This is an extract from the book "The Palace of Crystal" by Harry Davis.
For Helen Woodson, and all the non-violent others for whom talking was not enough.
War is not stamped in our genes. It arises from social history. . . . It is no more than five percent of the population who lead us on this crazy drive for more than our neighbour.
(Numbers are wrong)
PART ONE Consequences
Chapter One By Way of Introduction Page 7 - 15
Chapter Two The Changing face of War Page 16 – 28
Chapter Three Stony Ground Page 29 - 38
Chapter Four The Scourge of War Page 39- 47
Chapter Five The Emergence of Democracy Page 48- 61
Chapter Six On the Inefficiency of Hierarchies Page 62 - 73
Chapter Seven The Cult of personality Page 74 – 79
Chapter Eight Rubber Stamp Democracies Page 80 - 95
PART TWO Follow My Leader
Chapter Nine Fatal Attraction Page 97 - 112
Chapter Ten How to Influence People Page 113 - 119
Chapter Eleven The Leader Page 120 - 134
Chapter Twelve Man and Superman Page 135 – 147
Chapter Thirteen View from the Top Page 148 – 154
Chapter Fourteen Our Need for a Fuhrer Page 155- 165
Chapter Fifteen The Man in the White Coat Page 166 - 171
Chapter Sixteen Beyond Survival Page 172 -176
Chapter Seventeen Revenge Page 177 - 186
PART THREE The Palace of Crystal
Chapter Eighteen Work in Progress Page 188 - 193
Chapter Nineteen The Palace of Crystal Page 194 - 216
Chapter Twenty Uniting the Nations Page 217 - 225
Chapter Twenty One Fighting Terrorism Page 226 - 236
Chapter Twenty Two Coping With Terror Page 237 - 239
Chapter Twenty Three A World Without War Page 240 - 246
Chapter Twenty Four Democracy in Action Page 247 - 259
Chapter Twenty Five The People versus the Mob Page 260 - 265
Chapter Twenty Six Prospects Page 266 - 269
Thanks are due to nearest and dearest, for putting up with the inevitable absences and disruptions that are occasioned by the writing of any book. I am grateful for much advice. In alphabetical order, my thanks must first go to Ralph Arnold, who advised focusing the last two chapters more sharply on the main idea. Then to Fred and Gillian Ashmore, who pointed out the relevance of Norman Dixon’s excellent On the Psychology of Military Incompetence to the main theme.
Then comes Owen Hardwicke, who found out about the existence of the manuscript and offered to read it. He described his valuable suggestions as ‘nit picking’. It was Owen who convinced me that the twin towers in New York ought to be rebuilt, as described in the chapter that deals with terrorism and how it might best be dealt with.
Next is Mary Holmes, who understood precisely what I was getting at even in the earliest draft, and whose gentle hints concerning the places where the book fell short of proper explanation resulted amongst other things in the writing of an additional chapter that now stands as chapter two.
Olaf Lippold’s invaluable, detailed and constructive criticism was leavened with an encouraging overall assessment. Olaf suggested the title. Jim Mortimer’s careful assessment persuaded me to add a chapter, the summation inserted as chapter twenty-five. Part of his assessment is quoted therein. Last on my alphabetical list is the dedicatee, Helen Woodson. We have corresponded over many years, during her time in an American prison serving a long, perhaps indefinite term for non-violent anti-nuclear action. I have learnt much from her wise counsel. We agree that the world is mad, but differ when it comes to remedies. I put forward a remedy in this book, but Helen is more pessimistic, and fears that there is no cure for mankind’s self-inflicted problems. On this I have her permission to quote from one of her letters, and have done so at some length in the twenty-third chapter.
I have had so much help that this book ought to be quite perfect. The fault is entirely my own that it is not.
By Way of Introduction
You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake. Jeannette Rankin.
‘If you want peace, prepare for war.’ This famous advice, often attributed convincingly enough to Julius Caesar but in fact first formulated by Vegetius in his Epitoma Rei Militaris concerning the need to prepare constantly for war in order to ensure peace, has evidently been taken to heart, for it would result in a world very like today’s, where nations spend a large proportion of their wealth on the military. A balance has always had to be struck between preparations for war and the enjoyment of peace. War and war preparations are undoubtedly costly, yet the danger of neglecting the martial arts is that the advantages of peace - prosperity, and the celebration of everything that is fine in life - may all be swept away by an invasion of barbarians.
The dilemma is epitomised by the history of the Song Dynasty (960 - 1297). The Song dynasty occupied most of what is present-day China, and brought unity and prosperity to their domain for over three hundred years. This was a time, described as ‘the Chinese renaissance’, when cities were developed and international trade flourished. It was a period of unparalleled growth coupled with great artistic and intellectual achievement. The compass was invented. A method of printing had been discovered in a previous dynasty, but the Song brought it into wide use, making literature readily available to aspiring scholars. Ceramics and painting reached a new height of elegance. They invented gunpowder, but, Song-like, used it not for weaponry but to facilitate mining.
However, with this emphasis on philosophy and peaceful endeavour, military matters became relatively neglected. There were military opportunities to enlarge their domain further when their northern neighbours were busy weakening each other with continual squabbles, but the Song disdained to take advantage, and chose instead to increase economic wealth, improve the arts and simply enjoy living.
Eventually the warlike Jin dynasty conquered half the Song territory to the north, and the Song thereafter were forced to placate their fierce neighbours, deterring them from invading the rest of the territory with heavy annual tributes of 100,000 ounces of silver and 200,000 bolts of silk. Their experiment in peaceful living finally came to an end with the invasion from the north by the Mongols led by Genghis Khan. If no provision can be made for Genghis Khans, the condition of a peace-loving country will always be precarious.
However, the possibility of such a provision came into being in the 20th century, bloody though that period was. For many centuries prior to the first world war there had been attempts to reduce the threat of war by the signing of treaties between neighbouring states. It made obvious sense to sign a non-aggression pact with a powerful neighbour. This device was recommended four hundred years ago by Niccolo Machiavelli, though he did advise against slavishly adhering to treaty promises if those promises became too burdensome or contrary to the interest of Princes. It was even recommended as worthwhile sometimes to make a treaty with a neighbour in order to throw him off guard, as a prelude to invasion.
A modern instance of such thinking can be found in Hitler’s speeches. Earlier speeches were frankly threatening, talking about the need for a talented people to spread out, when economic threats must give way to the power of the sword, about the need for lebensraum at the expense of inferior races, and so on, but nearer the time of the second world war, at a time when he had firmly decided upon war, Hitler’s speeches (1938) became bland and conciliatory, even expressing the wish to live in peace and eternal friendship with his neighbours.
A dense web of treaties, with no solid guarantee that any would be honoured, was clearly not the answer to preventing war. Sometimes, indeed, treaties were used as a prelude to war on neighbouring non-signatories, the purpose of the treaty being not to seek peace, but instead to ensure the success of a combined military adventure.
But with the prompt of a savage 20th century world war, perceptions changed. Many came to regard war as an unacceptable condition. For the first time a genuine attempt was made to approach the problem of international violence along cooperative lines on a worldwide scale with the founding of the League of Nations. The interlacing network of unreliable treaties was to be replaced by an open set of rules, backed up by the power of a great coalition of nations, guaranteeing security to all member states. The League was a promising attempt to rid the world of the plague of war, but it was the first practical attempt, and was flawed from the beginning when the most powerful nation, the United States, refused to join (surprisingly, as it was on the initiative of the US president Wilson that the League was formed: but Congress could not be persuaded).
The League did well at first, but eventually failed due to lack of commitment of its member nations. The recounting of some of its successes and failures occupies a later chapter (chapter twenty).
Then came the second world war, even more horrific than the first, and once more a post-war attempt at cooperative security was tried. The United Nations Organisation was formed by the victors, and this time the US became a founder member. This attempt at ridding the world of war through mutual security still survives, though there have already been ominous failures to keep to provisions of its Charter, reminiscent of the failures of its predecessor. Nevertheless the continuing effort to make a success of the United Nations is a heartening sign.
So that two inventions, one of the late 18th century and one of the 20th, when taken together, offered for the first time in history the real prospect of a world without war. The 20th century invention was that of collective security, above mentioned. That of the 18th century was representative democracy, the importance of which can hardly be overemphasised.
On the face of it, representative democracy was a huge improvement on previous methods of organising society. In contrast to earlier regimes where total power was centralised in single individuals or small groups, democracy offered the pleasant prospect of greater input into decision-making, equal rights, personal freedom and the alluring possibility of permanent peace. Democracy was seen as power devolved towards the people, and so inaccessible to would-be tyrants of the Genghis Khan type. It has often been observed that the idea of a pre-emptive war does not originate from, or even occur to, the mass of the people, farmers, teachers, workers of all kinds, who are nevertheless always the first to suffer from war. In a society such as was envisaged just over two hundred years ago when the New World broke away from the control of the Old and aspired to create a new form of government of the people, for the people, by the people, the chances of such a nation initiating a war were very much reduced. In those days the hope was that the spread of such democracies world-wide, coupled with an effective organisation dedicated to collective security, would greatly improve the chances of a world-wide peace – a peace that might eventually become so well-established as to become normal and even permanent.
But each invention was incomplete without the other. A system of cooperative security would always be at risk when it depended upon the compliance of a few powerful autocratic leaders who, for any one of a dozen personal reasons, could not be trusted to keep to the bargain they had signed. In addition, being human, they would die from time to time, and a new, untried individual would emerge from a fierce leadership contest to take the place of the late signatory. His name, perhaps, might be Genghis Khan. And without an effective system of cooperative security, representative democracies could never safely settle down to enjoy peace and the prosperity that comes with peace.
The two mutually-reinforcing inventions that together offered a real chance of permanent peace did not come a moment too soon. Another 20th century invention was to make the solution to the longstanding problem of war extremely urgent. Suddenly, with the invention of first the atom bomb, and then the hydrogen bomb, war changed its nature. Castles, moats and even great armies were rendered obsolete overnight. The awesome military power now available could no longer be left in the hands of unaccountable individuals, a system that historically had such a bad track record.
Desirable as they may be, the two ‘peace’ inventions do not come cost-free. To opt for cooperative security, all ideas of empire must be given up. Genghis Khan is finally to give way to the Song. The measure of a nation’s greatness must be found in the kind of society that has been created and the heights reached by its culture and its science, rather than the extra acreage it has won in battle. And as for democracy, the cost of a thoroughgoing democracy involves giving up our predisposition for hero-worship.
This is not so easy a renunciation. You have only to look at today’s incomplete democracies to realise that that supremely anti-democratic phenomenon, the cult of personality, has taken a strong hold everywhere. The choice of a strong, charismatic leader is considered to be of the utmost importance (think, for instance, of a modern United States’ presidential election campaign, or of the intense media interest generated by party leadership contests in Britain). As will be more fully explored in later chapters, modern leaders of democracies have much more power than their 18th century counterparts: there has been in operation a tendency towards centralisation of power that is in tune with our need for a hero to worship, though quite contrary to the spirit and soul of democracy. In our heads we may be attracted to democracy, with its emphasis on equality, but in our hearts we seem to abandon notions of equality and long for surrogate gods, powerful leaders whom we can look up to and who characteristically are very willing to take decisions for us.
Clearly, progress towards an ideal state of affairs has been scarcely perceptible (the 20th century has been the bloodiest on record): possible reasons for the failure occupy the following pages. Though recent history demonstrates that democracies can be led into a pre-emptive war, the pessimistic inference that democracies must therefore be as warlike as any other form of society is not necessarily true. Maybe modern democracies are just not democratic enough! Certainly the idea of an autocratic leader capable of taking the nation to war single-handedly was far from the original conception when the New World rejected notions of hierarchic society and boldly declared that all men were born equal.
A true autocrat can identify with Napoleon’s famous statement: ‘A man such as I am is not much concerned over the lives of a million men’. At the present time the great democracies of the United States and Britain have both elected rather extreme autocrats. George Bush once declared at a meeting that God had instructed him to invade Iraq, and has described his ‘war on terror’ as ‘a crusade’. Tony Blair, who is at present attracting criticism for the way he has taken Britain to war, is credited with describing a possible Conservative win at the next election as ‘not just a defeat for Labour, but for me personally’.
