Us and the U S – Chapter 12

Us and the US

[The extracts that follow under this gravely ungrammatical title précis a book published in 2014 called ‘A Tale of Two Nations; Uncle Sam from Down Under’.  That book sought to compare the key phases of history of the two nations under fourteen headings.  That format will be followed in the précis.  The chapter headings are Foreword;1 Motherland; 2 Conception;3 Birth; 4 Natives; 5 Frontiers; 6 Laws; 7 Revolution; 8 Migration; 9 Government; 10 Wars; 11 Patriotism; 12 Wealth; 13 God; 14 Findings; Afterword.  Each chapter is about 1400 words.]

12

Wealth

The United States was commenced by deeply religious people.  Americans know that ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’, but some things require mature judgment and discernment before being applied to life here on earth.

Both the first colonists and the later waves of settlers and migrants went to America to create wealth.  Government at either end was not part of the business.  America was the primal NGO.  Australia was very different.  In the beginning it was the definitive not-for-profit operation, a jail.  The colonies in Australia were closely regulated by military delegates of London and then colonial legislatures.  Government intervention was both thorough and inevitable.  Most importantly, most people coming to Australia did so at the cost of government.  Government therefore played a far bigger role in public life in Australia.  It’s rare to see government creating wealth; that’s not its job.

There was and is a much greater emphasis on individual effort and reward in the U S.  There was correspondingly much more reliance on government intervention and protection in Australia.  The Americans have stronger notions of legal protection of civil rights in general; the Australians have stronger notions about the legal regulation for the distribution of wealth.

The agricultural resources were much better in the U S and small farmers could and did flourish.  There was more water and good soil in the U S.  Government in both London and the colonies sought to encourage a yeoman type of small farmer in Australia, but conditions there did not suit that development.  In the south and east in the U S, wealth was concentrated in tobacco and cotton, built on cheap land and the free labour of convicts and then slaves.  Throughout the rest of the country, the sources of wealth were more evenly spread, except that the north-east was heavily focussed on industry, enabling the U S to become the arsenal of the free world.   In Australia, wealth was concentrated on wool at first, that was initially also built on cheap – free – land and the free labour of convicts, and from there the transition would go to gold and then to minerals generally.

In America, people tend to admire those who succeed financially – that is, after all, the whole bloody point.  In Australia, people lean to a kind of suspicion informed by envy of people who get very rich.  They do not believe that people get very rich honestly; they do in truth see the very wealthy, especially the quick or new ones, as crooks; at the very least, they think that these people will not have paid tax, and so they have got where they have unfairly.

America and Australia are capitalist countries.  That is to say, they believe that business and the creation of wealth should be left to business people, and not to government.  These business people are what we call entrepreneurs.  The driver is competition.  The impression you might get is that the Americans are more ready than Australia and others to apply the logic of competition in capitalism – the prize goes to the winners, and the others are thanked for taking part.

Both countries have had to deal with unhealthy aggregations of wealth.  The Australians had to deal with splitting up the unduly and unfairly large holdings of the squatters, but the attempt to set up a ‘yeoman’ type model of farming failed.  America pioneered laws to break up combinations or trusts that were intended or likely to stifle competition.  These laws are known as anti-trust or competition laws, and Australia has adopted the U S model.  The common law recognises that you can start up in business with the view to wiping out the competition that you find already there –and in applying anti-trust laws, the courts recognise that competition is naturally ruthless – competitors are in one sense engaged in trying to lessen and therefore ‘injure’ the business of each other.  The balance is very fine.

The Australian government intervenes with the distribution of profits by providing binding adjudications on wage issues.  Here Australia does things that would be unthinkable in America.  It has for more than a century settled industrial disputes by making decisions that are given the force of law putting a floor under wages across various industries across the nation.  It has been able to do this because trade unions in Australia have a legal definition and protection, industrial bargaining power, and community tolerance if not respect that they do not have in America.  This in turn has, as it did in England, helped the Labour Movement, as it is called, to maintain a political party.

The sustained and broad intervention of government in industrial relations, the strength of the unions, although now declining, and the presence of a political party with at least an historical tie to the workers, all represent very big differences in the lives of the working people, and the political outlook generally, in Australia compared to America.  If, as most believe, Americans have to work harder and longer for their wages, at least some of the reasons might be found in this different industrial background.

To what extent then should it the Australian government intervene to look after those of its electors who have not done so well and who might fairly be said to need if not deserve help?  Should government adjust the means of some to meet the needs of others?  However you frame the issue, or the criteria for its resolution, the kind of answer that you have got so far in the U S has been very different to that which you get in Australia, Britain, Germany, France, or the rest of Western Europe.  Its agonies over health care now make the point.

The English Welfare State followed similar progress in Germany; New Zealand and Australia were already going the same away; but the wording of section 8 of the U S (‘Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes….to provide for the ….general Welfare of the United States’), has produced nothing like those consequences in America.  When it comes to welfare the U S is the lone state in the Western world.  Like ‘tax’, ‘welfare’ is not a word used in polite company.

Australia has, unusually, gone one step further, almost on its own.  If you combine the last two tendencies that we have been looking at – regulating the distribution of wages and providing for the aged and sick – you get in Australia a universal system of compulsory superannuation.  Employees of all kinds have to put away a percentage of their wages to secure their life when they stop work.  The system has its burdens and its wrinkles, but it is described by some qualified people outside of it as a model for others.

They are the main differences between America and Australia on wealth.  The discussion shows that the terms Right and Left are passé, and that an injunction to provide for ‘Welfare’ may produce a result that makes no sense to others who think they have it – it also shows that old fashioned terms like liberalism, socialism, nanny state, free choice, individualism, or entitlements may not advance the discussion one iota.  Sticks and stones will break your bones, but welfare requires taxes; labels, slogans, and nostrums do not make policy, and they make bloody awful politics.  The inheritors of the empirical tradition are better off working with results rather than with formulae, with experience rather than with theory, and with the world as it is rather than with a Dreamtime or Fantasyland.

