(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘government

“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom”*…

Lynn Hunt on Alexis de Tocqueville, who left France to study the American prison system and returned with the material that would become Democracy in America

Alexis de Tocqueville was a study in contradictions: a French aristocrat of proud heritage who trumpeted the inevitable, salutary rise of democracy, using the United States as his exemplar; a cosmopolitan with an English wife and many friends in the Anglo-American world who brandished a fervent French nationalism; an antislavery advocate who felt no discomfort in supporting the French colonization of Algeria and hired as his main assistant Arthur de Gobineau, who later published one of the founding texts of white supremacy; and finally a man of delicate constitution who undertook an arduous trip on horseback into the wilderness of northern Michigan in order to see Native Americans and new settler communities for himself. Such inconsistencies make for a fascinating story, and in The Man Who Understood Democracy, Olivier Zunz, a French-educated historian who has taught US history for decades at the University of Virginia, shows that he is ideally suited to tell it.

Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840, became an instant classic and has remained one to this day. On its hundredth anniversary in 1935, the French government presented a bust of the author to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and an article at the time referred to the book as “perhaps the greatest, most lucid, and most impartial commentary that free institutions in general, and American self-government in particular, had ever received.” Democracy in America served as a kind of textbook for US students for many generations, but it is now more often cited than read. That dutiful disregard may be the fate of all such masterworks, especially one that runs about eight hundred pages, but Zunz has succeeded in restoring its appeal, first by vividly retracing its origins and then by skillfully evoking the enduring excitement and relevance of its analysis…

Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who unpacked the tension between freedom and equality in the United States: “‘A Great Democratic Revolution’.”

* Alexis de Tocqueville– who went on to observe that “Americans are so enamored of equality, they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.”

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As we dedicate ourselves to democracy, we might note that today is Fibonacci Day, as today’s date is often rendered 11/23, and the Fibonacci sequence (also here and here) begins 1, 1, 2, 3…

Five Ways to Celebrate Fibonacci Day.

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“The only corporate social responsibility a company has is to maximize its profits”*…

Congressman Fred Hartley and Senator Robert Taft, namesake co-sponsors of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act (which figures in the tale referenced below)

… Happily that wasn’t always the accepted belief, and may some day recede. The redoubtable Bill Janeway explains– and laments– the passing of corporations that felt a duty to constituents other than their shareholders…

In his new book Slouching towards Utopia, the economist J. Bradford DeLong points out, correctly, that the “industrial research laboratory and the modern corporation” were the keys to unleashing a radical increase in the rate of scientific and technological innovation, and thus economic growth, from 1870 onward. DeLong also identifies the Treaty of Detroit, a landmark 1950 settlement between General Motors and the United Auto Workers, as a linchpin of American-style post-World War II social democracy. But what ever happened to the behemoth corporations that unlocked decades of growth while sponsoring health insurance and pensions for their employees?…

The rise of the neoliberal order in the 1970s and 1980s coincided with the demise of companies that served their societies and employees as well as their shareholders. Since then, the US federal government and other institutions have managed to offset the loss of only part of the broader contributions that big business once made. The fascinating, sad story at “The Rise and Fall of the Socially Beneficial Corporation,” from @billjaneway in @ProSyn.

* Milton Friedman, intellectual leader– and avatar– of the neoliberal order

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As we learn from the past, we might send inclusively-calculated birthday greetings to a Cambridge University faculty colleague of Bill’s, Sir Partha Sarathi Dasgupta; he was born on this date in 1946. An Anglo-Indian economist, Dasgupta’s contributions have been broad, covering welfare and development economics; the economics of technological change; population, environmental, and resource economics; social capital; the theory of games; ecological economics; and the economics of malnutrition. His deepest interest has been in ecological economics, more particularly in the nexus of population, consumption, and the natural environment and in the economics of biodiversity. With the late Karl-Goran Maler, he developed the concept of “inclusive wealth” as a measure of human well-being.

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“Those who believe that politics and religion do not mix, understand neither”*…

Authoritarian leaders who play the religious card are not mere hypocrites, Suzanne Schneider suggests; there’s something far more troubling going on…

Viktor Orbán reportedly does not attend church. Benjamin Netanyahu eats at non-kosher restaurants. New York libertine Donald Trump lacks all manner of evident religious virtue.

Yet it is a fact that today’s crop of aspiring authoritarians invoke religious themes and symbols, despite not being strict adherents to their respective traditions. Of course, there is nothing new about the opportunistic use of religion by politicians. The scholars Garret Martin and Carolyn Gallaher have remarked that ‘Orbán’s use of religion is no different from Ronald Reagan’s embrace of Christian evangelicals in the late 1970s.’ According to these explanations, such figures cynically appeal to religion, despite not being true believers. Given this purported sincerity deficit, a conversation in this register toggles between accusations of hypocrisy and instrumentalism. How can such obviously corrupted figures claim to speak on behalf of a Christian or Jewish nation? And how can voters who claim to be animated by religious values be so blind?

