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.)

Thursday, 23 October 2008

In Search of the Right Species

It is of great importance for the utopian to persuade himself and others that he is no utopian, that is to say, that his political and social conception can be realised. Hence the attempt by Marxist historians and pre-historians to find examples of genuine communes in the past. They never found any — at least, firstly: not any society where a broadly communal ownership of goods was not also subject to unequal influence, private interests, leadership, and oligarchy; for, as Edward O. Wilson put it, they were looking at the wrong species; and secondly: not any society which was beyond the small and primitive and which could therefore provide a model conception for a society much larger and less primitive. Accodingly, the claim that these primitive communities justified the communist ideal as a realisable conception was no more credible than the claim that the Marxist regimes themselves were not greatly powerful oligarchies peddling the illusion that the paradisiacal commune of equal freedom and plenty was just over the horizon. As to what would be the right species for the realisation of that paradise, it is difficult to say. Chimpanzees would be no good; whereas, I suppose, any of the species of amoeba would prove somewhat fitter. Still, hope springs eternal in the blighted heart: if every member of humanity could put aside his ego, his striving, his differences of character, talent, intellect, charm, and so on, indeed everything that makes him a person, but from which advantage and hierarchy can arise, then perhaps one day humanity could achieve the worldly paradise of the amoeba.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Fewtril no.261

It may be banal or even simple-minded to say so, but I must confess that I am often in awe of the wondrous possibilities and effects of language, such as that some new combinations of words can easily, and with little mental effort, lead to new and quite remarkable ideas. For instance, when the word “public”, referring to the people at large, is inserted into the phrase “informed debate”, referring to reliable and learned discussion, at once there is born a new and more complex phrase, out of which grows a new and more complex idea, which itself quite simply and wonderfully corresponds to nothing in the known universe.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Fewtril no.260

The most sophisticated demagogue is the one who publicly expresses the wish to engage in a rational debate with the people: even the clever can be tempted to feel he is speaking personally of them, whilst the stupid are absolutely sure.

Monday, 13 October 2008

A Tragic Destiny

“The feeling that springs spontaneously from an unprejudiced judgment of the history of humanity is compassion for the contradictory qualities of this poor human race of ours, so rich in abnegation, so ready at times for personal sacrifice, yet whose every attempt, whether more or less successful or not at all successful, to attain moral and material betterment, is coupled with an unleashing of hates, rancors and the basest passions. A tragic destiny is that of men! Aspiring ever to pursue and achieve what they think is the good, they ever find pretexts for slaughtering and persecuting each other. Once they slaughtered and persecuted over the interpretation of a dogma, or of a passage in the Bible. Then they slaughtered and persecuted in order to inaugurate the kingdom of liberty, equality and fraternity. Today they are slaughtering and persecuting and fiendishly torturing each other in the name of other creeds. Perhaps tomorrow they will slaughter and torment each other in an effort to banish the last trace of violence and injustice from the earth!”

Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class, tr. H.D. Kahn (New York and London: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1939), p.198.

An Addition to The Devil's Dictionary

science, n. the rigorous method or industry of gaining knowledge or funding.

Fewtril no.259

Nothing so wonderful as Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog could be painted today in contemporary depiction without straying into the bounds of the unusual. The wanderer would have to appear in bright synthetic clothing.

Fewtril no.258

Social justice in our lifetime is possible. All we need is a mob to lynch those who propose it.

Fewtril no.257

In nobility lies the ability to admire without hope of imitation.

Friday, 10 October 2008

The Dismal Science of Imprudence

The flippant response of John Maynard Keynes to the criticism that his economic policies were guided by short-term considerations was to say that in the long run we are all dead. His response suits well the nihilistic-consumptive character of public government, which his economics was intended to serve: nothing matters but the present and the near-future. Since our governors are not owners of the government, but rather the short-term elected holders thereof, who will leave their depredations not to kin but to strangers and rivals, and since neither they nor their descendants will have to bear personal liability for debts incurred under their tenure, they have little incentive for moderation or for securing the long-term capital-value of the state which they govern. On the contrary, since their time-horizon is largely set by the next election, or perhaps — if they are unusually “far-sighted” — by the one after that, the great incentive is for the maximisation of present and near-future income through capital-consumption at the expense of long-term capital-values. [1]
[I]t is alarming to see that after we have once gone through the process of developing a systematic account of those forces which in the long run determine prices and production, we are now called upon to scrap it, in order to replace it by the short-sighted philosophy of the business man raised to the dignity of a science. . . . I fear that these believers in the principle of après nous le déluge may get what they have bargained for sooner than they wish. [2]
Where there is a great incentive to imprudence, there are clever men willing to make it a science.
[1] As explained by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy: The God that Failed (New Brunswick & London: Transaction Publishers, 2001).
[2] F.A. Hayek, “The Economics of Abundance”, in The Critics of Keynesian Economics, ed. H. Hazlitt (New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, 1995), p.130.

A Small Literary Gesture

News from Iceland: “Passing by the British Embassy just now I saw that security has been strengthened: one police-car standing outside and another driving slowly around the neighbourhood.” [1] Iceland has no standing army, but if it could manage to rustle up a few longboats to set a troop of axe-wielding loons onto the coast of Lancashire, I should be more than happy to greet them and show them the way to London.

[1] [“Átti leið framhjá sendiráði Breta áðan og sá að þar er búið að efla alla gæslu, einn löggubíll staðsettur fyrir utan og alla vega einn í viðbót sem hringsólaði hægt um hverfið.”] Kristín Dýrfjörð, “Lögguvakt hjá Bretunum”, Kristín Dýrfjörð (weblog), 9th October 2008.