Quotable #4

One of those old pleasures now lost to regulation, at least here in the colonies, is snuff. But, thanks to the internet, we are still free to import it for personal use (if willing to risk the exorbitant $508.01/kg excise tax if customs comes across it). There is a wonderfully subversive feeling about pulling out a snuff box and publicly insufflating a pinch. This little poem was included in the delightful A Pinch of Snuff from 1840 by Benson Earle Hill. ‘Let the eagle soar his highest, man is still “a pinch beyond.”‘

A Snuffy Song.

Rob me of money, houses, lands,

Yea, strip me to the buff;

Leave me but one of these—my hands,

Yet leave—my pinch of snuff!


Falsely they say it deals us pains;

Then let it soil my cuff,

So I be free from all worse stains

Than such as flow from snuff.


When loss of wife and bairns made dull

The great unborn-Macduff,

Just vengeance started from the Mull,

And hope revived with snuff.


Oft looks the votary to smoke,

Unsocial, dumb, and gruff;

But many a brain-tickling joke

Hath owed its breath to snuff.


For argument’s or satire’s sake,

We might each other huff,

Did we not learn to give and take

By interchanging snuff.


The Dowager her Christmas hands

Keeps thawed within her muff:

What warms her nose, her eye expands?

A cordial pinch of snuff!


Till man had all he could enjoy,

He had not joys enough;

Nor fully could each sense employ,

Till Fortune gave him snuff.


The piper must avoid the fair,

Who loathes tobacco’s puff;

But unobtrusive is the air

Which men acquire from snuff.


Another kind of baccy-box

Is used by sailors rough;

The way they choose, refinement shocks;

But—Chesterfield took snuff.


Quakers unfriendly make us hear a

Lot of starched, stiff-rumped stuff,

But verily they love Madeira,

Albeit they sneer at snuff.


I’ve ta’en it five-and-thirty years;

At fifty, still I’m tough;

And, if my seventies it cheers,

I’ll yet be up to snuff!

The Whiggish Ideology Peace Theory

The Democratic Peace Theory (perhaps that should be ‘representative democratic’) says that democracies are loathe to go to war with one another. But the truth of the claim is far more broad than a simple democratic constant. And of course, democracies have been far more likely to go to war with other governmental types historically, and more importantly, have done so with greater purpose and destructive desire than non-ideological government forms.

The obvious example was Athens, which, under the Peisistratid tyranny (no pejorative connotations, please, we’re Greeks) wasn’t particularly bellicose. This was in part because the infrastructure was still recovering from the Dark Ages started centuries before by the still mysterious Sea People, but also because the lack of a centralised state. Peisistratos had little interest in military endeavours: he was far more likely to lose something than gain it in the privatised form that government was in. He installed a friend in Naxos, and he established an outpost in the Thracian Chersonese. This was somewhat less belligerent than his old days, when he rabble roused the δέμος into attacking Salamis after Solon recited a poem under guise of insanity (to get around a law against discussing Salamis. It was something of a sore issue. It’s all in Plut. Sol. 8.2-10.4 for those playing at home). At any rate he presided well, instituting a coin that would eventually inspire the Athenian ‘Owl’ Tetradrachm, that would remained quite possibly the most sound currency of the next 300-400 years, holding its value long after Athens had lost hers. Fine Attic pottery started disseminating widely, he built the first aqueduct and instituted the Great Panathenaia, one of the most important Athenian festivals.


The archetypal Athenian Tetradrachm

Then the tyrannicides came along and ruined everything. Peisistratos was followed by Hippias to the de facto throne, and he also ruled competently for 13 years, a period of culture and writing. But he made the mistake of falling in love with Harmodios, and spurned, denied Harmodios’ sister the right to serve in the Panathenaic procession. So Harmodios and his lover Aristogeiton killed Hipparchos (Hippias’ brother) at the festival, believing their plot betrayed.

The Alkmeonidoi eventually deposed Hippias after four long, paranoid years, and brought in the democracy. Sadly, of course, this proved to be far less beneficial to Athens, but it certainly seemed beneficial to them. Extolling the virtue of the tyrannicides, the aristocracy gladly embraced the greater position they gained in the democracy than the one that saw their positions eroded by Peisistratid rule.

