American Toryism

Having been born in London, I take a bit too much interest in the political goings-on over there. I’ve recently read up a bit on the various parties, and I must confess somewhat more sympathy to the Tory party than I would have expected. I’m generally left-wing in my outlook, but the deeper history of England would seem to suggest that the Tory’s combination of class chauvinism and mild racism was at least effective as a political strategy, in establishing the British empire. I’ve often wondered how, precisely, this came to be, and have read the basic explanations of luck, sea power, disease, and what I’d like to comment on as relates to the USA: The competence of elites.

One of the most important parts of British dominance for so long is its quality of military officers, which is one reason it’s system has been adopted by many other military forces across the world. But I recently read that this was for a broader reason than simply a good system, in that the system had many very high-quality, educated members of the aristocracy to draw upon. This is why Britain proved so formidable against larger enemy forces across the globe, but was also its Achilles heel: in World War 1 high quality officers proved just as vulnerable to machine guns as everyone else, and their deaths mortally wounded the British aristocracy.

 

Here in the US, the defense of the terrific inequality we see around us is that it provides us with extremely high-quality individuals. And this is backed up by the evidence, as detailed in the current issue of the Economist. The children of American elites get into elite colleges because they deserve it, they are smart, driven, capable. But they lack that particular quality which made the British aristocracy stand out, which prompted British aristocrats to stand with their lower class countrymen in battles and wars across the country. American aristocrats do not seem to have any sense of obligation towards society as a whole, any sense of giving back. Their status is purely their own doing, and to expect any thing from them is un-American.

This is one reason I didn’t mind the idea of Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman for President (although I am glad neither of them won). Clearly aristocratic families, both seem to have a real sense that they and their families were still a part of America, not rarified John Galts flying above it all. Romney did have his 47% speech, but as a citizen of Massachusetts, his actions clearly showed a broader perspective.

In the end, I don’t know how to solve this conundrum. If America is going to continue to have a growing aristocracy, we must make them contribute more to the general welfare, somehow. Alternatively, we can just take away their wealth through taxes, and redistribute it. Another interesting possibility is national service, forcing American aristocrats and commoners to work together and learn about each other.

American Toryism

A warning against strong leadership

Nassim Taleb and Gregory Treverton articulate what I’ve always felt, that strong central leadership is a falsely attractive. A good modern example is Vladimir Putin, a leader wildly popular at home, who seems determined to drive his entire country into an economic and diplomatic mineshaft.

I think this is a warning to modern China; a good many of the conditions for instability which are identified in this article are issues the central leadership has to deal with. In the long term, devolving power to the provinces might lead to more, but less intense crises, instead of bottling up internal stress symptoms until a less frequent, but far more severe crisis emerges. Unfortunately, the recent arrest and trial of Bo Xilai seems to have sent the message to President Xi that leadership should be more rigorously centralized, which according to this article is precisely the wrong lesson to have learned.

 

 

 

A warning against strong leadership

Privilege and modern Marxism

New illiberal lefty obsession with “privilege” is old Marxism, new paint. The privileged/bourgeois are bad, and have all kinds of advantages they don’t deserve, while the oppressed/proletariat are the only ones with the social credibility to be able to speak in public. The first group is shamed, the second one elevated. Both systems are crude, illiberal, and the new dichotomy will prove just as durable and useful as the first.

Privilege and modern Marxism

The Death of the (new) Republic

A shame. Although it’s tragic to see yet another institution die, this is probably a good example of a mechanism in which the wealth of the 1% can actually trickle down: through over confidence and incompetence.

It does make me wonder, though, if the future of journalism might remain in print. Imagine, if you will, a print news-magazine without any online presence, only the finest of contributors, and a locked number of subscribers. Delivered overnight, it would eventually filter out into the online space, but with such limitations, subscribers would be an elite group, and would resist it getting out to maintain their own value.

I could see such a publication becoming an elite badge.

The Death of the (new) Republic

Scotland referendum

The last week or two I’ve been glued to the Scotland independence referendum. I found it startling how much I identified with the “No” camp, and as I read the details on what independence would mean for Scotland and the UK my position hardened. Independent analysis showing that best case scenarios for Scotland were still pretty bad, if “Yes” carried the day.

It got me personally because I’ve always taken pride in my UKishness. My ethereal British nature. I’ve always been fascinated how a tiny moist island, conquered over and over, managed a global empire. Nowadays I think it’s largely do to a quirk in geography, in that British coal resources were right next door to its industry, right as the industrial revolution was picking up. But I still thought there was a certain dogged and disciplined pragmatism which enabled the British to do amazing things.

Freedom is a good thing. But so is collective action. Democracy means that sometimes we don’t get the government we want. I certainly didn’t feel represented in the White House 2000-2008, and there is a large part of the US which feels the same way too. But that is not a good enough reason. The US split from the UK when we were being taxed without representation, while Scotland has representation, and in fact has control over a lot of it’s own affairs. If Scotland was actually being oppressed by Westminster, and there was real evidence if would be better off separate, I would be all for an independent Scotland. Being part of the UK is something the rest of the world would consider a privilege, and I am glad it turns out a majority of Scots think so too.

Scotland referendum