Friday, September 25, 2009

Declines and Falls II: Internal Collapse

Having, in the previous post, dismissed the ‘decline and fall’ theory in its popular modern setting of comparison with the British Empire: it would be nice to discuss genuine cases of comparative decline and fall in the modern world.

When Paul Kennedy released his “Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” more than 20 years ago, I had many complaints about his interpretations. Possibly the most significant one, was in his statement that the United States seemed on the way down, while the Soviet Union seemed to be pulling ahead. I remember writing a report for one of my lecturers, where I took issue with the concept of a centrally controlled command economy having the flexibility to succeed long-term. Some of the important issues I raised, included: restriction of competition; restriction of information; restriction of goals; and restriction of participation.

I do not believe there has ever been, or will ever be, a successful long-term state system, that puts excessive limits on free access to opportunity, information, horizons, or social mobility. The simplest example would be the Iron-Curtain States’ concept that all documents to be photocopied needed approval, a limitation on the most basic flows of information. There is simply no way that a command economy with rigidly hierarchical controls, can compete in the long term with more freely evolving political organisms.

So let us look at the modern West.

Western governments, particularly in Australia and Britain in the European Union, are working hard on developing their command economies. There is increasing the legislation to restrict the range of competition between industries as varied as education and media, resource management and biomedical development. There are increasing restrictions on free speech, particularly as relates to politically correct terminology, and politically incorrect challenges to the status quo such as disagreement with government shibboleths. There is increasing government management of the educational outcomes to certain socially approved stereotypes, which are practically destroyed variety in education such as technical trades. (One family I know, soon after the Dawkins revolution which forced the one size fits all education approach on tertiary learning, tried to make their son give up his goals becoming a plumber from nice safe accountancy course through a life position in the tax office. I could not understand what they had against their son being a millionaire before he was 30.) This restriction of personal choices is reflected in legislation relating to business goals, community investment and academic research.

Finally is the most worrying development of all, the restriction of participation in decision-making to the narrow political class that has developed with the modern democracies. (See another post about the negative effects of replacing a House of Lords with samples of all the best and brightest and most productive, with a “democratically elected” body of professional politicians chosen by the same small cliques and from the same small cliques.)

This is where Michael Grant’s discussion of the Fall of the Roman Empire makes far better sense to a modern student of history. His chapter on “the poor against the State” discusses the simultaneous growth of a “bread ticket” class that was largely parasitic, in comparison to the increasingly put upon and overtaxed productive class, which eventually lost all patients or enthusiasm for the State run against their interests.

If there is to be a ‘decline and fall’ of western civilization, it will follow the elegant Roman example of self mutilation from within, rather than pressure from without.

I know many people think that the problem will be Muslim or other radical groups fermenting disaster from within, but they are missing the point. The weakness of an economically advanced state comes not from dissent, which should be a productive and useful tool in a developing economy; nor is it from a feeling of dispossession, because immigrants can and will be integrated within a vibrant economy. No, the issue comes from state over-regulation that encourages dissent while discouraging integration.

A key failing of the Roman system was to grant everyone citizenship, which immediately devalued the concept to an almost meaningless state. (Particularly as it was accompanied by the impoverishment of the yeomen class into tenant farmers struggling to compete with slave labour). Citizenship became so insignificant that it stopped playing a stabilizing part in politics, and became instead a drain. Unlike the yeomen stake in citizenship achieved by willingness to fight for the state (and the inherent principle that only by putting the welfare of others ahead of your own should you be entitled to a say); the mass citizenship lacked any social cohesion beyond an ever-expanding desire for bread and circuses.

The chapter on “the middle class against the state” makes clear that a feeling of disenfranchisement amongst the productive private sector elements rapidly becomes a huge problem. So too does modern disenfranchising of such groups through an insistence on ever more ‘democratic’ selection of representatives. The ‘bread ticket’ movement is encouraged into constant expansion as government over-regulation increasingly limits the capacity of the economy to expand in new and inclusive ways, even as government regulations make ever more counter-productive attempts to foster ‘equality’ and ‘justice’ amongst groups that cannot be made artificially equal, and can only be handicapped from advancing by attempts to do so.

In Australia the Aboriginal community was well on its way to integration with the modern economy until ‘Nugget Coombs’ and the other ‘noble-savage’ fundamentalists tried to legislate their ‘uniqueness’. The result has been a criminal disaster for the vast majority of ‘natives’. (A lovely concept itself. I am reminded of the confusion caused by an American lady I know of who insists on being referred to as an ‘African-American’, simply because she was born in Africa. Naturally, she is considered to be a dangerous loonatic by the special interest groups who have a vested interest in racial politics, given that she is white. She has broken the cardinal rule of the real racists – those who gain benefit from racial distinctions – in making obvious that their position is racist! Or as Terry Pratchett explains in his Discworld series: the activists in the Dwarven community had trouble dealing with an adopted human’s claim to be a dwarf, because their policy that anti-dwarvism was ‘hieghtist’ caused issues with the main reason to disown a full size human…) Citizenship in Australia has had the concept of different values for different people re-imposed by well meaning idealism (a concept re-inforced by the ever increasing regulations that see immigrant doctors and lawyers working as taxi-drivers despite the crying need for their skills).

The chapter on “ the people against the bureaucrats” is even more telling. In France the real issue is not that the over-regulation of the labour market has kept black immigrants out of work. Instead the issue is that it has kept the vast majority of young people out of work. Admittedly the divide and conquor element of the ‘bread ticket’ manipulations that separate the blacks from the whites might prevent the traditional response of the French to economic turmoil – revolution. But only at the expense of the long term stability of the state as a political and economic entity. Citizenship is no longer a valuable thing if it leads to Roman results. It is hard to see western states prospering as the flexibility that was the hallmark of their economic development is undermined by literally thousands of new regulations and requirements every year.

So lets put that in the simplest possible terms. When you make equality before the law the goal, you get justice (if imperfect owing to factors the state cannot control things like individual ability). When you start legislating exceptions and qualifications to equality, you get injustice. Eventually a lot of people are going to notice, and stop being committed to the state. Indiferance makes states unstable. (In fact some would argue that if the people despise the state they have an obligation to rebel.)

Grant’s chapter on “the drop outs against society” is self explanatory (though well worth a read as our welfare system becomes more and more designed to vote buying in the middle class rather than genuinely helping those in need); but the really interesting chapter is called “the state against free belief”. The Roman example emphasizes the unhelpful effects of state based Christianity, but we are in no danger of such superstitious nonsense. At least not as long as our own religious manias are so much more creative at invoking pointless and meaningless bureaucratic chaos. Hurray for global warming… (Oh I’m sorry, now that the climate is several years into a cooling period we call that ‘climate change’ don’t we. See ‘doomed planet')

Perhaps it is inevitable that as a state gets more stable, it becomes over-organised to the detriment of its economic flexibility and health. Certainly that would explain why Ancient Empires all seemed to run out of steam, and why China became bogged down so easily after such a good start. Certainly one could argue that the ‘decline’ of the British Empire was far more related to internal weariness and the rise of democratic bread and circuses than to military defeat or economic collapse - starting with disinterest in the American revolution! (The fall in the British citizens standard of living in relation to the rest of the world probably has much more to do with a century of socialist experiments in government than the short term effects of a couple of world wars.)

