Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review of George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia

Homage to Catalonia
George Orwell
Harcourt, Inc., 1969
232 pages

I do not have to tell you that Orwell was an amazing writer; 1984 is such a powerful and entertaining work that millions of people who rarely read at all can discuss that work in detail. Sadly, few individuals take the opportunity to read his other works. This book is a must read for those who wonder where Orwell's inspiration came from for his magnum opus and for those who still seriously contend that the Marxist view of history is correct.

Because 1984 was written after the fall of Nazi Germany, it is too easy to assume the horrid conditions described are in fact references to the Third Reich and such totalitarian regimes. Orwell was able to write such captivating descriptions because he had lived through many of the miseries he described, but as far as I know Orwell never stepped foot inside Nazi Germany or Stalin's U.S.S.R. His experience came fighting for the Spanish Republican forces in the region of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War (1936-9). Originally planning to merely report on the war, Orwell decided to volunteer with the P.O.U.M (Workers Party of Marxist Unification), which recruited militias to fight against the Nationalist forces (composed of religious conservatives, Fascists, monarchists, and other Right leaning forces) lead by Francisco Franco.

Despite being a Leftist himself, no one in the world has given harder hitting reviews to socialism and communism in practice than Orwell. The Republican forces were a hodge-podge of socialist, communist, and anarchist groups with their constituent labor unions that were usually supported by different left leaning foreign organizations and nations. Because the Soviet Union was the main supplier of arms for the Republicans, the P.S.U.C (leading communist group tied to Stalin) became the major power for the Left in Spain and promptly removed more revolutionary elements that opposed Stalin, such as Orwell's P.O.U.M. Many of the elements of internecine fighting and suspension of civil liberties that are familiar elements of 1984 are recorded first as history in Homage to Catalonia:

Ministry of Propaganda: Check
Official stories being changed: Check
Official enemies/friends being changed: Check
Leftist government putting their own desires ahead of the people: Check
People arrested in the middle of the night with no trial or even indictment: Check
Stagnant wars with better armed troops in the rear to prevent insurrection among fictional enemies: Check
Blue overalls for the workers: Check
Ill defined counter revolutionary philosophy lead by some shadowy figure (Trotskyism, Goldstein): Check
Police raiding homes and stealing every conceivable item: Check
Food and supply shortages: Check

This is a remarkable work, greater than his more famous fictional pieces. The Spanish Civil War is a complicated historical topic due to the fragmented nature of the parties involved and the difficulty of sorting out propaganda from realistic accounts. Orwell pulls no punches. While he served in the P.O.U.M., he acknowledges that this tints his view of the war, but largely resorts to only covering events he witnessed himself rather than positing guesses based on hearsay (when hearsay is used, it is clearly marked as such). A wonderful first hand account of this conflict. The descriptions of the "fighting" on the front is similar to that of most static conflicts, though I was surprised by the egalitarian nature of the P.O.U.M. and how well it seemed to hold together. Whether such a system could work in a more dynamic situation is more debatable.

The last sentence of this book was particularly prophetic, not just of England but of the entire Western World not already ensnared in Fascism.

The exit question I have after reading this book is: how will a classless society ever emerge from a proletarian revolution? Orwell wisely does not touch on this subject at all as his work is not a treatise on political or economic theory, but as someone who does study those subjects it is the question that dominates my mind once I finally put this book down. Marx never goes into any detail on how that unprecedented shift in power would occur; history shows leftist groups fighting and purging one another (along with millions of innocents) and establishing perpetual dictatorships of the politburos rather than of the people. The defense of communism in light of the last 100 years of butchery and misery in Marxist nations has been that true Marxism has never been attempted yet; this book furthers my believe that "true" Marxism cannot happen and that every attempt to create it will only create a dictatorship of whichever leftist group wins out.

What Others Have Said

The Brothers Judd
gave this book an A

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ramblings Tangentially Related to Federalist 62

In an earlier post on voting rights in this nation, I pointed out that every citizen should read John Locke's Second Treatise of Government, Publius' Federalist, or de Tocqueville's Democracy in America at some point in time. I reread these books (something I otherwise rarely do) because they contain essential nuggets of truth concerning effective politics and justice. A great (and certainly under read) example is Federalist 62, written by James Madison.

The entire essay should be read, but I want to make sure you read the last four paragraphs:

The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessing of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?

Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any way affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow-citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the few, not for the many.

In another point of view, great injury results from an unstable government. The want of confidence in the public councils damps every useful undertaking, the success and profit of which may depend on a continuance of existing arrangements. What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch of commerce when he knows not but that his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed? What farmer or manufacturer will lay himself out for the encouragement given to any particular cultivation or establishment, when he can have no assurance that his preparatory labors and advances will not render him a victim to an inconstant government? In a word, no great improvement or laudable enterprise can go forward which requires the auspices of a steady system of national policy.

But the most deplorable effect of all is that diminution of attachment and reverence which steals into the hearts of the people, towards a political system which betrays so many marks of infirmity, and disappoints so many of their flattering hopes. No government, any more than an individual, will long be respected without being truly respectable; nor be truly respectable, without possessing a certain portion of order and stability.

Wise words, indeed. The government that governs least, governs best. Another notable idea earlier in that essay is that the Senate had a check on the expansion of the Federal government when Senators were beholden to the state governments rather than the populace. I think that argument is accurate and that the 17th Amendment may have been a terrible mistake. The people are easily bribed, but the state governments would be loathe to give up their own power to the central government. That argument has been made by others and I believe they are right.

At the very least, something needs to be done to check this ever growing Federal government. ObamaCare and the Stimulus definitely fall into the "laws so voluminous that they cannot be read" category. I am yet to find the person who has read and understood this. Considering how many taxes and fines and requirements are in that law, it should be no wonder businesses are hesitant to hire anyone. After all, as Madison said, "What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch of commerce when he knows not but that his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed?"

The self confident ignorant, those that demand the right to decide how others should live but never study up on the complexity of politics, economics, and philosophy, that never put their own ideas out to be examined for weaknesses; these individuals will always anger me far more than those who stay home on Election Day.

Plato was disgusted by democracy for many of the same reasons. Considering Plato's influence on all of Western thought, you should know that. Never forget that it was a democracy that put Socrates to death.

Ignorance in rulers infuriates me. Democracy is the rule of the (voting) people; ergo, ignorant voters infuriate me in a democracy. If you wish to be ignorant and never make a decision for others, by all means do so, and I wish you much happiness. But if you are going to make decisions concerning my liberties, my natural rights, you need to be busting your ass making sure you are making the right decisions.

History, political theory, economics, philosophy...dig in. And don't stop. Or don't vote. I don't really care which, just so long as it is one or the other.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Define Success

Ezra Klein, liberal commenter at Newsweek, has an important article up that I recommend everyone read. As most people who either read this blog or know me can imagine, I do not agree with Klein's views of the various policies passed by the 111th Congress, but that is not why I am urging you to read his post.

The first two paragraphs sum up why this post (and the argument it makes in general) needs to be considered. They read:

The votes are (mostly) counted. The Republicans have clearly and decisively won. But did the Democrats actually lose?

They lost the election, certainly. And many of them lost their jobs. But the point of legislating isn’t job security. It’s legislation. And on that count the members of the 111th Congress succeeded wildly, even historically.

Nobody of any political persuasion should deny the historical nature of this last Congress and that it passed a great deal of important, sweeping legislation.

This legislation is also despised by the American people.

The Democrats won, yes. Hardcore liberals won, true. But the nation did not. The legislature does not exist to impose "progressive" policies on unwilling people; it exists to govern the people with their consent and according to set rules that respect the life, liberty, and property of individual Americans.

The Democrats were not supposed to win. That role is supposed to be reserved for the American people and the latest election proves that was not the case. Imposing legislation without the consent of the people (indeed, against their vocal and passionate opposition) is not an achievement we should condone.

Klein inadvertently proves this point in his last paragraph:

Polls have found that the public doesn’t realize how extraordinary this was. Most voters—and that holds for Democrats, too—don’t think the 111th got more accomplished than most Congresses. But they’re wrong. The 111th came to Washington promising to get things done on behalf of the American people. More than any other Congress in decades, it did.

A lot was done, certainly, but the American people noticed that it didn't help them a lick. Imposing a massive, unconstitutional, destructive health care bill is not an "accomplishment" in the book of public opinion. Spending untold hundreds of billions of "stimulus" dollars we have to pay with debt on unnecessary and corrupt spending programs is not an accomplishment according to the people.