When things go wrong, it is fashionable to blame the man, and not the voters who elected him: furthermore, the system in place that allows autocrats such enormous power within modern democracies usually escapes criticism altogether. Perhaps in our hearts we do not seek protection from warlike leaders. On the contrary, we generally see it as a virtue in leaders to be ‘strong’, and so less likely to value consultation with their parliamentary colleagues. Why is this?
Charisma is undeniably attractive. We have all known individuals whom we admire instinctively. We may respect them not because of their smart ideas or even their joie de vivre, but simply because they happen to have that mysterious quality. Charismatic individuals possess an air of authority – such people exude a certainty that is a comfort in this uncertain world. They are life-enhancers: in small doses and locally-applied, charisma is a wonderful quality that lends colour to our more monotone lives, but on the larger scale of the world stage it has become very dangerous, as a cursory glance at history confirms.
We are here dealing with a universal weakness, a deeply-felt need for heroes that can be exploited and manipulated. The story of the raising of the US flag on Iwo Jima towards the end of the second world war illustrates the point. The photograph of six marines in the act of erecting the flag on a raised piece of ground during the fierce battle became famous, for Americans the iconic picture of the war. Three of the six marines were killed shortly afterwards: the remaining three were removed from the battle scene, brought home to be used as hero-figures leading a gigantic state-wide campaign for war bonds. They were made to re-enact the flag-raising, climbing a papier-mâché replica of Mount Suribachi, for the enjoyment of thousands of home patriots. A postage stamp featuring the action was printed. The heroes came to feel themselves manipulated and anything but heroic. Almost ninety percent of their comrades had died in the action, and the survivors suffered from the guilt of being alive.
When you consider the sometimes really rather repulsive characters that have been somehow magnified into adorable father-figures, such as Stalin and Hitler, it is clear that charisma is not necessarily related to virtue, and can even be a superficial character, useful in winning friends and influencing people, that may mask more basic and very unpleasant traits. Charisma is in fact a quality often possessed in abundance by the most hardened psychopaths, and has proved a key factor in their success, as for example the history of the rise of Idi Amin demonstrates (see chapter 9). The problem posed by charisma in a world controlled by leaders with enormous power is one that has received surprisingly little attention.
Our longing for superman is deeply ingrained. Our penchant for hero-worship may be built-in from the vulnerable days when we roamed the open savannah: at a time when single individuals were easy prey and groups needed the strongest leader they could get, a strong leadership had great survival value. Many gregarious animals, including in particular our nearest relatives, the primates, have developed a strictly hierarchical social structure headed by the most powerful individual. But times have changed. A social structure that is suitable for a troupe of baboons is bound to be inadequate for us humans, who have formed packs of immense size. In human society today leaders have become grotesquely powerful, sometimes heading a pack that may run into hundreds of millions of individuals. As reported in the first chapters, a succession of sages has warned that modern war, with modern weapons, is a form of mass suicide, and that our very survival depends on finding the strength to break off our love affair with militant ‘bold spirits’.
To read of our turbulent, bloody history is to be convinced that war is a self-inflicted misery that ought to be easily preventable. It is easy to imagine a global society that would be stable, prosperous and peaceful, a world where commerce between nations had become so firmly established, where the economic and social links had become so strong and so much a part of ordinary life, that recourse to war had long since become unthinkable. Take as an example the friendly ties that today bind France and Germany, two nations which have in the fairly recent past torn each other apart in savage wars, but which now cooperate for mutual benefit, and operate under common laws. So what has prevented homo sapiens as a whole from settling down to a peaceful, prosperous co-existence, where the only problems are those imposed by the nature of our lives on a vulnerable, finite planet?
The failure to eradicate international violence is certainly not due to lack of sufficient intelligence. Mankind’s curiosity and cleverness have enabled us to discover many of nature’s laws. We know a lot about the universe in which our planet spins, and from amazingly clever deductions from sharp observation of natural processes we have worked out much of the immensely long history of planet Earth, and how we came to be the dominant species on it. We have harnessed physics to help us begin to explore the vast immensity of space, and even to obtain the energy from inside an atom. So our failure to find a way to peace, especially when failure is of such consequence that today it threatens our very existence, is puzzling.
The problem of abolishing war remains unsolved. It is resistant to sensible argument, and somehow overcomes even our instinct for survival. An appeal to reason has failed time and again. Evidently something other than reason is involved.
This book falls naturally into three sections. In the first section, Part One (Consequences), the history of war and its heavy cost to humanity is briefly outlined. In the course of Part One a solution to the problem of war along the lines mentioned above is set out in more detail. The proposed remedy is hardly novel: chapter five is devoted to an outline of a benign, democratic society such as has already been described with unsurpassed clarity by the English philosopher Tom Paine in Rights of Man. The pure democracy suggested was never completely realised in practice then, and modern democracies have drifted even further from this ideal. Yet that original plan for representative democracy repays the trouble of re-examination. The eighth chapter, concluding Part One, is devoted to an examination of how the major democracies managed to declare an unpopular war against Iraq in 2003.
In an attempt to understand why the common man, though he suffers from war, yet tends to elect the very leaders who are most likely to take him to war, Part Two (Follow my Leader, chapters nine to sixteen) starts with an account of how dangerous men have risen to become leaders of their country. A look at the way in which Stalin, Idi Amin and Hitler all emerged from poverty and obscurity to dominate and control millions of their fellow citizens is instructive.
In the second part of Part Two (chapters eleven to seventeen) the question will be considered: why do we so often choose dangerous leaders? Are such men especially attractive to us, and so more likely to become leaders?
Taking into account the problems outlined in Part Two, in Part Three (Palace of Crystal, chapters eighteen to twenty-six) some remedies are suggested – practical remedies whose aim is to strengthen our system of cooperative security and to build upon and alter contemporary democracies in accordance with the more representative, less autocratic original model. In the pioneering days when the New World society was being formed, government was generally regarded as a necessary evil, and politicians were seen as public servants, representatives of the people delegated to perform a necessary but low-key function. This is a concept far removed from today’s democracies, where so much power is concentrated in the leader and his chosen executive at the expense of the main body of the Commons and even of the judiciary.
In the next chapter we look at some of the reasons why wars have been fought, and how the people, despite a natural reluctance, have been persuaded to go along.
What inducement has the farmer, while following the plough, to lay aside his peaceful pursuit and to go to war with the farmer of another country? (Tom Paine, Rights of Man)
Dostoevsky, in his Letters from the Underworld, doubted whether man would ever be happy in the ‘Palace of Crystal’ where everything was perfect, and there was nothing left to do but live in peace and comfort, and celebrate life with one another. He thought we would become very bored, and deliberately break things up so that our creative nature would have something to work on. The act of creation was an essential part of man’s makeup.
Well, he need not have worried about his Palace of Crystal. In all the centuries we have not managed to do more than lay down the bare foundations.
Meanwhile, we have allowed full rein to the destructive part of our nature, so that the century after the great Russian writer expressed his doubts that we might make life too easy for ourselves has been the bloodiest in history – and as we have seen in the previous chapter, that is saying something. So it will do no harm to attempt an architect’s drawing of a possible Palace of Crystal, secure in the knowledge that we will always fall far short of the absolute perfection that concerned Dostoevsky. Besides, our Palace of Crystal will be a simple affair, as our brief is merely to construct a society worldwide that will not tolerate war. We will not be aiming at abolishing all criminality or providing all citizens with a harp and wings.
Observing that it is governments and leaders who are responsible for war, some consider, with Tolstoy, that all government is violence. In What Then Must We Do? Leo Tolstoy describes a history of the origin of government. Marauding bands of robbers once swooped down on settled farming communities to plunder. In the days before money was invented, the robbers stole what they could and then perforce returned to the hills, there being nothing more to steal, but after currency was invented the bandits realised that they no longer needed to move on. Instead, they could remain as overlords and procure a steady cash tribute from those they had conquered. The tax-gatherers they appointed, if suitably rewarded and backed up by force, would faithfully collect the revenue, and the bandits then could settle down in greater comfort and need only be concerned with how they might still further increase the boundaries of their dominion. And that, dear reader, is the Tolstoyan account of the origin and purposes of government.
Certainly one is reminded of Tolstoy’s analysis when considering the history of England after William the Conqueror arrived from Normandy in 1066.
Writing long before Tolstoy, the English philosopher Tom Paine put forward a similar view of how government is formed, though, unlike Tolstoy, he came to believe in the possibility of an improved form of government that would actually do more good than harm. He described how the origin of the Old World governments was in a band of ruffians that overran a country and demanded tribute, the British example being typical. ‘A French bastard landing with an armed banditti, and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry, rascally original.’ 1
The victorious chiefs ‘contrived to lose the name of Robber in that of Monarch, and hence the origin of Monarchy and Kings’. The bands of ruffians, continues Tom Paine, ‘having parcelled out the world’, began to quarrel with one another. ‘What was at first obtained by violence, was considered by others as lawful to be taken’ – and hence the origin of war and the reason for the world being in its ‘wretched and quarrelsome condition’.
This sceptical view of the origin and purposes of government explains the desire of some reformers to alter the rules of society into something more benign, both internally in terms of individual freedom and rights and externally in terms of their society’s behaviour towards those of other nations. The monarchical dreams of war and conquest were to be replaced by a conception of a more peaceful, ordered and ethical society, run by its own citizens via their proxies, the members of parliament. The search for a more democratic form of government, where the individual citizen had inalienable rights, and government was in place to serve the population rather than rule over them efficiently, led in the New World to the desire to establish a new form of organising society, a government of the people, for the people, by the people, according to Lincoln’s view of the underlying principle of democracy.
In the search for good government, the assumption was that some government was necessary, a proposition that anarchists deny. They consider that a well-integrated community can manage its own affairs, and so needs no extra managerial layer to tell it what to do. The sense of community, and the mutual obligations of living in a community, would be sufficient to inspire all citizens to do their best – from each according to their ability, and to each according to their needs, to borrow a famous slogan from elsewhere.
Such a view is attractive, in that it reflects an optimistic view of human nature. One problem is that such a community, like the peaceful agricultural communities in Tolstoy’s account and actual practice, would remain vulnerable to terrorising by robber bands, both from within and without. Furthermore most would agree that a populous nation of many millions of individuals could hardly be run as thousands of separate and necessarily simple societies, but would need some sort of coordinating centre capable of responding to new situations. In addition, the huge modern populations must surely have a degree of specialisation, primarily to make the most efficient use of available arable land so that everyone can be fed, but also to make the best use of the human resources – all regions ought to be capable of benefiting from worthwhile advances made in any one. Specialist centres are needed to train doctors and other useful experts, universities must be built and funded to research pressing problems as they arise and to produce graduates who can apply solutions from which everyone benefits. All this implies central decision-making and taxes.
A small community living on the land, a rural community such as Tolstoy set up to put his ideas into practice, would have neither the resources nor the knowledge to attend to these wider needs. In such a primitive community a man’s life could be made miserable, and he might even die, simply from an infected tooth that a trained professional could have dealt with in minutes. Some form of government would appear to be a necessity, however regrettable to those wary of powerful, distant authority, in our modern, populous world. Anarchists could be trusted not to wage war, but their solution of doing away with government altogether does not appear to be practical, given present conditions.
It does seem that anarchists reject government because of its bad track record, and not out of a conviction that the simple life free of all external authoritarian restrictions is necessarily the best option. They reject government as a reaction to the violence that government has been perceived to inflict on the people.
I understood that men’s misfortunes come from the slavery in which some hold others. I understood that the slavery of our time was produced by the violence of militarism, by the appropriation of the land, and by the exaction of money. And having understood the meaning of all three instruments of the new slavery, I could not but wish to free myself from taking part in it. 2
One hundred years ago Tolstoy wrote:
At the present date, 1905, the contradiction between the consciousness of the possibility, and the lawfulness, of free life on the one hand, and the unreason and disaster of obedience to coercive authority, arbitrarily depriving people of the product of their labour for armaments which can have no end, of authority capable at any moment of compelling nations to participate in insensate and cruel manslaughter on the other is felt not only by the masses suffering from this coercion, but also by the best men of the ruling classes. 3
Tolstoy might have been describing current events: his argument has not lost its force a century later. Anarchists distrust authority, and have a strong regard for the rights of the individual. In a true democracy these are high virtues, needed to prevent any relapse towards tyranny. Though it may appear something of a paradox, anarchists would find conditions in our democratic Palace very much to their liking. Always ready to call authority to account, they would make ideal citizens and their presence would fortify society. 
