Previous posts in this discussion:
PostAndrew Jackson, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr. (Robert Whealey, USA, 04/25/16 2:53 am)
Andrew Jackson went to war against the Cherokee Indians; he was a slave holder. But Jacksonian democracy for the white male working class was a more advanced form of democracy than Jeffersonian democracy. White males in Congress later gave Blacks and women the right to vote. Democracy evolved in Britain, France, and in the US slowly from 1776 to 1948 (to 1951 in Britain; to 1958 in France).
WAIS should ask itself why democracy is now on the defensive in Britain, France. Why does the US have fewer friends every year since 1968? No European historian would argue that Harriet Tubman was a more important, decisive, or significant American than the 7th President of the US. No historian believes the elementary school history that Washington never told a lie. Lincoln was more honest than most presidents, but he sometime told half-truths on the campaign trial and to Congress.
Secretary of Treasury Lew can take Jackson off the 20-dollar bill, but he can't force the Texas History Association and the American Historical Association to cut out the chapter on the Presidency of Jackson from American textbooks. History is a story of controversy and debate. In the long run, the crude propaganda gets screened out. Mississippi is not going to change the name of its capital. Ohio and Michigan both have a Jackson County. How many other states have a Jackson County? What happened to Stalingrad and Stalinbad after Stalin died? Why did Yeltsin change Leningrad back to St. Petersburg?
As for Black heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a greater moral leader than Harriet Tubman. She has already been honored by a postage stamp. What historical qualifications does Sec to Treasury Lew have in history? He does know more about finance than Arthur Schlesinger or me?
In 1924, the Soviet people knew that three men created the Communist State--Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin--led the Revolution. In 1926 Stalin exiled Trotsky, and by 1940 he assassinated Trotsky. That was followed by erasing the name Trotsky from all Soviet published materials. Lew should read George Orwell and the Arthur Schlesinger Jr. book The Age of Jackson.
JE comments: I'll say it again: Jack Lew is getting normal Americans to talk about history. Nothing wrong with that.
I haven't heard of any discussion to expunge Jackson from the textbooks, or from the many places named in his honor. Jackson, Michigan, 40 minutes NW of Adrian, claims to be the birthplace of the Republican party. (Ripon, Wisconsin has a competing claim.) There's some irony here, given that (Andrew) Jackson was a Democrat.
Jackson (Michigan) isn't a very pretty or prosperous town in any case.
Or might we soon be talking about Tubmanville, Florida?
Returning to US banknotes, if Harriet Tubman takes over the Twenty, rap artists will have to stop talking about "Dead Presidents" as a synecdoche for US currency.
Or is it a metonymy?
Andrew Jackson and "Presentism"
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
04/26/16 3:13 AM)
Very interesting and courageous post from Robert Whealey (25 April), but I do not fully understand all of his arguments.
First of all, I have serious reservations about approaching history according present values and not accordingly the feelings of the time. Therefore, I fundamentally agree with Robert on that point.
Yet if we praise Jacksonian democracy for how it helped the white male working class, should we also praise the democracy of Peter Willem Botha or of the first Netanyahu?
Also I cannot understand the dates Robert provides, such as the notion of complete democracy arriving in Britain in 1951, in France in 1958 and in the US in 1948. For the the latter wasn't it in 1964 with Lyndon B. Johnson?
Moreover, would that mean that the Allies (USA, Britain, France, China and USSR) were not democracies when, in WWII, they were supposedly fighting for "democracy"?
By the way, yesterday (25 April) was the day of the so-called Liberation (day of sorrow for me), when according to the ridiculous official version on the TV news, Italy was liberated from Nazi-Fascism by the partisan insurgency. Funny, I was under the impression that Italy was occupied by the Allies, who completely defeated both Germany and the RSI armed forces.
It is understandable that in Russia after the end of communism, some towns returned to their old names, but generally the "iconoclast" furor is ridiculous. In my hometown in 1945, among the many changes and "cleansings," some people wanted to change the name of Pertinace Street because the name of the Roman emperor (126-193), born in nearby Savona, sounded Fascist.
Furthermore, Robert asked why the US has fewer friends. If people want to examine the conduct of Jackson, maybe one should also examine the conduct of Clinton or Bush.
Even good old Obama is now in Europe pushing for accepting immigrants (but he is alleged to have expelled 2,500,000 undocumented immigrants during his presidency), as well as the secretly discussed TTIP, which judging by the little we do know, will make Europe a slave of the great US corporations.
JE comments: We've come to know (and love) historian Robert Whealey for his confident pronouncements that cite specific years, such as "the American people understood democracy and the US Constitution until X [was it 1948?--please help, Robert]." I respect Robert for his rejection of weasel wording, but when it comes to history, one should be equally wary of over-reification.
Regarding Eugenio Battaglia's condemnation of "presentism," this is exactly the point with P. W. Botha. In Jackson's day, or even Wilson's, Botha would have been viewed as a great statesman. Not so in the 1980s. I lived through the anti-Apartheid campus protests.
History on Andrew Jackson...and Other US Presidents
(Robert Whealey, USA
04/27/16 5:15 AM)
Democracy evolved in Italy, Great Britain, US, and France over a period of 100 to 200 years. The road went up from 1776 to 1946 with little debate. The history of these four nations evolved on four tracks at different rates. The growth of democracy was not a steady rise. There were domestic and foreign forces, both positive and negative, that blocked the evolution of democracy in all four nations.
