of a populous state bemoans his alienation and worthlessness therein, such being the typical affliction of a man under the impress of the mass, then he would do well to appreciate the usual source of that indignity — it lies to a great extent in the bigness of the society which his state encompasses. If such a person, seeking the alleviation of that indignity, calls for a greater state, encompassing even all the peoples of the world, then he tragically fails to understand the source of his indignity, and inadvertently calls for its aggravation. [6]
[1] George Monbiot, “The best way to give the poor a real voice is through a world parliament”, The Guardian, 24th April 2007.
[2] The representation-ratio of the House of Commons is one representative for around 70, 000 persons of voting-age.
[3] As with democracy at a national level, moreover, democracy at a global level would tyrannize over minorities, but on a greater scale. If the Chinese and the Indians wanted Liechtenstein turned into a Golf and Country Club, then Liechtensteiners had better hope that others do not agree, for Liechtensteiners themselves would have a tiny say in the fate of their erstwhile sovereign land.
[4] Kimpatsu, commenting on op. cit.
[5] Wilhelm Roepke, “
The Economic Necessity of Freedom”, Modern Age, Vol.3:3, Summer 1959, pp.234-5.
[6] As Leopold Kohr states: “In contrast to his counterpart in great, populous states, the small-state citizen has much greater personal dignity, representing, as he does, not an infinitesimally small share of the state sovereignty, but a proportion that can definitely assert itself. . . .
.....“. . . [T]he greater the aggregation, the more dwarfish becomes man.” (Leopold Kohr, The Breakdown of Nations (Totnes, Devon: Green Books, 2001), p.118.)

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

A Dearieme-ism

“Many years ago I had a few years of seeing ‘social science’ data — and social scientists — close up. That’s when I realised that, in that world, usually ‘data’ is the plural of bollock.”
Dearieme, commenting on David Duff, “The Freemasons of Science”, Duff and Nonsense (Weblog), 22nd April 2007.

A New Warband of the Northmen

“Iceland and Norway will sign a declaration of co-operation on the subject of defence and security at a meeting of the countries’ foreign ministers in Oslo later this week, according to sources of Morgunblaðið. A similar agreement will also be worked on with the Danes.”

[“Íslendingar og Norðmenn munu undirrita viljayfirlýsingu um samstarf á sviði varnar- og öryggismála á fundi utanríkisráðherra landanna í Ósló síðar í þessari viku, samkvæmt heimildum Morgunblaðsins. Þá mun einnig vera unnið að sambærilegu samkomulagi við Dani”.]
Undirrita yfirlýsingu um varnarsamstarf”, Morgunblaðið, 24th April 2007.

Friday, 13 April 2007

A Vaniloquentia Celebrum, Libera Nos, Domine

Given the calibre of modern celebrities, it is best not to mention their names without sober purpose, lest one wantonly add — even in the slightest degree — to the extension and endurance of their fame. In the ancient world, Cato the Elder took such a policy to an absurd length, as Robin Lane Fox tells us:
When the traditionalist Cato wrote his history of the origins of Italy, he was so opposed to celebrities that he left out all the major players’ personal names. [1]
That he disapproved even of the celebrity of men whose deeds were great, bears witness to his severity. One can only wonder what he would have said about the kind of celebrity that can be won nowadays simply through a proclivity to chatter like an excitable baboon. I suspect he would have said nothing at all, and just quietly eaten his toga.
[1] Robin Lane Fox, The Classical World (London: Allen Lane, 2005), p.289.

Fewtril #181

Perhaps there is also a genetic predisposition to seek the excuses for one’s behaviour in genetic predisposition.

Thursday, 5 April 2007


“[A]nyone who wants to understand piety would do better to read back-numbers of the New Left Review than the Church Times.”
George Watson, The Lost Literature of Socialism (Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 1998), p.8.

Fewtril #180

There is a luxuriantly principled kind of thoughtlessness whereby one can decry things in the lowest terms without caring to find out whether they are the consequences of the very things that one extols in the highest.

Mount Pleasant

“I never knew that [in the seventeenth century] ‘Mount Pleasant’, near Gray’s Inn, was actually a bitterly ironic name for a huge man-made heap of the most nauseous offal and ordure. It is now, of course, home to the Guardian newspaper.”
Christopher Hart, “Offal and Ordure”, Review of Hubbub: Filth, Noise and Stench in England, 1600-1770, by Emily Cockayne, Literary Review, April 2007.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Three Grapes

“It was a saying of [Anacharsis] that the vine bore three kinds of grapes: the first of pleasure, the next of intoxication, and the third of disgust.” [1] In my younger days, I could taste much of the first and the second with hardly a hint of the third, but little did I know that the latter is a taste acquired with a maturity that does not always remember the follies of youth kindly. Still, it was much fun. Naturally, the puritan need only taste the first to taste the third.
[1] Diogenes Laetius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Vol.1, tr. R.D. Hicks, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard University Press, 1972), Bk.I:103, p.107.