As aristocratic norms were quickly replaced by democratic aspiration, especially in the maritime Athens (manly virtue was definitionally hoplite virtue), it became necessary to prove your bravery, not in terms of deeds on the battlefield, but support for wars in the Βουλήἀρετή became democratised, with disastrous, bellicose results. In the 5th century BC, Athens was at war at least two in every three years. Following the massive population reduction of the Peloponnesian War, with the plague that swept the city, in the 4th century she was at war three in every four years. Public orations for the war dead reinforced the failed notion of Athenian (political) freedom, and guaranteed the decline of the city.


Louis XIV was a literal man, but not without flair

War, when applied properly, is the ultima ratio regum, not entered into lightly, not designed to inflict massive losses on the people, or burden them unduly, but to resolve a dispute over territory, or succession, or some other matter. It was not, and should not be used to conquer equal neighbours, or to demolish their governmental system. It is not to proselytise ideology as the Athenians (and Americans) sought to in their Empire, or infringe upon your neighbour’s lawful property. And it is certainly not for its own sake, as with the Spartans and Italian Futurists.

Modern democracies go to war to spread their faith, be it over the relative monarchy of Germany in the First World War or against the Ba’athist Iraq in 2003 (and, speaking of Ba’athists, watch out, Bashar). Finding a pretext, they declare war, pump up the rhetoric of democratic freedom, and then either destabilise the country so much that they are forced to amend they governmental form, or they hunt down the dissenter in chief, hold a trial and put a noose around his neck. In both cases, the result was the same. The Weimar Republic disintegrated into the hideous National Socialist regime, and the Iraqi government is rapidly falling to Islamic State, and both will take a total war to dismantle followed by indefinite occupation. Incidentally, I really think that old Ibrahim’s regime is far more brutal than Israel ever has been or would be even in one of Avigdor Lieberman’s wet dreams, but apparently the minorities there don’t rate a protest from the trots and their Islamist buddies. It’s bloody fortunate for the Caliph that he isn’t Jewish; the outcry would be deafening.

This brings me well enough to my first real point, which is about this Democratic Peace Theory. It’s certainly true that democratic government are unlikely to go to war with other democracies, and are marginally less likely to declare war overall (today at least, which is probably a function of the number of democracies). But riddle me this: when was the last time you heard of a fascist state declaring war on another fascist state? Perhaps there was a Ba’athist state that invaded another Ba’athist state? Or how about a communist one declaring war on another communist one, since there were more of them and they were longer lived? Hard, isn’t it?

The one example that a friend of mine was able to find was the invasion Cambodia by Vietnam (with its following, simmering war) between 1977-1991. But I don’t really accept this as a true example of two communist states fighting. When Cambodia was colonised by the French in 1863, they had endured four centuries of progressive territory losses, Siam on one side, Vietnam on the other. Vietnam had been flooding the area with migrants over the first half of the 19th century, and had the French not guaranteed Cambodia’s independence as a part of French Indochina, it almost certainly would have been annexed before they were taken over by communists. The war between those two states seems to me to be little more than continuation of the pre-colonial status quo.


This seems like an simpler solution.

There is nothing magically stopping democratic England attacking democratic France that is intrinsic to democracy. Were they both fascist, they wouldn’t war with each other either. A similar governmental structure is an instant builder of common ground. England and France, fascist brothers, spreading the peace of mutual fascism and supporting fascism around the world. In this fascist world, where that idea became the Whiggery of choice, there is just as strong a rationale to underpin the Fascist Peace Theory as there is in our world where democracy is de rigueur.

Substitute the word ‘fascist’ for ‘communist’, and the identical principle applies.

So this becomes instead The Whiggish Ideology Peace Theory. Any two governments that hold the same ideology are significantly less likely to go to war with one another than two governments that hold differing ideologies. But this raises a significant question: since fascism is derivative of socialism and socialism is derivative of Marxism, as is communism, why did the fascists fight the communists (and vice versa) instead of getting together to destroy the democracies?

My short answer is that the border decided that it would be sooner rather than later, and the underpinning reason was similarity requiring animosity as a form of distinction trending to elimination. Modern Australian politics has both sides closer than they ever have been historically, and so the Coalition and Labor are forced to fight dirty over every tiny inch of difference. Equally, when you put forward two, big government, authoritarian, no-one gets out ideologies next to each other, a fight becomes inevitable. If Stalin had been able to bridge the last few gaps and become a Hitlerist, or Hitler a Stalinist, that’s the thousand year Reich right there.

