Carlyle, Dickens and the Strange Death of Liberal America – Part II

[This is the second part of a note on what Carlyle and Dickens may tell us of events in 2016.  You may recall that Carker was the character in Dombey and Son who lusted after revenge for the humiliation that he suffered all his life.  Both writers saw the decline of religion and the worship of money.]


The word ‘revolution’ is much abused, but we do appear to be going through something very like that with technology.  In any revolution, people have to get hurt.  Mao Zedong said that ‘A Revolution is not a dinner party’.  He should have known – if he had had a conscience, he would have been haunted by tens of millions of dead souls.

During the recent US election season, Donald Trump campaigned on Twitter – a device made for people who have trouble thinking or writing, and part of the ‘revolution’ that is closing minds and forbidding manners, both processes that are hallmarks of demagogues.

It was the fear of revolution that led England in the 19th century to abandon laisser-faire and to intervene across all markets by legislating to protect the young and the weak and the infirm.  They were legislating against the darker downside of capitalism, and the emergence of Karl Marx would spur them on.  England saw a vast reform movement that would culminate in the final containment of the powers of the British aristocracy in the House of Lords.  What was in truth a constitutional crisis was provoked by Lloyd George and Winston Churchill.  In the People’s Budget of 1909, Lloyd George said:

These problems of the sick, the infirm, of the men who cannot find a means of earning a livelihood … are problems with which it is the business of the State to deal. They are problems which the State has neglected for too long.

Well, this doctrine, called New Liberalism, certainly looked revolutionary to the aristocracy, and for a moment the nation came close to a real revolution.

The English version of New Liberalism has never been accepted in the US.  Indeed, it is anathema to a large part of the Republican Party.  It was however reinforced by the Welfare State after the horrors of two world wars, and it is now in principle applied across the Western world except in the US.  As a result, the State became larger and larger and more expensive.

So, in the 1980’s, there came reactions.  In both the US and the UK Conservative governments sought to reduce the role of the State and to reduce taxes.  The movement was led by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.  They wanted to go back to laissez-faire.  They did not see themselves as winding back the clock.  They thought that government should defer to the markets.  They said their programs would help create wealth for all.

Well, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher may have helped people get wealthy, but they certainly didn’t help to spread the wealth around.  The fruits of all the growth in the West from free trade, immigration, and technology have mostly tended to go to those at the top of the tree.  In the UK, Mrs Thatcher was said to have been cruelly indifferent to those who lost jobs or who otherwise missed out under her.  Statistics are not always helpful, but two are critical to our present problems.  The first is this from the OECD: between 1975 and 2012 around 47% of total growth in US pre-tax incomes went to the top 1%.

Most would say, I suggest, that this result shows that during that time the US was badly governed.  Some would go further and say that the new regime of Ronald Reagan was badly flawed and ultimately cruel.  Very many certainly said the same about Margaret Thatcher.  But whether or not you agree with either of those propositions, there had to be a reaction – a revolt, if not a revolution.

So, we get Donald Trump elected on a demand to end laissez-faire.  The Americans now want their government to intervene in the markets and to give relief to the jobless and to the poor.  They want something like the People’s Budget of Lloyd George.

The people voting for Trump are, we are told, feeling vengeful and humiliated.  In a piece in The Monthly, Richard Cooke said:

The persistent thread linking those I speak to is one of humiliation….  Overwhelmingly, they want some sort of revenge.  On those who told them otherwise.  On those who should know their place.  On those who don’t belong here.  And they have chosen a bully to enact that revenge.

They are in short, John Carker writ large.

But why should people feel humiliated because the world has passed them by?  Because Americans like winners and they have little time for losers.  Hell for them is what Carlyle saw: ‘the terror of not succeeding; of not making money.’

The Americans have really dug themselves into a very deep hole.  And the worst is yet to come.  This brings us to our second relevant statistic.  There is a body of opinion that claims to be informed to the effect that over the next ten years, about 40% – two out of five – of present sources of employment will disappear because of disruption by technology.  It would I gather be unsafe to proceed on any other footing.

But we are not just speaking about humiliation.  The failure of the United States to implement the Welfare State has not stopped many Americans from blaming their government for all their woes.  (This is very Australian, but our history is very different – dependence on government is part of our DNA, even when the money’s run out.)   Too many Americans feel cheated.  The glaring wealth and contentment of the Clinton dynasty fuels their conspiracy theories.  The poorest of the two candidates was worth north of $100 million.

Many Trump voters are oblivious to the mainstream press, which are part of the chosen few that they are revolting against, and they are content with what they get from their soulmates on Facebook or Twitter. One horrifying statistic was that 44% of Trump voters were content to get their news from Facebook.

And if you have been cheated, who better to look to for revenge than a cheat?  Trump is not just a compulsive liar – he cheated on the draft and he cheated on tax.  When he was called out for not paying tax because he had failed in business, the revolting Rudy Giuliani said that Trump was a genius.

There was a time during the French Revolution when people at the bottom of the tree felt that the only thing they had in life was their French citizenship.  One of the worst parts of the Terror involved government agents or informers stripping suspected people of their citizenship or at least of their rights as French citizens.  (They got over this under Napoleon and then they decided to spread the benefits of the revolution around – even though Robespierre had correctly warned them that no one likes ‘armed missionaries’).  In America, this preciousness means that many American citizens do not want to share their only and priceless asset with others.  Sadly, we see the same process here.  A large part of human history involves those getting into the cubby-house slamming the door on those coming after them and kicking away the ladder.

Trump supporters rejected both parties.  They rejected the Republicans as much as the Democrats.  Rejection of major parties is all the go around the world – but in the US a president wearing a Republican label will try to be seen to implement a policy for what used to be the electorate of the Democrats.

We have seen enough to see the contradictions.  The rejected poor are looking to a billionaire egotist to save them.  Do they really expect that his tax cuts will suit them?  Has any Republican economic scheme ever suited them?   How many of these people rely on government entitlements which it is the object of Republicans to abolish?  How on earth could Trump ride to the relief of these people on the back of ‘small government’?

Trump’s supporters say that he is an outsider; the downside is that he doesn’t know what he is doing or what he is talking about.  God knows that he has not been backward in advertising that fact.  (One European leader said that they will waste two years while Trump finds his way around.)  And we may be sure that he will be surrounded by sycophants and place seekers like Giuliani and Christie.  And of course his family – the revolt against dynasties will not preclude Trump from perpetuating that error.  The Americans have an 18th-century English view toward sharing the spoils of election wins.  (It is not far removed from that which prevails in Kenya.)

A party that is dedicated to free trade and laissez-faire is being asked to legislate to reduce inequality and help those who missed out.  Protection may or may not lead to trade wars, but it will lead to higher prices.  And about the only part of the Republican platform that Trump has accepted is the abolition of healthcare of the kind that the rest of the western world has enjoyed since shortly after the end of World War II.  How will that help those who led the revolt?

This party prided itself on a repellent form of patriotism.  (Is there a form of patriotism that is not repellent?  Do you recall when Obama was chastised for not being a patriot because he turned up one day without a flag in his lapel?) This party is now being fronted by a draft dodger and tax dodger who admires, and who has just got a ‘beautiful’ letter from, the KGB stooge who is the head of Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire?  And you will recall that Mr Reagan suggested to the Russians that they should tear down a wall.  How many real Republicans, or Reagan Republicans, want to cosy up to Putin?

And a party that makes a lot of play with God is in bed with the most ungodly man on the planet. Between them, they fuel a suspicion  that the evangelical Christianity espoused by many politicians in the US is just so much bullshit.

The Republicans themselves are in large part responsible for this diabolical mess.  They have idolised Ronald Reagan.  I thought that he was an idiot before he was elected and I did not see much evidence to the contrary while he was in office.  But I have to admit that I am biased – I don’t like people who rat on their mates for their own political well-being.  But whether or not Reagan is to blame for the massive movement of wealth toward the rich, a large part of his program will have to be reversed if Trump is to even look like he might be trying to deliver what he has promised.

The Republicans never accepted the legitimacy of Obama and led an unprincipled and unscrupulous opposition that was aped here by Tony Abbott (and even he now admits to regret at his part in lowering the tone of politics).  You can see the lack of principle in the Republicans in their point-blank refusal to follow the Constitution, a document they purport to admire, in appointing a new justice to the Supreme Court to replace the loaded gun called Scalia.  You could see it with the suggestion of Trump that if he lost the election would be rigged.  (Now, his campaign leader says that the current President is not doing enough to stop the protests about the election result.)  You can see it in their determination to stack the Supreme Court on the issue of abortion, an issue which is beyond the reach of Congress. They will debauch the judiciary to get what they want – the fact that the other lot are not stainless on this does not help the disenchanted.

How will decent Republicans react when the hard-heads flirt with fanatics of the Right?  Mr Stephen Bannon has a lot of form for racism.  He is set to be the leading hate-figure or punching-bag of the new regime.  He has already invited Marine Le Pen – who gushed over the election result – to see what they can do ‘to work together’.  On what?   The campaign manager defended his appointment.  He was ‘the general’ of the campaign, a former naval officer with a Harvard business degree.   Presumably he is not one of the rejected.  Has the nation of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Truman come to this?

The truth is that the Republican Party has brought every aspect of this disaster on itself, and the gormless hypocrites at the head of that party now stand, if that is the term, fawning on the man they had reviled.  And remember this – that during a large part of the primaries, Ted Cruz was seen as a bigger threat to the US than Trump – by the Republican Party.