Rome declined because it lost its way. As the various classes and interest groups got gradually squeezed out by the professional politicians (the Senate) fighting with the populist bread and circus policies of competing short term emperors,. The majority of the citizens lost importance in, and attachment to, the state. In the end the state was not something worth fighting for.

Modern western states face a decline in the useful contribution of various classes and interest groups who previously made up a thriving state. As the professional politicians pander increasingly to bread and circus populism for a mass that is being regulated into loss of interest in, and attachment to, the processes of government: the outcome cannot be good. It only remains to be seen if they can destroy the flexibility of the economies before causing the collapse of the political and social systems, or if the systems will come apart fast enough to allow the successor states to rebuild useful economies.

Or maybe I am being overly cynical?

I wonder how the successor states in the Roman world felt about their brave new experiments?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Australian Flag as Meaningful Heraldry

Someone who recently read my comments supporting Constitutional Monarchy, sneeringly asked me if I’d like to defend the Australian flag as well. As it happens I would, but probably not for the reasons he thinks.

It is always fun to be called an arch-conservative, particularly by somebody who cannot actually define what a Conservative is. Likewise it is entertaining to be accused of any sort of ‘ism’, usually by those who replace reason with unthinking assumption. Several times in my academic career, I had the great felicity of being accused as both “right wing of Genghis Khan”, and “a radical socialist loony”, by people in the audience who had (at least theoretically) been listening to the same paper! It always gave me a warm feeling that I had achieved exactly the right balance.

If I am anything, I am probably an arch-cynic. My perspective on government for instance is almost anarchical in my belief that the less of it there is the better. (In his book The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein defined a ‘rational anarchist’ as someone who was happy to abide by whichever of the laws you want to make that he thinks actually necessary, and simply ignore the rest… So tempting!) So I presume that someone reading my Constitutional Monarchy blogs could happily consider me either an arch-conservative or an arch-anarchist depending on what they take from the articles. Again and that cheers me.

I suppose I should least classify myself as conservative to the point of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. On the other hand, many of the reasons that I would give to my decisions have philosophical, practical, or moral grounds which would terrify most Conservatives. In fact I think some of them would terrify quite a few radicals.

So when I argue in favour of the Australian flag in its current form, I do so not on the grounds of reactionary attachment to tradition. Instead I am doing so on the grounds that I both like and believe in the story conveyed by the meaningful Heraldry involved in the production of the Australian flag.

When I do a Heraldry presentation at a school, I always start by demonstrating the military significance of Heraldic images in a period of armour and visors. Students understand this concept. But when I ask whether it is necessary in modern war fighting, I get confused response, until a flash up an image of a colourfully emblazoned Vietnam War period F4 Phantom (which I tell them is one of the prototype shots from early 1960). All the students are immediately able to identify which nationality the aircraft belongs to. With a bit of prodding they can usually tell me what the number of stars and stripes represents. With a bit more prodding, they work out that counting the number of stars on a given US flag will give you the historical period with a nice degree of accuracy. In fact that particular layout of stars was only 1959 - 1960!

From there I move on to the British Union Jack, getting students to identify crosses of St George, St Andrew, and Sir Patrick, and the various ways that have been combined (including by the English/Scottish Commonwealth under Cromwell). Which leads nicely into the use of the Union Jack in the flags of Commonwealth and other countries (such as Hawaii, both as an independence nation and then once co-opted as an American state), who identify with the concepts conveyed by the Union Jack.

For a start, the red white and blue basis of the British, American, French, and most early Commonwealth countries has for more than two centuries represented liberal democracies with rules of law. In the first and second World Wars, those colours were the good guys, and any other colour scheme was the bad guys (with a side comment that the Soviet Union tried to play both sides, so shooting at them was just a 50-50 chance of getting it right).

Secondly the union Jack represents a Judeo Christian heritage, relating usually to a Westminster style system of government, with common-law features, and some sort of attempt at devising a system of human equality. Even many of the ex-Commonwealth nations who have put other symbols in the Canton (upper hoist quarter), such as the federal stars used by Malaysia and the United States, are usually simply announcing a variation on the Westminster approach, but with the same underlying principles of rule of law etc.

The body of the Australian flag is blue, representing our naval heritage and situation. A surprising number of students can identify that the use of the Southern Cross reflects not only our location, but the reason for our discovery. (Captain Cook was commissioned by the British astrological society to study the transit of Venus winning happened to bump in to the two nations - Australia and New Zealand - which like to explain that fact on their flags). Unfortunately no student now knows that the four main stars in the Southern Cross were assigned moral values by Dante - justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude - which the flags designer felt were important.

The federation star has seven points, which most students will tell you represents six states and two territories. When queried, most realize that Australia has always had offshore territories, though most do not realize that they included League of Nations mandates such as Papua and New Guinea in the past. The idea that the number has been in constant flux is a novelty to them, but many comment that this is properly more sensible than the American approach of changing all the flags every few years. (See Puerto-Rico’s current search for statehood…)

So the Australian flag tells an elegant story. It explains our cultural heritage; our political and legal system; our place in international relations over the last two centuries; our location; the reason for our discovery; our reliance on overseas trade; and our federal structure of government.

I have certainly not seen any alternative design that conveys anywhere near as much information. I have seen some pretty pictures, with little depth or meaning. I have seen some attempts to say more about the range of people living here (in both traditional, and newer immigrants), but only at the expense of an explanation of the cultural, legal or political system, which allows them to have a say - or indeed gave them good motivation to move here.

I suppose I can see a theoretical reason to modify the existing flag to expand the story. I have no objection to inserting a symbol representing the aboriginal people, perhaps in the middle of the Federation Star (I think that might be a nice statement of nationhood). I am not sure how we deal with people from other cultures who have chosen to emigrate here… certainly trying to do border right round the edge of the flag made up of the many symbols for the country’s that all those people have come from would be somewhat gross, not to mention an un-ending task as nations come and go. For the same reason I would be opposed to an American-style ever increasing number of stars around the edge to represent the different cultures people immigrated from. Again, I have no objection to another addition to the flag indicating that immigrants from all parts of the world are welcome (perhaps again some sort of symbol that encloses the federation star).

Yet the reason that I would accept such modifications, is simply that they help expand the beautiful story told by the magnificent Heraldry of the existing flag. Change for the sake of change is foolish. Change to some sort of less informative, inferior product, for what appears to be mainly negative and divisive reasons, is offensive and somewhat degrading. But change to the existing design for good and inclusive reasons could be considered eminently sensible.

So am I completely conservative, or just a little bit radical? Am I a romantic, or just practical? What do you think?

The Tonka-Truck Theory of History.

Someone recently commented on my blogs, and suggested that although I am very good at dismantling other people’s misconceptions, I seem to have a few of my own.

How true…

There are three obvious responses to this. The first is to note that I do not believe it is possible for a person not to have some pre-programmed misconceptions. No matter how broad your education has been, you are to some extent programmed by your life experiences and expectations. (See, post-modernism might even be good for something...)