Here and there – What is fascism?

 

Some years ago, I sought to identify the range of meaning of three terms or labels commonly used in political discussion as follows.

Left and right

I do not like and I try to avoid these terms, which come from the French Revolution, but I shall set out my understanding.  The ‘left’ tend to stand for the poor and the oppressed against the interests of power and property and established institutions.  The ‘right’ stand for the freedom of the individual in economic issues, and seek to preserve the current mode of distribution.  The left is hopeful of government intervention and change; the right suspects government intervention and is against change.  The left hankers after redistribution of wealth, but is not at its best creating it.  The right stoutly opposes any redistribution of wealth, and is not at its best in celebrating it.  The left is at home with tax; the right loathes it.  These are matters of degree that make either term dangerous.  Either can be authoritarian.  On the left, that may lead to communism.  On the right, you may get fascism.

Fascism

What do I mean by ‘fascism’?  I mean a commitment to the strongest kind of government of a people along overtly militarist and nationalist lines; a government that puts itself above the interests of any or indeed all of its members; a commitment that is driven by faith rather than logic; with an aversion to or hatred of equality, minorities, strangers, women and other deviants; a contempt for liberalism or even mercy; and a government that is prone to symbolism in weapons, uniforms, or its own charms or runes, and to a belief in a charismatic leader. 

The word came originally from the Latin word fasces, the bundle of rods and axe carried before Roman consuls as emblems of authority, and was first applied to the followers of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, Il Duce, and then to the followers of Il Caudillo, Generalissimo Franco, and the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.  Fascists are thick-skinned, thick-headed, and brutal.  They despise intellectuals – who are after all deviants – but they may have an untutored and irrational rat cunning.

As Professor Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University tersely remarks: ‘The whole cocktail is animated by a belief in regeneration through energy and struggle’ (kampf).  To an outsider, it looks like pure moonshine that is the first refuge of a ratbag and a bully, a brilliant and seductive toy for the intellectually and morally deprived, and an eternal warning of the danger of patriotism to people of good sense and good will.  But while that ‘cocktail’ may look a bit much for Plato, it looks fair for Sparta.

Madeline Albright has written a book warning against a resurgence of fascism.  Eastern Europe looks very bleak.  You can make up your own mind about the application of those criteria to Trump.  To me it looks a very close run thing.  I am sick of hearing about him.  I merely say that since Hitler died before I was born, Trump is the leading contender for the prize of the man most loathed on this earth during my lifetime.

I want to invite people to apply those criteria to Napoleon.  Again at first blush that, too, looks close.  Let me just quote some passages from a biography by the distinguished English historian J M Thompson.

Napoleon’s forays into Italy and Egypt were little more than robbery on a grand scale.  He wanted to fund the rape of Egypt by robbing the Swiss.  On the war in Italy, Napoleon said:

Discipline is improving every day, though we still have to shoot a good many men for there are some intractable characters incapable of self-restraint.

You may recall that his political career took off when he used artillery to disperse a Paris mob – Carlyle’s ‘whiff of grapeshot.’  Throughout his career, the Corsican was profligate with French life – something that scandalised his Grace, the Duke of Wellington.

Asians got it worse.

The Turks must let their conduct be ruled by extreme severity.  Here at Cairo, I have heads cut off at the rate of 5 or 6 a day.  Hitherto, we have had to treat the people tactfully, in order to destroy the reputation for terrorism which preceded our arrival.  But now we must make sure that the natives obey us; and for them obedience means fear.

Could Hitler have improved on that descant?

Each stage or coup in the rise of Napoleon in France involved a franker appeal to force.  Abroad, the urge for conquest was insatiable.  His nationalism was only matched by his egoism.  He said that he had made Italy a part of France.  Madame de Staël had his measure.  ‘The English particularly irritate him, as they have found the means of being honest as well as successful, a thing which Bonaparte would have us regard as impossible.’

In his 2014 book Napoleon the Great, Andrew Roberts said that Napoleon was great.  This to me is like the myopia that leads Oxbridge to say that ancient Greece and Rome were civilised.  He committed France to eternal war (la guerre éternelle) and then he lost that war.  He left five million dead in the process.  He left France a smoking rubble that it took France at least a century, and endless coups and revolutions, to come out of.  And, fatally to the reputation of any soldier, he walked out on his own army – twice.  And the only reason that Napoleon and his spurned soldiers found themselves in the sands of the Levant and the snows of Russia was his manic lust for la gloire.

But at least he had one clear policy.  Make France great.  And he then ruined the joint.  As they say there, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Passing Bull 156 – Best on ground

 

Have you noticed how football commentators tend to give their votes for best player on the ground to someone who played on the winning side?  There is no reason in logic why this should be so.  There is a related trait of the commentators.  Their after game analysis is dominated by the result.  They show two traits of so much history – it is written by the winners, and it is written with hindsight.  You are generally left with the impression that the game was never going to end in any other way.  That is of course silly, but the favouring of votes to players from the winning team is scarcely less silly.

The issue came to a head after the recent three match State of Origin series.  Three judges – all former great players – awarded the Man of the Series to Billy Slater, the Captain of Queensland, and by common consent one of the greatest players this code has seen.  (I should disclose my biases.  Billy plays for my team, Melbourne Storm; I loathe New South Wales in rugby league; and their coach justified that loathing by an inane, crude, and false insult to Cameron Smith, the Storm Captain, and former Queensland and Australian captain, one of the best footballers of may code that this nation has produced.)

This decision in favour of Billy Slater was denounced in sections of the press as insane.  There were two grounds for the accusation.  Billy had only played two games; and his side lost one of them.

Well, the three judges – Mal Meninga, Darren Lockyer, and Laurie Daley – have more knowledge of the game in their little fingers than the entire sports press corps – who in this case merely underline the fallacy that the nest on ground must – must –come from the winning side.

Some statistical genius might look at the extent to which this fallacy affects voting for the Brownlow Medal.

