April 23, 2010

I’ll be traveling again and I fear posting will be very light this week.

This time I’m on my way to Europe. It’s interesting to bounce between Asia and Europe so much. In the former, I can see what things could be like in the US and in the latter I can see what things will mostly likely end up looking like. I’m not sure which is more depressing.

Review of “The English in the West Indies” by James A. Froude

April 23, 2010

The book is available for free, here.

Froude is traveling through the West Indies – from Trinidad to Cuba with stops in Jamaica, Santo Domingo, etc. – and reporting on his journey. Along the way, he also comments on how these colonies should be governed.

One could be forgiven for ignoring the political parts of the story and simply enjoying Froude’s wonderful writing. His descriptions of the islands and their inhabitants are entertaining enough to make the book worth reading without the politics. For review purposes however, I will focus on the politics.

Of course, Froude’s concern is that the British colonies in the West Indies will go the route of Haiti – a bad result indeed. In short, Froude believes that democracy is impossible on the islands as the black population will lead the country in the direction of Haiti. He also believes rule by the white colonists is impossible, since there is way too much racial distrust. What is needed is good government administered by someone with everyone’s interests in mind. Of course, he does not see this as likely and his predictions about the future of the islands turn out to be quite accurate.

I can’t resist quoting him heavily, so here goes:

But un­doubt­ed­ly, wher­ev­er it is pos­si­ble the prin­ci­ple of self-gov­ern­ment ought to be ap­plied in our colonies and will be ap­plied, and the dan­ger now is that it will be tried in haste in coun­tries ei­ther as yet un­ripe for it or from the na­ture of things un­fit for it. The lib­er­ties which we grant freely to those whom we trust and who do not re­quire to be restrained, we bring in­to dis­re­pute if we con­cede them as read­ily to per­ver­si­ty or dis­af­fec­tion or to those who, like most Asi­at­ics, do not de­sire lib­er­ty, and pros­per best when they are led and guid­ed.

On modernity:

To take a gloomy view of things will not mend them, and mod­ern en­light­en­ment may have ex­cel­lent gifts in store for us which will come by-and-by, but I will not say that they have come as yet. I will not say that pub­lic life is im­proved when par­ty spir­it has de­gen­er­at­ed in­to an or­gan­ised civ­il war, and a civ­il war which can nev­er end, for it re­news its life like the gi­ant of fa­ble at ev­ery fresh elec­tion. I will not say that men are more hon­est and more law-abid­ing when debts are re­pu­di­at­ed and law is de­fied in half the coun­try, and Mr. Glad­stone him­self ap­plauds or re­fus­es to con­demn acts of open dis­hon­esty. We are to con­grat­ulate our­selves that du­elling has ceased, but I do not know that men act more hon­ourably be­cause they can be called less sharply to ac­count. ‘ Smug­gling,’ we are told, has dis­ap­peared al­so, but the wreck­er scut­tles his ship or runs it ashore to cheat the in­sur­ance of­fice. The Church may per­haps be im­proved in the ar­range­ment of the ser­vices and in the pro­fes­sion­al demon­stra­tive­ness of the cler­gy, but I am not sure that the clergy have more in­flu­ence over the minds of men than they had fifty years ago, or that the doc­trines which the Church teach­es are more pow­er­ful over pub­lic opin­ion. One would not gath­er that our moral­ity was so su­pe­ri­or from the re­ports which we see in the news­pa­per, and girls now talk over nov­els which the ladies’ maids of their grand­moth­ers might have read in se­cret but would have blushed while read­ing. Each age would do bet­ter if it stud­ied its own faults and en­deav­oured to mend them in­stead of com­par­ing it­self with oth­ers to its own ad­van­tage.