The second thing I would note, is that these blogs are consciously a little over the top. When I re-read the draft before publication, I have been known to adjust statements to be just a little bit more challenging than in the original version. My intention is not so much to convince people of my point of view, as to challenge them to come up with their own point of view. Whether my underlying point is sincerely meant, or merely idle speculation, the way it is phrased is hopefully designed to make people want to argue back. (Those who have seen me in the classroom or lecture theatre know that I am somewhat Socratic in my methods. I am likely to start a topic by saying “I think you should all pass an IQ test before being allowed to vote, do you think that’s a good idea?” Or "So give me a good reason why cannibalism might be a bad thing?" The former is a serious question, whereas the latter is an idle challenge to preconceptions. but in both cases I expect a reasoned response.)

The third, and most involved comment, is that this suggestion made me think seriously about what my wife calls the ‘Tonka-Truck theory of Parenting’.

My wife and I ran a Kindermusic studio for several years, and dealt with thousands of young children and their parents. Almost every parent we came across had a solemn goal to ensure that their child would never be exposed to such and such, which had blighted their own early life. After a while, Michelle developed a little story to make them all feel a bit better.

When Johnny was a child, he wanted a Tonka-Truck, Unfortunately his parents gave him a bucket and spade. When Johnny grew up he made absolutely sure that his child Jane got a Tonka-Truck, but unfortunately Jane didn’t want a Tonka-Truck she wanted a Barbie doll. So when Jane grew up, she made sure that her child Susan got a Barbie doll. Unfortunately Susan didn’t want a Barbie doll, she wanted a bucket and spade. And so the circle of life continues.

So let’s put this into and historical context.

The teenagers I teach now, probably look at somebody born in 1966 as quite old-fashioned, and fair enough. I was taught by a group of its teachers who were either Baby Boomers, or grew up during the Second World War. Presumably they were taught by a group of teachers who grew up during, or just after, the First World War.

I can well imagine that the people who taught the baby boomers were conditioned both by the Great War, the Twenties, and the Depression. I cannot imagine that this would do anything but impact on what they taught and how they taught it. So I am fairly confident that the baby boomers, with their relatively safe and luxurious lifestyles, had a different worldview to their teachers, and quietly sneered about their teacher’s ideas and perspectives.

(It is worth noting here that the research shows that ones height, weight, health and general life expectancy, is affected not just by you’re own life experiences, but also by those of your parents. The baby boomers may have been the first generation for a long time not to have experienced war or depression, but their children are the first to experience the effects of multiple generations of this (at least is the first since the Victorian/Edwardian period anyway). Walk into any high school and look at the students. Third and fourth generation Australians are usually bigger and healthier than their parents by the time they reach 14 or 15. Second-generation Australians, particularly from some of the more recent immigrant cultures, are much less likely to fit this category – though the exceptions are interesting.)

Naturally my generation, having had a considerably rougher ride than the boomers in terms of education and jobs, interpreted the world differently and sneered at the boomer perspectives.

But do the boomer’s kids feel the same way?

When I was paying my way through my first Masters degree working in the funeral industry, a constant refrain amongst the families I drove to Granny’s funeral was bemused boomer parents berating their University age children for not just getting a job and trying things. To the point that a couple of times I intervened to explain the facts of the early nineties recession to boomers who had never experienced anything but walking into a new job whenever they felt like it. Now that those kids are busy producing the boomers grandchildren, I sometimes speculate on what worldview is having it’s turn.

I am completely happy to acknowledge that my life experience, shaped by the period that I grew up in, has affected the way that I look at the world. I am equally happy to acknowledge that my generation, like every other generation in history, tends to treat the previous generation with some disdain. (Here I will happily put in the sort of challenging comment that I enjoy making… ‘but then I am quite comfortable with asserting that the baby boomer viewpoints are possibly more worthy of disdain than those of most other generations in the last couple of centuries’. Discuss…)

I do however, believe that despite the limitations of an individual’s experience in education, it is possible for them to search for greater truths. In fact I would go so far as to say that whereas the Depression era children wanted the bucket and spade, and the boomers wanted the Barbie doll, I want the real thing… I want the Tonka-Truck.

Perhaps it is the case that the annoyance I felt at the constant harping of my teachers on certain issues, makes me completely uninterested in taking those issues seriously. Or, perhaps it is the case that my life experience makes me incapable of accepting the viewpoints of people with a different life experience. Either of these possibilities may be true, and it would be foolish of me to dismiss the possibility completely. But it is also at least possible, that I have actually analysed what people said to me, and am then dismissing it for good and realistic reasons. I would be foolish to ignore that possibility as well.

After reflection, I have chosen to continue to take the Tonka-Truck theory to its logical conclusion. I will assume that what I am trying to convey is actually the result of reasoned analysis, but will accept the possibility that this might be a rationalization of the prejudices of my life experience. I will seek my Tonka-Truck, but try to keep in mind that I may be talking to people who have good reason for preferring a bucket and spade (though naturally, I can’t accept that there would be any good reason for preferring a Barbie doll! Discuss…)

I will write my blogs in the same way that I teach my classes. I will start with a proposition that I think is logical and sensible, but then present it in a way that is challenging as possible, in the hope of provoking a reasoned response. (Fully expecting to get some unreasoned responses too… sometimes quite foam flecked… or is that just my prejudices talking?)

Hopefully I will get the sort of feedback that challenges my own misconceptions.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reflections on American alternative history

After a few quite serious topics, I thought I would go a bit whimsical again. (Perhaps indulging in a little rant…)

Just finished an amusing set of short stories by one of the best of the American alternate history writers, S. M. Stirling. who does a considerably more sensible approach to how societies change in different contexts that most of his contemporaries, (Eric Flint can be quite good, Turtledove considerably less so, and Harry Harrison is abysmal). I have always enjoyed Stirling's lightweight Peshawar Lancers book, which, with some of the short stories in Ice, Iron and Gold, almost meets the standards of H. Beam Piper for comprehension of what is and isn’t possible given changing circumstances.


I will deal briefly, and dismissively, with their ideas of time travel backwards. It is a bit laughable to believe the concept of a pre-literate or pre-industrial society successfully adopting good old American values, and launching a US Republic… cold. First, it cannot happen. Have a look at their success rates in Afghanistan and Iraq to see the results, even with an overwhelming modern military and beaurocracy trying to enforce their pipe dreams. And that assumes their fantasy version of their own reality in thinking that republics, let alone a US version, are a good thing. (See my previous posts on Republics.) It is notable that the best attempt at this genre by Americans is the 1632 series, where the initial attempt at a Republic quickly becomes a Constitutional Monarchy as the American protagonists themselves face reality.

So let us move onto the more interesting, and revealing, contemporary alternative histories…

The most fascinating element of American viewpoints of alternative history, is their assumption that the United States as is obviously the highpoint of all civilisation, and therefore any contemporary alternative world will be less politically and scientifically advanced. It is a nice conceit I suppose (and you could theoretically find some sort of parallels from British or French arrogance by going back to the period of such authors as H.G. Wells or Winston Churchill), but it is hardly realistic.

Americans draw alternative histories where the British won the American War of Independence; or the French won the Napoleonic wars; or the South won the Confederacy War of Independence; or the Nazi’s won World War Two: as though the modern world would be physically and politically more backwards. This is real fantasy.