Now, Carlyle and Dickens may have foreseen all this, or something very like it.  It may after all be just another cycle, and one the like of which we have seen before.  But it also looks to be pregnant with some of the horrors that those two great writers were so apt in describing.  They both wrote of the death of God and the idolatry of wealth.  We see the apotheosis of both in Donald Trump – the deposition of God and the coronation of the dollar.  This is far and away the scariest and the saddest thing I have seen.

But we are told that we should respect the outcome of the election.  This means that Americans should not behave in the way Trump threatened to.  If any American reacts unlawfully against the new President, they can be dealt with by the laws of the US.  But that’s all that it means to say that people should respect the result.  It would be absurd to suggest that the election means that anyone should respect Trump.  For some years the most popular politician in the history of Europe, if not the world, was Adolf Hitler – and it stayed that way until he was seen to fail.

Perhaps we might go back to Mommsen and let him have the final word.

On the very threshold of his despotism, he was confronted by the fatal dilemma, moral and political, that the same man had at one and the same time to hold his ground as a captain of robbers, and to lead the state as its first citizen – a dilemma to which Pericles, Caesar, and Napoleon also had to make dangerous sacrifices.

The Bible may be right – there is nothing new under the sun.

Passing Bull 77 – The bull of political correctness

The phrase ‘political correctness’ is a slippery weasel.  It involves reducing common courtesy to absurdity.  Most people have sufficient manners to avoid saying ‘I don’t like Jews’, or ‘all Scots are mean’, or ‘Muslim men make bad fathers even though they don’t drink’ – even if the people making those statements have the misfortune to believe them to be true.  So, if someone said ‘Aboriginal men make bad fathers because they drink’, they would be making an offensive statement based on race.  Most people would have sufficient courtesy to avoid making any such statement in public because other people would very likely be hurt, or offended by such a statement – and the object of courtesy is to avoid our hurting other people when that hurt can be avoided.  (It also distinguishes us from gorillas.)  And it would be downright silly to say that such a simple exercise in good manners could be dismissed as political correctness, whatever that phrase might be taken to mean.

At the other end of the line, it would be just as silly to say that we should not address a group of men and women as ‘guys’.  That would be worse than silly – it would be bullshit.

So, we are talking about matters of degree, and there may be differences of opinion at the edge.  But if there is a problem, it is not one that troubles most people.  In truth, it is an issue that is confined to a very small number of people in government and in the media and in those revolting things called think tanks.

The term ‘political correctness’ or P C has in truth become abused and debased.  People of a reactionary cast of thought claim that their freedom of speech is imperilled by exponents of political correctness.  Commentators in The Australian pepper their pieces with this complaint tirelessly.  In the gibberish of Jennifer Oriel, it is a machine-gunned cliché that rat-tat-tats with the same ghastly monotony as ‘sovereignty’, ‘free speech’, ‘free thinkers’, ‘elitism’, ‘populism’, ‘activism’, ‘systemic political bias’ (from The Australian!),  ‘draining the swamp’,  ‘identity politics’, ‘sovereign borders’, ‘open border activists’, ‘pride in Western culture’, and ‘fundamental Western values’.  (Those last two are black-shirt Dutton sinister – so much for the East!)  Here is a simple example:

The P C left can smear us with false accusations of racism and we have no recourse to action under the RDA.

(As Lenin asked, who are ‘we’?)

Here is another sample:

The restive public is leaning towards political figures who oppose the P C establishment’s open border lunacy, its intemperate approach to channelling public funds into the activist class in the media, academe and non—government organisations, and its censorship of politically incorrect speech.

In that piece, the author used the word ‘sovereign’ or ‘sovereignty’ on nine occasions.  I wonder what that word meant on any of them.  This is transcendental bullshit.

Now may I offer what looks to me to be a sure–fire case of political correctness?  Let’s say that you believe that anyone who believes what Trump says is a fool and that anyone who agrees with him is a jerk.  If you dared to express such a view, they – the people who support some aspects of Trump – will come down on you like an avalanche.  What might be your crime?  You – Brother or Sister – have looked down on and insulted the people, the ensainted and sovereign populus.  You have therefore branded yourself as part of the dreaded ‘elite’.  It is as if you had outed yourself as an ‘aristocrat’ in Paris in 1793.  Shame on you!  Do not pass Go, but go straight back to Eton.

Here is an example of a reprisal by the politically correct.  As you may know, the Murdoch press is very jealous of the ABC.  They make war on Aunty.  Almost every day, they air some complaint in a petulant, bitchy and unprofessional manner.  On 10 November this year, one piece began:

ABC Breakfast presenter the Virginia Trioli has been caught live on air saying Donald Trump’s supporters should be ‘subjected to an IQ test’ and that Mr Trump must have been looking at his wife’s breasts while voting.

She’s been ‘caught’!  The author of the piece goes on to tell us that Ms Trioli has form.  She has also been caught on air making ‘crazy’ circles with her finger next to her ear when Barnaby Joyce was on the TV.  Was she suggesting that our Deputy PM is nuts?

Well, perhaps the Murdoch press over-sauced the goose here.  They do pose, after all, as the champions of freedom of speech – except for the ABC, and anyone who criticises one of their darlings.  And while we recoil with horror at the suggestion that Trump voters might be subjected to IQ tests, we presumably just put to one side one of Trump’s more lunatic suggestions – that he and his opponent be subjected to a drug test before the next debate.

Now, we may be forbidden to query the intelligence of those who voted for Trump, or for Farage or Boris Johnson, but one thing is certain – these people are downright gullible.  Some in the press thought that Trump averaged twenty lies a day.  On any view, he was making promises that were contradictory – as did Farage and Boris Johnson.  ‘Gullible’ here means not just that people want to believe, but that they are susceptible to being duped or deceived (or ‘gulled’).  And the gullible in each case will now face the discovery of the price of their deception.  The promises are already being repudiated, and how many might be fulfilled?  You can have even money that apart from protection, the only promise that he will keep will be to cut taxes on the filthy rich.

It is curious how our wishes distort our thoughts.  The Scots philosopher David Hume said ‘Reason is and Ought Only to be a Slave of the Passions.’ A very meticulous and conservative political commentator on the BBC, representing the Tory party, refused to acknowledge that a giant Farage ad in response to open migration that showed an endless line of Syrian refugees was racist.  Indeed, he went further and said that the mere suggestion that the ad was racist was one of the very factors that had incited the populus to rise up against the elite.  You will recall that Ms Oriel also complained about ‘us’ being dubbed racist and being left without the statutory recourse open to the P C left.  The wheel of political correctness has come full circle – if you call someone out on racism, you may just be consigned to the P C left – at least by people in the elite who cannot be bothered to think.  Or who have been frog-marched into intellectual oblivion by the IPA.

And let us come back to ‘identity politics’, a notion that I don’t follow, but which causes great grief to the IPA, and other reactionaries.  With whom has Trump identified?  Poor white losers – that’s what the pros tell us.  And for salvation, the same poor losers are looking to a billionaire who was born into the American version of the purple, who has never been left in need, and who has never had or lost a real job.  And if those of the meek are his clients, to use a Roman phrase, what language will be adequate to express their response to their betrayal by this gross and rich egomaniac?  .

Finally, I may say that I met Virginia Trioli about 25 years ago.  She had been assigned to interview me while I was being bashed up on the ABC and in the lesser media for a gross crime of political incorrectness.  I had queried the intelligence of radical feminists, and the professionalism of some lawyers.  I may have been the only libel lawyer in Melbourne who was not consulted about suing me.  It all happened in the course of my defence of Helen Garner and her book the first stone.  I very much enjoyed my chat with Virginia.  As I recall, she thought that the whole thing was ridiculous.  I’m glad to see that another generation’s worth of time in the commentariat has not dimmed her sanity, or her wit.  God knows, we all need both.

A sugar tax?

In a book that hopefully will be published shortly, provisionally entitled Language, Meaning and Truth, you will find in a chapter on logic the following:

One form of fallacy recurs all the time in political argument.  ‘The State should not worry about the welfare of children being brought up by same-sex parents – just look at the mess that so many heterosexual parents make of bringing up their own children.’  ‘Don’t worry about dying of lung cancer from smoking – you can just as easily die from heart or liver failure from drinking.’  If the argument is that it is good to avoid harm of a certain kind flowing from one kind of conduct or cause, it is immaterial to that argument that the same or a similar kind of harm may flow from another kind of conduct or cause.   One of the arguments against the English abolishing slavery was that if the English did not do it, others would.  Coal miners say that if we don’t dig it up, others will.  When you state the position like this, the argument is obviously a fallacy – but you hear it all the time.   

We see a similar fallacy on the issue of a sugar tax.  We have a problem with obese children.  Sugar, especially in soft drinks, is a major cause.  The problem can be attacked in many ways – say, by education or by increasing the cost of the damaging product.  Both are applied to cigarettes, and are working.  The tax solution is working is working elsewhere on sugar.  But politicians who represent sugar growers say that the problem can be dealt with by dieting and exercise.  But if you can apply a, b, c, and d to fix problem x, it just does not follow that because you can apply c and d, you should not worry about a and b.  If your doctor says that your heart condition can be treated by diet and exercise, you would be mad to conclude that because you can exercise you will forget diet and knock back six Four’n’Twenties a day.  You might soon be a dead lunatic.

Another response was tried on Sky News.  The tax proposal was denounced as ‘The nanny state on steroids.’  This combination of clichés is not an argument.  If it is a way of saying that this intervention by government is excessive, it begs the question.  Most laws interfere with freedom.  The question is whether that interference is justified.  Since we are talking about the health of children, it is hard to argue that the state should leave the field open to individuals.  It is also hard to argue that it should be left to parents.  We don’t do this with education, and what if the parents don’t believe in doctors?