Froude does lapse into long tirades against orators – the victors of democracy:

This on­ly was clear to me in think­ing over what Mr. Glad­stone was re­port­ed to have said, and in think­ing of his own achieve­ments and ca­reer, that there are two class­es of men who have played and still play a promi­nent part in the world—those who ac­com­plish great things, and those who talk and make speech­es about them. The do­ers of things are for the most part silent. Those who build up em­pires or dis­cov­er se­crets of sci­ence, those who paint great pic­tures or write great po­ems, are not of­ten to be found spout­ing up­on plat­forms. The silent men do the work. The talk­ing men cry out at what is done be­cause it is not done as they would have had it, and af­ter­wards take possession of it as if it was their own prop­er­ty. War­ren Hast­ings wins In­dia for us; the elo­quent Burke de­sires and pas­sion­ate­ly tries to hang him for it. At the supreme cri­sis in our his­to­ry when Amer­ica had re­volt­ed and Ire­land was de­fi­ant, when the great pow­ers of Eu­rope had co­alesced to crush us, and we were stag­ger­ing un­der the dis­as­ter at York Town, Rod­ney struck a blow in the West In­dies which sound­ed over the world and saved for Britain her ocean scep­tre. Just in time, for the pop­ular lead­ers had per­suad­ed the House of Com­mons that Rod­ney ought to be re­called and peace made on any terms. Even in pol­itics the names of or­ator­ical states­men are rarely as­so­ci­at­ed with the organ­ic growth of en­dur­ing in­sti­tu­tions. The most dis­tin­guished of them have been con­spic­uous on­ly as in­stru­ments of de­struc­tion. In­sti­tu­tions are the slow growths of centuries. The or­ator cuts them down in a day. The tree falls, and the hand that wields the axe is ad­mired and ap­plaud­ed. The speech­es of De­mos­thenes and Ci­cero pass in­to lit­er­ature, and are stud­ied as mod­els of language. But De­mos­thenes and Ci­cero did not un­der­stand the facts of their time; their lan­guage might be beau­ti­ful, and their sentiments no­ble, but with their fine words and sen­ti­ments they on­ly mis­led their coun­try­men. The pe­ri­ods where the or­ator is supreme are marked al­ways by con­fu­sion and dis­integra­tion. Goethe could say of Luther that he had thrown back for cen­turies the spir­itu­al cul­ti­va­tion of mankind, by call­ing the pas­sions of the mul­ti­tude to judge of mat­ters which should have been left to the thinkers. We our­selves are just now in one of those un­easy pe­ri­ods, and we have decid­ed that or­ators are the fittest peo­ple to rule over us. The con­stituen­cies choose their mem­bers ac­cord­ing to the flu­en­cy of their tongues. Can he make a speech is the one test of com­pe­ten­cy for a leg­is­la­tor, and the most persua­sive of the whole we make prime min­is­ter. We ad­mire the man for his gifts, and we ac­cept what he says for the man­ner in which it is ut­tered. He may con­tra­dict today what he as­sert­ed yes­ter­day. No mat­ter. He can per­suade oth­ers wher­ev­er he is per­suad­ed him­self. And such is the na­ture of him that he can con­vince him­self of any­thing which it is his in­ter­est to be­lieve. These are the per­sons who are now re­gard­ed as our wis­est. It was not al­ways so.

In Grenada:

The con­di­tions were nev­er like­ly to arise which would bring back a Eu­ro­pean pop­ula­tion; but a gov­er­nor who was a sen­si­ble man, who would re­side and use his nat­ural influence, could man­age it with per­fect ease. The is­land be­longed to Eng­land; we were re­spon­si­ble for what we made of it, and for the blacks’ own sakes we ought not to try ex­per­iments up­on them. They knew their own de­fi­cien­cies, and would in­finite­ly pre­fer a wise En­glish ruler to any con­sti­tu­tion which could be of­fered them. If left en­tire­ly to them­selves, they would, in a gen­er­ation or two re­lapse in­to sav­ages; there were are two al­ter­na­tives be­fore not Grena­da on­ly, but all the Eng­lish West In­dies—ei­ther an English ad­min­is­tra­tion pure and sim­ple like the East In­di­an, or a falling even­tu­al­ly in­to a state like that of Hayti, where they eat the ba­bies, and no white man can own a yard of land.

On the black population:

I have been of­ten in all the West In­dia Is­lands, and I have of­ten made my ob­ser­va­tions on the treat­ment of the ne­gro slaves, and can aver that I nev­er knew the least cru­el­ty inflict­ed on them, but that in gen­er­al they lived bet­ter than the hon­est day-labour­ing man in Eng­land, with­out do­ing a fourth part of his work in a day, and I am ful­ly con­vinced that the ne­groes in our is­lands are bet­ter pro­vid­ed for and live bet­ter than when in Guinea.’ . . .