Politically, the Americans fought their war of independence largely because British liberalism had already made slavery illegal in Britain (and the South could see what was coming), and had signed treaties with the American Indians limiting the expansion of the north. One of the great motivations for the hatred of British customs by the slavers and smugglers and pirates who became many of the US founding fathers, was that the British had black captains on some of their frigates…. Yes black! The US was founded on racist principles, with a constitution designed to protect the institution of slavery (that was part of the reason they picked Roman and Greek models). How is that going to get a more liberal world order than the British or French might provide? When did American blacks get the vote compared to British or French?

Technology is even silliere. American writers constantly interpret a modern world run by the British, French, or Germans: as powered by brass valved airship technology with steam-powered cars. Where do they get this stuff from? 'Steam punk'? (I will note Lorenzo's comment that in a world dominated by one empire wars would be less common, as would the technologies inspired by wars. Fair point, but it presupposes that A) Britain had any interest in such an empire, and B) that German technology was not created by conflict within Europe rather than with Britain. Consider the German chemical industry of the late nineteenth century, or their invention of automobiles. Britain certainly didn't plan to conquor all Europe to enforce peace and slow technology.)

Industrialisation was invented in Britain. Despite US fantasies, if any major European powers had taken an interest in the American Civil War, the North would have been squashed like a bug. (It was the North’s blockade and freedom to mount repeated invasions that finished the South, not the land front that was largely stalemated until the very end.) Britain, or even France, could have given the South independence without needing to mobilise anything larger than their existing Atlantic fleets.

In World War One the United States was entirely reliant on Britain and France for war fighting material. Guns, tanks, aircraft, artillery… everything except ships (and do not underestimate what a leap forward the US navy got from the British giving them modern designs for warships as part of the deal). Radio, and later television, were European inventions. I can only think of one place where the US led in 1900, the submarine Even the American born inventors of the machine guns finished up living and working in Britain to get funding for development and production (and was a British citizen and knighted for his efforts).

In World War Two the British gave the United States such minor technical achievements as radar, sonar, jet engines, programmable computers, and access to British and German scientists to expand the Allied atomic bomb project (which the US administration later reneged on sharing the results of). At the end of the war British and German jets, rockets and scientists, became the foundation for American cold war technology. Had Europe not been impoverished by the fighting, the US would not have looked anything special in the post war world. (As the Japanese economic miracle immediately set out to prove.)

The Americans might be able to point to a few breakthroughs more recently (possibly of use rather than type – such as Apple’s conversion of office computers into genuine PC’s): but even the world-wide-web is a British invention, let alone the gadgets imported from Asia. Only in medical breakthroughs could the Americans possibly have any great lead on the rest of the world since the fifties. Even the much vaunted American military is using only improved versions of jet adn submarine technology. The genuinely new things like include British jump jets and tank armour; and to a lesser extent European missiles; joint NATO project aircraft. In fact the Americans have just worked out that after retiring their space shuttles they will either have to rely on the Europeans, Russians or Japanese to put things into space, or go back to rockets based on designs put together by someone called Werner vohn Braun.

The idea that the United States has caused the world to be more technologically or politically advanced than it would otherwise have been is pure fantasy. Yet the science fiction writers who come up with this stuff are clearly from the American educational elite. They have degrees and backgrounds in science and the military that mean they must have experienced something of the real world. What is wrong with their understanding?

Is it just misplaced patriotism? Is it just the result of a terribly insular education system? (I would note that even the very best of them - Flint or David Weber - do not really understand history the way Piper did. They keep having the other side adopt new inventions immediately... Perhaps they fail to note that people just do not work that way. The French captured British flintlock naval cannon in the 1790's, but were still failing to make copies at the time of Waterloo - after 20 years of losing the war at sea!) Or (we can hope) are they just writing populist crap the way they think the masses want to hear it; and hiding the truth from their readers in the sort of jingoism that makes Kipling look remarkably like an apolitical and balanced reporter.

Personally I think alternative history, or it’s semi-respectable cousin ‘counterfactual’, is a wonderful and enlightening exercise. Well done, it is thought provoking and even inspiring, but it has to be done with some limits, or it just becomes fantasy. I have nothing against fantasy, as I enjoy that too. Yet even if we consider 'steam-punk' to be just the fantasy end of the spectrum, that still leaves some really bad interpretations of how people and their environments develope, which seems purely based on the unthinking prejudices of a poor education. My main concern is whether the authors who are attempting to merge fantasy with reasoned analysis can tell the difference.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Constitutional Monarchy as a working alternative to Republics

Monarchy, the last defence of Liberty – 3: Constitutional Monarchy as a working alternative to Republics

(This is the third of 3 parts, based on a paper I gave to the Prodos - Promoting Capitalism group in Melbourne.)

Introduction: (Pre-paper synopsis advertised by Prodos included the following….)
The most common claims made by members of the pro-Republican movement in Australia are that Republicanism is:

A) The way of the future
B) More democratic
C) More attractive to new immigrants.

These three propositions appear to fit into the same category as the American military's MRE (Meals Ready to Eat). They are three lies for the price of one.

It is very obviously the case that the concept of a republic is literally ancient, rather than modern; and it is arguable that the model has long since passed its use-by date.

I will demonstrate that the vast majority of republics have turned out to be anything but democratic.

Indeed there are much more modern democratic safeguards available in other models.

It is extremely unlikely that the immigrants and refugees arriving in Australia from various dysfunctional republics are enthusiastic supporters of dismantling the system of government which has made Australia their chosen beacon of liberty.

The talk will be divided into three parts.

1. An analysis of historical Republics, and the reasons for their incredibly high failure rates.

2. An analysis of Constitutional Monarchies, and the reasons for their incredibly high success rates.

3. An analysis of modern pro-Republican 'reformers', and the appalling effects of their 'reforms' on the democratic process and individual liberty.

The issues with the theory, practice, and history of Republics have been covered in two previous articles. This one intends to investigate the only modern system of government that has proven safe and effective.

Part 1: The failed experiment of Republicanism

There appears to be a strange misconception for some Australians that to be a Republican makes you somehow a ‘modern’, or even a progressive thinker. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ‘ideal’ of Republicanism is not only old fashioned, it is almost completely discredited.

Republicanism in the ‘modern’ world, is one of the ideals of the Age of Reason – ie it is an eighteenth century concept. It is in fact quite an old fashioned concept compared to the much more recent ideals of Parliamentary Democracy/Constitutional Monarchy (as practiced by Australia); or indeed of Communism, Socialism, or Fascism. Nor can it be considered naturally more desirable than any of the others named.

The romance of modern republicanism is largely attached to the revolutionary fervour which is often mistakenly associated with the establishment of the American, French, or South American republics. Somehow this has been detached from the very similar ‘revolutions’ of the many Socialist Republics (read Soviet Socialist or People’s Republics – otherwise known as Dictatorships). In fact the common theme of each and every one of these romances, has been violence and repression. Whether you take the examples of the ‘Yellow’s, Red’s, and Black’s’ in the US Revolution – all of whom were on the British side, as were hundreds of thousands of white ‘loyalists’ who were forced to flee the country; or the ‘enemies of the people’ who were slaughtered in such vast numbers by virtually every republic you care to name from eighteenth century France to twentieth century Russia, Turkey, China, and almost anywhere in Africa ever called a republic of any sort: you would be unable to find any system of government in history which has shed more blood, and more of it’s own people’s blood, than states called Republics.

