The UK constitutional crisis: the death of liberal democracy

The United Kingdom faces a constitutional crisis created by the vote to leave the EU. The referendum outcome had many causes. For some, a quasi-Marxist view explains the outcome as caused by the recent financial crisis and the austerity that followed. Yet, other liberal democracies faced the same without a constitutional crisis. For many, the EU’s policy on the free movement of people created an “immigration crisis”. Even though areas with the highest immigration voted to Remain and those with the lowest voted to Leave, the popular view was that it was due to immigration levels. Commentators who looked deeper saw the cause in the public’s deep seated fear of being left behind by global economy. In communities where jobs were scarce, the global economy’s opportunities were hard to reach as low skilled jobs seemed to move away. In this view, the EU represented the global economy that took their opportunities and left them unable to compete with the lower wage rivals. The public believed the EU and the effort to sustain EU membership forced the government to accept these changes which had a direct impact on local community social stability. The people were no longer in control. In response to the view that the government was unable to resist the EU, the UK media waged a broad, deep, and virulent propaganda campaign to convince the public that they needed to “take back control” with a vote to leave. Despite these varied claims by myriad commentators, what has not been considered as a cause is the crisis of liberal democracy within the United Kingdom.

Since 1688, the United Kingdom has struggled with liberalism. The liberal democracy built on that liberalism struggled to find purchase on the UK’s imperial regime. The two were in tension. The imperial regime, a constitutional monarchy, and liberal democracy, in which all are equal before the law, were a mismatch that remained implicit for centuries. After the UK joined the European Community in 1973, the tension started to come to the service. When the European Union was formed in 1993, the tension became an implicit crisis. A fault line emerged between the regime and the EU over the Human Rights Act. The gap between the UK’s founding on the hereditary rights of a monarchy and the universal rights that animates the European Union began to grow. Those who demanded British Rights, derived from the Crown, and those who embraced European rights, based on the universalism derived from the French Revolution in 1789 was irreconcilable. The former is bound to, or derived from, the Crown’s sovereignty while the latter is universal and draws its essence from human nature’s intrinsic dignity. It is beyond the Crown’s control. The referendum was a reminder of the UK’s response to the French Revolution of 1789. The central figure for this debate is Edmund Burke. In his polemics attacking the revolution and defending the Monarchical regime, he argued against the universal rights. He saw them as a direct attack on the customs, practices, and culture that animates the UK. If they succeeded the UK would cease to be what it is.

In 2016, the UK could be described as a liberal democracy. It was this liberal democracy, which expressed the desire to remain in the EU. This liberal democracy depended on Europe, and above all on Germany. The liberal democracy was marked by a corresponding embrace of everything foreign. By linking itself to Remain campaign, the UK liberal democracy was caught between two extremes. It tried to maintain the uneasy balance between the implicit principles of 1789, as expressed through the EU, and the dedication to the highest British tradition. The balance already difficult to maintain was made impossible by the UK media. The UK media was unstintingly hostile. With virulent, vicious, and dishonest attacks, it became a propaganda machine with one goal, leave the EU. The attacks, sustained over decades, had habituated the people to fear the EU and liberal democracy. They privileged foreigners, minorities, and immigrants at the expense of citizens, the majority, and British. The UK media reflected and encouraged the deepest longings of the old England, the imperial England. An England that remained unrepentantly opposed to Europe. The England founded in direct opposition to the principles of the 1789 revolution.

The Remain campaign was weak. It only displayed its potential strength, if not greatness, when it reacted to the murder of the MP Jo Cox in June 2016. The murder was a turning point not for what many expected, for a Remain vote, but for the public perception of the Remain campaign’s resolve. The murder showed what the Right could achieve if they were willing to dare it. The murder showed, to those with the eyes to see that the UK liberal democracy was in terminal decline: the old England (Leave) was stronger in will than the new UK (Remain). One only need to note the unabashed talk of “traitors” which the Leave campaign never disavowed.

The campaign showed that Remain, led by David Cameron, lacked the will and resolve to win. They believed that what mattered was common decency or the decent regard for public opinion. Their belief in common decency left them vulnerable. The right had been able to kill an outspoken advocate for Remain without consequence. Liberal democracy revealed its naïve faith in due process and decency. We saw that those who had the strongest will, daring and resolve would win for they understood the various forces in play. They could, and did win, because they dared. They dared to lie, they dared to bait their opponents with racist propaganda, they dared to foment hatred without concern for safety as they only had one goal—to win. Nigel Farage’s Breaking Point poster showed what was possible and what was needed to win. If you wanted to win, neither decency nor honesty would stop you.

What still needs to be investigated is why liberal democracy is so weak. Liberal democracy’s weakness should have been apparent earlier. At each previous crisis, it had found a way to limp past it. Often the vague invocation of Locke and Hobbes would be enough to salve the collective soul that liberal democracy was only reshaping itself. For many commentators, they will be surprised to learn liberal democracy’s roots are so shallow and unhealthy.

The liberal democratic regime pursued neo-liberal policies. Despite their success, they faced strong resistance. Those opposed to the economic effect and those who opposed its societal effects found common cause. They would resist the global economic and immigration movements. These policies and their effects legitimated the resolve of those who wanted to return to the old England. Even if they had no common ground with those opposed to neo-liberalism, they found a common enemy in liberal democracy. The contest returned to its previous champions Rousseau and Burke. Rousseau inspired the Remain campaign for they pursued neo-liberalism especially through the EU project. In their belief that the public would accept the liberal democratic benefits, they forgot what animated the Leave campaign. Burke was the founder of the Leave campaign. He championed British Rights against the universal rights proclaimed by the revolution of 1789. He would defend the customs, practices, and culture that were under threat.

The Remain campaign forget that beneath the democratic veneer exists cultures and customs created by the Monarchical or imperial regime. Burke’s conservatism provided a legitimate and principled defence of England’s traditions and its imperial system. For the Leave campaign, though, he was too timid. They were not Burkean conservatives. They had imbibed the Enlightenment’s disdain for tradition, custom, and continuity. Instead they appealed to something deeper than Burke had imagined. The Leave campaign under the respectable banner of conservatism had tapped deeper patterns of dissent. They had tapped into an irrational core with the focus on immigrants, refugees and foreigners. The Leave campaign, taking a lead from the demonic propaganda developed by Goebbels relied on the big lies, the fear, the hatred, but above all residual imperial ethos that pulsates beneath the public domain’s surface. Beneath the UK’s liberal democracy, which believed that reason, fair play, and due process would ensure justice, lurked something that had not changed. There is a hard sediment of a supremacist ideology which Leave has awakened. It is that residual imperial or supremacist ethos which animates the UK political system that the Leave campaign revealed. The fear of immigration made the public aware of how much it had lost and how much more it had to lose unless they “took back control”.

Liberalism is defined by the divide between state and society which requires a recognized private sphere, that is protected by the law yet is not subject to the law. The private sphere can escape the law where it becomes a realm of freedom. In return, the private sphere accepts that for the public domain to remain peaceful, it will accept that public behaviour that matches the public orthodoxy is sustained. The liberal state, though, promises to end discrimination. To overcome that private space, which is often the source for discrimination and private beliefs that flout the liberal ideas of tolerance, the liberal state has criminalized private behaviours such as hate speech or defamation. Yet, that promise to prevent discrimination requires the state to penetrate further into the private domain, thus limiting freedom and constraining that supremacist ethos. For to recognize or accept a private sphere means that some private “discrimination,” has to be accepted and protected. Yet, to prohibit such private discrimination would require the liberal state to destroy what it was create to protect the private sphere. Even as the UK liberal democracy was saying it wold tolerate foreign customs and beliefs, especially those which arrived because of UK imperialism, it was suppressing and criminalizing native customs, beliefs, and practices, like fox-hunting, on the basis of an alien idea—liberalism. Thus, the pursuit of the liberal state to end all discriminations leads to the destruction of the liberal state’s premise which is a private sphere.

Even though the EU and liberalism are blamed for the loss of control, the Crown is the more invasive. The liberal state reaches its apotheosis with the surveillance state. The state’s increases surveillance powers to look into the lives of its citizens. There is no private activity that escape the law. The liberal state is concerned with your private activity. How you raise your children, how you practice your faith, what you say about your neighbour, how you behave in your bedroom, are all subject to the law or the state. How the Leave campaign described this, though, was that the EU, not the UK liberal democracy, nor the Crown, was meddling in the private domain. The Leave campaign was dishonest for it knew that it could not show that it was fundamentally opposed to UK’s liberal democracy for that would cause the public to realize the EU was only a proxy for what Leave meant when they said they wanted to take back control.[1] Indeed, they want to return to an England before liberal democracy.

Unless liberal democracy understands this threat, it will not survive. The constitutional crisis will have unleashed forces that will consume those who fomented the Leave campaign. The campaign revealed that the Crown is concerned with self-preservation more than it is concerned with the democratic will. It will not sacrifice itself for the people or an abstract idea. The Crown has accepted liberal democratic principles to the extent they enable it to survive. They provide the necessary democratic veneer. As liberal democracy fades, we can expect the Crown’s implicit authoritarianism to emerge. However, it will cover its increased coercive power, its ability to tyrannize thought, by judicious gifts that return what liberal democracy suppressed. The desire to overturn fox-hunting ban, grammar schools, show the desire to revive cultures, practices, and customs that liberal democracy had displaced. Under the guise of reform, we will find that less individual freedoms and an increased demand for public behaviour to conform to the new orthodoxy, an orthodoxy that favours the strong at the expense of the weak for that is the imperial or supremacist ethos reborn for a post-modern age.

[1] The desire to take back control was never a claim to bring about popular sovereignty. The public would only be in control to the extent they would endorse a choice between alternatives manufactured by their rulers. Moreover, control meant that the people could no longer appeal beyond the UK to the EU. Even now as Article 50 remains unengaged the public seem barely aware that their votes did not matter for the PM will decide regardless of the vote’s outcome. Yet, each day the Article 50 is unengaged it also shows that the public have no say in what the government does. The government is resisting the public will, as expressed in the EU referendum, which further erodes the idea of liberal democracy that existed.

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Strauss, Weimar and the Crisis of the UK liberal democracy

Benedict de Spinoza: moral problems and our em...

Benedict de Spinoza: moral problems and our emotional responses to them should be reasoned from the perspective of eternity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I sat down with Strauss’s Liberalism Ancient and Modern to read the chapter on Spinoza (Preface to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion).[1] I did this to improve my understanding of Strauss’s approach to the tension between reason and revelation for some research on ISIS/ISIL challenges the West and its idea of liberalism.

As the UK had voted on 23 June 2016 to leave the EU, the vote and its outcome had been on my mind. I live in the UK on a EU passport. With that vote, my immigration status became radically uncertain. There was a larger problem though as in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the referendum, the far right extremist groups had become more active. The far right political parties, those that have registered to be legal parties, had been particularly active and vociferous on social media about immigrants, foreigners and traitors.

The far right animus appeared to crest with the murder of Jo Cox MP an outspoken supporter of the Remain campaign and champion for immigrants. Her attacker was a far right activist. Although he was quickly announced as being mentally ill, he was also arraigned under the Terrorism Protocols, which suggest that this was not being treated as a random event. In any case, the case was quickly overshadowed by the vote, which followed a few days, and the outcome.

In the days after the election, the anti-immigrant views which included EU nationals, intensified. People have been racially abused, far right posters have increased, and people have been attacked for appearing or acting “foreign”. Although the police and the government have taken steps to reassure the public by investigating reported incidents, a general fear has developed within immigrant communities and within families of foreign nationals. Even though one high profile case was quickly addressed where the culprits were arrested shortly after a video of their racial abuse was posted online, the attacks have continued and in some cases intensified. While the UK remains uncertain as to whether and how it will implement the Article 50 decision, the immigrants and foreigners remain caught in the fear generated by uncertainty.

What is apparent as many commentators have noted is the UK is in the midst of a serious constitutional crisis. Both of the main political parties are in the midst of leadership crisis. The Conservative party appears to be choosing between a future PM who will leave the EU quickly and one who will leave it slowly, if at all. Whoever is the next PM, they will have to harvest the bitter crop sown by the referendum since neither side will be satisfied with the outcome. For the Remain supporters, the old order will have been lost in an uncertain political landscape fraught with severe economic consequences. For the Leave campaign, the benefits do not yet, if they ever will, outweigh the costs for their goal was to unshackle themselves from the European political rights regime. Neither campaign will be fully satisfied for what has been promised to this point cannot be delivered. In that dissatisfaction, fear becomes hatred, and hatred becomes violence as the more extreme elements on the right are embolden to act against foreigners. Even as the crisis intensifies, the candidates for the leader of the Conservative Party are being purposefully vague about whether EU nationals, even those married to UK citizens, will be allowed to stay.

With that prelude, I was struck by Strauss’s description of Weimar. As I read the first several paragraphs, I replaced Germany with the UK and the text came alive to the situation I saw unfolding around me. The UK is not a liberal democracy. It has the veneer of a liberal democracy, but it is a constitutional monarchy with an imperial core that resents liberalism. Many of the Conservatives campaigned to repeal the Human Rights Act, which is a direct and clear descendent of the Rights of Man as brought forth by the French Revolution of 1789. One can understand that the UK Crown remains firmly opposed to such a radical idea since it means its extinction for it cannot exist as an imperial entity, where the Monarch rules by hereditary right, and accede to the idea of universal human rights which invalidate the inequality of a hereditary ruler. The Conservatives resent Liberalism’s intrusion into UK society and all that it brings for it attacks their customs, culture, and conservatism. The EU exit is seen by some as a first step to restoring the British rights and values opposed to European rights. As read through Strauss’s work, the UK is experiencing a crisis of its claims to be a liberal democracy.

In his work, Preface to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, Strauss describes the crisis of the Weimar Republic. In the first two pages, he describes the philosophical beliefs and historical events that contributed to the Weimar Republic’s collapse. He describes the details by which Germany’s liberal democracy’s internal contradiction, liberalism inherent inability to solve the Jewish problem[2], showed its limit when faced with extremist political groups bent on destroying it.

Even though the UK is not the Weimar Republic, what Strauss describes offers a powerful insight into the crisis of the UK’s liberal democracy. If we change the Jewish problem to the immigrant problem and modify some of the words within the first two pages, one could almost believe that Strauss was writing about the UK in 2016 instead of Weimar in 1933.

The following, taken from the first two pages of the article, are a paraphrase of key passages. pp224-225. I have italicized the words that were changed.

At the time, the United Kingdom was a liberal democracy. The regime was known as the Remain campaign.

In the eyes of Leave, Remain stood for the leanings to the EU, if not for the inner dependence of the English on the French and above all on the Germans, and a corresponding aversion to everything foreign.

By linking itself to Remain the United Kingdom liberal democracy proclaimed its moderate, non-radical character: its resolve to keep a balance between the dedication to the principles of 1789 and the dedication to the highest British tradition.

Remain was weak. It had a single moment of strength, if not of greatness: its strong reaction to the murder of the MP Jo Cox in June 2016.

The vote for Leave showed everyone who had eyes to see that the Liberal Democracy only had a sort time to live: the old England (Leave) was stronger in will than the new UK (Remain).

The victory of Leave became necessary in the UK for the same reason for which the victory of Communism had become necessary in Russia: the man who had by far the strongest will or single-mindedness, the greatest ruthlessness, daring, and power over his following, and the best judgement about the strength of the various forces in the immediately relevant political field was the leader of the revolution.

Half-Marxists trace the weakness of the Remain campaign to the power of monopoly capitalism and the economic crisis of 2008, but there were other liberal democracies which were and remained strong although they had to contend with the same difficulties.

It would be more reasonable to refer to the fact that the Remain campaign had come into being through the defeat of the No campaign in 1972, although this answer merely leads to the further question as to why England had not succeeded in becoming a liberal democracy under more auspicious circumstances (for instance 1688, 1789), that is why liberal democracy had always been weak in England.

