TERROR AND THE POLICE STATE: CHAPTER 9

 

 

[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]

9

Secret police

Police are people employed by government to enforce the law.  Secret police are police whose work and identities are kept as secret as possible.  They might sometimes be described as ‘under cover.’  The word Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, the Secret State Police) is now used throughout the world to signify the most terrifying form of secret police.  The word Stasi, from the DDR, is less well known, but stands for a police that is forbidding, intrusive, repressive, and everywhere.

The ‘police’ at large in the French Revolution played a very minor part in the Terror compared to the part played by secret police in Communist (or Bolshevik) Russia and Nazi Germany.  Those two regimes are models of the police state and the totalitarian state, and it is not surprising then that their police agencies, especially the secret police, were at the very top of the pyramid of power, second only to the dictator.  In France, there was no police force as we understand that term during the revolution, and we only get to see police operating at anything like that level under Fouché and Napoleon.

Fouché survived the revolution and Napoleon, and he showed amazing versatility to do so – Napoleon made Fouché his chief of police and later ennobled him, but he never trusted him.  Fouché, like Talleyrand, betrayed Napoleon and lived.  Like Talleyrand, he had a rat cunning bordering on greatness.  Georges Lefebvre says that ‘what really put an end to the attempts on his [Napoleon’s] life was the terror and the perfection of police surveillance.’

Stalin and Hitler ran totalitarian states – everything is controlled by the state.  Power comes from the force realised by channelling numbers.  Stalin saw all government as a ‘transmission belt connecting the party with the people.’  He believed that Soviet greatness came from the ‘cadres’ of the party – the police.  The secret police were the elite of the Party and they were only drawn from the ranks of the party.  Hitler said that sixty thousand men ‘have outwardly become almost a unit, that actually these men are uniform not only in ideas, but that even the facial expression is almost the same.  Look at these laughing eyes, this fanatical enthusiasm and you will discover…..how a hundred thousand men in a movement become a single type.’  This is a horrifying glimpse of the SS, and Hitler only committed suicide after he concluded that the SS had failed him and could no longer be relied on – the ‘best’ of them were blowing their brains out all around him.

The object of the secret police is to eliminate the enemies of the state.  All dictators rely on their secret services and for that reason they may be vulnerable to them, as was the case with the Roman Emperors and the Praetorian Guard.  Himmler’s position as Reichsfuhrer-SS and head of German police effectively put the police in the hands of the SS and achieved some kind of unity of party and state.  The SS was the new Praetorian Guard, and the sole armed branch of the party, the elite from which the future leadership would be drawn.  Totalitarian dictatorships invariably become police states.

Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism distinguished between suspects – those who are suspected of breaking the law or of being an actual threat to the regime – and ‘objective enemies’.  People come within the class of objective enemies not because they want to overthrow the regime, but because of a policy of the government to exclude or condemn them simply because they are members of a class – like kulaks for Stalin, or Jews or Gypsies or homosexuals for Hitler.

These targets are not individuals whose dangerous thoughts might be provoked or whose individual histories warrants suspicion, but members of a class who are like ‘carriers of tendencies’, like a carrier of a disease.  The Nazis frequently invoked the analogy of disease when speaking of Jews or Gypsies.  Hans Frank distinguished between those ‘dangerous to the state’ and those ‘hostile to the state.’  A lawyer who went over to the SS said in an obituary of Heydrich that he regarded his opponents not ‘as individuals but as carriers of tendencies endangering the state and therefore beyond the pale of the national community.’    Hannah Arendt expressed this mordant view:  ‘Practically speaking, the totalitarian ruler proceeds like a man who persistently insults another man until everybody knows that the latter is his enemy, so that he can, with some plausibility, go and kill him in self-defence.  This certainly is a little crude, but it works – as everybody will know whoever watched how certain successful careerists eliminate competitors’.

A French historian of the Tsarist Okhrana said that provocation was ‘the foundation stone’ of the secret police.  After 1848 in Europe it may be hard to find much anti-government action for some time that was not inspired, or provoked, by the secret police.  But they hardly have to resort to provocation if they can put people away on suspicion.  And what happens if the agents eliminate any apparent threats and then look like they may have disposed of the objective enemies?

Most civil servants are seasoned at concealing any basis for suggesting that they are superfluous.  Secret police, like arms manufacturers, find ways to generate demand for their services, but the secret police may become entirely dependent on government to identify sufficient targets to keep them in work.  It looks like Hitler was thinking of turning on Germans who were not physically good enough, and that Stalin was looking to turn on the Jews, perhaps as a comradely gesture to his satellites who were predisposed in that direction.

Fouché was if nothing else flexible and financially adept, and during his time and later, secret police would seek to profit from their victims.  A simple way would be to go into partnership in illegal activities like prostitution and gambling.  In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, cadres of ‘chastity commissars’ lived off the earnings of blackmail.  The NKVD lived off the exploitation of slave labour: the labour in the gulag paid for the apparatus that got people inside in the first place.  Himmler first financed his SS through the confiscation of Jewish property.  The SS raised funds the way political parties and cultural institutions do – people who became ‘Friends of the SS’ might ‘volunteer’ donations in return for benefits that might not be so easily defined – perhaps what we call a ‘get out of jail card.’

Stalin’s need for purges extended to the secret police.  People got improved positions when others got shot.  Informers are offered incentives.  Each jobholder becomes complicit in the system, a conscious accomplice of Stalin.  This is likely to turn them into more ardent supporters of the regime.  The wielders of the highest power get to understand the nature of caprice and arbitrariness, and this in no way abates their professional inhumanity and dedicated cruelty.  It is just this randomness that tears away by the roots the very humanity of both the oppressor and the oppressed.

Yet the all-embracing secrecy leaves people with a capacity for denial.  They all know that people disappear, and that they do not come back, and they suspect many of these may be ‘innocent’, if there is such a thing, but they also know that the one way to end up the same is by talking about this kind of thing.  The one thing that you do not talk about is anything that is ‘secret’.  Even a child knows that.

Passing Bull 129 – Fake conservatives

 

The word ‘conservative’ has had its political ups and downs, but of late it has been debauched if not hijacked.  Conservatism found its most classical expression in Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.  The English preferred evolution to revolution.  They relished their history and traditions; they revelled in their own mystique.  They suspected change.  Burke said that their ‘opposed and conflicting interests…interpose a salutary check to all precipitate resolutions; they render deliberation a matter not of choice, but of necessity; they make all change a subject of compromise, which naturally begets moderation; they produce temperaments, preventing the sore evil of harsh, crude, unqualified reformations…’  And the French?  ‘You set up your trade without…capital.’

Now, that is very English.  Our state of mind comes from our experience of history.  ‘Our oldest reformation is that of Magna Charta.’  And the big reformation secured the separation of Church and State in a typically perverse English fashion.  All this was in aid of ‘liberty’ – ‘Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself.’

An American legal scholar W D Guthrie expressed Burk’s thought on the 700th anniversary of Magna Carta.

…..everything which has power to win the obedience and respect of men must have its roots deep in the past, and the more slowly institutions have grown, so much the more enduring are they likely to prove.

Guthrie later spoke of ‘the rare and difficult sentiment’ of ‘constitutional morality.’  Its essence is ‘self -imposed restraint’.  Its antithesis is ‘the most fallacious and dangerous doctrine that has ever appeared among men, that the people are infallible and can do no wrong.’  A ‘populist’ and a ‘conservative’ are two clean different things.

These views flow naturally from the Anglo-American legal tradition.  We are looking at a certain type or cast of legal or political thought.  How, then, would a ‘conservative’, so described look at some of our main political issues?

Take our handling of refugees.  History is not a good guide.  Historically, Australians have not acted well toward people of a different faith or colour, and the present government recently flirted with one of the more obnoxious disguises used in the White Australia policy.  But putting to one side plain human decency, our treatment of refugees flouts Magna Carta and legal obligations undertaken to the world community.  To that extent, a conservative must condemn our policy.

Take marriage equality.  A conservative would argue that allowing same sex marriage expands the notion of liberty that underlies our whole dispensation.  There are problems with that contention, but there are more problems with the very idea that the proposal might be opposed on the ground of religion.  Our separation of church and state is recognised in our constitution in a way that is the direct opposite of the English version.

Yes, marriage has been between a man and a woman since Biblical times, but while antiquity may appeal to conservatives, it cannot rule them.  Slavery has a history as long as that of marriage.  As Burke said: ‘A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.’  That in my view is the real lesson of the French Revolution, but of one thing we may be sure – Burke would have been horrified and Disraeli would have been mortified by the suggestion that the Parliament refer the issue to the plebs.  That to them would have been a fatal abdication.  Labels have limits – Burke was a conservative Whig and Disraeli was a radical Tory.