For the moment we must leave to one side the threat posed to our Palace of Crystal from outside. Security of the nation from external threats is a separate though admittedly extremely important question – defining our peaceful palace is sufficient occupation at present. First, let us create a clear picture of the Palace of Crystal. If, as seems to be necessary, some form of government must be forced upon us and yet we insist upon a government that will not take us to war, what kind shall we choose?
If too much power in the hands of leaders (whether democratically elected or robber barons) is seen as dangerous, then the first, obvious requirements are that our government shall make its important decisions by consensus, be transparent in its actions, responsive to the wishes of the people and subject to previously agreed rules. The call to war has always originated from above, as the quote at the top of this chapter implies. Democracy offers a safeguard.
Democracy was naturally seen as a great step forward for society by those concerned with civil rights and freedom. In his famous essay On Liberty, written in 1859, John Stuart Mill described how early societies accepted authoritarian leadership as an unfortunate necessity.
The rulers were conceived (except in some of the popular governments of Greece) as in a necessarily antagonistic position to the people whom they ruled. They consisted of a governing One, or a governing tribe or caste, who derived their authority from inheritance or conquest, who, at all events, did not hold it at the pleasure of the governed, and whose supremacy men did not venture, perhaps did not desire, to contest, whatever precautions might be taken against its oppressive exercise. Their power was regarded as necessary, but also as highly dangerous. 4
Improvements in liberty then depended merely on limiting the power that the ruler exercised over the community. But the arrival of democracy changed that perception.
A time, however, came in the progress of human affairs, when men ceased to think it a necessity of nature that their governors should be an independent power opposed in interest to themselves. It appeared to them much better that the various magistrates of the state should be their tenants or delegates, revocable at their pleasure. 5
Though recognising democracy as the best basic plan for society, Mill was more aware than most of its potential weaknesses. Power vested in the people’s representatives might simply lead to ‘the tyranny of the majority’, and the preservation of the human rights of minorities against ‘the prevailing opinion and feeling’ became his concern. His aim was to correct flaws in democracy – a fitting task, and one ideally suited to a true lover of democracy.
Democracy, besides being an elected, representative form of government, is also essentially associated with a respect for human rights, freedom, and a rule of agreed law that applies to everyone, including of course the lawmakers themselves. So many of those who hope for an end of war look naturally towards democracy as the main hope for a peaceful world. This was certainly the view of the English philosopher Tom Paine, to whom we now turn in more detail.
Governments have not always had their origin in marauding bands of robbers.
The Palace of Crystal, or something close to it, was once actually established. It is worth considering the early American model closely. It was an attractive form of society with a government that was representative, cheap, effective, and based upon the egalitarian ideal. At the time of its formation it caught the imagination of intellectuals and poets worldwide. Referring to the new way of organising society, Wordsworth wrote:
‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
And to be young was very heaven’
Great expectations were aroused by the emergence of the new American system. A freedom from oppression by authority of all kinds was promised, best expressed in words written at the time:
O! ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose not only tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her as a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.6
The French were soon to be inspired by the American example into launching their own revolution. The idea of making a majestic statue to Liberty, an ideal to which the revolutions of both nations were dedicated, was conceived in France, and the gigantic monument that graces the harbour in New York was made in France and presented to the American people in solidarity and gratitude for the example they had given to the world.
The United States that has evolved over the last two centuries might lead one to imagine that the idea of people power must have had some fatal flaw. But was there really a fatal flaw? Paine, writing at the time, was caught up in the blissful dawn, and had a hand in the formation of the new way of organising society (the very name, United States of America, is his). A great optimist, he quite expected that the new way of living together would sweep across the world, brushing aside authoritarian and corrupt societies and establishing in their place truly democratic republics on the New World model. So certain was he of the virtues of the new system, and so sure was he that Reason was sufficiently powerful to prevail over the vested interests of kings and aristocracies, that in Rights of Man he declared blithely, ‘I do not believe that monarchy and aristocracy will continue seven years longer in any of the enlightened countries in Europe’. 7
What if that had happened? What if the whole world, on the tidal wave of the new idea, had become a series of republics with the fresh, egalitarian New World ideals? Would then the US have degenerated to its present condition? Or instead would the new system have become the generalised norm, unquestioned and stable, with free trade and commerce forging links that eventually became unbreakable, and a peaceful egalitarian world firmly established two centuries ago? The vast military-industrial complex that flourishes today and obstructs progress towards disarmament would surely never have been born without the prompt of war, and of the two gigantic twentieth century world wars in particular.
That possibility is worth considering. Failure was not built in to the new American model. It is worth re-examining as it was proposed in the beginning, as surely the most attractive system for organising society ever devised, and attention paid to how it went wrong.
What follows is taken mostly from Tom Paine’s Rights of Man, a book that has described a vision of the ideal society with unparalleled force and eloquence, and from his Common Sense, which was a powerful and influential argument in favour of breaking the ties with England and pressing for full American independence, rather than patching up the quarrel. In urging the break, Paine compared the capricious, corrupt Old World governments with the new American model with telling effect. There are some direct quotes, identified by quotation marks, and the rest attempts to be as accurate a summary as possible of his account of the function of the new kind of government, its aims and ideals, in what was to become known as the United States of America.
Civil society, a coming together of individuals for mutual support and benefit, is one thing, and government, which imposes agreed ground rules of behaviour for mutual security, is another. ‘Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness.’ 8
‘Were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least.’ 9
The governments of the Old World were full monarchies, or, as was the case at that time in Britain, imperfect democracies where only one person in a hundred had the vote, and policy determined by parliament was in any case subject to the monarch’s approval. Whether outright monarchies or imperfect democracies, the feeling of government was the same – an imposition from above designed to keep citizens in order.
‘With respect to the [British] House of Commons, it is elected but by a small part of the Nation; but were the election as universal as taxation, which it ought to be, it would still be only the organ of the Nation, and cannot possess inherent rights.’ 10 (A reference to the need for a written constitution, agreed by the people, to set constraints upon the power of their government.)
Now follow Paine’s practical recommendations for setting up a truly representative and democratic government, including a particularly democratic way of electing a president, with nothing more than the explanations and side comments needed, where fragments have been lifted out of a larger context.
‘LET the assemblies be annual, with a President only. . . . Their business wholly domestic, and subject to the authority of a Continental Congress.
Let each colony [State] be divided into six, eight or ten convenient districts, each district to send a proper number of delegates to Congress, so that each colony send at least thirty. The whole number in [Federal] Congress will be at least 390. Each Congress to sit and choose a president by the following method. When the delegates are met, let a colony be taken from the whole thirteen colonies by lot, after which let the whole Congress choose (by ballot) a president from out of the delegates of that province. In the next Congress, let a colony be taken by lot from twelve only, omitting that colony from which the president was taken in the former Congress, and so proceeding on till the whole thirteen shall have had their proper rotation. And in order that nothing may pass into a law but what is satisfactorily just, not less than three fifths of the Congress to be called a majority. – He that will promote discord, under a government so equally formed as this, would join Lucifer in his revolt.’ 11
Notable is the suggested method for choosing a president, which would surely have been an improvement on the method finally adopted, which has led to the personalised, hero-worshipping US presidential election circus of today. The idea was inspired, as always with the English philosopher, by the ideal of democracy, not allowing too much power to a single individual, who might then turn the democracy into a dictatorship, the very situation that democracy was designed to avoid. The president was to be chosen by his peers, and have power for only a single year, so the threat of a populist, autocratic president, a televisable, plausible, smiling president elected for four years directly by the people, and with enormous power – in our day more power in some crucial areas than the whole of the Congress - would be avoided. (The power of a modern US president to force through legislation, even to declare war, will be discussed in a later chapter.)
Paine considered that America had experienced not a revolution, but a counter-revolution: conquest and tyranny had centuries earlier dispossessed men of their natural rights, which were now restored and guaranteed by the elected representatives of the people. The American government was ‘founded on a moral theory, on a system of universal peace, on the indefeasible hereditary Rights of Man’ 12, and promised a new era for the human race.
All the monarchical governments were military. War had always been a result of leadership decisions. ‘Man, were he not corrupted by governments, is naturally friendly to man, and human nature is not of itself vicious.’ But for monarchs peace was a mere interval between wars, when, ‘wearied with war, and tired of human butchery, they sat down to rest, and called it peace’ 13.
‘Government on the old system is an assumption of power, for the aggrandisement of itself: on the new, a delegation of power, for the benefit of society.’ 14
War could be expected of the old system, peace of the new. Contested hereditary claims of royalty had been responsible for the origins of wars in France, England and Spain, all because a monarch’s ‘constant objects are domination and revenue’. The old system ‘encourages national prejudices’; the new ‘promotes universal society’.
If the idea of representative government had occurred to the Athenian founders of ‘simple democracy’, monarchies and aristocracies might never have existed. It was merely population increase that had caused the simple early democracies to fail, and representation solves this difficulty. ‘By ingrafting representation upon democracy, a new system of government is founded.’ 15
A republic is ‘not any particular form of government’, but derives from Res –Publica, public affairs, and so a republic is a form of government that should ‘make the Res-Publica its whole and sole object’. Several governments of that time called themselves republics, but Paine considered that the American system, with its strict system of representation, with its underlying idea that politicians were public servants who must be responsive to the wishes of those who had voted them into office, was ‘the only real republic in character that now exists’.
Strong and charismatic leaders were not needed or desired in the new system, and open government a requirement. ‘In the representative system, the reason for everything must publicly appear.’ This done, the measure was debated and voted upon. The strength of the arguments, and not the persuasive power of a powerful individual, decided the issue – this was to be a crucial difference between the new form of government and the old. [Unfortunately, as we will see in a later chapter devoted to the subject, such pure transparency has not yet been achieved in any actual democracy, nor today is it even thought to be desirable.]
A written constitution was considered extremely important. An elected government was no automatic guarantor of rights that should be expected under a democracy, but must itself be subject to the constraints of a clear set of guiding rules. A constitution protected the people from governmental abuse. An agreed constitution was formed after consultation with the people, and set the rules for their government. A constitution was ‘not an act of government, but of a people’, and ‘government without a constitution is power without a right’. 16
Such an egalitarian government, consistent with the true democratic ideal, would be a much more low-key affair than government is today, nor would there be such a great ideological divide into right and left. 
These are suitable ideals for our Palace of Crystal. One important point that distinguishes them from all contemporary democratic government is the supreme power of the Commons in the Palace. In this, the early proposals were more faithful to the original Athenian democratic model, wherein:
Elected officials did not determine decisions – giving decision-making power to elected officials was considered by the ancient Athenians to take away the power of the people, effectively making the state an oligarchy. (History of Democracy, Wikipedia)
A selected executive (Cabinet) is indeed needed for the smooth running of the affairs of the nation, but the Athenian inventors of democracy would have agreed that such an executive ought to have no more power than is required to do its specialised job. Paine’s view on the function of the executive could profitably be read out to each minister of our Palace as he or she is elected to the Cabinet. ‘The sovereign authority in any country is the power of making laws, and everything else is [merely] an official department.’ 18 This important idea illuminates a flaw in modern democracies, wherein leaders, usually supported by their carefully-chosen executive, have the power to take without consultation foreign policy decisions, including making treaties and taking nations to war against strong public opposition.
The fact that members of parliament are elected provides no guarantee that the proper interests of the people will be attended to. A constitutional constraint is needed on the power not only of the executive, but also of the whole parliament. ‘It is not because a part of the government is elective, that makes it less a despotism, if the persons so elected possess afterwards, as a parliament, unlimited powers. Election, in this case, becomes separated from representation, and the candidates are candidates for despotism.’ 19
In those early days the United States was, it seems, peopled by sturdy individuals who were not cowed by authority, but boldly presumed to question it. Henry David Thoreau, a native of Boston, was maybe an extreme example of the self-confident individual. What he said in Walden resonates with the more egalitarian times in which he lived.
