19 November 2012

How Democracies End (maybe)

I have a theory about Weimar Germany. It’s unencumbered with much in the way of evidence, but I did cover the subject at school, and I can remember bits.

The popular theory, which I’ve alluded to previously, is that the big event was this chap Hitler. He was some supernatural weirdo from Hell, who, like a false prophet, inspired the normal, liberal people of Germany to give up their democratic birthright and follow his dreams of securing lebensraum for the master race, etc, etc.

Then there’s that slightly odd bit where he didn’t actually win the election, but he did fairly well and it sort of counted as near enough, so he was declared Chancellor and allowed to take over everything in sight. It kind of seems like some sort of dodgy conspiracy, but it’s not obvious whose.

 My theory, grounded on the above, is that by — what are we talking, 1933? — democracy had so completely, utterly, failed that nobody, least of all those actually running it, could stomach it carrying on one year longer. The only question was what to do instead?  There were communists kicking around, but that wasn’t an attractive idea for the ruling class. And there was this Hitler dude, and while he had a bunch of somewhat fruitcake ideas, he seemed to have support, he was serious about changing things, and at least he wasn’t a commie. What else was there?  Even the leading democratic politicians didn’t have any better idea than letting him have a go.

 There was one other option, of course. As I linked to once before, it is claimed that President Hindenburg, in his will, indicated a desire to restore the Hohenzollern monarchy.

An interesting irony of history is that this, had it happened, would surely have been seen by the Allies / International Community as an outrageously aggressive, warlike, and unacceptable development. In comparison, the extension of powers held by a prominent politician, in order to deal with a crisis, seemed far less dangerous.

 It's a cool story. I fear that if I had learned my O-level history better, or forgotten less of it, I would see some obvious flaw in it, but I really don’t have time these days to relearn it.

18 November 2012

Another turnaround

Half Sigma linked to this piece by Eric Posner pointing out that what we think of as the "American" absolutist attitude to free speech is really only half a century old.

I bring it up not to comment on Posner's argument about the desirability of censorship of hate speech, or Half Sigma's warning about the likelihood of a liberal-majority supreme court outlawing swathes of HBD and other blogging, but simply, like the sexual habits of 1970s DJs, as an example of how quickly the commonplace can become unthinkable, and the unthinkable commonplace.

Hitchens vs Paddick

I happened to find myself with Wednesday evening free (a few weeks ago), so I coughed up ten quid to see Peter Hitchens debate Brian Paddock over the drug laws at St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street.

The subject isn’t one which interests me greatly, but I find Hitchens always worth reading and I work nearby, so I went to see him in action.

The debate centred entirely on cannabis. Hitchens’ thesis, stacked in £17 hardbacks on a table by the door, is that cannabis is much more dangerous than is generally supposed, and is at least comparable in harm to what are recognised as “hard” drugs.

Interestingly, Paddock (a former senior London police officer who has run unsuccessfully for Mayor the last two elections), agreed that cannabis is very dangerous to young people. He implied that the risks of severe psychological damage coming from cannabis use were lower than Hitchens had suggested, but both of them were very reluctant to quantify, both agreeing that accurate statistics of either use of or harm from cannabis are difficult to come by.

Hitchens has a very strong argument on the frequent comparison of drug prohibition with US alcohol prohibition, which is that alcohol prohibition did not ban possession or consumption of alcohol. I confess that that fact had never really registered with me. The argument that flows from that is that if you actually want to stop consumption of alcohol or cannabis, you have to ban it, and mean it, and that current drug policy is repeating the mistake of prohibition.

The weakest point of Hitchens’ argument was not really explored, but he claims, first, that cannabis has been effectively legal for forty years, and, second, that once it has been legal and widespread, it is practically impossible to get rid of it. By that logic, it is already too late.

I threw a question in towards the end, but by that point the questions were being gathered in batches, and neither speaker addressed it. I asked if either of them could explain why, when substances such as tobacco, salt and butter are being more restricted on health grounds year by year, it is even on the agenda that this one product, cannabis, be subject to more relaxed regulation, against the general trend.

There were some right morons in the audience. The first questioner went into a tedious, pointless rehashing of the best-known arguments on the subject, taking almost as long as the seven minutes each speaker was allotted to make their initial case.

