Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Constitutional Realism

California Constantian does an excellent job providing a reality check to the people who worship the United States Constitution (or any constitution) as a kind of holy scripture. To be frank, as much as law is to be respected, it is rather naive to believe that laws, by themselves, will protect people from oppression. Just look at such dreadful U.S. Supreme Court cases as Dred Scott v. Sandford and Buck v. Bell.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Greek Mythology


Marshall Auerback and Rob Parenteau do a great job demolishing the myth that the Greeks are in economic trouble because they are a bunch of lazy, profligate bums. With neoliberal capitalism in a state of severe crisis, we are increasingly treated with the silly stereotypes that seem to pass for economic analysis in much of the mainstream media and in elite political discourse.

People in the developing world would find none of this surprising, as they have long been characterized as lazy, corrupt, uncooperative, prone to authoritarianism, overly emotional, etc., and these stereotypes have been used to justify brutal neoliberal "reforms" in countries across the globe.

Now, with the Eurozone in trouble, the Greeks, Italians, Spaniards and others are being blamed for crashing the system through their bad "Mediterranean" habits. The result is that neoliberal capitalism and its wealthy supporters are left off the hook while ordinary people must suffer brutal austerity. This is not a just system.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Bonapartism For The Workers?


Earlier this year I wrote a post defending Bonapartism as preferable to neoliberal plutocracy. Of course, my defense of Bonapartism was a relative one. The actual record of authoritarian democracy has been decidedly mixed. The history of the House of Bonaparte is a good example of this problem. For example, while Napoleon III built a good deal of infrastructure (including his famous modernization of Paris) and gave French workers the right to strike and form unions, among other social reforms, his intervention in Mexico and a disastrous war with Prussia would prove to be the Emperor's undoing.

Following the collapse of the Second French Empire, while most Bonapartists would take a fairly right-wing approach to France's pressing socio-economic issues, a few others would move in a different, more populist direction. For example, Albert Richard (1846-1925) was a French anarchist and a member of the International, rubbing shoulders with men such as Mikhail Bakunin, who would later write a letter to Richard opposing his recent conversion to Bonapartism. Following the failure of the Lyon uprising and the Paris Commune, Richard abandoned his revolutionary ideology in favor of worker self-help and solidarity within a fairer economic system. Apparently, Richard even visited Napoleon III while the latter was in exile at Chislehurst in Great Britain.

More important than Richard was Jules Amigues (1829-1883). Amigues was an interesting man with many unsuccessful business ventures to his name, but he also had a strong social conscience. Amigues made his pilgrimage to Chislehurst in 1872 and apparently made a good impression on Napoleon III. After his meeting with the Emperor, Amigues set up a Bonapartist newspaper, the L'Esperance nationale. When Napoleon III died in 1873, Amigues led a delegation of working-class Bonapartists from the poorer sections of Paris to attend the Emperor's funeral.

As far as economic theories were concerned, Amigues supported the organization of workers into guilds and guild federations with the power to deal with employers on an equal basis. Amigues also supported more recognizable social reforms such as universal, free education, public provision for the care of the elderly, and an income tax as opposed to regressive taxes on consumption.

Amigues never received much support from the Bonapartist mainstream, and after the death of Napoleon III, he received few subsidies from the regular Bonapartist party. Undaunted, Amigues continued to campaign for the House of Bonaparte in the working-class districts of France, despite the indifference and sometimes outright hostility of the Bonapartist mainstream. In 1877, however, Amigues, running on his own and without any support from the official Bonapartist party, won a shocking victory over his Republican opponent, a wealthy industrialist, in one of the electoral districts in Cambrai. Amigues owed his victory to the struggling weavers of the region. As John Rothney wrote:
"What seems to have tipped the balance [in favor of Amigues] was his poster. In it, he quoted his opponent's speeches urging workers to be thrifty and temperate and pointed out that in fact workers had no clothes for their children and only water to drink." (Rothney 1969: 93).
Unfortunately for Amigues, the Republicans would later invalidate his election and by and large the Bonapartists failed to take up his crusade to win over France's workers to the cause of the Empire. It is interesting to note, however, that the turn of official Bonapartism to a more conventionally right-wing orientation occurred after the death of Napoleon III, who continued to be interested in reformist and even socialist ideas, despite the many failures and compromises of his reign. Indeed, the fact that the Emperor himself was much more populist than most of the politicians who fought for his dynasty after his death reveals the kernel of truth in the Napoleonic Idea.

WORKS CITED

Rothney, John. Bonapartism after Sedan (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Neoliberal Nanny State

I don't like welfare (as opposed to social insurance), but I really don't like intrusive means testing for welfare recipients if we must have welfare programs. Of course, I don't approve of drug use either. What is the alternative? Why not just have the State directly employ people, in public works or state-owned industries if need be? Then any drug testing can be made rationally related to work performance and not just a way to essentially humiliate people who are already miserable.

There used to be a time when socialism/social democracy was seen as an important weapon against the nagging problem of substance abuse among the poor. Now that the State refuses to intervene to create or protect high-wage, high-status employment and just pays people to be idle instead of directly employing them (because that would be Marxism!), we are supposed to be surprised when they turn to drugs.

On a related note, is it just me or has the nanny state expanded alongside neoliberalism? It may seem counterintuitive, but as the State receded in some areas (deregulation, privatization, etc.) it became much more intrusive in other areas, such as family life (for example, divorce liberalization has resulted in much more governmental meddling in family affairs), that used to be considered mostly private. Today, it seems as if the dominant impulse is to control and manage the poor instead of helping to uplift the unfortunate through appropriate public action.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Trustworthy

Another gem from David Lindsay, this time on the issue of the National Trust in the United Kingdom. Again, I must ask, what good is conservatism if it does not conserve anything of value? Mr. Lindsay gives us a good picture of what true conservatism is all about. Definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

One Nation

The indispensable David Lindsay has a very interesting post on the tradition of the One Nation Tories in Great Britain. A very educational read, especially for those conservatives who believe that conservatism must be allied with neoliberalism or related economic doctrines.

State of Uncertainty

Lord Keynes has an excellent post on state intervention and the uncertainty problem, here.