Take our reaction to climate change.  It’s now common ground that we have made a mess of it, and fools of ourselves.  It’s hard to see how the issue could have become political, much less ideological.  It would be tart, but not ridiculous, to suggest that the first job of a conservative is to conserve the planet, but you struggle to find any principle to the opposition to the findings of science.  All you get are populist diversions about the price or reliability of power.  It’s what we used to call the ‘hip-pocket nerve.’

Now, you will know that some in parliament and in the Murdoch press who call themselves ‘conservatives’ hold views opposite to those set out above.  Some do it out of malice; others do it for money.  Either way, it’s hard to see any underlying political principle.  But it’s easy to see a surrender to the mob.  What you don’t see is anything like the compromise, moderation or temperaments described by Burke or the self-restraint described by Guthrie.  None of these parliamentarians is temperamentally given to compromise, moderation or self-restraint.

What you have is a repudiation of conservatism.  It’s time these people were called out.  They are not of the right sort of mind.

TERROR AND THE POLICE STATE: CHAPTER 8

 

 

[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]

8

Degradation

According to Arthur Koestler in Darkness at Noon, the first person singular pronoun meant nothing to his principal targets, the Communists in Russia.  There the secret police say that the word ‘I’ is ‘a grammatical fiction.’

It is not surprising to hear this asserted in a totalitarian state.  The whole object of such a state is to ensure that the individual – the owner and the professor of the word ‘I’ – does not get in the way of the state.  For them, the state is everything, and the individual – the ‘I’ – is nothing.  The sense of self, or a person’s sense of worth – their dignity – is degraded in so many ways.  Representatives of the state or the party belittle people.  The very emptiness of the system and its slogans and symbols reduces people in their own eyes.  Do decent people, even the most incurable addicts of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, really want to bow down before a broken cross, lightning runes, or a death’s head?

And people hear of or see things which debase or degrade them further.  They hear of things that revolt them, and they go into blank denial.  But they see or hear of things that make them complicit in a denial of truth, decency, and even life.  A combination of terror and propaganda plays very ugly games with their minds, and they feel altered and demeaned.  This in turn lowers their inclination to object, and so the downward cycle progresses, sometimes to the finite regress of suicide if the state does not get there first.  By then they have bought into or they have been locked into crimes against humanity that would previously have been unthinkable to them. These regimes have to reduce their people to their level.

We associate the grosser forms of that cycle with Communist Russia under Stalin and with Nazi Germany under Hitler.  It can give you a jolt to see the same forces at work in France during the Terror in 1793.  In Les Deux Amis (Two Friends), a primary source much relied on by Carlyle, there is a long firsthand account of man returning to Paris and after being away for ten months and confronting life under the Terror in Paris.

He is surrounded by ‘sinister faces’ and in a binary or black and white world, only two types of one group matter – revolutionaries or government agents.  He is full of apprehension in this strange, hard new world.  He feels guilty for leaving his family.  Will he ever see them again?  How different is Paris – muted, sombre, deserted at night; even the street names have changed (and they are named after some awful people).  He reads that a friend has been executed – most cruelly, and for nothing.  He calls on another friend who has become a terrorist (Jacobin) for ‘insurance’ and who is terrified to be seen with him and who cannot get rid of him soon enough – the agents raid homes and make arrests at night.  He sees that everyone has been frightened into showing support for the terrorist regime, and he reflects on the mindless banality – the spectral hypocrisy! – of their slogans.  He has to deal with regulations that make Kafka look easy.  You cannot comply with these Byzantine laws.  No one will give him a bed.  Everyone is scared.  He sees police patrols in action – he has been warned not to get picked up – and he hears the anguish of a mother with a child who is another victim of the Great Terror.  It is a random and capricious world of heartless and mindless cruelty to people.  How did France come to this?

Then he has to come face to face with the regime, dirty, rotten people way above their station wreaking frightful revenge on their betters.  Now he feels the full weight of Hamlet’s insolence of office, the proud man’s contumely and the oppressor’s wrong – all those things that Hamlet thought of when contemplating suicide.  He is offered a corrupt out – most police states are rotten to the core, and give an out to those who can afford it.  A person will attest to him for a fee.  But this man keeps laughing about the entertainment offered before the daily batch of the guillotine (only twenty-five, so small a batch that his wife did not think that it was worth his time to go).  He reflects on the public beheading – sneeze into the sack – of a blithe seventeen year old girl.

All this takes place at the end of a century of what we are pleased to call the Enlightenment in Paris, perhaps the most civilized city in the world.  Even allowing for some journalistic licence, how did the people of Paris become so degraded?  How is it that a civilized French couple could sit down for dinner and happily swap notes about peoples’ heads being cut off in public and dropped into a bucket of blood, splashing the pavement?  Was Dickens’ picture of the Terror and the Tricoteuses underdone?

Most people reading this will have experienced countless examples of rudeness and nastiness of people in power, but very few will have experienced it under a regime that has no conception of the rule of law, due process, or basic human rights.  It is precisely that void, which seems to bring with it a general moral vacuum, that is of the essence of a police state.  It is that which makes such a state so frightening and revolting – and degrading.

There is a hideous photo of a kind of crucifixion practised in the Russian civil war.  The Reds have taken a Polish officer, stripped him, hanged him naked upside down, and then beaten, cut and tortured him until death.  About twenty red soldiers are standing around looking sedate and only mildly interested.  In the catalogue of the museum Topography of Terror at what used to be the headquarters of the Gestapo, there is a photo taken from a distance in the market square at Ulm in 1940.  A nineteen year old woman was being publicly shaved because of a relationship with a French P O W.  She was later sentenced to one year’s imprisonment and two years’ loss of civil rights.  Someone had objected to this brutal humiliation.  The caption in the press was ‘Thousands of faces expressed mockery and disgust.’  In fact the photo up close shows people laughing and smiling as if their team had just won in football.  It may be the most appalling photo in the book.  You are watching people degrading themselves.

There is also a photo of SS guards and female administrative personnel at Neuengamme concentration camp in December 1943.  There are more than a hundred seated at well laden tables under the runic slashes of the SS in what the SS called a ‘Yule celebration’.  With all the red and white wines and the holly and the napkins on the tables, there were ‘Yule lights’ produced by the inmates.  This photo, too, is appalling in its own way.  Not one person is smiling.  They might as well be dead.  Their degradation has brought them to the Kingdom of Nothingness.

Degradation by its nature tends to occur over time and often so that people are not aware of how they are being changed for the worse.  The career of a man called Simonov took off during the Great Terror of 1937-1938.  On his death-bed in 1979, Simonov dictated a testimonial that was remarkable for its candour and insight.  ‘To be honest about those times, it is not only Stalin that you cannot forgive, but you yourself.  It is not that you did something bad – maybe you did nothing wrong, at least on the face of it – but that you became accustomed to evil. …You lived in the midst of these events, blind and deaf to everything, you saw and heard nothing when people all around you were shot and killed, when people all around you disappeared’.

People becoming ‘accustomed to evil’ might be close to the heart of the darkness confronting us here.

TERROR AND THE POLICE STATE: CHAPTER 7

 

 

[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]

7

Waves of Terror

The Terror in France was an accident of history, substantially driven by people and events outside France.  In Russia and Germany, Terror was integral to the revolution from the start.  In France, terror was what was thought to be a temporary expedient to keep the ship of state afloat; in Russia and Germany, terror was just one facet of the whole apparatus of the new government.  When either said that terror or the police state was imperative for the security of the state, they were referring to the security of the party or its leader or leaders.  In France, at least at the start, it was the nation that was in peril.

The French reasonably believed that Terror was an emergency condition, and that they could quit it when the emergency had passed.  The Russians may or may not have believed that the state would just wither away, but neither Lenin nor Stalin showed any sign of believing that the Party could quit its methods.  There is no reason to suppose that the Nazis ever thought that the One Thousand Year Reich would ever be able to go without the SS, the Gestapo, or Dachau.  To the extent that they ever thought about it, they presumably thought that they could dispense with Auschwitz only when it had no more work to do.

In France, the demands for what we would call strong government and repression came from the bottom, the sans-culottes (blue collars), as much as from anywhere else.  The reason was simple – their need for protection in their personal security was greatest, and less likely to be deflected by some elevated theories about abstract rights of man or what we call civil liberties.

In France, terror came from the street.  Violence and terror were part of the course of events from 14 July 1789 until Napoleon took over, when a more orthodox version of the Police State was set up

The Assembly initially had conservative members who were looking for a constitutional monarchy and who did not like the more radical and populist leanings of the Jacobins.  These were called the Feuillants and early on they had a majority and they were the source of the ministry.  The popular uprising that saw the downfall of the monarchy and the setting up of the Paris Commune in August 1792 brought an end to the effective office of the crown and the political relevance of the Feuillants.