This is because Republics – particularly the overly ‘democratised’ modern versions of them – are inherently unstable, and almost inevitably collapse into chaos and/or dictatorships. Dictatorships of individuals, such as the Wiemar Republic when it voted in Adolf Hitler; or dictatorships of the all righteous ‘majority’, such as the Republics which have unloosed bloodbaths on their minority groups – from Turkey in the 20’s, to Rwanda more recently.

Here we run into confusion with Churchill’s oft misquoted statement that Democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the other ones. It would be impossible to quantify the number of people who have confused the word Democracy with the concept of Republicanism. In fact democracy – from the Greek ‘Demos’ which simply means rule by the many, and implies ‘for the many’ – is in many ways opposed to overly democratised ‘Republicanism’, which in practical terms usually means ‘rule by the majority’, and rarely pays more than lip service to the concept of ‘for anyone other than the majority’. Limited Democracy can be an excellent component of a balanced system of government. Unfettered Democracy however – the concept that 50.01% have the right to overrule everyone else - is one of the great evil’s of the world, and most correctly identified with the Roman concept of ‘Bread and Circuses’. Many ‘Republicans’ seem suprisingly enamoured of unfettered democracy. (One of Churchill’s less remembered quotes is that the greatest argument against Democracy was ten minutes talking with the average voter. But modern ‘reformers’ are often of the ‘we know what’s best for ignorant little you’, and ‘we are completely confident of our ability to manipulate you’ schools, so see less of an issue with stupid voters.)

Part 2: The theory of Constitutional Monarchy

A number of classical writers discussed forms of government alternative to monarchies and later writers have treated these as foundational works on the nature of republics. Philosophers and politicians advocating for republics, such as Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Adams, and Madison, relied heavily on these sources. Aristotle's Politics discusses various forms of government. One form Aristotle named politeia consisted of a mixture of the other forms he argued this was one of the ideal forms of government. Polybius expanded on many of these ideas, again focusing on the idea of mixed government. The most important Roman work in this tradition is Cicero's De re publica.

In his discourses on Livy (First Book, Chapter 2), Machiavelli wrote:
“Some other writers on politics distinguished three kinds of government, viz the monarchical, the aristocratic and the democratic; and maintain that the legislators of the people must choose from these three the one that seems to be most suitable. Other authors, wiser according to opinion of many, count six kinds of government, three of which are very bad, and three good themselves, but so liable to be corrupted as they become absolutely bad. The three good ones are those which we have just name; the three bad ones result from the degradation of the other three, and each of them resembles its corresponding original, so that transition from one to the other is very easy. Thus the monarchy becomes tyranny; aristocracy degenerates into oligarchy; and popular government relaxes readily into licentiousness. So that a legislator who gives to a state which he founds, either of these three forms of government, constitutes it but a brief time; for no precautions can prevent either one of the three that a reputed good, from degenerating into its opposite kind…

At the beginning… they chose the strongest and most courageous from amongst themselves and placed him at their head, promising to obey him. Thence they began to know the good and the honest, and distinguish them from the bad and the vicious… When they had afterwards to choose a prince, neither to look to the strongest nor bravest, but to the wisest and most just. But when they began to make sovereign hereditary and non-elective, the children quickly degenerated from their fathers; and, so far from trying to equal their virtues, they considered that the prince had nothing else to do than excel in all rest of luxury, indulgence, and every variety of pleasure…

Those citizens who, surpassing the others in grandeur of soul, in wealth, and encourage, could not submit to the outrageous and excesses of their princes... Under such powerful leaders, the masses arm themselves against the tyrant, and, having rid themselves of him, submitted to these chiefs as their liberators. These, abhoring the name of prince, constituted themselves a new government; and at first, bearing in mind the past tyranny, they governed in strict accordance with the laws which they had established themselves; preferring public interest of their own, and to administer and protect with greatest care both public and private affairs. The children succeeded their fathers, and ignorant of the changes fortune, having never experienced reverses, and indisposed to remain content with the civil equality, they in turn gave themselves up to cupidity, ambition, libertinage, and violence, and soon caused the aristocratic government to degenerate into an oligarchy tyranny, regardless of all civil rights.

They soon, however, experience the same fate as the first tyrant; the people, disgusted with their government, place themselves at the command of whoever was willing to attack them, and this disposition soon produced an avenger, who was sufficiently well seconded to destroy them. The memory of the prince and the wrongs committed by him being still fresh in their minds, and having overthrown the oligarchy, the people were not willing to return to the government of a prince. A popular government was therefore resolved upon, and it was so organized that the authority should not again fall into the hands of a prince or a small number of nobles. And as all governments are a first look up to with some degree of reverence, the populous state also maintained itself a time, but which was never of long duration, and lasted generally only about as long as the generation have established it; for it soon ran into that kind of licence which inflicts injury upon public as well as private interests. Each individual only consulted his own passions, and 1000 acts of injustice were daily committed, so that, constrained by necessity, or directed by the councils are some good man, or for the purposes of escape from this anarchy, they returned anew to the government of a prince, and from this they generally lapsed again into anarchy, step by step, in the same manner and from the same courses as we have indicated.

Such is the circle which all republics are destined to run through… They will be apt to revolve indefinitely in the circle of revolutions. I say then, that all kinds of government are defective; those three which we have qualified as good because there to shoot short lived, and the three bad ones because of their inherent viciousness. The sagacious legislators, knowing the vices of each of these systems of government by themselves, have chosen one that should partake of all of them, judging that to be the most stable and solid. In fact, when there is a combined under the same constitution prince, a nobility, and the power of the people, then these three powers will watch and keep each other reciprocal in check.”

He goes on to applaud Sparta for endurance (except demographic), decry Athens for licentiousness, and point out that although Republican Roman maintained elements of monarchy and aristocracy and, “the popular power was wanting”.

Most Enlightenment thinkers were far more interested in ideas of constitutional monarchy than in republics. The Cromwell regime had discredited republicanism, and most thinkers felt that republics ended in either anarchy or tyranny. Thus philosophers like Voltaire opposed absolutism while at the same time being strongly pro-monarchy.

I think it would be hard not to agree with Machiavelli. (Except that instead of the terms aristocray and oligarchy for good and bad, I will use oligarchy and autocracy... An acknowledgement that many oligarchy’s are, at least theoretically, mercantile, position or race based, rather than traditional aristocratic.)

As Machiavelli suggests, a bad monarchy is a terrible thing, and eventually a strong group of disaffected Oligarchs will overthrow the Monarch, and place themselves into the role of ‘protectors’ of the people (Republics like Venice and England - the English civil war; and the American, French and Russian Revolutionary wars come to mind). Eventually these Oligarchs will also become corrupt – often in much less time than a monarchy: at which the people will rebel, and usually attempt to install some sort of Democracy. Unfortunately these democracies are rarely competently organised, and usually break down into ‘Bread and Circuses’ disasters Revolutionary France, Russia, or Italy perhaps). The mess is so complete, that the people – seeking security – soon elect or follow a new Monarch (sometimes – as in the cases of Cromwell, Napoleon, Stalin or Hitler - called a dictator). Many of these new monarchs become hereditary (see Napoleon the Third, Kim il Yung, and the Suharto clan amongst others), and the process begins again.