It is true, historically, that monarchies fought, and viciously, over territory, right to rule and so on, as another friend pointed out. But there is no reason to think that this would have persisted. War has become hugely and prohibitively expensive, not just in terms of the ordinance, but in terms of the destruction wrought by war on the human population. Remember that thing about not harming civilians? The traditional Greek war between the poleis was to inflict tokenistic damage on some part of your enemy’s land to draw them out, fight them in a pitched battle, and then not run down your enemy’s hoplites when one side fled the battle. Blood was expensive, crops were expensive. So everyone minimised losses. As the 5th century progressed, the experience of the Persian Wars changed the mindset of the Greeks towards more destruction, and Athens’ war with Sparta was as close to total war as the ancient world came (Sparta’s terms for Athens were pretty humiliating too, not unlike Versailles).

At some point, there would have been a war between the monarchs, and a big one too. But I would dispute the notion that it would have been as destructive as the First World War, let alone the Second. If classical international law had been respected, peace would always have come faster. There certainly would not have been the spiralling situation of that ushered in the First World War. Pan-Slavicism was not sufficient cause for Russia to prevent Austria punishing Serbia, and Germany marching through Belgium was not a violation of sovereignty as long as they did no harm to the Belgian people. For anyone who hasn’t read the latest issue of Radish Magazine, you are missing out greatly.

And the reality is that after rebuilding even a small part of your country, dealing with internal unrest that comes with hundreds of thousands of body bags in the absence of a galvanising ideology, and the cost of mobilisation and movement to a war economy, the monarchs would have realised that trade and settlement was a much better idea.

The second point that I would like to make is one that Moldbug came extremely close to, but as far as I can tell, never actually stated. Ideology is the death of good government. Democracy requires ideology. Therefore democracy is the death of good government.

Prior to Whiggery’s advent, governments were not ideological. They didn’t say ‘this is the right way to do things, because our very smart reasoners have said so.’ Rather, they considered problems, and tried to solve them without much interest beyond fixing it. People had ideas that were not part of a coherent platform, and His Majesty decided which was best, in conversation with his Privy Council.

The Whigs came along, and broke that down. Tories are quite by definition not ideological, and Whigs sought to move to dialectic forms of government where the totality of ideology would eventually mean the death of Tory philosophy. As an aside, modern conservatives like to claim non-ideological status too, especially if they have read Oakeshott. At this point, they invariably become wholly useless to their preferred disposition unless they can embrace reaction (and even then, their traditionalism generally prevents neo-reaction). Alas. And so we end up here, where many ideologies that are all cladistically Whiggish fight viciously for primacy. Of course, agreeing with Bryce, that in the memeplex of modernism, left-est is best-est, the most socialist platform wins eventually. From Calvin to Žižek to I shudder to think what.

The true beauty of neo-cameralism is the dual effect of removing ideological government structures, and preventing them devolving once again into ochlocratic ‘progress’. Exit and competition kill ideology, and this is why neo-reaction is far greater than throne and altar reaction, which has never solved the problem of how to prevent the patient’s cancer from coming back.

Democracy weakens countries, replacing the values of its people with new ones that are accessible to the masses. It fights and fights to force democracy on others, and creates a mythology around itself that in so doing, it will someone forge a lasting peace. But of course, that mythology is just as applicable to any of the other ideologies, none of whom are inclined to war internally. And worst of all, democracy forges and galvanises the primacy of ideology, which proceeds to ruin government. But, at least for now, we get to point that out.

The Hipster Reconquista?

Say what you like about those people who you would be forgiven for mistaking as homeless except for the newest iPhone, but this is a really amusing mirror of history.

Basically, the smart bits of Hackney are getting bigger, but sadly a lot of locals are being shifted out. All of a sudden, we’ve got lots of new bars, which is good for progression and moving with the times. But those who were born and bred here simply can’t afford to live here anymore.

It has caused real problems for the youngsters. A lot of them don’t know where they should go now, or where their real communities are. Many of the venues they would have enjoyed in the past have shut down. Instead, we’ve been left with these trendy places that nobody can afford to go to.