Us and the U S – Chapter 11

Us and the US

[The extracts that follow under this gravely ungrammatical title précis a book published in 2014 called ‘A Tale of Two Nations; Uncle Sam from Down Under’.  That book sought to compare the key phases of history of the two nations under fourteen headings.  That format will be followed in the précis.  The chapter headings are Foreword;1 Motherland; 2 Conception;3 Birth; 4 Natives; 5 Frontiers; 6 Laws; 7 Revolution; 8 Migration; 9 Government; 10 Wars; 11 Patriotism 12 Wealth; 13 God; 14 Findings; Afterword.  Each chapter is about 1400 words.]

11

Patriotism

In his first campaign for election as President, Mr Barack Obama was criticised for not wearing the badge of his flag.  Someone even queried his patriotism.  An Australian politician wearing a flag in his lapel would be open to a comment that would not be flattering; but it would be out of the question to criticize one for not doing so.  Such a comment would not just be in bad taste –it would be evidence of madness.  Members of the current government (2014) from time to time get exercised over a lack of empathy from the national broadcaster, the ABC, as if the ABC were being unpatriotic in criticising its employer; but sane Australians regard that silly kind of political posturing as bullshit.

Most people in Australia understand the word ‘patriot’ to mean someone who loves their country and is loyal to it.  Australians do not use the terms Fatherland of Motherland; neither did the English; those words make both lots uneasy.  The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that something more is required of a patriot than passive loyalty.  It says that a patriot is ‘one who exerts himself to promote the well-being of his country; one who maintains and defends his country’s freedom or rights.’  To be a patriot, you have to get off your backside and do something – this then raises the spectre of the busybody.

A love of your country presupposes that you know what your country is.  What was the Motherland of a fifth generation colonial family in Boston in 1760?  America as nation had not yet been invented, and even when it was, a lot would regard their first loyalty as that owed to the colony or state.  The question can also arise when there is a change in the regime of the country that is loved, as for example when the king loses his head.  Citizens of Paris in 1760 knew that France was the mother country – la patrie – and that King Louis XIV represented France.  But what was the case after the king had been guillotined and the monarchy had been abolished?  Were you loyal to la France or la patrie?  But if you said either, and you were allowed to get away with saying that and no more, you could be saying that you were loyal to the Republic – or that you remained loyal to the monarchy.

So, questions about patriotism arise where there is a regime change in the nation that is loved.  Those become life or death questions when the title of the new regime is shaky because it came into power unlawfully – and by definition, a revolution, a change of regime wrought by violent means, is not lawful.  So, people in a revolution get quizzed about their patriotism.

The British crown was overthrown in America in the course of a revolt that might now be called a terrorist insurgency.  If the revolt had failed, and if there had been no change of regime, its leaders could have been executed for treason.  They understood this.  When the Declaration was signed, Benjamin Franklin said: ‘Well, Gentleman, we must now hang together, or we shall most assuredly hang separately.’  At the end of the Civil War, many in the North wanted to hang Jefferson Davis and Lee.  Their ‘crimes’ were of the essence of treason – they had sought to overthrow the republic of the United States by force.

That kind of insecurity of title has not been a problem for the U S – after they won the war of independence, they won the recognition of the Union, and a lot of the supporters of the old regime left to go ‘home’.  But it kept flaring in France after the death of the king, and it led to instability for about a century.  The government said that la patrie est en dangère [the Fatherland is in peril], but this came to mean in the Terror that those in power were feeling lethally insecure.  They then executed people who threatened their security.  You were not a true ‘patriot’ if you were against ‘the Revolution’, and you were against the Revolution if you were opposed to those who constituted its most recently formed government.

In this way, ‘patriotism’ very quickly became opposed to ‘liberty’ – the first refuge of any government seeking to reduce the rights and liberties of its subjects is to claim that the nation is in danger.  The shorthand now is ‘national security.’  You will even find national security being invoked against refugees.  Simon Schama referred to ‘the problematic relationship between patriotism and liberty, which, in the Revolution, turns into a brutal competition between the power of the state and the effervescence of politics.’

But one problem did remain in the United States.  When everything had settled down, you might be from Virginia and the U S, but if there was a conflict, with whom did you side?  This had not crystallised as a problem for Washington.  Like most Americans at his level in, say, 1760, he was ambivalent about England and its crown and institutions.  He had repeatedly sought a commission in the imperial force, but the Horse Guards, the relevant HQ, had no regard for colonials, from America or India.  But for this snobbery, the allegiance of Washington, and history, may have been different.

But this was a problem for Robert E Lee.  He held a commission from the Union, that he had served for more than thirty years.  Was he to turn his troops against his home in Virginia?  Where a professional person is torn between competing interests, then, if a duty is owed to both, the law says that that person should serve neither.  That was not the option chosen by Lee.  Lee himself cited Washington’s withdrawal of loyalty to Great Britain as ‘an example not branded by the world with reproach.’  Lee’s choice baffles many today and was a reason why many Americans wanted him hanged.

Australia never had a revolution, and that may be a reason why patriotism is not discussed there.  De Tocqueville summed up patriotism for Americans.  ‘But I maintain that the most powerful, and perhaps the only means of interesting men in the welfare of their country, which we still possess, is to make them partakers in the Government…….in America the people regard this prosperity as the result of its own exertions; the citizen looks upon the fortune of the public as his private interest, and he co-operates in its success, not so much from a sense of pride or duty, as from, what I shall venture to term, cupidity’.  Cupidity might be greed, as in the famous ‘Greed is good’ of Gordon Gekko.

De Tocqueville also said:  ‘As the American participates in all that is done in his country, he thinks himself obliged to defend whatever may be censured; for it is not only his country which is attacked upon these occasions, but it is himself…..Nothing is more embarrassing in the ordinary intercourse of life than this irritable patriotism of the Americans.’  There you have Donald Trump.