In the US, the three greats were. Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. Who was number 4: Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, or Teddy Roosevelt? That is a very debatable question. I would put Jackson at #10 or #15. I have never tried to put all 43 presidents on a single scale.
I shall make no comment on Obama until he dies. Truman after 1951 went up and down with the unfolding of new evidence. Right now Nixon is gong down. He is now rated worse than he was in August 1974 when he resigned.
Harriet Tubman should be rated on a different moral road with Fredrick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Jr. The 2016 election is going to have many propaganda clichés for and against. The sneer against Jackson, who lived in a different era, was a cheap slogan of the racial confusion which has always been a problem in the US.
Italy only has a marginal problem since 1912. In Italy the issue is democratic government v. the Papacy.
JE comments: The road to 1946 went upward with "little debate"...in the United States? How about the small matter of a Civil War? France had a few upheavals of its own since 1789.
But let's talk about Nixon. I've been thinking of him since Francisco Wong-Díaz mentioned the famous "President and King" photo with Elvis. Why, in Robert Whealey's view, has Nixon's star been on the wane? I would say, that with the exception of his Latin America policy, Dick's reputation has improved since '74.
US Upheaval throughout History; 2020 and 2024 Presidential Elections
(Robert Whealey, USA
04/28/16 10:29 AM)
Indeed, in response to JE's comments of 27 April, the evolution of the French Revolution was a rough road--five Republics and two Empires. The US has kept 95% of the original Constitution to this day. The US Civil War was indeed bloody. Slavery and race were at the heart of the civil war. But over the long 200 years, the US spent more time at peace than during 4 short wars of 1812, 1846, 1898, and 1917.
The exceptional Civil War lasted only 4 years. In the long run, Constitutional democracy evolved. The key Amendments 13, 14 and 15 were quickly passed. It took another 30 years for the Confederacy to recover economically.
Black men got the right to vote, but at the state level the county Boards of Elections running corrupt (free for Whites) elections kept the Blacks as second-class citizens until 1964 and 1965. The black-white conflict is still with us in the present election. Today the biggest threat to democracy are global plutocrats. The Black vote is divided between Sanders and Clinton and some Blacks even have faith in Trump.
Democracy as an idea requires constant education and the avoidance of war. My solution is that more Americans, Black and White, should re-read the history of the Civil War and Gunnar Myrdal's American Dilemma. The book shows the connection between the rise and fall of both Hitler and the theory of Social Darwinism.
The Second World War was a victory for democracy, and the second civil rights movement beginning 1955 to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death. The administration of Barack Obama proves that American democracy is still alive, but the process is in a slump, or decay.
Hopefully the revival of American imperialism since 1965 will not continue to keep the present rate of decline of democratic values in a permanent path of slow decay. The 2016 election will take place. But 2020? 2024?
JE comments: I'd wager my (painfully modest) retirement portfolio that we'll have elections in 2020 and 2024. Lincoln set the precedent by standing for re-election in 1864. There was a good deal of pressure to put the election on hold during wartime. Had McClellan won, as he seemed poised to do until the Union victories of summer 1864, the North might have sued for peace.
Myrdal's American Dilemma (1944) carries the subtitle: "The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy." This might have sounded politically correct then, but not now.
US Upheaval throughout History
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
04/29/16 7:59 AM)
I enjoyed reading Robert Whealey (RW)'s post of 28 April and have some comments:
RW stated, "over the long 200 years, the US spent more time at peace than during 4 short wars of 1812, 1846, 1898, and 1917." I wished Robert had extended his comments to include Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, etc.
RW: "Black men got the right to vote, but at the state level the county Boards of Elections running corrupt (free for Whites) elections kept the Blacks as second-class citizens until 1964 and 1965. The black-white conflict is still with us in the present election. Today the biggest threat to democracy are global plutocrats."
I think the problem always is that democracy is a very fragile form of government, like a beautiful (and messy?) orchid which requires a great deal of attention by the voters. They must be well informed about the relevant issues, and not easily manipulated or distracted. Even in our great nation, it is incredible the extent to which our democracy has turned into a circus.
Some fascinating questions are, can a nation really resuscitate its democracy or does power have its own irresistible positive feedback loop? How far can we push the analogy that nations like any organism will rise, mature, and decay?
JE comments: The WAIS topics menu (look to the right if you're on our website) has a "Decline of West" section--I'm going to file this one there. Back in '99, Prof. Hilton gave us his thoughts on Monica--Monica who? He drew a comparison with Pope John Paul II. That was two Presidents and two Popes ago.
The West weathered Lewinsky, and even now, as the cuckolded Hillary may be entering the White House, Monica has shown a good deal of class by keeping a low profile. I'm not sure I agree with Tor Guimaraes: "democracy" is surprisingly robust.
How "Robust" is Democracy?
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
05/01/16 5:00 AM)
I think the democratic approach to governance is best for several important reasons, but achieving true democracy is not easy. It is a relatively fragile form of government which requires a great deal of attention by the voters: they must be well informed about the relevant issues, and not easily manipulated or distracted by the commercial media, which provides inadequate information and clearly manipulates opinions supportive of special interests.
