Review of "The Eustace Diamonds" by Anthony Trollope

November 28, 2008

Another great Trollope book.  As usual, you can find a full plot summary here.

This story followed a familiar Trollope pattern but with enough departures from the usual to make it interesting – of course I would have been interested even if it hadn't departed as I don't seem to be able to get enough of Mr Trollope's writings.

Politics again took a back seat in this novel, after making an appearance in the second of the Palliser Novels.  Of course we still get some great descriptions of political beliefs from Trollope:

He had been asked to stand for Bobsborough in the Conservative interest, and as a Conservative he had been returned. Those who invited him knew probably but little of his own political beliefs or feelings,—did not, probably, know whether he had any. His father was a fine old Tory of the ancient school, who thought that things were going from bad to worse, but was able to live happily in spite of his anticipations. The dean was one of those old-world politicians,—we meet them every day, and they are generally pleasant people,—who enjoy the politics of the side to which they belong without any special belief in them. If pressed hard they will almost own that their so-called convictions are prejudices. But not for worlds would they be rid of them. When two or three of them meet together, they are as freemasons, who are bound by a pleasant bond which separates them from the outer world. They feel among themselves that everything that is being done is bad,—even though that everything is done by their own party. It was bad to interfere with Charles, bad to endure Cromwell, bad to banish James, bad to put up with William. The House of Hanover was bad. All interference with prerogative has been bad. The Reform bill was very bad. Encroachment on the estates of the bishops was bad. Emancipation of Roman Catholics was the worst of all. Abolition of corn-laws, church-rates, and oaths and tests were all bad. The meddling with the Universities has been grievous. The treatment of the Irish Church has been Satanic. The overhauling of schools is most injurious to English education. Education bills and Irish land bills were all bad. Every step taken has been bad. And yet to them old England is of all countries in the world the best to live in, and is not at all the less comfortable because of the changes that have been made. These people are ready to grumble at every boon conferred on them, and yet to enjoy every boon. They know, too, their privileges, and, after a fashion, understand their position. It is picturesque, and it pleases them. To have been always in the right and yet always on the losing side; always being ruined, always under persecution from a wild spirit of republican-demagogism,—and yet never to lose anything, not even position or public esteem, is pleasant enough. A huge, living, daily increasing grievance that does one no palpable harm, is the happiest possession that a man can have. There is a large body of such men in England, and, personally, they are the very salt of the nation. He who said that all Conservatives are stupid did not know them. Stupid Conservatives there may be,—and there certainly are very stupid Radicals. The well-educated, widely-read Conservative, who is well assured that all good things are gradually being brought to an end by the voice of the people, is generally the pleasantest man to be met. But he is a Buddhist, possessing a religious creed which is altogether dark and mysterious to the outer world. Those who watch the ways of the advanced Buddhist hardly know whether the man does believe himself in his hidden god, but men perceive that he is respectable, self-satisfied, and a man of note. It is of course from the society of such that Conservative candidates are to be sought; but, alas, it is hard to indoctrinate young minds with the old belief, since new theories of life have become so rife!

Or:

The theory of life and system on which social matters should be managed, as displayed by her married daughter, was very painful to poor old Lady Fawn. When she was told that under the new order of things promises from gentlemen were not to be looked upon as binding, that love was to go for nothing, that girls were to be made contented by being told that when one lover was lost another could be found, she was very unhappy. She could not disbelieve it all, and throw herself back upon her faith in virtue, constancy, and honesty. She rather thought that things had changed for the worse since she was young, and that promises were not now as binding as they used to be. She herself had married into a Liberal family, had a Liberal son, and would have called herself a Liberal; but she could not fail to hear from others, her neighbours, that the English manners, and English principles, and English society were all going to destruction in consequence of the so-called liberality of the age. Gentlemen, she thought, certainly did do things which gentlemen would not have done forty years ago; and as for ladies,—they, doubtless, were changed altogether.

Instead we have some elements of the traditional mystery.  Most of all, we have a Trollopian love story – a love triangle with a happy ending and with one of the constituents of triangle being revealed as a complete cad.  The difference this time, is that our main character is the scoundrel, Lady Eustace.  The noble characters, the true heroes, are kept in the background.  Yet Trollope is not as harsh with our villian in this story as he is with his (male) villians in the other novels I have read.  Why is this?  Because our villian is a woman, and for Trollope, women cannot be as villianous as men?

If there is a major theme in the love stories in this novel is about breaking engagements.  We see engagements broken and we see engagement almost broken.

And, of course, Trollope creates a female character, who wins the day, who one cannot help but love.  What man wouldn't fall helplessly in love with a woman of whom the following could be said:

To her thinking now, there was no sin to be forgiven. Everything was, and had been, just as it ought to be. Had any human being hinted that he had sinned, she would have defended him to the death.

There are some interesting thoughts on property in the book, but for my money, the book is about love.  It is about people getting engaged and being pulled in another direction.  Life seemed to work out best for those who had married for love and stuck to their promises.

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Stat of the day

November 28, 2008

Wow:

If you add up just the funds that have already been committed, you get a figure, according to Jim Bianco of Bianco Research, that is larger in today’s dollars than the costs of the Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the New Deal, the Korean War, Vietnam and the S.&L. crisis combined.