Above all, the radicalization and deepening of neo-liberalism by Western economists culminated in the thought of the Leave campaign which legitimated a kind of constitutional monarchy which is based on the recognition of the rights of man and in which government is in the hands of highly educated civil servants appointed by a hereditary monarch… But Burke prepared not only the response to the French Revolution and English Philosophy but also that extreme reaction to the French Revolution which is English romanticism.

 

 

 

 

[1] Leo Strauss, Liberalism Ancient and Modern (University of Chicago Press, 1995)http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/L/bo3627385.html

[2] Here is how Strauss describes the Jewish Problem.

“To realize that the Jewish problem is insoluble means never to forget the truth proclaimed by Zionism regarding the limitations of liberalism. Liberalism stands and falls by the distinction between state and society or by the recognition of a private sphere, protected by the law but impervious to the law, with the understand that, above all, religion as particular religion belongs to the private sphere. As certainly as the liberal state will not “discriminate” against its Jewish citizens, as certainly is it constitutionally unable or unwilling to prevent “discrimination” against Jews on the part of individual and groups. To recognize a private sphere in the sense indicated means to permit private “discrimination,” to protect it, and thus in fact to foster it. The liberal state cannot provide a solution to the Jewish problem, for such a problem would require the legal prohibition against every kind of “discrimination,” that is, the abolition of the private sphere, the denial of the difference between state and society, the destruction of the liberal state.” P.230

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A commentary on Zizek: either stop talking or stop thinking

In the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, Slavoj Zizek wrote a column for the Guardian.[1] Hs purported goal was to help us, the West, think about or even think through the shootings. One imagines that he wanted us to better understand the shooting and by giving it meaning allow us to respond to it in an effective way, or even respond effectively, or at least respond in a meaningful way. However, Zizek, as he is wont to do, leads us on a, at least for the reader, tortured path to his desired destination in which we, after thinking about the killing, must arrive. In his inimitable style, he leads us to where we begin and we see ourselves for the first time. To get there, though, we have to follow his path from where he starts.

Now, when we are all in a state of shock after the killing spree in the Charlie Hebdo offices, it is the right moment to gather the courage to think.

Zizek suggests that we only begin thinking after an act. Even this though is not true. We can only gather the courage to think. In an echo of Heidegger, Zizek claims we are not yet thinking. Yet, this is not true. We can only gather the courage to think. We are not thinking and we appear frightened to think, which is why we have to gather our courage to think. If we are to think, what are we to think once we have the courage to think?

We should, of course, unambiguously condemn the killings as an attack on the very substance our freedoms, and condemn them without any hidden caveats (in the style of “Charlie Hebdo was nonetheless provoking and humiliating the Muslims too much”).

Immediately we no longer have to think. The answer is provided by Zizek. We must condemn the killings. He does not offer a reason. There is no need to think of a reason, the killings are clearly wrong. If it is clearly wrong, why do we have to think about it or even gather our courage to think about it? Curiously Zizek does not condemn the killings. He only says we would condemn them. He avoids the moral judgement. He does not say “I condemn the killings.” He only suggests or indicates that what we should do, not what we do, or must do, or will do. He leaves it conditional. He does not want to judge. Perhaps he is too much of a philosophical coward to condemn, even as he encourages others to condemn.

But such pathos of universal solidarity is not enough – we should think further.

Here Zizek claims that if we decide to condemn the attack and the attackers we have been thinking. Even there he suggests a lower form of thinking, if it is thinking at all, by referring to the pathos of solidarity. He claims this pathos is not enough instead we have to think further. He does not call us to act, he only call us to think. For Zizek it might be that thinking is the highest act. If it is, that is fine for the philosopher but it leaves the political community without a guide. In this claim, Zizek abandons the community and escapes into thought as a way to avoid responsibility, a cowardly decision that saves himself and leaves the community vulnerable to further attack.

Such thinking has nothing whatsoever to do with the cheap relativisation of the crime (the mantra of “who are we in the West, perpetrators of terrible massacres in the Third World, to condemn such acts”).

Zizek seeks to defend his call to thought by defending it against the public prejudice that such thinking would lead us to relativize the crime. Yet, why would that claim exist since he has already commanded that we should condemn the killings? Even to call it a crime seems to indicate a judgement. He wants us to look beyond such relativism that we are as guilty of crimes and therefore cannot condemn the attack. One could almost excuse Zizek for assuming Christ’s mantle to counter the claim that the West cannot cast a stone for it is not without sin. Have we begun to think? Zizek will provide an understanding of what is to be done beyond the moral equivalent or relativism.

It has even less to do with the pathological fear of many Western liberal Leftists to be guilty of Islamophobia. For these false Leftists, any critique of Islam is denounced as an expression of Western Islamophobia; Salman Rushdie was denounced for unnecessarily provoking Muslims and thus (partially, at least) responsible for the fatwa condemning him to death, etc.

Zizek also warns us against fear, the fear that we might be labelled with the mental disease (Islamophobia). The fear is that we would have an irrational fear of Islam, which has somehow excused the attacks or at least inhibits or limits our response to them if not our ability to think about them. As a side note, it is useful to remember that philosophy begins in wonder while faith begins in fear of the Lord. Whatever the fears or the issue, Zizek wants us to know that these are not true Leftists as they are false Leftist, which implies that there is a standard by which we can judge Leftist thought and behaviour. We are assured that Zizek knows this standard so as to render judgement on Leftists even as he has rendered judgement on the Islamic attackers or those who would respond to them.

The Muslim does not act out of fear or fragile beliefs

Another thinker tried to save the West from fear, the fear of violent death, and in forgetting his success we have become vulnerable. He seems an unpalatable option as his solution, which had worked previously, is not one that is conducive to Zizek’s intended outcome. Perhaps intellectual probity is no longer important when we need to make an ideological point. The desire to make ideological points at the expense of intellectual probity betrays the truth. If one does not believe in truth, beyond the truth of one’s ideology, then this is not a problem. However, Zizek is not finished with the psychological analysis.

The result of such stance is what one can expect in such cases: the more the Western liberal Leftists probe into their guilt, the more they are accused by Muslim fundamentalists of being hypocrites who try to conceal their hatred of Islam. This constellation perfectly reproduces the paradox of the superego: the more you obey what the Other demands of you, the guiltier you are. It is as if the more you tolerate Islam, the stronger its pressure on you will be . . .

One can almost imagine Leftists going to Zizek’s couch to understand their guilt. He will absolve them of their guilt with Freud by warning them against the power of the superego. The false Leftist ideology, of which Zizek is the judge, will force you to obey and the more you go along with what everybody else wants, you will feel more guilt. You will be caught out by the fundamentalists who ridicule you for secretly hating them even as you try to stop Islamophobia. The more you tolerate it, the more pressure to renounce that tolerance as a hypocrite. Why the Leftist liberal fears the words of the Muslim fundamentalist more than their machine gun bullets remains a mystery. If you can avoid hating Islam you will be spared the machine gun bullets but you will still have to face their words that accuse you of hypocrisy. Perhaps Zizek, the philosophical court jester to Western democracy, is being ironic in claiming that words will hurt you more than sticks or stones or in this case machine gun bullets. What is clear, though, is Zizek rejects moderation. He wants action, extreme action, even if he will not do it nor will he judge such action. Perhaps for him thinking is his extremism.

This is why I also find insufficient calls for moderation along the lines of Simon Jenkins’s claim (in The Guardian on January 7) that our task is “not to overreact, not to over-publicise the aftermath. It is to treat each event as a passing accident of horror” – the attack on Charlie Hebdo was not a mere “passing accident of horror”. it followed a precise religious and political agenda and was as such clearly part of a much larger pattern. Of course we should not overreact, if by this is meant succumbing to blind Islamophobia – but we should ruthlessly analyse this pattern.

Zizek wants to condemn moderation in the face of such acts. He seems to think that moderate reactions, a proportionate counter attack, is wrong. Yet, he also cautions against overreacting. It appears he wants us to have an extreme moderation or a moderate extremism. The basis for wisdom, though, is moderation. Wisdom is revealed in the proportionate course of action that statesmen take in response to these issues. Although Zizek modifies his immoderate criticism of moderation, by indicating that an immoderate behaviour would be to succumb to blind Islamophobia, a psychological condition. The psychological condition returns as if one can choose to go mad, one can rationally choose a mental illness. A moderate response cannot be understood as a leap into Islamophobia unless one is suggesting that Islamophobia is now assumed to be the moderate position. Strangely, for his previous criticism of false Leftists who feared being called Islamaphobes, he wants us to avoid choosing Islamophobia as our moderate response for it might be the right response according to Zizek but only after we have analysed the pattern.

We must think through the pattern of the attack, which Zizek assures us exists for it cannot be an accident of a larger movement. The attack is part of the pattern of history and the logic of that history is known, it would appear, to Zizek if no one else. Even as he calls for us to avoid moderation that falls into Islamophobia he suggests we must be ruthless, extreme, in our thinking our analysis of the pattern of these attacks and the agenda they follow. We are not told the pattern or the agenda although to claim there is a pattern and an agenda requires that Zizek knows it.

The pattern and the agenda Zizek find is created, as we see below, was set by Friedrich Nietzsche. He will help us to break down the myth that turns the suicide attackers into heroes by demonising them.

What is much more needed than the demonisation of the terrorists into heroic suicidal fanatics is a debunking of this demonic myth.

We are not told where this myth originates or why the myth exists. What Zizek suggests, again strangely since he condemns the false Leftists for such beliefs, is that it is created by the West.

Long ago Friedrich Nietzsche perceived how Western civilisation was moving in the direction of the Last Man, an apathetic creature with no great passion or commitment. Unable to dream, tired of life, he takes no risks, seeking only comfort and security, an expression of tolerance with one another: “A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end, for a pleasant death. They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health. ‘We have discovered happiness,’ – say the Last Men, and they blink.”

Zizek suggests that the myth is born of a desire by the West to see the attackers as heroes and in doing so go give meaning to their own lives. He knows we are in the age of the Last Man, but how he knows this is not clear. What he does know is that in the age of the Last Man, the West must create the heroic suicidal bomber to keep itself alive to the danger of life. Only in the myth can we avoid our own emptiness.

It effectively may appear that the split between the permissive First World and the fundamentalist reaction to it runs more and more along the lines of the opposition between leading a long satisfying life full of material and cultural wealth, and dedicating one’s life to some transcendent Cause. Is this antagonism not the one between what Nietzsche called “passive” and “active” nihilism? We in the West are the Nietzschean Last Men, immersed in stupid daily pleasures, while the Muslim radicals are ready to risk everything, engaged in the struggle up to their self-destruction.

We in the West are the permissive empty Last Men content in our nihilism while the Muslims, who are also nihilists but do not know it, become extremists pursuing death for some belief that gives their lives meaning. The duality is actually a monality as both reduce to nihilism. However, we have to remember this is only what it appears to Zizek. This too is only a possible view and not what Zizek believes.

William Butler Yeats’ “Second Coming” seems perfectly to render our present predicament: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” This is an excellent description of the current split between anemic liberals and impassioned fundamentalists. “The best” are no longer able fully to engage, while “the worst” engage in racist, religious, sexist fanaticism.

The choice is clear: a disengaged nihilist or a fanatic nihilist. What is important, though, is neither of these apply to Zizek. He thinks. He acts. He is beyond Good and Evil. He will provide the values by which we can judge even as he refuses to pass judgement on the attack. He will help us to think through the pattern and the agenda. The reality is that the radical fundamentalists are not fundamentalists at all.

However, do the terrorist fundamentalists really fit this description? What they obviously lack is a feature that is easy to discern in all authentic fundamentalists, from Tibetan Buddhists to the Amish in the US: the absence of resentment and envy, the deep indifference towards the non-believers’ way of life. If today’s so-called fundamentalists really believe they have found their way to Truth, why should they feel threatened by non-believers, why should they envy them? When a Buddhist encounters a Western hedonist, he hardly condemns. He just benevolently notes that the hedonist’s search for happiness is self-defeating. In contrast to true fundamentalists, the terrorist pseudo-fundamentalists are deeply bothered, intrigued, fascinated, by the sinful life of the non-believers. One can feel that, in fighting the sinful other, they are fighting their own temptation.

If this were true, it would suggest that the fundamentalists possess the truth. As they possess a truth, they leave others alone. The argument raises the question of why Zizek is commenting on the situation. If he does possess a truth, his understanding of the pattern and the agenda, and he thinks, why is he concerned with how the West reacts to these killers, their pattern of these and their agenda?

It is here that Yeats’ diagnosis falls short of the present predicament: the passionate intensity of the terrorists bears witness to a lack of true conviction. How fragile the belief of a Muslim must be if he feels threatened by a stupid caricature in a weekly satirical newspaper?

In a curious and well played inversion, perhaps echoing Nietzsche’s transvaluation of values, Zizek turns passionate belief into fragility and emptiness. The Muslim is stupid if they are threatened. They fear words more than reality. He criticizes them for their fears in the way that false Leftists fear words in being labelled Islamaphobic. Zizek would have us forget fear as if it is only fear that holds us back. We have not thing to fear but fear itself. He will be brave for us and look into the abyss. Yet, he does not appear to understand the Muslims as they understand themselves. He understands them as he wants to understand them, which limits his advice.

The Muslim does not act out of fear or fragile beliefs. He acts out of love and belief. He loves Allah and believes in his teaching so much that he willing to live, kill, add die for those beliefs. The West is barely able to muster such beliefs. Socrates believed in philosophy enough to sacrifice his life for it. Would Zizek do that? Do we have similar beliefs in the West? Christianity and to a large extent Judaism have been hollowed out by modernity and exist largely as shells of their former selves. The Catholic Church, and Israel, remain as bastions of belief but they are under sustained and intense assault to drain them of such beliefs. In large part by “philosophers” such as Zizek who cannot muster belief in anything except nihilism.

The fundamentalist Islamic terror is not grounded in the terrorists’ conviction of their superiority and in their desire to safeguard their cultural-religious identity from the onslaught of global consumerist civilization.

How does Zizek know what are the ground for the Islamic terror? He understands them as he wants to understand them not as they understand themselves. He appears to indulge in a strange cultural historicism. He dismisses a possible ground because to him it seems unbelievable that someone could believe enough to live, kill, and die for their faith. Instead, the terrorists suffer from the same psychological malady as the Leftists, they secretly hate themselves.

The problem with fundamentalists is not that we consider them inferior to us, but, rather, that they themselves secretly consider themselves inferior.

Zizek the great psychologists now reduces the Islamic terror to a simple inferiority complex. If we could only build up their self-esteem they would stop believing in Islam and stop being so violent. How he knows their secret beliefs remains a mystery but his analysis has brought him to this great insight.

This is why our condescending politically correct assurances that we feel no superiority towards them only makes them more furious and feeds their resentment.

Strangely he believes that being tolerant and feeling superior are mutually exclusive. The magnanimous man tolerates the inferior out of his magnanimity. Just as the philosopher tolerates the stupid out of his superiority. More to the point, if we in the West gave them non-politically correct assurances or less condescending assurances, they would feel better. If we openly hate them, then they will love us, respect us, and no longer feel the secret self-loathing that comes from our apparent indifference if not tolerance. Except we do not even do that correctly. They resent our inability to insult them properly and recognize their inferiority for what it was. If we would only act as Masters they would assume their expected role as Slaves. Zizek’s masterful insight returns us to Hegel, except it is more insulting. They do not want recognition as equals. They want to be recognized as an inferior and resent our refusal to act as superior as we are. In his own way Zizek provides the necessary insult for Muslims (and the West).

If we just insulted them more they would relax and accept that we hate them which would make them not want to kill us as their resentment would be sated. As we have asked them to meet our standards (derived from Nature and Nature’s God) and we judge them by those standards, they will feel relieved to avoid having to carry the internal burden of their self-loathing.

The problem is not cultural difference (their effort to preserve their identity), but the opposite fact that the fundamentalists are already like us, that, secretly, they have already internalized our standards and measure themselves by them.