‘It is not for a man to put himself in such an attitude to society, but to maintain himself in whatever attitude he finds himself through obedience to the laws of his being, which will never be one of opposition to a just government, if he should chance to meet with such.’ 20
Thoreau hardly considered the government of his own country to be a just model. He may have been the first man on record to be jailed for non-payment of tax, openly and specifically withheld so that he would not feel to have helped to finance what he considered an unjust war that his government was waging in Mexico, or to have financed officially-organised slavery. Writing in 1854, he declared: ‘I did not pay a tax to, or recognise the authority of, the state which buys and sells men, women and children like cattle at the door of its senate-house.’ 21 His retreat to the woods by Lake Walden may have been partly so that he would not earn enough to be required to pay taxes. He was a craftsman and a successful maker and marketer of superior pencils, so he could have chosen to be rich in a society of which, however, he disapproved.
His famous essay on civil disobedience is full of sentiments that reinforce the concept of government set out above. ‘That government is best which governs least.’ ‘Government is at best but an expedient.’ ‘I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.’ 22
Modern democracies, which are driven by powerful leaders and clandestine decision-making, differ markedly from those early conceptions of how a democracy ought to operate. The original New World model is hardly recognisable in the United States of America of today, where enormous power is concentrated in the president and his executive, and foreign policy decisions are routinely taken in secret. Moreover, and ominously, such secrecy is thought to be inevitable and proper, not only by the decision-takers, but also even by the majority of citizens themselves.
A more detailed look at current practices is better left to later chapters. Suffice to comment here that the ideals that were current two hundred years ago, and which were such an inspiration to those who hoped for a peaceful future for mankind, are no longer common currency. Nor are the ideals invalidated by pointing to today’s America. The beacon must now be relit.
The outline of our Palace of Crystal, a democratic society whose modest, low-key government can be trusted never to go to war, and to guard the rights and freedoms of its citizens, is sufficiently drawn. Our Palace, once formed, will doubtless be threatened from within and from without. Internally it might be threatened, as Dostoevsky suggested, out of sheer boredom, vandalised by its own restless citizens. If it really is in our nature to reject a peaceful existence, there is nothing more to be said except that at least the hopeful experiment in living together will have been tried. Yet success seems more likely than failure. According to one account, we have once before been expelled from paradise. Surely we have learnt from that mistake, and will be careful to preserve paradise, or the closest earthly approach to it, if it ever comes our way again.
The major threat to our Palace will most likely be from outside. Until the world’s nations consist of nothing but benign republics, uncertainty will always remain. We will look at ways of reducing the external threat in chapter twenty, Uniting the Nations.
Besides offering the practical possibility of a peaceful world, our very democratic Palace, with its emphasis on human rights and personal freedom, appeals strongly to those of an egalitarian frame of mind. In fact, were we all true egalitarians, democracy would long ago have become the sole and unchallenged method of organising society. However, we are not all egalitarians. Some cannot see the virtue of a society wherein the strong are not permitted to rise above and have power over the common herd. They would willingly give their allegiance to a great leader and seek places in his administrative hierarchy. These authoritarians feel comfortable and sheltered when assigned a place in the ruling pecking order, readily obeying those above them and in their turn demanding strict obedience from those below.
In democracies, authoritarians must find their niche in corporations and in the armed forces, where strong hierarchic structures exist, but a dictatorship offers them more opportunity, and they make ready recruits to the administration. One obvious problem with the hierarchic government of dictatorship is that the leader may be incompetent, or even a psychopath (actual examples to be later discussed), but there are also other problems with such a system that undermine its efficiency, even if guided by a philosopher-king. These inbuilt defects of the alternative to democratic government provide the subject of the next chapter.
1. Paine, T. Common Sense. London: Penguin, 1982:78
2. Leo Tolstoy. What the must we do? Bideford: Green Books, 1991: 109
3. Leo Tolstoy. Government is Violence. London: Phoenix, 1990: 23
4. Mill J. S. On Liberty. p 59 (Penguin Classics edition)
5. Ibid. p 60
6. Paine, T. Common Sense. p 100
7. Paine T. Rights of Man. London:Penguin Classics, 1985: 156
8. Paine T. Common Sense. p 65
9. Ibid, p65
10. Paine T. Rights of Man p 130
11. Paine T. Common Sense p 96
12. Paine T Rights of Man, p161
13. Ibid p 161
14. Ibid p 171
15. Ibid. p 180
16. Ibid. p 185
17. Paul F. Boller. Presidential Campaigns. Oxford University Press. 1984:15
18. Paine T Rights of Man, p206
19. Ibid. p 193
20. Thoreau H.D. Walden London: J.M. Dent Everyman:284
21. Ibid. p151
22. Thoreau H.D. Civil Disobedience. See www.civildisobedience.org.uk
Our need for a Fuhrer
As long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly arise and make them miserable. Aldous Huxley.
Democracy does not come easily to the human spirit. In our heads we believe in democracy, and the values that are associated - individual rights and freedoms, the rule of law, an egalitarianism leading to independence and an increased sense of self-worth; but in our hearts we long for superman. Anyone who doubts this should study the way Americans elect their president. At the time of writing this famous contest is in full swing. The first televised debate between the incumbent, George Bush, and the democratic challenger John Kerry was generally judged to have been won by Kerry. Bush was judged to have been ‘petulant’ and occasionally, when crossed, ‘scowling’. The second debate also attracted much analysis by pundits. After much poring over the entrails of the debate the result was judged to have been a draw. In another week the third and final debate will take place. The result does not concern us here. What is striking is the great interest, the minute analysis on the level of personality that these events attract. The contest suits something in our makeup: our longing for a superman-leader. The rejection of the values of democracy that this implies attracts little notice. Instead, the debates between the candidates are seen as crucial, and the candidates are inundated with advice on presentation, on the politically-correct attitudes to adopt, on the stagecraft that will be the most effective in captivating and impressing the audience.
In Britain the feeling and the need for superman is of course the same as in America. The system for electing a leader is different, but that does not interfere with or affect the hunger for a powerful leader. The popularity of the leader is universally acknowledged to be critical to the entire party’s success, and the mainstream media devote more attention to the leader than to the party’s political agenda. At election time the leader of each of the parties is already chosen in Britain, so the personality of the leader exerts a powerful influence on how the people throughout the country cast their vote.
An opinion poll conducted a week before the May 5th general election 1 was concerned with the personal attributes of the leaders of the two main parties. (The Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was not included in the poll.) The way the country was taken to war in Iraq had shaken the public’s belief in the integrity of Tony Blair: the poll results showed that 44% considered him to be a liar, an equal percentage thought him ‘slippery’, but that a slim majority (54%) respected him, and when it came to charisma, his rating was 55%, compared to his rival’s 24%. It seems that the public prefer their leader to be charming rather than virtuous.
In Britain the great power vested in the party leader is taken for granted, and much care is therefore taken in the choice. Extraordinary emphasis is placed on the charm and manner of the candidate.
Cameron’s unique selling proposition is quite different, and one that nowadays trumps any track record. He offers plausibility lightly dusted with charm. The tools of his trade are not manifestos and ‘worked-up’ policies, but a pleasant face, a winning smile, some eye contact and cheery repartee. These convey more conviction than a book of promises.2
The above was written of the latest successful candidate for Conservative leadership. The Party had been out of power for eight years, and the current leader of the Labour party, Tony Blair, is generally given the credit for the Tories’ prolonged spell in opposition – a frank admission that it is personalities rather than policies that determine political success. Logically enough, given the overriding importance attributed to the leader, in an attempt to improve their fortunes the Conservatives have held four leadership contests in eight years, the latest resulting in the victory of the youthful, engaging David Cameron. He is widely seen as the ‘answer’ to Tony Blair.
Leadership contests are seen as vitally important events, and dominate the news. There is a general expectation that much will come of a wise choice: the implied conception that Britain works in practice as an elective dictatorship is accepted by the media, by the politicians themselves, and perhaps even by the general public.
In Britain the personality cult is also demonstrated clearly at party conferences, where the keynote speech of the leader is given such enormous weight, both at the conference itself and in the media reporting the event. The Labour conference in September 2005 illustrated this point with more than usual starkness. Tony Blair actually said in the course of his address: ‘Every time I’ve ever introduced a reform in government, I wish in retrospect I had gone further.’ The reactive comment to the use of the personal pronoun in a well-regarded newspaper the next morning? ‘Tony Blair yesterday reasserted his prime ministerial authority with a powerful Brighton conference speech which challenged Labour to abandon some cherished ‘myths’ in order to become the party that embraces change – “and shapes it to progressive ends” ’. The autocratic tone of the leader, which would not have been out of place in a perfect dictatorship, excited no comment – a striking testimony to how far the cult of personality is accepted in today’s Britain.
Leaders want to lead, and people want to be led: a dangerous liaison that threatens freedom. The extreme cases, when leaders actively exploit the desire of ‘their’ people to be led, and employ the powerful modern means of propaganda to reinforce our penchant for hero-worship, widening still further the gulf between leaders and their subjects, are the best for study, the problems caused by the relationship between leaders and led being then most obvious.
A well-organised personality cult has the power to transform an unprepossessing specimen into a demi-god. The persisting Stalinist cult amongst a section of the Soviet public half a century after the dictator’s death, in spite of the terror and millions of deaths he was responsible for, is a striking illustration of the effectiveness of such organisation, and its appeal to something within our nature. In modern times a good example of an extreme personality cult is Kim Jong-il of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, i.e., North Korea.
A fascinating insight into life in North Korea today was provided by a recent BBC documentary, A State of Mind, shown on 7th June 2004. The film focused on the lives of two little girls, friends aged 13 and 11, who were preparing for the country’s Mass Games, an annual socialist realism spectacular involving thousands of young gymnasts. For months prior to the great event the girls practised for hours each day after school, and during the school holidays. They became amazingly good at the most complex manoeuvres, which sometimes involved throwing big red balls high in the air, performing a graceful somersault or other feat, and regaining their balance in time to catch the descending ball. Their precision was uncanny. The actions would have been difficult enough to perform singly, but on the great day they would have to be carried out simultaneously, en masse by thousands of gymnasts in the stadium! A mistake by one individual might have ruined the effect, yet, to reassure the reader prematurely, there were no mistakes on the day.
The girls were motivated by the great honour of having been chosen to perform in the stadium. They knew, because they had been told many times, that the Games express the essence of the communist ideal, the perfect demonstration of the subordination of an individual’s desires to the need of the collective. The perfect performance proves the perfect communist. But the most important motivation of all was the prospect of ‘the General’ (Leader Kim Jong-il) attending one of the performances.
They, and all their school friends, are perfect in revolutionary history. The teacher, who knows the answers with mathematical certainty, asks the class, ‘How many kinds of greatness does the great leader have?’ The correct answer is three: greatness in ideology, greatness in leadership, and greatness in aura.
The dedication of the girls is astonishing. It is not an easy task to perfect (and in unison!) the moves which all require a flexibility and a muscular co-ordination that can only be admired by the couch potatoes who sit watching the documentary. The older girl, Pak Hyon-sun, strains her back and pulls a muscle, but she perseveres.
‘I long for the day when I perform for the General. So I train through the pain,’ she explains.
It turns out that there is not just to be a single performance, but performances twice a day for twenty days. The last fifteen minutes of the BBC documentary are dedicated to the amazing kaleidoscopic sight of the Mass Games, the world’s greatest choreographed spectacle. The vast stadium is packed with citizens and party members. As the girls gave their final performance, they looked to the stands for the Party’s approval, and perhaps a glimpse of their General. But Kim Jong-il had been too occupied with affairs of state to attend even one performance.
The girls understand. Their General is busy running the country, and, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks, they are happy with that.
The technique used to create the adulation is instructive. Of course the romanticised portrait of the General is everywhere to be seen, noble yet smiling, with his eyes fixed upon the horizon of the future. Of course the history taught at school is a travesty, and revolves round and round the great leader.
