And they’re off! The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland goes to the polls yet again on June 8th, delighting the electorate so much that GPs across the country have reported a 400% increase in furtive inquiries about antidepressants. Many opposition MPs are taking the line that the Prime Minister has her eye not on the national interest but on opinion polls which portend the kind of victory more usually associated with Roman legions against some primitive tribe armed with sharpened turnips – although they have been unable to explain why, then, all but thirteen of them voted in Parliament in favour of the Prime Minister’s proposal to go to the country.
The truth is far more simple: after the Scottish referendum in 2014, the general election in 2015 and the EU referendum in 2016, the political establishment has developed an addiction. No doubt there will be another vote in 2018 on the EU exit terms, followed by a general election in 2019 to confirm the referendum result, then the Scots again in 2020. Soon one might as well be living in Switzerland, where there are daily referenda on which day of the week it is. To save you the trouble of reading any of the wretched election literature, therefore, or even god forbid watching the party political broadcasts, here is the JWC’s guide to your main choices. Read more
Somewhere or other (you don’t get proper footnotes at this time of year) Karl Popper urged anyone masochistic enough to be reading his stuff to guard against the fashionable disease of our time, viz.- the assumption that things can not be taken at their face value, that an apparent syllogism must be the rationale of an irrational motive, that our choices necessarily conceal some self-seeking ghastliness. It’s a reasonable guess that this warning was part of his well-known criticism of Freudian psychology as bad pseudo-science, and in the year of Brexit and Trump it assumes a particular relevance, as the usual carnival of commentators, analysts, pundits, think-tankers and other ‘experts’ queue up to add their own fluid ounce of pseudo-science to the already deep and sulphurous ocean of jejune rationalisations which, we suppose, keeps them and their kind in lucrative employment.
The British voters wanted to leave the European Union, and their American cousins wanted Donald Trump to be president. Just that. They were not expressing a complicated series of half-understood emotional responses to globalisation or economic change or multiculturalism or anything else – emotions which, lest they fall easy prey to something called ‘populism’, call for urgent analysis by credentialed social psychiatrists who have brought themselves to believe that observing and analysing their fellow citizens like specimens in a vivarium is somehow a legitimate form of intellectual inquiry, as opposed to (a) a bloody impertinence and (b) a manifestation of precisely the kind of social order which is being emphatically rejected. Read more
This week’s coup d’état in the High Court – in which some oleaginous tort-wallopers revealed to a fascinated electorate that the best way to implement voters’ instructions is to put them in the hands of a bunch of chancers who have publicly declared that they intend to ignore their instructions entirely – is hardly a new development in the long, grubby annals of English law. As John Wilkes wrote 253 years ago:
“The most eminent lawyers have been fee’d, to find mistakes and flaws in patents, granted for the security of the liberties of the subject, and which for ages have been esteemed not only valid but even sacred.”
The North Briton, No. 37, February 12 1763.
The courts are only a branch of the state after all: why should they be more likely than any other branch to respect the people whom they ‘serve’? Read more
Oscar Wilde’s line about the rage of Caliban not seeing himself in the mirror has been taken to heart in the last week or so by young people claiming to be suffering from profound emotional responses to the EU referendum result. We defy readers to read this thread at The Student Room without feeling like Eric Cartman rejoicing in the tears of Scot Tenorman. In person – overheard on public transport, for instance – they are even funnier, wearing expressions of virtuous sincerity and stoicism in the face of disaster, taking it in turns to say the same thing in ever so slightly different ways, shuddering deliciously at the dread name Farage like Harry Potter and his pals contemplating the word Voldemort, remorselessly reinforcing each other in their invincible certainty in their own goodness.
Amusing though they may be – and the ones claiming that they may fail their exams because of Brexit have surely attained to a comic genius on par with Charles Chaplin and Stan Laurel – it is when they begin to expatiate on the prospects and desirability of overturning the result through protests and phony petitions and political sleight-of-hand that it becomes clear just how dangerous is the prevalent world view amongst young people today. They would quite explicitly prefer to live in a kind of banana republic where plebiscites are overturned by an alliance between a self-righteous mob on the one hand, and the rich and powerful on the other (of whom more below), rather than accept what they see as the unpalatable outcome of a free election. Read more
We take no side in the seething debate within the Republican establishment as to whether Donald Trump is a fascist or a fraud or some unedifying combination of the two, but we are certain that their truly visceral hatred of The Donald has an entirely different source – one which is not so much Republican as republican in the classical meaning of word, being derived from the cold fear which grips the hearts of powerful élite groups when one of its members attempts to win power over the group as a whole by allying himself with the powerless millions outside it.
The Roman republic in its final years is, of course, the famous prototype, with the transition to empire largely brought about by the breakdown of the Roman oligarchy’s collective solidarity. As the expansion of Roman wealth and power made the potential prize of domination commensurately greater, some oligarchs became tempted to reach out to the lower classes for support in their competition with each other. The murder of Caesar in the Senate was merely the last of a series of tyrannicides where ‘tyrant’ was defined not as one who enslaved the people, but as a popular man who undermined the aristocracy by appealing directly to the people. Livy, for example, once described how one Maelius wickedly distributed food to the people from his own, rather than the Senate’s, account, and was in consequence bumped off by Servilius in order to rid the Republic of an incipient tyrant. Read more
A couple of passages from Number 33 of John Wilkes’ The North Briton, published January 15th 1763, seem appropriate as battalions of ‘Eurosceptic’ ministers like Theresa May line up to pretend they believe that some minor change to in-work benefits arrangements constitutes a major reconfiguration of the European Union.
“Why do they not tell us the reasons on which they have changed their faith, and assign some fair methods by which they have satisfied the doubts of conscience? Till they do this, we certainly have an undoubted right to consider their pretended change as a mere piece of finesse, calculated to advance the worst of purposes, or to regard them as men of inconstancy and levity, acting from caprice and not reason; consequently in either of these respects unfit to take part in the direction of affairs.”
Secondly, and in a more general vein:
“A Tory, in the true and original meaning of the word, not to gloss it over with vain and artificial interpretations, was a maintainer of the infernal doctrine of arbitrary power, and the indefeasible right on the part of the sovereign, and of passive obedience and non-resistance on the part of the subject…The Tory maintained, that the king held his crown of none but God; that he could not by the most flagrant violation of the laws, by the most tyrannical exercise of his power, forfeit his right; that the people were made entirely for him, and that he had a right to dispose of their fortunes, lives and liberties, in defiance of his coronation oath, and the eternal laws of reason, without the subject having any right to demand redress of their grievances, or if their demand was denied, to seek it in themselves. Doth not the Jacobite hold these very tenets?”
Shrewd fellow, was Uncle Jack.