Fewtril #179

Rather than simply shirk one’s duty, it appears much more decent to make a principle out of one’s disinclination to perform it.

Fewtril #178

It is less a tragedy that a man must choose between evils than that the fire of his enthusiasm is stoked by the choice.

Friday, 30 March 2007

The Trousers of Decorum

“Every man has also his moral backside which he does not show without need and which he keeps covered as long as possible with the trousers of decorum.”
[“Jeder Mensch hat auch seine moralische backside, die er nicht ohne Not zeigt, und die er so lange als möglich mit den Hosen des guten Anstandes zudeckt.”]
G.C. Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher, (Frankfurt am Main und Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1984), B.74 from Sudelbuch B (1768-1771), p.42.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

A Former Guest

While Voltaire was an exile in England, he observed that the peasants were “not afraid of increasing their stock of cattle, nor of tiling their houses from any apprehension that their taxes [would] be raised the year following.” [1] Doubtless there are present-day descendants of those peasants who have never heard of Voltaire, though, if they still live in the land of their forefathers, they should have no difficulty in determining from his description that he hasn’t visited the place in quite a while.
[1] François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire), Letters on the English, Letter IX — On the Government, The Harvard Classics, Vol.34, Part 2, (New York: P.F. Collier & Son Co., 1909–14), §13, reproduced online at

Thursday, 8 March 2007

In Keeping with the Times

“Nothing avails: one must go forward—step by step further into decadence” [1]. Nietzsche was never one to understate his case; but if one has not yet succumbed to the doctrine of the proverbial ostrich, one might still see that customs, old institutions, anything that smacks, in a word, of tradition: all such must now be cast aside in keeping with the times, that is to say, in keeping with a political passion and a public temper that cannot tolerate anything that might hold it back; for there has crept into the mind of modern man a quite pathetic submission to the practicalities of political power.
The dangers we have to fear may roughly be summed up in the single word — disintegration. It is the end to which we are being driven, alike by the defective working of our political machinery, and by the public temper of the time. [2]
The odd thing about modern “progressive” man — what sets him apart from his forebears — is that when some old custom or institution, tamed and made humane by time and bitter trial, is said to be not in keeping with the present times, then it is not the present times to which he directs his critical eye, so as to see what therein makes it intolerant of that thing, but rather his eye fixes narrowly on that thing itself, as though it were the wild and dangerous upstart, the foreign interloper — and this in an age that quite ludicrously prides itself on its tolerance! It is an age, however, in which the greater part of tolerance is given over to that which destroys.
Nowadays it is enough that any idea or proposal be meant in the conservative’s sense for it to come to nothing; only that which disintegrates and levels has any real power now. [3]
The present merits of an old custom or institution, its historic service to ideals such as harmony, authority, liberty, or justice — always imperfectly realised — cannot bear scrutiny in a mind that has been seduced by the promise of perfection, still less in one that has been flattered into believing that this perfection is a birthright soon to be realised in the practical application of political power.
Devices laboriously set up to keep popular passions within bounds are now derided as little better than superstitions. [4]
The hubris with which modern “progressive” man proceeds will likely lead to all the adverse consequences which experience relates, unless, that is, there will be something new or hitherto unseen in the unfettered but harnessed expression of popular passions, something that leads to more than just a practical, brutish, and uncultured system for the accrual of power and wealth. One would have to be quite the hopeful fool to believe it likely — and quite in keeping with the times.
[1] F.W. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, in The Portable Nietzsche, (New York: The Viking Press, 1954), §43, p. 547; original emphasis.
[2] Lord Salisbury, “Disintegration”, in Quarterly Review, October 1883, quoted by Andrew Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan (London: Phoenix, 2000), pp. 274-5.
[3] [“Es genügt heutigentags, daß irgendein Gedanke, ein Vorschlag im Sinne der Konservativen gemeint sei, so ist es praktisch nichts damit; nur das Auflösende und Nivellierende hat jetzt wirkliche Kraft.”] Jacob Burckhardt, Brief an Friedrich von Preen, 17. November 1876, Briefe (Leipzig: Dieterich, 1929), p. 421.
[4] Richard M. Weaver, “Review of Betrand de Jouvenal, On Power: Its Nature and the History of its Growth”, The Commonweal, Vol. 50:19, 9th August 1949; reprinted in In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929-1963, ed. by T.J. Smith III (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000), p.514.
NB: This post also appears at James Higham’s weblog Nourishing Obscurity.

Fewtril #177

There are some who — if it were not for exaggeration — would find it difficult to believe anything they were told.

Fewtril #176

There is so little trust amongst people nowadays that in despair we might exaggerate how little there is, which may have the consequence of fulfilling the degree of distrust stated in the former exaggeration.