Here we find a difficulty. If the fundamentalists already act like us or at least rely on our standards and measures are they different from us in a material way? It would appear that Zizek is saying there is no material difference of ends only of means. Where the liberal democratic acts moderately, the fundamentalist acts aggressively or violently; but there is no difference between them fundamentally on the ends they pursue. Are we to now understand there is only a difference in means and not ends? Even if we abstract to the most extreme level, there is a material difference between the two options. If they are the same or at least similar, is it that the fundamentalists are on the same journey but only less developed or as advanced along that journey to nihilism? However, there is a twist to his statement.

Paradoxically, what the fundamentalists really lack is precisely a dose of that true ‘racist’ conviction of their own superiority.

The fundamentalists are not yet supremacists. They are just as extreme but do not yet act as supremacists. Once they do, then they would be the same as a liberal democrat and lose their self-loathing as an inferior but obtain it as a superior unable to embrace it as the Leftists seem unwilling or unable to embrace it. The western liberal acts with an air of false superiority in his zealotry while the fundamentalist acts with an air of inferiority complex in their zealotry. Moreover, Zizek has argued that the liberals are racists and the fundamentalists have just not yet understood that they too are racist supremacists, but they do not know it yet. One almost imagines that the fundamentalists act with a false consciousness and brave Zizek is going to help them with their psychological condition (see Nietzsche’s lament about psychologists) so that they too can be open about their racism. All of this, though, is prelude to what Zizek wants to champion as his insight drawn from Walter Benjamin.

The recent vicissitudes of Muslim fundamentalism confirm Walter Benjamin’s old insight that “every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution”[2]: the rise of Fascism is the Left’s failure, but simultaneously a proof that there was a revolutionary potential, dissatisfaction, which the Left was not able to mobilize. And does the same not hold for today’s so-called “Islamo-Fascism”? Is the rise of radical Islamism not exactly correlative to the disappearance of the secular Left in Muslim countries?

Leaving aside the fact that despite extensive searches I cannot find Benjamin making that statement in his published works  (this suggests that Zizek made it up and tries to pass it off as Benjamin’s) we return to the theme that it is all about the Left. Now, we are told that the fundamentalists emerge because the Left failed. Perhaps it is that the fundamentalists emerged in response to the Leftists? Or it might be that the fundamentalists never went away and that no revolution was possible so could not fail. Instead, Islam faces liberalism’s global challenge. It cannot escape the corrosive power transmitted through technology and popular culture and it is the last attempt to resist liberalism’s totalitarian embrace. The Left never attempted to reform Islam as Islam have never had a Left beyond those hidden or esoteric philosophers. Perhaps we could suggest that some rulers were secular and they chose to import ideas and beliefs that challenged the pre-existing, if latent, fundamentalist ideas so that they could retain their power and control. Yet, that does not suggest a Leftist revolution was ever considered so it could not fail.

We also must question whether Walter Benjamin is appropriate. His insight proves superficial when we consider the wider world. Perhaps it fits for Germany’s history but it hardly reflects the religious regimes or the wider, global, tension between Left and Right however understood. We would forget that Nationalist Socialism began as a revolution on the Left. It opposed the Left and was not a revolution on the Right as it was not interested in restoring throne or altar even as it claimed as such or assumed those symbols. Leaving aside the problem with Benjamin’s analytical term, we still face another issue with Zizek’s choice of the word fascist. Zizek chooses the word Islamo-Fascism in an apparent or conscious echo of Christopher Hitchen’s term. The term appears useful. The closer we examine it, though, we see that it reflects the originator’s attempt to project his views onto Islam and what he understands as the Islamic threat. By this term he hoped to frame the debate in way that the public would understand and respond to appropriately. The term, though, keeps us from thinking. We use it as a shorthand to avoid an attempt to understand Islam, the radical movement, or what either seeks to achieve. We are reduced to the belief that Islam is bad and Islam can only manifest itself in a fascistic political system. Moreover, we are reduced to the idea that Islamic movements reduce to fascism or the current Islamists who carried out the shootings reduce to fascistic thinking. Yet, Islamic movements have not been fascistic. They are less interested in a state or a government and more interested in a regime that shapes the way of life on their religious beliefs. If a political order allowed that and enabled it, then would they resist that order? Perhaps we see that Zisek is the one caught within the state system, within fascistic thinking, as he no longer understands or considers the state’s origin is not in itself but occurs from an earlier thought that he has rejected.

When, back in the Spring of 2009, Taliban took over the Swat valley in Pakistan, New York Times reported that they engineered “a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants”. If, however, by “taking advantage” of the farmers’ plight, the Taliban are “raising alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal,” what prevents liberal democrats in Pakistan as well as the US to similarly “take advantage” of this plight and try to help the landless farmers?

Here an issue emerges clearly that reveals the paucity of Zizek’s thinking or ability to understand the world in practical terms. Zizek wants revolution in the same way that the Taliban want revolution. The difference though is that Zizek wants liberal democrats to become revolutionaries. The Taliban are already revolutionary. The problem, though, is that the liberal democrats do not believe in revolution. They want to change regimes and encourage them to become liberal democratic through non-violent means such as ballots and elections. Taliban wants to destroy them and rule. The Taliban only want to rule, they have no interest in the farmers aside from using them to overthrow the land owners so they can exploit them. The farmers would change one master for another. Strangely, Zizek does not see this. His view is that the liberal democrats need to become liberal democratic imperialist and encourage the famers to overthrow the land owners. Moreover, this would somehow help the US in its fight against the Taliban and appear to spread liberal democracy.

If the US were to follow his ruthless analysis, the United States would depose a friendly regime that was helping them fight a common enemy and replace it with an unstable regime that would be unable to fight the common enemy and suffer from subsequent instability that comes with any regime founded in a revolution. In effect, Zizek would destroy the alliance in pursuit of liberal democratic purity. Perhaps Zizek is a brilliant philosopher but he is an incompetent geopolitical strategist. His ruthless analysis would undermine the US’s ability to fight the Taliban and it would also remove its ability to encourage changes towards liberal democracy. Moreover, Zizek’s lesson does not learn from the Vietnam War in which the North Vietnamese were fighting to impose their rule on all of Vietnam and had some sympathy among the Southern population. By contrast, the Taliban are not indigenous and seek to impose their rule. They are not seeking to unify the country so much as to take it over for their own purposes that do not match the indigenous population’s purposes.

The sad implication of this fact is that the feudal forces in Pakistan are the “natural ally” of the liberal democracy…

In the specific circumstances, the answer is yes. Yet, this is the nature of politics. It is never a pure activity in which there are clear choices without consequences. Politics requires compromise where one has to work with the practical even if it is done in the ideal’s light.

So what about the core values of liberalism: freedom, equality, etc.? The paradox is that liberalism itself is not strong enough to save them against the fundamentalist onslaught.

Here Zisek appears to offer us another insight. Yet, we find he only returns us to Nietzsche with his criticism of men without chests. If this is true, why was it such flabby liberalism found a way to defeat a more virulent, focused, and vicious form of fascism in the form of the Soviet Union? Moreover, he assumes that the liberal democratic effect will never occur without revolution.

Fundamentalism is a reaction – a false, mystifying, reaction, of course – against a real flaw of liberalism, and this is why it is again and again generated by liberalism.

Zizek offers us nothing new. He wants us to follow his well established, if tired, Hegelian trope that liberalism creates fundamentalism. The insight appears fresh, even urgent in light of the context, but stale, if not empty of meaning when considered against history. Zizek appears to avoid the question of whether liberalism itself cannot be fundamentalist. Perhaps the deeper irony is that we are to accept Liberalism as a fundamentalism without knowing why or how it is or has become such a fundamentalism. Is the deeper joke that Zizek is ready to introduce us to our deeper truth, our fundamentalism, and poses himself as our guide, our Imam?

Left to itself, liberalism will slowly undermine itself – the only thing that can save its core values is a renewed Left. In order for this key legacy to survive, liberalism needs the brotherly help of the radical Left. THIS is the only way to defeat fundamentalism, to sweep the ground under its feet.

We retreat from that precipice to find that the goal is not fundamentalism so much as a resurrection of what we had believed we had rejected—the radical left. We now have a solution prepared earlier, we return to where we began. We need to reinvigorate the Left, not just any part of the left or any variety, but the radical left. We need the radical left for that will help us understand that it is time to awaken our inner Cromwell to defeat the fundamentalists. What is left unanswered, though, if this strategy is required—“What will save liberalism from itself?”

To think in response to the Paris killings means to drop the smug self-satisfaction of a permissive liberal and to accept that the conflict between liberal permissiveness and fundamentalism is ultimately a false conflict – a vicious cycle of two poles generating and presupposing each other. What Max Horkheimer had said about Fascism and capitalism already back in 1930s – those who do not want to talk critically about capitalism should also keep quiet about Fascism – should also be applied to today’s fundamentalism: those who do not want to talk critically about liberal democracy should also keep quiet about religious fundamentalism.

Here we find that Pogo was right. We have found the enemy and he is us. After all the analysis, all the bravado, we only get to where we started if we have begun to think. Unless we become fundamentalists, we cannot defeat fundamentalists. We must become like a beast to defeat a beast, but once we become that beast, how, or even why, should we return to liberal democrats? Zizek must have enjoyed himself writing this piece given the joke it tells. Liberalism must become fundamentalist, which may be true from a political perspective but it can never be true from a philosophical perspective. Moreover, it makes us believe that the one people who cannot talk about liberal democracy’s flaws are liberal democrats. If anything is clear from the history of liberal democracy, is that liberal democrats cannot *stop* talking about its flaws.

So the conflict between liberal permissiveness and fundamentalism is a false conflict since liberal democracy is a fundamentalism that is as dangerous the Islamo-Fascists. What then is the conflict, but two armies clashing in the night unaware that they serve each other? If the whole analysis reverts to Liberal fundamentalism vs Islamic fundamentalism where does that leave philosophy which has always distinguished the West? We can only see liberal democracy as an inferior way of life if one knows of a superior way of life. It may be that Zizek wants us to think this through so that we can see that the deeper conflict is between philosophy and fundamentalism without making the case for philosophy, yet there has never been a society founded upon philosophy. At best, we have a city in speech as our guide or a destination, but never one that will sustain non-philosophers. The City of God can take non-believers, but the City of Philosophers cannot accept non-philosophers. In the end, he settles for ideology, for politics over philosophy, without being able to resolve the choice of fundamentalisms except by the amount of violence they use. If Zizek’s thinking leads us to this point, perhaps it is best if hr did less of thinking or better yet, if he has to keep think if, then he just kept it to himself.

[1] http://www.newstatesman.com/world-affairs/2015/01/slavoj-i-ek-charlie-hebdo-massacre-are-worst-really-full-passionate-intensity

[2] I have searched in vain for this phrase within Benjamin’s work. Google searches and text searches have returned only Zizek’s quotation. This suggests that it is made up by Zizek and does not exist. If this is correct, it is a shameful, but unsurprising.

Posted in censorship, corruption, philosophy, privacy, public opinion | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Who is a traitor in the UK? A short essay to answer the question.

In the recent attack on Jo Cox MP, the attacker is alleged to have said “Britain First”. At his appearance before the Magistrates, he said his name was “death to traitors!”[1] Following her death several claims appeared in social media stating that Jo Cox was a traitor. Although it was not clear what it was that made her a traitor, claims emerged on social media that there was a list of traitors who were to face justice over the EU referendum. The claims did not show the list, the criteria for treason, or who decides the membership, but the claim was circulated widely. In one case, a user on Twitter had a list of “traitors”, which is now deleted, that included Jo Cox.[2]

What makes a person a traitor in UK law?

If we look at the claim that there are “traitors” to Britain, we have to understand what makes a person a traitor. The question seems obvious enough, “What makes a person a traitor to the UK?” There is a legal definition of traitor as it is found in one of the earliest pieces of UK legislation which is the Treason Act of 1351[3] upon which all subsequent treason legislation is based. Despite some misconceptions about treason, the Treason Acts are still in force although unlikely to be used given their historical nature and the fact that other legislation is available to punish the crime.[4]

For the UK extremists anyone who disagrees with them is a traitor, apparently

While the legislation covers the legal definition of treason, something which Jo Cox MP clearly did not meet, we are still left with the claim by the extremist group that she, and others, was a traitor. Here the definition becomes confused as it seems that anyone who disagrees with the extremist groups is a traitor. In other words, any opponent is a traitor. As this appears to be an open ended list and would include internal disputes within these various parties, I tried to find a list of traitors so that I could discover the criteria for treason.

Search the web and you will find a list of traitors that will surprise you.

To attempt to clarify who is a traitor and the criteria for treason, I did a search on the web using the words “traitor” “UK” and “EU” since this is in the midst of the UK’s EU referendum. From that search a number of sites came up with lists of traitors. The list is common across the sites, which suggests they are either written by the same person or influenced by the same source. The same name appears as the author on some of the lists. These sites do not give criteria but they do show the following are considered reasons for someone to be considered a traitor.[5]

  • If you support the EU.
  • If you support or encourage immigration.
  • If you are an Islamist lover.[6]

The latter appears to mean that you love a supporter or advocate of Islamic Fundamentalism.[7] There may be other criterion, but these were the only ones I could uncover after a few minutes of searching the web.

If the Queen is also a traitor, is anyone loyal and to what exactly?

In the case of Jo Cox, it would appear she fit the first two criteria. Another person who makes the list, and is considered the highest traitor, is the Queen. Yes, that is correct. According to these sites, the Queen is a traitor to Britain because she accepted the EU treaty and thereby invalidated her Coronation Oath.[8] However, it is not clear how she violated her oath except that the sites assert it.  Moreover, the sites are unclear why they want the UK treason laws to be upheld since their threats against “traitors” would suggest that they might seem to be treasonous against the Queen. Moreover, it is not clear what law would be applied to the Queen since she is the fount of all laws and justice according to the UK constitution.[9] If she is a traitor, then all persons, including all UK military, Police, MPs, Judges, and new citizens are also traitors since they swear an oath of loyalty to her.[10]

You need someone to be a traitor so your life can make sense and you can ward off the despair.

It appears within this extremist political ideology if you support the EU, immigration, are an Islamist lover, or disagree with any of these extremist groups, then you are a traitor to Britain. In fact,  the only way you can avoid being a traitor, it seems, is if you join one of these extremist groups. For minds full of fear and uncertainty, such logic provides a refuge. The extremists become like refugees from a world that appears threatening. The difficult choices that being an adult requires such as accepting that there will always be people who disagree with you, but are still decent human being, and a world that appears full of unknown dangers, can be scary. In the extremist groups, you never have to face that reality. For this reason, the term traitor and the concept of treason provide the moral clarity, safety and comforting reassurance these people crave because they do not know who they are. So long as someone reassures them they are loyal, while others are traitors, they can feel they belong and the world makes sense in their anger, violence, and despair.

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/18/jo-cox-murder-suspect-thomas-mair-told-police-he-was-political-activist

[2] https://twitter.com/john3ners/status/744526666400174080

[3] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/aep/Edw3Stat5/25/2/contents

[4] https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/treason_does_the_crime_still_exi see also http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/oct/17/treason-act-facts-british-extremists-iraq-syria-isis

[5] It appears that if you are pro-EU or Islamist Lover, you are a traitor according to Britain First literature. “pro-EU, Islamist-loving…traitors” http://indy100.independent.co.uk/article/just-britain-first-threatening-to-hang-their-proeu-islamistloving-opponents-at-the-tower-of-london–Z16fxI0Pvl

[6] http://www.eutruth.org.uk/traitors.html

http://lawfulrebellion.info/list-of-traitors-to-the-united-kingdom/  similar text to number 1.

http://traitor666.blogspot.co.uk/  A traitor encourages immigration.

[7] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/islamist

[8] http://www.federaljack.com/ebooks/eu%20truth/traitors.html (On this site the author has left his name and his mobile number at the bottom of the list if anyone wants to contact him.)