Commenting on my post of April 29th, John Eipper stated that contrary to my opinion, he though democracy is a robust form of government. Not knowing what John has in mind, I present below my thoughts more specifically, hoping that he will do the same.
Many nations claim to have a democratic form of government, but they seem to have an inadequate version of it. Some go through elections where fraud is rampant; other nations like China have democratic elections for members of the Communist Party but not for the people at large. In most nations the process is so corrupted that no one knows what is happening. Even in our great nation, the bastion for freedom and democracy, our democracy allows for gerrymandering, sophisticated and effective vote suppression, some fraudulent voting like the chad scandal in Florida, and increasingly massive influence of money in politics which may not be working as planned in this electoral process. One way or another people have been very frustrated that the elective leadership process has produced leaders who do not represent the people and seem only interested in re-election and representing special interests to that end. In many cases, under the guise of "leadership" and many times lying through their teeth, people in power actually ignore the will of the people and do what they want, i.e. the Neocon Iraq war. That does not seem like a healthy democracy to me.
To see robust democracies perhaps we have to look at the few Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, Iceland where the middle classes are relatively strong and rampant capitalism is kept under control. Where else can we find this slowly disappearing but most effective form of government?
JE comments: I probably have a much more indulgent definition of democracy than Tor Guimaraes. By "robust," I was thinking on the declining possibility of coups d'état in places like Latin America, or the Southern Tier of Europe, where such events were commonplace a generation or two ago. Look at the situation in Tor Guimaraes's native Brazil: the democratic process seems to be working, as Dilma Rousseff is facing removal by constitutional means.
I'm drawn to Churchill's characterization of democracy as the worst form of government, except for all the others. It's also the weakest form, except...
Defining Democracy; Populism in Brazil
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
05/03/16 4:02 AM)
In response to John E (1 May), Churchill was right that Democracy is the best form of government, but it is also no panacea. John stated: "I probably have a much more indulgent definition of democracy than Tor Guimaraes. By 'robust,' I was thinking on the declining possibility of coups d'état in places like Latin America, or the Southern Tier of Europe, where such events were commonplace a generation or two ago. Look at the situation in Tor Guimaraes's native Brazil: the democratic process seems to be working, as Dilma Rousseff is facing removal by constitutional means."
I think John sets the bar way too low for what a democracy is or should be. To me in a true democracy, well-informed citizens select government leaders who represent the people's interests, not themselves and/or special interests. China is not a democracy. Mexico is not a democracy. Brazil is not a democracy. Since John used Brazil as an example, be sure that if the corporate/military interests are not willing to let you play, no matter how popular, you will not get elected. Or worse, remember Tancredo Neves?
According to my Brazilian advisors, Lula was popular but had to agree to some conditions before being elected. He was super corrupt, and so has been his protégée Dilma. But the true story is that the power elite has had enough populism. They are ready to assume power again, even though many are just as corrupt and incompetent as Dilma. What a democracy.
JE comments: Does this assume there are kingmakers and kingbreakers pulling the strings in Brazil? I'd like to learn more about them. For starters, why would they have put up with 13 years (and counting) of populism?
(John Heelan, UK
05/03/16 10:27 AM)
Tor Guimaraes (3 May) wrote that China is not a democracy, together with Mexico and Brazil.
Neither is the EU! See the Hudson Institute's Todd Huizinga's analysis on YouTube:
JE comments: We forget the true definition of "bureaucracy":
A system of government in which most of the important decisions are made by state officials rather than by elected representatives.
Got that one straight off the computer.
- Defining Democracy (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 05/06/16 7:35 AM)
Following recent posts about democracy, on what could be considered a "robust" democracy and what countries might be democratic or not (see, for example, Tor Guimaraes, 3 May), I recalled that the subject was discussed several times before on WAIS. It strikes me as a subject that lends itself to a good deal of reiteration.
I have always been interested in understanding the nature of democracy. As I mentioned in my post of 10 December 2014, living most of the time in a country (Venezuela) in which the government claims to be democratic because they have held many "elections" or referendums, but on the other side exercising many forms of antidemocratic or authoritarian practices, I wanted to understand these apparent contradictions.
In that post, I concluded that democracy is a much more complex concept than just the election of representatives, as perhaps stated by the ancient Greek definition. The modern concept of democracy should be more complex, and having for instance a "democratic constitution" and elections might not even be sufficient to call a system a true democracy. It seems to me a very simplistic and politically exploited idea of immature democratic systems to celebrate elections and referendums about anything anytime. The practice of true democracy goes beyond that simplistic idea.
I recall the arguments that I mentioned in that post to develop a much more integral concept, and please forgive me if I repeat myself.
First, of course basically, there must be a fundamental condition of true democratic laws and institutions. It remains to be defined what a "democratic law or institution" concept should be, but let's pretend for the moment that this issue is consensually agreed upon, including the assumption that they are derived from a democratic constitution, in the sense that they provide legal provisions for a democratic system, of the parliamentary type, "presidential," "constitutional monarchy" or any other mixed form, but fundamentally guaranteeing that following elements are present and balanced:
1. A true separation of powers, meaning that state institutions are politically really independent and they oversee each other's performance. Traditional institutions such as Legislative power, Judicial, and Executive, and any other institutions that are part of the state structure, controller, fiscal, electoral, etc.