One important slant is that only the General stands between the country and the wicked murderers, the American imperialist foe. Having an enemy out there, a malignant nation or even a vaguely-defined terrorist enemy, is a critical part of the effectiveness of the personality cult. In the case of North Korea the US bogeyman is all too believable, as the people suffered greatly from high-level bombing of the cities during the war. The possibility of hostilities breaking out again is greatly to be feared, and the constant reminders of war provide a strong motive for clinging to the Great Protector. The personality cult is reinforced by fear of war, and by war itself (remember the ‘Falklands factor’, for instance, which helped Margaret Thatcher to be re-elected after her popularity had waned prior to that war), so dictators have a vested interest in creating a climate of fear. Peace has not yet, after 50 years, been formally announced between North Korea and their neighbours and compatriots, the South Koreans!
Kim Jong-il was born in Siberia, where his father Kim Il-sung was in exile in the former Soviet Union. This being insufficiently romantic, and of no practical use considering the need for North Korean pilgrims to visit the place of the great leader’s birth, the official birth site is a log cabin at his father’s former guerrilla base beneath the nation’s highest mountain, the scenic snow-capped Mount Paektu.
In a direct steal from Orwell, the radio broadcasts State propaganda into every home, and can be turned down, but not off!
One suspects that Kim Jong-il’s refusal to turn up at even one of the performances of the extraordinary Games held in his honour was calculated, as showing the Great Leader to be above such entertainments. (In fact, he is known as a playboy. Diplomats and escaped dissidents speak of a vain, paranoid, cognac-guzzling hypochondriac.)
Though the North Korean model is the extreme example, the cult of personality also flourishes elsewhere, but in subtler form, so that it is hardly noticeable when compared with the extravagant regime just mentioned. We should take as the next example that of the system operating in the United States of America.
Let us start, arbitrarily, with president Jimmy Carter. Carter, an earnest man with an honest face and manner, caught the imagination of Americans at a critical time. President Nixon had been impeached and resigned from office in disgrace. In reaction Americans were looking for a transparently honest man for their president and found one in James Earl Carter.
Carter has true democratic instincts. His inaugural address on 20th January 1977 was expressed in plain language, and what he chose to say is relevant to the theme of this book and bears quoting here.
‘To be true to ourselves we must be true to others. We will not behave in foreign places so as to violate our rules and standards here at home, for we know that the trust our nation earns is essential for our strength.’ 3 The wars he pledged to fight were ‘against poverty, ignorance and injustice – for these are the enemies against which our forces can be honourably marshalled’.
He did not claim to be all wise, after the manner of many an aspiring leader, but instead said: ‘You have given me a great responsibility – to stay close to you, to be worthy of you, and to exemplify what you are. Let us create together a new national spirit of unity and trust. Your strength can compensate for my weakness, and your wisdom can help to minimise my mistakes.’ ‘ . . . together, in a spirit of individual sacrifice for the common good, we must simply do our best.’
After his speech, Carter considered the traditional motorcade from the Capitol to the White House would be inappropriate as being insufficiently democratic, and instead walked the distance with his family, the first and probably the last time such a gesture will be made by a newly inaugurated president.
If all leaders thought and acted like Carter, the validity of the main theme of this book, that leaders have been and will always be responsible for much of our self-inflicted misery, would be seriously undermined.
Perhaps Carter was lucky in his republican rival. Gerald Ford, in taking over mid-term from the disgraced Nixon, entered the White House without winning a national presidential election. His personality had not been tested in the fire of an American presidential election, and it turned out that he lacked the common touch necessary for a popularity contest. His unconditional free pardon of Nixon, on the ground of the ‘ugly passions’ that would be aroused if the former president were brought to trial, did not go down well with the voters, who suspected, probably wrongly, that a sly deal had been done.
During Carter’s term of office there were no wars, and he worked hard to achieve what he could of his announced programme without any macho posturing. But when he stood for re-election he faced a more formidable opponent, Ronald Reagan, who had a beguiling smile. Though Americans were prosperous under Carter, and in their president had a man dedicated to moderation and peace, they couldn’t help falling for Reagan. He beat Carter in a landslide 51% to 41% victory.
Something has already been said of Reagan in an earlier chapter. Nothing he did could dent his popularity. He introduced an extreme of free market economics, ‘Reaganomics’, which involved a drastic cutting back of social welfare programmes (including the masterly touch of abolishing free school lunches), and increased unemployment. He cut taxes for the rich whilst at the same time increasing defence spending hugely, which resulted in budget and trade deficits, leading to a collapse in the exchange rate of the dollar and, in 1987, a stock market crash. Reagan was also responsible for a secret, lawless campaign of terror in Central America.
The nasty effects of US foreign policy were perhaps not widely known at the time, so ordinary Americans cannot be accused of supporting Reagan in order to pursue selfish American interests abroad in so brutal a way. They just loved his smile. Even when he was found out deceiving and sidelining Congress, even when the web of deceit and undercover manoeuvrings of the Iran-Contra scandal were made public, the voters forgave their president. He had only to make a public broadcast (12th August, ’87) to apologise and declare that though he had not known of the dirty dealings, he, as president, took full responsibility for them.
Reagan won the next election in another landslide, and no doubt would have won a third term, if that had been permitted by the constitution. There is no substitute for charisma.
The American system, which devotes a special election to determine the presidency, gives the president great power mandated by the people – a counterbalance to the Congress that has recently proven to be even weightier than all of that elected body (a measure must have a two-thirds majority of senators to be immune from a presidential veto!). The system in Britain for choosing a leader, the Prime Minister, is different. Here the leader is chosen by his peers in the Party, and he becomes prime minister when the Party achieves a majority. But this does not mean that a candidate does not need to have popular appeal. Far from it. What we might term the celebrity factor is seen as essential.
Tony Blair was (and by the majority still is) seen as confident, statesmanlike and authoritative, and so has been regarded as a great electoral asset. Despite his discredited decision to take the country to war in Iraq, despite his being generally perceived to have been dishonest in presenting the case for that war, he is nevertheless still seen as an asset to the party at election time because of his charisma. He is an autocrat by nature, and that seems to be just what the people want. Calls for his resignation emanating from within the party have been stifled, because his charm will be needed when the country goes next to the polls.  The personality cult is alive and well in Britain today.
In Britain, a constitutional monarchy, the people have a choice of objects upon which to focus their admiration – the elected leader and royalty. Royalty today has no power to make or alter laws, but it wasn’t always thus.
In the beginning, when in 1066 William the Conqueror invaded from France and killed the English king, no doubt the conquered peoples felt sullen anger towards their new ruler. But time cures all, and it was not long before William’s descendants enjoyed the loyal adulation of the populace. The king and the country became one object. Louis Fourteenth once famously remarked in irritation, upon being pestered with troublesome affairs of state of France, ‘L’Etat, c’est moi!’. This kingly attitude, implying that the whole country was really just an appendage of the royal person, also flourished in England for a long time. Royalty became all-powerful, and to express dissatisfaction with the king was equated with treason, a betrayal of one’s country, and qualified the dissident for gruesome punishment. After Cromwell and the beheading of Charles 1st, power passed to parliament, though as we have noted earlier kingly power, instead of being abolished as undemocratic, descended instead to the prime minister of the day.
So the present situation in Britain as regards Fuhrers is somewhat different from the American model. The people have a choice of worship: either of a relatively harmless figurehead of a monarch, or a powerful politician. Those whose hunger for top people is intense can have both.
Today’s royalty poses no threats of hanging, drawing and quartering of dissidents (in ancient times ‘Off with his head!’ was one of the milder punishments), and is the more freely loved for that. Anyone who doubted the popularity of royalty in Britain today would have had those doubts dispelled two years ago if he had come to London to witness the celebrations attendant on the hundredth birthday of the queen’s mother. The Mall leading down to Buckingham Palace was packed with a dense crowd, and up and down the country there was a spontaneous effusion of joyful subjects, all intent on having a great party in celebration of the royal event.
The situation vis-à-vis Fuhrers in Australia is similar to that in Britain. Australia, too, is a constitutional monarchy, and though the Queen lives a long way away, royalty is much looked up to from down under. So much so, that when a referendum was held in Australia in November 1999 on whether the nation should become a republic, the opportunity to cut royal ties was rejected, even though the opinion that Australia must become a republic one day was held by a sizeable majority of Australians.
The campaign and the question posed at this referendum are of great interest to us in the present context. Instead of a simple direct question, ‘Do you want an Australian republic?’, the referendum concerned itself also with how a head of state to replace the monarch should be chosen. Should the president be decided by parliamentary selection, the candidate to be passed by a two-thirds majority in parliament, or should he or she be chosen by public plebiscite, as in the American model of electing a president? The disadvantages of the latter option had been made abundantly plain by recent US history, but given the Australians’ distrust of politicians the former choice, electing a premier from amongst the politicians by the politicians, was not popular either. The way in which a president should be chosen so confused the main issue that, though opinion polls showed that around 70% of Australians wanted a republic, the vote for a republic was lost, only 46% voting to reject the monarchy.
One interesting feature of this result was the assumption that the people needed some kind of leader besides the prime minister. Should it be the queen, or an elected president? Like the Americans, the Australians were afraid of too much democracy, of vesting all the power in their own representatives. It was assumed that they wanted a figurehead of some kind, to pay their homage to. The assumption must have been correct, as the need for a figurehead of one kind or another was not questioned in the extensive media coverage of the referendum.
The argument in favour of keeping the monarchy (and so postponing a republic) became, ‘But if the Queen is rejected who will then be head of state? I’d rather have the Queen than a politician.’ The need for a leader besides the prime minister, either symbolic or with counterbalancing power, was an assumed necessity, and was regarded as the clinching anti-republican argument!
The robustly individualistic ideal prevalent in the early days of the United States described in chapter five when leaders were less important, when politicians were seen as servants of the people, representatives to deal with the matters that busy citizens were forced to delegate, and that government was merely a necessary evil, seems to have vanished in all modern democracies, though the shadow of the theory persists. President Clinton, when in company of journalists and others who might report his cause aright, used to refer to the American people as ‘the boss’. But today this does not reflect reality, and is no more than the subtle flattery Clinton no doubt intended it to be.
There is no need here to confirm the attraction the German Fuhrer had for his people. His meteoric rise has been described in an earlier chapter. He managed first to destroy a democracy (a system of government he openly despised), and then a nation, using the power that the people willingly gave him. Unfortunately hero worship is not exclusively directed toward heroes. Heroes are in the eye of the beholder, and history shows that the eye of the beholder is often beguiled by an outward show.
Before leaving this subject, we should mention one curious case concerning the Soviet Fuhrer Stalin. There was a famous picture of the dictator smiling benignly with a little girl of about eight on his knee. As what we now call a photo opportunity, the subject was ideal if one wanted to create the impression of a leader who could be strict when necessary, but who was at heart a kind, family man. But in the purges the little girl’s parents were both shot on Stalin’s orders. When Stalin died, the little girl, now considerably older, a young lady, was found and asked how she felt about the demise of the dictator. She admitted she cried on learning of his death! There are mysteries here to resolve.
We are, at heart, very modest, the great majority of us. Otherwise why would we insist on having someone above us to look up to, to tell us what to do?
1. The Guardian, 28th April, 2005
2. Simon Jenkins. Guardian, 7th December 2005
4. See Jon Snow. Shooting History Harper Collins, London 2004: 182
Work in Progress
A country which proposes to make use of modern war as an instrument of policy must possess a highly centralised, all-powerful executive, hence the absurdity of talking about the defence of democracy by force of arms. A democracy which makes or effectively prepares for modern scientific war must necessarily cease to be democratic. Aldous Huxley.
A society wherein effective power is concentrated in a leader or an executive has ceased to be a democracy, according to the usual conception of that political idea. There is no position for a dictator where there is government of the people for the people by the people. As the above Huxley quote implies, a true democracy can be trusted not to wage war. What is more, democracy also promises other advantages, such as freedom from the internal oppression by despots, equality and, because there is no one who is above the universal law, a universal sense of self-worth that no other political system offers. This being so, why has democracy not long ago swept away less attractive forms of government across the world? Sooner or later the grip of a tyrant must slip, and if the people possessed an ardent desire for peace and justice, they would seize the chance to follow the example, the ‘beacon’, of other, established democracies. So ran the optimistic theory when the New World broke from the mixed and rudimentary monarchic/democratic systems of the Old. But though many nations have advanced towards the democratic ideal over the last two centuries, progress has been slow, and reversion to authoritarian power a constant threat. Why has progress been so hesitant and uncertain?