 Ultimately, the reason I don’t find the subject so interesting these days is because I rather suspect that a sane and efficient state could ban dangerous drugs effectively, or legalise them, and do better either way than we do. The precise details of how HM Government screws up drug policy just make for another tedious sordid history. Drug prohibition fails because of the astonishing inefficiency of the legal system — a simple arrest, conviction and sentencing for cannabis possession ought to take about one man-hour of police time and maybe three man-hours of lawyers and another three for administrative court staff. I get the impression it is about ten times that level, which makes the whole process unworkable. Alternatively, drugs could be legal if people had to take responsibility for their own welfare, but the toxic state dependency culture turns drugs which can be enjoyed in moderation by people who have serious responsibilities into life-destroying obsessions for those who have nothing else to do. My pet obsession, the infantilising of 15-25-year-olds, makes them  particularly susceptible.

The real problems we see both from the “War on drugs” and from drug abuse flow not primarily from drug policy, but from other failings of the state.

17 November 2012

Executions in North Korea

I take this as an encouraging sign

North Korean army minister 'executed with mortar round'

As a supporter of the principle of absolute monarchy, I do not believe that the problem with North Korea is that it has a hereditary ruler. Indeed, now in the third generation, I would expect to see the benefits of hereditary rule to be starting to show themselves.

So far I have been disappointed. North Korea’s government remains terribly bad. As I have written previously, I attribute this to the fact that, while hereditary, the government does not rest on the principle of hereditary right. Its political formula is built on a form of Marxism, and while the extra stability given to it by its ad-hoc monarchism has served to preserve it well beyond the normal lifespan of Marxist states, it doesn’t confer the full advantages of an explicitly hereditary system.

What I am interested in, when it comes to the guessing-game of looking at the politics of North Korea, is whether the Marxist-politburo “scientific” government or the early-modern Monarchical government has the upper hand. The first is bad, the latter good.

The story that has leaked out of North Korea is that Kim Chol has been executed for unfeelingly carrying on with high living during the mourning period for the late King, Kim Jong-Il, and further, that the young King, Kim Jong-Un, was so outraged that he demanded “no trace be left”. Therefore the unhappy vice-minister was stuck out in a field to be blown up with heavy weaponry.

That is seriously badass — we’re talking Tudor. The vital points are that (a) the offence was against the Royal Line, not the state or the politburo. And (b) the punishment was driven by personal anger, not a scientific principle of government. The Soviet Union was famously practical and humane about executing the deviationists, this is the opposite. Finally, it suggests that, if there is still some kind of internal power struggle going on — perhaps a continuation of some struggle over successsion — those with power are determined to win it absolutely. These three elements all point to better government for North Korea going forward.

Does this mean I want future King William V indulging in such Bond-villan escapades, come the Restoration? In extremis, yes. If senior, trusted members of the administration back the wrong side in a civil war, there is much to be said for going 16th-century on their arses. In peacetime, not so much. A good administration is one where the rule of law can be counted on. Once it is established that the King can rule by personal whim, he has little need to, since he will gain more by running a successful state.

Of course, with North Korea, it is not clear that the best thing would be for the government to improve. If the government failed and collapsed, the natural outcome would be a reunification under the South Korean government, which has an enviable track record over the last half century.

However, South Korea's government has only one way to go, and that’s down. It is not twenty years since the country stepped onto the democratic conveyor belt, and it is not reasonable to expect the quality of governance that the DJP exercised to continue into the future. That doesn’t mean we should expect rapid decline in the quality of life there — One of the major misunderstood patterns of history is that secure autocracy produces peace and prosperity and, enjoying wealth and freedom, the subjects, associating wealth and freedom with the ruling class, expect that as they have the wealth and freedom of the ruling class, they should gain political power as a natural consequence. The autocrat is replaced or shackled, and the momentum of the former peace and prosperity produces a flourishing of improved life that the new regime first unfairly takes credit for, and then gradually proceeds to destroy.

Those who benefit most from their government are least loyal to it.

So, the story coming out of North Korea is consistent with a hereditary ruler cementing his dominance over rival power centres within the régime. That is by no means the only explanation, so any optimism should be very tentative.