Mrs. Pearce apparently lacks a sense of irony. There was a time when it was considered the death of a neighbourhood for ‘sambos’ to move in. They lower property values. And just wait until the tom-toms start!

All the areas that we did have, especially for the ethnic minorities, have gone.

I’m quite convinced that the surviving Cockneys would have a similar thing to say about the East End, although I’m less convinced that their disappearance as a group was entirely disastrous. I would simply suggest that group X has little right to criticise group Y for doing the exactly the same thing, with only roles and results reversed.

But Mrs. Pearce might as well carry on complaining about these ‘loud-mouthed, white-skinned poofs’ taking over her ‘ancestral’ neighbourhoods for all the good it will do her, and for all the ill it might cause London.

Nice One Tony

Prime Minister Tony Abbott (mild paraphrasing):

Because some Muslim Australians have been going to fight with terrorist organisations in the Middle East, we will no longer be amending Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act to ensure community integrity.

That is literally the definition of the terrorists winning.

Storytime #2

This time from The Punch Guide to Good Living 1973, ed. William Davis, pp. 84-6. The Punch was a really exceptional publication, and it speaks volumes about the problems of the modern world that its circulation peaked in the ’40s and steadily declined until its closure in ’92. If you are ever fortunate enough to come across an old copy of the Guide to Good Living, or the Bedside Book, I strongly advise you to pick them up.

Smokers of the World, Unite

P. G. Wodehouse

It can scarcely have escaped the notice of thinking men, I think, being a thinking man myself, that the forces of darkness opposed to those of us who like a quiet smoke are gathering momentum daily and starting to throw their weight about more than somewhat. Every morning I read in the papers a long article by another of those doctors who are the spearhead of the movement. Tobacco, they say, plugs up the arteries and lowers the temperature of the body extremities lowered, especially during the summer months, they bring up that cat again.

The cat to which I allude is the one that has two drops of nicotine placed on its tongue and instantly passes beyond the veil. “Look,” they say. “I place two drops of nicotine on the cat’s tongue. Now watch it wilt.” I can’t see the argument. Cats, as Charles Stuart Calverley said, may have had their goose cooked by tobacco juice, but are we to deprive ourselves of all our modest pleasures just because indulgence in them would be harmful to some cat which is probably a perfect stranger?

Take a simple instance such as occurs every Saturday on the Rugby football field. The ball is heeled out, the scrum half gathers it, and instantaneously two fourteen-stone forwards fling themselves on his person, grinding him into the mud. Must we abolish Twickenham and Murrayfield because some sorry reasoner insists that if the scrum half had been a cat he would have been squashed flatter than a Dover sole? And no use, of course, to try and drive into these morons’ head that scrum halves are not cats. Really, one feels inclined at times to give it all up and turn one’s face to the wall.

It is pitiful to think that is how these men spend their lives, putting drops of nicotine on the tongues of cats day after day after day. Slaves to a habit, is the way I look at it. But if you tell them that and urge them to pull themselves together and throw off the shackles, they just look at you with fishy eyes and mumble something about it can’t be done. Of course it can be done. All it requires is will power. If they were to say to themselves “I will not start putting nicotine on cats’ tongues till after lunch” it would be a simple step to knocking off during the afternoon, and by degrees they would find that they could abstain altogether. The first cat of the day is the hard one to give up. Conquer the impulse for the after-breakfast cat, and the battle is half won.

But how few of them can see this. You think you have driven home your point, but no. Back comes that fishy-eyed look, and before you know where you are they are off again with their “Place two drops on the tongue of a cat…” The result is that day by day in every way we smokers are being harder pressed. Like the troops of Midian, the enemy prowl and prowl around. First it was James the Second, then Tolstoy, then all these doctors, and now–of all people–Miss Gloria Swanson, who not only has become a non-smoker herself but claims to have converted a San Francisco business man, a Massachusetts dress designer, a lady explorer, a television script writer and a Chicago dentist.

“The joys of not smoking,” she says, “are so much greater than the joys of smoking,” omitting, however, to mention what the former are. From the fact that she states that her disciples send her flowers, I should imagine that she belongs to the school of thought which holds that abstention from tobacco heightens the sense of smell. “Do you realize,” these people tell you, “that if you stop smoking you will be able to smell better?” I don’t want to be able to smell better. Living in New York, I often find myself wishing that I didn’t smell the place as well as I do.

