Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Will the Trade Unions defend democracy?

UPDATE: Yes, they will!!

Many early trade union pioneers were drawn from the ranks of Primitive Methodist Preachers, and a basic ‘welfare state’ used to operate among chapel-goers, their neighbours and families. They were founded out of a Christian concern for the underprivileged, outcast and disenfranchised. It is wholly consistent with their founding principles that today some of them will vote on whether or not to demand a referendum on the EU’s ‘Reform Treaty’. And yet there remains a dilemma at the heart of this campaign.

In the context of the EU seeking to discourage plebiscites, and Prime Minister Brown reneging on a manifesto pledge to let the British people decide their destiny in Europe, His Grace has been dipping into Plato’s Republic once again. He is minded to recall Winston Churchill’s assertion that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been tried from time to time.

Plato asserts that people are bad judges in many political matters, principally because the ordinary man has no experience or expert knowledge of such things as foreign policy or economics, or the complexities of constitutional minutiae. Therefore to expect any very sensible judgement from him on such matters is to have an expectation of the highly improbable, if not the impossible. He will judge on impulse, sentiment or prejudice, and though the heart may be sound (and on this both Plato and Christ cast profound doubt), his head is invariably muddled.

Democracy may even encourage incompetent leadership. It is bad enough that the people’s judgement of their leaders is not always good, or that they cannot be trusted to make the best choice, but the popular leader, dependent as he is for his position and income on popular favour, is under constant pressure to retain their favour by the easiest means. He will play on the likes and dislikes, the weaknesses and foibles of the public, will never tell them an unpleasant truth, or advocate a policy which may make them uncomfortable. He is simply another salesman, obliged to emphasise the comforts at the expense of the truth.

Politicians are sophists and salesmen, and popular leaders are as devoid of true knowledge as are the people they lead. According to Plato, the salient characteristic of democracy is liberty – ‘every individual is free to do as he likes’ – which gives democratic society diversity and variety. Yet herein lies the seeds of its destruction, for democracy and liberty are disintegrating precisely because ‘the minds of the citizens become so sensitive that the least vestige of restraint is resented as intolerable’. There is a breakdown of social cohesion, struggles between competing factions, irreconcilable assertions of mutually exclusive rights, and a consequent necessity to move towards authoritarian rule in order to maintain peace, stability and security.

It all sound rather familiar, does it not?


Anonymous Voyager said...

because the ordinary man has no experience or expert knowledge of such things as foreign policy

I think the First World War rather put paid to that notion. To think a Liberal Government elected on a landslide in 1906 and again twice in 1910 could have agreed secret treaties with France and Russia without informing either the Cabinet or Parliament.....effectively signing a blank cheque on the manpower of the nation simply to give France the ability to encircle Germany.....shows that letting businessmen like Asquith and aristocrats like Earl Grey dispose of the lives of millions of ordinary men in backing up their disastrous policy was no longer feasible in the 20th Century

That it happened a good reason not to regard the pig-headedness of men like Chamberlain as acceptable. Britain's major crises of the past 100 years have all been in Europe and at a huge cost to ordinary families

If the public takes a strong interest in such matters it avoids being infantilised as political parties have been by the men running them

12 September 2007 at 08:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Voyager,

Poor old Neville has become the scapegoat's scapegoat. But, feel free to correct me if you can prove otherwise, his antiwar sentiment was reflective of the wishes of the majority at that time. Do remember, also, that he did take this country to war and was more widely respected in the Commons, at that time, than was Churchill.

12 September 2007 at 09:26  
Blogger Mission Impossible said...

voyager's point about the danger of the infantilization of adults and of our political parties is surely correct.

Those commenters who are not already aware of the following book might like to take a quick look over at Amazon:

The Death of the Grown-up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (Hardcover) ... by Diana West (Author)

I have tried to argue for the past 8 years that Western Civilization is being brought low by the United States of America ... and not because I am particularly anti-American. It is simply because of their fractured educational system and that culture's notoriously hedonistic and narcissistic obsessions.

12 September 2007 at 11:14  
Anonymous Sir HM said...

I agree with the generality of what Mission Impossible says, but I'm not sure it's necessarily American led.

We are all going down this track together.

Personally, I believe a modern adaptation of Classical Spartan society is the way we should all go. We need a modern-day version of the legendary Lycurgus.

Yes yes, I understand all those reforms probably didn't stem from one man. But the Sparta prior to (assume for the sake of the argument) Lycurgus was very much on an analogous track to the one we are on - Hedonism. Far-seeing people (and knowing Sparta is was as likely to be women as men) saw the future and it wasn't Orange - or Rosy. So they introduced necessary reforms.

WE need something like that.