Evidently the qualities offered by democracy do not appeal sufficiently to everyone. Some prefer a society where a strong leader is in charge, for various reasons. As explained in chapter six, authoritarian personalities welcome the rigid hierarchic structures imposed by powerful leaders. They eagerly seek, find and come to rest in safe niches where they feel comfortable, where they willingly accept orders and in turn expect obedience from those below them in the pecking order. In order to rule effectively, dictators must implement such an ordered system, and authoritarians are reliable devotees and provide the backbone of the body politic.
Another powerful factor working against democracy is the deep-felt need for a strong leader. We are undeniably attracted towards a powerful, charismatic leader of our clan. Some feel the need to identify with a strong leader more than others, but the appeal is universal, possibly built-in to our genes.
Then we have the Napoleons, those supremely confident individuals capable of making large decisions without doubt or scruple. There is always a supply of Napoleons ready to fill our need for charismatic leaders, and the demand for, and supply of charismatic leaders makes a powerful anti-democratic combination.
A word should be inserted here on a subject not yet considered. The emphasis has been on the culpability of leaders in the launching of wars, but what of civil war? It seems that this is a different species of war, with perhaps a different aetiology.
Civil war, when a nation turns upon itself, when internal factions decide upon killing their own countrymen, when brothers may find themselves deadly enemies overnight, seems even more vicious than wars between nations. Moreover, although leaders are obviously important in the conduct of internal wars, they do not appear to play their usual instigating role. A long-standing pre-existing bitter polarisation in society is the cause of strife and calls forth the leader.
In pre-democratic times, when leaders had absolute power, wars could be and were initiated by them, with or without advice from their intimates, when they personally judged war was necessary or advantageous. Even in our own times, most wars have been started in this way: the second world war may have had its roots in the first, but without a manic Fuhrer to seize the opportunity presented by the economic crisis, would never have occurred. Thankfully, economic crises are generally solved by other means than world wars. And it can hardly be doubted that the 2003 Iraq war was precipitated by a ruling clique, using those tools of modern democracy, closed doors and media control. Civil war, by contrast, arises out of deep-seated factional unrest. A large proportion of the public may already be aligned into fiercely opposing camps before leaders emerge to coordinate the lethal efforts to gain supremacy by force of arms.
Take the case of the Spanish civil war of 1936 – 9. The shooting war may have started in earnest in 1936, but Spain had been in political turmoil for more than a century before that, as the forces of democratic reform, a coalition of Republicans and Socialists, struggled against a powerful cabal of established elements of society, the large landowners, industrialists, the armed forces, and the Catholic church, all concerned to preserve a status quo that suited them well.
The war, when it came, aroused strong international interest. In support of the fascists, Hitler at once sent bombers and 20,000 troops, and Mussolini dispatched 80,000 troops. On the Republican/Socialist side, Stalin sent men and materiel, and at least 40,000 volunteers from 50 different countries went to Spain to join the International Brigade to fight against fascism. But leaving aside the international dimension, though it probably determined the outcome of the war, Spain was in any case a turbulent society in the throes of modernisation.
‘The notion that political problems could more naturally be solved by violence than by debate was firmly entrenched in a country [Spain] in which for a thousand years civil war has been if not exactly the norm then certainly no rarity. The war of 1936 – 9 was the fourth such conflict since the 1830s.’ 1
When a population is so divided against itself, when sharply opposing sides must be chosen by all citizens, when there is no expectation that justice can be obtained by due process of law, when the flames of conflict can be lit by the smallest spark, leaders would have more trouble avoiding a war than in leading the people into one.
Civil war results from deeply-felt grievances in a society that has no faith in remedies based on equality and the rule of law. The English civil wars between 1642 and 1651 occurred between a comfortable establishment presided over by kings (Charles 1 and 11) with fulsome powers and a belief in their divine right to use them, and a parliament with notions, however primitive at that time, of representative democracy – a situation not unlike that which precipitated the Spanish civil war which resulted in the establishment of the Second Republic on 14th April 1931, three centuries later.
Is then the case of civil war incompatible with the views expressed in this book on the origins of war? On the contrary. Though the role of leaders is less central than is the case in international wars, the history of the two civil wars mentioned here highlights the advantages of a mature democracy, wherein citizens have confidence in the fair manner in which their society is organised. Both the Spanish and the English civil wars were struggles towards democracy, successful in England but cruelly defeated by means of outside military assistance in Spain in 1936-9.
Eliminate the source of friction and blatant injustice, establish an egalitarian, democratic society, and the central cause of civil war, a striving for justice and equality, is removed.
In the long history of human group behaviour, representative democracy is a new idea, and one that perhaps does not come naturally. We retain a soft spot for despots. There is a grain of truth in Hitler’s contention quoted earlier that ‘the people do not want to be governed by majorities. No, you do not know the people. This people does not wish to lose itself in ‘majorities’. It does not wish to be involved in great plans. It wants a leadership in which it can believe, nothing more.’ Sometimes, if the leader has been perceived as ‘strong’ and sufficiently autocratic, there is no crime he can commit, no misjudgement he can make, no betrayal of trust too great, but that some of the people, whose yearning for submission is sufficiently strong, are anxious to forgive him everything. To this day the arch-tyrant Stalin has his supporters, those who have forgiven him the terror, and who regard with nostalgia the time when the Soviet Union confronted the West on an equal footing militarily, when basic requirements such as housing, fuel, and bread were so heavily subsidised that they were accessible to nearly everyone. Almost to the present day there have been street demonstrations on Soviet anniversaries, with old people carrying red flags with the hammer and sickle, and even portraits of the tyrant on banners, though the details of his reign of terror have now been fully disclosed. And today in the Philippines there is a movement, headed by the deceased tyrant Marcos’ wife, to return his body home for a hero’s burial. At present his body lies unburied in a private mausoleum in Ilocos Norte, as Imelda Marcos waits for the day when she can bring it back to Manila in triumph. Church and civic leaders are strongly against burying the discredited leader in the Cemetery for Heroes, yet a recent (July 2005) poll has rated Marcos the best of the country’s past five presidents!
Democracy is a concept difficult to translate into practice, an ideal that we have been working towards for centuries. It is true that an early form was produced by the Greeks, but it was not until recently that the great strides towards representative democracy were taken. The system adopted by the newly-independent United States of America was more of a giant leap than a stride, but perfection could not be expected at one bound. Nor has progress been smooth. It fact it seems that the feeling of democracy, inspired by the ideals of individual freedom, human rights and the rule of law, was stronger 200 years ago in the US than it is anywhere today, when the cult of personality has returned with a vengeance. It would be a comfort, but also a dangerous illusion, to believe in the idea of necessary progress, that we are today approaching the perfect democracy, step by tiny step. Democracy and freedom being linked, the price of the one is the price of the other, namely, eternal vigilance.
Democracy has come by hard-won increments. The secret ballot was first introduced in Australia in 1856. New Zealand was the next to follow, in 1870. Another advance in democracy, votes for women, was first taken in New Zealand in 1893, anticipating its antipodean rival by nine years. At this time, only white men had the vote in the U.S. Another first for New Zealand was its pioneering enfranchisement of its ethnic minority, the Maoris, in 1867: neighbouring Australia was extremely laggard in this respect, not allowing the Aborigines the vote until 1962, which was not made compulsory for them (voting is otherwise compulsory in Australia) until as late as 1984.
So it would be complacent to believe that we have a democracy that approaches the ideal today in any country. Merely holding periodic elections is only a small part – a necessary but insufficient requirement. As Tom Paine pointed out, ‘it is not because a part of government is elective that makes it less a despotism, if the persons so elected possess afterwards, as a parliament, unlimited powers. Election, in this case, becomes separated from representation, and the candidates are candidates for despotism.’ Rousseau frankly considered elective representation a form of deception. ‘[The people] are free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, slavery overtakes it. The use [the people] makes of its short moments of liberty it enjoys merits losing them.’
Though it is well to remember that democracy consists of more than holding regular elections, Rousseau’s view is unhelpfully pessimistic, and even contemptuous. Britain’s Foreign Office’s concept of democracy, as published in its annual (2004) report Human Rights, 2 emphasises the human rights that must be an integral part of mature democracies. It notes that all adults must be free to run for public office, and free to express themselves on political matters. Furthermore, the sources of information must not be under government control, citizens must have the right to form independent associations, and the government itself must be free from outside constraints such as those imposed by alliances and blocs.
Though contrary to the spirit of both communism and democracy, in human society there exists a tendency for power to gravitate towards the top of the pyramid of command, for reasons explored in earlier chapters. Writing in 1904, long before the Bolshevik revolution, Leon Trotsky warned:
In inner-party politics, these methods [of Lenin’s] lead, as we shall yet see, to this: the party organisation substitutes itself for the party, the Central Committee substitutes itself for the organisation and, finally, a ‘dictator’ substitutes himself for the Central Committee.3
Chapter Twenty Four
Democracy in Action
Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come. (Carl Sandberg)
Come writers and critics
Who prophesise with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’ .
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a’changin’
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it’s ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a’changin’.
The decision to go to war is always taken by a ruling junta, but in a democracy the junta so deciding is more vulnerable than, say, that of an entrenched military dictatorship. At the ballot box a single man’s vote weighs as heavily as the vote of the leader himself. Even in the imperfect democracies of the present day, if a war is unpopular with the citizens, they have a chance to choose a different junta. So the post-war elections held in the democracies of the ‘coalition of the willing’ were of more than usual interest. Would the very unpopular war of Iraq 2003 result in a change of leadership? Would the people take the opportunity to reject the leaders involved, and by so doing vote, in effect, against the decision to go to war?
Unfortunately the issue was not so clear-cut. When most people vote, they have other considerations in mind besides war and peace. The Iraq war was admitted by mainstream pundits to be a major electoral factor in all four democracies (Spain, Australia, United States and Britain, in order of their election dates), but it was not the only factor. Let us look at the verdict of the people of the democracies involved, one by one, as voters went to the polls in these unusual elections, when the issue of war must have been a major factor on everyone’s mind as they placed their cross on the ballot paper.
For a minority it will not have been possible to cast a vote in favour of the leader who took their country to what the United Nations Secretary-General had announced to have been an illegal war. For them, to commit the nation to a pre-emptive war, especially one that has since been shown to have been conducted on false information1, is an unforgivable sin, and to vote for the leader or even his party would have felt uncomfortably like acquiescence, or even collusion.
For others not so decidedly anti-war, the Iraq war will have been only one factor amongst others to consider when casting their vote, and not perhaps one of the highest priority. When many go to the ballot box, long-term political alignment, the state of the economy, the prospect of raised or lowered taxes, and the promises on the provision of jobs, education and health care will be predominant considerations in their decision.
But in a unique way the Iraq war crystallised attitudes. Everyone was forced to consider the effects of their government’s policy on foreigners. A defensive war is one thing, and the great majority of the populace will always resist an invasion to the point of putting their very lives on the line, but sending troops abroad to kill strangers is a different matter, and the reasons presented for such a course must be cogent and sincere. Practical people will not only consider the morality of the involvement but also the expense, which they will have to pay, and which is bound to be heavy, as the expenses entailed in war invariably are. (For example, Treasurer Gordon Brown originally set aside £3 billion to pay for the Iraq war, but now admits that the cost will be more than double that estimate.) In the modern world, conquest for conquest’s sake, after the style of Alexander the Great, has gone out of fashion.
Before we examine the Spanish election result, we must notice one prior election in a major democracy that was strongly affected by the Iraq war, even though direct involvement was avoided. Germans went to the polls on 22nd of September 2002. The Iraq war was still six months away, but recruitment for ‘the coalition of the willing’ was being actively pursued in Europe by the Bush administration. The talk of war was thick in the air, and most of Europe wanted nothing to do with what Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called ‘the adventure in Iraq’.
The German economy was in the doldrums. Unemployment stood at more than four million, and had not changed in the four years that Schroeder had been in office. As Schroeder and his chief opponent, Edmund Stoiber of the Christian Union, debated in parliament for the last time before the election, the Christian Union alliance had been ahead in the polls for months. Stoiber declared that the SDP leader had failed miserably to cut unemployment, ‘the greatest evil in our society’. 2 Schroeder could not deny the charge, but replied instead, ‘Under my leadership, Germany will not participate in any military action in Iraq’.