To the over­seer on a plan­ta­tion the black labour­er was a ma­chine out of which the prob­lem was to get the max­imum of work with the min­imum of pay. In the slav­ery times the horse and dog re­la­tion was a re­al thing. The mas­ter and mis­tress joked and laughed with their dark bonds­men, know Caesar from Pom­pey, knew how many chil­dren each had, gave them small presents, cared for them when they were sick, and main­tained them when they were old and past work. All this end­ed with eman­ci­pa­tion. Be­tween whites and blacks no re­la­tions re­mained save that of em­ploy­er and em­ployed. They lived apart. They had no longer, save in ex­cep­tion­al in­stances, any per­son­al communication with each oth­er. The law re­fus­ing to recog­nise a dif­fer­ence, the so­cial line was drawn the hard­er, which the law was un­able to reach. . . .

With the same chances and with the same treat­ment, I be­lieve that dis­tin­guished men would be pro­duced equal­ly from both races . . . But it does not fol­low that what can be done even­tu­al­ly can be done im­me­di­ate­ly, and the gulf which di­vides the colours is no ar­bi­trary prej­udice, but has been opened by the cen­turies of train­ing and dis­ci­pline which have giv­en us the start in the race. We set it down to slav­ery. It would be far truer to set it down to free­dom. The African blacks have been free enough for thou­sands, per­haps for tens of thou­sands of years, and it has been the ab­sence of re­straint which has pre­vent­ed them from be­com­ing civilised. Gen­er­ation has fol­lowed gen­er­ation, and the chil­dren are as like their fa­ther as the suc­ces­sive gen­er­ations of apes. The whites, it is like­ly enough, suc­ceed­ed one an­oth­er with the same sim­ilar­ity for a long se­ries of ages. It is now sup­posed that the hu­man race has been up­on the plan­et for a hun­dred thou­sand years at least, and the first traces of civil­isa­tion can­not be thrown back at farthest be­yond six thou­sand. Dur­ing all those ages mankind went on tread­ing in the same steps, cen­tu­ry af­ter cen­tu­ry mak­ing no more ad­vance than the birds and beasts. In Egypt or in In­dia or one knows not where, ac­ci­dent or nat­ural de­vel­op­ment quick­ened in­to life our moral and in­tel­lec­tu­al fac­ul­ties; and these fac­ul­ties have grown in­to what we now ex­pe­ri­ence, not in the free­dom in which the mod­ern takes de­light, but un­der the sharp rule of the strong over the weak, of the wise over the un­wise. Our own An­glo-Norman race has be­come ca­pa­ble of self-gov­ern­ment on­ly af­ter a thou­sand years of civ­il and spir­itu­al au­thor­ity. Eu­ro­pean gov­ern­ment, Eu­ro­pean in­struc­tion, con­tin­ued steadily till his nat­ural ten­den­cies are su­per­seded by a high­er in­stinct, may short­en the pro­ba­tion pe­ri­od of the ne­gro. In­di­vid­ual blacks of ex­cep­tion­al qual­ity, like Fred­er­ick Dou­glas in Amer­ica, or the Chief Jus­tice of Bar­ba­does, will avail them­selves of op­por­tu­ni­ties to rise, and the freest op­por­tu­ni­ties ought to be of­fered them. But it is as cer­tain as any fu­ture event can be that if we give the ne­groes as a body the po­lit­ical pow­ers which we claim for our­selves, they will use them on­ly to their own in­jury. They will slide back in­to their old con­di­tion, and the chance will be gone of lift­ing them to the lev­el to which we have no right to say that they are in­ca­pable of ris­ing.