The next conservative group would be called the Gironde or Girondistes because of their connections with Bordeaux.  These people like Brissot and Vergniaud were very cultivated and capable – and therefore very likely to get up the noses of those not so blessed.  Marat loathed the Gironde.  They more than loathed Marat.  They arraigned him, then the President of the Jacobins, before the Revolutionary Tribunal, but they failed.  The Gironde then sought to overthrow the commune by arresting Hébert and other extremists known as Enragés.  After a popular uprising, the Girondins were arrested and liquidated. When the wheel turned, their executioners would in turn be executed and the Girondins would later be celebrated.

Members of a rival club to the Jacobins, the Cordeliers, and what we would now call the extreme left – the Enragés – were liquidated.  Then it became the turn of Danton and Desmoulins.  Danton was sickened by the bloodshed and this evidence of humanity on his part was fatal.  Camille Desmoulins, who had been there since day one, went in the same batch.  He told the Tribunal that he was 33, ‘the same age as the sans-culotte Jesus Christ when he died’.  The people who had died for seeking clemency, because they were then opposing the regime, are sometimes called the ‘Indulgents’.

The end came quickly.  Fouché, who was to have the honour of intriguing against both Robespierre and Napoleon, was not a lawyer, but he was a survivor.  He mingled among people saying, ‘You are on the list, you are on the list as well as myself; I’m certain’. When the game changed, Robespierre tried to kill himself by shooting himself in the face.  The attempt failed.  When the executioner ripped off the bandage on the scaffold, Robespierre let out a primal scream.  The Terror was over.  There had been about 1,500 executions in seven weeks.  In the wash-up, the acolytes of Robespierre, and the prosecutor and executioner felt the blade that they had dropped on thousands of others.

The Russian Revolution was conceived in hate and born in violence.  Since Russia got nowhere near the rule of law while the Communists held power, and it has never done so before or since, it is not surprising that violence and terror stayed with the regime all its life.  The major terror in Russia is however associated with Stalin in the thirties.  Stalin was naturally given to paranoia.  He knew that Lenin had wanted to warn the party off him.  This was of course kept secret, but it worked on Stalin.  When a comrade roundly criticised him, Stalin wanted to have him shot ‘as a terrorist’.

Professor Hosking has defined the communist mentality:  ‘They had all seen the world as a battleground between good and evil, the good tinged with millennial hopes, and the evil with apocalyptic forebodings.  They and those entering the party from 1917 had forged their new world in the furnace of civil war.  They had adopted the methods, the mentality, and the discourse of the battlefield, including intense self-sacrifice and loyalty to their own comrades, murderous hate of the enemy, and disdain for normal moral standards.  By the early 1930’s all party documents, the speeches and articles of the leaders, were couched in language of this kind and expressed identical sentiments.  The unified rhetoric had become compulsory: anyone who failed to use it might be identified as a ‘deviationist’ and lose any hope of further advancement.  Those who had ‘deviated’ at some time were expected now to confess their errors and swing into step with their comrades’ marching columns.  The rise to power of Hitler in Germany finally sealed this closing of the ranks.  Rhetoric now became virtual reality, perhaps even reality itself.’  The Russians were heading toward the moral and intellectual black hole that we would see in China and North Korea.

The party was made the subject of rolling purges.  Show trials were put on before an incredulous world press, with fantastic and induced and concocted confessions.  The purges became cyclical, rather as they had in France.  First you barred someone, and then you exterminated them.  The intelligentsia, or the nomenklatura, got it the worst.  Of the one hundred and thirty nine members of the Central Committee of the Congress of Victors, one hundred and ten were later arrested.  Of one thousand, nine hundred and sixty six delegates, one thousand, one hundred disappeared.  Stalin was getting rid of those who knew him when he was younger, or who may have known of the testament of Lenin.  The cyclical vengeance of the French revolution looks tame indeed.  Even so, Stalin echoed Robespierre: ‘Everyone who arouses the slightest suspicion should be removed’ (murdered).

Seniority in the party carried its own risks – those lower down in the ranks were always on the look-out for an opportunity to denounce a superior in order to get his job, and Stalin must have known that most victims were ‘innocent’, a word of no meaning to him or his cadres.  Stalin said that if just five per cent of the people who had been arrested turned out to be real enemies, ‘that would be a good result.’  Yezhov advised his NKVD operatives that if ‘an extra thousand people are shot, that is not such a big deal’.  Yezhov too would be shot.

All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  When did you last see a dictator resign – or be fondly remembered?

Here and there – Working the Constitution

 

Walter Bagehot (pronounced as in Paget) is fondly remembered at The Economist.  He edited that journal for some time and in 1867 – just before Disraeli, a Tory PM, enfranchised the working class – he published a book called The English Constitution.  It had great impact, and it still does in Conservative circles.  The author claimed to have found the ‘secret’, between the ‘efficient’ working of the constitution and the ‘dignified’ part.  We might be more wary of such journalistic flare nowadays, especially when it rests on labels, but there is something to the distinction.

The book is now hopelessly passed its historical shelf time.  After about four pages, you are told that if you are not convinced that the lower classes are ‘narrow-mined, unintelligent, incurious’ then ‘you should go into their kitchens’ and ‘try what seems .the most obvious, most certain, most palpable in intellectual matters, upon the housemaid and the footman’ and you will find what he says seems ‘unintelligible, confused and erroneous.’

Dear, dear, dear.  Class then was caste – at the bottom as well as the top.  The author celebrates the distinct constitutional role of the aristocracy, while he maintained that in England they were no separate caste – at least as a matter of law.  And as Richard Crossman pointed out in the Introduction, Bagehot had that centuries old English ruling class fear of educating the lower orders in case that caused them to rock the boat.  They shared this fear with the Church.  Bagehot said that ‘what I conceive to be about the most essential mental quality for a free people, whose liberty is to be progressive, permanent, and on a large scale: it is much stupidity.’  Or, try this: ‘a political combination of the lower classes, as such and for their own objects, is an evil of the first magnitude.’  What kind of political genius, then, was Disraeli?

But the book does offer comment on the malaise of our times.

Bagehot said that the ‘the efficient secret of the English Constitution may be described as the close union, the nearly complete fusion, of the executive and legislative power.’  This of course is banned in the U S.  They rest on a doctrinaire embrace of theory that has never taken hold in the mother country.  Like the French, the Americans – fresh from a brawl with a monarch they neither understood, not trusted – wanted an absolute line of demarcation between legislature and the executive.  That has never been the case in England or Australia.

Crossman thought (in 1963) that the ‘theory of checks and balances….is now a fiction’.  Well, it doesn’t look too fictitious in America where putting a spoke in the wheel has become the main game.  Accordingly, Crossman thought that once ‘elected by the Commons, the Prime Minister exerts powers greater than those of any American President.’  That’s a fair topic for a pub debate.

But there has to be a workable parliament.  Critically for our purposes, Bagehot saw two conditions as ‘essential to the bare possibility of parliamentary government’ – the independence of the individual Member and the moderation of the House of Commons.’  He thought that both would be destroyed by strengthening the party machine outside parliament.

Well, that’s what happened.  The centre of power shifted from the parliament to the party machine outside it.  The individual member lost his independence and the legislature lost its moderation.  And its sense.  Australia has just spent $120 million on a plebiscite that most people didn’t want, on an issue that most regarded as decided, because one faction of a party persuaded the whole party – one nominally committed to the cause of liberty – to ban its members from voting in parliament on an issue as a matter of conscience.  It’s hard to think of a more complete, or revolting, vindication of the prophecy of Bagehot.

What holds together the effective government in England, the Cabinet, is a ‘combination of party loyalty, collective responsibility and secrecy.’  But, again, you need to have a decent parliament, one not composed of ‘warm partisans.’  Now all we see are hot partisans.  In the US, a Republican may lose endorsement from the Party for not being partisan enough – or be attacked by the President for being the wrong kind of Partisan.  The very word ‘moderation’ is suspect, if not dirty.

The powers of Cabinet have been eroded by Whitehall, but it is the dominance of the party that has reordered all that Bagehot described.  Crossman quotes a French observer: ‘Parliament and Government are like two machines driven by the same motor – the Party.  The regime is not so very different in this respect from the single party system.  Executive and legislature, Government and Parliament are constitutional facades: in reality the party alone exercises power.’

These things are matters of degree, but that’s how at least some saw government in England one hundred years after Bagehot wrote his book.  As a result, Crossman says that resignations on principle and dismissals for incompetence have become rare.  ‘Party loyalty has become the prime political virtue required of an MP, and the test of that loyalty is his willingness to support the official leadership when he knows it to be wrong….It is what is said and done in the secrecy of the party meeting which is now really important – though the public can only hear about it through leaks to the press.’

