Monday, August 18, 2008

More "Back to the Future"

Bruce Anderson opines in today's Independent:

"If only our diplomacy could be conducted in secret, without any need to appeal to the West's electorates. We need diplomats who are the intellectual heirs of Castlereagh, Kissinger, Metternich, Salisbury and Talleyrand; with the temperaments of Peter Carrington or Douglas Hurd, steeped in experience, wisdom, realism and cynicism."

A Talleyrand for the 21st century? Any prospects on the horizon?

Nicholas Gvosdev:

I know Bruce Anderson of old. So I can perhaps translate.

What he is actually saying is 'democracy is a disaster'.

This was also, of course, the view of George Frost Kennan.

I think this is a matter upon which both you, and those who comment on this blog, should make your views clear.

I look forward to -- a frank exchange of views?
That is indeed an interesting proposal as criticism of democracy as a political model is politically incorrect in the west.

Regardless, it couldn't be done here in this blog, an endless stream of post comments is just not practical.
Since I am a small r republican and lean in the direction of Hamilton as opposed to Jefferson, I would not agree with the proposition that democracy is a "disaster." Government should exercise its powers with the consent of the governed, and the governed should be able to select leaders and policies (in their broad outlines).

But I am sympathetic to the Hamiltonian view of the need for a government to be accountable to the citizens but also not run on the basis of opinion polls. I worry too about the classical concern about "democracy" becoming "ohlocracy" (rule of the mob) or "oligarchy" and then degenerating into some form of tyranny.

By modern standards--and I am not referring to their views on race and gender but simply on questions of voting--I guess the American Founders were not pure democrats. It is reflected in their not having the Senate be directly elected (but chosen by elected state legislatures) and the Electoral College. I think that those checks are important for preserving a liberal society.

It is also why I'm sympathetic to Washington's Farewell Address. Washington's ability to keep the U.S. out of war, either on behalf of the French or the British, came in part because political leaders were able to overcome what the "public" wanted and steered clear.

Government by opinion poll, in contrast, produces an inability to make hard choices--just look at U.S. energy policy.

Hope this helps--
I suppose Churchill's dictum about democracy still holds, although I would argue that opinion polls really reflect rather than cause the calibre of leadership. The danger is when leaders and public opinion share the same misconceptions.

The trouble with the world is identity conflict within states and inconvenient borders between them.
''I worry too about the classical concern about "democracy" becoming "ohlocracy" (rule of the mob) or "oligarchy" and then degenerating into some form of tyranny.'' - N. G.

...I think there's a big difference between an ohlocracy and an oligarchy.

For example: according to Claude Mossé who conducted a study on tyranny in ancient greece, most often than not, democracies were the ones to degenerate into tyrannies, not oligarchies.

Also if we read the "History of the Pelopponesian War" we realise how much more vulnerable Athens and the other democracies were to demagogy.


I wonder if no one here believes that some sectors of government shouldn't be subject to popular moods. Strategic sectors - such as defence, intelligence, diplomacy - have a much bigger need for coherent policy than domestic sectors, I think.
Democracy is designed for handling problems that affect citizens directly, in my opinion. That's why it typically either loses out in foreign adventures or stops to be a democracy.

By the way, the preoccupation with Ukraine, of which that article is an axample, seems a bit strange. Looks like, everybody started talking about Ukraine suddenly. Anything is brewing there? Their parlament plans to oust poor Ushchenko?
Ukraine was the main supporter of Georgia against Russia - G.U.A.M. and chroma-(colour)revolutionary solidarity I'm sure - and there are those who believe that the Russians in their typical paranoia may decide to cut their losses and bring the Crimea and Eastern russophone Ukraine into secession before Ukraine proper (polish-ukraine) is accepted into NATO along with Georgia.
But addressing specifically what Anderson wrote,

I don't agree with him, I think that there are still many examples of pragmatic statesmen:

I currently like Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Vuk Jeremiç. Very cunning and pragmatic foreign ministers I reckon.
Yes, but Jeremic needs a certain degree of insulation from popular pressure if he is going to be effective in negotiating his country's long-term future.
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Secrecy can be a good thing.Look how JFK quietly took missiles out of Turkey after the Cuba crisis. No way he could have done that in glare of public lights. And today that kind of quid proquo approach would be impossible with 24/7 news channels.
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