On England’s goal in the colonies:

Our world-wide do­min­ion will not be of any long en­durance if we con­sid­er that we have dis­charged our full du­ty to our fel­low-sub­jects when we have set them free to fol­low their own de­vices. If that is to be all, the soon­er it van­ish­es in­to his­to­ry the bet­ter for us and for the world. . . . The ques­tion to be asked in ev­ery colony is, what sort of men is it rear­ing? If that can­not be an­swered sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly, the rest is not worth car­ing for. The blacks do not de­serve the ill that is spo­ken of them. The Colonel’s house is twelve miles from Kingston. He told me that a wom­an would walk in with a load for him, and re­turn on the same day with an­oth­er, for a shilling. With such ma­te­ri­al of labour wise­ly di­rect­ed, whites and blacks might live and pros­per to­geth­er; but even the poor ne­gro will not work when he is re­gard­ed on­ly as a ma­chine to bring grist to his mas­ter’s mill.

He continues:

For my­self, I would rather be the slave of a Shake­speare or a Burgh­ley than the slave of a ma­jor­ity in the House of Com­mons or the slave of my own fol­ly. Slav­ery is gone, with all that be­longed to it; but it will be an ill day for mankind if no one is to be com­pelled any more to obey those who are wis­er than him­self, and each of us is to do on­ly what is right in our own eyes. There may be au­thor­ity, yet not slav­ery: a sol­dier is not a slave, a sailor is not a slave, a child is not a slave, a wife is not a slave; yet they may not live by their own wills or eman­ci­pate them­selves at their own plea­sure from po­si­tions in which na­ture has placed them, or in­to which they have them­selves vol­un­tar­ily en­tered.

On constitutional government:

The the­ory of con­sti­tu­tion­al gov­ern­ment is that the ma­jor­ity shall rule the mi­nor­ity, and as long as the qual­ities, moral and men­tal, of the par­ties are not gross­ly dis­sim­ilar, such an ar­range­ment forms a tol­er­able modus viven­di. Where in char­ac­ter, in men­tal force, in en­er­gy, in cul­ti­va­tion, there is no equal­ity at all, but an in­equal­ity which has exist­ed for thou­sands of years, and is as plain today as it was in the Egypt of the Pharaohs, to ex­pect that the in­tel­li­gent few will sub­mit to the un­in­tel­li­gent many is to ex­pect what has nev­er been found and what nev­er ought to be found. The whites can­not be trust­ed to rule the blacks, but for the blacks to rule the whites is a yet gross­er anoma­ly. Were Eng­land out of the way, there would be a war of ex­ter­mi­na­tion be­tween them. Eng­land pro­hibits it, and holds the bal­ance in forced equal­ity. Eng­land, there­fore, so long as the West In­dies are En­glish, must her­self rule, and rule im­par­tial­ly, and so ac­quit her­self of her self-cho­sen re­spon­si­bil­ities.

On good men and popular government:

The prospects of Ja­maica, the prospects of all coun­tries, de­pend not on sug­ar or on any form or de­gree of ma­te­ri­al wealth, but on the char­ac­ters of the men and wom­en whom they are breed­ing and rear­ing. Where there are men and wom­en of a no­ble na­ture, the rest will go well of it­self; where these are not, there will be no true pros­per­ity though the sug­ar hogsheads be raised from thou­sands in­to mil­lions. . . . Here are op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­no­cent in­dus­tri­ous fam­ilies, where chil­dren can be brought up to be man­ly and sim­ple and true and brave as their fa­thers were brought up, as their fa­thers ex­pressed it ‘in the nur­ture and ad­mo­ni­tion of the Lord,’ while such neigh­bours as their dark brothers-in-law might have a chance of a rise in life, in the on­ly sense in which a ‘rise’ can be of re­al ben­efit to them. These are the ob­jects which states­men who have the care and con­duct of a na­tion’s wel­fare ought to set be­fore them­selves, and un­for­tu­nate­ly they are the last which are re­mem­bered in coun­tries which are pop­ular­ly gov­erned.

. . .