“Traitor number 1. HM the Queen. Has committed five acts of treason signing EU treaties that abolish our nation. She is the only monarch to have broken her Coronation oath. Failed as the ultimate check and balance, failed to insist on a national ballot for the abolition of our nation.”

And

“1.  HM the Queen.             Committed six acts of treason signing EU treaties that abolish our nation. She is the only monarch to have broken her Coronation oath. Failed as the ultimate check and balance, failed to insist on a national ballot for the abolition of our nation.“ http://www.eutruth.org.uk/traitors.html

[9] https://www.royal.uk/queen-and-law

[10] On the oath of allegiance for new citizens, see https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/268021/oathofallegiance.pdf On the oaths of the Military, MPs, Police, and Judges see. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2002/30  section 83 Attestation of Constables https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oath_of_Allegiance_%28United_Kingdom%29#Armed_forces  For MP the oath is http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/elections-and-voting/swearingin/

Posted in corruption, Government, justice, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Why Andrew Sullivan is wrong about America, Trump, and extreme democracy

In a provocative essay, Andrew Sullivan suggests America is an extreme democracy ripe for tyranny.[1] America’s multiculturalism, sexual freedom, disrespect for any authority or expertise and intolerance of any inequality whether earned or natural characterise its extremism. These characteristics challenge the previous moderate democratic order the result is a descent into public domain dominated by an incoherent mess of views, identities, and demands. From this incoherent public domain, a tyrant emerges with a promise to defend the old order and return stability to the public domain. From this promise or intent, he will find supporters in those who want to protect the old order as well as those dislike the extreme democracy. Sullivan comes to this conclusion via Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, who provides his analytical focus. Plato, in his famous dialogue, the Republic, described a process by which an extreme democracy emerges and with it a tyrant to change a democracy into a tyranny. Sullivan relies on this analysis to explain Donald Trump’s emergence as a viable candidate for the presidency. He his analysis rests on three premises. First, he accepts that Trump fits Plato description: a member of the elite, who takes his chance to rule by using the mob who support him to his attack rival elites such as the wealthy. Second, Trump, like the tyrant promises to bring order to the incoherency of the extreme democracy. Third, America is an extreme democracy ripe for tyranny.

Sullivan wants us to focus on Trump for he despises him and what he offers. Despite his prejudice, it provides no lasting insight for his essay remains at this superficial level of personalities. He avoids the difficult questions of why or how democracy changed, what motivates Trump, and why America’s political institutions have seemingly become fragile to the point of collapse. What marks the change from democracy to extreme democracy? He describes the characteristics but does not address the causes. To say it changed has to indicate that it had a turning point or a point of departure from when it stopped being a democracy and became an extreme democracy. A democracy and an extreme democracy are both marked by freedoms. How do the freedoms or the extent of the freedom differentiate a democracy from an extreme democracy? Sullivan does not look within the democracy, or Trump, to find what animates them. As he remains on the surface of symptoms and outcomes where many freedoms and the appearance of political, social, and moral incoherence which has made many people fearful. Perhaps it is what lies beneath the surface that scares him.

If he focused on what animates democracy, and Trump, he might have seen a different, darker, more disturbing message. Trump is only a symptom and is not a symptom of an extreme democracy but a potential harbinger. The deeper problem, and the more difficult problem, is how to reform American democracy, if it can be reformed, to avoid the extreme future that Trump appears to foreshadow. Even if Trump is defeated in this election we will not see America return to a healthy democracy that is less susceptible to the fate of becoming an extreme democracy unless the sources of extremism are address. However, such an analysis is problematic if not impossible within his essay for the fundamental problem within his essay—America is not yet, nor is it close to becoming, an extreme democracy.

Sullivan’s argument is based on the premise that America is an extreme democracy. He believes that the symptoms he describes indicate that extremism. In this analysis, he is mistaken and he is mistaken because he has relied on Plato for his analytical framework and not Aristotle. Had Sullivan relied on Aristotle rather than Plato he would have seen that an extreme democracy is a tyranny that lacks a tyrant. That America is not an extreme democracy, for it is not tyrannical, helps us to understand why it is not waiting for a tyrant. With Aristotle he would have seen an extreme democracy is tyrannical which is why it gives birth to or is receptive to a tyrant. Trump is not a tyrant in waiting, for he can only be a tyrant if he taps into the tyrannical ethos of an extreme democracy. Sullivan confuses great freedoms and great discontent, political incoherence, and political factions for extreme democracy. In other words, the political uncertainty with great freedoms does not indicate that extreme democracy exists. What America appears to suffer from is each of these elements; symptoms of extreme democracy, an apparent tyrant in waiting, oligarchic support for the apparent tyrant, without the necessary ingredient: the extreme democracy or the extreme democracy that has become tyrannical. Aristotle, who lived through extreme democracy, was able to describe its characteristic in his book the Politics.[2]

If Sullivan had considered Aristotle, he would see that America only has the shadow of extreme democracy as do all democracies. The extreme democracy is more prevalent on social media than in the public domain. Without these characteristics, it cannot be considered an extreme democracy. If it cannot be considered an extreme democracy, then America is not yet ripe for tyranny. No matter what we may think personally of Trump, he is not a tyrant waiting to emerge from within an extreme democracy. He may be something else, but he is not going to rule as a tyrant nor is he able to draw on extreme democracy. However, to understand why Sullivan misunderstands extreme democracy, America, and Trump, we have to look at Aristotle’s ten characteristics of extreme democracy as tyranny.

  1. The first method of extreme tyranny: the prosecution and removal of prominent individuals.

In an extreme democracy s prominent men, and women, who might oppose what is happening either by the tyrant or the extreme democrats are prosecuted and removed from office or driven from the public domain. In the United States and the United Kingdom, we see an orthodoxy imposed where people are prosecuted for hate speech, elitism, racism, homophobia, or just labelled as “haters”. Yet, all societies are based on a shared opinion, an orthodoxy, that defines the public domain. A defence of this political orthodoxy is not itself a sign of extreme democracy. However, there is a subtle form of persecution, which is less public, but still relies on the demos for its effect. In the UK, we see that political and personal blackmail are used to drive people from the public domain or to control them if they want to remain in the public domain.[3] In this way, the blackmail can derail the democratic will but its success relies on the demos to be outraged should the private information, the blackmail, be published. In a milder, not illegal sense, this is often called “opposition research”.[4] Although characteristics of an extreme democracy emerge in certain places such as when individuals are shouted down in public debates, denied a platform at university lectures or talks, and met with a constant barrage of protests that are marked by threats of physical violence and financial ruin, they are the exception. When these activities are publicized, they are criticized and resisted for they fall outside the norm. They are not considered the norm, yet.

This characteristic is not met.

  1. The second method of extreme tyranny: favoring flatterers

Another characteristic is that flatters find favour and success within the public domain for their ability to tell the democracy what it wants to hear. In the extreme democracy, commentators, academics, and entertainers who flatter the public and the powerful find favour and success. Yet, such figures, who will flatter the powerful either the demos or the oligarchies or simply the person in charge, have always existed. The flatters who succeed are those who can parrot what the extreme democracy demands for which they are feted, celebrated, and rewarded. They are not going to tell the public the truth for that is not considered a road to success. They stop saying “what is” and say whatever the powerful want them to say.[5] They have no desire for reform and if they do speak of “reform” it is to pander to the powerful not to restrain their appetites or grievances for they want fame more than the truth. In the age of social media this is quite common as flatters are those who usually seek audience shares and popularity to earn their wage. Yet, the audiences are fickle and quickly tire of those who flatter them since “what is” dispels what the flatters say. As Robespierre found the most powerful flatter will be consumed by the mob. If this characteristic was present, then we would need to ask Mr Sullivan why he is exempt.

This characteristic is mixed.

  1. The third method of extreme tyranny: sowing the seeds of dissension and slander, turning friend against friend, demos against aristocrats, and the rich against each other.

Here we start to see something of the current social media system that has begun to infect the political system. What Aristotle described sounds like the average fare on Fox News and MSNBC or could be considered Rupert Murdoch’s business model.[6] What passes for news is designed to generate hatred, fear, uncertainty, and doubt about democracy, decency, and fairness. If someone can be attacked, humiliated, or bullied, you can be sure it can be done through the media who do this for fun and profit. Instead of a common good, we are constantly told how we are being “ripped off” or how someone is taking advantage of us or some group is getting special favours while politicians fail to act out of cowardice, bribery, corruption, or incompetence. We are never told the media’s interests in this approach only that they are reporting the “news”. The media excites the public to a frenzy since someone else must be to blame, never the journalists or their editors, since they direct it. Democratic due process and legislative process are seen as battlefield where all results are zero sum. The logic becomes “Unless we win, humiliate, and destroy our enemies, then we have lost, been defrauded, and humiliated”, which means that compromise is weakness and surrender. We no longer talk of what brings us together we only hear what divides us and makes us different and if that difference is not protected by law, then we must be suffering vicious, unremitting discrimination by anyone who does not share our views. We no longer talk of finding the change in ourselves. Given the hysteria that the media foment one wonders how soon pitched battles will break out on America’s streets. If it did, one could be certain the media would be there to cover it to generate advertising revenue.

This characteristic is met.

  1. The fourth method of extreme tyranny: favoring the dominance of women in the homes and lack of discipline among the slaves.

Here Aristotle reflects his historical context. In that era women rarely participated in the public domain and slaves were a constant threat for they could either betray their masters, murder them, or revolt. Today, these characteristic can be seen in the way children are drawn into the public domain to erode parental and societal authority. In such a view, all authority is questioned and resisted for its existence can only be explained by the fact that its legitimacy is based solely on its ability to oppress. Thus, when people are encouraged to believe that any authority exists solely by and for its power to suppress or express the arbitrary prejudices of those who possess authority, must be resisted.

The fundamental and original form of authority is the family structure. The authority in the family can take many forms so the issue now is not about patriarchy, it is about the nature of the family as a source of authority. The family forms a bulwark against society for it is a private space within which one can resist the corrosive demands of extreme democracy and tyranny. The family structure relies on authority in that it guards against incest, or treating children as sexual objects to be consumed by society, and sustains the belief that parents, not society or the state, are responsible for raising the young. Both of these rely on a harmonious relationship between husband and wife. Yet, what we find that the family is under constant attack with it being redefined so that incest can become a topic that no longer scandalizes, and thinkers who can speak of selling children as if they were lifestyle accessories or consumer goods.[7]

This characteristic is met.

  1. The fifth method of extreme tyranny: preferring the company of foreigners.

Although the concern could be with immigration, Aristotle’s characteristic focuses on the regime’s nature. The tyrant prefers foreigners to the extent that he cannot rely on citizens to carry out his orders. In the current context, we can see how immigration becomes a political instrument either to promote liberty or to earn a profit. In the United States and the United Kingdom, the extreme democracy is marked by increased enfranchisement of foreigners. Yet, the focus is less on their ethnicity or their economic effect as the issue, even though these are important, than it is the political rights they obtain. In an extreme democracy, the tyrant knows that political power can be accumulated to serve or hinder those political rights depending on how the tyrant wants to rely on the foreigners for his power. If they are for immigration, they can expand the welfare state. If they are against immigration, they can expand the surveillance state. The extreme democracy and the tyrant will offer more and more political rights for this allows them to extend their power for such rights will need to be protected and promoted.

This characteristic is not met.

  1. The sixth method of extreme tyranny: the prohibition of hetaireiai and similar institution.

The term hetaireiai refers to what is known today as social clubs. Other institutions are common meals, education institutions or churches.[8] The extreme democracy as tyranny cannot tolerate institutions that could set themselves apart or resist the demos. A private club, by definition sets itself apart and provides a space, like the family, within which one can live away from the demos’ corrosive demands. From these clubs, social groups, common meals, churches, as well as education, people can develop pride and confidence which would encourage them to think and act differently from the enforced egalitarianism. They can build an identity or self-belief beyond what society wants to impose. We can see this most clearly in American universities as students suppress free speech. They demand that identity politics be enforced and any thought or behaviour that resists must be punished and banished from the academy. If professors will not comply with the student’s ideological demands they will be boycotted and banished from the university.[9] As the American university now is a business and not a place where students are educated; it reacts like business seeking to satisfy the customer instead of defending the truth or upholding its authority. Education is attacked as oppressive unless it demonstrates that it adheres to a curriculum which satisfies the students’ preferences instead of the state imposing an ideology.[10] What the student prefers is what education is to deliver without realizing that this is not education.[11] Churches and organised religion are also attacked for they demand a form of leisure that resists the ever present requirement to work. They believe in a day of rest. Without this leisure and the appeal to the divine, culture becomes impossible.[12]  Despite this effect, the clubs, universities, churches and other social institutions are not outlawed despite being under attack.

The characteristic is not met.

  1. The seventh method of extreme tyranny: preventing the subjects from knowing each other.

In the social media age, this seems to be an impossibility. We can use social media to create networks, share information, and know more people than ever possible in history. The issue, here though, is what is meant to know someone. To be their correspondence is a poor substitute for knowing them through a life lived in their proximity. If anything, social media reduces that possibility for it interferes with all aspects of friendship since it makes one completely open when friendship is the deepening relationship between people.[13] From friendships one can develop the courage to believe that there are things worse than death. In Aristotle’s age people would die for their friends or kill to defend their friends. Would we do the same for our social media contacts? The extreme democracy demands radical transparency even as privacy evangelists talk of encryption as a barrier from the state. Encryption only provides the dangerous illusion of privacy which makes the person unable to develop a relationship for they believe it will substitute for trust. The approach to encryption assumes secure communication is possible and that this is sufficient to develop friendship.

When we look closely at Facebook we see that it demands and receives complete transparency about every users’ content.[14] They cannot encrypt themselves to Facebook.[15] Facebook knows everything about them from what they supply and can map their relationships for profit and power.[16] In this method, they encourage people to believe that they have created and sustained friendship by removing their desire or ability to know people beyond the platform. They cannot know anyone for they “know” them already from what Facebook provides through its algorithms and account settings. By placing more information on the platform they have less desire to know themselves or to know other people. They become introverted as they become self-absorbed since their friendships are mediated by Facebook or the platform. However, social media, despite its ubiquity, does not define the physical world so the power to prevent people from meeting is limited.

The characteristic is not met.

  1. The eighth method of extreme tyranny: the prevention of leisure (schole) According to Heuss, to deprive the citizens of leisure (making them ascholoi) is the central element of Aristotle’s theory.

Leisure is a rarity within the social media age. The prevailing view is that people must be busy following the “life hacks” to get more from their time and their life. The leisure that enables a person to reflect, think and plan is removed.[17] At any given moment, a person is prompted to check their emails, notifications, or instant messages. They are constantly connected and in that constant connectivity they have no leisure.[18] They may have “free time” but that is not spent at leisure, it is busy achieving something to satisfy their “quantified life” rather than reflective. Without a place or time to be reflective, a person cannot consider alternatives to the tyranny or the extreme democracy.[19] Even their attempt to find leisure makes them suspect in the tyrant’s eyes.

In a general sense, a society is kept busy through taxes, public works, and incessant warfare. If we follow these categories we see that taxes must be paid. To pay taxes, one has to work. Once taxes are paid, the citizen becomes focused on how they are managed. The public are then asked to concern themselves with how the tax dollars are spent in public works. If they are not involved in the projects themselves, they are being drawn into their oversight. Finally, at an extreme level, a society can be kept from leisure though warfare. The society is always on war footing so the tyrant can justify his power and encourage people to accept his power, expressed by constraints, because of the external threats as well as the possibility that the war might be lost. The seeds of this are present but they are not determinative. People can, and do, unplug from social media so they can find leisure.

The characteristic is not met. 