2. As a corollary of the previous element, there must be an independent institution of any political interest that supports a truly free independent election system. This system also must provide a means to evaluate and remove any government authority when certain conditions are fulfilled.
3. Organized political parties, a guarantee of a true pluralism of ideas and "alternation of government." Without this capability, the democratic praxis might become intolerant, autocratic or fanatical. The presence of different political parties is very important, because they represent the pluralism of political ideologies, as well as institutional political secularity, which are needed for tolerance and power switching.
There are many examples showing that many countries called "democratic" lack one or more of these elements.
All the above factors are meaningless in practice, unless the society in which the democracy exists has a real understanding of responsibilities and democratic values. In this sense, it also might be necessary to argue that society must have a true social cultural democratic conditioning in terms of:
1) good standards of ethical and moral values in society, secularity, respect of a diversity of opinions, tolerance, freedom of expression, or speech and education,
2) respect for basic human rights, laws and institutions,
3) minimum educational level in the population,
4) a good motivation and sense of citizenship and participation in the community.
There might be discussions about whether the previous existence of social and cultural conditions for democracy are necessary and sufficient, but there are tragic modern examples to illustrates failures of trying to impose, by force or other means, democratic systems on societies lacking democratic cultural conditioning.
Furthermore, in the absence of just one, or more, of any of the above factors in a so-called democratic society, its democratic system is perhaps just a fiction, nonexistent, a mockery. I strongly believe these are the factors that should coexist in equilibrium, and be more or less stable but gradually evolving, to support truly democratic and robust systems. On the other hand, it also would be simplistic to pretend that every democratic country would exhibit absolutely all the above criteria. I agree with the well-known Churchillian concept that democracy is never perfect, but is the best of all the imperfect political systems.
The above considerations would perhaps explain why many of the contemporary states, Western or Eastern, which claim to be democracies, are not. They really fail to become one and eventually collapse into authoritarian regimes, dictatorships or failed states. Of course, it is pretty obvious to say that for instance in Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, Korea, China, or some other African and Latin American countries with a "democratic" label, many of these factors are not present. This would explain the current state of affairs in those countries.
Finally I will dare to suggest that the factors mentioned above might provide objective criteria to evaluate what could be called "Democratic Maturity" or a "robust democracy." Methodologically, it would be necessary only to define a scale and consequently to systematically "measure" levels of these factors on the country for evaluation.
JE comments: It's hard to find fault with José Ignacio Soler's thoughtful description. A question for the Floor: why are political parties necessary for a robust democracy? (See José Ignacio's point #3, above.) Are parties the only way to ensure that the system does not devolve into a Darwinian free-for-all, where only the richest or strongest are elected? In the US at least, this already seems to be the case, and we have paralyzing partisan bickering as well.
(John Heelan, UK
05/07/16 7:53 AM)
My view is that true democracy based on the following parameters is probably unobtainable, because vested interests would obstruct the necessary changes.
Voting should be compulsory, as citizens of a democracy have duties as well as rights. One of those duties is to choose the governance of that democracy. (This will not happen, because vested interest enjoy the status quo in which voter apathy benefits political parties in power. The excuse that one cannot make voting compulsory in a democracy implies that the nature of a democracy is not well understood.)
2. Candidates should be banned from belonging to a political party, because the latter takes on a life of its own, thus creating a barrier between the electorate and its elected representatives. This barrier is exercised by a political party establishing a "whipping system" (in UK terms) that demands the elected representatives vote in accordance with the wishes of the political party,
3. Candidates should not be selected by a political party, as it will choose its trusted favourites, sometimes parachuting them into safe electoral seats. Once again this forms a barrier between the candidate and the electorate. Candidates should be able to stand on their own merits. (In the USSR, candidates were chosen by the local Communist party hierarchy, the trades unions and Komsomol, and frequently got unsurprisingly 90+% of the electorate's votes.)
4. Voting systems are flawed. The UK's "First past the Post" (FPTP) represents the wishes of the electorate only if voting were to be compulsory. All proportional representation systems are flawed, as they involve political parties in the selection and rankings of candidates, once more breaking the link with the local electorate. (Some are unwieldy in operation such as the multi-pass systems.) For me, the survival of US Electoral College system still remains a mystery in a fiercely democratic (small "d") nation..
5. Electoral funding should be state-funded and controlled from the beginning of campaigning, otherwise the party with the biggest war-chest will always win (even more so in the US since the SCOTUS decision in Citizens United v FEC).
6. Then there is the dead hand of the supporting Civil Service, whose role should be to provide independent continuity during the interregnum of transfer of government. However, many of the civil service (especially in the unelected EU Commission) are appointed by senior politicians as "advisers," and likely to maintain a political allegiance to their masters.
7. Naturally none of these changes will happen in the "Mother of Parliaments," where inhabitants of the "Westminster Bubble" are professional politicians with no life experience outside that Bubble. They are unwilling to change a system that has served one or other of the main political parties so well for the last 200 years or so.
The status quo is likely to remain the status quo.
JE comments: Absolutely--career politicians have no incentive to make Democracy more democratic.