Gov­ern­ment can­not do ev­ery­thing, but it can do some­thing, and there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween gov­er­nors against whom there is noth­ing to ob­ject, and men of spe­cial and marked ca­pac­ity. There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween gov­er­nors whose hands are tied by lo­cal coun­cils and whose feet are tied by in­struc­tions from home, and a gov­er­nor with a free hand and a wise head left to take his own mea­sures on the spot. I pre­sume that no one can se­ri­ous­ly ex­pect that an or­der­ly or­gan­ised na­tion can be made out of the blacks, when, in spite of your schools and mis­sion­ar­ies, sev­en­ty per cent of the chil­dren now born among them are il­le­git­imate. You can do for the West In­dies, I re­peat over and over again, what you do for the East; you can es­tab­lish a firm au­thor­ita­tive gov­ern­ment which will pro­tect the blacks in their civ­il lights and pro­tect the whites in theirs.

. . .

Com­mu­ni­ties, how­ev­er, have ex­ist­ed where peo­ple have thought more of their obli­ga­tions than of their ‘rights,’ more of the wel­fare of their coun­try, or of the suc­cess of a cause to which they have de­vot­ed them­selves, than of their per­son­al plea­sure or in­ter­est—have pre­ferred the wise lead­ing of su­pe­ri­or men to their own wills or wish­es. Nay, per­haps no com­mu­ni­ty has ev­er con­tin­ued long, or has made a mark in the world of se­ri­ous sig­nif­icance, where so­ci­ety has not been grad­uat­ed in de­grees, and there have not been deep­er and stronger bands of co­her­ence than the fluc­tu­at­ing votes of ma­jori­ties.

More Froude

April 23, 2010

The English in the West Indies is really a gold mine:

The Rome of Tra­jan was im­mea­sur­ably more splen­did than the Rome of the Sci­pios; yet the progress had been down­wards nev­er­the­less. If the ob­ject of our ex­is­tence on this plan­et is the de­vel­op­ment of char­ac­ter, if the cul­mi­nat­ing point in any na­tion’s his­to­ry be that at which it pro­duces its no­blest and bravest men, facts do not tend to as­sure us that the tri­umphant march of the last hun­dred years is ac­com­plish­ing much in that di­rec­tion.

Alas, the next hundred years after that have not put us back on course.

More progress where colonialism ended

April 23, 2010

Progress, comrades, we can only see progress.

Review of “Anabasis” by Xenophon

April 23, 2010

I’ve got very little to add to what’s here.

Xenophon sounds like a bad ass. One thing I’m always struck by when reading old books is how much less masculine modern men are.

The book is great on leadership as wel

Walt Williams on taxes

April 23, 2010

Here’s my perhaps politically incorrect question: If one has no financial stake in our country, how much of a say-so should he have in its management? Let’s put it another way: I do not own stock, and hence have no financial stake, in Ford Motor Company. Do you think I should have voting rights or any say-so in the management of the company? I’m guessing that the average sane person’s answer is no. You say, "Williams, just where are you heading with this?" I’m not proposing that we take voting rights away from those who do not pay taxes. What I’m suggesting is that every American gets one vote in every federal election, plus another vote for each $20,000 he pays in federal taxes. With such a system, there’d be a modicum of linkage between one’s financial stake in our country and his decision-making right. Of course, unequal voting power could be reduced by legislating lower taxes.


April 22, 2010


The problem with the simplicity movement isn’t simply that you’ve got to be rich to live simply. In their 2007 book Plenty, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon, who had vowed to spend a year sticking to the 100-mile locavore eating radius (and, as freelance writers, had plenty of time to put together meals that lived up to this promise), discovered that they were spending $11 per jar on honey to substitute for $2.59 sugar and that one of their locally foraged dinners cost them $130 and more than a day to prepare. Nor is it the problem that "simplicity" can amount to just plain silliness, as when simplicity blogger Leo Babauta announced that he had cut down on grooming products by shaving his head, and suggested that one way to cultivate simplicity was to give loved ones massages instead of birthday presents (ask first, Mr. Babauta!). Or when Steven Rinella, author of The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine, invited his friends over for a meal of bear, squirrel, elk, and sparrows trapped in his girlfriend’s Brooklyn backyard. Rinella’s aim, both in writing the book and throwing the party, was, as the New York Times reported, "to demonstrate that most of us have depersonalized our relationship to food, and that current regulations requiring that any game commercially sold in America must be raised on farms or ranches is actually harmful to both the farmed animals and wild ones."