Friday, March 13, 2009

Memo from Mencken to Hitchens

"The fraud of democracy is more amusing than any other—more amusing even, and by miles, than the fraud of religion." (1926)


Kirby Olson said...

But they're related. Without the Protestant faith, you can't have a Democracy. Democracy means that each human being has a divine right to be taken as EQUAL to all others. This is the basis of the Protestant faith -- where Luther levelled the hierarchy of the Papacy, and said every man (and to a degree unheard of at the time, woman), had the right to be heard.

This is amplified in Episcopalian Locke's notion of the four God-given rights: life, health, liberty, and property.

Jefferson riffs on that in the Constitution.

Lincoln amplifies it yet further in the Gettysburg Address, when he says we are dedicated to a PROPOSITION (he had been reading Euclid) that all men are created equal. CREATED equal. Democracy's leaven is Protestantism.

Without that leaven, the lumpenproletariat cannot rise to equality, and doesn't.

You won't find this in Nietzsche (who dedicates himself to reviving inequality, and posing the notion of the superman), you won't find it in Islam, or in the Hindu tradition (with its five castes), or anywhere else but in Protestantism.

You won't find it in the Eastern Orthodox, either. They invariably go back to tyranny, because they have a hierarchical arrangement similar to the Papacy.

This is why we have to not only invade Iraq, but change everyone there into a Lutheran.

Hitchens and Mencken are equally blind to these facts.

Kirby Olson said...

It may also require substantial snowfall for Lutheranism to occur. The idea that each snowflake is both unique, and identical to all the others, and that all this uniqueness blends into a uniformity, covering the landscape with beauty, is essentially the Lutheran mental map, perhaps hinted at by the annual snowfall in predominantly Lutheran countries.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I sort of agree with you about the connection between Protestantism and democracy. I'm not sure about the consequences of that fact though. It may actually be more revealing of the weaknesses of these doxies than of their strengths.

Kirby Olson said...

Why? Do you mean you dislike Democracy?

Thomas Basbøll said...

I'm inclined to Mencken's position: it's a fraud.

First, you and I don't live in democracies "as advertised".

Second, even a "real" democracy is actually sort of dubious. "The people" should be consulted when exactly? And what should "the people" be told about the proposals that are on the table?

There's not really an imaginable and workable institutional platform for democracy to work. So it's just sort of a spectacle. An amusing thing to watch, as Mencken puts it.

Kirby Olson said...

Do you think there's an alternative that you would prefer?

I think that capitalism itself has terrible flaws, as does Christianity.

And yet, I myself could not proffer a meaningful alternative that would be in some way an improvement. Can you? Could Mencken?

Thomas Basbøll said...

I think there are alternatives I would not mind any more than the present system. But, in general, the way the powerful administer their power is tiresome.

Kirby Olson said...

Name one alternative you wouldn't mind. Zimbabwe under Mugabe? Cuba under the ailing and failing Castros? I love specifics!

It's finally Spring here.

Soon it will be up there, too.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Yesterday was sort springlike here in Copenhagen. Today it's a bit muddy.

I think the difference between places like Denmark and places like Cuba is not primarily political but economic. We would need to find a small, reasonably wealthy, and "undemocratic" as a real alternative to my present system.

I think I could live in Monaco without too much discomfort. Or the United Arab Emirates.

Or maybe a place like pre-2008 Bhutan.

Kirby Olson said...

The Emirates and Bhutan are artificially wealthy thanks to oil.

Monaco wealthy because they are a playground for wealthy Europeans (in a delightful coast of lovely weather).

Finland is fascinating because its wealth is almost purely intellectual. They have almost no natural resources, and the place was not very nice to live in until medical advances of the last century.

If you look at the catastrophic state of those just across the border -- in the former USSR, you can see the difference. The average life-span just across the border was 45.

In St. Petersberg, there are an average of 12 locks on every door.

In Finland, the crime shows are about some kid who took a pack of pencils and now feels bad.

The most amazing thing about Finland was that the university I worked at (Tampere, the second biggest in all of Finland) had a lobby where the students routinely left their coats out. There were several thousand coats.

You could grab any one of them.

But the corruption rate is so low, that no one ever did. You just never heard about it.

Imagine that in any big American city.

The only real true crime that happened during my five years there was a Danish man who went on a bank robbing spree. He shot a police officer, and the Finns were absolutely appalled.

I can't prove that God exists, and no one can prove that he doesn't.