I feel particularly connected to John Heelan right now, since I am editing this post from the Promenade Deck of the Queen Mary in Long Beach. As a nod to today's reality, said deck features a Starbucks. I should fire up the boilers and head for Southampton, right past John's house on the Isle of Wight.
- Are Political Parties Essential for Democracy? (Robert Whealey, USA 05/08/16 4:35 AM)
I agree with José Ignacio Soler (6 May) more than John Heelan (7 May). Two or more competitive parties are necessary for democracy. An uninformed mob may have 10-15 definitions of democracy. Absolute Monarchy evolved in England and evolved into Constitutional government. The effective English separation of powers began in 1628 with the Petition of Right by Lord Coke. The Magna Carta was a medieval contract reinterpreted by 19th-century lawyers.
Lord Cromwell 1640-1660 experimented with six or seven Calvinistic-inspired factions or congregations. Legally Cromwell's Protectorate was called the Long Parliament by the restored King Charles II. Two parties came into being between 1673 and 1679 as the Tories and Whigs. They competed with each other for the King's favor at the Cabinet level.
The American Revolution was led by Whigs who called themselves patriots and expelled the Tories to Ontario for being loyal to King George III. General George Washington did not understand the English two-party system, but Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson in Washington's Cabinet understood English history.
Hamilton organized the Federalists. Jefferson organized the Democratic-Republican Party, with competed in Congress for votes. Those who want to abolish the two-party system and make it a one-party government are either secret Communists, fascists or Nazis. A one-party State is a phony democracy, a totalitarian or authoritarian state.
JE comments: No one on WAISworld was advocating for a one-party state. John Heelan put in a vote for non-partisanship.
A very happy Mother's Day to WAISer moms. I'm going to give mine a call in a couple of hours. Love you, Mom!
Political Parties vs. Bureaucrats: EU
(John Heelan, UK
05/09/16 6:05 AM)
Bowing to Robert Whealey's knowledge of politics with the US parties, I would be interested in his view of EU governance that Todd Huizinga has described as "rule by democratically elected representatives" being salami-sliced by EU elites to become "rule by unelected bureaucrats" and on an eventual collision course with the US.
See: Todd Huizinga, The New Totalitarian Temptation: Global Governance and the Crisis of Democracy in Europe, 2016.
JE comments: I should read (fellow Michigander) Todd Huizinga's book, but perhaps John Heelan can slip us a crib sheet: why the collision course with the US?
Political Parties vs. Bureaucrats: Europe
(Robert Whealey, USA
05/10/16 4:08 AM)
John Heelan (9 May) raises a good question to which I have no opinion. In the 1950s I had great hope that the six capitalist nations of the ECM might evolve into the United States of Europe. Today that project looks flawed. The 28 democracies are on thin ice. European democracies are being corrupted by corporate power, as in the US.
JE comments: I have a further comment from John Heelan, which is next in the queue. For now, a question for Robert Whealey's memory bank: What was the general opinion on the European Common Market among US scholars during the 1950s? Was the project viewed positively by most, as a way to counterbalance possible Soviet expansion? Was there any worry at the time about a resurgent Germany?
- Todd Huizinga on EU (John Heelan, UK 05/10/16 4:44 AM)
JE asked for a crib-sheet on Todd Huizinga's prediction of the EU and the US potentially being on a future collision course. The most user-friendly crib sheet is to watch Huizinga's hour-long presentation (not missing the questions and answers at the end):
In essence, Huizinga predicts that the collision could happen because of two major philosophical conflicts. Firstly that the EU view of the nature of Man is a purely secular one that ignores any existence of a Supreme Being, whereas the US view is based on Judeo-Christian traditions. A more dangerous one perhaps, is that from its initiation as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) some 50 years ago, it has been the long-term aim of EU elites to salami-slice governance away from nation-state governance to a supernational governance. This would allow a superstate to reject national constitutions if they conflicted. Such religious and constitutional differences would be an anathema to the United states.
JE comments: I note from the Michigander perspective that Huizinga is a graduate of Calvin College, Grand Rapids, with the strict religious implications the name implies. I should watch the video, though, before opining further.
- Single-Party States: Raggruppamento Nazionale Repubblicano Socialista (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 05/09/16 1:30 PM)
In his post of 8 May, Robert Whealey wrote that those who advocate for "a one-party government are either Communists, fascists or Nazis." (Why the capital letters for Communists and Nazis and not for Fascists?)
I assume, therefore, that very few people know that during the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, when the real Fascism came out, the Raggruppamento Nazionale Repubblicano Socialista existed as second party of the Republic from February 1945.
This party was founded by the philosopher Edmondo Cione with the socialist Carlo Silvestri and Concetto Pettinato, both influential newsmen, plus Pulvio Zucchi and Walter Mocchi, both union men.
Mussolini approved the existence of the party and encouraged its newspaper L'Italia del Popolo. The German Ambassador Rudolf Rhan was upset by the creation of a second party, but the poor guy had already been upset by the "Socializzazione," the greatest achievement of the RSI.
Later the name of the party changed to Partito Repubblicano Socialista Italiano.