Mr Joyce should come clean about what is driving him to come up with his bullshit.  Peta Credlin, on Sky, may improve with time.

Poet of the month: Rosemary Dobson

The Greek Vase

In the garden a Greek vase brimful

 of leaves fallen from the grape-vine.

When the wind blows

The tendrils spill out like an alphabet.  Twisting

tendrils join the letters in phrases.

A sentence

is blown my way – some words perhaps dissevered

from the Iliad or the Odyssey

re-formed by hazard

of wind and season.  Treading carefully

among sentences, lines, whole stanzas

on the paving

I think: or are they not inscriptions

for Musa and Erinna, friends of my childhood

in cryptic calligraphy.

Beautiful indeed were Musa and Erinna

their epitaphs are composed in an unfamiliar language

and written in leaves by the wind.

Passing Bull 76 – A letter to the Minister for Immigration

It is always difficult to decide on how to respond to people whose ethos is so alien, and in fact repellent, to one’s own.  It is not that I take exception to the general points made by you, but that every ounce of my energy has been devoted to an active opposition to cruel bigotry, compulsive violence, and the sadistic persecution which has characterised the philosophy and practice of fascism.

I feel obliged to say that the emotional universes we inhabit are so distinct, and in deepest ways opposed, that nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.

I should like you to understand the intensity of this conviction on my part.  It is not out of any attempt to be rude that I say this but because of all that I value in human experience and human achievement.

Well, I didn’t write that to Peter Dutton.  Bertrand Russell wrote it to Sir Oswald Mosley in January 1962, but it does say what I would like to say to people like Dutton, Trump, and Farage.

Dutton transcended even his own bullshit when he criticised a dead prime minister for his humanity – and humanity is not part of Dutton’s universe.

I will write separately of the kid gloves that we are supposed to wear when speaking of those seduced by people like Trump and Farage.  Seduction is the one charge that Dutton is immune from.  But to suggest that a person’s worth might be assessed from the votes cast for them may or may not be valid for a gentlemen’s club or a reality TV show, but it is a complete non sequitur in politics.

Poet of the month: Rosemary Dobson

Diving colander

The kitchen vessels that sustained
Your printed books, my poems, our life,
Are fallen away. The words remain
Not all but those of style and worth.

And here, in Age, I feel the need
Of some Divining Colander
To hold the best of all since done
And let the rest slip through.

Passing Bull 75 – Two words to avoid

In the last four or five months, some people called ‘the elite’ have been held to be responsible for quite a lot, including political earthquakes in England and America.   Apparently, they have not cared enough about those who are on the wrong end of the inequality stakes.  The people who make this claim are often in the media, which is a principal target of those who have missed out.  The elite are those who are chosen.  It should mean the cream.  It is hard to see the press in general, or the Murdoch press in particular, as the cream.  But it is harder to see just who the elite are here.  In truth, it is just a distracting label for an indeterminate body of people, and a gateway to bullshit.

Another problem word for us now is ‘conservative’.  A conservative political party is one that seeks to keep things as they are and to minimise government action.   The Tories in England claim to be such a party.  Until recently, the Republicans did also in America.  For many reasons, we have never had a real conservative party in Australia.  We are just too reliant on government to allow that to happen.  And we don’t like ideologues.

But now the word ‘conservative’ is claimed by some politicians, such as Abbott or Bernardi, and commentators, such as Bolt.   As best I can see, the ingredients of their beliefs are as follows.  They are concerned about ‘border protection’ – they think it is in order to hold indefinitely people who sought to enter this country by boat in order to deter people they call ‘people smugglers.’  They think that what we call ‘climate change’ is either bullshit or over-rated; they get very worked up over ‘renewables’.  They also get worked up over laws about insulting and offensive words.  They say that a law against insulting or offending people on the ground of race limits their freedom of speech.  Of course it does – the question is why they want to be free to insult and offend people on the ground of race, and how that freedom might benefit them or us.  They are mostly monarchists; Abbott’s mania about this was instrumental in his losing office.  And most of them claim to be close to God – obnoxiously so to those who prefer to see religion kept out of politics – no matter what the faith may be.

I hold the opposite view on each, but it is hard to see how these views qualify for the label conservative.  This is especially so with the views on hate speech and climate change.  I don’t see how the rejection of science or laws needed to maintain public order makes someone a ‘conservative.’  And, if it matters, both look to be pure bullshit – and to be the subject of quite manic pogroms in the Murdoch press.

I saw four exemplars of this weird faction on Sky the other night.  Going from left to right around a bemused and sensible chair they were – Bronwyn Bishop, Mark Latham, Ross Cameron, and Rowan Dean.  I don’t know how much alcohol was involved, but they were like pigs in a trough.  They were bucketing Obama and chortling about Trump.  It was like Animal Farm crossed with Lord of the Flies.  It was seriously scary and nauseating.  Dean may be the most revolting person in public life here, but that night he had three challengers.

This faction is in my view in large part responsible for Shorten being tipped to win the next election by the length of the straight.

That’s all now – I’m being worked over by Telstra again.  I know what it feels like to be rejected – but here the ‘elite’ are certainly not involved.


Poet of the month:  Rosemary Dobson

On Christina Stead

I sit beside the bed where she lies dreaming
Of pyrrhic victories and sharp words said,
She will annihilate the hospital …
Suppose her smouldering thoughts break out in flame,
Not to consume bed, nightdress, flesh and hair
But the mind, the working and the making mind
That built these towers the world applauds …
I have dreamt her nightmare for her. She wakes up
And turns to smile with quick complicity.
”I wasn’t asleep. I watched you sitting there.”

Carlyle, Dickens and the Strange Death of Liberal America – Part I

If the gap between rich and poor has produced Donald Trump, the problem is not new.

Early in the 6th century BC, a lot of people in Athens found themselves in a position faced by many in that city today.  They had spent more than they had, and had got themselves in the clutches of very tough creditors.  They were now buckling under the austerity and the welfare of the state was in question.  Small farmers without capital had borrowed on the security of their land.  The little farms were covered with stones on which mortgage bonds were inscribed.  The black earth was enslaved.  Solon made laws to alleviate the problems.  If he was not an aristocrat or an admirer of wealthy people de facto enslaving the poor, he did not show sympathy for extremist agitators who were looking for wholesale land redistribution.  Nor did he interfere with the money market.

These laws did not go far enough for some.  There was conflict between the Hill and the Coast and the Plain.  Peisistratus, a friend of Solon, formed a political group, what we might now call a party, based on the Hill.  He seized power and became a tyrant through a stunt much followed later.  He appeared in the agora wounded, he claimed, by his rotten enemies who were against him as a friend of the people.  He got the Hill in the assembly to vote him a bodyguard for the emergency, and then he used that bodyguard to seize the acropolis, and make himself master of the city-state.  People like Mussolini and Hitler would follow the same pattern – an exaggerated threat; an emergency response, and a seizure of power.

Much of the history of the Roman Republic arose from the conflict between nobiles and plebs.  In the 2nd century BC, two leaders named Gracchus suffered horrible deaths trying to look after those down the pile.  In the case of Caius Gracchus, the Senate passed a resolution – ‘the ultimate decree’ – declaring that the state was in danger.  (L’état en danger.)  Consuls and others were charged to see that ‘the republic take no harm.’  The government promised moral support to officers proceeding by summary executive action to protect the state.  In a foretaste of the French Terror, a kind of posse was raised by a general levy, and more than 3000 were murdered.  Caius escaped the head-hunters by getting a slave to stab him.  The great German historian, Mommsen, was disposed to be cool on Caius:

On the very threshold of his despotism, he was confronted by the fatal dilemma, moral and political, that the same man had at one and the same time to hold his ground as a captain of robbers, and to lead the state as its first citizen – a dilemma to which Pericles, Caesar, and Napoleon also had to make dangerous sacrifices.

If we pass over revolts by peasants in England and Europe in the Middle Ages – they were almost a carnival event in France – and if we come to earthquake of 1789, équalité meant a lot more than liberté to a large part of the population who were rural peasants.  They were out to annul the infamy of caste.

That revolution was recorded by Thomas Carlyle in a famous book (that some have read many times) that Dickens would follow in A Tale of two Cities.  In 1843, Carlyle published Past and Present, an essay on medieval England compared to England then – that many thought was on the brink of revolution.  He started by looking at the worrying divide between private wealth and public welfare.  People worshipped money – Mammon – and not God.  There are three motifs in Past and Present – the unholy mix of dire poverty and great wealth; the stagnant condition of the rich; and putting Mammon before God.  The Mammon-Gospel dictated:

We call it a Society; and go about professing openly the totalest separation….Our life is not a mutual helpfulness; but rather cloaked under due laws-of –war, named ‘fair competition’ and so forth, it is a mutual hostility.  We have profoundly forgotten everywhere that Cash-payment is not the sole relation of human beings; we think, nothing doubting, that it absolves and liquidates all engagements of man.

So, Carlyle was lamenting not just what would come to be called the death of God; he was lamenting the coronation of lucre.  ‘Supply-and-demand, Competition, Laissez-faire, and Devil take the hindmost.’  It is the kind of perverted Darwinism that we find in those regimes we least admire.

But Carlyle’s message would have been revolting to many, not least in the US.  Was he doing any more than asking whether Christianity could live with capitalism?  And if you think that that question is silly, how might the founder of that faith have responded to it?

Between 1846 and 1848 Dickens published Carlyle’s message in novel form.  Dombey and Son is about the sin of pride and the evil of money.  Paul Dombey is the leader of a mercantile house.  He has a child but he hardly notices the girl.  He wants a boy to carry on the name, the business, and the wealth.  He is insufferably proud and remote.  His wife dies in giving him his son.  The novel is about how pride and financial lust desiccate the humanity of Paul Dombey.  He suffers from a kind of monomania that leaves him emotionally – and, of course, spiritually – sterile.  His wealth corrupts him, and allows him to escape reality by shutting out the world with ‘a double door of gold.’