  1. The ninth method of extreme tyranny: to know everything the subjects say or do

Under an extreme tyranny, what the people say and do is known. The issue is more than a technological surveillance system such as Facebook. It is that the people will not speak freely or openly for they fear spies. The spies are not their electronic devices, it is their friends and neighbours. The distrust erodes friendships and makes it difficult to form friendships. Without friendship, people cannot develop the courage or ability to resist or challenge a tyranny. Even if someone does not speak against the tyrant, they will be required to support the tyrant publicly. They cannot remain anonymous for their friends and neighbours will inform on them or simply require them to conform with a public behaviour that becomes a private conformity. Husband and wives will be turned against each other.

To attempt to speak the truth, not simply speak the truth, will be dangerous. To investigate “what is” as a way to be able to speak the truth will be dangerous for that means one is engaging in pre-crime. The tyrant’s subjects become slaves for they cannot exercise the public behaviour speaking truth publicly and freely. They become subservient and can only speak what they are told is acceptable. In a word, they become servile for they can only speak the orthodoxy. To deviate from that orthodoxy is to engage in behaviour that threatens the tyrant. If you speak against the government, you are breaking the law. As you break the law, you can be punished. In time, it becomes easier to conform, especially if the tyrant offers prosperity and stability, instead of seeking the truth or “what is”.

The tyrant’s subjects cannot begin to discover the truth or share such thoughts privately for they are monitored. Today such monitoring occurs on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms that can track contacts, topics, content as well as intent. These systems provide a complete understanding of the person so that all that they do or think is known. Even encryption does not help for no one can isolate themselves to the point where they have no contact with anyone linked to the system. At best one can become a hermit but that means one surrenders the public domain and lives like a self-imposed exile. In a word, one lives a sub-human life for one cannot participate fully in the public domain or in any shared human activity. However, this extreme situation has not become the norm since it only extends so far as people voluntarily allow it to extend into their life.

This characteristic is not met.

  1. The tenth method of extreme tyranny: to cause distrust and humbleness of spirit among the subjects, for these prevent conspiracies

With extreme democracy, we see that envy and resentment become important for maintaining the political order. In phrases such as “check your privilege” people are kept humble. In arguments against “elites”, “1%”, “experts” we see the demand that any difference, even earned difference, is levelled. At the same time, people are to be encouraged, especially through digital entertainment or lifestyle devices, to be kept busy worrying about keeping up with the news, or each other. The people are reminded to quantified their experiences so that they can be ranked, analysed, and compared. What improves performance, and controlled behaviour, in the workplace is used to generate controlled behaviour in the public space.[20] When their public behaviour is not controlled, then their private behaviour is controlled by encouraging them into the digital domain with social media activity and games. People who are occupied in the digital domain can be monitored should they attempt to meet. They are less inclined to meet in person for conversations which might allow them to assess their lives under the political regime. These are only the passive activities that are encouraged to be done voluntarily, such as updates to Facebook, there are more intrusive or coercive activities to encourage distrust and humbleness.

We know that smartphones can be turned on remotely to become listening devices. As more electronic devices obtain this ability, always with the associated benefits promoted such as efficiency and convenience for better user experience, the negative effects on the individual increase. As long as they carry their mobile phone or their lifestyle devices their behaviour and interactions can be tracked. The public invite this scrutiny and surveillance into their homes without realizing what it means for their ability to think or act in ways that might challenge the status quo. However, it is not the government, as an agent of the extreme democracy, that requires this for it is the demos which will encourage people to live this way. If you do not have a mobile phone or a Facebook account, you will be seen to be as someone who will not conform to the democratic ethos for you appear to set yourself apart. As you set yourself apart, in this logic, you show you are no longer humble and you cannot be trusted for your loyalty to democracy becomes suspect. When you fail to act, speak, live, and participate with the democratic orthodoxy, then you become suspect. In such a life, it becomes difficult to trust anyone, for you do not know when or how they might betray you, and you cannot aspire to any form of excellence lest you incur their envy, resentment, and suspicion for the attempt to appear or to be “better” than they are. However, greater “privacy” does not deter this for this does not remove the need for a public life where one can meet freely with other people of like interests. If anything, the demand for greater privacy encourages the extreme democracy for all private activity becomes mediated by the public democratic ethos.

This characteristic is not met

Conclusion

When we consider Mr Sullivan’s statement, that America is an extreme democracy awaiting a tyrant, against these characteristics, the comparison fails. America, despite its flaws and current turmoil, is not an extreme democracy. Although the social media reveals the symptoms, it has not converted America’s public domain into an extreme democracy. Social media has opened new questions and reawakened long dormant challenges to democratic institutions. In this role, it reveals that America, like any democracy, has seeds for an extreme democracy if not tyranny. However, to characterise a mature, healthy democracy with one teetering on the brink of tyranny for its extremism does a deep disserve to the American idea and the current challenges. In his post, Sullivan becomes what he claims he abhors. He sows doubt and fear. He may claim that he has acted in America’s best interests to alert her to the danger, we would have been better served had be provided an insight into the seeds of extreme democracy to understand the symptoms before they emerge. What we have been given is his prejudices about democracy, which reveal his affinity for tyranny for he would rather flatter than reform; reap the personal benefits of extreme democracy than sow the seeds of virtue. In his essay, he confuses America’s republican presidency, purposely created with an anti-tyrannical design, with the tyrannical democracy.

If we are to accept that America is an extreme democracy and Trump is a tyrant in waiting, what does it say about the incumbent?

(The ten characteristics are drawn from this work.

ARISTOTLE ON EXTREME TYRANNY AND EXTREME DEMOCRACY Ivan Jordović  Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte Bd. 60, H. 1 (2011), pp. 36-64 Franz Steiner Verlag)http://www.jstor.org/stable/29777247)

[1] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/america-tyranny-donald-trump.html

[2] Politics Book 5 1312b 30 -1314b 18 http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0058%3Abook%3D5

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/372915/Wanless-Whittam_Review_Report.pdf  see paragraph 10.

10. Whilst there may be nothing more than suspicion, speculation or innuendo in some of the matters openly raised and recorded on the Internet condition public opinion as to what might have been going on through this period. Perhaps the starkest example is that raised by a politician about fellow politicians.  Michael Cockrell’s ‘Westminster’s Secret Service’ featured an interview with Tim Fortescue who was a senior Whip, in the Heath administration1971-1973 –and so almost a decade before the period of greatest relevance to our review.  He was prepared to say in an interview broadcast on national television:

“For anyone with any sense, who was in trouble, would come to the whips and tell them the truth, and say now, I’m in a jam, can you help? It might be debt, it might be… a scandal involving small boys, or any kind of scandal in which, erm er, a member seemed likely to be mixed up in, they’d come and ask if we could help and if we could, we did. And we would do everything we can because we would store up brownie points… and if I mean, that sounds a pretty, pretty nasty reason, but it’s one of the reasons because if we could get a chap out of trouble then, he will do as we ask forever more.” [Emphasis added]

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opposition_research

[5] https://idanlandau.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/arendt-truth-and-politics.pdf

[6] Social media news reporting has adverse health effects. http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-rolf-dobelli

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murray_Rothbard#Children.27s_rights_and_parental_obligations

[8] This includes temples, synagogues, and mosques or any place of organised religious gatherings.

[9] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/free-speech-safe-spaces-yale-racism-gender-sexuality-a6757936.html

[10] http://la.utexas.edu/users/hcleaver/330T/350kPEEHeideggerSelf-Assertion.pdf

[11] http://www.ditext.com/adler/wle.html  see also http://www.ditext.com/strauss/liberal.html see also Newman’s idea of a university where people come to learn for learning sake. http://www.csun.edu/~hceng028/English/Sp15/newman.pdf or even Nietzsche’s understanding of education. http://www.thenietzschechannel.com/lectures/fed/fed-eng.htm

[12] “Culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is not possible unless it has a durable and so living link with a church community and with divine worship.” http://www.newjerusalem.com/pieper.htm

[13] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/#Fri

[14] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/11/facebook-censorship-news-feed-trending-topics

[15] http://www.pcworld.com/article/255876/10_ways_facebook_will_rule_our_lives.html

[16] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/22/watch-dogs-facebook-privacy-settings_n_5191237.html

[17] http://greatist.com/happiness/unplugging-social-media-email

[18] The philosopher Joseph Pieper warned about this danger in his book Leisure the basis of Culture. https://www.amazon.com/Leisure-Basis-Culture-Josef-Pieper/dp/1586172565

[19] Already we can see that social media being designed to exploit our psychological weaknesses https://medium.com/swlh/how-technology-hijacks-peoples-minds-from-a-magician-and-google-s-design-ethicist-56d62ef5edf3#.7slg1s59d

[20] http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2016/04/27/how-workers-interact-with-computers-in-an-automated-workspace/

Posted in corruption, justice, philosophy, public opinion, statesmanship, surveillance | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Should Caitlyn Jenner be Donald Trump’s Vice President?

English: Abraham Lincoln, president of the Uni...

English: Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States of America. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the surface, the pairing seems improbable if not impossible. What, if anything, do they have in common? They appear to share little except their celebrity status. Beneath the surface, though, they are animated by the same thing, a disordered eros. [1] Our eros is what drives us to be complete as a person. In turn, when ordered correctly, this desire to be complete leads us to a life of virtue as citizen within a commonwealth since that is where we live and our lives are expressed. What connects them is not eros simply, but the disordered eros in what it completes them does not support a life of virtue as a citizen. To express this crudely, neither sees a limit to what their eros directs them to achieve, which is a point that Andrew Sullivan made in his essay about Donald Trump.[2] He invoked Plato with his reference to the Republic where the tyrant emerges from a decaying democracy. Sullivan only touched the surface for the question is what creates the tyrant, for he did not look at what creates the tyrant. For Plato’s the tyrant is characterized by eros, one could suggest that he is eros incarnate[3], which leads us to another Platonic dialogue with eros as its focus–the Symposium. The dialogue provides us an analytical device to understand how eros brought Trump and America to this point. In particular, it helps us understand why Sullivan overlooked how Trump expresses what has changed about America’s eros especially since 9/11.[4]

Trump would date his daughter and America embraces him.

If we follow Plato as our lead, then we begin to see that Trump’s eros, like America’s, is not limited by anything such as convention or nature. As Trump said, his daughter is so hot he would “date” her.[5] His criteria for his prospective partner appears to be how hot she is without concern for a genetic relationship. The hotter they are the more his eros is satisfied. In Trump’s thinking what father would not want to “date” their daughter if they were as hot, if not hotter, than Ivanka? Moreover, as is clear from Trump’s life, if she is not “hot” then she should turn to the medical and surgical enhancements to become hot. Who, after all, would be seen without a “hot” sexual partner? That his statement is seen as a “joke” and does not disqualify him from office or even lessen his support shows how far America has developed a disordered eros. As long as a woman is hot, it does not matter if she is married or your daughter, it is ok to publicly comment on her desirability as a sexual partner.[6] Many supporters and commentators excuse Trump’s statement as a joke because they want to separate his personal appetites from his political ambitions. Yet, his eros animates both in that what he believes influences his behaviour. In political terms, the desire to rule over others is the highest eros which is usually mitigated or restrained for it has to serve the community’s best interest to retain the consent needed to sustain the rule. Is there any other political office that fulfils the desire to rule others than the President of the United States of America who holds the power of life and death over the world? As we know, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac that corrupts so if we translate Trump’s eros to the political domain, he wants, literally or metaphorically, to “date” America.

If Oedipus had a hot daughter?

In ancient Athens, Trump’s statement about incest would be met with indignation. When the topic was broached in the play, Oedipus Rex, a similar story except this time the son killed his father and slept with his mother, the audience reacted with horror. The play explored the deepest taboo within a family for incest destroyed a family’s integrity and in doing so unravelled the community’s fabric.[7] (Is Trump keeping an eye on his sons since his wife, their step-mother, is hot and what man in Trump’s world, would not want to “date” her?) The play’s political lesson is that tyranny is like incest for it destroys what allows the community to survive, the fellow feeling of citizens that sustains decent political life. In practical terms, incest destroys the family and what it produces, children, which are necessary for the community’s survival.[8] In political terms the tyrant’s immoderate thought and behaviour undermined the community.[9] The tyrant was identified by sexual excess and extreme sexual appetites both of which the people feared would be used to obtain any sexual partner such as their wives, brothers, sisters, daughters or sons.[10]

“[I]t is impossible to segregate the tyrant’s sexuality from his political power: each symbolizes the other. His notorious perversions (adultery, bigamy, rape, incest, sadism, necrophilia…) are the sexual manifestation of his extraordinary relation to the laws and norms of the polis.”[11]

In any other era, constraints such as nature (incest leading to deformities) and social restraint (societies and families enforcing norms) would limit Trump’s behaviour. In the modern era, marked by modern natural science, such behaviour can be tolerated if not celebrated publicly. Today, it would appear that there is no sin greater than that which denies you becoming what you want to be for that destroys the very freedom that America was founded to deliver.

The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.[12]

The same desire, which drives the tyrant, undermined the ancient communities since the instability it create made the community vulnerable to internal factions, such as a tyrant or other faction that would overthrow it, or be destroyed from outside by rival regimes, as internal harmony dissolved. America, today, appears to offer an exception to that rule. Or does it?

Trump appeals to and expresses the public’s deepest longing the tyrant’s life.

Trump’s approach, revealed by his comment about his daughter, brings the tyrant’s life to the American voters and his supporters love him for it. Trump appeals because he offers the hottest girls[13], the fastest cars, the biggest deals, the best of everything. His current wife is a MILF embodied. He lives the life that many of his followers aspire to live. For them, Trump embodies everything they cannot have and they blame those who tell them they can’t indulge their desires. Be it a big house, a fast car, a hot wife, the availability of a wide pool of sexual partners, vast wealth, or the ability to speak his mind without fear or favour, all of these are available for the taking. They believe that he will make these more accessible for they have been habituated to believe what he offers defines a complete life. He appeals to the average person’s desire to live the tyrant’s life. For his elite followers, like Peter Thiel, he offers the chance to suppress that which he dislikes about democracy or the government inefficiency that inhibits his “freedom”.

More than positive desires, Trump followers want the negative desires

In addition to the “positive” desires he offers, Trump offers to indulge the “negative” desires. Many of his followers are driven by the eros to punish political opponents preferably through physical violence. They want to hurt those that keep them from what they believe they need to be complete. Some followers hate the government for it limits their “freedom” to either dominate by rule over their “inferiors” or because it allows inefficiency to flourish. In both cases, his followers resent those they believe have advantages they are denied or receive benefits at their expense. They believe they have to live as inferiors if they cannot dominate others which would allow them to be respected as being superior. Above all, they do not want equality since that is as much an insult as inferiority. Even though their inferiority or potential superiority is an illusion generated to mask the reality, they want to satisfy that longing, that erotic desire, to punish those who keep them from enjoying their “freedom”. Most important of all, they want to punish those who they believe act as their superiors, the modern aristocrats, or elites, who appear to have the unfair advantages. In this, the Trump supporters reflect the very ancient origins of a tyrant as the people often turned to a powerful individual to “punish” the aristocracy for failing to rule fairly.

“Many Greek cities underwent a tyranny that we naturally look for some general cause in the circumstances of the time. The causes are largely internal, to be found in the oppressiveness or inadequacy of the aristocracies which held power in the early seventh century.”[14]

Trump seduces violently or gently depending on the audience.