But if a population generally believes in the existence of God, it seems to create a better society.

At least that's one of the conclusions I arrived at while living there.

It may be that some of us speak with God, and others argue that that is not possible, and those of us who do are either lying or insane.

That's possible, but it's a case of one person's word against another's, I suppose.

What happened in 2008 in Bhutan?

Thomas Basbøll said...

As I understand it, Bhutan became a democracy in 2008.

But, yes, my point is that one would always prefer to live in a (privileged segment of a) wealthy country. Whether a country calls itself democratic is not the deciding factor.

But let me just admit that I'm probably just feeling a bit glum politically these days.

Kirby Olson said...

You got Obama. You didn't get the change you wanted?

Kirby Olson said...

If you could have one thing politically, what would it be? Perhaps we can make it happen for you!

Thomas Basbøll said...

My very modest political program involves a simple mechanism whereby the European could be merged with US. I'd like to have a congressman and a couple of senators. And I'd like to have a say about who becomes president. I call this dream the European States of America. I think similar programs for the Asian States, the Middle-Eastern States, etc. could be imagined.

Kirby Olson said...

There are lots of communists underfoot who might like something along those lines, too.

do you ever read Steven Shaviro's blog?

He was my chair at the U of Washington. A thoroughly ingenious and captivating communist.

I thought Europeans hated America. At least all the intellos used to (even in Finland!).

Now you seek a joint community.

I find that very refreshing! I like this notion.

Will English be the universal lingua franca?

Kirby Olson said...

I googled Bhutan. It's still a kingdom, and if you're not of full Bhutanese descent there are little or no jobs available to you.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Interesting. Of course: Denmark is also formally still a kingdom and, yes, it helps to be of Danish descent to make it here. But I thought you were talking hypothetical alternatives, i.e., What if I were of Bhutanese descent? How would I like that? Well, that's what I'm saying. Democracy doesn't factor into it.

Presskorn said...

I should say that I'm totally with T.B. on this one... His remark that ”the difference between places like Denmark and places like Cuba is not primarily political but economic. We would need to find a small, reasonably wealthy, and "undemocratic" as a real alternative to my present system.” seems to be a knock-down-answer to what has always been a knock-down-question; ”Oh yeah, but how would you like it if you lived in the former U.S.S.R.?”

Nevertheless, Bhutan seems to be a bad example, exactly because it IS a recent democracy and because it's BNP per capita is extremely low, §1.400 USD, which is below, say, Uganda. A much better example is, say, Brunei, which IS a kingdom with a very high BNP per capita, 24.000 USD.

In fact, this whole thing made me look up jobs at the University of Brunei. Brunei might the place to be.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Thanks for that, Thomas. Yes, Bhutan only works for me because I've bought into the whole Gross National Happiness ideology. Brunei is wealthy in a sense that is better suited to my argument, and it seems (from a quick look at Wikipedia) to be a pretty humane undemocratic country. I'm going to learn a bit more about this country and use it instead.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Also, "Abode of Peace" is a nice touch.

And was Darusallam builded here, among these dark satanic mills?

(Another quick look at Wikipedia suggests this association is not specious. The "heritage (yerusha) of peace" (shalem).

Kirby Olson said...

I suppose I hold on to the antiquated notion that political structure (based in turn on religious beliefs) determines the economic success of a country.

I also think you should imagine yourself at the very bottom in any given country, not at the very top.

I'm sure N. Korea is just fine if you happen to be Kim Jong-Il.

and Zimbabwe is lovely, if you happen to be Robert Mugabe.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I don't think democracies would fare very well in a comparison of "very bottoms". Just take the USA for example. There are countries that would be preferable if we imagine ourselves at the bottom. Many of them are of course (what you would "socialist"). But there are probably also states that do nothing for their poor but also very little to actively oppress them.

Kirby Olson said...

You'll have to be more specific about countries that you mention.

I think the thing about America is that anybody with just a tad of gumption and work ethic can be a millionaire within about ten years time.

People come here from places like Vietnam, where the average annual income is 300 dollars, and within ten years, they are ready to send their children to Harvard. That's the norm.

There are no starving people in America. If anything, people are a little too portly. They should get busy on a treadmill and try to inch past the candy machine which mugs them with the unreality of utopian tastes. Candy machines are like socialism, which mugs you, and says, Your money AND your life.

You bloat into a utopian bowler, defamed by the skinny president, when you give in to utopian candy peddlers.