There is something close to the heart of America here.  The upside is ambition, drive, and personal and communal responsibility; the downside is Salem, McCarthy, Ronald Reagan, and Gordon Gekko – and that nonsense about the lapel pin of Barack Obama.  In some sense, the feeling of communal responsibility and participation does seem to rest well with American patriotism; so does their prickliness if you happen to query in passing something close to American hearts.

Australians are not so serious about all this kind of thing, and open discussion, much less profession, of patriotism is not encouraged.  If they see it in Americans, they might mumble something about people wearing their hearts on their sleeve

Here and there – Jeffrey Smart

Jeffrey Smart has something in common with Louis Armstrong.  He has his very own style and it is instantly recognisable.  Not many artists achieve that distinction.  But Smart is different to Nolan, Boyd, and Williams.  They taught us how to see and come to terms with the bush.  Smart taught us how to see and come to terms with the city.  In something of a manifesto, he said in 1968:

I find myself moved by man in his new violent environment.  I want to paint this explicitly and beautifully.

Some styles become outmoded for the artist’s message.  (If he has a message.)  But how would Bonnard paint a Hilton Hotel bathroom?  How wrong a jet plane or a modern motor car looks painted impressionistically!

A man is logical on horse-back: but in a satellite, surreal.  Only very recently have artists again started to comment on their real surroundings……

Security?  The bomb?  How much more insecure Fra Angelico must have felt riding to Orvieto with the threat of outlaws, robbers, and the plague.

Smart was born into a comfortable part of Adelaide in 1921.  He was obsessed with drawing as a child and the technique that he acquired would always be central to his painting.  While serving in a number of jobs, including the part of Phidias on The Argonauts on the ABC, he acquired a full education in art, most noticeably from an Adelaide lady called Dorrit Black.

She began with the geometric method for establishing the Golden Mean….This was a positive eye opener, and she linked it with compositions by Poussin, Tintoretto, Veronese, da Vinci and so on.  And it all related so clearly to Braque, Léger, and above all to Cézanne.

We see immediately how important this teaching was to the structures in Smart’s mature paintings.  He was very taken with the light and sense of place in Piero della Francesca, but Cézanne would remain his champion.

Like many Australian artists back then, he really got going in trips to Europe.  He studied with Léger for a while in Paris, and his early work shows some influence of de Chirico.  Smart said of him: ‘There is an element of the naïve in him, his perspective distorted without a care in the world while Cézanne agonized over the same thing.’  Smart would later say that his later paintings are better than his earlier ones partly because until he was forty-one he was working at other things to earn a living.  Someone said that post-modernism was like playing tennis with the net down.  That could never be said about Jeffrey Smart.  He had a life-long commitment to the high technique derived from the masters over the ages.

Peter Quartemaine says:

When a painting is ‘right’ it has for Smart a stillness, that quality he so admires in artists as diverse as Balthus, Poussin, Mondrian, Braque and Ben Nicholson.  He himself turns to T S Eliot for the best expression of what this stillness means in the work of art, a passage from Burnt Norton which he feels hints at the greater accessibility of the visual arts as vehicles of meditation compared with music or literature.  ‘At least, we do abolish time.’

…….Only by the form, the pattern

Can words or music reach

The stillness, as a Chinese jar still

Moves perpetually in its stillness.

Smart recalls in this connection reading a critical account of a Cézanne landscape as ‘nature in arrested movement’, where the critic assumed that the stillness came from the peacefulness of the original scene.  He insists that in Cézanne, as with Eliot’s Chinese jar or a perfect composition such as Guernica, the stillness comes from ‘the perfection of the design alone.’…..Eliot’s mature work, especially Four Quartets which has influenced the artist profoundly, is an expression of hard-won faith in the world and in the value of artistic endeavour.

Smart would later recall that Dorrit Black spoke of ‘making a picture’ rather than ‘painting a picture.’  Léger suited his preoccupation with geometric shapes.  ‘I paint buildings a lot because they are rigid shapes…they go straight into the picture plane – they make a space, a box, where you want it.’  He said that Piero della Francesca and Cézanne had taught him how to compose.  He was engrossed by The Flagellation and the Gilles of Watteau (which is referred to in his painting Dampier III).  He surrounded himself with reminders.  One said that ‘an artist must himself be moved if he is to move others.’

Germaine Greer said:

Many observers, hypnotised perhaps by the occasional human figures isolated in a man-made environment in Jeffrey Smart’s work, have been struck by its mystery and ambiguity…..There are few artists who can provide the shock of recognition and they are all great.

The rest, as someone said, belongs to the madness that is art.

Passing Bull 155 – Civility

 

Many people are commenting on the decline in civility in public life here and elsewhere.  It has coincided with the rise of nationalism and disenchantment with a broader world view, but that does not of itself establish a causal connection between those two events.  It is however tempting to speculate whether people who want to withdraw unto themselves may not be so good in dealing with those people that they want to lock out.  However that may be, it is unsettling, to put it at its lowest, to hear Republicans complain about a restaurateur declining to serve a senior White House staffer on the basis of what may be called a conscientious objection.  Does anyone believe that the President of the United States is a model of civility?  And what happened to freedom of speech?

Fringe dwellers test laws.  This presidency now reveals another oddity, if not flaw, in the United States constitutional dispensation.  They subscribe to the separation of powers.  The executive, legislature, and judiciary have separate functions.  The legislature makes laws – not the executive or the judiciary.  Well, we know that the judiciary makes laws de facto, and this president is fond of issuing edicts, but by and large the separation holds.  The U S constitution gives the legislature no power to make laws about abortion.  But we see elections of the President (the executive) being contested on his capacity to appoint members of the judiciary who may change the law on abortion by refusing to follow a precedent.  That doesn’t look healthy, least of all in a nation that claims to keep separate Church and State.

Bloopers

Speaking on ABC Radio Sydney on Monday evening, Leyonhjelm said there was no need for him to apologise.

‘If she chooses to take offence, that’s her business,’ he said.