Carlo Silvestri was an old socialist friend of Mussolini who was, however, divided from him for many years for political reasons. He even ended up in the "confino." Silvestri interceded in 1935 with Mussolini to liberate the sick communist leader Antonio Gramsci and place him in the best private hospital of Roma, the Quisisana clinic, where he remained for two years until his death.
In the final days of the RSI, Mussolini tried to use Silvestri to transfer, without bloodshed, the RSI to the Socialist and Republican groups prior to the arrival of the Allies. Unfortunately the partisan formations dominated by the bloodthirsty Communists and the socialist Pertini (later president of the republic--no capital letter for him please) refused and it was a disgrace.
During the second trial for the murder of the socialist leader Matteotti (in the first one in 1926 the culprits had already been sent to jail), Silvestri confirmed the innocence of Mussolini.
JE comments: This would be an interesting discussion topic, on second political parties in de facto one-party authoritarian states. These parties give an appearance of an opposition when there really isn't one. Poland under socialism had the United People's Party, an agrarian party controlled by the communists. Mexico's Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), during the decades of PRI control, is another example. There are no doubt many more.
- Are Political Parties Essential for Democracy? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 05/08/16 5:00 AM)
Among the factors I mentioned when describing a healthy democracy, the one that seemed most arguable was the existence of political parties. (See my post of 6 May.)
John E. asked: "Why are political parties necessary for a robust democracy? Are parties the only way to ensure that the system does not devolve into a Darwinian free-for-all, where only the richest or strongest are elected?"
For his part, John Heelan (7 May) also seemed to agree with the idea that political parties are manipulative power instruments.
In principle I also agree with this opinion, because political parties and professional politicians are discredited around the world due to incompetency and corruption.
However, let me develop the idea of why I believe that in a democracy political parties or political organizations are necessary and why, otherwise, democracy would be an impractical system. Maybe my ideas might be considered in some way naïve, but I will take the risk.
First let's posit a more precise definition of a democratic political party. A political party is an organized group of people, with a common basic understanding or ideology, with objectives and governing programs agreed upon. They strive to reach their objectives through freely elected public governmental positions.
Now let's imagine a country with a modern "democratic" system, in which there are no organized political groups. Let us ask ourselves how the free democratic electoral process would unfold at every governing level--municipal, regional, state, federal and central government. Most likely it would be a chaos, with hundreds, and maybe thousands or millions, of spontaneous candidates with thousands of different ideas, in a sort of "Darwinian free-for-all" contest, each of them with good intentions and legitimate aspirations to serve the public and official posts. The electoral process would be a mess, with thousands of ballots, thousands of options, thousands of individual debates or conflict of opinions. It will be difficult if not impossible to communicate these different ideas to the public. Voters would really not have valid information, and nobody would know who to vote for. A spontaneous organization of millions of candidates and voters to elect public representatives is a utopian idea.
Now let´s imagine how the decision process would develop among the democratic institutions, if the election were ever successful. In congress or parliament, the debates and the conflict of interest and positions would be endless. Negotiations and coalitions to agree on something would be harsh, and quite probably no decision would be made, or at least they would be very delayed or ineffective. Too many would need to compromise on too many things.
It seems the only rational way to solve this apparent electoral chaos and governmental process is to allow groups of people to agree on some basic principles, ideas, ideology, objectives, programs, or whatever you want to call them, and then let them choose democratically the genuine and more qualified candidate to represent them. Their ideas and objectives, based on some sort of ideology, would be formally presented to the public or other groups. Communication would be more effective, decisions would be more easily made at an individual level, and political coalitions between different groups would be feasible. More importantly, a plurality of ideas would be respected.
Of course, this organized sort of group with a common purposes, as well as shared opinions and objectives, eventually, through practice, will evolve into political parties. Unfortunately, in many examples, this leads to well-known evils and perversions (very well described by John Heelan), as well as to professional politicians, incompetence, corruption, and perhaps antidemocratic praxis such as the prevalence of interests of more powerful groups.
I conclude that the real question is not whether political parties are necessary for the democratic system to be robust and mature, though I believe they are, but how the political parties should maintain high moral and ethical civic standards, in order to sustain effectively the democratic system.
I suspect the question is not easy to answer. Maybe the solid control of a body of laws and independent democratic institutions are the answer. But very basically in society, it is fundamentally important to have solid democratic values or solid moral standards, good educational levels, civic common sense, citizenship, respect for democratic rights, etc., and, equally important, direct and intensive participation of the people in public matters. (I agree with John H that voting should be compulsory, at least until it becomes socially valued!) Free press and speech are essential.
Maybe I am demanding too much from societies, but otherwise we will continue to have "imperfect democracies."
JE comments: Another thoughtful essay from José Ignacio Soler. It would be helpful here to review George Washington's position on political parties. Wasn't he worried about the rise of factionalism in the nascent republic? I especially hope Alan Levine, who studies this time period, will send a comment.
Are Political Parties Essential for Democracy?