To achieve power over others through the public office requires Trump to seduce the public violently or gently and it is a seduction where the beloved submits violently or gently. Trump knows how to excite or arose his followers accordingly. When necessary he threatens violence. When he requires charm he parades his wife and daughter to show his erotic prowess or his wealth to show his success. The erotic longing by his followers is not simply Facebook envy.[15] It is an eros no longer moderated by or guided by the common good. They want their private passions indulged at the public’s expense. In this manner, Trump’s followers will also include those elites who will benefit from him, the oligarchic faction who will gain from Trump’s victory, for they too dislike the common good to the extent it limits their pursuit of wealth and satisfaction. What animates Trump’s followers is a disordered eros, one that wants all the trappings of tyranny not virtue or moderation required to sustain a democracy let alone a republic. What they want is the freedom and prosperity that marks democracy’s late stages. For a limited few, Trump appeared to provide the chance to recover the lost virtue, to rekindle the republican dream that has animated America since its founding and shone brightest in the moments of greatest need, but which has become dimmed in the current age. These few are the democrats who fear the extreme democracy that appears to infect America. The majority of Trump followers are those who would rather turn away from the pursuit of virtue that requires them to control their appetites and embrace the apparently easier life under the greater glory of the American liberal-progressive empire that rules at home and abroad. For this group, the demos, the globalisation benefits need to continue to fuel their desire to live a life beyond their means. They want to escape any natural limit to their desire or any criticism by turning to modern natural science. Their demand for more, for any excess, will be satisfied by a modern natural science that will “legitimate” their behaviours or desires as it will “rescue” them from any natural or political consequence.[16]

Modern natural science enables modern tyranny

Modern natural science aids the disordered eros for it mitigates the consequences of pursuing translegal desires either individually or collectively.

“Translegal desires”, “are desires that violate the fundamental requirements of the city and acknowledge fully the fiction of the city.”[17]

Condoms or birth control pills would limit the chance that incest leads to a child. If nature were able to overcome the condom and the birth control pill, then an abortion would remove the natural consequences. In practical terms, if you want to fight a war, technology driven by modern natural science, allows you to execute it without great cost to the demos who might object. Today, they can enjoy a secure life without even realizing the war’s effort, cost, effect or consequence. What was previously a constraint, casualties, can be ignored. Whereas the natural constraint from dead soldiers would encourage the community to restrain the elite’s imperial eros, the technological advances allow the state to overcome it. In the same fashion, technology will enable us to execute financial transactions that escape the regulator’s scrutiny thereby avoiding the taxes which sustain the city. The immediate constraint imposed by the community can be overcome. Beyond the community’s constraint, the law, anything else is simply a personal prejudices since science poses no limit to what you want to achieve. Your religious hang-ups are the only thing that keeps you from enjoying the “forbidden fruit” since science has “debunked” their forbiddingness.[18] Instead of the law, which reflects the community’s collective opinion about morality, what is right and wrong, the community will be ordered by science instead of the law.[19]. In effect, modern natural science indulges the disordered eros since if it feels good, just do it. If you fail to do it when it feels good, then you are denying your eros and there is nothing worse for an individual to experience since the best life if one of love defined as pleasure?

Why Caitlyn Jenner would be the ideal VP for the Trump presidency.

Modern natural science is what brings us to Caitlyn Jenner. S/he is following an eros which drives her to overcome what nature provided. Nature is no limit to what she wants to become. There is no need to live with constraints natural or suggested by the community for science will relieve her painful longing to be complete. In political terms, Jenner satisfies strategic voting demographics, for she helps Trump defend against charges that he is a “hater” or simply insensitive to the liberal progressive dream that animates most of those in the Democratic party who would oppose his candidacy. Moreover, Caitlyn Jenner reflects the same disordered eros that animates Trump’s campaign. She wants to transform from a man into a woman, overcome nature; she wants society to celebrate her change, it must be enshrined in law; her success is driven by her belief of what can be achieved. Plato, though, would suggest that she has replaced public moderation with private immoderation. She wants her choice to be enshrined in law so it becomes the public morality. When eros is wedded to modern natural science, there is nothing the heart desires that it cannot achieve for there are no limits, natural or divine, to what can be achieved. If it can be conceived, then it must be achieved and when achieved it must be accepted and celebrated by society.

A man into a woman, a man into an insect, is there any scientific limit?

Harry Neumann, writing in 1991, described this phenomenon.

Sometimes I ask students (or faculty) whether there is anything science cannot or should not do… for example, the human engineering in Auschwitz or the Gulag. Can or should genetic engineering or robotics turn men into robots or robots into men? Can it transform men into insects in Kafka’s Metamorphosis? Usually academics see nothing in principle to prevent this or any possible experimentation. Moral-political passions will be outraged, but has this outrage any significance, however strong it may appear, in a liberal world devoid of non-arbitrary moral-political standards?[20]

Jenner is the academic belief that has become the public reality. There is no natural or divine limit to what she can become. If Jenner wants to become a woman, why not? If she, or anyone else, wanted to become an insect who would say no? There are no scientific reasons to keep them from becoming the insect they desire to become. With science, there is no limit to what she can do to satisfy her erotic longing to be what he believes will relieve the painful longing to be complete. The desire and the painful longing to satisfy it are eternal questions since all human societies have this story. What is different, though, is that what would have been a private longing is now made public and the public eros is to be directed to satisfy that individual longing. In America it is not enough for it be privately accepted and publicly tolerated, it has to be enshrined in the law. It has to be a right that will require society to respect and celebrate the individual’s desire no matter the consequence for society for society must accommodate their “freedom”. Instead of eros directed to a life of virtue in accordance with the community and the full life of the citizen, eros is now directed at individual pleasure with no distinction between base or noble loves or pleasures.

Could Sophocles have imagined the Kardashians?

In the past, the poets warned of the consequences should the natural or divine limits, the moderation necessary to sustain a decent political life, be breached. To enforce these warnings, they set out the most extreme examples they could imagine. The poet Sophocles famously set out such warnings in plays such as Oedipus Rex and Antigone. Yet, even he could not imagine a character such as Caitlyn Jenner and her immediate familial relationship. Jenner, once married to Kris Jenner, was the stepfather to the Kardashian children. Sophocles’ greatest work Oedipus Rex, where a son kills his father, sleeps with his mother, and becomes king, pales in comparison. His was a cautionary tale to warn Athens about tyranny. Today, a more outrageous family is celebrated as entertainment if not an example to follow if not emulate. They live a life with the characteristics that Trump followers appear to aspire, celebrity, fame, freedom, and the choice of sexual behaviours, partners and identities. In the Kardashians there are a case of characters and episodes that would be hard for Sophocles to imagine let alone invent. We have a stepfather who is becoming a woman. One step-daughter’s main claim to celebrity notoriety is her pornographic video. The mother “pimps” her daughters providing them advice on prospective sexual partners and business deals without being clear where one begins and the other ends. The family publicizes their eros through a popular reality television show that captures their antics without shame or modesty. Their eros is to satisfy the painful longing to be famous and “successful”. The unquenchable thirst[21], the gnawing hunger, to be “successful” and a “celebrity” drives them to seek out activities that will fill their longing to be whole. If their behaviour was private, they would simply be another eccentric family found in the works of William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor. Instead, they operate within the public domain, their “celebrity” funded by advertisers who profit from a public that consume this “entertainment” seeking to emulate it if they cannot participate in it.

Trump jokes of translegal desires to signal his beliefs.

Even though societies have always had private behaviours, the translegal desires, that have the potential to undermine society, these have always been contained or limited either by law or by practice. Where they have existed, the behaviours have remained within the private domain, publicly tolerated but never publicly accepted nor enshrined in law.[22] They share the same disordered eros, which generates Trump’s appeal and the Kardashians celebrity. However, if we believe that the eros simply expresses a sexual desire, we misunderstand the symptom for a cause for it also explains the love of gain such as financial gain. [23]

Trump’s eros is not a cause, it is a symptom.

The disordered eros is not simply sexual behaviour for that is a symptom. Trump’s private desire made public, to become President so as to dominate others, and Jenner’s, to rule over her nature, presents an elegant symmetry. In an era of excess from Wall Street to Silicon Valley; from the Porn industry to the Presidential campaign, what better pairing than Trump and Jenner? There is no natural, scientific, religious, or social limit to your desire and Trump and Jenner once elected can show you, the voter, that you can have what your heart desires for America is there to serve you and satisfy your desires.

Does America have an alternative?

No candidate offers a return to the Republic where the idea that as citizens we serve a higher good than our own desires was the source of our patriotism. Imagine the hoots of derision, especially from the baying libertarians, if a candidate were to say:

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.[24]

Trump does not love America so much as he loves himself just as his followers confuse their love of self or hatred of those who deny them what they desire with love of their America. Instead, their unconstrained desire is what has animated an imperial Presidency over the past 80 years to satisfy the public’s increasingly imperial longings both at home and abroad. The public and the elite want their heart’s desire, their “freedom” even at the cost of democracy. In response to the global threats and the challenge of sustaining a decent world order, the liberal-progressive empire at home and abroad has increased with each decade. The external demands have been met by an equally voracious domestic appetite for “freedoms”, which successive governments, almost without exception, have been happy to satisfy so long as they could sustain focus on the external threats. Even if the external empire has to be sacrificed, Americans what their “freedom” at home as we see Trump promising to redefine the alliances, build walls, and punish “enemies”. In the past, a democracy would turn away from imperialism, even a liberal progressive empire, when it threatened their democracy. For more than 80 years, such a choice never occurred since the public was unaware that the liberal progressive empire growing abroad was expanding at home for they believed domestic prosperity was the same as republican virtue. With Trump it now appears that America is willing to forgo its democracy for it no longer has leaders who challenge the public to love their country more than their personal desires or to live as equals rather than masters or slaves. To live as equals is too much effort for Trump appears to offer them the chance to live as masters since they can impose their politics on their enemies foreign or domestic for that is what they have been habituated to believe politics has become—an arena to impose your politics.[25] Some would turn to Hillary Clinton for her devotion to politics but she presents a milder form of the disordered eros. She has devoted her life to expand the liberal-progressive empire at home. How can she stand in the way for Trump/Jenner expresses what has animated the Democratic Party since 1968? Even if she is elected does she provide anything fundamentally different? A vote for Trump/Jenner is a vote for Hillary or is it that a vote for Hillary is a vote for Trump/Jenner? More importantly, neither alternative offers a vision for how to govern or how to inculcate a republican statesmanship that draws on a love of America rather than satisfying the factions needed to rule. No matter the choice, America will never be the same for the political consequences of its disordered eros have become apparent.

America’s imperial seeds were planted in 1932.

Since 1932, America has been building to this moment as the imperial legacy of a presidency built to deal with potent external threats now emerges in the domestic realm to deal with threats from the incoherent extreme democracy that has grown since 1989 and became particularly virulent after 2001. In this development, Trump is a harbinger for he shows us what will follow regardless of who is elected. To fend off existential threats from abroad, America abandoned a republican foreign policy without realizing it had planted the imperial seeds which slowly, but surely, uprooted republican institutions that sustained a moderate domestic policy that kept extreme democracy from emerging. As the existential threat disappeared the imperial foreign policy that served the country’s oligarchic faction is now fully expressed in America’s extreme democracy. What this means is that any future candidate will be, is already, encultured into this view as the reigning imperial ethos, either in domestic policy or foreign policy means they cannot be elected without consummating their loyalty to it. No candidate has emerged who promises moderation in domestic and foreign policy. There have been some that will offer the appearance of moderation in either realm but moderation in both makes the candidate unelectable. In a domestic realm where America has removed any limits to its private desires, it follows that it would now seek a president who will satisfy those desires publicly.

America is now getting what its heart desires, but not what it soul requires, nor what its founding promises.

[1] “Howland (The Republic, p. 38).  “The root meaning of eros is sexual desire; more broadly, eros designates other kinds of passionate desires as well. Just as the depths of human sexual desire contain more than mere lust, so that eros is often translated as ‘love,’ eros in its distinctly human forms transcends mere appetite. Eros is definitive of the human condition: it is not a specific, discrete desire of a part of the soul or body, like thirst, but a mysterious longing of body and soul as a whole for whatever it is that will provide us with comprehensive satisfaction.” Jacob Howland, The Republic: The Odyssey of Philosophy (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993), quoted in Beyond the Tripartite Soul: The Dynamic Psychology of the “Republic” Laurence D. Cooper The Review of Politics, Vol. 63, No. 2 (Spring, 2001), pp. 341-372 Cambridge University Press for the University of Notre Dame du lac on behalf of Review of Politics

[2] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/america-tyranny-donald-trump.html for some contrary views consider http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/05/02/andrew-sullivan-on-trump-and-tyranny/?_r=0 and http://billmoyers.com/story/the-tyranny-of-trump/

[3] See Republic 573b-579d

[4] See for example http://www.pewforum.org/2016/05/12/changing-attitudes-on-gay-marriage/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_anxiety_%28psychology%29 more generally https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilization_and_Its_Discontents What has changed in particular is that the family is being destroyed in a way described in the Symposium. Steven Berg describes this change when eros is made a public topic

“Heterosexual eros—which always, even I the case of the prostitute, implies the possibility of the generation of offspring and so points to the family and the establishment of the private realm—is to be abolished in favour of nongenerative homoerotic unions. But the elimination of women and the family means the elimination of the sacred—its rooting ot from public and political life.” p.12 Steven Berg Eros and the Intoxications of Enlightenment (New York: State university of New York Press 2010)

[5] http://fusion.net/story/176716/heres-the-creepy-video-of-donald-trump-saying-hed-date-his-own-daughter/ What is curious is why people assume he is joking. Even if it was a “joke” it demonstrates the thought necessary to draw attention to his desires. What parent jokes about “dating” their children? In this case if we follow Freud, the “joke” appears to be an unconscious desire.

The term “date” in Trump’s world is best understood as “fxxx” since he has not displayed anything resembling chaste behaviour.

[6] Or fondle her if you are a celebrity or politically powerful. Consider the case of Vice President Joe Biden who enjoys fondling women while their husbands or parents are nearby. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2958620/Not-Mr-Vice-President-Joe-Biden-loves-nuzzle-ladies-cameras-conservative-commentators-slamming-space-invading.html

[7] In America as well as the West, the family as the foundation for the community and the potential for the common good is under assault. The family is seen as something oppressive from which the individual needs to be liberated.

[8] In the Symposium, the discussion about eros shows the threat to the family and the need to dismantle the family since it acts as a constraint. The family is supported by the law to sustain the political stability and the community’s continued prospects for survival. When Steven Berg describes Pausanias’ proposal in the Symposium, we can see the issue for America.

“It is in discussing the lovers of pre-adolescent boys and the laws surrounding marriage that the issues of compulsion and, therefore, punishment slip into his speech for the first time (181e). Pausanias rightly links the discrimination of the just and the unjust that the law makes (182a) and the compulsion it exercises in order to give this discrimination force to the issue of heterosexual eros, marriage, and the family. For it is not the “nobility” of marriage and family life that the law acknowledges in lending legitimacy to the union of man and woman, but rather the necessity of the family as a basis for the city and the consequent political necessity of proclaiming unjust and laying down punitive sanctions against any form of eros that runs counter to the family and acts to dissolve it. Pausanias’ proposal, then, to replace the distinction between the just and the unjust with that between the beautiful and the ugly as the primary distinction of the law, is a proposal to turn the city on its head in regard to erotic maters: heterosexual conjugal union will no longer receive the law’s stamp of approval, but will be rendered “unlawful” in the weak sense—that is, shameful (181b)—and pederasty, which, in Athens, currently exists in a legal no-man’s-land somewhere between outright prohibition and grudging acceptance (182d-183d), will be held up as the model of lawful conduct (184d-e).” p.29

[9]  Who is this tyrannos about whom the Greeks speak?8 We learn from Herodotus that the tyrant is the one who “moves ancestral laws [patria nomia] and forces himself on women and kills men who have not been tried” (3.80.5 [1927]). From Thucydides we learn that Alcibiades was considered the potential tyrant: “Most men, fearing the greatness of his lawless-ness paranoiai] with regard to his body, his daily habits, and the intelligence he showed in whatever he did, set him down as desiring a tyranny” (6.15 [1900]) The Tyranny of Reason in the World of the Polis Arlene W. Saxonhouse The American Political Science Review, Vol. 82, No. 4 (Dec., 1988), pp. 1261-1275 (p.1263)

[11] Wohl, V. 2002. Love Among the Ruins: The Erotics of Democracy in Classical Athens, Princeton and London: Princeton University Press. Love Among the ruins Wohl (2002), 221. quoted in Annie Larivee the International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 6 (2012) 1-26 The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition brill.nl/jpt Eros Tyrannos: Alcibiades as the Model of the Tyrant in Book IX of the RepublicAnnie Larivée p.9

[12] 576 U. S. ____ (2015)

[13] Robert Crumb’s cartoon captures Trump’s behaviour. http://i.imgur.com/7J9u2Rt.jpg

[14] Antony. Andrewes, The Greek Tyrants London Hutchinson 1956 p.8 London 1956

[15] http://thefederalist.com/2016/02/16/how-facebook-envy-fuels-donald-trump/ The article captures the essence of the Trump follower yet does not connect this to the eros that drives Trump and his followers.

