Posts Tagged ‘Hobbes’

Fascism and Big Business on Man as Predator

February 23, 2015

Historians and political theorists have observed that one of the key features of Fascism is that it views human relationships very much as a kind of Hobbesian ‘war of each against all’, and sees humans really as another form of rapacious predator. Hitler and the Nazis were fond of Nietzsche’s celebration of the ‘blond beasts’, while at the same time censoring the other parts of the philosopher’s oeuvre that directly contradicted the foundations of the regime.

Critics of the Neo-Cons, such as the authors of the book Confronting the New Conservatism, also note that the Neo-Cons have an essentially Hobbesian view of humanity as a collection of alienated social atoms, each competing and struggling with the others. They also observe that the Neo-Cons extend this principle to foreign affairs. All countries are engaged in a struggle for supremacy, so there is little point in establishing international alliances. Rather, as superior civilisations, America and the West should be free to impose their will and standards by force.

Brady makes the same point in his book, The Structure of American Fascism. He makes the point that American businessmen have exactly the same views. This has resulted in the invasion and plunder of other countries, in which justification for the military action has been secondary.

The inner face of fascism considers man as a beast of prey. Scientists, artists, the rank and file of the people, may recoil from this doctrine: the leading figures in the business world of Italy, Germany, England, France, and the United States do not. In 1938, Spengler, then approved by the Nazis as a prophet of the New Germany, wrote:

“Man is a beast of prey. I shall say it again and again. All the would-be moralists and social-ethics people who claim or hope to be ‘beyond all that’ are only beasts of prey with their teeth broken, who hate others on account of the attacks which they themselves are wise enough to avoid. Only look at them. They are too weak to read a book on war, but they herd together in the street to see an accident, letting the blood and the screams play on their nerves. And if even that is too much for them, th4ey enjoy it on the film and in the illustrated papers. If I call man a beast of prey, which do I insult: man or beast? For remember, the larger beasts of prey are noble creatures, perfect of their kind, and without the hypocrisy of human morale due to weakness.”

In this view man is arrayed against man. The only code of behaviour which has any real meaning for the species is that “might makes right”. Where only strength counts, the strong are those who have taken; who have the power to have and to hold. The weak are those without holdings – of station, or property, or power. It is a doctrine that human society is nothing but organised “piracy”. Is there any fundamental difference in appreciation of human values or in general outlook on life between a stockbroker and a pirate? So far as the specific activity is concerned there is no difference, not even in the methods of sharing the spoils. What on the open seas is thought of as an outlaw and “piratical” raid of group on group, is in another setting played as a legitimate game in which each man is pitted against every other man for all he can “get by with” short of a snarl with criminal law.

That businessmen in the United States hold this view is beyond question. They hold it axiomatic in describing the character of their own kind, and they hold it to be valid for the human race at large. Anyone who has taken the trouble to interview stockbrokers, captains of industry and finance, advertisers, public relations counsellors, or other participants in, and apologists for, the business system will soon learn that this view of human nature governs their actions and their behaviour in practically all things, and that it is regarded as so obviously true as to require no comment, explanation, or justification.

Thus there is not the slightest objection to using all the armed forces of the state in a war on India, on Morocco, on Manchuria, on Abyssinia, on Nicaragua, Spain, or Mexico. If you are big enough, strong enough to take it, the rule is: take it. Take the country, take its resources, take its wealth, take the lives, health and happiness of all its inhabitants. “Realities rule”; the justification can be concocted later.

Nor, on the other hand, is there the slightest objection to using the troops against strikers, hunger-marchers, share-croppers, or any other group which for any reason whatsoever wants a little of what the insiders may have. All the emphasis on war, all the promotion of the army and the navy, of “national defence,” of that curiously bellicose frame of mind commonly known by the euphemistic term “patriotism,” is born of the same view of life, of human nature, of civilisation and culture.