Schroeder stood on firm ground. Polls showed 80% of Germans opposed to military involvement. In spite of the perceived poor performance in managing the economy, the SDP pulled ahead of the Christian Union for the first time on the eve of polling day, and against expectation Schroeder and his Social Democrats were returned to office. Schroeder was accused of espousing a popular cause to help his election campaign, but the issue of whether or not he truly believed that his country ought to stay out of the conflict is beside the present point. He rode the wave of anti-war feeling, and it is the wave that concerns us – the wave that could potentially carry any politician willing to ride it all the way to office.
The strong anti-war sentiment in France also helped to shape national foreign policy and therefore international events. Chirac’s threatened use of France’s veto to prevent a legitimising UN resolution for the Iraq invasion worried French politicians, fearful of an American backlash. But ‘Chirac could decide to listen to public opinion – which favours the use of a veto if evidence against Saddam is deemed insufficient to justify a war – rather than his lawmakers’ 3. The French president might well have felt strongly that Hans Blix’s weapons inspectors had not been given enough time, and there may also have been political reasons (in the shape of French oil contracts in Iraq) which motivated the French president, but the point remains that the French public’s strong opposition to the war must have been a useful and perhaps a necessary support, giving Chirac the opportunity to decide to block an enabling UN mandate to go to war. (It will occur to readers that French democracy needs improvements when one individual can decide which way ‘France’ votes on a vital Security Council resolution – an interesting consideration, but not presently relevant, though it is heartening that the thought, inspired by a vision of democracy, occurred to the reader.)
Next, on 15th March 2004, came the Spanish election. The result, a surprise defeat of the Popular Party, was attributed by most analysts to President Aznar’s defying the overwhelmingly anti-war public sentiment by his support of the Iraq war. The terrorist bombs in Madrid three days before the election hardened the already-strong Spanish feeling against al –Quaida. Analysts who considered that the Spanish people had been cowed by the atrocity into voting to get out of Iraq were in a small minority. The Spanish people have long known what it is to face terrorist attacks, and have demonstrated their feelings of outrage in massed street protests. They had resisted Basque demands despite, and even perhaps because of their terrorist tactics, but this time it was different: they had been strongly opposed to the Iraq war from the beginning.
There were parallels with the German election, in that the politician choosing to ride the anti-war wave was carried to office, but there were also important differences. In Spain the ruling government was thrown out of office. And in Spain the ruling party was perceived to have managed the economy well.
The pro-war Conservatives were ahead in the polls before the Iraq war came along to confuse the issue. If Aznar had delighted the Spanish people by refusing to nominate his country as one of the ‘coalition of the willing’, with this additional boost to an already popular government it is hardly conceivable that he would have been rejected at election time. His participation in ‘the adventure in Iraq’ gave his socialist opponent Zapatero his main chance, which he took by promising that if elected he would bring the Spanish troops home.
Thus the war in Iraq has caused two unexpected election victories in Europe and provided an opportunity for France and Germany to demonstrate their solidarity against an American decision. Anti-war public opinion has altered today’s European political landscape profoundly.
The Australian election took place on 9th October 2004. Prior comment on the BBC website ignored Europe, and saw this election as ‘the first referendum for the three leaders who launched the March ’03 invasion’. The campaign was fought mainly on domestic issues, but the most striking difference between the two contenders was on Iraq. Prime Minister Howard gave no timetable for withdrawing Australian troops, whereas Labour challenger Mark Latham promised to bring the troops home ‘by Christmas’. As in the case of Spain, the economy of the country was in good shape. The result of the election was a comfortable victory for Howard. The anti-war feeling in prosperous Australia had been overridden by home issues.
Commenting on the Australian result, the editorial of the Independent two days later predicted that also in this country (Britain) ‘blinkered self-interest will trump the public’s anger over the squalid fashion in which we were taken into war’. 4 Well, blinkered or not, self-interest does appear to govern the intentions of many voters, and naturally enough. The so-called ‘bread and butter’ issues were regarded as crucial.
The voting pattern in the Australian state of Tasmania is a powerful example of this factor in operation. Conservation groups have been trying to protect the old growth forests of Tasmania for many years. MPs from all parties have called for a federal inquiry. At the present rate of destruction, ‘without federal government support, most of Tasmania’s unprotected old growth forests will be gone in the next five years’, 5 according to Vica Brayley, spokesperson for the Wilderness Society. More than five million metric tons of Tasmanian trees are converted into wood chips every year. Australians have been alerted to the rapid disappearance of this heritage, and campaigners have pleaded with politicians to legislate to save the unique forest. During the present election campaign Labour leader Mark Latham pledged his support.
Labour had held all five seats in Tasmania. Prime Minister Howard flew down and in a great rally promised the loggers that their jobs would be safe under a Liberal government. Presented with this dilemma, the loggers voted for Howard and to preserve their livelihood, and two of the five Tasmanian Labour seats were lost to the Liberals.
This rather extreme example of democracy in action clearly illustrates how votes may be garnered by would-be leaders stooping low to conquer, but it also illustrates, more to the point in the present context, that citizens will cast their vote to suit their immediate self-interest. In the case of the loggers, voting to save their jobs is understandable, but votes will probably follow self-interest in other cases too, even if it is no more than a vote for lower taxes or mortgage rates. We cannot realistically expect questions of war and peace to be top of the agenda for most of the electorate, even in such a blatant case as the Iraq war. If leaders are deposed on account of this war, this would demonstrate a particularly strong disgust.
Viewed in the light of the Australian experience, the vehement rejection of their leader by the Spanish people for taking them into a dubious war is all the more striking. In Spain, too, the government could realistically claim to have managed the economy well, yet it did not survive the decision to commit the Spanish people to an unpopular war. Though as an Australian it pains me to say so, evidently voters in the land of Don Quixote are on the whole less hedonistic, shall we say, than their Australian counterparts.
In a US presidential election the vote is shamelessly dependent on the personality of the candidate. The cost of this campaign may have been as much as two billion dollars, but little of the media time purchased at such expense was devoted to a presentation of the facts on the state of the nation. Instead, the manner and mannerisms of the two candidates were endlessly dissected. Performance on television debates was assessed by analysts in terms of debating prowess, of which would-be president seemed the more confident. A blinkered decisiveness seemed to be regarded as a great virtue in itself, and to change one’s mind or give the appearance of thinking was to ‘flip flop’.
In the United States, party allegiance does not absolutely dictate the vote. Charisma, likeability is essential. A so-called ‘soft’ Republican may decide on a Democrat presidential contender (and vice versa) because he or she prefers the individual contender. Whereas in Britain many a Labour supporter who is anti-war and therefore anti-Blair may grit his or her teeth and vote for the good local Labour candidate, in the United States people feel more free because of the personalised nature of the leadership contest, and because they have the opportunity, which does not exist in Britain, to vote directly for their choice of leader.
In the US, as elsewhere, a proportion of voters, those who are strongly anti-war, will have felt obliged to cast their vote against the leader who took them to war. They voted for Kerry automatically, as the lesser of two evils. Others, disaffected, did not vote at all. Still others would have voted according to their view of which contender is the most truly Christian. Or the most truly ‘American’. Or the one with the nicest smile.
In this complex of reasons, self-interest must also have played a part, of course. Some will have followed the Australian pattern and voted according to their view of which candidate will best manage the economy, as it affects them personally. In this sector the incumbent George Bush was vulnerable. Tax cuts are always popular, but Bush’s cuts were directed mainly to the tiny minority who were already rich. He could not, as could leaders in Spain, Australia and Britain, point to a buoyant economy as a recommendation for re-election. Under his guidance the discredited system of ‘Reaganomics’ had been re-applied. As with Reagan, Bush had cut taxes, so reducing the government’s income, whilst at the same time increasing public spending greatly on ‘defence’. The US has been borrowing at the rate of $2 billion a day from abroad, national debt has risen sharply, the dollar has weakened, and the average American family is worse off than three and a half years ago. Bush inherited a massive 2% of GDP surplus from his predecessor, has spent it and more, converting the surplus into a 5% GDP deficit.6 So the Bush election campaign, denied the chance to boast about economic achievements, was forced to focus mainly on security in the fight against terror. However the Democrats chose not to pursue this economic weakness, and have fought their campaign on the ground of the Republicans’ choosing.
The war in Iraq might have been the defining issue of this presidential election campaign. For one thing, the US was the prime mover in the decision to go to war. For another, in the US-style of democracy the whole chain of command is suspended by one individual, the subject of the vote, the president himself. As we have previously discussed, this very autocratic system has its drawbacks, but at least there is no blurring of responsibility. The buck stops with the president, and if he has blundered, he should pay the price. In theory.
With the turmoil in Iraq post-invasion, with more than one thousand US soldiers dead, with the prestigious medical journal Lancet publishing a report 7 only a week before the election date estimating Iraqi civilian deaths at 100,000, a six-fold increase on most previous estimates, you might expect that the president who urged it might have been held responsible for the tragedy of this ill-judged war, and suffered in the polls accordingly.
But the Democrats could not fight upon the ground of the Iraq war. Their chosen candidate John Kerry had no credentials for such a fight. He had shown himself to be a militant, pro-Iraqi-war hard-liner who actually had criticised Bush for ‘backing off’ in the murderous assault on Falluja, scene of a great proportion of the civilian casualties noted in the Lancet report. Of course some Americans saw the Iraq war as immoral and illegal, and so would have voted for Kerry rather than the prime mover, the accomplice rather than the actor, but it was not possible to guess the percentage of the population who felt that way.
The Democrat candidate with impeccable anti-war credentials, Dennis Kucinich, who had voted against the invasion and had consistently campaigned for the money that was being spent on the war to be allocated instead to improving American health care and education, declaring that security of the nation was not improved by bombing other nations, received less than a sixth of the democrat nominations, despite being an inspiring speaker and attracting an ardent following amongst the young reminiscent of the band of enthusiastic youthful supporters who had once propelled Jimmy Carter into office. Evidently Democrats believed that the current mood of the country was too pro-war to tolerate a peaceful initiative.
Yet this may have been a mistake. If Kucinich had been chosen as Democrat candidate, the issues would have been crystal clear, and the American people would have had a distinct choice. In a vox pop television street enquiry, all the young people interviewed as to their voting intentions expressed their disappointment concerning both the morality of the war in Iraq and the standing of their country in the wider world. Yet they said they would not necessarily vote for Kerry! Such was their requirement for a ‘strong’ leader that they saw Kerry as ‘not positive enough’. Nor was he, nor could he be, on his record of going along with the military approach espoused by Bush. If Kucinich had been chosen as democrat candidate, the result would have told us much more about the American people, and if their reaction to the recent tsunami disaster in Asia is anything to go by, the result may well have surprised political pundits.
But the factors that usually motivate voters were put aside in this extraordinary presidential election. Today’s America has become deeply engrossed in the ‘war on terror’, and fearful that any official criticism of that so-called war might be perceived by voters as being too soft, at a time when being tough was considered essential for protecting the land from fanatical terrorists. Such is the perception, such is the felt need to wage an essentially preventive ‘war on terror’, to kill the terrorists before they themselves are killed. This time, national security was the key issue of the campaign.
But even this single issue is not so simple, of course. Granted that the campaign was largely narrowed to the ‘war on terror’, the question then revolved around how the threat of terror should be handled. The Republican claim was that President Bush’s method, a strong diffuse military attack on terrorists and tight security measures at home, is safer than other forms of security. The Democrat view was that Bush had by his actions worsened the situation, and ‘elevated himself to a heroic commander-in-chief, fighting a global threat against America’ (ex-president Carter 8). Fear was generated, and the American electorate cowed into voting for the self-styled ‘strong’ man. Ex-president Clinton, speaking at rallies the week before the election, put the case: ‘If one candidate is trying to scare you, and the other’s trying to get you to think; if one is appealing to your fears, and the other is appealing to your hopes – it seems to me you ought to vote for the person who wants you to think and hope.’ 9 So the vote for president depended greatly on the voter’s view of the best way of handling the threat of terrorism.