‘[The comments] weren’t intended to be offensive … I was discussing the issue of misandry.’

Pressed by host Richard Glover as to why he had attacked Hanson-Young personally, Leyonhjelm said: ‘I don’t accept the premise of your question that I’ve done anything to her.’

He denied he had discussed the Greens senator’s sex life.

‘You’ve got a fertile imagination. All I did was point out she’s got boyfriends,’ he said.

The Guardian, 3 July, 2018.

It’s sad when someone is that thick.  But at least he and Rowan Dean and Ross Campbell give insight into why people like them want to be free as matter of law to insult and offend other people.

Here and there – Arendt on Eichmann

Eichmann in Jerusalem, A Report on the Banality of Evil: Hannah Arendt

This book was first published in 1963.  It was serialised in The New Yorker.  In it, Hannah Arendt reported on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a key participant in the Final Solution.  Arendt was a German Jewess of great learning who had fled from Nazi Germany, and Vichy France, and had become something of a rarity in the West – a respected intellectual.  The book is obviously the work of a very fine mind, but its publication caused great controversy – and grief within the Jewish community.  Some said that Arendt was too judgmental and insensitive – especially about the role of Jewish people in their own immolation.  But a huge controversy erupted, and can still be felt, about the subtitle – ‘the banality of evil.’

When Arendt arrived and first looked at the accused, she felt a kind of shock.  The ‘man in the glass booth’ was nicht einmal unheimlich, ‘not even sinister’ – certainly not inhuman or beyond comprehension.  She began to experience what she would later call her cura posterior, her cure after the event.  Her very astute biographer, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, says:

Many people who read her five article series in the New Yorker – and many more who heard about the series secondhand – concluded that Hannah Arendt was soulless, or that she lacked what Gershom Scholem called Herzenstakt, sympathy.  They thought that Arendt felt no emotional involvement with the fate of her people.  She, on the other hand, thought that she had been finally cured of the kind of emotional involvement that precludes good judgment.

Well, her awakening may not have been as blinding as that of Saint Paul or Martin Luther, but she certainly blew the fuses of many people who were open to the suggestion that they were subject to ‘the kind of emotional involvement which precludes good judgment.’

In the book, Arendt said this about the banality of evil.

When I speak of the banality of evil, I do so only on the strictly factual level, pointing to the phenomenon which stared one in the face at the trial.  Eichmann was not Iago and not Macbeth, and nothing could have been further from his mind than to determine with Richard III ‘to prove a villain’.  Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all.  And this diligence in itself was in no way criminal; he certainly would never have murdered his superior in order to inherit his post.  He merely, to put the matter colloquially, never realised what he was doing……He was not stupid.  It was sheer thoughtlessness – something by no means identical with stupidity – that predisposed him to become one of the greatest criminals of that period.  And if this is ‘banal’, and even funny, if with the best will in the world one cannot extract any diabolical or demonic profundity from Eichmann, that is still far from calling it commonplace.

Arendt had previously said to the same effect: ‘The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were and still are terribly and terrifyingly normal.’  In other words, Eichmann was no devil or demon; he was just human, and the trouble for us is that he was ‘terribly and terrifyingly normal’.

The phrase ‘terribly and terrifyingly normal’ has always seemed to me to be far for more pregnant with meaning than that of ‘the banality of evil,’ even if they are related.  At least as it appears to me, those who do not accept that Eichmann was just human, and that there is a little of Eichmann in all of us, are seeking to impose on us some kind of Procrustean bed, and are at risk of falling into the error that fed the derangement of people like Stalin and Hitler.  That is what I see as the real point of the book, and that is what I think makes it a great book.  And as with other great books, the reaction to it is almost as instructive as the book itself.

But the suggestion that the war criminal was ‘normal’ was hardly novel.  In looking at reigns of terror during or after the French and Russian revolutions, historians have struggled to understand how ‘ordinary people’ can become mass murderers.  In a book first published in 1941 (The Year of the Terror, Twelve Who Ruled France, 1793-1794, 3rd Ed., 220), the American historian R R Palmer made this observation about Jean-Baptiste Carrier, the man who drowned priests by the boat-load in the Vendée, and who after being at first applauded, was later guillotined for what we would now describe as war crimes.

Carrier, it may safely be said, was a normal man with average sensibilities, with no unusual intelligence or strength of character, driven wild by opposition, turning ruthless because ruthlessness seemed to be the easiest way of solving a difficult problem.

In what way, if any, was Carrier morally different to Eichmann?  As Arendt said, ‘it was sheer thoughtlessness…that predisposed him to become one of the greatest criminals of that period.’

We might also reflect on what Berthold Brecht said of Hitler (in his notes to The Resistible Rise of the Man Arturo Ui, also published in 1941):

The great political criminals must be exposed and exposed especially to laughter.  They are not great political criminals, but people who committed great political crimes, which is something entirely different.  The failure of his enterprises does not indicate that Hitler was an idiot and the extent of his enterprises does not make him a great man.  If the ruling classes permit a small crook to become a great crook, he is not entitled to a privileged position in our view of history.  That is, the fact that he becomes a great crook, and that what he does has great consequences, does not add to his stature….One may say that tragedy deals with the sufferings of mankind in a less serious way than comedy.

These are vital questions.  (And they bear on at least one prominent crook in the U S today.)  But, you might ask, what branch of human knowledge was Carrier, Brecht or Arendt invoking.  Tucked away in a footnote near the end of the biography of Young-Bruehl, we find that in his book Obedience to Authority (New York, 1974) the psychologist Stanley Milgram said:

After witnessing hundreds of ordinary people submit to authority in our experiments, I must conclude that Arendt’s conception of the banality of evil comes closer to the truth that one might dare imagine.  This is perhaps the most fundamental lesson of our study: ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.