But I have no quarrel with Miss Swanson. We Wodehouses do not war upon the weaker sex. As far as Miss Swanson is concerned, an indulgent “There, there, foolish little woman” about covers my attitude. The bird I am resolved to expose before the bar of world opinion is the late Count Leo N. Tolstoy.

2014-08-05 13.31.36

For one reason and another I have not read Tolstoy in the original Russian, and it is possible that a faulty translation may have misled me, but what he is recorded as saying in his Essays, Letters and Miscellanies is that an excellent substitute for smoking may be found in twirling the fingers, and there rises before one’s mental eye the picture of some big public dinner (decorations will be worn) at the moment when the toast of the Queen is being drunk.

“The Queen!”

“The Queen, God bless her!”

And then.

“Gentlemen, you may twirl your fingers.”

It wouldn’t work. There would be a sense of something missing. And I don’t see that it would be much better if you adopted Tolstoy’s other suggestion–viz. playing on the dudka. But then what can you expect of a man who not only wore a long white beard but said that the reason we smoke is to deaden our consciences, instancing the case of a Russian murderer who half-way through the assassination of his employer found himself suffering from cold feet?

“I could not finish the job,” he is quoted as saying. “So I went from the bedroom into the drawing-room, sat down there and smoked a cigarette.”

“Only when he had stupefied himself with tobacco,” says Tolstoy, “did he feel sufficiently fortified to return to the bedroom and finish dispatching the old lady.”

Stupefied with tobacco! On a single gasper! They must have been turning out powerful stuff in Russia under the old régime.

And, of course, our own manufacturers are turning out good and powerful stuff today, and what I am leading up to is that we should all avail ourselves of it. Smoke up, my hearties. Never mind Tolstoy. Ignore G. Swanson. Forget the cat. Think what it would mean if for want of our support that tobacco firms had to go out of business. There would be no more of those photographs of authors smoking pipes, and if authors were not photographed smoking pipes, how would we be able to know that they were manly and in the robust tradition of English literature? A pipe placed on the tongue of an author makes all the difference.

Who whom?

In this case, who will bow to whom?

For the first time since Atatürk deposed Abdülmecid II nearly 100 years ago, there is a Caliph. Not one formally recognised in the modern context, but certainly in a way that would have been familiar to the Romans (particularly the 3rd Century AD). But if he is the Caliph, the heir to Muhammad’s Empire, then surely the next stop after consolidation must be Saudi Arabia? His claim of descent from Muhammad doesn’t seem to be particularly convincing, and I can’t imagine a better way to gain legitimacy than to control the Hedjaz.

On face value, King Abdullah has a stronger claim to the title. Even though he is not a Hashemite, the House of Saud is established, powerful, and wildly wealthy. There is no civil war in Saudi Arabia, and his generally good relations with the US seems to confirm his position. Even with the notorious religious police, many Saudis are modern, wealthy people who enjoy Western comedy.

But there is trouble on the horizon. Abdullah has had an annoying habit of outliving his crown princes (who, for some bizarre reason, are his brothers and half-brothers rather than his sons), and when the (almost) 90 year old finally passes away, I can certainly imagine a succession crisis. If ISIS continues to make gains, there is no way on Earth Saudi foreign and religious policy will have had any effect other than to bring a civil war to their door. Saudi nationals formed the backbone of the September 11th attack and the broader al-Qaeda organisation, and this was the result of the strict Salafi Islam practised by the kingdom. When ISIS was still just ISI, the Saudis were providing support for their fellow Sunnis fighting against the Alawite Shi’a government of Bashir al-Asad.


(Incidentally, we owe a debt of gratitude to Agathocles deSyracuse for this excellent map of theterritory held by the various combatants in the Middle East)

So when the revolutionaries come knocking on the door of the Saudi King, will he bow to the Caliph as a client, or will he have claimed the position for himself? Because, as it stands, there don’t seem to be too many other options. If Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is successful in uniting the Sunni ummah under a Caliphate, maybe it’s not just Hindu eschatology that is looking close to fulfilment.