Tempting as it is, the hypocrisy diagnosis does not quite map onto the emerging social landscape. There is instead a deeper and more interesting shift occurring in the world toward a new post-liberal or illiberal order of religion and politics. Understanding the nature of this transformation enables critics to break out of the cycle of allegations of hypocrisy or inconsistency, and to grasp an emergent worldview that is both coherent and deeply troubling…

Read on for her (troubling) explication: “An unholy alliance,” from @suzy_schneider in @aeonmag.

For the Washington Post‘s examination of the global tilt toward authoritarian nationalism: “Leaders of democracies increasingly echo Putin in authoritarian tilt” (gift article, so no paywall).

Apposite: “When the Hindu Right Came for Bollywood” (“The industry used to honor India’s secular ideals—but, since the rise of Narendra Modi, it’s been flooded with stock Hindu heroes and Muslim villains…”)

* Albert Einstein (also attributed to Gandhi)

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As we take the measure of the metamorphosis, we might recall that it was on this date in 1789 that John Jay was sworn in as the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. A founding father (co-author of The Federalist Papers with Hamilton and Madison, and President of the second Continental Congress), he had previously served as the young nation’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs (in which position he helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris), as the first Secretary of State, then as Governor of New York.

Jay was an ally of Hamilton, a proponent of a strong national government. While Governor of New York, he presided over a state constitutional convention in which religious tolerance was enshrined… within limits: he succeeded in adding special provisions for Catholics to the constitution’s article on the naturalization of foreigners. Under Jay’s amendment, aliens were required to take an oath of allegiance to the state that included renunciation of all allegiance and subjection to “all and every foreign king, prince potentate and state, in all matters ecclesiastical as well as civil.” Scholars suggest that the persecution of Jay’s Huguenot ancestors by the Catholic Church and his adherence to traditional Whig views identifying Protestantism with liberty and Catholicism with oppression, foreign influence, and sedition motivated his actions.

John Jay, by Gilbert Stuart, 1794

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 19, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Two and two makes five”*…

Boots are stamping on faces, but the trains are not running on time. The estimable Noah Smith brings the receipts…

The selling point of authoritarian rule has always been that dictators, oligarchs, and strongmen are competent and purposeful — that democracies dither while authoritarians act. When people tell you that “Mussolini made the trains run on time”, this is what they mean.

I’m not prepared to render a verdict on whether and when democracies or autocracies are more effective at governance (there is a very long academic literature on this, but few solid conclusions). I would certainly never claim that only democracies can govern effectively — Park Chung-hee, Deng Xiaoping, and Lee Kuan Yew certainly put that notion to rest. But I want to push back on the notion of authoritarian effectiveness in two concrete ways…

The authoritarians of the world are making a pretty good case for liberal democracy simply by being incredibly incompetent: “Authoritarians are not governing effectively,” from @Noahpinion.

* George Orwell, 1984

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As we contemplate competency, we might recall that it was on this date in 1970 that Richard Nixon’s Vice President, Spiro T. Agnew, gave in to the Nattering Nabobs of Negativism (and to charges of extortion, tax fraud, bribery and conspiracy) and resigned.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 10, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under”*…

The majority of countries are democracies, but how many people enjoy what we think of as democratic rights? A nifty interactive map from Our World In Data charts the changes in political regimes across the globe, country by country, over the last 200 years. By way of explaining its categories:

• In closed autocracies, citizens do not have the right to choose either the chief executive of the government or the legislature through multi-party elections.

• In electoral autocracies, citizens have the right to choose the chief executive and the legislature through multi-party elections; but they lack some freedoms, such as the freedoms of association or expression, that make the elections meaningful, free, and fair.

• In electoral democracies, citizens have the right to participate in meaningful, free and fair, and multi-party elections.

• In liberal democracies, citizens have further individual and minority rights, are equal before the law, and the actions of the executive are constrained by the legislative and the courts.

As Visual Capitalist observes…

Do civilians get a representative say in how the government is run where you live?

While it might seem like living with a basic level of democratic rights is the status quo, this is only true for 93 countries or territories today—the majority of the world does not enjoy these rights.

It also might surprise you that much of the progress towards democracy came as late as the mid-20th century

An interactive look at the state of democracy around the world, and how it has evolved. From @OurWorldInData, via @VisualCap.

* H. L. Mencken

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As we ruminate on representation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1933, the day after an arsonist ignited the Reichstag building, home of the German parliament in Berlin (and four weeks after Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had been sworn in as Chancellor of German), that Adolf Hitler attributed the fire to a conspiracy of Communist agitators.

Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch “council communist”, was the apparent culprit; but Hitler insisted on a wider network of villains. He used it as a pretext to claim that Communists were plotting against the German government, and induced President Paul von Hindenburg to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree suspending civil liberties, and to pursue a “ruthless confrontation” with the Communists. A court later found that van der Lubbe had in fact acted alone. But Hitler’s orchestrated reaction to the Reichstag Fire began the effective rule of the Nazi Party and the establishment of Nazi Germany.

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