What then was the role of opposition?  In Crossman’s time they played safe and went in for shadow-boxing.  Why?  The alternative was to obstruct over time and so halt the process of government. ‘But by taking opposition to this level, an Opposition lays itself open to the charge of extremism and irresponsibility, and may well lose the support of that mass of floating voters which it must hope to win in order to turn out the government.’

Well, all that, too, has come to pass.  Immoderation is the order of the day for opposition.  The Government determines its policies in secret, and the Opposition does its best to jam the system.  The spirit of the game has just gone.

Now, this may seem silly – but none of that looks very ‘democratic.’  (As an aside, Crossman says that Britain’s decision to explode an atom bomb never reached Cabinet, let alone Parliament – before or after the event.)  Many people feel estranged by and from the process.  They don’t trust the people involved.  They don’t like them.

We are coming to grips with flaws in the two party model – after the public at large has in substance rejected it.  One problem is the fact that we only get to vote for people selected by the party.  We have no control over that process, and we are increasingly despondent about its results.

Our constitutional framework has another big problem that was not about in Crossman’s time.  The whole process of government required a professional and dispassionate civil service.  On various fronts that notion has taken massive hits in Australia.  We have seen the rise of political advisers.  They are neither professional nor dispassionate.  They tend to be people on the make and people who are not easy for others to fall in love with – particularly when, after they flop, they slink off unemployably to share their chagrin on Sky News.  It is both odd and sad that this erosion of this part of our constitutional dispensation has gone largely unnoticed.

So, what Bagehot and Crossman said does bear on our political ill health.  We are witnessing a collapse of decency and sense in public life across the West.  The mot de jour is ‘polarised.’  Moderation is out.  The centre cannot hold.  We look with Yeats upon those who lack all conviction and at those who are full of passionate intensity.  In England, a movement promoted to return something called ‘sovereignty’ to the Parliament is at risk of surrendering just that sovereignty to something called the ‘people.’  While the people of the U S and the U K are losing faith in their governments, the standing of those nations among others has collapsed.

The collapse of faith and trust was described by Thucydides in Greece thousands of years ago.

To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings.  What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely one way of saying that you were a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; an ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.  Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defence.  Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect.  To plot successfully was a sign of intelligence, but it was still cleverer to see that a plot was hatching.  If one attempted to provide against having to do either, one was disrupting the unity of the party and acting out of the fear of the opposition.  In short, it was equally praiseworthy to get one’s blow in first against someone who was going to do wrong, and to denounce someone who had no intention of doing any wrong at all.  Family relations were a weaker tie than party membership….Revenge was more important than self-preservation…..Indeed, it is true that in these acts of revenge on others men take it upon themselves to begin the process of repealing those general laws of humanity which are there to give a hope of salvation to all those who are in distress, instead of leaving those laws in existence, remembering that there may come a time when they, too, will be in danger and need protection.

The fact that we have seen it all before is not much comfort.  For me, working with the law, and in particular the common law, comes down to a state of mind.  I know that answer will disappoint or infuriate the theorist or scientist – or, for that matter, the fanatic – but it’s the best I can do.  I think the same goes for government.  The problem is that that’s where I think we have lost it.

Passing Bull 128 – How good is popularity?

 

When the Beatles were at the height of their appeal, their popularity was almost immeasurable.  They could do no wrong.  Their wealth was immense.  A lot of the noise came from schoolgirls screaming out their puberty, but there was no doubting the general popularity of the band.  They were about as big as Elvis Presley.

But did this immense popularity signify anything about the inherent quality of their music – as opposed to the huge saleability of their product?  It would have been absurd to say that the Beatles were on a par with Mozart – and just as absurd to say that Elvis was on a par with Frank Sinatra – or even Bing Crosby.  If an entertainer is popular, he or she is to that extent succeeding in their chosen pursuit.  It’s the same with politicians.  If they are sufficiently popular to win the required number of votes, they may be elected into office – like a pope at the College of Cardinals.  That level of popularity and of votes entitles them to claim the prize or title of office.  But does it do any more?  Does it entitle them to say that they have some kind of seal of approval on the quality of their policies or their character?

Simply as a matter of logic, the fact that a given number of people like you or your policies does not of itself entail that either you or your policies have some intrinsic worth.  A proposition about worth does not follow from a proposition about popular appeal.  You have only to reflect on popular will in its purest form of action – the lynch mob – or the characters of probably the three most popular political leaders of the twentieth century – Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco in, say, 1938 – to see how doubtful a signifier mere popularity is.  The leader of North Korea is almost certainly more popular in his own country than the leader of the United States.

If someone claims vindication or exoneration from a win in a political process, they will invite at least two questions.  Did the process have integrity?  Was there a quality field – who did the winner have to beat?  In Australian terms, was he or she up against a drover’s dog?

The election of Trump falters on each.  Australians think the U S system is flawed because voting is not compulsory.  Democrats say the system is loaded against them.  Trump did not win the popular vote.  The Electoral College does not perform its original function.  And many people voted against Trump’s opponent rather than for him.  Many of his supporters are still in that mode.  They will support any measure that goes against what the Democrats did – especially if it involved the nation’s first black president.

So, it would be very hard to argue that the electoral triumph of Trump somehow validates either him, or his policies.  To the extent that we can identify policies he laid out before the election – such as building a wall, or excluding Muslims – then as President he would have both the right and the duty to seek to implement those policies.  (It’s best to avoid that weasel word mandate altogether.)

But to claim that his election as President in some way validates those policies is as sound as saying that the election of Hitler as Chancellor validated Mein Kampf, including the elimination of Jews and the annihilation of Russia.  Then you might ask whether Trump’s announced policies entitled him to present a budget which helps the rich, hurts those under the rich, and bankrupts the nation.

All that is clear enough, but we get keep being assured that the election of Trump does in some way validate both himself and his policies.

The issue has crystallized in Alabama.  In most political bodies, Roy Moore would be hors de combat because of his found misbehaviour as a judge.  In England and Australia, he would have no hope because he is a sanctimonious, bible-bashing hypocrite.  He would certainly have no chance anywhere that politics is rational in light of the credible allegations of sexual predation against him – and his dreadful response to those allegations.  In many places he would be hopelessly on the nose on the sole ground that this whole fiasco is the product of a faction fight within one party sponsored by a nasty, rich Leninist named Bannon.

But what about the similar allegations of sexual misconduct against the President?  With the straight face that becomes serial liars, the White House says that the American nation elected Trump with full knowledge of the allegations.

For reasons I have sought to give, this proposition entails no logically relevant consequence.  This case is a fortiori – a successful candidate wants to argue that winning an election doesn’t just validate policies – it also erases sin, or the allegation of sin.  And this is where the candidate is a proven liar; he has denied the allegations; he has said he would sue the complainants well knowing that he would never do so; and where he has given evidence that he is a serial sexual predator.  And the White House says their case is stronger than that of a Democrat senator who has admitted to and apologised for a lesser offence.

The Republicans have another problem with saying that Trump has been cleared by his being elected.  They will move to block Moore even if he is elected.  They are apparently choosy about which popular choice they will regard as valid.

The events in Alabama also show how the prejudices of an electorate can show why electoral success can so rarely be cited to support some kind of moral validation.  Polls in Alabama show that more than 70% of Christian evangelicals or fundamentalists will vote for Moore despite the evidence of his paedophilia.  Why?  According to a Republican spokesman on CNN, who is against Moore taking a seat on the Senate, this is because Christian evangelicals regard Democrats as being in favour of abortion to the extent that they might fairly be described as murderers.  What is the conclusion of these soi disant Christians?  They would rather vote for a paedophile than a murderer.

God give us strength, and spare us from judgments derived from the will of the people.  We are after all human.  At least one of the Beatles understood this.  The first of them to leave us, John Lennon, said: ‘We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock’n’ roll or Christianity.’  The Greeks had word for that kind of thing.  We call it leading with your chin.

TERROR AND THE POLICE STATE: CHAPTER 6

 

 

[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]

6

Civil War

In dealing with the conflict between Loyalists and Patriots during the American Revolutionary War, Churchill said there were ‘atrocities such as we have known in our day in Ireland.’  An American general said that each side ‘seemed determined to extirpate’ the other.  There would be nothing new in atrocities, massacres, or depopulation in a fratricidal civil war in France or Russia in the course of or as a result of their revolution.

The Terror in both countries was driven by fear of two things, disintegration from within, and attack and subjection from without.   Any regime that has come to power with violence is apprehensive about its standing.  If they had won power with the gun, might they lose it to the gun?

Lyon was the second city of France, almost a rival capital.  When it rose as a city against Paris, the Committee of Public Safety sent an army to put it down.  After a siege of two months, Lyon capitulated.  The Convention, not just the Committee, decreed its destruction.