For myself, I don’t know how anyone looking at the mass murders in various reigns of terror can come to a different conclusion.  These regimes have awful corrupting power, but when Arendt saw Eichmann in the flesh, she thought that she had overrated the impact of ideology on the individual.  The conclusion of Arendt about Eichmann looks to me to be consistent with the insight of Carlyle on the worst excesses of the French Terror:

What, then, is this Thing called La Révolution, which, like an Angel of Death, hangs over France, noyading [drowning], fusillading, fighting, gun-boring, tanning human skins?…..It is the Madness that dwells in the hearts of men.  In this man, it is, and in that man; as a rage, or as a terror, it is in all men.  Invisible, impalpable; and yet no black Azrael, with wings spread over half a continent, with sword sweeping from sea to sea, could be truer reality. 

After recounting how the French Terror extracted goods to trade in from its dead victims (such as using the skins of the guillotined to produce chamois or their hair to produce wigs), so prefiguring the horror of the Nazis, Carlyle said:

Alas, then, is man’s civilisation only a wrappage, through which the savage nature in him can still burst, infernal as ever?  Nature still makes him: and has an Infernal in her as well as a Celestial.

Many good judges wonder what is the point or moral basis of our whole criminal justice system.  What does punishment achieve?  Who but God could aspire to measure it fairly?  Arendt felt the same doubts.  According to her biographer, ‘she did not abandon her opinion that extreme evil, whether thought of as radical or banal, is unpunishable and unforgivable.’  The person she sought to untangle this with was W H Auden.

It is in my view very dangerous to try to come to grips with the greatest lapses in the history of mankind by suggesting that somehow some inherent characteristic of either the evil-doers or their victims was in some way a cause of the relevant crime against humanity.  Saying that some people are marked by birth as different to other people is in my view as close as we can get to the notion of original sin.  And Hannah Arendt was far too acute to think that labels help.

You know that the left think I am conservative and the conservatives sometimes think I am left or a maverick or God knows what.  And I must say I couldn’t care less.  I don’t think the real questions of this century will get any kind of illumination from this kind of thing.

Us and the US – Chapter 10

Us and the US

[The extracts that follow under this gravely ungrammatical title précis a book published in 2014 called ‘A Tale of Two Nations; Uncle Sam from Down Under’.  That book sought to compare the key phases of history of the two nations under fourteen headings.  That format will be followed in the précis.  The chapter headings are Foreword;1 Motherland; 2 Conception;3 Birth; 4 Natives; 5 Frontiers; 6 Laws; 7 Revolution; 8 Migration; 9 Government; 10 Wars; 11 Race; 12 Wealth; 13 God; 14 Findings; Afterword.  Each chapter is about 1400 words.]

10

War

The American war of independence was a frightful guerrilla war with atrocities on either side.  The Civil War was a war of attrition, with casualty rates piled up by a mode of warfare that would offer a ghastly premonition of the Great War.  Once the colonies revolted, it was victory or death for their leaders.  That threat was not so real for those states seceding from the Union, but in that war, both sides were equally charged morally.  In the first war, the rebels never lost the moral high ground, and getting British soldiers to fight against Britons on foreign soil cannot have been simple.

The first war was a precondition of the birth of the Union; the second war was a precondition of the survival of the Union.  This war of independence was mythologised in a way that looks completely American.  There was no need to mythologise the Civil War.  It had its own stark grandeur that would be given precise expression by the greatest American of them all.  For some people outside America, this was the real birth of the nation that they so admire.

George Washington was pompous and patrician, a vain old Tory.  But the new nation needed more than a hero; it needed something like a cult.  The very shortness of American history led to almost indecent haste in making Washington a saint.  Might perhaps the Americans have a propensity to talk themselves up?

The Civil War was so much more bloody and destructive than that fought in England two centuries earlier.  It was fought over four years when southern states, with nearly half their population enslaved, wanted to secede from the union on the issue of the extension of slavery.  There is no doubt that state loyalty is still much stronger in the US.  It strikes Australians as odd that a man could be Virginian first, and American second.  About 620,000 Americans died in the conflict.  Names like Fort Sumter, Bull Run, Antietam, Shiloh (‘Place of Peace’), Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Appomattox lie deep in the national consciousness.  Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg redefined the Union.

The Americans were latecomers to both world wars, but their intervention was decisive, especially in the Second World War, both in Europe and in the Pacific.  In the Second War, America was directly attacked and its military and industrial mobilization left it the most powerful nation in the world.  Wilson and America failed at Versailles, but so did other Allies.  America produced more real military heroes in Bradley and Patton, and the future President Eisenhower.  The Marshall Plan was statesmanlike and humane, and by crushing Germany and Japan militarily and then being generous in victory, the U S avoided the awful errors of Versailles.  Korea was at best a draw; Vietnam was a moral and strategic black hole; and whatever else might be said about the perceived failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, the memory of them is not inducing America to try that kind of thing again.  America has retired hurt as the world police officer.

***

The Australian war experience got off to a bad start.  The colonies jointly – the Boer War started just before federation – went off to the aid of the leading world power in a fight that had little or no intrinsic merit or interest to Australia.  The Australian participation in the war was deeply divisive at home, with consequences that are at best disputed, and for no discernible benefit to Australia, apart from paying some kind of respect or dues to the world’s leading power.  Very much the same damning assessment would later be made of Australia’s tagging along behind America in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  One difference is that in the case of both Vietnam and Iraq, the government of Australia told its people untruths, to put it softly, when that government determined to send off its young men to be killed in foreign conflict.

Australia would lose more than 60,000 killed in World War I, and about half that in World War II.  It was only in the latter war that Australia was directly threatened, and it was Australian troops under their own commanders who halted the Japanese advance into New Guinea.  The appalling war crimes committed by Japanese troops under Emperor Hirohito on Australian troops and prisoners of war etched very deep in the Australian consciousness.  The frightful games that the Japanese play with their own brutal history have, to put it softly, not helped.