An actual accomplishment of a national legislature is to create legislation that improves the situation. The 111th Congress failed miserably in this regard.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thoughts on Election 2010

Many non-politicos will not understand the results of last night’s elections. Yes, most will know the Republicans took the House of Representatives, the Democrats hung on to the Senate, and the results of some local races, but the true historical weight of this election will be beyond most people’s comprehension. The Republican wave was of epic proportions; the last time a party gained that many seats in one fell swoop was 1948; the Republicans will have more Representatives than any time since the Truman Administration. Republicans have not won this many seats since 1938, not quite halfway through FDR’s presidency. This was a once in a lifetime election. Any explanation you hear that attempts to explain this result that relies on common factors to every election is obviously weak and incomplete.

There have been recessions. There have been wars and corruption and broken promises. Presidents have always had to deal with midterm losses. None of these explain the Democrats massive loss. The absolute arrogance of this Administration and the 111th Congress has finally pushed the patience of the American people past the breaking point. Independents abandoned the Left yesterday.

Let me put it to you this way: we are all of two years past the age of George W. Bush and the Republicans are more electable than ever. What does that say about the last two years?

The policy of “government knows best” is insulting to most people. The Democrats mistakenly took anger at George W. Bush for approval of massive government intervention; they could not have been more wrong. A responsible government would have listened to the will of the people during the ObamaCare debate. Rather, the government forced an unread bill down the throats of a population fiercely opposed. This is why the Republicans slaughtered the Democrats. The Stimulus, the bailouts, and ObamaCare proved to everyone but the most die hard progressives that the government cannot save us but is far more likely to exacerbate the problems we face.

So where do we go from here? The Republicans must keep in mind that they were strongly rejected over the last four years due to their irresponsibility, in particular in terms of public spending. The only reason they have power again is because the Democrats were even worse. If the Republicans hope to keep their power and win the Presidency two years from now, they absolutely must provide responsible, constitutional answers to the abuses of the Obama Administration. ObamaCare must go; even though the Republicans cannot get rid of it until Obama is gone and the Senate switches, conservatives must keep pushing for repeal. Compromises can be made, but never at the expense of the People or the Constitution. Where Obama crosses those lines, he must be opposed to the fullest.

The American people have lost their confidence in our government, mostly because our government officials have exceeded their constitutional bounds to benefit their own electoral chances or to impose social change upon the people. The volatility of the last few elections should be a concern for everyone, regardless of what you think of the latest electoral result. If our government continues to act in illegitimate ways, the legitimacy of the government will be annihilated; god only knows what dangers would follow.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Quick Thought On Gerrymandering

This is a quick reply to Dan's post.

Gerrymandering is one of the ugly aspects to having a representative house at the national or state level. If we are going to have 435 members of the House, we have to carve up the country into 435 different districts of roughly the same number of people.

I'm not going to tell anyone that the lines are drawn up based on anything other than politics, because we know that's exactly what decides those lines. But is there a better criteria? If so, what? It can't really be proximity; wherever you draw the line, somebody is going to be closer to another district than they are to most of their own. Can't really have nice squares or other clear geometric shapes because the population doesn't follow such contours. So what criteria should we use?

You propose an "independent election commission" to fix this problem, similar to your call for independents monitoring polling stations. What is an "independent?" Plenty of people are extremely partisan without registering for a party; they tend to like the facade of being an independent thinker or some such nonsense. Who will choose this commission? Four "independents" chosen by Albany would be a joke; of course those commissioners will do Albany's will. A statewide election would be both costly and lead to the same result as Democrats will support the most liberal "independent" candidates while the Republicans would support he most conservative ones.

As a conservative in New York, I would like to see this power taken out of Albany's hands as much as anyone. I would love for a meaningful reform to be put in place. The short of it is, though, that it is a pipe dream and potentially a dangerous one. We know that the party in control of the state will act out of self interest, ugly as that may be. A commission of non-registered citizens could carve out the state based on god only knows what whims, though the most dominate will likely be political.

We have to come up with the districts and the states have been pretty good about doing that over the last 220 years. If a clear set of rules that could gain wide acceptance with the people could be devised and a system to implement it fairly created, I would support it, but I don't see that happening. To the winner go the spoils...or, in more democratic language, the majority needs to have the greater voice.

QUICK UPDATE: I don't know why I said "four commissioners." No idea at all where that number came from.