A commission extraordinaire was set up to punish the rebels.  The name Lyon was to be struck from the map.  ‘Lyon made war on liberty; Lyon no longer exists.’  Hitler or Himmler could hardly have improved on the covering instruction:  ‘A revolutionary agent may do anything.  He has nothing to fear, except failure to reach the level of republican legality.  He who anticipates this or goes beyond it or even seems to have passed its goal may not yet have reached it.’

One commission could try twenty prisoners an hour.  Using the firing squad as well as the guillotine, they managed to kill twenty-eight a day for two months.  Worryingly for posterity, they experimented with alternative modes of mass killing.  The commission did something that has not been attributed to the Waffen Death’s Head SS – it ordered batches to be killed by shellfire from cannons.  The condemned were blown into open graves after which revolted infantrymen had to move in to finish off the screaming wounded by bayonet or bullet.  One witness wrote home to Paris: ‘What a delicious moment!  How you would have enjoyed it!  What a sight!  Worthy indeed of Liberty!   Wish bon jour to Robespierre.’

The rebels in La Vendée were peasants and farmers led by nobles and priests.  Their revolt struck fear in Paris for a long time, and the retribution was frightful.  The victorious general said: ‘I have crushed children beneath my horses’ hooves, and massacred the women, who thus will give birth to no more brigands….We take no prisoners, they would need to be given the bread of liberty, and pity is not revolutionary.’  Even by the standards of the times, what murderous banality lay there?  Pity is not revolutionary.  What is?  Heartless cruelty?  When most of the fighting men of the Vendée had been finished off, the area was to be cleansed of rebels by a series of colonnes infernales or ‘hell columns’ marching in parallel across the terrain.  Their commander had express written instructions.  They were clear and there is no problem in sourcing them: ‘All brigands taken under arms, or convicted of having taken them up, are to be run through with bayonets.  One will act likewise with women, girls, and children….Those merely suspected are not to be spared’.  The troops equalled the bestiality of Napoleon’s troops in Spain or the Soviet peasants in Berlin in 1945.  About a quarter of a million perished, half at the hands of the Republic.

Many were killed by the noyades, or drowning, another macabre experiment with mass killing.  Barges were towed into the river full of manacled prisoners – they were then sunk, leaving their human cargo to drown.  Others were said to have been bound up in pairs naked, and then thrown into the Loire in ‘republican marriages.’

The Revolution in Russia, as in France, had brought not liberal democracy but anarchy and war.  It was fought with that animal savagery for which this part of the world is known.  The political struggle between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks became a war between the Reds and the Whites.  The efforts of the Red Army in battle were backed up by the efforts of the Red Guards as militia-police.  There was a complete breakdown of order.  One Russian writer described Petrograd as a city of ‘icebergs, mammoths and wastelands’ where ‘cavemen, swathed in hides, blankets and wraps retreated from cave to cave’.  Peasants sought to protect themselves from whichever group sought to control them, or just from hungry locals.  Many peasants, about eighty per cent of the Russian people, who the Communists regarded as the main beneficiaries of the revolution, just wanted to defend their way of life – the Russian way of life – against Communist rule.  Hunger and famine were so bad in some areas that peasants were driven to cannibalism.

Trotsky led the Reds, but the dirty work was done by security police.  The Cheka executed hundreds of people.  At one time, in memory of the French drownings perhaps, they drowned their victims from barges in the Volga.  They applied principles of ‘class justice’.  The judges were to come from the workers.  ‘For the exploiters, the only right that remains is the right of being ‘judged’’.  So said The ABC of Communism: ‘….the greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and reactionary bourgeoisie we succeed in executing for this reason, the better. We must teach these people a lesson right now, so that they will not dare even to think of any resistance for several decades.’  There is Lenin speaking, with the distilled froideur of Saint-Just and Robespierre.

Martial law was imposed, and Trotsky’s military unit became the supreme organ of the State.  They had to call up the peasants, but the Communists did not relate to peasants.  They were a hostile and foreign lot.  Marxism gave a veneer of logic to a base gut reaction – its ‘laws’ of history ‘proved’ that the peasantry was doomed.  Lenin had proved that there would be two classes of peasants – the poor, who were the allies of the proletariat, and the ‘capitalist’ farmers, called ‘kulaks’.  The poor were just despised; the kulaks were loathed and hunted down.  It is no surprise that the Communists reduced Russia to starvation.

The Cheka was its own state.  The Commissariat of justice tried to contain it for a while and then gave up.  It practised the knock on the door in the middle of the night, interrogation and imprisonment without charge, torture, and summary death – it was its own universe.  ‘The Cheka is a fighting organ on the internal front of the civil war…..It does not judge, it strikes’.  That is a reasonable job description of the SS.  One of its earlier tasks was the murder of the whole royal family.  Here was the Terror made flesh – no one was immune to death at the hands of the Cheka.  Trotsky had said: ‘We must put an end once and for all to the papist-Quaker babble about the sanctity of human life.’

Lenin said that it was better to arrest a hundred innocent people than to run the risk of letting one enemy of the regime go free.  That comes close to getting to the heart of the matter.  What mattered was not the welfare of people at large, but protecting the life and way of life of those at the top.  Their methods of torture don’t bear describing.  They were lower than the beasts.

Here and there – Manning Clark

 

By chance, I picked up a copy of Manning Clark’s History of Australia as abridged by Michael Cathcart.  I paid only $10 for it at the local flea market, but I had trouble putting it down.  I have read the original six volumes – twice.  I am a fan of the author.  He knew his job was to tell a story.  The raw materials are hardly inspiring.  The history of Australia has the same problem as the French Revolution – heroes are hard to come by, but there is plenty there to make you blush, if not hang your head down.

When I reread Strachey’s Eminent Victorians a while ago, I was struck by how much work God had to do with each of those lives.  Manning Clark was concerned with the phenomenon described as the death of God.  His language is frequently biblical, but the whimsy comes with compassion.  For me, the apotheosis of both style and story comes with parts of volumes four and five – the period from, say, 1851 to 1915– that included marks on our canvas like Eureka, Lambing Flat, Burke and Wills, Ned Kelly, White Australia, and Gallipoli.

Let us look at how we got off to a bad start on education and why it has remained a mess ever since.  The problem for the ‘reforms’ of the 1870’s was not so much God, as schism.  The latter is man-made.

The reforms entrenched the sectarian divisions they were designed to overcome, not least because the Catholic Church withdrew its children from the public system.  The question of whether or not the government should subsidise denominational schools remained a bitter source of conflict into the following century.  [And this century.]…..The children of the rich did not meet on common ground either in the classrooms or the playgrounds of the Australian colonies.  In some schools a room was set aside for the children of the rich….In this way the parents of the gentry and the upper ranks of the bourgeoisie ensured that the fine edge of gentility should not be dulled by familiar intercourse with common children, until the time came to attend a private school such as Melbourne Grammar School or the Presbyterian Ladies’College, where the prejudices they had inherited from their parents were consolidated into the habits of a lifetime.

We buggered that right up, and that very English divide is still with us.  We also buggered it up with help from another part of our schizoid mother country.

In the national schools, the children were taught to venerate Her Majesty Queen Victoria; in the Catholic schools the children learned to venerate the Holy Father, and to adore the Holy Mother of God.  In the national schools, the children learned of the glories of British arms, and the spread of a beneficent British civilisation over the whole world….;in the Catholic schools, Ireland was presented as the centre of the universe, and England as a place from which had come the men who had reduced the loveliest island on God’s earth to a land of skulls……In the national schools, the classroom walls were decorated with the likenesses of Queen Victoria, and of civil and military heroes of English history; in the Catholic schools classroom walls were decorated with prints of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Virgin and the Pope.  Yet they had much in common.  Both school systems enforced a strict segregation of the sexes; both urged their pupils to mortify the flesh; both taught a morality pleasing to the ears of men who held the purse strings in the colonial parliaments.

So, we not only inflicted social division on the children; we also gave them religious hate.  The second has evaporated, but the first lives on as a national disgrace.  Have we also allowed a ‘strict segregation of the sexes’ so that ‘the prejudices they had inherited from their parents were consolidated into the habits of a lifetime’?

We are reminded that the poet Henry Kendall thought that Australia belonged to ‘clowns, liars and charlatans.’  Boy, just look at us now.  One local newspaper was ‘Australian because it treated life as a cruel joke.  Its mockery was Australian.’  You find the word ‘mockery’ a lot in Manning Clark.  Clark was not a mocker, but the mockers waited until he was dead to move in on him.  A man who looked on others with an eye of pity was cruelly betrayed by people who should have known better.  Those mean and jealous people cruelly foreshadowed the jeerers, sneerers and leerers inflicted on Australia by a Flash Harry who checked out for the United States.