And this same attitude is very much alive in modern politics. The invasion of Iraq took place not to oust Saddam Hussein as a dictator and threat to world peace. It was so that the Americans and Saudis could control the vast Iraqi oil industry. At the same time, western companies wanted to acquire Iraqi industries, which were to be privatised and sold to them. And the Neo-Cons wished to turn the entire country into a low taxation, free trade utopia. Even more sinister, the GM companies were also lined up to patent the rare crops indigenous to the country, as part of a scheme to force the Iraqi people to use their products.

Back in Britain, we have the Tories passing legislation banning protests and political lobbying close to elections. Just in case these sway the voters and the Tories lose the election. Tebbit has emerged again to urge the government to pick a fight with the unions. And Boris Johnson, the major of London, doesn’t have enough money to pay his firefighters, but he did have enough cash to buy two armoured cars for the police.

As for the character of the international business class, one of Lobster’s contributors wrote that he had asked one of his friends, who had attended a meeting of international financiers, what they were like. ‘Worse than you can possibly imagine’, was the reply.

Advertisements

Vox Political on the Rise in Suicide under the Tories

February 21, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has this article, The UK’s main growth area continues to be SUICIDE, reporting the rise in suicide under the Tories. The article begins

The Office for National Statistics has released the latest figures on suicide, which show that the proportion of people taking their own lives has grown faster than the UK economy.

The statistics cover the calendar year 2013, when the economy grew by 1.7 per cent – but suicides increased by more than double that amount – four per cent. This writer has seen unconfirmed estimates that suggest a rise of 12-13 per cent since the Coalition Government took office in 2010 – that’s up by one-eighth.

The mail suicide rate in 2013 was the highest since 2001, at 19 per 100,000 members of the population. This was almost four times higher than the female rate (5.1 per 100,000), which has stayed constant.

As Vox Political reported back in 2012, suicide continues to be the most reliable indicator of the UK’s true economic activity: The highest suicide rate among the English regions was in North East England, at 13.8 deaths per 100,000 population, while London had the lowest at 7.9 per 100,000. The Northeast has been one of the areas hardest-hit by the banker-engineered recession and Tory-engineered cuts (if not the hardest-hit altogether); London has benefited the most from government investment.

Mike reproduces the graph figures, and shows that most of the victims are late middle aged men, who stand little chance of finding work after being made redundant.

The article’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/02/20/the-uks-main-growth-area-continues-to-be-suicide/. Go and read it.

The male suicide rate has gradually overtaken the female since the 1970s. As Mike’s commenters point out, there are a number of personal, emotional reasons why men try to kill themselves, rather than seek help for depression. Part of this may be due to some aspects of the traditional conception of masculinity: rather than show weakness, men suffer in silence until it becomes too great to be borne. Also, women tend to have better social networks than blokes, and this helps to share the misery and give them support.

The Faily Heil also covered this topic over two decades ago, and as you could expect from this newspaper, it decided that part of the problem was the emasculating effect of modern feminism and the entry of women into the workplace.

In fact, I don’t think it can be reasonably doubted that the social and economic changes put into practice by the Coalition have contributed to the growth in suicide. The massive de-industrialisation committed by the Tories meant that many were thrown out on the dole with little chance of getting another. Without a pool of reasonably well-paid workers to purchase their products, local businesses also die. And this is apart from the failure of many high street shops to compete with on-line retailers. The result is the landscape of depressed, struggling towns up and down the country, and high streets lined with empty shop fronts. It’s an environment that creates despair.

Added to this is the harsh misery created by the government’s own workfare programmes, which are designed to make you feel miserable and helpless.

And behind all this is the Conservative conception of society itself. This is the liberal, ideal of society as composed of rational, competing individuals. It’s the Hobbesian view of human society, not as communities made up people bonded together by shared occupations and interests, but simply composed of alienated social atoms, waging ‘the war of each against all’.

A little while ago researchers looked at the incidence of heart disease. By looking at Civil Service records, they found that the groups that suffered the most were the people at the bottom of the employment ladder. Those at the top remained in good health. This really is no surprise, as if you’re at the very bottom of the ladder, you’re under much more stress than those at the top. One of the top civil servants interviewed for a programme on this broadcast by the Beeb said he didn’t feel unduly stressed, as when he got his job in Whitehall, he viewed all the splendour of the historic buildings and the pomp and authority of his position as being for him.