Dombey has a fawning office manager, John Carker, who flashes his teeth in the fixed smile of a flight attendant – but who knows his place.  His address and its contents show that Mr Carker knows his place.  But we become aware that Mr Carker is not just cunning.  He is malevolent; when it comes to malice, Mr Carker makes Malvolio look like a cheer-leader in a mini-skirt and white boots.  He plots to bring Mr Dombey down by decamping from the business that he has imperilled and by defiling his employer’s second wife – who is in her own self an estranged victim of the commodifying of marriage partners, and a match for Dombey in iced arrogance.  Why is Carker so bad?  Because he wants revenge for a lifetime of humiliation.

Carker is pursued to France with Mrs Dombey as an effective captive who has just threatened to kill him.  He is detected and nearly apprehended at Dijon.

The crash of his project for the gaining of a voluptuous compensation for past restraint; the overthrow of his treachery to one who had been true and generous to him, but whose least proud word and look he had treasured up, at interest, for years – for false and subtle men will always secretly despise and dislike the object upon which they fawn, and always resent the payment and receipt of homage that they know to be worthless; these were the themes uppermost in his mind.  A lurking rage against the woman who had so entrapped him and avenged herself was always there; crude and misshapen schemes of retaliation upon her floated in his brain; but nothing was distinct.  A hurried contradiction evaded all his thoughts.  Even while he was so busy with this favoured, ineffectual thinking, his one constant idea was, that he would postpone reflection until some indefinite time.

Carker is an authentic villain who meets an end that obviously had a big impact on Tolstoy – it involves a speeding train – but what we used to call the moral of the novel was set out by the young Paul Dombey, a young boy of brittle health but subtle insight.  The son asks his father: ‘What is money?’

Mr Dombey was in a difficulty.  He would have liked to give him some explanation involving the terms circulating–medium, currency, depreciation of currency… But looking down at the little chair and seeing what a long way down it was he answered: ‘Gold, and silver, and copper.  Guineas, shillings, half pence.  You know what they are?’

‘Oh yes, I know what they are,’ said Paul.  ‘I don’t mean that, Papa.  I mean, what’s money after all….. I mean, Papa, what can it do?’

‘Money, Paul, can do anything.’….

‘Anything, Papa?’

‘Yes.  Anything – almost’ said Mr Dombey.          

‘Anything means everything, don’t it, Papa?’

‘It includes it: yes,’ said Mr Dombey.

‘Why didn’t money save me my mama?’ returned the child.  ‘It isn’t cruel, is it?’

It is not hard to see these universal themes in the recent history of the United States – of which more next time.

A plain, decent, and very rich American – Warren Buffett

[We all need to find something good to say about America, but the kicker is depressing – and the Postscript is more than just depressing.]

A long time ago, Sir Lewis Namier started a kind of revolution in the study of British history with his book The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III.  A lawyer has trouble seeing what all the fuss was about.  Namier stressed the need to look for evidence at the source, and only to proceed after a careful analysis of all the evidence.  To those of us who have had to make findings of fact on inadequate and conflicting evidence, the Namier revolution seems to be the unsurprising suggestion that history should be based on evidence rather than romance, on the direct evidence of primary sources rather than on secondary sources that are hearsay.

Namier really got down into the minutiae – as we say now, he drilled down deep.  In the result, when he came to make large statements, people listened to him because he had established his credentials and revealed his technique.  His followers remained faithful and cherished his teaching.

Those who are out to apportion guilt in history have to keep to views and opinions, judge the collisions of planets by the rules of road traffic, make history into something like a column of motoring accidents, and discuss it in the atmosphere of a police court.

This emphasis on analysing evidence and common sense reminds us very much of Warren Buffett.  A mate of mine who has had dealings with Buffett told me:

He is a literal sponge for information – you only realise that your data has been mined after the event.  We spent three hours once over a burger and ice cream at the Omaha Country Club discussing [business]…. He is very approachable and incredibly down to earth.

Buffett comes across as a matter-of-fact bloke.  If you seek to find principles or rules for investing from reputable sources, you will almost certainly be referred to Ben Graham, The Intelligent Investor and Burton Malkiel, A Random Walk down Wall Street – and almost anything said by Warren Buffett, particularly the annual reports of Berkshire Hathaway.  Like any very successful person, while Buffet has detractors, but very few people on Wall Street are game enough to take a pot-shot at him.

The basic precepts of people like Graham and Buffett include:

Investment involves using our money to increase our wealth in the future.  In doing so, we try to predict the unpredictable.  All investment therefore involves risk.  Our aim in investment is therefore not to eliminate risk – which is impossible – but to manage it.  We seek to do this by taking good care in selecting the assets that we acquire for investment.  We look for companies with a good history, an established business, a sound balance sheet, and a good record of making and returning profits.  If a fund acquires shares in a company, it becomes one of the owners of the business of that company.  That is how investors should see their shares – as making them part owners of the relevant businesses.  It follows that a sensible investor will be more interested in how the relevant business is going than in the price that other people set for the sale and purchase of shares from time to time.  Sensible investors don’t trade.  They are passive, not active.  The other way to manage the risk is to spread or diversify the range of securities that the fund holds.  Remember the risk that you are trying to manage.  It is not that the price of the shares may go down.  We know that the price must fall at some time.  The risk is that a business will fail, in whole or in part.  A drop in market price of the shares does not of itself establish any change in the underlying value of the business of the company that has issued those shares.  Volatility is not risk. 

 These kinds of views, which are anathema to Wall Street, pervade the 900 odd page biography, The Snowball, Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, by Alice Schroeder, published in 2008.  The book is very long, but you can skim the detail of some transactions.  The author clearly knows what she is talking about – she was a CPA with Ernst and Young and a managing director in equities at Morgan Stanley.  The result is a must for anyone interested in investing and anyone claiming to be a commercial lawyer – among others.  It is also a substantial contribution to the social history of the United States.  God only knows that we need to get some good news out of America.

Buffett was born in Nebraska in 1930, less than twelve months after the Great Crash.  His father had a degree and responded by going into stockbroking.  His mother could be difficult.  His father had naturally worried whether they would survive what became the Depression.  His grandfather, a grocer, said ‘I’ll just let the bill run.’  Buffett would later say that was typical of his grandfather.  His father was scrupulous in business and even more scrupulous as a Republican.  He would later go to Congress, but his bluntness and inability to shift his ground cost him.  His son was different.  But there were two family maxims that were solid.  Spend less than you make.  Don’t go into debt. 

The boy showed that he was a prodigy at about the same age as Mozart.  He turned a profit at about six.  At fifteen he had put away $2000 from a paper run.  (You could multiply that by thirty for today’s money)  He had already bought shares. Shortly after that he bought a forty acre farm for $1200 seventy miles away where he shared profits with the tenant.  He read and studied Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Rule number one.  Don’t criticise condemn or complain.

He worked for both his grandfather and father, but started dealing in his own right.  After college, history did us a favour.  Harvard knocked Buffett back and he wound up at Columbia, where he came into orbit around Ben Graham.  This would be the first of four relationships that were fundamental to Buffett’ s career – the others would be Charlie Munger, Kate Graham, and Bill Gates.

He began to form partnerships for investing.  By 1962, the main partnership was standing at $7.2 million, but Buffett was not afraid of going long on one stock if it met his criteria.  If a company did that, Buffett would back his judgment.  By 1966, he had spent $13 million on American Express leading him to inform his partners of a new ground rule.

We diversify substantially less than most investment operations.  We might invest up to 40% of our net worth in a single security under conditions coupling an extremely high probability that our facts and our reasoning are correct with a very low probability that anything could drastically change the underlying value of the investment.

Here are two other maxims.

We will not go into businesses where technology, which is way over my head, is crucial to the investment decision.

We will not seek out activity in investment operations, even if offering splendid profit expectations, where major human problems appear to have a substantial chance of developing.

American Express got embroiled in a scandal that left subsidiaries owing $60 million dollars.  Would it stand behind them?  Buffett said that their business depended on trust.  He wanted the company to pay the debts.  A group of shareholders sued saying that the company should defend itself.  Buffett said:

It is our feeling that three or four years from now, this problem may well have added to the stature of the company in establishing standards of financial integrity and responsibility which are far beyond those of the normal commercial enterprise.

Buffett said that an American Express that took responsibility and paid the $60 million would be ‘worth very substantially more than an American Express disclaiming responsibility for its subsidiary’s acts’.  He described the $60 million payment as inconsequential, like a dividend cheque that ‘got lost in the mail.’  The company paid up, its stock went up, and Buffett profited.

This all took place not much more than fifty years ago, but it looks positively medieval to us now.   We have lost people in business, and lawyers, with the balls to say ‘Forget the small print – our name will stink if we pull a stunt like this.’  Instead, we have companies that pay dividends and report regularly and are run by people whose pay precludes long term sense or decency.  They then behave in a way that gets them offside with their business and their owners in about equal measure.  Banks are now regarded with more distrust than insurers were forty years ago – and that is a very large statement.  That is why people, including now me, think that we should have a Royal Commission to expose the corrupt ways and inhumane manners of the banks to the cauterising glare of publicity.

I do not exclude lawyers from my assessment of a decline in public and corporate life.  I described elsewhere an incident in the battle for BHP in 1986 where a senior lawyer showed the required independence and sense of looking after the whole reputation of the client.  I had been acting for Robert Holmes a Court.

