Archive for February, 2011

Oh, This Is Just Blissful

February 25th, 2011

From A Proposal for Expanding the Dialogue around the Ideas of Muammar Qadhafi [pdf available through this page]:

2: Additional Expert Visits The project will include further visits of key experts for direct conversations with Muammar Qadhafi. For example:

• Benjamin Barber will return to clarify several questions from previous conversations with Muammar Qadhafi, including the problems with the Western term ‘civil society’ which suggests a separate, autonomous sphere separate from the sovereignty of the people.

• Lord Anthony Giddens will visit to deepen understanding of the merits and problems of direct democracy vs. representative democracy

• Frank Fukuyama remains very enthusiastic about the project and could be invited for a future visit to talk further about the challenges of direct democracy and Libya’s approach.

• We will also arrange additional visits by new experts. We have had positive preliminary conversations with Professor Cass Sunstein (Constitutional Advisor to Barack Obama) and others.

H/t CB.

Republic of Beavers

February 25th, 2011

Here’s Ferdinand, Baron d’Eckstein, addressing the issues that matter:

Mais quelle différence entre les vérités que nous admettons et les dogmes que proclame un industrialisme grossier et trivial, dogmes qui tendent à transformer l’ordre social en une république de castors, de fourmis ou d’abeilles. Méconnaissant la dignité humaine, ce genre d’industrialisme confierait les rènes du gouvernement au seul intérêt privé. C’est lui qui donne pour l’article de foi la maxime suivant, que gagner de l’argent c’est bien mériter de la civilisation, c’est répandre la lumière. C’est dans le sens de cette doctrine que le Constitutionnel immole chaque jour, sur les autels de la classe industrielle, les nobles et les administrateurs. Lancer le moindre sarcasme contre un fabricant, c’est un blasphème! malheur au poète comique, au journaliste ou au député qui se permettrait ce crime contre la seule classe inviolable de toute la société.

– ‘De l’industrialisme’, in Le Catholique, vol. 5 (1827), p. 241

Also of interest at the Virtual Stoa is the way that the Baron goes on to call Johann Gottlieb Fichte a Stoic just a few pages later (p. 239) — but, right now, we’re focused on the beavers.

When you start looking for it, the Republic of Beavers is everywhere!

Goethe called Venice the “Biberrepublik” in his Italian Journey (27 September 1786), and the identification was picked up by the  Comte Pierre-Antoine-Noël-Bruno Daru in his 1819 Histoire de la république de Venise, vol. 5. There’s even an article on ‘The Republic of Beavers: An American Utopia’ by Arnold L. Kerson  in the 2000 volume of Utopian Studies!

Daru says that it was Montesquieu who first called Venice the R of the Bs, but I don’t know what the original source is supposed to be. So I now find myself leaning towards the thought that the original for all of this is Voltaire, who in the entry on ‘laws’ in his Philosophical Dictionary (1764) shrewdly notes that ‘The republic of the beavers is still superior to that of the ants, at least if we judge by their masonry work.’

[thanks! IN]

The Webbs on the Show Trials

February 23rd, 2011

In honour of Anthony Giddens’ fine essay from the New Statesman in 2006 on “The Colonel and his Third Way“, I repost my favourite passage from the second edition of the Webbs’ Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation — the edition for which, famously, the question-mark was removed from the book’s original title:

“To many people in Great Britain, the outstanding feature of the record since 1934 is the series of trials of highly-placed Soviet citizens for high treason. That so many men in high official positions, mostly active participants in the revolution of 1917 and some of them companions of Lenin, should have committed such crimes has seemed to Western observers almost incredible. That in the course of the customary private investigations prior to the judicial trials the defendants should one and all have made full and detailed confessions unreservedly repeated in open court of the guilt not only of themselves but also of their fellow criminals seemed to raise the tragic story to the fantastic madness of a nightmare; it seemed that the confessions must have been forced on the prisoners by torture or the threat of torture.