This issue was given even greater prominence by the broadcasting of a video tape by the terrorist bin Laden just three days before the election. Though it may not have been the terrorist’s intention, the tape was judged to have boosted Bush’s chances of re-election, the mere appearance of the terrorist on television screens being enough to inspire voters into endorsing their ‘strong’ man. As bin Laden probably owes his present freedom and influence to President Bush’s decision to fight terrorism with bombs, rather than enlisting the offered help of the Taliban and the whole international community to bring the criminals of 9/11 to justice as discussed in chapter fifteen, it is tempting to think of bin Laden’s intervention in the US elections as being inspired by a sense of gratitude.
The focus on the ‘war on terror’ being so sharp, result of the Senate elections, which were held concurrently with the presidential election, was also an indication of the US public’s verdict in this respect. Before this election the Republicans controlled the Senate, having 51 seats out of 100. Only 34 of these seats were due for re-election this year, mostly Democrat, and so the Republicans were widely expected to widen their majority. This they did.
The British general election was held on May 5th, 2005. The reasons for casting one’s vote in Britain were more than usually complex. Prime minister Blair, though unrepentant in public, admitted that ‘the question of trust’ raised by the Iraq war was a negative factor. As was the case in the Spanish election, the British economy was relatively strong, and this undoubtedly helped to cancel out the effect of the anti-war vote. In Britain the economy was arguably better managed than the American economy had been under the Bush administration. Chancellor Gordon Brown’s management was widely praised, even by political opponents. Under his stewardship the economy has recorded its longest period of growth in living memory, with no quarterly falls in national output, let alone recessions of the kind the previous Conservative administrations recorded twice in ten years. 10
In Britain there is no direct vote for the leader, so attention is normally more focused on general issues than in a United States presidential election. However, even so, in this election, with its strong emphasis on the Iraq war, the personality, the integrity and the motives of Tony Blair were endlessly discussed, just as if this election had really been about electing a president for Britain.
Because of the tendency for people to vote with their pockets in mind, or loyally along party lines, or because they like the personality of the leader, this election result was not a straight referendum on the war, of course. Indeed, there had already been innumerable referenda on the war, in the form of opinion polls: the strong public anti-war feeling was not in doubt. Reinforcing public concern, just ten days before the election the issue of the war was thrust further under the public’s nose by the publication of a summary of the attorney general’s pre-war advice to the prime minister on the legality of the war. Though often challenged to do so, Tony Blair had refused to publish this opinion, giving rise to the suspicion that there had been something to hide. From the published summary, it was clear that Lord Goldsmith originally considered that a new United Nations resolution would be required before committing the nation to war. This leak, together with other evidence with which the reader is familiar (the ‘dodgy’ dossier, the claim that the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was ‘extensive, detailed and authoritative’ when it proved to be ‘limited, sporadic and patchy’ (Butler report) ) persuaded the Conservatives to launch a nation-wide poster campaign explicitly condemning the prime minister as a liar. The Liberal Democrats, who had voted en bloc against the war, also campaigned on the issue of trust. Thus the pre-emptive war against Iraq, and the personality of the prime minister, took centre stage in the May election.
In a feature apparently unrelated to the looming election, The Guardian’s lead editorial was on ‘Politics and the Law’ 11. In it reference was made to the ‘combined political and legal roles of the attorney general’ and suggested it was time to separate them. The editorial went on to comment on the lead article on that day’s front page, and a two-page feature in the main body, where ‘Judges speak out against erosion of independence by government’, both of which articles were concerned with the erosion of judicial power by the political executive. The 2003 Criminal Justice Act, which reduces the judge’s discretion and imposes mandatory sentences; the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which allows the Home Secretary to restrict an individual’s liberty on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities, with minimal oversight by judges; the 2005 Inquiries Act, which restricts the independence of judges appointed to chair inquiries, allowing ministers to block disclosure of evidence; these measures and others were cited as eroding the power and independence of the judiciary, and correspondingly increasing executive power – an issue germane to the main thesis of this book and, published immediately before the election, an issue calling into question the manner in which we had been led into a dubious war.
Amongst all the analysis on the Iraq war there was a disturbing lack of interest in how the trouble arose, and what measures might be taken to prevent reoccurrence. There was no questioning of the pedestal on which the nation places its prime minister.
The result of the election was a Labour victory, though with his party’s majority cut from 167 to 66. This was widely regarded as having given Tony Blair ‘a bloody nose’ for his promotion of the war against Iraq, but realistically it was more like a gentle slap on the wrist. After two terms in office, a reduction in the Labour majority might have been expected as a result of the inevitable swing of the democratic pendulum alone. In a succinct comment on this result, Scott Ritter, the senior UN weapons inspector in Iraq, who resigned his post in protest at the murderous effect the imposed sanctions were having on the Iraqi populace, had this to say:
In the recent parliamentary elections, the British people, given the choice between standing for the rule of law or embracing partisan politics, chose the latter, voting with their pocket books, even though it meant re-electing a man who led Britain into an illegal war of aggression, based on lies and misrepresentation of fact. 12
The returning to office of a leader who was widely perceived to have misled parliament and the nation may well have been partly driven by pocket books in Britain.
A solution to the problem of involuntary British involvement in war may have occurred to the reader. If the royal prerogative, that power once wielded by despotic kings and now descended upon the shoulders of the prime minister of the day were to be abolished; if Britain were to have a written constitution outlining the powers of the executive and preventing the erosion of the power of law; if the executive’s business were to be purely executive, so avoiding the risk of this chosen band becoming an oligarchy supporting the prime minister and directing the affairs of the nation without proper referral to the Commons; if foreign policy implemented in the name of the people were to be openly discussed in the Commons and not conducted behind closed doors and protected by official secrecy; if, in short, Britain were to become a more democratic nation, the risk of an autocratic prime minister single-handedly committing the country to war would vanish.
The need for abolition becomes more urgent, with the increasingly desperate situation. Failure to abolish war, which has always been costly in so many ways, will carry an even higher premium in the future. Population grows, earth’s resources dwindle, and the power of weapons continues to increase. Sooner or later we will have to have peace so that we can turn our attention to these unavoidable, growing problems before they damage the environment irrevocably.
The abolition of war was given a new urgency by the publication of the Stern Review on the economics of climate change on 30th October, 2006. Stern, head of the Government Economics Service and adviser to government on the economics of climate change estimated that there was still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, provided immediate vigorous action was taken to reduce carbon emissions. The cost of action now was put at 1% of GDP each year, a substantial amount. However the cost of not acting would result in a drastic deterioration of the environment that would cost at least 5% of GDP each year, possibly as much as 20%, and ‘it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes’. 13 In this dire situation, the additional gratuitous waste of war would be calamitous. The military use up huge amounts of energy, and are responsible for a large percentage of carbon emission. For example, the US military is responsible for 14% of all carbon emissions of that country, even in peacetime. In excess of $600 billion has been spent on the Iraq war. It is not only the waste, but the diversion of resources and the distraction war entails from the necessary task. Like squabbling children frightened by the sudden appearance of a great bear, we will have to forget tiny differences and react to the common danger. A cure must now be found for what Tom Paine called ‘the wretched and quarrelsome condition of mankind’.
1. This unequivocal statement now seems justified. See Guardian article, 20th October 2004. John Kampfner: The Five Deceptions of Tony Blair.
4. Independent. Editorial, 11/10/2004
6. Guardian. Joseph Stiglitz: Bush is dead Wrong. October 6th 2004-10-27
8. Guardian. October 25th. Interview with Carter, A Hornet’s Nest of Activity
9. Guardian, 26th October. Julian Borger. Thinner and Frailer, the Comeback Kid Puts heart into Kerry’s Campaign.
10. Guardian editorial, 23rd October, 2004. Darker Shades of Brown.
11. The Guardian. April 26th, 2005.
12. Scott Ritter. In the belly of the beast. Guardian, 21st May, 2005.
 Despite a clear public rejection of his policies that has resulted in lost Republican control of both houses of parliament in the November 7th 2006 mid-term elections, president Bush is reported to be contemplating sending an extra 20,000 men to Iraq for ‘one last push’ for victory (Guardian, 17th November ’06). The present point is: the US president actually has the disproportionate power to order this to be done, against the grain of both public opinion and parliament. Many a commentator supposes Bush to be wrong in his fixation on a military solution, but I have seen no comment on the imbalance of power that enables the American president to force his will upon the nation.
 Chapter fourteen, Our Need for a Fuhrer, looks at the cult of personality in more detail.
 Note for example the recent (20th December 2005) case where families of soldiers killed in Iraq who want the prime minister Tony Blair to be held accountable if there was no legal basis for the Iraq war were told by Mr Justice Collins that: ‘The only purpose would be to try to make a political point or show that the prime minister did not tell the truth. This is not a proper reason for an enquiry.’ He further explained that the decision to go to war being a political one, the government was then accountable ‘to parliament and ultimately to the electorate’. He plainly implied that prime ministers were outside his jurisdiction, i.e., beyond the law, and also that there need be no legal basis for a war, so long as parliament and the people could be persuaded to agree to it.
 Another possibility, to drive further a point that for most readers may already have been well driven home: there may exist those who are attracted to anarchism because they are bad, and imagine that they will be freer to behave badly in the absence of restrictions imposed by government. Such anarchists are not in evidence in anarchist literature, but some such there may be. If such bad anarchists do exist, their presence only confirms the need for the necessary evil of government.
 Indefeasible: Legal term, meaning incapable of being annulled or forfeited.
 The re-election to the presidency of James Monroe in 1820 was virtually unanimous. ‘The United States was now practically a one-party state, and that was fine with Monroe. “Surely our government may go on and prosper without the existence of parties,” he declared. “I have always considered their existence as the curse of the country.” Like the Founding Fathers, he believed “the existence of parties is not necessary to free government” ’.17 Such a comment would be inconceivable in today’s adversarial political climate, where each party knows best concerning the public good, and it is generally the opposite of whatever the other party thinks.
 British democracy is not well equipped to constrain an autocratic leader. If such a leader is elected, he or she will find no effective democratic barriers to prevent implementing whatever regime he or she feels to be appropriate. Thus the Guardian editorial on the occasion of ex-prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s 80th birthday (October 14th, 2005):
Lady Thatcher’s unique contribution was an abrasive, sometimes arbitrary, leadership style that constrained the choices that might have been made. She believed seeking consensus an indulgence. She dismissed appeals from professionals across the public services as special pleading.
The newspaper stated this in criticism of her style, rather than as a plea for better democratic structures to protect the public from the whims of autocrats. The power of the leader to set the whole political agenda is generally accepted as a fact of life.
 For the sake of accuracy it must be appended here that even Jimmy Carter, perhaps the most decent man elected as president of the United States in recent times, felt forced to give in to the hawks in his administration and sanction $160 million of emergency military aid, helicopters, artillery, guns, ammunition, training and US military advisers to be sent to the military junta in El Salvador to help in the subjugation of that unhappy country by its local oligarchs in defence of US business interests.4 Such are the pressures in office, and such are the decisions that were made, when a president must decide alone on secret matters of foreign policy, pressed by his military advisers.
 The same thing is happening now under President Bush. There have been big budget and trade deficits, and the value of the dollar has slumped. The stock market crash has not yet occurred.(10/12/2006)
 No longer (September 2006). After three years, his decision to go to war in Iraq is finally seen as a deception and, worse, a mistake. Though his charisma is acknowledged, he is now generally perceived to be an electoral liability. He has promised to stand down before the next election.
 Except, arguably, in Scandinavian countries.
 In the case of a powerful, militarised democracy such as the United States, where the threat to democracy will not credibly come from abroad, this necessary vigilance must largely be directed towards internal threats to freedom and the rule of law.
 Granting the Basques regional autonomy appears to have defused the situation today – an instructive way of handling terrorism. The terrorist organisation ETA had demanded an independent state, but granting a measure of autonomy has resulted in a collapse of their cause. The new measure was not seen as ‘giving in to terrorism’, but as addressing genuine grievances of the local population.
 Although ten days later Lord Goldsmith apparently changed his mind, for reasons undisclosed, and on the very eve of war delivered a short summary to the prime minister indicating that the war would be legal after all.
 An attempt was made to obtain such a resolution, but it was scuppered by Chirac’s announcement that France would use its Security Council veto to block it. See earlier this chapter.