 Finally, I mention an incident that happened I think after I had gone back to Blakes.  There were lawyers milling around someone’s chambers including Alan Goldberg, Frank Callaway, and sometimes Geoff Nettle (still a junior).  Robert Heathcote [a partner of ABL who had instructed me] came in in some slight agitation.  One of our (Holmes a Court’s) brokers had received in error the details of what may have been referred to as John Elliott’s battle plan for his defence of BHP.  It was something that Holmes a Court would dearly like to see, but could he make use of confidential material sent by mistake? 

We wondered and pondered.  Frank Callaway delivered a lecture on Lord Cairns’ Act.  It was brilliant and irrelevant.  Then Tom [Hughes] came in – Senior Counsel.  ‘Simple.  Send it straight back.  Or man’s credit would not survive.’  ‘Thanks, Tom.  Will you tell Robert?’  ‘No one need tell Robert anything.  We cannot advise the broker.  Send him off to a competent silk.  If his advice cuts across mine, ask him to get in touch.’  There you have the authority and wisdom of experience.  It was an immense thrill to have worked with Tom Hughes.

Tragically for them, that is just the sort of advice that the directors of James Hardie should have received but did not.

Despite his accumulating wealth, Buffett’s tastes stayed plain   He has not been corrupted by riches that are beyond the dreams of Croesus.  He stayed in the same house and drove a plain car.  A proper suit was one ‘that you could bury a ninety-year old banker from a small town in Western Nebraska in.’ On one occasion later when he went to an establishment that displayed fabulous wealth in a mansion that had to have ‘fifty – something servants’, he said ‘You had $1 billion worth of art on the walls, and I’m the only guy there that didn’t ooh and aah over the art.  I’d just as soon have a bunch of old Playboy covers on the walls.’  This is from a man who dines with presidents and royalty.

Buffett’s relationship with Berkshire Hathaway started in 1967 when this textiles manufacturer was on life support.  Through rescuing that business and using it as a vehicle for acquiring others, Buffett would generate vast wealth.  His children could have received great wealth, but Buffett did not want them to live on Easy Street because of Berkshire Hathaway.  Rather he thought that the future of his children and the future of the company would be joined not through ownership of the company, but by an act of philanthropy – their participation in the stock in the Buffet Foundation.

He became a follower of Martin Luther King.  King impressed him when he said ‘The laws are not to change the heart but to restrain the heartless.’  They both got that right.

Here is an anecdote that is typical Buffett.  The Omaha Club excluded Jews.  Buffett nominated his friend Herman Goldstein for membership.  The Omaha Club sought to justify its exclusionary policy on the ground that the Jewish Highland Country Club – yes, you are reading it right – excluded gentiles.  So, Buffett got himself nominated for that club.  He ran into stiff opposition.  But a couple of rabbis got involved and an Anti–Defamation League spokesman appeared on the half of Buffett.  Buffett got into that club, and Goldstein got into the Omaha Club.  Another exclusionary wall had been toppled.

This book is worth the price of purchase just for the two chapters on the collapse of Salomon Bros.  That company had become synonymous with the saying that ‘Greed is good’ and after the publication of the book Liars’ Poker, it was widely reviled, even on Wall Street.  It was brought undone by an act of fraud and was looking to be put out of business by regulators who were keen to get its scalp at a time when the firm had no friends.

Buffett had taken a position in the firm, but he was ushered in as the only person in America who could possibly save it.  He rang the boss of the regulators and said that ‘This is the most important day of my life.’  Eventually they were given a kind of lifeline.  Buffett was running a depraved financial institution and he took the first critical press conference himself.  The press were desperate for blood.  Buffett just sat there and kept answering questions.  His minders were agitated, but he was wearing the press down and giving them something they were not used to receiving – answers that were apparently straight.  He was asked a question that Australians now will immediately recognise.  Had the culture of the bank contributed to the scandal?  ‘I don’t think the same thing would have happened in a monastery.’

He then sacked the firm’s lawyers and got someone he trusted in.  That lawyer then took the extraordinary step of waiving all attorney-client privilege of the firm – that meant that that legal firm on behalf of Salomon had volunteered to act as an arm of the government.  You might wonder who could have instructed that lawyer to make that waiver, but Buffett was then in charge.

Someone had invited PR people into show their wares.  After fifteen minutes of bullshit, Buffett excused himself and walked out.  He told the lawyer to tell them that they were not wanted.  ‘We don’t have a public–relations problem.  We have a problem with what we did.’

If these steps were extraordinary, his appearance before the baying jackals in Congress would become legendary.  He again gave straight answers, and conceded that the firm had been very badly run.  He said that:

I want to find out exactly what happened in the past so that this stain is borne by the guilty few and removed from the innocent….Huge markets attract people who measure themselves by money.   If someone goes through life and measures themselves solely by how much they have, or how much money they earned last year, sooner or later they’re going to end up in trouble. 

He said that the priorities of the firm had changed:

Lose money for the firm, and I will be understanding; lose a shred of reputation for the firm, and I will be ruthless.

Alice Schroeder says of this remarkable exercise:

Those words have since been parsed and dissected in classrooms and case studies as the model of corporate nobility.  Buffett’s unflinching display of principle summed up much about the man.  In this statement, many of his personal proclivities – rectitude, the urge to preach, his love of crisp, simple rules of behaviour – had merged.  Openness, integrity, extreme honesty, all the things that he meant to stand for: Buffett meant for Salomon to stand for them too.  If Berkshire Hathaway was his editorial page, Salomon would be the church of finance.

Here is another line that will resonate, as the Americans say, with Australians today.  When a Congressman asked Buffett if a bond trader had been overpaid, Buffett said: ‘If you asked me whether that compares to a good teacher in a public school, I would not want you to press me on it.’  Amen, Brother.  Amen.  He said that it was just so apparent that the whole business was being run for employees.  Again, amen.

Buffett dragged this leaking corrupt craft through.  He remarkably persuaded the government not to indict them.  He settled on a very large fine.  Alice Schroeder says that he had gone from being ‘a rich investor into a hero.  The success of his unorthodox approach to scandal – embracing regulators and law enforcers instead of hunkering down – touched the yearning for nobility in many people’s hearts: the dream that honesty is rewarded; that the besmirched can be redeemed through honour.’  In almost every facet of the business he had found some sort of inherent conflict of interest between the employees and the customers of the bank.

So, after this man had brought the wreck to shore, and put at risk his one asset that was beyond price – his reputation – how did the good folks on Wall Street repay him for keeping them out of jail and out of bankruptcy?  When he said they would have to take a hit in their bonuses, they threw a tantrum, and many of them started to walk out.  The whole culture looks to me to be incurably corrupt.  Greed is bad.

Buffett had amazing powers of concentration.  He later became a champion bridge player.  He got on with Bill Gates from the very start.  They just kept talking and talking and talking at their first meeting.  At a dinner that night, Bill Gates Senior asked the resplendent businessmen present what factor had been the most important in getting where they had in life.  Buffett said ‘Focus’ and Bill Gates said the same.

At about this time, Buffett started to warn people about derivatives, which would be a major part in what we know as the Great Financial Crisis.  ‘Derivatives are like sex.  It’s not who we’re sleeping with, it’s who they’re sleeping with that’s the problem.’

He spoke against dynastic wealth – he said that that kind of wealth turns a meritocracy upside down.  He spoke against giving stock options to executives as being a cheap accounting trick to hide bonuses.  Ms Schroeder drily observes that ‘since his famous no vote on the pay package at Salomon, no other board had ever asked him to serve on its compensation committee.’

When asked what had been his greatest success and greatest failure he said:

Basically, when you get to my age, you’ll really measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you.

I know people who have a lot of money, and they get testimonial dinners and they get a hospital wing named after them.  But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them.  If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don’t care how big your bank account is, your life is a disaster.

That’s the ultimate test of how you have lived your life.  The trouble with love is that you can’t buy it.  You can buy sex.  You can buy testimonial dinners.  You could buy pamphlets that say how wonderful you are.  But the only way to get love is to be lovable.  It’s very irritating if you have a lot of money.  You like to think that you could write a check: I’ll buy $1 million’ worth of love.  But it doesn’t work that way.  The more you give love away, the more you get.

How many other titans of the till could even hint at thinking like that?

Buffett had by this time been speaking out saying that people like him were not taxed enough.  He also managed to give most of his wealth away.  (I think that by the time this book was being written, it was about $60 billion.)  He gave most of it to the Gates Foundation.  He spoke on this with typical plainness.

I have been very lucky.  I was born in the United States in 1930 and won the lottery the day I was born.  I had terrific parents, a good education, and I was wired in a way that paid off disproportionately in this particular society.  If I had been born long ago, or in some other country, my particular wiring would not have paid off the way it has.  But in a market system, where capital – allocation wiring is important, it pays off like no other place.

All along, I felt that money was just claim checks that should go back to society.  I am not an enthusiast for dynastic wealth, particularly when the alternative is six billion people, who have got much poorer hands in life than we have, getting a chance to benefit from the money.  And my wife agreed with me.

It was clear that Bill Gates had an outstanding mind with the right goals, focusing intensely with passion and heart on improving the lot of mankind around the world without any regard to gender, religion, colour or geography.  He was just doing the most good for the most people.  So when the time came to make a decision on where the money would go, it was a simple decision.

The Gates Foundation, we are told, followed a basic creed: guided by the belief that every life has equal value, it should work to reduce inequities and improve lives around the world in health and education.  I wonder which of our parliaments hold that belief?