“A distinguished Irishman hints that what needs explanation is the British procedure in criminal prosecutions, which differs so remarkably from that of all the other nations of Europe. In his view, the conduct of the prisoners in these Russian trials is in full accord with the Russian character. In England, our friend remarks, a prisoner indicted for treason is practically forced to go through a legal routine of defence. He pleads not guilty; his counsel assumes for him an attitude of injured innocence, demanding legitimate proof of every statement and setting up a hypothesis as to what actually happened which is consistent with the prisoner’s innocence. The judge compliments the counsel on the brilliant ability with which he has conducted his case. He points out to the jury that the hypothesis is manifestly fictitious and the prisoner obviously guilty. The jury finds the necessary verdict. The judge then, congratulating the prisoner on having been so ably defended and fairly tried, sentences him to death and commends him to the mercy of his God.

“May not this procedure, which seems so natural and inevitable to us, very intelligibly strike a Russian as a farce tolerated because our rules of evidence and forms of trial have never been systematically revised on rational lines? Why should a conspirator who is caught out by the Government, and who knows that he is caught out and that no denials or hypothetical fairy tales will help him to escape – why should he degrade himself uselessly by a mock defence, instead of at once facing the facts and discussing his part in them quite candidly with his captors? There is a possibility of moving them by such a friendly course: in a mock defence there is none. Our candid friend submits that the Russian prisoners simply behave naturally and sensibly, as Englishmen would were they not virtually compelled not to by their highly artificial legal system. What possible good could it do them to behave otherwise? Why should they waste the time of the court and disgrace themselves by prevaricating like pickpockets merely to employ the barristers? Our friend suggests that some of us are so obsessed with our national routine that the candour of the Russian conspirators seems grotesque and insane. Which of the two courses, viewed by an impartial visitor from Mars, would appear the saner?

“Nevertheless the staging of the successive trials, and the summary executions in which they ended appeared strangely inconsistent with the other actions of the Soviet Government. It must have been foreseen that this whole series of trials, the numerous shootings to which they led, the publicity and popular absue of the defendants which the Government apparently organised and encouraged, and especially the malignity with which Leon Trotsky, safe in far-off Mexico, was assailed, would produce a set-back in the international appreciation which the Soviet Union was increasingly receiving. The Soviet Government must have had strong grounds for the action, which has involved such unwelcome consequences.”

Source: Soviet Communism – A New Civilisation by Sidney and Beatrice Webb (Victor Gollancz, 1937), Postscript to the second edition.

Victory!

February 11th, 2011

Full video over here [4:15].

Karl Marx, not a cat person

February 7th, 2011

From Value, Price and Profit (1865), with emphasis added:

It is perfectly true that, considered as a whole, the working class spends, and must spend, its income upon necessaries. A general rise in the rate of wages would, therefore, produce a rise in the demand for, and consequently in the market prices of necessaries. The capitalists who produce these necessaries would be compensated for the risen wages by the rising market prices of their commodities. But how with the other capitalists who do not produce necessaries? And you must not fancy them a small body. If you consider that two-thirds of the national produce are consumed by one-fifth of the population — a member of the House of Commons stated it recently to be but one-seventh of the population — you will understand what an immense proportion of the national produce must be produced in the shape of luxuries, or be exchanged for luxuries, and what an immense amount of the necessaries themselves must be wasted upon flunkeys, horses, cats, and so forth, a waste we know from experience to become always much limited with the rising prices of necessaries.

Via [fn3], h/t ejh.

British Values Day, One More Time

February 5th, 2011

The people who grouped themselves together under the New Labour brand identity had many, many stupid ideas, one of which was the proposal for British Values Day (also, especially) which they served up from time to time.

But even New Labour’s stupidest ideas aren’t too stupid for the Coalition, which is now making plans to abolish the Virtual Stoa’s favourite bank holiday–May Day–and replace it with a BVD-themed UK Day, appropriately enough in October, when everyone’s beginning to feel cold and miserable.

H/t, Simon.

Hutcheson on Chickens

February 5th, 2011

Here’s the never-to-be-forgotten Professor Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746), writing about chickens:

The peculiar Beauty of Fowls can scarce be omitted, which arises from the vast Variety of Feathers, a curious Sort of Machines adapted to many admirable Uses, which retain a vast Resemblance in their Structure among all the Species, and a perfect Uniformity in those of the same Species in the corresponding Parts, and in the two Sides of each Individual; besides all the Beauty of lively Colours and gradual Shades, not only in the external Appearance of the Fowl, resulting from an artful Combination of shaded Feathers, but often visible even in one Feather separately.

H/t PS.

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