This was just another upswing of that petty mediocrity that so sadly disfigures what passes for our national character.  As Clark remarked, ‘in Australia, the upstart conservative, the mean man, often defeated the generous man and the visionary.’  As it happens, on the next page, we get the ‘money-changers had begun to set the tone of public life in Australia.’  These are truths that have sadly endured, and are not seen by those who best exemplify them.  Well, as Billy Hughes reminded our national parliament, at least Judas had the decency to hang himself – and throw away the thirty pieces of silver.

The Labor movement got off to a mean and rocky Australian start.

Writing and talking as though the love of all mankind distinguished them from all previous political groups, articulate Labor spokesmen inflamed their followers with hatred against the Chinese, the Jews, the English, the Pacific Islanders, and indeed almost all strangers in their midst.  Mouthing the platitudes of the Utopians about a new society in which all hatred would cease, and God’s destroying angels would disappear off the face of the earth, their candidates for election to the colonial parliaments represented themselves to be reformers rather than revolutionaries, preservers rather than destroyers.

We know about those people who love all mankind.  The man that Carlyle called the Evangelist of the French Revolution, Rousseau, loved all mankind – he just abandoned all his children to the Foundling Home.  ‘This arrangement seemed to me so admirable, so rational, and so legitimate, that the only reason I did not boast openly of it was to spare the mother ….All things considered, what I chose for my children was for the best for them, or so I genuinely believed.  I could have wished, and still wish, that I had been reared and brought up in the same fashion.’  Would Stalin have approved of the solicitude for the mother?

Those who came to federation had to deal with ‘the inexhaustible inertia of the people as a whole.’  That’s what we are – inert.  In no colony did more than 46.33% cast a yes vote.  We could also be crudely nationalist.  The Bulletin urged Australians to turn their backs on ‘Queen Victoria’s nigger Empire.’

Our first PM was ‘a middle of the road man, an Australian bourgeois politician.’  Toss-pot Barton believed political issues could be resolved by chaps over Scotch.  Some idiot referred to ‘the good revolutionist of Nazareth.’  Then in March 1901’the Reverend Mr Edgar electrified his congregation by giving permission to the men during a Melbourne heatwave to remove their coats.’

But the Victorian Chief Justice, Sir John Madden, feared that a darker purpose was at work.  Taking his stand on the Bible, he warned that women’s suffrage would abolish soldiers, war, racing, hunting, football and all manly games.  The Bulletin worried that intermarriage with niggers could lower our national type.  Australians ‘had descended from their lofty eminence as a society of peace and goodwill’ and ‘Australia had suddenly acquired notoriety in the civilised world as a centre of human barbarism’.  Was the author of Ecclesiastes right?  Is there nothing new under the sun?

In the 1950’s parents in Melbourne were horrified by the gyrations of Elvis Presley.  How did their forebears handle the sex appeal of Wagner?  ‘Inside the Exhibition Building, society women fanned their faces to hide their response to the sensuous music of Wagner.  Men fidgeted in their seats as a trumpet, bassoon and a big bass drum inflamed their senses.’  Out of doors, politics stayed in the gutter.  Billy Hughes ‘hissed and spat at his opponents like a cat defending its own territory against an invader.’

Here are some passages that go to the core of our political life, that show why we are so different to the United States, and why the words ‘conservative’ and ‘socialist’ are so very slippery in the context of Australia.

George Turner [Victorian Premier and first Treasurer of the Commonwealth] was also said to have ‘no horizon in his mind, no perspective in his politics, no proud surface upon which he rested.’  But where Reid [News South Wales Premier, later Prime Minister] often flirted with the Bohemian fringe in Sydney, to the scandal of the frowners in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Turner was always a model of British bourgeois propriety.  Balancing the books was his great passion in life.  By his great industry, his zeal and his deep conviction, he helped to raise that criterion into the standard by which politicians came to be judged in Australia.

The liberals wanted a compromise between the conservative insistence that property must enjoy special protection in any colonial federal constitution, and the labour call for one man one vote…..

On the role of the state in economic life, the liberals saw themselves as supporters of the traditional role of government in planting civilisation in the Australian wilderness.  Government had played the major role in the supply, distribution and control of labour in the convict period.  Government had performed a similar role in the selection, transport and distribution of free immigrants.  Government had developed a network of country and suburban railways not on any abstract principle of the role of government, but because in Australian conditions, private or free enterprise could not or would not embark on such activities.  Liberals believed in a continuing partnership between the two.

The Mildura experiment in irrigation was a model of that harmony of interests which the liberals detected between government and free enterprise.  Alfred Deakin had been greatly impressed by the irrigation schemes set up by George and William Chaffey in California when he visited there in 1885.  In 1888……the government of South Australia interested them in a similar scheme in Renmark.  In Los Angeles, the Chaffeys had developed their schemes under the American practice of free enterprise – that, in American experience was what produced the greatest wealth, the greatest efficiency, the greatest service to the consumers and the highest material rewards to the people of initiative, drive and unbounded energy.  That was what generated a lively society, a society with a great pulse of life, a people who were magnificently alive, and not characterised by the dullness and mediocrity of people mollycoddled by governments, churches, charity organisations, or those self-appointed improvers of humanity who made decisions for people, thereby depriving them of the exercise of the right to decide for themselves, a necessary condition for the flowering of the personality.  The Chaffeys built their model villages….to the background of angry exchanges between conservatives very voluble on the evils of government interference and radicals clamouring for more government control.

Here is a warning about treating with barbarians – like Hitler.

The conservatives were in a dilemma.  A barbarian was threatening the very foundations of society, but the barbarian might have his uses.  He was offering to wipe Bolshevism off the map of the world: he was already destroying trade union power: in a most brutal and barbarous fashion, he was rooting out decadence in Germany.  The barbarian has talked of the German need for Lebensraum (living space); perhaps he could find it during his crusade against Bolshevism.  Hitler could be used and then dropped – monsters had their uses.

How different is the dilemma currently facing Republicans over Trump?

When Bertrand Russell quit our shores in 1950, he said, graciously, some might think:

Perhaps you are all too comfortable to take so much trouble.  Perhaps you will be content with a moderate and humdrum success, but I hope not.  I hope that….you will be content to take the risks involved in aiming at great success rather than acquiesce in the comfortable certainty of a moderate competence

Manning Clark was not optimistic, and neither am I.  We have settled for a safe, inert mediocrity.  People who rock the boat make us very nervous.

Carlyle said that history was a collection of biographies.  That is in large part just what this book of Manning Clark is.  It’s not just that history can be entertaining – it does its job better when it is.  I haven’t enjoyed a book so much for a very long time – at least as far back as when I last read The French Revolution by Carlyle.  At least we got one thing right.

TERROR AND THE POLICE STATE: CHAPTER 5

 

 

[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]

5

The Instruments of Terror

When it comes to the application of terror in France, Russia, and Germany, the abandonment of the rule of law consists in large part of creating no-fly zones for the law at each end of the process – you deny all rights to the targets and the victims, and you create not just privileges but absolute immunities for the government agents of the terror.  They are all outside the general law at either end.  It’s like Anglo-Saxon outlawry or apartheid.

The guillotine was invented by a French doctor as a humane replacement for death by hanging, firing squad, or the axe.  Death was the main instrument of the French Terror, and the guillotine became the prime symbol of its inhumanity.  Unlike Russia or Germany, the French had no substantial police force, or at least nothing like the Gestapo or NKVD, and no concentration camps, Siberia, or gulag.  For an infringement of laws made during the Terror, the penalty was usually death.  For the most part at its start, the Convention kept some right of control over the Revolutionary Tribunal, but there was nothing like a judiciary that was either independent, or professional, and the prosecutor was not easily distinguished from the executioner.  The Terror lasted less than two years in France; about twelve years in Germany; and about forty years off and on in Russia.  If around 16,000 passed under the blade in the nine months from the death of Marie-Antoinette to the death of Robespierre, the toll in both Germany and Russia is beyond our understanding.

But the horrors of the twentieth century cannot obscure the horror of the French Terror.  The Tricoteuses (knitting-women) of the sisterhood sat beneath the the sharp female called La Guillotine and calmly counted off the number as each head fell into the sack, or into a bucket that on a big day overflowed.  Imagine the impact of terrorists killing 16,000 people in France in two years in our time.

Lenin had a Rousseau-like schizophrenia in his affection for humanity.  Maxim Gorky said:  ‘Lenin is a leader and a Russian nobleman, not without certain psychological traits of this extinct class, and therefore he can consider himself justified with performing for the Russian people a cruel experiment which is doomed to failure.’