[16] See for example, the discussion of modern natural science and modern tyranny here: Thomas Pangle December 1, 2003 AEI Bradley Lecture Leo Strauss’s Perspective on Modern Politics  http://www.aei.org/publication/leo-strausss-perspective-on-modern-politics/

[17] Seth Bernadete Plato’s Second Sailing 1989 p. 205

[18] When people want to argue against those who promote this vision of eros, they find they are literally tongue tied because they are told they are in the way of love since the public criteria for judging an act is whether it is beautiful or ugly rather than is it just or unjust. Love is always beautiful in this argument and to oppose these political and legal decisions, one is opposed to that which everyone wants and needs love. Yet, this removes the key issue the distinction between noble or base loves or between just and unjust loves. Today, so long as the love is endorsed by enough people it is just. The key criteria or the love is that it does not “harm” anyone without considering that it would harm society by undermining the family. As a result, opponents are unable to argue otherwise since public speech is debased to the point where disagreement is categorized as homophobia (a mental illness), bigotry, hypocrisy, or “unscientific” prejudices. These positions emerge as public discourse can no longer sustain reasoned debate. Steven Berg describes this

In those regimes in which pederasty has been made entirely lawful, the cause is to be found in the incapacity of their citizens for articulate and persuasive speech: tongue-tied lovers forming a legislative majority have removed all obstacles in the way of the gratification of their desires.” P31

[19] See Eryximachus’ speech in the Symposium “ Eryximachus’ speech as a whole, then, advocates the displacement of the rule of law by the rule of science. He recognizes, however, that if law is to be overcome, it must be confronted on the deepest level, a level to which Pausanias did not descend: sacred law (themis)”. Berg p.38 In the America context, we can see this attack on the sacred law as the attack on the Declaration of Independence principles with the belief in the laws of nature and nature’s God as demonstrated by Obergefell

[20] Harry Neumann Liberalism Carolina Press 1991 p.127

[21] On the Great Thirst see James V. Shall, “The Great Thirst” The Catholic Thing https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2016/05/24/the-great-thirst/

[22] Athens enshrined such behaviours in law as translegal behaviours became publicly acceptable. In time, Athens was defeated in the war with Sparta as the demos balked at sacrificing their democracy, their freedom, for what was required to sustain the Athenian empire. What is different with America is that America is sustained by modern natural science which allows it to delay the Athenian fate. What science does not do, though, is make a translegal desire less corrosive of what sustains the community. Therein, the problem for future presidents for they must reawaken the old love of country and its scared laws or at least channel the powerful democratic eros to a goal or goals that sustain the common good. Trump’s success suggests this is increasingly unlikely

[23] Thomas L. Pangle, (1987), The Roots of Political Philosophy: ten forgotten Socratic dialogues, page 78. Cornell University Press.  See also  A. Tipton’s Love of Gain, Philosophy and Tyranny: A Commentary on Plato’s Hipparchus Vol. 26/2 (Winter 1999) Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy for a general overview see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hipparchus_%28dialogue%29

[24] http://www.ushistory.org/documents/ask-not.htm

[25] Plato set the Symposium in the year 416BC which is also the year of the Melian Dialogue in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War where the Athenian Ambassadors to Melos declared it was a law of nature that the strong rule the weak. See Seth Benardete’s translation of the Symposium (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2001)with his interpretative essay On Plato’s Symposium p. 181.

http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/P/bo3636170.html

Posted in corruption, Government, philosophy, republicanism, statesmanship | Tagged , , ,

Why is the Queen silent on Hillsborough?

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth realms) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Queen has not made a public statement about the Hillsborough finding of fact. Despite, 96 citizens being unlawfully killed, she is silent. In 2007 when 56 UK citizens died in a terrorist attack, she and other members of the Royal Family spoke publicly.[1]

These statements were fit and proper. She is both the Head of State and the Commander in Chief of all military services.[2] It is her job, through her government, to keep the public safe. If neither her nor her government cannot keep the public safe, then their legitimacy becomes problematic.[3] Why should the people obey a government or a Monarch if it cannot protect them?[4]

What about Hillsborough?

At the Hillsborough Inquiry, we learned 96 UK citizens were unlawfully killed by the South Yorkshire Police (SYP). So how does this connect to the Queen? Why is this something she has to address? The SYP officers all take a loyalty oath to the Queen. They do not swear an oath to the public or Parliament. In effect, they are the Queen’s police. In the same way that it is Her Majesty’s Government (HMG), so it is Her Majesty’s Police Force because the police draw their authority from the Crown not from Parliament nor the People.

Will the Queen speak so the voice of justice is heard?

The police officer cannot become a police officer, gain their powers, without taking, giving, or attesting the following oath of office.[5]  Most importantly, the police do not derive their authority from the law. The Police derive their authority from the Queen. Statutes provide them legal powers, but their authority is derived from the sovereign.[6] It is not derived from Parliament. It is not derived from the law. It is not derived from the people. The Queen, as the source of all laws and justice, provides them with their constitutional existence and authority.[7] .

Is the executive silent for to speak would invalidate its legitimacy?

The Coroner’s Inquest found as a fact that the South Yorkshire Police unlawfully killed 96 UK citizens. Innocent people died from police acts, yet, the Queen has not made a statement. She has not expressed the same public sympathy for the victims as she did for the 56 after 7/7. In the UK, all the coercive powers rest with the executive; that is, with the Monarchy as expressed through HMG. Parliament does not have a police force. Parliament does not have a military force. At most, Parliament has a ceremonial force in the person of the Serjeant of Arms who can take someone into custody for refusing to attend Parliament.[8] With this coercive power comes great responsibility. The Crown holds the power of life and death over all citizens. If the Crown declares you a threat it can kill you in self-defence. There is no appeal and more importantly, the Crown does not have to justify its use of self-defence.[9]

When a stranger does it, we speak, when we do it, we are silent. Why?

What is it that makes it necessary to speak about a terrorist attack yet remain silent about an injustice by agents of the Crown that killed 96 citizens? Does the Crown’s silence signify that it cannot answer that question? Is it silent because it knows that to condemn the police would be to condemn itself? If the Crown cannot speak to the victims of the Crown’s misdeeds how can it be held to account? Are the people safe when power acts with impunity? Is that just? Why should people obey authority that acts with impunity and refuses to admit when it has acted contrary to justice?

What is the Crown’s highest duty in peacetime?

In peacetime, the ruler’s highest responsibility is to ensure justice. Justice is the common interest that serves everyone. When citizens are killed by terrorists, they suffer an injustice. The Crown reacts to that injustice. In response to the injustice of the 7/7 attacks, the Queen spoke on the issue. For consistency, one would expect the Queen to speak about the injustice her citizens suffered 27 years ago which left 96 people dead. More importantly, one would expect her to comment on the 27 years of lies, denials, and cover-ups by police. Will she speak out about this injustice?

Is it politics or common decency?

Some might object to such a question to say that the Queen does not get involved in politics. In this they would be correct. The Queen has been careful to avoid engaging in politics to avoid a constitutional crisis with Parliament. Yet, where are the People in this equation? Do they not have an advocate in the Queen?  Is it politics that keeps her from comforting the victims, consoling the survivors and reassuring the public? She did call Margaret Thatcher when she hurt her feelings after it appeared she criticized her as uncaring.[10] Is it politics to reach out those who have suffered and endured for 27 years overcoming every obstacle the Crown has created. Moreover, those who have campaign for justice have done so with a dignity and restraint. In this they have embodied the best of the British spirit defiant in face of adversity, resolute in the pursuit of justice, and faithful to the idea of common decency. The Queen did award honours to two of the family representatives for service to the victims.[11] What is the point of the Monarchy if it cannot recognize the damage to the body politics, to her loyal, long suffering, subjects and comfort them at the point where they have been vindicated? What is the difference of suffering when 96 people are unlawfully killed to 56 killed by terrorists?

The Queen’s silence

If the Crown cannot speak publicly on this issue, what issue can it speak on?  The 96 victims have the silence of the grave, perhaps it is time the victims families and the survivors heard the Queen’s voice?

[1] “     Queen Elizabeth II issued an official statement, saying “I know I speak for the whole nation in expressing my sympathy to all those affected and the relatives of the killed and injured. I have nothing but admiration for the emergency services as they go about their work.” On July 8, the Queen visited the Royal London Hospital, near Liverpool Street, where she visited some of the victims of the attacks, and emergency staff who responded to the attacks. She later made a speech described by the BBC as “unusually forthright”, in which she called the bombings an outrage, and said that “those who perpetrate these brutal acts against innocent people should know that they will not change our way of life.” On July 10, the Queen again commented on the attacks, during the UK’s commemoration services for the 60th anniversary of World War II. The Queen also ordered that the Union Flag on Buckingham Palace fly at half-mast.” [Emphasis added]

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/7_July_2005_London_bombings

[2] J1.001.

The government and command of each of the fighting Services is vested in Her Majesty the Queen, who has charged the Secretary of State with general responsibility for the defence of the Realm and established a Defence Council having command and administration over Her armed forces.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/433769/QR_Army.pdf

cited from THE QUEEN’S REGULATIONS FOR THE ARMY 1996.

[3] We note that parliamentary governments have fallen for their failure to respond effectively to public safety issues. In history we know of regimes that have been overthrown because of their inability to protect the public.

[4] This social contract is as old as the idea of government.

[5] “’I………………..of………………..do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will, to the best of my skill and knowledge, discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law.’”

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/16/schedule/4

[6] To believe otherwise forgets the imperial nature of UK policing. Even if we look a the statute that “created” the police, we misunderstand the nature of law enforcement in that the police do not serve Parliament or the People for they do not owe them an oath of loyalty. As an imperial instrument, the police reflect power not the law. Even thought they are “legitimated” in common law or Parliamentary tradition, it embodies a colonial or imperial tradition.

“An appreciation of the imperial context permits a fresh appraisal. More sense can be made of the police public order role in present society by inserting the material omitted from most police histories—the centrality of colonial conquest and of imperial legitimation to institutional development in Victorian England. “The history of England is also the history of our colonies . . .” (Sumner, 1982, p-8).” p.5

Mike Brogden, THE EMERGENCE OF THE POLICE—THE COLONIAL DIMENSION The British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 27, No. 1, WHY POLICE?: SPECIAL ISSUE ON POLICING IN BRITAIN (Winter 1987), pp. 4-14

In many ways, this is the source of much of the UK police residual legitimacy problems. How does it transition from an imperial relationship toa  democratic relationship where it derives its power from the people and their true consent and not the myth of consent.?

[7] See for example http://web.archive.org/web/20090201000000*/https://www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchUK/Queenandthelaw/HowUKandEUlawaffectTheQueen.aspx

[8]  Select Committees and Coercive Powers—Clarity of Confusion? Richard Gordon QC and Amy Street   http://www.consoc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Select-Committees-and-Coercive-Powers-Clarity-or-Confusion.pdf p.36

[9] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/syria-refugees-and-counter-terrorism-prime-ministers-statement see also  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/07/drone-british-citizens-syria-uk-david-cameron  for the self-defence claim see the letter to the UN  http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2015/688

Ibid “Barack Obama has since faced repeated questions about the constitutionality of such killings, with accusations that the US is engaged in extrajudicial assassinations.

The UK has no such constitution protecting individual citizens.”

[10] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3258361/The-day-Queen-called-Maggie-say-sorry-Thatcher-left-desperately-hurt-branded-uncaring-row-apartheid-era-South-Africa.html

[11] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/hillsborough-victims-parents-margaret-aspinall-5366342 Seh also backed a public display to remember the Hillsborough tragedy. http://royalcentral.co.uk/uk/thequeen/the-queen-backs-hillsborough-disaster-tribute-at-2015-grand-national-47173

Posted in censorship, justice, philosophy, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , ,

Social media’s corrosive effect on UK Monarchy’s legitimacy

Map of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and...

Map of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in comparison to the European Union and Continental Europe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since 2008, Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has opened up a number of public inquiries into long running scandals that have been a cause of public anger. For decades, HMG resisted such calls. The official story had closed these events and rendered a verdict. Yet, the public were not satisfied. Then, starting around 2010 the government started to address these long simmering issues.

Each of these issues involves state bodies or its agents. They point directly to failures by the government or its agents. They point to abuse of power. Most importantly, they point to grave injustices.

Is the regime founded in consent or coercion?

All regimes are based on a mix of consent and coercion. No regime is based solely on consent and no regime is based solely on coercion. If they have existed, they have existed briefly for they disintegrated under the extreme ethos. The UK monarchy, is not based on consent. The Queen, who is the source of all laws, is not on the throne by consent. The public did not elect her. They will not elect her successor. In this role, she has no mandate save that which force of arms and tradition supply. So long as she acts with justice, keeps the people safe, and respects the laws she will continue to rule.

The Coronation Oath sets out her responsibilities.

Archbishop. Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and the other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws[1] and customs? [emphasis added]

Queen. I solemnly promise so to do.

Archbishop. Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?

Queen. I Will.[2]

As such, the legitimacy of her reign, her ability to stay in power, rests on the ability to deliver justice.

The official story once unassailable is now openly challenged and changed

In the past, the official verdicts by HMG or Her Majesty’s Police were the final verdict. There was no appeal beyond it. Social media has changed that completely and irretrievably. No longer can she or her agents rely on their authority or their control of the public or official memory. Social media has allowed the public to share information, develop networks, and investigate official records to create a counter narrative. The public now can create and access a rival public memory to challenge any statement, fact, or claim proposed by the government. For example, the victims of the abuse of power by the undercover police investigated and unmasked the perpetrators. They were able to do this only with the help of social media. Without that platform, the task would have been impossible for an individual even one with extensive resources. The survivors of institutional child sex abuse were able to challenge the government because they could create a rival memory to the one created to defend Jimmy Savile, Cyril Smith, and even Lord Janner. Today, the balance has shifted. Individuals who work together can created a rival or alternative narrative to the official story. They have forced HMG and the Monarchy to respond when before, they would have been met with silence or denials.

The UK media patrol the public domain protecting the Crown from challenge

The government’s denials and their official history succeeded because the media helped to defend it. On occasion it did challenge that narrative. However, it was usually a local issue or one that was within the proprietor’s interest. The media rarely challenge the official narrative. They rarely created or sustained a rival memory to challenge the official memory. Although there are rare examples where a journalist or even a group of journalists did challenge the system, they were an exception. With the advent of social media, the media have been challenged directly because they no longer have a publishing monopoly. They may have the largest share but they now have to accept the rival voices across Twitter, blogs, and Facebook that challenge them even as they try to co-opt it to their ends. The old establishment relationships are fracturing. However, the issue is more than the media losing money, instead it is that the Crown is losing its legitimacy.

Social media challenges the Crown’s legitimacy by broadcasting its injustice

Social media is now challenging the Crown’s legitimacy. Social media reveals that Crown has been complicit. In these scandals it has been shown to lack justice, to abuse power, and to flout the law. The Crown has ruled by law but it has not accepted the rule of law. Social media has shown that the Crown has usurped the people’s power, popular sovereignty. The Crown’s title to rule is no longer valid. To shore up of its legitimacy, to burnish its valid title to rule, the Crown has sought to address the long running, deep seated, injustices within its system. In particular, the following investigations which challenge the Crown’s legitimacy and the legitimacy of its bodies would not have happened without social media.