The way people can circumvent this destructive stress, is by developing strong social bonds. The researchers found that one of the groups that had successfully bucked the trend in heart disease was a community of Italian-Americans. They had strong social bonds, including worshipping together at the local church and actively participating in the church community.

Not everyone is religious, and certainly not in an increasingly secular Britain. Traditionally, there have also been other social bonds, which would also have provided some of the same functions. These would have included trade unions, sports clubs, the traditional British boozer, and work social clubs. These have all come under attack from the type of highly competitive, fiercely individualistic capitalism that has emerged in the past few decades. Thatcher set out to smash the unions and working class solidarity. Pubs are closing at a rate of knots as they are unable to compete with the cheaper booze you can drink at home sold in supermarkets and off-licences, and many businesses simply have no interest in providing for their workforce. Quite the contrary. And the sports clubs have all got long waiting lists as councils have been forced to close or sell off sports facilities.

The result is that the traditional social networks that helped to giving meaning and social support, especially to men, have been cut. For a few, the despair this has engendered has become unbearable.

The causes of suicide are complex, and quite often very personal to the individual who took the step of ending their life. But a good step in at least cutting the number of people taking their lives would be to try and restore economic health to struggling areas, and rebuild the communal ties Thatcher destroyed when she said, ‘There is no society. There is only people’.

And it means challenging the hierarchical assumptions of the Tories. As the saying goes ‘We all have equal worth’.

Books on British Constitutional History and Democracy: John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government

January 19, 2014

John Locke Government

This is one of the most fundamental texts for the development of modern, British constitutional government and democracy. In the first of the Two Treatises Locke attacked the traditional arguments for absolute monarchy advanced by the royalist Filmer in his Patriarchia. These stated that as the father was the head of the family, so the king had patriarchal power over the nation. Filmer used quotations from Scripture in an attempt to show that this patriarchal power had existed ever since the creation of the first human couple, Adam and Eve.

in the second Treatise Locke advanced his own theory of government. Like the other contract theorists, Locke believed that governments had been set up by the early human community in order to protect their natural rights to life, liberty and property. Locke was responsible for drafting the constitution of the new British colony of Carolina in 1669, and his belief that humans have the above fundamental rights influenced the American Founding Fathers and the declaration of the American Constitution that everyone has the right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. Unlike Hobbes, he believed that power was still held by the human community, and there were natural limits to government that it could and should not exceed. The supreme power in the state was the legislature, which governed by the consent of the people. This could not transfer its powers to any other body, and can only govern through proper legislation and authorised judges. It cannot seize someone’s property without their consent, and taxes can only be raised with the consent of the people. Its fundamental duty is to govern for the people’s benefit. When it does not do so, the people have the right to dissolve it:

‘There remains still in the People a supreme power to remoave or alter the Legislative, when they find the Legislative act contrary to the Trust reposed in them’.

Locke wasn’t a democrat. His constitution for Carolina was still strongly hierarchical, with the largest landholdings reflecting the various grades of the British aristocracy, so that some of the largest were termed ‘baronies’, for example. In his discussion on the forms of government, he states that nations should be free to choose whether they are democracies, oligarchies, or elective monarchies, or mixtures of all three, as it suits them. In the case of Carolina, the franchise was still restricted to men of property, and the constitution permitted slavery. Nevertheless, Locke’s work is of vital importance for its statement that political power and authority still lies in the people, on whose behalf and by whose authority monarchs and parliaments govern, and that there must be and are constitutional limits to their power. In 1769 the constitutional theorist, Blackstone, developed this into the theory that parliament was the supreme power. His theory of the origin of political power are the basis of both American and British democracy, and the liberal view of political freedom. This is that freedom consists in the people’s right to govern themselves and make their own laws through their representatives. It is opposed to the ‘Conservative’ view of freedom, expressed by absolute monarchs like Charles I, that politics is the sole business of absolute monarchs, who should in practice interfere as little as possible in the lives of their subjects. Unfortunately, this idea of liberty is coming under increasing attack from an authoritarian Coalition, which is liberal in name only.