Through a series of accidents and coups, the Bolsheviks found themselves in charge.  At the head of affairs, they put all power in the hands of the party, and then used terror to wipe out all political opposition.  Fourteen years before this, Trotsky had warned that when the party got control, the Central Committee would take over, and a single dictator would then take over from the Committee.  How else would a country that had so little experience in self-government be governed?  You can see a similar descent in France with the Committee of Public Safety and Robespierre.  It is a natural descent in times of disorder and violence.

The Bolsheviks went through a form of election, but they only got about half of what the Nazis would get – and the Nazis never got 50%.  The Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) therefore arrested the electoral commissioners.  The Bolshevik leaders set about a kind of civil war on a whole social class.  A cult of violence arose.  Trotsky said that ‘There is nothing immoral in the proletariat finishing off a class that is collapsing: that is its right.’  Gorky said: ‘I am especially distrustful of a Russian when he gets power into his hands.  Not long ago a slave, he becomes the most unbridled despot as soon as he has the chance to become his neighbour’s master.’  The Communists clothed mob trials with a garb of government.  The People’s Courts had twelve judges.  They had no training.  They were to be guided by their ‘revolutionary conscience.’  When you extend the law by saying that anyone outside the true sentiment of the people is outside the protection of their laws, you are getting close to the heart of the police state.

When the Germans invaded Russia, Lenin issued the decree of ‘The Socialist Fatherland in Danger!’  The Revolutionary Tribunals were ordered to shoot suspects on the spot.  The Cheka did not look for proof.  ‘First you must ask what class he belongs, what his social origin is, his education and profession.  These are the questions that must determine the fate of the accused.  That is the meaning of the Red Terror.’

Revolutionaries develop a halo, a feeling of purity.  They think that things will turn out for the best, but they are just as selfish as the rest of us.  They look forward to their own Utopia, but it is a simple fact of history that a state that acquires these powers does not want to give them up.

Hitler knew that he had engineered a revolution.  He told the faithful that the Nazi revolution had succeeded, and that power was theirs alone.  He said: ‘Revolution is not a permanent condition.  It must not develop into a permanent condition.  The stream of revolution… must be channelled into the secure bed of evolution … A second revolution can only direct itself against the first one.’  This political insight was sure.  Hitler instigated the murderous purge called the Night of the Long Knives to avoid a German second revolution like that of 10 August 1792 in France.

Hitler got his emergency powers.  He signed the army up to personal loyalty.  His word was law – The Law for the Guarantees of the Unity of Party and State.  He set up the Geheime Staatspolizei, Secret State Police, or Gestapo.  .  When Himmler was put in charge of all German police, he put Reinhard Heydrich in charge of the Gestapo and SS Security Service.  Heydrich was therefore in charge of the instruments of terror in a police state run on terror.  He may well have been the most feared man alive, a title he would have dreamed of.  In February 1936, the German people made a law that took the Gestapo out of the jurisdiction of the courts.  This was part of the pact that the German people were entering into with the Devil, but they were too far gone to pull out.

The Schutzstaffel or SS, the ‘Protection Squad’, began as the private bodyguard of Hitler, and ended as the prime agent of the Final Solution, and with its leaders sticking their Lugers into their mouths and blowing their brains out in final fealty to their oath to the Fuhrer.  They were like Spartans – fanatically, self-annihilatingly disciplined, puritanical, racially pure, and exquisitely Teutonic – and bereft of conscience or humanity.

A People’s Court was set up in April 1934 – the Germans were in every way so much swifter and more focussed than the French had been 140 years ago.  This court was to deal with treason cases – that meant any kind of political case.  The objective was to ensure that no one person could stand in the way of the State – and that meant, as night follows day, that everyone was subordinate to the State.  The police state puts people in boxes and characterise them – to brand them.  Then it visits every person in that box with the same legal consequences – the state refuses to see each case being treated on its own merits, to treat you or me as individuals each having our own worth or dignity.  The individual simply ceases to exist.  In March 1933, Goebbels uttered a frightful truth that could have been written by Orwell or Koestler: ‘On 30 January, the era of individualism died … The individual will be replaced by the community of the people.’

Passing Bull 127 – Elites and religion and Mr Dyson Heydon, AC QC

 

In its ordinary meaning, the ‘elite’ are the chosen or elect.  The Oxford English Dictionary has ‘choice part or flower of society.’  If, therefore, you are part of the elite you might feel blessed – like a cricketer who gets to wear the baggy green cap for Australia.

But of late, in the mood of general gloom, the term has become one of abuse, particularly among those of a reactionary caste of thought.  Never mind that those who use the term as one of derision are invariably rolled gold examples of the elite at least in the general sense of that term – elite has become a sparring glove for the politically restive – like the terms ‘political correctness’ and ‘identity politics’, which are on any view bullshit.

Donald Trump, we are told, was elected to defy the elites in the U S and to put them in their boxes.  If, then, the elites are those who are opposed to Donald Trump, then in the eyes of the world, and a substantial majority of Americans, the elites stand for all that is decent in American life.

But, hang on – we are also told that Donald Trump was elected to drain the swamp.  Are we then to say that the flower or cream is the same as the swamp?  How could that happen?  The two phrases are of course nebulously silly in equal degree, but they have been taken up on Sky News and at the Australian Spectator.  And enough Americans were silly enough to vote against what they believed were elites and for a person who is as far from being part of the cream or flower of society as you could ever imagine.

So, using the term ‘elites’ as derision has some credentials – even if they are credentials of a peculiarly revolting kind, especially if you add Pauline Hanson and Nigel Farage to the list of progenitors, those worthy battlers for ‘the forgotten people’, those people who those of another creed called the ‘masses.’

On 17 October 2017, Dyson Heydon, A C Q C, gave the inaugural P M Glynn lecture on Religion, Law and Public Life at the Australian Catholic University.  (It has not occurred to me to ask this before, but is there an Australian Protestant University?  What makes this university Catholic?  Are its laws of physics or contract different to the laws of Protestants, agnostics or atheists?)  In his lecture, Mr Heydon said that people were attacking religion at large, Christianity in particular, and that Catholics were principal targets.  Who are making these attacks?

Mr Heydon says that the attacks come from the ‘modern elites.’  Indeed, in the edited version in the press, the term ‘elites’ occurs at least twenty-five times.  The lecture comprises abstractions and labels, and it has barely one statement of verifiable fact, but I do not see a statement of what Mr Heydon means by the term ‘elites’.  And if anyone is part of the elite of Australia, it is surely our learned lecturer, a sometime Justice of the High Court Australia, and a man chosen at the highest levels of government to engage in the highest affairs of state.

Let us then apply the dictionary definition.  That would not be unfair to a former Justice of the High Court.  In the political context that we have, the elite would include people who by character, upbringing and training are well placed to take part in running the community.

Let’s then take two examples – a former P M, Tony Abbott, and a leader of the political commentariat, Andrew Bolt – and see if they fit the model of the portrait of elites painted by Mr Heydon at the Australian Catholic University.  That model is as follows.

The public voices of the modern elites are not humble.  They conceive themselves to have entitlements and rights, not blessings.  They desire to exclude any role for religion in Australian public discussion, and perhaps any role for religion at all in any sphere, public or private.  They instantly demand an apology for any statement they dislike.  They seem to waver between contradictory contentions: that Christ never existed, that Christ was never crucified, or that the Roman soldiers attempting the crucifixion were so incompetent that Christ merely fell unconscious, and never actually died on the cross.  They fail to condemn these examples of subhuman behaviour.  Does this not show their acceptance of these views?  They have moved from mere indifference to fanatical anti-clericalism.  Some want to destroy faith itself.  Their tolerance is tyrannical – ‘if you try to say you disagree and why, you deserve to be, and will be, hounded out of all decent society.’  They only pay lip-service to freedom of religion.  By failing to denounce evils, they associate themselves with those evils.  This weakens their case.  They do not desire tolerance.  They demand unconditional surrender.  They are discourteous.  They are the sorts of people who do not give up their seats on public transport to the pregnant, the elderly, or the infirm.  They shout rather than argue.  They reject the fundamental part of the Christian tradition that is the source of the modern world and their own favoured position in it.  They welcome tyranny.  They seek to destroy their inheritance from secular liberalism.

And so it goes.

Now, Mr Abbott and Mr Bolt have their critics, and indeed enemies, but they have not been guilty of any of that kind of stuff.  People who say that Christ never existed or who refuse to stand for a pregnant woman are at best complete nuts and at worst total shits.  Fortunately, I have never met one of them.  Mr Heydon doesn’t refer to any of them by name.  What’s he on about?

The clue comes with the denunciation of the catch-cry: ‘why don’t religious people stop forcing their opinions on everyone else.’  ‘This is a call for what in Germany in the 1940’s would have been called a compulsory inner emigration.’  I haven’t the faintest notion of what that Mr Heydon might mean by that, but I am one of those who have asked just such a question – on these pages – and I’m not wildly thrilled to be directed to compare myself with someone in Nazi Germany as a consequence.