More on Singapore

November 28, 2008

Some interesting thoughts:

Learning these facts left me even more puzzled than I started.  Singapore seems to be sui generis; where else on earth does honest democracy lead to total domination by a single party?  After extensive reflection, though, it hit me: Instead of comparing Singapore to other democratic countries, I should compare it to other democratic cities.  There are many major cities in the United States where one party wins supermajorities year after year.  Democratic mayors have continuously ruled in San Francisco longer than Singapore has been an independent country!  And while corruption plays a role in American urban politics – think of the notorious Daley machine – corruption is hardly necessary for one-party rule.

I do wonder whether or not it's important to define what it means to have two parties.  For example, it's easy for me to think of two parties that were, in fact, identical.  These parties could alternate power, but major policies wouldn't change in the least.  It's then easy to believe that a "one-party" state could have just as much variation (or even more variation) than a two-party state.

I believe that most major, developed democracies are actually much closer to Singapore's one-party system than it appears at first glance.


Thanksgiving day Moldbuggery

November 28, 2008

Good stuff:

Populists voters are people who genuinely believe in democracy. They believe that the way Washington works is that the people elect a President, who “runs the country.” I once had an email exchange with a very successful, and quite erudite, populist political blogger who did not understand that President Bush cannot fire a State Department employee, just because that employee is openly trying to sabotage White House initiatives.

This is an excellent example of the level of complete structural misconception that a populist voter can entertain when attempting to vote. If populists had any idea at all of how Washington actually works, they would not continue to participate in the increasingly farcical elections by which they repeatedly endorse it.

The fact of the matter is that Washington as it exists today, 21st-century Washington, is designed to resist populist politics in roughly the same way that a lighthouse is designed to resist waves. The entire thrust of 20th-century American government has been to separate public policy from politics, ie, to eliminate the menace of democracy. If you read about what American politics was a century ago, this program – originally the program of the Mugwumps, and then of various flavors of liberal and progressive, including of course the New Deal – is perfectly understandable.

The problem is basically solved. Populist resistance, a la Poujadisme, no longer exists in Washington’s test facilities in Western Europe, now governed largely by a central administration which has no discernible ties to any democratic election. At present, the primary distinction between the EU and the late Soviet Union is that the latter was much more Russian, thus exhibiting a mixture of incompetence and brutality that is hard to duplicate west of the Elbe. But give it a few years.

This strikes me as dead-on:

The basic advantage of populism is that, if the claimed virtues of democracy are anywhere, they are here. Common sense and plain thinking, in a reasonably intelligent brain, are remarkably immune to the ethereal delusions that so easily infect the brilliant and educated. However, common sense cannot exist without tradition. The best traditions of the American populist voter are steadily being eroded by an educational system that populists do not control, and his worst traditions are steadily being exacerbated by churches and talk-radio networks that populists do control.

The entire political structure of the American populist tradition is set up to select for ignorance and stupidity, and select against organization and cohesion. Thus it is simultaneously undesirable and ineffective, and even those of us who like myself sympathize with it to a considerable degree are often slightly relieved to see it lose, as it always does.


Jim Rogers

November 27, 2008

Couldn't be more awesome


More Singapore blogging

November 26, 2008

At EconLog:

If Singapore were situated in Baltimore Harbor and there were free mobility, my prediction is that Maryland's government would improve considerably.

This strikes me as a pretty weak prediction.  Could Maryland's government really get much worse?


The blank slate

November 26, 2008

From Mr Derbyshire:

The aforementioned state dogma asserts the following thing:  That evolutionary change in our species ceased when that small group emerged from Africa fifty thousand years ago. There has been no further evolutionary change since that date. Observed difference in human beings and human groups are due to something called “culture.” They have nothing whatever to do with biology—and when I say “biology,” I include genetics as a sub-science thereof.

The reason why this dogma has such a grip on our non-scientific elites, and indeed even on some of the scientific ones, is that it preserves the “psychic unity of mankind.” . . .

The culturist dogma is in any case false. We knew this a priori, once 19th-century biologists had established the basic principles of evolution. If you take some population of a uniform species, divide it in two, and arrange matters so that the two sub-populations don’t interbreed—for example by putting one sub-population over here and the other one far away over there—and if you then run the clock for a few hundred generations, the two populations will diverge. That’s biology 101. If you run the clock for tens of thousands of generations, the two groups will diverge so far, they won’t be able to interbreed — and that is the origin of species! This is basic a priori stuff. It’s why there are different breeds of dogs. It’s why a room full of Australian Aborigines looks nothing like a room full of Hungarians.

The last line of defense for culturists is—or would be, if you could ever get them to engage in a conversation about biology—that the observable divergences among human groups are only in superficial qualities. Australian aborigines and Hungarians simply haven’t been separated for long enough to develop non-superficial differences. Your two roomfuls may not look like each other, but their thoughts, behavior, and social arrangements might be anything at all; and any behaviors or arrangements the one population might have, the other might equally well have, if appropriately trained.

This was never very plausible, and comparative analysis of the human genome proves it false. Our behavior, including our social behavior, issues from the brain; and the brain is an organ, like the liver or lungs. Populations who live at great heights for many generations—in Tibet or the Andes—develop lungs that can cope. In just the same way, a people who made the change from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a pastoral or field-agriculture lifestyle, will gradually change their personalities and ways of thinking to adapt to their new social circumstances—the higher population densities, more demanding work schedules, and more complicated social arrangements