(Alan Levine, USA
05/09/16 5:00 AM)
At JE's invitation, let me add a few words to José Ignacio Soler's nice post of 8 May:
I think political parties are both necessary, as José Ignacio argues, and risky, as JE worries. Without them, governing would be difficult--or be based on some other unifying principle such as family, clan, tribe, nation, etc. All of those bonds are accidental, based largely on self-interest, and what governed most of humanity throughout most of known time. Parties offer what are often more rational and more moral alternatives to the traditional political networks. Of course, human beings being what we are, any group of people can be corrupt, and self-interest and moral visions can often be aligned or the latter be a highfalutin obfuscation for the former. There is always the risk that parties will be corrupt and tyrannical, and if one looks at them alone the results might seem dismal. The question is: if not them, what? And compared to the alternatives, political parties, I think, look pretty good.
FYI, the best defense of party politics that I've ever seen was written by Edmund Burke at the end of one of his famous speeches on America.
JE comments: Many thanks, Alan. It never occurred to me that compared to tribalism or clans, political parties are a higher form of human organization, based on personal choice. I'll agree with Alan: if not parties, then what?
If Not (Political) Parties, Then What...?
(John Heelan, UK
05/11/16 5:11 AM)
In his defense of political parties, Alan Levine (9 May) asked: "if not parties, then what?"
How about independent representatives elected on their personal merits by local electorates and primarily answerable to those electorates? (I wish the UK had a right of recall option.) Why not this option over the political diktats of a party?
JE comments: Or perhaps more flexibility within parties? Yusuf Kanli began his post of today with "party discipline is a big issue." Can a party exist without discipline? (In a milder sense, we could call it "conformity.") Many US Republicans today, gazing Trumpward, must be asking themselves this question.
"If Not Political Parties, Then What...?"
(José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela
05/12/16 7:09 AM)
First I would like to wish full and speedy recoveries to Mike Bonnie and Randy Black.
John Heelan (11 May), in response to Alan Levine's question: "If not parties, then what?" says "How about independent representatives elected on their personal merits by local electorates and primarily answerable to those electorates... Why not this option over the political diktats of a party?"
The alternative John proposes seems obvious and it would idealistically work pretty well--for small, deeply individualistic communities or populations. But let´s think for a moment what would happen in this small very basic community if there were more than one person with enough legitimate "personal merits" competing for the same political post? Most probably, each one of them would try to obtain the maximum number of supporters, to convince them on his/her ideas and capabilities, and to organize and group them around his/her own candidacy, to support certain ideas or a political program, to represent them. Is this not the or seed of a political group?. Surely if the candidate succeeds and his/her leadership and political ideas are consolidated, this group of people will eventually, unavoidably, become a healthy and growing political organization, a "party," with some kind of discipline and bureaucracy to operate effectively.
Of course in larger communities, the problem with more than one, many or thousands of candidates would be resolved in pretty much the same way if democracy ever needs to work efficiently for the practical reasons I mentioned earlier. So, like it or not, the political organizations are needed in modern democratic societies.
Pure individualistic societies are utopian. There is a natural and intuitive gregarious human tendency for gathering around other people with similar ideas, habits, social, cultural and economic conditions or trends. Even the anarchist utopia, to which many times I used to aspire when young, needs some kind of politically disciplined organization.
JE comments: I'd enjoy hearing more about José Ignacio Soler's youthful anarchist leanings. Nota bene: Anarchist thought has a noble and legitimate tradition in the Latin world (the Slavic world too). In the Anglosphere, it tends to be associated with dropouts and punks who commit vandalism.
- A Historical Inspiration for Non-Partisanship? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 05/13/16 4:16 AM)
There is, apparently, no perfect democracy, as even the US democracy with the presence of superdelegates in the Democratic Party makes the process a farse.
I wonder if John Heelan (11 May), when presenting his theory about independent representatives elected on their personal merit by local electorates, has been inspired by Muammar Gaddafi. His Green Book, Volume I, clearly presents such an idea.
JE comments: It's a trope for authoritarian regimes to celebrate their non-partisanship. Who else besides Gaddafi could be an inspiration? How about Frederick the Great? There is something to be said for the tidiness and efficiency of despotism, enlightened or not, especially if you're the despot.
I'm confident that John Heelan's inspiration does not come from Gaddafi, but I'm nonetheless curious: How many in WAISworld have read the Green Book? On a parallel note, what colors remain for megalomaniac screeds? Green (Gaddafi) and Red (Mao) are taken; a Blue Book is used for writing examinations, and your Black Book is something altogether different. Pink and yellow will never do. This leaves us only with Purple, although the hue already refers to a well-known Bible study guide. (In case you're wondering, the Orange Book is produced by the FDA, and contains drug data.)
- Are Political Parties Essential for Democracy? From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 05/09/16 5:14 AM)
Ric Mauricio writes:
José Ignacio Soler wrote on 8 May: "Imagine ... no organized political groups. Let us ask ourselves how the free democratic electoral process would unfold at every governing level--municipal, regional, state, federal and central government. Most likely it would be a chaos."
In many of our local municipalities, there are no organized political groups behind our candidates. I would venture to say that although one may disagree with individual council members on various issues, there is no chaos. In fact, my city's council with its rotating mayor, works extremely well, making Foster City the 9th safest city in California and the 8th richest small city in the United States.
However, there may be a size factor when considering governance supported by political parties. Note that the larger cities in our area, San Francisco, Oakland and San José, do operate on organized political party basis. San Francisco, as usual, is the oddest duck of all. I believe all candidates there are Democrats. However, the politics of these Democrats run the gamut from left to right, from Progressives to Conservatives. A one-party town for sure, but not really. And these cities are not run very well--or they are perhaps run as well as can possibly be.