Monarchies, by their nature, can last for centuries without becoming too corrupt. Oligarchies, by their nature, might last decades (The original race oligarchy United States lasted several decades before falling into civil war). Republics, particularly those with unfettered democracy? Well a few years anyway (at least some of them - France and Russia lasted mere months). But all have the seeds of their own destruction embedded in the system. They are all unstable.

Machiavelli rightly pointed out that the only system of government which was not unstable, was one which combined the strengths of each system. The long term perspective of the Monarch, the balancing of interests of the Oligarchs, and the popular consent of the Demos. If these three are in balance, then any two of them can combine to prevent a takeover by the third.

Part 3: Time Horizon of Rulership

What we are really looking at here is what the American economist and social scientist Mancur Olson referred to as the ‘Time Horizon of Rulership”. The Basic principle of the Time Horizon is that it is in the interests of the ruled for their rulers to take the longest possible viewpoint. Olson suggested that the reason monarchy had been by far the predominant form of government throughout history was not that nobody ever tried anything else, but that nothing else did nearly so well as a government system, because nothing else had such an incentive to plan for the long term. As Machiavelli says, bad kings degenerate and indulge in luxury, but usually only over centuries. Bad democratic politicians can usually achieve it in months, sometimes weeks! (Or, to paraphrase Sir Humphrey Appleby’s discussion of democratic government… “Diplomacy is about surviving until the next century, but politics is about surviving until next week”.)

Clearly a hereditary monarchy is more likely to plan for the future inheritance of their children than a populist politician who has perhaps a four year window of opportunity to make their mark. (I remember the horrible waste associated with student union elections at Melbourne University, where each successive administration had one year to gut the expensive renovations completed a few months earlier by their predecessors and replace them during the first semester with their own ‘vision’, only to have the process repeated the next year.) It is almost certain that some well meaning elected politicians have better motives and goals than some corrupt and licentious long term monarchs: but it does not follow that citizens enjoy the roller coaster ride better, or necessarily finish up with better results once democratic extremists stir up the rage of a mass all too likely to elect a ‘strong leader’ to save them from the turbulance. (See Napoleon I & III, Mussolini, Hitler, Joh for PM, and Pauline Hanson!)

Crusader knights with hereditary fiefs, for example, were much better for their middle eastern peasantry than Muslim warriors with only short term tax farmer status (and no possibility of their own sons ever holding the same estates). The C12th Muslim chronicler Ibn Jubayr wrote after visiting the Crusader kingdoms in the 1180s prior to the Horns of Hattin:
"Upon leaving Tibin (near Tyre), we passed through an unbroken skein of farms and villages whose lands were efficiently cultivated. The inhabitants were all Muslims, but they live in comfort with the Franj, may God preserve us from temptation! Their dwellings belong to them and all their property is unmolested. All the regions controlled by the Franj in Syria are subject to this same system: the landed domains, villages, and farms have remained in the hands of the Muslims. Now, doubt invests the heart of a great number of these men when they compare their lots to that of their brothers living in Muslim territory. Indeed, the latter suffer from the injustice of their coreligionists, whereas the Franj act with equity."

This is not because the Crusaders were ‘noble minded or enlightened’ conquorers compared to the backward and vindictive Muslim conquorers. This is far more because the crusader nobles and kings planned for the long term, and Muslim tax farmers did not. (Ibn Jabayr is being a little economical in only mentioning the Muslim ‘subjects’ of the crusaders, and failing to mention that much of the middle east – such as Egypt - was still majority Christian but ruled by Muslims. If Muslims treated their own co-religionists worse than the Franks did, imagine their Christian dhimmi subjects in Egypt.)

The simple fact is that, leaving aside cultural differences, hereditary control encouraged a long term and multi-generational viewpoint. (People who are worried about cultural differences might consider the Japanese Sumarai who adopted a similar feudalism for their own purposes.) This is why genuine hereditary oligarchy’s such as Venice - with its 480 families of voters - lasted a thousand years despite calling themselves a republic!

Which is a long way from saying that all monarchies will be ideal pleasure gardens for their citizens. Indeed the whole point of Machiavelli and others is that although some version of a long term viewpoint is vital to a stable state, it needs to be tempered by other viewpoints – each in moderation.

Part 4: The Balance

The principle of combining the monarchical, the oligarchic, and the democratic is NOT therefore a class issue. It is an issue of VIEWPOINTS. In a properly ordered state the Monarchical component of a government looks to the long term; the Oligarchical looks to protecting special interests; and the Democratic looks to the giving the Demos a vested interest. If any part gets too frisky, the other two need the ability to restrain it.

In theory this is what happened in miniature during the English Civil War. The King looked set on the path towards European style Absolute Monarchy, until brought to heel by the English Oligarchs and nascent Commons. Unfortunately the civil war required the oligarchs to get the support of the English - and even more importantly Scottish - commons: which threw up all sorts of Demos movements such as the New Model Army, the Presbyterians, and the Levellers. Eventually the English ‘Republic’ (sorry – Commonwealth), found itself with a new Monarch/Dictator – Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector – who passed on his job to his son. Fortunately the dictatorship was overthrown by a combination of Monarchy, Oligarchy and Commons in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which then set up the carefully balanced Constitutional Monarchy with both Lords and Commons – the system which developed into that used by all stable long term democracies today.

Part 5: Failed Republics – American Style

The United States founding fathers, for contrast, designed their constitution on the most careful assessment of the strengths and weaknesses, and eventual reasons for failure, of every previous Republic – oligarchic and restrictive like Sparta and Venice, or so called ‘demos’ based like Athens and Rome. They did this both because they were planning an oligarchic and restrictive state – with no votes or even rights for yellow’s, red’s or black’s; and because they were planning a Demos with something resembling unfettered democracy - at least for white males of appropriate status and income. Being limited by a revolutionary movement which was theoretically anti-monarchical, they came up with a slightly different form, where the Supreme Court is supposed to consider the long term, and the Congress – both Senate and Representatives – theoretically look after special interests and state rights, while the executive – the President and his appointed advisers – are the result of the say of national unfettered demos (thought through a weird electoral college system).

Unfortunately deciding that the long term perspective will be handled by a body of officials (appointed from a limited caste) for a decade or two simply doesn’t work. The US court system in the last twenty or thirty years has been as delighted to cross from interpreting the law to making it up, as has every other western national court (most of which have been able to ‘read into’ the meanings of their constitutions the most amazing things that they think the writers should have thought they wanted it to mean!)

The US constitution made a reasonable fist of achieving something approaching a balance: save for the occasional civil war, and the ongoing ‘resistance’ of many in the south and the reservations who still claim to be conquered and second class citizens. But it would be a mistake to suggest that the long-term survival of the system was due to good planning, rather than an extraordinarily lucky sequence of events. (Professor David Flint recently made the fascinating point that the Americans were unlucky to model their constitution on an English system where the Monarchy still had executive powers. Amusingly it was partly as a result of losing the American colonies that the British modified their system to exclude the monarch from a direct executive role, thus establishing the basis for the far more successful Dominion governments that came thereafter!)