Here then is a most remarkable man.  Forget, for the moment, the wealth that he has built up and given away, and focus, to use his term, on the lessons and precepts that he is leaving us.  And focus on his example.  Because here is a man who appears to have done what many of us feared may no longer be possible – he has been a vast success in business, but has remained a plain, decent human being.  Above all, he understands noblesse oblige – the obligation of those who have received to give back.

Here then is the tragedy of America.  Its next president will be the polar opposite of Warren Buffett; we will go from the best to the worst form of capitalism; and those dreary chroniclers of reaction remain sadly blind.


I have referred before to the gibberish of Jennifer Oriel in The Australian.  Today it reaches hysteria of a worrying kind.

It took Trump’s victory to unmask the true character of the PC Left.  What began with scenes of Clinton’s collective strewn across floors in the foetal position turned into violent rage organised in protests against democracy.  Socialists, Islamists, anarchists and black supremacists have mobbed US cities with some threatening to murder people who dissent from the PC line.  Fox News reported that in New Orleans, anti-Trump activists defaced a memorial with race-hate speech ‘F…k White People’ and ‘Die Whites Die’.  That is incitement to genocide……

Yet I predicted Trump would win the election well before the event because he is a counter-revolution whose time has come.  The Western world is entering a political era led by a grass roots movement to restore sovereignty and defend liberal democracy against its enemies….

When the news of Trump’s victory finally arrived, I thanked God not because I like Trump, but for a people reviled who rose up to be counted….

How could you fit in so much hate?  And the author of this venomous bilge is one of those in the vanguard of the Evil Empire leading the charge to be loosed from laws on hate speech.  Perhaps we too should have a word with God.

Passing Bull 74 – Bullshit about elections

Football commentators on 3 AW, and I suppose elsewhere, were always wise after the event.  Even if one side had just fallen in by a point, their analysis showed a result that looked somehow inevitable.  The best player on the ground almost always came from the winner – and it all could have been different but for that last fluky point.

The press are the same after an election.  We are left wondering how the result could have gone any other way.  (Some bad judges are like that.)  You wonder why they weren’t so sure beforehand.  (Well, Greg Sheridan was.  We knew that civilisation was in peril when he said that you could bank on a Clinton presidency.  It takes a special impertinence to make a call like that.)

The consensus now is that the problem is inequality of income and wealth.  That problem been obvious to some people for a long time.  We are told that we have a revolt by those who have missed out in both the US and the UK.  These rejected people are looking for a redistribution of wealth.

Now, here we have a serious worry.  You don’t look to a conservative party to redistribute wealth.  You can see what is happening in England when Mrs May, an alleged Tory, is driven to make noises that sound positively Bolshie.  The Tea Party is about to shaken out of its tree.  Eventually, the smirking reactionaries in Australia – yes, there are some among us who actually like Trump – will realise that they are being confronted by the vengeful poor, and that if we had an authentic labour party, they could be riding a very big wave.  The problem for the Republicans is that Trump is not one of them, and never has been – he has promised-hand-outs and protection.

The stresses within an intellectually and morally bankrupt Republican Party will become intolerable.  This will be especially so when those who have a morsel of God inside them realise that they have entered into a pact with an ungodly son of Mammon.  If you asked Trump about the Sermon on the Mount, he might inquire whether it was the name of one of his hotels.  If you suggested that the meek might inherit the earth, he could die laughing.  Of the two candidates for President, the poorest was worth $100 million – if, that is, you believe the other candidate, who has an acknowledged taste for bankruptcy.

Those of an ideological leaning might think that what the have-nots need is not a revolt, but a revolution.  Perhaps, but the answer is I think more prosaic.  What they need is education – or least training.

We see a different cast of analytical thought when someone becomes pope or president.  Somehow or other, by right of God or the flag, the anointed one is expected to be different when given the keys.  During a critical phase of the French Revolution, an astute Jesuit called Abbé Sieyès told a rattled popular assembly that ‘You are today what you were yesterday.’

It is the same with the incoming president of the US.  Yesterday he was a liar, a cheat, a coward, a bully, a thug, a fraud, and an idiot.  Tomorrow he will still be all of those things – and that is before you get to the fact that he hates people of a different colour, creed, or sex.  (I shouldn’t have said ‘creed’.  Trump has none.  It would be idle to suggest that you might find room for God in that heaving bag of guts.)

So, here is another serious problem.  Leadership starts with respect, and Trump is as unrespectable as you can get.  He is a spoiled child who was never taught manners, a megalomaniac with no idea of the word conscience, and no room for anyone but himself.

People like Farage, Johnson and Trump are con men.  They promise people that they can have their cake and eat it.  Apparently, the desperation of the have-nots is such that they become gullible and overlook blatant evidence that these people really are just con men.  The historical analogies are too painful to recount.  No candidate in the history of the world has provided more evidence that he could not be trusted with any form of public office than Donald Trump – not even Adolf Hitler with Mein Kampf.  (No one took that warning seriously either – and some at Cambridge still don’t.)

The unravelling will not be pretty.  The people of Leeds are about to find out that if they want to lock out the boongs, they will have to pay more for their fish and chips.  People in the rustbelt are about to find out that if they want to lock out the Chinese, they will have to pay more for their doughnuts.  Mrs May just went to India and was told that if she wanted free trade, she would have to get serious about immigration.  The recriminations will be dreadful when the have-nots find out that they have been dudded by a pretty boy billionaire who happens to be a crook.  Judas Iscariot, in the form of Michael Gove, delivered us from the evil of Boris.

And what of the US in the world?  Well, Europe has long questioned America’s sanity because of its frontier attitudes on guns and healthcare.  Trump at one stage, I think, suggested that Republicans should be able to carry guns to the Convention.  If the new government repeals the healthcare legislation as promised, Europe will know that the cause of America is lost, and look sideways at the beaming presidents of Russia and China.  And what European leader, even M Holland on 4%, would wish to visit that frightful menagerie in the White House?

But is there no plus at all?  Surely there is one – not even our craven pollies – not even Little Johnnie – could kow tow to the lowest form of life that has ever crawled out from under a rock.  And perhaps there is another.  It may be better that this fraud be exposed to the world in office rather than having him and his rejects sniping at a corrupt and outmoded dynasty.

Finally, the election wasn’t rigged, but there should be a special place in hell reserved for those creeps at the FBI who did their best to achieve that result.  For eight years, America has had a president of integrity and intellect.  For four years, unless God or the Second Amendment intervenes, it will have president who has neither.  That this pig might go where Abraham Lincoln went makes me sick at heart.


A colleague kindly drew my attention to another remark of H L Mencken that is exquisitely apt:

As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people … On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

Poet of the month: Rosemary Dobson

The Tempest

Washed by what waves to pearl, these eyes?

Changed to what coral these sea-strewn

Sea-shifted bones, once intimately

Held heart to heart, known, understood;

Now fathom five, remote, alone,

Uncared for by the incurious sea?


Sailor, young man, is this not strange?

Sang the sea nymph to the second lieutenant

And the wind blew back no answer.


9 November 2016 may be the saddest day of my life.  It was far worse than 11 November 1975.  It was the day the Great Republic failed.

I mention only two things now.

First, the German people never gave Adolf Hitler 50% of the vote in an electoral contest.  (The plebiscites are too silly to mention.)

Secondly, H L Mencken understood our weakness.

No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.  Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby…..The mistake that is made always runs the other way.  Because the plain people are able to speak and understand, and even, in many cases, to read and write, it is assumed that they have ideas in their heads, and an appetite for more.  This assumption is a folly.

Passing bull 73 –Bull about legality and Brexit

It is hard to understand the shock about the ruling of the English High Court, and even harder to understand the outrage.  Populism is one thing; outlawry is another.  I had thought that the English had settled these issues in the seventeenth century.  When Charles I sought to rule as the Crown without Parliament, there was a civil war, and Charles lost his head.  When James II sought to rule without Parliament, there was a foreign invasion and James II lost his crown – he went quietly because he knew full well what the English had done to his father.  The learning as I understand it is that ‘sovereignty’, the word that was so abused on this issue, lies in the Crown in Parliament, and not out of it.  What led Mr Johnson and Mr Farage to think that this fundamental premise had changed?  Or was this just another detail that these politicians overlooked?

As I have remarked elsewhere:

Not long after the end of World War II, a newish judge gave a series of lectures called ‘Freedom under the Law’.  Here is a sample of the style and caste of thought for which Lord Denning would be become famous in the common law world.  Having dealt with Hitler, the English now had to deal with Stalin.

‘Concede, if you wish, that, as an ideology, communism has much to be said for it: nevertheless, the danger in a totalitarian system is that those in control of the State will, sooner or later, come to identify their own interests, or the interests of their own party, with those of the State: and when that happens the freedom of the individual has to give way to the interests of the persons in power.  We have had all that out time and again in our long history: and we know the answer.  It is that the executive government must never be allowed more power than is absolutely necessary.  They must always be made subject to the law; and there must be judges in the land who are ‘no respecters of persons and stand between the subject and any encroachment on his liberty by the executive.’  We taught the kings that from Runnymede to the scaffold at Whitehall [the execution of Charles I]: and we have not had any serious trouble about it since.’

That last sentence is pure gold.  Lord Denning had put on a uniform in the First World War; one of his brothers had fought at Jutland leaving Denning angry for the rest of his life that the Navy had not gone in harder; he had very old fashioned and old time views on punishment, both capital and corporal; but he was a very kind, proper, and polite Anglican gentleman, and one of Her Majesty’s greatest judges; and he had no hesitation at all in saying that we  – and we know who we are – had pacified the kings of England– most recently on a scaffold, with an axe.  There is a hardiness in the English that lesser people have fatally ignored.