But then again, since our city has an affluent population, it is not reflective of society as a whole, whereas bigger cities are. Therefore bigger cities do have a need for organized political groups to stand up for the rights of different demographics.
Ah, that's the crux of the whole matter. Different political parties exist to represent different demographics and economic strata. And representation is very crucial to a democratic society.
By the way, talking about politics, there was a loud groan here in Silicon Valley when Ted Cruz chose Carly Fiorina as his running mate. I don't know what he was thinking, that perhaps he could garner the female vote or the California vote by choosing her, but she is much maligned here in Silicon Valley. When she stumbled off the stage, it was because the stage was listing to one side as Ted Cruz's ship was sinking. One statement that Ted Cruz had us shaking our heads about was when he said that Carly knew jobs. Ha. Explain that to the 30,000 people she let go at Hewlett Packard. Explain that to the Compaq employees in Texas.
JE comments: Cruz's choice of Fiorina was characterized as a "last ditch" effort to revitalize a moribund campaign. I cannot imagine what Carly was thinking. Ego? A case study into Unamuno's "esperanza desesperada" (hopeless hope)?
Here's the video of the Fallen Woman. What strikes me is that Cruz keeps on waving and fails to help her up. There is symbolism galore here:
- Robust vs Fragile Democracies: Sources (Francisco Ramirez, USA 05/11/16 11:05 AM)
This is the source of the most frequently used index of democracy that social scientists employ in cross-national quantitative research. It has some of the elements identified in José Ignacio Soler's reflection (6 May) on what constitutes a robust democracy.
Marshall, Monty G., Keith Jaggers, and Ted Robert Gurr. 2013. Polity IV Project: Political
Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800-2012. Vienna, VA: Center for Systemic
Here is one effort to measure what constitutes a fragile state:
Center for Systemic Peace. 2014. State Fragility Index and Matrix, 2013. Vienna, VA: Center
for Systemic Peace.
JE comments: Thank you, Chiqui! I'm curious about the Center for Systemic Peace. Its mission is a noble one.
- Thoughts on Balance of Power (Robert Whealey, USA 05/04/16 8:11 AM)
This is in response to Tor Guimaraes (29 April). Since 1950, American wars have all been either a stalemate, such as Korea 1950-1953, or a failure, as in Indochina, 1954 to 1975. Acheson, Dulles, LBJ, Rusk all had an anti-Communist ideology but no viable strategy. At first, Nixon continued the anti-Communist propaganda , but Henry Kissinger gradually taught Nixon the meaning of the Balance of Power.
Nixon and Kissinger pulled off a disguised retreat from Vietnam. Balance of Power diplomacy required dividing the USSR and PRC at the UN, and exploiting their geographical conflicts on the long Chinese-Soviet border. The US can never conqueror Russia, China or the Muslim world.
Admiral Thayer's sea power dominance (1898), supplemented by air bases, can preserve the US as one of three or four great powers for the foreseeable future, if it stops boasting about nuclear bombs and the arms race.
Ask Trump what are his geographic targets for the next war? Ask the Chinese, Indians, Israelis and Pakistanis what are their targets.
JE comments: As of today, Trump has a new entry in his CV: the Republicans' presumptive nominee. Ted Cruz threw in the towel after his defeat in Indiana. WAISer thoughts? My timid prediction is that unless there are cataclysmic developments to the contrary, we'll have a Clinton in the White House next year.
- Nixon through the Lens of History (Robert Whealey, USA 04/30/16 3:28 AM)
JE asked why I claimed that Nixon's reputation is on the wane.
See Robert G. Kaiser, "The Disaster of Richard Nixon," NYRB, April 21, 2016, pp. 50-60. Kaiser reviews four new university press books, by professional historians. I personally concluded Nixon was worse than I thought in August 1974, when Nixon resigned.
JE comments: Here's the review. I need to read this:
- A Historical Inspiration for Non-Partisanship? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 05/13/16 4:16 AM)
- "If Not Political Parties, Then What...?" (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 05/12/16 7:09 AM)
- If Not (Political) Parties, Then What...? (John Heelan, UK 05/11/16 5:11 AM)
- Todd Huizinga on EU (John Heelan, UK 05/10/16 4:44 AM)
- Political Parties vs. Bureaucrats: Europe (Robert Whealey, USA 05/10/16 4:08 AM)
- Are Political Parties Essential for Democracy? (Robert Whealey, USA 05/08/16 4:35 AM)
- Defining Democracy (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 05/06/16 7:35 AM)
- Another Non-Democracy... (John Heelan, UK 05/03/16 10:27 AM)
- Defining Democracy; Populism in Brazil (Tor Guimaraes, USA 05/03/16 4:02 AM)
- How "Robust" is Democracy? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 05/01/16 5:00 AM)
- US Upheaval throughout History (Tor Guimaraes, USA 04/29/16 7:59 AM)
- US Upheaval throughout History; 2020 and 2024 Presidential Elections (Robert Whealey, USA 04/28/16 10:29 AM)
- History on Andrew Jackson...and Other US Presidents (Robert Whealey, USA 04/27/16 5:15 AM)