Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why I blog - my "Ironies" posting of 23rd February 2003


Pericles in his famous funeral oration for the slain warriors of democratic Athens, among many other ringing statements in favour of democracy, pertinently said the following:


Although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it. We do not look upon discussion as a stumbling block in the way of political action, but as an indispensable preliminary to acting wisely.


The above is quoted directly from Karl Popper's book The Open Society and its Enemies published in paperback by Routledge Classics (ISBN 0-415-23731-9). It should be required reading for all members of the convention chaired by Vallery Giscard d'Estaing on the future structures of the European State.

Others following these debates are also recommended to the book, but for those unable to obtain a copy, or spare the time to read it, I give below a brief summary of what I consider to be the most salient points as concerns the dangers Europe now faces if the convention proceeds as seems likely. In my opinion, never will the outcome of such a debate be likely to affect so many millions of people, and rarely can there have been such reluctance to openly discuss the frightening implications of the decisions being taken.

Plato is the early villain in Popper's analysis for the ever present drive against democracy and equalitarianism. The author describes, with detailed logic, the elitism, racialism and totalitarianism that can eventually result in a Society that follows the 'chosen people' concept, intrinsic to much of Plato's writings.

Popper makes an excellent case that the critical divide in governance of a geographic entity, whether city, nation (and it follows, super-state) is between collectivism and individualism.

The argument made by Plato that the state be placed higher than the individual and the suggestion that justice is synonymous "for that which is in the best interest of the state" now apparent in the structures of the EU, must be refuted at, virtually, any cost.

Anti-democratic forces malign the case for individualism by falsely asserting that collectivism is synonymous with altruism, while individualism is blackened by being equated to egoism.

"Who should rule?" Plato asks and gives his own reply, "the wise shall lead and rule, and the ignorant shall follow?" Popper proposes that the very question "Who shall rule?" itself, becomes the problem and proposes an alternative question.


How can we so organize political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage?


I would suggest that the above question is the one that the present convention on the future Europe should be considering.

As Popper argues "all theories of sovereignty are paradoxical". For instance we may have selected 'the wisest' or 'the best' as a ruler. But 'the wisest' in his wisdom may find that not he but 'the best' should rule, and the best in his goodness may decide that 'the majority' should rule.

By emphasising who should rule, or indeed on what basis our ruler should be appointed or by what limited constituency he should be elected, we are driven up a blind alley. We should be debating the checks and balances which should be imposed on those who rule us, bearing in mind that only by the best of good luck will any of our future leaders be anything other than reasonably competent. The majority will be incompetent and we will for sure, be subject to the occasional tyrant reaching the pinnacle of pan-European power. How could such a despot be removed? Popper asserts:


A theory of democratic control can be developed that is free from the paradox of sovereignty. The theory I have in mind is one which does not proceed, as it were, from a doctrine of the intrinsic good or righteousness of a majority rule, but rather from the baseness of tyranny: or more precisely it rests upon the decision, or adoption of the proposal, to avoid and resist tyranny.


Continuing with this theme Popper argues that there are two forms of government, those that can be got rid of without bloodshed (such as in general elections) and those that require a successful revolution to replace, or not at all. He labels the first sort 'democracies' and the second 'tyrannies'.

What facilities will the new European super-state supply for the replacement of its rulers… none that I have yet seen proposed, we would thus appear to be heading towards tyrannical, non-democratic rule as labelled by Popper!

Debating who should rule avoids the subject of democratic checks and balances, and leads to further problems clearly evident in the French system of government, such as, that the qualities of leadership may be believed to be identifiable at a young age and an elite education provided, tailored along the lines of those attributes considered important by the existent ruling clique. Self-perpetuating incompetent rule, or worse appears to me the inevitable result.

France nevertheless clearly remains a democracy within Popper’s definition, is this likely to remain the case for the Union of Europe if a French model is imposed on the already un-democratic institutions of the existing EU? The first draft constitution clearly places the State above the individual, inter alia, by granting rights beyond its gift to give, or power to protect.

It would be a major mistake for the new Europe to follow a Platonic pattern of government, but a mistake that daily appears more likely. The existing EU is already the kind of elitist, non-accountable, non-removable nightmare against which Popper warned when he wrote his book in the early nineteen forties. It is incredible how little Europe seems to have learned from those wartime years and the events leading to them.

I have frequently heard it boasted, the EU would not have advanced this far, (or?) to 'ever closer union', had democratic authority been sought at every step!

The present difficulties of the common currency and acceptance of the latest expansion amongst the general public, should amply demonstrate to the extreme federalists who make such remarks, that the limits of such non-democratic coercion have now been reached. Proceeding with further imposed integration, and consequent diminution of national democratic protections, could threaten the whole project of future European unity. Rumblings of discontent abound in all three of the major EU States I have recently visited!

I appeal directly to the Chairman of the convention, who, probably co-incidentally, incorporated my earlier minimum requirement in his initial constitutional draft, to read Popper’s excellent book and consider its implications. To achieve lasting renown, requires a bold step in favour of democratic fundamentals which will be strongly resisted by the various Brussels and National elites! Courage mon brave!

Should Europe’s new institutions be directly controlled by 'the majority' using the new tools available from the revolution in information technology?

Why is the major topic of discussion in the Convention, not about how the people of Europe may periodically remove their leaders and avoid the new organisations such as the ERRF and Europol becoming the instruments of a despot?

Are, perhaps, the tyrants already in control?

These are the questions that need to be addressed. Using Popper's labels of societies, they can be democracies or tyrannies, if the EU is to take on the full characteristics of a State, as the majority in Europe seem to believe is desirable, test whether this statement is true with a pan-European referendum. If the answer is Yes!, then build a Democracy for which all should wish, and of which they can be proud.

If No!, then at least the convention and its Chairman will not have lent their name, to the creation of perhaps the largest tyranny the world has yet to see!

Against whom will the name of Vallery Giscard d'Estaing be set in history… Pericles or Plato?... and for the creation of what kind of European Union, one of democracy and freedom or Popper's only alternative…?


Link  The horror foretold almosy eight years ago is now upon us!


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