I gather that all eleven judges of the Supreme Court will sit on the appeal.  It may be helpful if they can give a simple joint judgment that lay people can follow.  There is a precedent for that.  Those who are interested can go to the Postscript and read a note from elsewhere that contains the whole of the judgment in Brown v School Board of Education.  Desegregation in the South in the 50’s makes this little English case look like a walk in the park.  I warrant that it is well worth reading.

Poet of the Month: Lee Cataldi

Spring 1971

I cross the sunlit square

and pay

sixpence for an imported


the trees are bare

nothing disturbs the soil’s


but summer’s trumpets in

the sky

harmony of spaces

is music silent harmony of faces


as you walk before me

you compose

more than the eloquent

colours of your clothes

weary of fights

I lean about the square the wind

accommodates the sun the grass

is putting itself to rights

it seems wrong

to ask you to repair

the damage of other nights

would you do it for a song?


The Rule of Law and Racism

The rule of law says that no one person is above the law and that all people are equal before the law.  What commenced with Magna Carta in 1215 was in substance completed by the Declaration of Rights in 1689.  After 1776, the latter became adopted in the United States as amendments to the U S Constitution known as the Bill of Rights.

The Declaration of Independence proclaimed that ‘all men are created equal.’  People living in the West now see notions of equality as fundamental not just to freedom and democracy, but to civilisation as such, but the statement that we have just quoted was a lie when it was uttered in the United States in 1776.  It was a lie that would be purged and the nation redeemed at Gettysburg and elsewhere, but it continued to fester well into the twentieth century, and it continues until now.

The principal provisions of the Bill of Rights embodying the Rule of Law are the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.  Those provisions deal with issues of procedure called ‘due process’ (a term that was first applied in medieval adoptions of Magna Carta), but they also deal with issues of substance.

The Fifth Amendment relevantly provides:

No person shall be held to answer for a…crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury,…. nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

It is obvious that this clause derives directly from a body of law that started with clause 39 of Magna Carta which said that ‘no free man shall be taken…or in any way ruined….except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.’  More than seven centuries after the armed and unwashed barons extracted this guarantee from that weedy princeling called King John, it would be invoked in a vital move to establish the equality before the law of the American negro in the United States.

The Fourteenth Amendment was passed much later to provide that the states as well as the federal government were bound to afford the same protection to citizens as the Fifth Amendment.  It concluded:

nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The Founding Fathers ducked the issue of racism.  In today’s terms, we would say that they just kicked the can down the road.  But the Justices of the United States Supreme Court had also got their hands dirty.  In Plessy v. Ferguson, decided in 1896, that court held that under the Fourteenth Amendment, equality of treatment is accorded when the races are provided substantially equal facilities, even though these facilities are separate.  ‘Separate but equal’ was the phrase.  As in 1776, high law and good intentions about equality failed before the colour bar.

In the growing civil rights movement in the 1950’s, this shabby relic of the nineteenth century would obviously have to come under attack.  As it happened, the issue that led to the demise of the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine in the Supreme Court in litigation related to segregation in schools.  In southern states, there was one school for white children and one for black children.

The resolution of the issue is truly remarkable on a number of counts.  Under the very broad terms of the Bill of Rights, the Supreme Court inevitably gets to rule on issues that are highly politically charged – such as abortion, gun laws, and segregation.  Is this right for unelected judges?  Are racist conflicts capable of being dealt with by the law?  Should a court just follow public opinion, at a respectful distance, or might there be cases where judges might actually try to lead public opinion?  In an issue as explosive as segregation in the South, would a body of nine aging white men be able to give a judgment which would be understandable by ordinary citizens and convey sufficient moral and logical weight to stifle any reflex toward another rebellion in the south against a wilfully interfering federal government?

All this came up in Brown v Board of Education that was decided in 1954Like most law that arises out of a decision of judges or juries, this one was the product of many accidents of history.  Had not one Chief Justice of the Court succumbed to death when he did, our story may have been very different.  As it was, that death seemed so timely to another justice of the Court that he was moved to say that this was the first positive evidence that he had seen of the existence of God.

In 1951, a class action suit was filed against the Board of Education of the City of Kansas.  The plaintiffs were thirteen Topeka parents on behalf of their twenty children.  The suit called for the school district to reverse its policy of racial segregation in schools.  Separate elementary schools were operated by the relevant board under an 1879 Kansas law.  That law permitted, but it did not demand, districts to maintain separate elementary school facilities for black and white students.

The plaintiffs had been selected by the Topeka NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).  The first-named plaintiff, Oliver L. Brown, was a parent.  He was a welder in the shops of the Santa Fe Railroad, an assistant pastor at his local church, and an African American.

In spring 1953, the Court heard argument in the case, but it was unable to decide the issue.  Justices Black and Douglas were well known liberals.  They were joined on this issue by Justices Burton and Minton.  Chief Justice Vinson noted that Congress had not issued desegregation legislation.  Justices Reed and Clark were inclined to leave things alone.  Justices Frankfurter and Jackson (who had prosecuted at Nuremberg) were dead against segregation, but they were both worried about judges departing from precedent to suit themselves.  They were also concerned about how any decision might be enforced.

After Chief Justice Vinson died in September 1953, President Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as Chief Justice.  Warren was from California, and he was seen by many as a juristic lightweight.  He was a man of liberal disposition, and he had favored integration in the past.  But above all, he had the supreme grace of a politically gifted person – he was able through his personal presence and charm to bring people together.  Perhaps never has a politically gifted person used that skill to better effect on a superior court.  That court was and is a body of great power, but it is not often composed of people who may be expected just tamely to toe the line.

In its reconstituted condition, the Supreme Court asked for the case to be reheard in the fall of 1953, with special attention to whether the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause prohibited the operation of separate public schools for whites and blacks.  The case was reargued at the instigation of Justice Frankfurter, who used reargument to allow the Court to try to gather a unanimous consensus around an opinion that would outlaw segregation.  It was the death of Vinson that had led Frankfurter to say that this was the first serious evidence he had seen of the existence of God – was the Southern way of life to be ended by a Jewish atheist and a gaggle of other Godless liberals?

The course of argument the second time around was very heavily charged, explosively so.  The leading counsel for the South was the formidable John W Davis, a former solicitor general of the United States.  He said that education was a matter for the states, and that segregation was hallowed by long usage – what lawyers might call immemorial custom giving rise to precedent.  ‘To every principle there comes a moment of repose when it has been so often announced, so confidently relied upon, so long continued that it passes the limits of judicial discretion and disturbance.’  The attorney for the Commonwealth of Virginia addressed on a different plane.  ‘We recognize that there are a great many people of the highest character and position who disapprove of segregation as a matter of principle or of ethics.  We think that most of them really do not know the conditions, particularly in the South, that brought about that situation.’  You don’t have to live with them – we do.

The leader of the NAACP team was Thurgood Marshall, who would become the first black Justice on the Court.  Mr Marshall was not inclined to step over eggshells or to speak in some kind of code.  He wanted to get to the point – and he did.  As it happens, that is what appellate advocacy, indeed any advocacy in court, is about.  He said that these laws were ‘Black Codes’ that the Court could only sustain if it found that ‘for some reason Negroes are inferior to all other human beings’.

I got the feeling on hearing the discussion yesterday that when you put a white child in a school with a whole lot of colored children, the child would fall apart or something.  Everybody knows that it is not true.

Those kids in Virginia and South Carolina – and I have seen them do it – they play in the streets together, they play on their farms together, they go down the road together, they separate to go to school, they come out of school and play ball together.  They have to be separated in school.

There is some magic to it.  You can have them voting together, you can have them not restricted because of law in the houses they live in.  You can have them going to the same state university and the same college, but if they go to elementary and high school, the world will fall apart.

There is, as there should be, a vast amount of scholarly literature on the coming and going, toing and froing between the judges while they wrestled with the issues – and with each other.  While all but one judge was against segregation, those who had a conservative view about the place of the judiciary questioned whether the court should go as far as the welder from the Santa Fe railroad wanted them to go.  But the clerk of Justice Jackson told him that ‘if you are going to reach the decision you do, you should not write it as if you were ashamed to reach it.’

Chief JusticeWarren convened a meeting of the justices.  He made something of a speech to the effect that the only reason to sustain segregation was a belief that negroes were inferior.  That had been Thurgood Marshall’s point.  Warren said that the Court had to overrule Plessy to maintain its place as a bulwark of liberty, and that it should do so unanimously to avoid resistance in the South.   That, too, was the point.

Here, then, was a matter of great moment for the Court, and the nation – or what Abraham Lincoln would have called the Union.  A mistake either way could have been awful.

Painstakingly, and over a period of five months, Warren kept going until he had all eight of the other justices behind him.  The final decision was unanimous.  Warren drafted the basic opinion and kept circulating and revising it until he had an opinion that was endorsed by all of the members of the Court.

Earl Warren wanted the judgment of the court to be short and to be easily readable by the general public.  He wanted the language to be ‘non-rhetorical, unemotional, and above-all non-accusatory.’  It is a great shame that this lesson is not given more respect to now by courts who fill phone books with uncomely collages of ephemera of vastly less weight.  Warren wanted and obtained a judgment short enough to be run by the newspapers of the nation in its entirety.  Many of them did just that.

Here then is the whole judgment (without the footnotes.)

BROWN v BOARD OF EDUCATION                                                                                      

  1. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases come to us from the States of Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware.  They are premised on different facts and different local conditions, but a common legal question justifies their consideration together in this consolidated opinion.