As best I can see, Mr Heydon does not mention marriage equality or assisted dying, but I suspect that it is the debate over those two issues that is behind most of Mr Heydon’s tortured angst.  A lot of people, including me, are opposed to people seeking to translate into law beliefs on moral issues that derive from a religion based on revelation.  It is one thing for a person to take a leap of faith – it is altogether a different thing to seek to impose views formed after such a leap of faith on others – with the force of law.

There is a long history – at least a century of it – of real hostility in Australia to people seeking to alter the political landscape by views derived from contested areas of faith.  You need only mention the names Mannix and Santamaria.  And now you can add the name of the primate who authorised a donation of one million dollars to the ‘No’ campaign in the marriage equality debate.

Fairly or otherwise, a lot of Australians are offended by the idea of the plebiscite, and they believe that they wouldn’t have had to put up with this expensive insult had it not been for the determination of some people of the Christian faith, especially Catholics, to impose their views on others.  If religious people want to get angry about this reaction to them – and Mr Heydon plainly does – that’s a matter for them.  But in the name of God, what bloody good can it do?

There is nothing new about this tenderness about allowing people of one religion or another to interfere in matters of state.  This tenderness lies under the English reformation and it was a major factor in the French Revolution.  The English Crown, which still in name reigns over us, claimed, and hung on to in the face of the Spanish Armada, religious Home Rule from Rome.  This insistence on the separation of religion from the state runs deep in our political history and thought.  Just try to imagine the reaction of most Australians if people of faith sought not to have our laws enshrine the teaching of Christ, but the maxims of Sharia Law.

And since Mr Heydon refers to Western civilisation, as do many contributors to The Australian, it may be as well to refer to moments in our shared history like humanism and the Enlightenment.  In The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Professor Simon Blackburn says of ‘humanism’ – ‘any philosophy concerned to emphasize human welfare and dignity, and either optimistic about the powers of human reason, or at least insistent that we have no alternative to use it as best we can…..Later the term tended to become appropriated for anti-religious social and political movements’.  For the Enlightenment we have:

The period of human thought characterised by the emphasis on experience and reason, mistrust of religion and traditional authority, and a gradual emergence of liberal, secular, democratic societies.  [Emphasis added.]

There are no surprises here.  Just as we have gone from the supernatural to the natural in science, so also have we done so in law and government.  It is sufficient to give one citation from the prince of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant:

Now, when, as usually happens, a church proclaims itself to be the one church universal (even though it is based upon faith in a special revelation which, being historical can never be required of everyone), he who refuses to acknowledge its (peculiar) ecclesiastical faith is called by it ‘an unbeliever’ and is hated wholeheartedly; he who diverges therefrom only in path (in non-essentials) is called ‘heterodox’ and is at least shunned as a source of infection. But he who avows allegiance to this church and diverges from it on essentials of its faith (namely, regarding the practices connected with it), is called, especially if he spreads abroad his false belief, a ‘heretic’ and, as a rebel, such a man is held more culpable than a foreign foe, is expelled from the church with anathema….[Emphasis added.]

Let me also refer to Macaulay.  He is, you would think, as high up the pole of the ‘former elites’ as any mere mortal may ever get.

The only event of modern times which can be properly compared with the Reformation is the French Revolution, or, to speak more accurately, that great revolution of political feeling which took place in almost every part of the civilised world in the eighteenth century, and which obtained in France its most terrible and signal triumph.  Each of these memorable events may be described as the rising up of the human reason against a Caste.  The one was a struggle of the laity against the clergy for intellectual liberty; the other was a struggle of the people against princes and nobles for political liberty.  [Emphasis added.]

This insight is important.  A large part of the progress of Western civilisation or secular liberalism has been putting priests and bishops in their place – outside the door of government.  (Has anyone ever had a good word to say about bishops?)  There is a place for the supernatural – but not in ruling the lives of everyone else.  Ask the French.  People releasing themselves from the power of priests was as important as their releasing themselves from the power of princes.  We have not always understood this truth.  Even the English downplay the liberating effect of their reformation on their political process – which, by common consent, is the model for the Western world.

There are in addition some other very odd propositions in Mr Heydon’s lecture.

First, denouncing people because they have not denounced others is seldom helpful and always dangerous.  No people I know of has welcomed informers, and denunciation is a favoured weapon of the most evil regimes in history.  A favourite Party trick of Stalin was to send wives to Siberia for not having denounced their executed husbands.  This argument is also used as a stick to beat Muslims with in the west.  It doesn’t help the cause of religion as a whole that those who brandish this stick at Muslims, who are slow to denounce evil at the edge of their faith, frequently subscribe to a Church whose very hierarchy, right up to the top, has been involved in massive breaches of public trust that have damaged the standing of public institutions at large, and not just the Church.  Just look at the decline and fall of the Church in Ireland.

Secondly, Mr Heydon has odd views about the range and extent of the perceived hostility to religion.

The hostility is demonstrated least against Hindus and Buddhists.  It is also not much demonstrated against Muslims.  It is beginning to be demonstrated against Jews.  Some elements in the elites are drifting back to an anti-Semitism that one thought had been purged from Western life by the horrors of World War II in communist Eastern Europe after 1945.  And hostility is increasing markedly against Catholics….But no Christian denomination seems to be exempt from the new de-Christianisation campaign.

Try telling that to the worshippers at the Lakemba or Bendigo mosques.  The rush to line up as victims might be hilarious if the context were not so ordinary.

Thirdly, I quite fail to see the historical or moral warrant for claiming that the ‘Christian tradition is the source of the modern world.’  It’s like saying that Australia is a Christian nation.  The endeavour to award primacy to one faith over others can only lead to pain and conflict.  And it hardly becomes a Church that claims to speak with and for humility.  This kind of bullshit might wash with people who follow footy, but it is hardly appropriate among those who worship God.

That brings me to two things on which I agree entirely with Mr Heydon.  First, I agree that it is ridiculous to claim that ancient Greece and Rome were civilised – at least as we now understand that term.  That proposition in my view follows from the fact that they had not been exposed to the views about the essential dignity of each human life as taught by Jewish rabbis and Christian priest and ministers, and by Kant and other members of the Enlightenment.  As a result, the ancients had views about equality that we think are as uncivilised as you can get.

Secondly, I also agree that Christ had ‘a different vision.’

He showed a concern for the ill, the socially marginal, the outsider, the destitute.  He opposed self-righteousness and hypocrisy.  He had no concern to associate with wealth, power or celebrity.  His associates were humbler.  Many of them were women.  He saw little children are heirs to the kingdom of heaven…But above all Christ taught that all human beings were humble before God, and all could enter the kingdom of God.

To that fair picture, Mr Heydon may have added that the man they called Christ signed his death warrant by taking to the money dealers in the Temple with a whip, and that while that warrant was being executed, Christ said that his kingdom was not of this world.

This certainly was a new vision.  But for many Australians, that portrait of Christ presents problems.  It is inconceivable that Christ would have stayed overnight at the Melbourne Club; prelates of both major denominations do just that.  (They do this is part of a deliberate policy to avoid mixing with the kind of people that Jesus of Nazareth mixed with.)  It is equally inconceivable that Christ would have stayed silent during Australia’s treatment of refugees, not least the children among them; prelates of both major denominations have done just that.  Finally, and in the present political context, it is inconceivable to many Australians, including very many in communion with one or other of the churches of Christ in Australia today, that the Christ so described would choose to deny equality in marriage to homosexuals, ‘the socially marginal, the outsider.’  Or at the very least, had Christ been so minded, he would have been appalled at the spellbinding dishonesty perpetrated by the Australian Christian Lobby in engaging in this squalid and unnecessary political shit fight.

As I see it, the most worrying symptom of the decline in public life here and elsewhere is the lack of moderation, the lack of tolerance, if not respect, for the views of others.  This lecture is brutally one-sided, nos contra mundum, ‘you’re either for us or against us, and if the latter, you’re a goner.’  It is as bloody and over the top as a charge at the Somme, and the resulting phantoms are just as ghoulish.  That’s what Mr Heydon charges others with, and, as it looks to me, that is just what he is doing in to the rest of in this lecture.

May I offer some advice to people with God who share the apprehensions of Mr Heydon?  If you don’t like the bloody heat, don’t go near the bloody kitchen.  And the next time you want us to suffer the insult of a bootless $100 million plebiscite to save your dogma from your own blushes, can you in the name of God please try to avoid saying that if your side gets up to forty per cent of the vote, you will put that down as a win?  Because people who behave as badly as that deserve to get a bucket of the best or worst refuse right down their bloody front and any other part of their person that they are silly enough to show before the people of Australia.