12 September 2007 at 11:35  
Anonymous the last toryboy said...

I like Aristotle's stuff on politics, when he talks about mixed constitutions and that sort of thing. We effectively had a mixed constitution as Aristotle prescribed until fairly recently, with monarchy, oligarchy and democracy all coexisting together being the most stable government.

Given that the House of Lords seems to have been doing a good job lately, it seems Aristotle's advice on the subject was essentially sound.

12 September 2007 at 11:38  
Anonymous Sir HM said...


I have long believed this.

I became an enlisted man at 15. It was only then, once I was subject to military discipline, that I was able to start acquiring a proper education. I learned more in two years as one of Trenchard's Brats than in all my previous years of 'education'.

I know for a fact that when it comes to knowing how to turn out well brought up and disciplined young adults, the military knows how to do it.

Enlist all children at 11 (for the Spartans it was 7).

12 September 2007 at 11:42  
Anonymous Sir HM said...


The Spartans too had exactly that.

The wealthy and powerful from all over the Hellas of the day considered it a privelege and honour for their sons to be allowed into the Agoge.

12 September 2007 at 11:45  
Blogger Mission Impossible said...

Any of you chaps watched either of the two Sparta movies available?

The first, entitled "The 300 Spartans," was released circa 1959. Shot on a low budget, it has aged quite well. It is available on DVD.

Then of course, the more recent "300 - Prepare For Glory," (2006?) which is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel, and stars Gerard Butler (a Scot).

If you have not watched either yet, then try to do so. You will come out at the end feeling refreshed and loving your culture even more.

12 September 2007 at 12:16  
Anonymous Voyager said...

I shouldn't really comment on someone like Anonymous but if he knew anything of Neville Chamberlain's pig-hededness and ruthless streak he would know how he worked with Joseph Kennedy to inflkuence Pathe News; how he had the phones of Conservative Party MPs bugged; and how far he went in offering guarantees to Poland in march 1939 after Hitler occupied Prague and Chamberlain took it as a personal affront.

Having sacrificed the defensible part of Czechoslovakia with its fortresses and the inability of the Wehrmacht to attack from the South through Austria; having failed to pressure Daladier to honour the Franco-Czech Defence Treaty of 1925 which would have activated the Czech-USSR Defence Treaty once France honoured its obligations; Chamberlain's stubbornness led him to offer guarantees to Poland which were worthless and encourage Colonel Beck in his games with Berlin.

It is significant that the Polish Government in Exile in London throughout the war was led by the Opposition (under Sikorski) to the Sanacja Regime in Warsaw which first seized part of Czechoslovakia (Zaolzie) in 1938 after the Munich Agreement and then inveigled Chamberlain into providing another guarantee to a country with hich France had a Franco-Polish Defence Treaty of 1924 it had no intention of honouring.

So yes, Chamberlain was just as erratic as Asquith and Grey in committing Britain to fight by handing the gauntlet to Poland to throw down and getting France off the hook.

Whenever the French have had opportunity to make the British look stupid since 1904 - the grateful British have gone down on their knees to express thanks for the chance to be played for fools.

Whether it was encircling Germany after 1912 through alliance with France and Russia; or letting France screw the Germans at Versailles; or helping the French to walk away from treaty obligations to Czechoslavkia and Poland; or letting France have an Occupation Zone in defeated Germany despite France having been an ally of Germany after May 1940 and supplying Renault trucks for the invasion of Russia and willingly exporting Jews to Drancy and beyond.

That was not enough for the British in their masochism - they then let the French inveigle them into the Suze debacle after which France sought to cajole Germany into the European Union and freeze Britain out.......

but no...the British would not give in there, but knew they had to appease France by sacrificing fishing grounds and whatever price France demanded for Britain's right to pay the bills inside the EU

There has been no sacrifice of national interest and British lives too great for the slick British politicians to offer France for the chance to serve French interests. It is the words of W C Fields that must adorn every Franco-British Summmit - Never give a sucker an even break !

12 September 2007 at 13:47  
Anonymous CCTV said...

Just bought the latest DVD -

12 September 2007 at 13:48  
Blogger Mission Impossible said...

voyager ... it would seem by your 'information rich' 1:47PM comment that for Britain / U.K. / England ... the EU must = Suicide.

12 September 2007 at 15:13  
Anonymous 4micah said...

Good observations Cranmer. The solution to your dilemma is a constitutional Republic. A constitution binds the hands of the politicians and the public, keeping both from stomping over the rights of individuals. We had one of these Republics in the U.S. 90 years ago and it was great. Unfortunately, even the best of Constitutions cannot survive the ravages of a corrupt leadership that wins the support of a dispirited and manipulated population (see FDR and the Great Depression).

12 September 2007 at 18:23  

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