Books on Radical, Working Class History and The British Constitution: Commenters’ Recommendations

January 19, 2014

A few of the readers of my blog have responded to my posts recommending and suggesting books on the history of the British constitution, and the development of modern democracy, giving their own suggestions. Florence wrote:

‘Too true. People have forgotten their own history – or it is omitted from education for obvious reasons. Another text is “the condition of the Working Class in 1844″ (Marx & Engels), which although not read for many years I recall citing the average age of death in Bethnal Green was 17 – yes seventeen – because of malnutrition, working from the 3- 4 yrs of age showing almost universal deformations caused by working machinery. Most females died in childbirth because of malformed pelvic bones from standing at work. The living, working and health conditions of the working poor of the northern industrial cities were worse still.

The current wave of malnutrition the BMA warned of (also ignored by press and government) holds misery for many in the future. Childhood malnutrition affects mental, social as well as physical development, blighting lives from start to finish, and to be passed on to the next generation through poorly nourished mothers. So it goes on.

True democracy was more widely discussed in past centuries through coffee houses, ale houses, and working guilds. We are never taught about these, and I think it’s time for a really radical curriculum, not just chanting monarchs reigns, which would seem to be Goves best effort. (Dim, dim, and dimmer.)

Another book I recommend is “Poverty: The Forgotten Englishman” by Ken Coates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Coates), to remind us that the deprivations did not end after WWII, but have been won -hard fought for- through to the end of the 20th century, and these conditions are now with us again after only 3 years of the coalition.’

I’ll have to look up Ken Coates, I really haven’t heard of him before, and he sounds interesting. As for previous ages discussing democracy in coffee houses, ale houses and working guilds, this is absolutely true. You only have to consider the social importance of the mechanic’s institutes in Victorian Britain, where working men came to read and educated themselves. In 19th and early 20th century Italy, there were Chambers of Labour, which also served some of the same functions, as well as a very strong political role in directing and co-ordinating industrial action.

Daijohn raised the question why I hadn’t mentioned these important political thinkers:

‘Mike
What about Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Marx
and Mill?’

Hi, Daijohn. I’m not Mike, I’m actually his brother, though the confusion’s natural, as after all Mike did me the honour of reblogging this. I didn’t include Machiavelli and Hobbes as although they are two of the most important political theorists of the renaissance and 17th century, neither of them can be described as in any way liberal.

Hobbes’ Leviathan was an attempt to use social contract theory to justify absolute monarchy, without relying on Scriptural authority. It was immensely controversial even in its own time. In the 18th century there was a change in masculinity as a reaction to it. This was ‘the man of feeling’ or the ‘man of sentiment’, in which men were keen to show they had finer feelings of pity, and compassion, including going into floods of tears at suitable moments. This was to demonstrate that men weren’t the aggressive, predatory animals, who needed an absolute monarch to restrain them from killing and robbing each other in the ‘war of each against all’ Hobbes believed constituted humanity’s natural state.

Machiavelli’s The Prince is similarly far from a democratic text. It was and is notorious for advising renaissance princes, and politicians afterwards, to use ruthless deceit in the pursuit and maintenance of power. One of the questions in it is ‘whether it is better to be loved or feared?’ Machiavelli then replies by saying that although love is good, fear is better because people will respect you more and obey you.

As for Marx, although he’s of crucial importance in the development of Socialism, my focus was on British constitutional history and freedoms, which have emerged and developed independently of Marx. Furthermore, the Communist parties around the world were notorious for human rights abuses. They murdered millions, and the Communist states and parties themselves were very rigidly controlled, with absolute obedience demanded and enforced through Lenin’s theory of ‘democratic centralism’.

However, you are absolutely right about John Locke and John Stewart Mill, so I will certain put up posts about these authors.