Yet, when Australians commemorate their war dead, they tend to focus on the charnel house of the Great War.  This concentration on the First World War reflects the mystique, for the want of a better word, of Gallipoli.  On two occasions, the infidel invaders were within touching distance of achieving their objective, but on each occasion they were caught in time.  The whole expedition was botched from on high from the start.  The invaders were facing Turks defending their own soil, and with Allah on their side, and they ran into a man of military and political genius called Mustafa Kemal, who was more the Father of Turkey than George Washington was the Father of the United States.  There were months of stagnant fighting in trenches, the very type of war that the planners had sought to avoid.  The casualties on both sides had been horrendous, and all for nothing – except for the creation of modern Turkey.

Gallipoli was memorable for the Australians and New Zealanders (Anzacs) because this was a form of debut, and their casualty lists loomed larger in their smaller country towns.  Most country towns in Australia have a memorial to those lost in this war.  But in fact the British suffered far more casualties than Australia; the French lost as many as Australia; and the Turks lost as many as Britain, France, and Australia combined.

The glow that Australians now see this disaster in comes from the need for a sustaining myth like that of the Americans.  If you go to Gallipoli on a clear quiet day, you can feel a marvelous peace near the water where men had torn at each other hand to hand most barbarously for nothing.  There is a monument on which Kemal assures the foreign mothers of the fallen that their sons are resting in peace.  Those who survived became part of the sausage factory on the Western Front, the last gasp of ruling monarchies and a cruel and effete ruling class.  They produced a general of the first order in Monash, but he too had to serve under a butcher.

In the Second War, the Japs got very close.  Darwin was bombed.  There was real tension with the mother country about Australian troops being kept to face Rommel in the desert rather than defending their own homes against the Japs.  The fall of Singapore to the Japs – the guns pointed the wrong way – and the loss of English capital ships led Australians to turn their gaze to across the Pacific and look to Uncle Sam as their new protector.  That still position holds.  It was by and large American troops that pushed the Japs back on the islands at the most frightful cost.  The American admirals were preeminent, and Australia has nothing like that monument to the US Marines at Iwo Jima.

Australia was well served by Prime Minister Curtin, but it produced no one of the standing of Roosevelt, or that paradigm of clean and simple leadership – yes, leadership – President Harry Truman, the great president who said that ‘The buck stops here’, the man who took two heavy decisions of equal import, to bomb the Japs and to fire Macarthur, for which both his troops and his nation should be forever grateful.

The most disgraceful phase of Australia’s military history came with the refusal of most Australians to acknowledge the return of soldiers from Vietnam.  Then their government got lousy about compensating them, and looking after them.  This national meanness put a big dint in the national myth of ‘mateship’ – Australians were kicking their own troops in the guts.  Erich Maria Remarque had written books about the Great War that are a sustained and enduring paean to mateship.  The notion that Australians might have some primacy in a basic part of humanity is at best rather sad.  We are yet to found a myth.

Us and the US – Chapter 10

Us and the US

[The extracts that follow under this gravely ungrammatical title précis a book published in 2014 called ‘A Tale of Two Nations; Uncle Sam from Down Under’.  That book sought to compare the key phases of history of the two nations under fourteen headings.  That format will be followed in the précis.  The chapter headings are Foreword;1 Motherland; 2 Conception;3 Birth; 4 Natives; 5 Frontiers; 6 Laws; 7 Revolution; 8 Migration; 9 Government; 10 Wars; 11 Race; 12 Wealth; 13 God; 14 Findings; Afterword.  Each chapter is about 1400 words.]

10

War

The American war of independence was a frightful guerrilla war with atrocities on either side.  The Civil War was a war of attrition, with casualty rates piled up by a mode of warfare that would offer a ghastly premonition of the Great War.  Once the colonies revolted, it was victory or death for their leaders.  That threat was not so real for those states seceding from the Union, but in that war, both sides were equally charged morally.  In the first war, the rebels never lost the moral high ground, and getting British soldiers to fight against Britons on foreign soil cannot have been simple.

The first war was a precondition of the birth of the Union; the second war was a precondition of the survival of the Union.  This war of independence was mythologised in a way that looks completely American.  There was no need to mythologise the Civil War.  It had its own stark grandeur that would be given precise expression by the greatest American of them all.  For some people outside America, this was the real birth of the nation that they so admire.

George Washington was pompous and patrician, a vain old Tory.  But the new nation needed more than a hero; it needed something like a cult.  The very shortness of American history led to almost indecent haste in making Washington a saint.  Might perhaps the Americans have a propensity to talk themselves up?

The Civil War was so much more bloody and destructive than that fought in England two centuries earlier.  It was fought over four years when southern states, with nearly half their population enslaved, wanted to secede from the union on the issue of the extension of slavery.  There is no doubt that state loyalty is still much stronger in the US.  It strikes Australians as odd that a man could be Virginian first, and American second.  About 620,000 Americans died in the conflict.  Names like Fort Sumter, Bull Run, Antietam, Shiloh (‘Place of Peace’), Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Appomattox lie deep in the national consciousness.  Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg redefined the Union.

The Americans were latecomers to both world wars, but their intervention was decisive, especially in the Second World War, both in Europe and in the Pacific.  In the Second War, America was directly attacked and its military and industrial mobilization left it the most powerful nation in the world.  Wilson and America failed at Versailles, but so did other Allies.  America produced more real military heroes in Bradley and Patton, and the future President Eisenhower.  The Marshall Plan was statesmanlike and humane, and by crushing Germany and Japan militarily and then being generous in victory, the U S avoided the awful errors of Versailles.  Korea was at best a draw; Vietnam was a moral and strategic black hole; and whatever else might be said about the perceived failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, the memory of them is not inducing America to try that kind of thing again.  America has retired hurt as the world police officer.

***

The Australian war experience got off to a bad start.  The colonies jointly – the Boer War started just before federation – went off to the aid of the leading world power in a fight that had little or no intrinsic merit or interest to Australia.  The Australian participation in the war was deeply divisive at home, with consequences that are at best disputed, and for no discernible benefit to Australia, apart from paying some kind of respect or dues to the world’s leading power.  Very much the same damning assessment would later be made of Australia’s tagging along behind America in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  One difference is that in the case of both Vietnam and Iraq, the government of Australia told its people untruths, to put it softly, when that government determined to send off its young men to be killed in foreign conflict.