There is an amusing episode of the television show The West Wing where White House officials beg the Belorussians to go for a Constitutional Democracy by pointing out that only four Presidential Republics have lasted more than 30 years, and then decry the number of states that have been sacrificed to the illogic of the US system. This is of course a bit too logical for the real White House, and it is a constant source of amusement to imagine how heartbreaking it must be to the idealistic television scripters who write the program to contrast it with real life. (Unfortunately such writers have a pipe dream about the ideal man of the people being a media savy Democrat. Perhaps someone could gently hint to them that the American people have already chosen their ideal Hollywood President – Ronald Reagan. It is already looking increasingly doubtful that their current Tony Blair clone will go down as anywhere near as successful in the long term.)

Part 6: Successful Constitutional Monarchies

Of the hundreds of states discussed in the previous two articles in this series, it is notable that some form of Constitutional Monarchy defines those that have been successful in the long term. In order of success… Britain and the Anglosphere – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and even - in far less stable form – the United States with it’s bodged up attempt at a similar structure. The Europeans – Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Monarco, and Spain. Then the Asian, and finally Middle Eastern monarchies - it may be worth mentioning that the traditional Middle Eastern monarchies (Morocco, Jordan, UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait) are the better places to live in the Arab world. (Saudi Arabia is not a traditional monarchy in that sense.)

Just examine the list of the current monarchies (many of them not ‘constitutional’ at all)… Andorra, Bahrain, Belgium, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Denmark, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Thailand, Tonga, United Arab Emirates, Vatican City, United Kingdom, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, and Tuvula.

As in all things, there are failing states on this list (most notably those caught in recent regional bloodbaths like Cambodia). Nevertheless, even the absolute monarchies on this list are usually preferable places to live than their republican neighbours. As for the constitutional monarchies, go to any list of international living standards and individual rights and compare Constitutional Monarchy states to the vast majority of other nations.

The few of the worlds long term successful states not on this list are definitely not pure republics. Switzerland and the United States for instance, are Federations with a tightly conscribed system of checks and balances that they call republican. (Though with any greater effect than the so-called ‘crowned republics’ is very debatable. Unlike those two, few of the crowned republics have had a civil war in the last few centuries.)

Part 7: Successful Constitutional Monarchies – Australian Style

The Australian Commonwealth has re-named its Monarch, Lords and Commons; as Governor General, Senate, and House of Representatives: but they fill the traditional functions of representing respectively the ‘long term’ perspective of the Queens representative; the ‘balancing of interests’ of the Senate (in our case both the states, as designed, and the ‘special interest parties’ as they have developed); and the ‘popular consent’ of those governed. In fact it would be fair to argue that during the only great test of the system, in 1975, it worked exactly as it should. When the house of the Demos started attempting some highly questionable legal actions – attempting to override some interests in the name of unfettered democracy, attempting to govern without legal funding, forcing unconstitutional bank loans, etc: the other two components of the system – the Senate and Governor General – combined to restrain it by… calling an election to assess whether the Demos themselves agreed with what was being done, supposedly in their name.

It is telling that many Australian Republicans seem to think that the events of 1975 are an argument in favour of Republicanism. They seem to have missed the point that A) unfettered democracy should never be allowed to over-run all other interests, and B) that when the Demos were asked to adjudicate in 1975: they agreed, and delivered an overwhelming endorsement of the principle!

Even more spurious is the mistake many people make of claiming that under a Republican system the deadlock of the senate by a state government appointing someone of a different party could not have happened. Have these people read the US constitution they admire so much? A senate, any senate, is specifically not supposed to be just another expression of populist numbers. A senate is designed to protect state rights. That is exactly what is supposed to happen in a federal republic. (This is exactly what party manipulators like Premier Bracks are attempting to undermine by making Victoria’s upper house more ‘democratic’. Perhaps he should have consider how that worked out for the Queensland Labor party, when their self serving ‘reform’ eventually swept Joh Bjelke-Peterson to 17 years of unchallenged control.)

Part 8: Failed Republican Movements – Australian Style

And so we come to the pipe dream of the modern Australian chattering classes. The latte set will have it that Australia would be better off as a Republic.

It is not clear why they believe we should change the most stable and efficient system of government ever developed for an alternative that has such an impressive record of failure and disaster. (Many are probably honest idealists, but I would suggest that it is just possible that many party political manipulators are just cynically keen to get rid of the checks and balances on their own power.)

The most amusing thing about Australian Republicans worshipping the American dream they grew up with as being the most modern, wonderful and powerful state on the planet; is that it reveals their Baby Boomer historical interpretation, while ignoring the fact that most of their Baby Boomer politics since they were old enough to wave a protest sign has been fundamentally anti-American in object. It seems to genuinely surprise some of them when asked to explain why they laud the ideal political system of the US, while decrying the crass results of that system on modern world history.

Perhaps there is an uncomprehending worship of an appearance of power, even if there is a failure to understand that the system defines the results. (Certainly baby boomer historians have accused the previous generation of worshipping Imperial connections for which they claim there was no substance, so encouraging them to face a mirror could be amusing.) The problem is that anyone sensible enough to analyse the last century of world history knows full well how unhelpful American domestic politics can be in International Relations. Ask the Poles in 1944 after Roosevelt told Stalin to lay off until after the elections because he needed the Polish American vote. Ask the Middle East ever since the Jewish vote became vital in New York in 1945. Or anyone affected by the Great Depression as re-engineered by Roosevelt. Or President Wilsons version of a peace in 1919 – read the Second World War. Then consider the current situation in the middle East - where Americans have tried to impose republics on the states their domestic politics required them to A) conquor, but B) not have a clue what to do with (it does make the point that a republic is the last possible solution to impose on such loose federations of tribes and cultures).

Paul Collier did a talk on in May 2008, pointing out that our modern approach to post conflict nationbuilding, is to try and get a political solution before doing anything about jobs, security, and corruption, accountability, competition, basic services, clean government, and better politicians. He notes that if we held an election too soon, we cannot get stable government, we get a winner and a loser. This probably explains why the majority of post-conflict states revert to conflict within a decade.

He believes that as well as doctors without Borders, we need bricklayers without Borders, and even more important accountants without Borders. Then we can build jobs, security, basic services, sense of useful and clean government, (squeeze out the crooks), and better politicians. Replacing a politics of plunder with the politics of hope.

Unfortunately this sort of thinking is highly unfashionable. The traditional name for this sort of development of course, is British Imperialism and Commonwealth, developing Dominions which sometimes become Republics - see US and India (as opposed to the robber baron imperialism of most of the Catholic empires). As Prince Andrew recently commented, if the American's want to try some real nation building, they might get advice from some people who actually made it work once or twice. (The Japanese were very lucky that they were conquered by an American from an old fashioned imperial family – the MacArthur’s – who had the sense to do what would work; rather than follow the American fantasy versions of reality to the disasters they have helped produced in Vietnam, the Phillipines, Italy, Israel, Afghanistan, and Iraq.)

Interestingly the younger generation of Australians has been indoctrinated by baby boomer teacher propaganda to see the Americans as a crass group of incompetents. We do not need the much better information we get on our televisions and laptops to tell us the American system is not very good or efficient. Our teachers have been bombarding us with that message our whole lives. The only thing that confuses us is why the teachers would want us to change to a political system which they spend the rest of their time telling us has appalling consequences? (For those aging Boomers who still think a Republic is inevitable, I suspect you have shot your educational bias bolt, and probably irreparably damaged your own cause. I can’t see many modern teenagers falling for the ‘all the way with JFK’ baby boomer fantasy of a republic if it actually comes down to a debate or another vote. See - Australian history of re-trying failed referendums.)