  • The Hillsborough Inquiry.
  • The Goddard Inquiry into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
  • The Daniel Morgan Murder Independent Panel
  • The Pitchford Inquiry in to Undercover Policing (SpyCops)

Instead of lancing the boil of popular discontent, the inquiries have shown the full scale, scope and depth of the Crown’s corruption. Instead of shoring up the Crown’s legitimacy, the inquiries, panels, and inquests have eroded it further. The outcomes have shown the Crown, its institutions, and its agents have had scant regard for the public good, the rule of law, or justice. They have shown the British public that the Monarchy is an outdated institution. Why should someone in the 21st century obey an unelected person whose claim to rule is based on a 13th century standard?

When authority is questioned can it justify itself?

Social media challenges the legitimacy of all rulers and governments. Those that can answer the public coherently and convincingly will retain their legitimacy. To answer, the rulers show that they rely on the public’s consent. Those that cannot answer show they lack the public’s consent. What social media has shown the public is that Crown does not exist by their consent. The Crown cannot explain why the UK requires an unelected monarch. The Crown cannot explain why the Parliament rules by law but will not accept the rule of law[3] The Crown cannot explain why it should be considered legitimate when it is not based on consent.

The Crown is unable to justify an unelected ruler in an age of hyper-democracy

In time, the Crown will have to reform or be replaced, yet to do either would repudiate its legitimacy. One thing is clear. The Monarchy has survived for over 1000 years because of its ability to change in response to challenge or assimilate the challengers. In doing so, it has always ensured that it ruled. Yet, social media demands an equality that invalidates the Crown’s prerogative. The question is whether the Crown can manage that change. So far, it has responded with increased surveillance, laws to punish extremist speech, and a system of institutional informers. All of these are done within the law, but none increase the Crown’s legitimacy but only go to show its increased fragility for the reflect the need for public safety without delivering justice. Despite the political reforms to lance the boils of public discontent, the Crown has been unable to justify why it is legitimate. The Crown cannot answer the question of what justify its continued existence as a regime without consent. No matter the answers its provides, the Crown cannot stop the social media revolution or divert it from the demand for equality. We have begun to see the beginning of its end.

 

 

[1] That a monarch agrees to rule according to the laws separates them from a tyranny. A king has been able to transform their usurpation of power, the public’s power or what is known as popular sovereignty, and transform it into a valid title to rule. The validity of that rule is enhanced by the Monarchy’s willingness to rule according to the community’s laws.  As Leo Strauss explains in On Tyranny, a tyrant is differentiated from a king on the basis of ruling over willing or unwilling subjects and whether it is according to the community’s laws or the ruler’s will.

“Tyranny is defined in contradistinction to kingship: kingship is such rule as is exercised over willing subjects and is in accordance with the laws of the cities; tyranny is such rule as is exercised over unwilling subjects and accords, not with laws but with the will of the ruler.” OT p. 68

[2] http://www.oremus.org/liturgy/coronation/cor1953b.html

[3] Lord Neuberger recognized this point when he quoted Lord Justice Laws,

“It may be that my perceptive and far-thinking colleague, Lord Justice Laws, will one day turn out to be right when he argued that, through judicial development of the common law, ‘a gradual reordering of our constitutional priorities [may] bring alive the nascent idea that a democratic legislature cannot be above the law.61 ’ But we are not there yet.” (the footnote is from: Laws, Illegality and the Problem of Jurisdiction, in Supperstone & Goudie (eds), Judicial Review, (Butterworths) (1997) 4.17 cited in Goldworthy, The Myth of the Common Law Constitution in Edlin (ed), Common Law Theory (CUP) (2007) at 204) http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20131202164909/http://judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Speeches/mr-speech-weedon-lecture-110406.pdf

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Hillsborough and the cognitive dissonance of UK police response

In psychology there is a term called “cognitive dissonance”. The term refers to the symptoms a person faces when their behaviour does not match their thoughts, attitude, or beliefs.

Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors.

This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance etc.

For example, when people smoke (behavior) and they know that smoking causes cancer (cognition).[1] [emphasis in the original]

When we look at the senior officer statements on Hillsborough and the “lessons learned” see this dissonance, a dissonance that borders on schizophrenia. The cognitive overload created by the gap between public rhetoric and internal attitudes, beliefs and acts. One could go so far as to suggest this is the leading cause of stress within the police. They are told to think one way and they have to behave another way.

“Uphold the law, but cover for your colleagues”

“Tell the truth, but make sure your statements match.”

“Treat people fairly, but the [insert local minority] are a problem.

To deal with such cognitive dissonance, a person will seek to focus on that which creates the most harmony. They will focus on what they can control and is easier to reconcile. The person may become focused on a specific part of their behaviour such as great attention to personal grooming even though their house is in disarray. The police are no different.

When we consider the response to Hillsborough verdicts earlier this week, we see cognitive dissonance at work.  On the Police Professional web site, we see an article quoting a number of senior officials involved in the South Yorkshire Police and nationally. The statements help us to understand some of the reasons why the public have less trust in police to reform. The following remarks are based on the article that is found at this link.[2]

Hillsborough as a health and safety case study.

The comments focus exclusively on the police response to the way events are managed. They explain that they have learned lessons from Hillsborough. One would expect nothing less. Their professional role is to manage these events safely. No one disputes their success as large public events are safer. Indeed, from the litany of comments, one would believe that health and safety was the sole issue to Hillsborough.

Except that is not the issue The survivors did not have to wait 27 years for a health and safety ruling. Health and safety for events was not at issue. We know that was not the issue because the health and safety lessons were applied immediately and continually after the disaster. No one waited 27 years to start to admit health and safety changes were needed or to implement them. Yet, this is what the police statement would have us believe if we did not know anything about the issue. Here are the statements.

“The Hillsborough disaster changed the way in which major sporting events are policed and very many lessons have been learned.” But he added: “Today, with improvements in training, communications and technology, it is almost impossible to consider how the same set of circumstances could arise again.” David Crompton Chief Constable South Yorkshire Police

“Officers would not be in the same position of commanding a football match without being trained by their professional body, the College of Policing.”  Chief Constable Alex Marshall, College of Policing CEO

Hillsborough “shaped how we police football matches”, adding: “Sadly the changes we have made since then can never take away from the seriousness of the police failures at Hillsborough.” Sara Thornton, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Chair, Chief Constable

“Today’s policing standards — such as strict procedures, improved equipment and health and safety standards — were simply not in place 27 years ago, nor indeed the current ability and frameworks for junior officers to question senior officers’ decisions.  Neil Bowles, Chair of South Yorkshire Police Federation

What is the elephant in the room?

The public distrust the police because they appear institutionally unable to talk about the elephant in the room. They cannot talk about systemic corruption, a culture that is simply unable to hold itself to account except in a superficial way. No matter how grave a police officer acts, the first response is always “They are a rogue officer” as if they emerge spontaneously without anyone noticing or intervening until it becomes unavoidably obvious. There has never been a police force or a Chief Constable that has stood up and said “We have a toxic culture and we are going to change it.” The failure to be honest with themselves and therefore with the public is what creates the crisis of legitimacy. It is what is at the heart of Hillsborough except the police appear unable or unwilling to talk about it.

Two issues are at Hillsborough’s heart. First, the police unlawfully killed 96 people. Second, the police covered it up, denied it, and lied about it for 27 years. These are the issues that matter to the public, yet no senior police officer has publicly condemned either of these behaviours. None have said “There but for the grace of God goes our police force.” They may have said that quietly in the dark to themselves, but they will not discuss that openly within their force or publicly. No senior police officer has publicly condemned the institutional lies that were sustained for 27 years. A culture that ensured the truth would be covered up.

How have the police responded?

The police respond by pointing to ongoing criminal investigations. They claim they do not want to prejudice the cases. Yet, this troubles the public. In any other cases involving the public, the police have commented publicly and freely about alleged perpetrators. When it comes to their own “dirty laundry” they go quiet.

What is undeniable is that officers lied. What is undeniable is that South Yorkshire Police have a culture that tolerates cover-ups. We know from Hillsborough and Rotherham that the culture is flawed. The same abuse of power is present in both cases. In the latter, it is now apparent that police officers were involved in the abuse. Yet, no senior police officer has spoken out about 27 years of a culture in denial. Even when judgements are rendered, it is now a fact that the South Yorkshire Police force unlawfully killed 96 people, no senior police officer has condemned the force.

Here is what Sara Thornton said on the day the fact was verified in law.

“The impact of the tragedy at Hillsborough was felt across policing. It has shaped how we police football matches because we are committed to doing all we can to prevent anything like this ever happening again.  Sadly the changes we have made since then can never take away from the seriousness of the police failures at Hillsborough and what that has meant for so many people over so many years.”[3]

There is no mention that she condemns a police force that could kill 96 people. She does not condemn a culture that denied this for 27 years *even though* a senior officer admitted to the lie. Perhaps the hope is that the criminal investigations will reinforce the comforting myth of “rogue” officers or the equally comforting myth of “a string of blunders so no one is at fault.”[4] These are comforting myths because they point to only one thing that no one wants to discuss publicly—the system. The system is the culture, the way things are done, which is not discussed. What the public want to know is why? Why are the police unable to condemn or discuss publicly a corrupt culture that lasted for 27 years?

That which we cannot talk about us is what haunts us

Why is it that senior police officers cannot talk about a corrupt culture? A culture that denied the truth for 27 years? A culture that encouraged silence despite officers knowing that it was a lie? For 27 years South Yorkshire Police lived and defended a lie. The lie is known but no senior officer will talk about it. Instead, they talk about better event safety, about better event communication, about learning the lessons of event planning.

Cognitive dissonance on a national scale.

What we have is cognitive dissonance on a national scale. We have a problem that we cannot talk about so we will talk about what works.

South Yorkshire Police are not a rogue force. If this becomes the belief, you begin a journey that ends with a dangerous truth. If you scale the rogue officer defence upwards to the police force, you will arrive at a constitutional crisis. Perhaps senior police officers and Government ministers know this instinctually.

Even if that truth is not to be discussed openly, one thing is clear. There will continue to be cover-ups, lies, and corruption until the cognitive dissonance is treated. The cognitive dissonance will create more officer stress, more abuse of power, and increased public distrust. Until the police can openly discuss a cultural problem as clear-cut as Hillsborough, the police cannot regain the trust that has been lost. Their public behaviour will never match what they know privately.

 

[1] http://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-dissonance.html Cognitive Dissonance by Saul McLeod published 2008, updated 2014

[2] http://www.policeprofessional.com/news.aspx?id=26010

[3] http://news.npcc.police.uk/releases/the-changes-weve-made-since-hillsborough-can-never-take-away-the-seriousness-of-the-police-failures

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/mar/30/jean-charles-de-menezes-police-officers-shouldshould-not-be-prosecuted-echr

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To whom is the UK government accountable?

The question seems simple and the answer seems obvious. Yes, the UK government is accountable. If we understand being accountable as fitting one of the four types that Lord Sharman recommended, then it appears accountable.[1]

  • giving an explanation
  • providing further information
  • reviewing and, if necessary, revising
  • granting redress or imposing sanctions

For the most part, this seems to be the way the UK government works. It justifies itself before Parliament and the people through a variety of methods and means. Parliament can hold it to account through select committees while citizens can use such things as judicial review. However, recent cases suggest a worrying trend to resist anything but superficial accountability.

The Crown will not explain itself when it kills its citizens.

The case is the drone strike that killed Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin[2] who were both UK citizens. The drone strike was targeted at Khan. The PM justified the killing as self-defence.[3] The UK, a nation state, had to defend itself against an individual, a citizen, by killing them with a drone strike.[4] The UK also claimed that the strike was required to defend Iraq from ISIL.[5] The citizen has no redress in this situation. They received no warning, no trial, and no appeal. The state decided to kill them without the constitutional recourse which is available in the United States.[6]

When asked, the UK government refused to publish the legal advice that justified killing a UK citizen. If the government will not publish the reasoning or the legal advice that justifies the killing, can any citizen be safe? The highest duty within a state is justice. If the state cannot provide justice, can it consider itself legitimate? The state already holds vast power over the individual, including the power of life and death, so when it uses this power it must be accountable. If a government is unwilling to justify itself to its citizens, is there a difference between it and a gang of robbers? The UK government justified itself on “self-defence” without explaining why it delayed telling the public of the killing.[7]

The UK government decided that a UK citizen was a threat to national security and killed them. The principle is that the Crown will kill people who threaten its security, the national security. In such a society, is political opposition possible? A few months later David Cameron said that the Labour party, was a “threat to national security”.

Does this mean that the government can kill them for the threat that they pose? Is it possible that Jeremy Corbyn can be killed by the Crown in self-defence? The UK took centuries to develop the practice of decent politics where political opposition to the Crown was not potentially punishable by death. Are we reverting to that earlier era?

No one is accountable, but we have learned lessons.

When a government does not account for killing its citizens, can the citizens expect justice? More to the point, can they expect someone to be accountable? It would appear not.[8]

When Jean Charles de Menezes was killed, the state denied responsibility. They argued the killing was justified by the threat they faced. They claimed the Police Officers acted in self-defence against a potential suicide attacker.[9] His family challenged the state’s claims. They brought their case to the highest court in Europe to which the UK is accountable. The judgement found there was not enough evidence to prosecute anyone for his death. He died because of the systemic errors, omissions, and missed opportunities but no individual was responsible for that outcome. The judgement means that like the 7/7 attack no one is responsible. If no one is responsible, but all parties involved were state organisations, then the state is responsible, but has it been held to account?

These two cases show the way in which the state can kill citizens and strangers without being accountable. In both cases, the state claimed self-defence. If self-defence justifies the act, does this explain enough to the public? Are the public, or the victims, able to hold the state to account. If the most you can expect is an apology, what does that do for the living? Are we to be grateful it is not us?

 

[1] Lord Sharman of Redlynch Holding to Account The Review of Audit and Accountability for Central Government (February 2001) p16 http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20081023163307/http:/www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/38.pdf  Lord Sharman was quoting from Barbaris P (1998) ‘The New Public Management and a New Accountability‘ in Public Administration, Autumn. Also Neale A and Anders on B (2000) ‘Performance Reporting for Accountability Purposes – Lessons, Issues, Futures’ paper at International Public Management Workshop, Wellington, Ne w Zealand

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/07/drone-british-citizens-syria-uk-david-cameron

[3] “So on this occasion we ourselves took action. Today I can inform the House that in an act of self-defence and after meticulous planning Reyaad Khan was killed in a precision air strike carried out on 21 August by an RAF remotely piloted aircraft while he was travelling in a vehicle in the area of Raqqah in Syria.

Mr Speaker, we took this action because there was no alternative. In this area, there is no government we can work with. We have no military on the ground to detain those preparing plots. And there was nothing to suggest that Reyaad Khan would ever leave Syria or desist from his desire to murder us at home. So we had no way of preventing his planned attacks on our country without taking direct action.” [emphasis added] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/syria-refugees-and-counter-terrorism-prime-ministers-statement

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/07/drone-british-citizens-syria-uk-david-cameron

[5] http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2015/688

[6] Ibid  “Barack Obama has since faced repeated questions about the constitutionality of such killings, with accusations that the US is engaged in extrajudicial assassinations.

 

The UK has no such constitution protecting individual citizens.”

[7] The attacks occurred on 21 August 2015 but the official notification was on 7 September 2015.

[8] Instead, it would appear when something does go wrong, we are told that lessons will be learned. Just as with the 7/7 attack when the government failed to protect its citizens, despite its extensive powers, it deflect accountability. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4763097.stm  As the article notes, “The twin reports into the London bombings of 7 July 2005 are marked by the characteristically British habit in these types of inquiries of listing a long series of failures and then not blaming anyone.” It then quotes the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report with the now classic Civil Service response: “We believe that lessons have been learned.”

[9] The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) did find the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) had breached the Health and Safety Regulations and were fined 175,000.

The family had settled a legal claim with the MPS out of court with the MPS paying them a sum just over 100,000 and their legal fees in return for the family dropping their suit. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33066098

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