In each of the cases, minors of the Negro race, through their legal representatives, seek the aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the public schools of their community on a nonsegregated basis.  In each instance, they had been denied admission to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation according to race.  This segregation was alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment.  In each of the cases other than the Delaware case, a three-judge federal district court denied relief to the plaintiffs on the so-called ‘separate but equal’ doctrine announced by this Court in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537.  Under that doctrine, equality of treatment is accorded when the races are provided substantially equal facilities, even though these facilities are separate.  In the Delaware case, the Supreme Court of Delaware adhered to that doctrine, but ordered that the plaintiffs be admitted to the white schools because of their superiority to the Negro schools.

The plaintiffs contend that segregated public schools are not ‘equal’ and cannot be made ‘equal,’ and that hence they are deprived of the equal protection of the laws.  Because of the obvious importance of the question presented, the Court took jurisdiction.  Argument was heard in the 1952 Term, and reargument was heard this Term on certain questions propounded by the Court.

Reargument was largely devoted to the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.  It covered exhaustively consideration of the Amendment in Congress, ratification by the states, then-existing practices in racial segregation, and the views of proponents and opponents of the Amendment.  This discussion and our own investigation convince us that, although these sources cast some light, it is not enough to resolve the problem with which we are faced.  At best, they are inconclusive.  The most avid proponents of the post-War Amendments undoubtedly intended them to remove all legal distinctions among ‘all persons born or naturalized in the United States.’  Their opponents, just as certainly, were antagonistic to both the letter and the spirit of the Amendments and wished them to have the most limited effect.  What others in Congress and the state legislatures had in mind cannot be determined with any degree of certainty.

An additional reason for the inconclusive nature of the Amendment’s history with respect to segregated schools is the status of public education at that time.  In the South, the movement toward free common schools, supported by general taxation, had not yet taken hold.  Education of white children was largely in the hands of private groups.  Education of Negroes was almost nonexistent, and practically all of the race were illiterate.  In fact, any education of Negroes was forbidden by law in some states.  Today, in contrast, many Negroes have achieved outstanding success in the arts and sciences, as well as in the business and professional world.  It is true that public school education at the time of the Amendment had advanced further in the North, but the effect of the Amendment on Northern States was generally ignored in the congressional debates.  Even in the North, the conditions of public education did not approximate those existing today.  The curriculum was usually rudimentary; ungraded schools were common in rural areas; the school term was but three months a year in many states, and compulsory school attendance was virtually unknown.  As a consequence, it is not surprising that there should be so little in the history of the Fourteenth Amendment relating to its intended effect on public education.

In the first cases in this Court construing the Fourteenth Amendment, decided shortly after its adoption, the Court interpreted it as proscribing all state-imposed discriminations against the Negro race.  The doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ did not make its appearance in this Court until 1896 in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, supra, involving not education but transportation.  American courts have since labored with the doctrine for over half a century.  In this Court, there have been six cases involving the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine in the field of public education.  In Cumming v. County Board of Education, 175 U.S. 528, and Gong Lum v. Rice, 275 U.S. 78, the validity of the doctrine itself was not challenged.  In more recent cases, all on the graduate school level, inequality was found in that specific benefits enjoyed by white students were denied to Negro students of the same educational qualifications.  Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337; Sipuel v. Oklahoma, 332 U.S. 631; Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629; McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637.  In none of these cases was it necessary to reexamine the doctrine to grant relief to the Negro plaintiff.  And in Sweatt v. Painter, supra, the Court expressly reserved decision on the question whether Plessy v. Ferguson should be held inapplicable to public education.

In the instant cases, that question is directly presented.  Here, unlike Sweatt v. Painter, there are findings below that the Negro and white schools involved have been equalized, or are being equalized, with respect to buildings, curricula, qualifications and salaries of teachers, and other ‘tangible’ factors.  Our decision, therefore, cannot turn on merely a comparison of these tangible factors in the Negro and white schools involved in each of the cases.  We must look instead to the effect of segregation itself on public education.

In approaching this problem, we cannot turn the clock back to 1868, when the Amendment was adopted, or even to 1896, when Plessy v. Ferguson was written.  We must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation.  Only in this way can it be determined if segregation in public schools deprives these plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws.

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.  Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society.  It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces.  It is the very foundation of good citizenship.  Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment.  In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.  Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities?  We believe that it does.

In Sweatt v. Painter, supra, in finding that a segregated law school for Negroes could not provide them equal educational opportunities, this Court relied in large part on ‘those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness in a law school.’  In McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, supra, the Court, in requiring that a Negro admitted to a white graduate school be treated like all other students, again resorted to intangible considerations: ‘. . . his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession.’  Such considerations apply with added force to children in grade and high schools.  To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.  The effect of this separation on their educational opportunities was well stated by a finding in the Kansas case by a court which nevertheless felt compelled to rule against the Negro plaintiffs:  Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children.  The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group.  A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.  Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system.  Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority.  Any language in Plessy v. Ferguson contrary to this finding is rejected.

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.  Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.  Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.  This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Because these are class actions, because of the wide applicability of this decision, and because of the great variety of local conditions, the formulation of decrees in these cases presents problems of considerable complexity.  On reargument, the consideration of appropriate relief was necessarily subordinated to the primary question — the constitutionality of segregation in public education.  We have now announced that such segregation is a denial of the equal protection of the laws.  In order that we may have the full assistance of the parties in formulating decrees, the cases will be restored to the docket, and the parties are requested to present further argument on Questions 4 and 5 previously propounded by the Court for the reargument this Term.  The Attorney General of the United States is again invited to participate.  The Attorneys General of the states requiring or permitting segregation in public education will also be permitted to appear as amici curiae upon request to do so by September 15, 1954, and submission of briefs by October 1, 1954.

It is so ordered.

When the Chief Justice announced that the decision of the Court was unanimous, ‘a wave of emotion swept the room.’  Doubtless there were many moist eyes in court that morning.  You will recall that one of the counsel retained on behalf of the victorious plaintiffs was a white lawyer called Charlie Black – who had attended a dance in Austin Texas 1931 to listen to a black band perform with Louis Armstrong.

How was the decision to be implemented?  Within an hour, the Voice of America beamed news of the decision around the world in thirty languages.  The NAACP pushed for full integration in the shortest time.  The South was just as dug in.  It is sobering to read that sixty years ago, counsel for the Commonwealth of Virginia asked the Supreme Court to ‘face reality’ and offered to lead evidence to prove the inferiority of blacks.  The State of Florida told the court that only one in seven police officers would enforce the law.  That would be called mutiny elsewhere.  There was this exchange between the Chief Justice and counsel for South Carolina.

‘But you are not willing to say that there would be an honest attempt to conform.’

‘Let us get the word ‘honest’ out of there.’

‘No, leave it in.’

‘No, because I have to tell you that right now we would not conform; we would not send our white children to the Negro schools.’

At times, there is not much separating mutiny, rebellion, revolt, and civil war.  The South put up a proposal described by the scholar who wrote the leading treatise on the case in terms that ‘the most ungainly camel in Islam would have had an easier time passing through the eye of a needle than a black child getting into a white school in Florida.’

The court gave complex orders that desegregation proceed ‘with all deliberate speed’, a phrase that has been traced back to the old English Chancery.  It took a very long time.  Any kind of speed was out of the question.  Instead of integrating its public schools in 1961, Prince Edward County in Virginia closed them, and sent whites to schools funded in part by donations in lieu of tax, while the blacks were left in one-room shacks.  You would get a similar reaction in those countries following the English model if you sought to abolish private schools – which make their own curious contribution to the continuance of caste.

But desegregation of schools did proceed, and this decision was a mighty blow against the scourge of caste in the West.  The judgment stands as a memorial to the courage and integrity of the judges who made it.  As one federal judge later said, the decision in Brown ‘was humane, among the most humane moments in all our history.’

The simple dignity and clarity of the judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States in Brown v Board of Education takes the breath away from lawyers who live in times that are altogether more mediocre and less exalted.

Passing Bull 72 – From bullshit to dementia with refugees

In the past two weeks, I have read two 19th century novels – The Black Tulip by Alexander Dumas (father) and Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens.  Each is typical of the genre – high melodrama, caricatures more than characters, eye glazing coincidences, and above all good guys and bad guys:  the white hats are ultra-white, and the black hats are ultra-black.  The villains are the rejects of humanity who rub their hands in glee at the prospect of working evil to punish the white hats for rejecting them.  They have mantras and slogans which, like bats, flutter in the twilight but disappear by light of day. The villains of melodrama are not of this world.

Unless you are Peter Dutton.  In trying to defend his mean, low, vindictive and retrospective retribution against refugees, Dutton said:

If we arrive at a third country settlement option, and that is if we find a new place for people off Nauru and Manus to go, then we’re not going to have them come back to Australia through the back door on some tourist visa because that would just be the people smugglers rubbing their hands together having found another way to get people back to Australia.

In the sweet name of the Hasid out of Galilee, is this deeply heartless and stupid man serious?  Does he want to add insult to the brain to affront to the conscience?  Or does he suffer from a form of dementia that leaves him more paranoid than three celebrated terrorists Antoine de Saint Just or Maximilien de Robespierre?

And this in a week where two sulking ex-PMs threw bitchy tantrums, two fringe senators put in to spite the two major parties showed contempt for people they owe money to and distaste for sense and decency, and Cory Bernardi expressed his support for that pig Trump.

It is humbling to recall that when the black shirts turned off the microphone of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1933, he was warning the nation of the danger of false leaders.

Poet of the month: Lee Cataldi

On a train

My love grows up between us

like a wall

you take down my defences then

raise your book and disappear again

we pass

trucks cars chimneys gardens

inextricably entangled flowers

growing out of broken cylinders

I find myself alone

sinking into a pond

greener and greener

like a stone.