Australia would lose more than 60,000 killed in World War I, and about half that in World War II.  It was only in the latter war that Australia was directly threatened, and it was Australian troops under their own commanders who halted the Japanese advance into New Guinea.  The appalling war crimes committed by Japanese troops under Emperor Hirohito on Australian troops and prisoners of war etched very deep in the Australian consciousness.  The frightful games that the Japanese play with their own brutal history have, to put it softly, not helped.

Yet, when Australians commemorate their war dead, they tend to focus on the charnel house of the Great War.  This concentration on the First World War reflects the mystique, for the want of a better word, of Gallipoli.  On two occasions, the infidel invaders were within touching distance of achieving their objective, but on each occasion they were caught in time.  The whole expedition was botched from on high from the start.  The invaders were facing Turks defending their own soil, and with Allah on their side, and they ran into a man of military and political genius called Mustafa Kemal, who was more the Father of Turkey than George Washington was the Father of the United States.  There were months of stagnant fighting in trenches, the very type of war that the planners had sought to avoid.  The casualties on both sides had been horrendous, and all for nothing – except for the creation of modern Turkey.

Gallipoli was memorable for the Australians and New Zealanders (Anzacs) because this was a form of debut, and their casualty lists loomed larger in their smaller country towns.  Most country towns in Australia have a memorial to those lost in this war.  But in fact the British suffered far more casualties than Australia; the French lost as many as Australia; and the Turks lost as many as Britain, France, and Australia combined.

The glow that Australians now see this disaster in comes from the need for a sustaining myth like that of the Americans.  If you go to Gallipoli on a clear quiet day, you can feel a marvelous peace near the water where men had torn at each other hand to hand most barbarously for nothing.  There is a monument on which Kemal assures the foreign mothers of the fallen that their sons are resting in peace.  Those who survived became part of the sausage factory on the Western Front, the last gasp of ruling monarchies and a cruel and effete ruling class.  They produced a general of the first order in Monash, but he too had to serve under a butcher.

In the Second War, the Japs got very close.  Darwin was bombed.  There was real tension with the mother country about Australian troops being kept to face Rommel in the desert rather than defending their own homes against the Japs.  The fall of Singapore to the Japs – the guns pointed the wrong way – and the loss of English capital ships led Australians to turn their gaze to across the Pacific and look to Uncle Sam as their new protector.  That still position holds.  It was by and large American troops that pushed the Japs back on the islands at the most frightful cost.  The American admirals were preeminent, and Australia has nothing like that monument to the US Marines at Iwo Jima.

Australia was well served by Prime Minister Curtin, but it produced no one of the standing of Roosevelt, or that paradigm of clean and simple leadership – yes, leadership – President Harry Truman, the great president who said that ‘The buck stops here’, the man who took two heavy decisions of equal import, to bomb the Japs and to fire Macarthur, for which both his troops and his nation should be forever grateful.

The most disgraceful phase of Australia’s military history came with the refusal of most Australians to acknowledge the return of soldiers from Vietnam.  Then their government got lousy about compensating them, and looking after them.  This national meanness put a big dint in the national myth of ‘mateship’ – Australians were kicking their own troops in the guts.  Erich Maria Remarque had written books about the Great War that are a sustained and enduring paean to mateship.  The notion that Australians might have some primacy in a basic part of humanity is at best rather sad.  We are yet to found a myth.

         Passing Bull 154 – Plastic Bags

 

People in the media are divided over Andrew Bolt.  Some say he is sincere.  Others say that he just pursues a business model.  He looks to me like a neurotic Baptist elder lecturing an erotic teenager.  But the second view took hold the other night when he criticised two supermarket owners for clamping down on plastic bags.  What business is it of his?  What does he know about business?  People around me in the sticks don’t look like Greens, but they all have the sense to see the need for the ban.

People on the land may be more sensitive to conservation than people in the cities.  But then Mr Bolt probably thought that there was no problem with climate change.  Or is this just another case of people objecting to experts because the experts no more?  And they don’t express their jealousy when the expert is a surgeon standing between them and death.  And they might bear in mind the maxim that when you don’t know what you are talking about, bullshit is inevitable.

Bloopers

The battle over border security is intensifying as migration activists go on the offensive. Recent research illustrates the deep divide between open-border activists and democratic citizens on the size and profile of immigration into Western countries.

The resurgent belief that democratic governments should govern in the national interest has caused a moral panic among big migration and refugee advocates.

They are resorting to desperate measures. The use of children for porous-border propaganda is a sign of the times…..

As public opinion turns against the politically correct media, journalists are taking more extreme measures to enforce their world view. A disturbing trend is the use of children to turn public opinion against secure borders.

Picture this: a toddler in the borderlands screams as US border patrol frisks her mother. Her face is upturned and desperate. The heart-wrenching image is splashed across global media. The scarlet letter press declares US President Donald Trump and nationalists guilty without trial.

It was an encore performance by journalists, who thrilled at the chance to vilify patriots. And it was fake news — again. Getty Images photographer John Moore captured the moment that provoked a global outcry. The news went viral after the sobbing child photo was linked to Trump’s plan to separate children from immigrant parents in detention.

The front cover of Time magazine featured an illustration of the President towering over the crying toddler with the caption “Welcome to America”. It was conceptually clever, but political overkill. Trump’s base already was moving against his proposal to separate children from parents who had entered the

The demise of the democratic world is empowered by an activist class that seeks to introduce porous-border policy without democratic consent. In reaction to popular revolt against rule from above, activists have sunk to a new low: using children for propaganda.

The Australian, 25 June, 2018

Remarkable – democratic citizens and patriots contra mundum.  This paper can be relied on to defend the indefensible.  No parent could put out this gibberish.