As the recent referendum on Republicanism seem to demonstrate, the average Australian voter doesn’t want to give their supposedly ‘demos’ house and its party machines more power. By and large we like the balance of power system inherited from the Magna Carta via the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution. We certainly dislike the sort of ‘gerrymanders’ which idealistic Labour politicians invited into Queensland and are trying to bring to other states. (In fact there was a fascinating discussion of how Queensland desperately needs a house of review throughout the newspaper letters pages and the internet, after the latest scandals of the Queensland system which has lost much of it’s checks and balances.) We even have a penchant for voting a strong government in the demos house, and then selecting a more varied group of special interest parties in the special interest house (no wonder the party machines hate it/us).

Note – The UK Labour Party thinks it can ‘strengthen’ the British house of review – the House of Lords - which is already largely appointed for life (see Peerages for loans to the Labour Party): with a largely elected house. They claim ‘democracy’ will be best served by replacing a review body chosen from the finest minds and performers from the whole society – judges, bishops, journalists, union leaders, business people, charity organizers, scientists, economists, academics, and other highly respected individuals notable for their generally recognized common sense and achievements for the community – with another group of party hacks chosen in dank backrooms for their ability to follow Gilbert and Sullivans advice “I always voted at my parties call and I never thought of thinking for myself at all”. Like the theory of Republicanism it all sounds nice and proper, but is it just possible that we should be somewhat suspicious of their real motives? Certainly, even if they are foolish enough to actually mean what they say (rather than just cynical enough to say it to get themselves the unfettered power they yearn for), we should be terrified of the results!

Part 8: Any particular monarchy?

The above just explains the value of a long-term viewpoint. I think it is clear from historical example, that states with some component of long-term viewpoint do better, and that the long-term viewpoint is preferably hereditary. Hundreds of examples over thousands of years cannot be just a coincidence. But this does not mean I am arguing for any particular monarchy.

Many Australian 'Republicans' who have heard my papers start frothing at the mouth about me being an imperialist lackey or a ‘Windsorite’. (I think this usually reveals more about their insecurities, racism and xenophobia than it does about my motives; but I concede that, for whatever reason, many of them genuinely feel so strongly that objectivity is beyond them.) But I should point out that I do not necessarily want Australia to remain under the current monarchy.

I have a detached attraction for the constitutional monarchy that developed the Anglosphere as the most stable and advanced system of governments in the world. (And I include some offshoots – such as the United States – as being a generally good, if flawed, development of British political principles.) As a cynic in relation to all government, I also have a very strong preference to have our de jure head of state shared with a large number of other countries, thus allowing our de facto head of state to be the low cost option we call a Governor General. (The idea that a President would be cheaper is straightforward duplicity. Presidents – particularly popularly elected ones – cost vastly more to maintain their self assumed dignities than any constitutional monarch. When Elizabeth II is at her country residence, she drives down to the local shop to get sweets for her grandchildren. Consider an American or French Presidential system in the same circumstances!) Frankly a non-resident monarchy suits me fine, but I could be talked into a resident one.

Were we to decide a resident system would work better – presumably as much to suppress the pretensions of our elected political classes as for the value in tourism – then I am more open to choices. I would however suggest a monarch chosen from a family bred to generations of understanding their place as a Monarchy from Service. As such I think the Windsors would make much better monarchs than the hereditary elites of Republics… consider the Roosevelt’s, Kennedy’s, or Bush’s. (Particularly consider that Prince Andrew spent the Falklands war flying a helicopter used to decoy missiles from ships, and Prince Harry has only been recalled from duty in Afghanistan – where he was sent secretly - because the media revelations were making life too dangerous for the other troops. Compare that to Clinton’s avoidance of the draft, and Bush’s hiding out in the National Guard.) Nonetheless, I am not sold on the Windsors.

Fortunately we have an Australian citizen in the monarchy production business. Princess Mary has been doing quite well in the Danish royal family, and has particularly impressed by joining the National Guard and qualifying as a private before going on to do her officer training. There is someone who has joined a service institution and accepted the bad with the good! (A couple of reviewers have claimed this is a ‘militaristic’ viewpoint, clearly not recognizing that the basis of Greek Democracy was ‘risk your life for the state = get a vote’, while the technical term for one who would not take on the three duties of citizenship ‘farm, fight and politics’ was ‘idiotes’. I am unashamedly in favour of people demonstrating they put the welfare of others ahead of their own before getting a vote. Responsibilities before rights is a requirement of any long term system, or of any social contract.)

We do not even need to ask her to pop out a spare. If Australians are fixated with a home grown head of state, then we would certainly be ideally placed with a half Australian and half immigrant family. (A good reflection of the state – far better than the American idea that overseas born people cannot be President!) I would be happy to go for sharing Prince Frederick with Denmark, but can also see the advantages of inviting Princess Isabella to start her own dynasty here. (It might be nice to start it off properly with a Queen.)

Part 9: Conclusion

The end point of thousands of years of philosophy and practice, is a near universal agreement that Republics with unfettered popular democracy are hopeless failures. From Socrates to Olson, this is a constant of those philosophers who stand the test of time, let alone the states they create. (Hybrid oligarchic republics, or other systems of checks and balances, not excluded.)

The end point of thousands of years of slowly developing constitutional monarchies, is that they work. They worked for the Spartans as long and successfully as they have worked for the British, Swedes, and (except for one brief 20C period where an oligarchy got as out of control as in 17C Britain) for the Japanese. From the early Greeks recognition of a state in flux needing different classes and viewpoints in balance; through the medieval and renaissance thinkers; to modern world experiments with alternatives that more or less achieve the object (such as Switzerland and the United States): this is the constant.

I am not opposed to Republics for any other reason than that they are usually dangerous and often disastrous. (Ask the Americans and their colonies, or the French and their colonies, or even British colonies that chose the Republican option. Or just see the list of 109 other 'republics' in the previous articles.)

I am not in favour of a Constitutional monarchy for any other reason than that it works. (Leaving aside all romanticism and gratefulness and other rubbish that has a minimal supporting role in hard-nosed political choices.)

Constitutional monarchies are the best and safest system of government, and have proven to have the best and most just societies for their people over the long term. (Certainly compared to American, French, German, Russian, Chinese, Phillipine, Algerian, Vietnamese, Pakistan, etc – you complete the list if you have the time: examples of republican alternatives).

Balance in government is vital to the long-term survival of the state, and the wellbeing of its citizens. Balance requires three viewpoints in competition, with any two having the authority to control the third. If anyone ever designs a system that does this better than a constitutional monarchy I will be delighted. But as the Time Horizon principle reveals, that is extremely unlikely in the foreseeable future.

As a result, I am delighted that we in Australia have a Monarchy to defend us from the increasingly autocratic dictates of our populist officials. Thank God for a system that allows Australia to resolve constitutional crises as painlessly as in 1975 (instead of having a short turn populist politician with a name like Abraham Lincoln or Adolf Hitler or even Gough Whitlam trying to invent their own solutions).

Long May it Reign.