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This is not some tortured political metaphor or some snarkish comment about the rise and fall of particular political parties, it is a pure statement of fact, and one that is indispensable if we are to understand modern Conservatism and the theoretical under-pinnings of the Anglo-American capitalist system that has since become the dominant paradigm even in the former Communist world. Modern industrial and financial capitalism grew up in a world where small-d 'democracy' was at least in England very close to a dirty word.

Representation of the People Act 1918 Prior to the passage of this act only 60% of British men had the right to vote and women had no right to vote at all. And even this previously existing bare approximation of representative democracy dated only to 1884 with the passage of Representation of the People Act 1884 which built on the Second Reform Act of 1867 which extended the male franchise from its previous 20% level to 40%. Which means that during almost the entirety of the time that England was the dominant world political and economic power, power that was largely driven by the Industrial Revolution itself, and prided itself on its centuries old system of Representative government as expressed in the House of Commons in Parliament, it was considered right, proper and natural that only 1 man in 5 even had the smallest voice in selecting the political leadership of even that part of Government that represented the people. And this doesn't even touch the role of the Monarchy and of the unreformed House of Lords which didn't even pay lip service to democracy.

This isn't just a historical curiosity, it goes a long way to explain the intellectual schizophrenia at the heart of modern movement Conservatism which has tried to merge a thoroughly anti-democratic history with a form of populism with results among other things in the existence of the Tea Party. More below the squiggle.

Now the notion that prior to 1867 only 20% of adult men were in any sense political actors in Britain, and that ratio up strikingly from the situation prior to the First Reform Act of 1832 which expanded the franchise from around 400,000 men to 650,000 out of a population of some 14 million, might come as a surprise to many Americans who trace back our own system of democracy to the Magna Carta of 1216, didn't the Barons and the Commons force Bad King John to reaffirm the rights of free Englishman previously taken away under the cruel Norman Yoke? Well yeah, kinda. But 'free' didn't mean exactly what it connotes today, and certainly did not extend to the right to personally select your representative in Parliament, that choice was restricted to a particular slice of 'free Englishmen'. And while those Parliamentary Members (as they are called today) were expected in some sense to represent the entirety of the Commons from low to high it was only natural that in practice they reflected the interests of the actual electorate, which we could short-hand as 'substantial property owners'.

Time for another wrinkle. English Common Law and much of traditional English political theory rested on a foundation of firm belief in The Ancient Constitution. This theory in brief held that the English political and legal system although largely unwritten was based on an Ancient Constitution that was inherited from time immemorial and which was not only unvarying but by definition perfect, making any transitory variations from it equally by definition bad, and to be resisted and if possible reversed to restore the 'pure' Constitution which was operational defined from Magna Carta on to mean primarily the protection of Property Rights. Given this mindset the responsibility of a political class that was restricted by the perfect Ancient Constitution to free male owners of property, and substantial property at that, to defend property rights against all challengers was not only right and just, but pretty close to an Eleventh Commandment.

If this is all beginning to sound kind of Tea Partyish with a firm admixture of American Constitutional Originalism plus a dollop of Exceptionalism well it should. Modern Conservatism in both its British and American forms rests on a hundreds of year old world view that naturally translates "We the People" to be fully equivalent to "We the Property Owners". And what are the greatest threats to the People? Kings and the Mob. The Taxman and the Redistributionist. And what are the best means of defense? Well against the King it is keeping control of the pursestrings, while against the Mob/Redistributionist/Moochers/Looters it is keeping control of the franchise.

In Britain this all played out in a relatively consistent fashion as over the centuries Parliament ultimately established itself as the ultimate power over taxation, and then resisted progressive extension of the electoral franchise as long as it could, relenting only in stages and at that simply by co-opting the next tranche of property owners, only to have that control break down in the wake of the Great War and so for the first time actually convert Britain into a democracy as that is understood today. Things were a little more messy in the United States which was founded at a time when property ownership and hence the franchise was already much wider spread than it was in contemporary England. At least in the Northern Colonies where relative ease in becoming a property owner compared to Southern style plantations combined with churches largely built on Congregational models created communities were from the beginning more egalitarian than either their English or Southern counterparts. That is from the beginning Northern Conservatism was able to blend property rights and democracy in ways English Conservatives could not. And more to the point in ways that modern American Movement Conservatism cannot.

I am afraid there was too much set-up here for what I hope is the takeaway: Movement Conservatism is by its very nature anti-democratic even as it is in theory opposed to central control. That is just like their English counterparts they set themselves in conscious opposition to both the King and the Mob. Maintaining control as against the central power requires a certain type of collective decision making but equally requires class solidarity against the Mob. The end result can be summed up quite nicely:

"That Government of the Right People, by the Right People, for the Right People Shalt Not Perish from this Earth"

Postscript. I know this is not fully developed and welcome any critiques and pointers people might have that would help in making this just the first in a series of discussions on the relation between conservatism and the political economy of modern capitalism and the rather odds ways that has manifested itself in modern American Movement Conservatism. A lot of things that appear self-contradictory to the point of near pathology, for example simultaneous appeals to authoritarianism while flying 'Don't Tread on Me Flags' are not that inexplicable when put into the historical context from which Conservatism emerged to start with. Which by the way is the same historical setting in time and place from which Neo-Liberal and Classical Economics emerged. Which latter is the direction I really want this series of posts to go.

Originally posted to Angry Bear (contributer) on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 10:41 AM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  this helps (6+ / 0-)

    i mean that sincerely.  :-)  learned something new.  thanks.  s.

    the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity --w.b.yeats the second coming

    by synth on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 10:52:26 AM PDT

    •  Engaland a democracy? (0+ / 0-)

      Possibly, but a poor one.

      The phrase "Dictatorship by Parliament" is commonly used.

      IMO It was not, it is not, and it will not be, until human rights are equal or superior to property rights.

  •  Well to Say That Conservatism Is Anti-Democratic (9+ / 0-)

    is to state what's been obvious throughout American history, bare minimum. Although equally obvious in the South, liberalism was pretty pointedly anti-democratic in certain directions.

    Conservatism has always lied about promotion of the general welfare, up to insisting that it's criminal and unconstitutional, and it's always tried to frame government as solely about protecting property including the nation.

    My slogan is "Welfare before liberty: It's the Constitution. Read it and weep." Which in the case of the Preamble is the literal truth, welfare before liberty.

    The conservatives have never had the honesty to offer to amend general welfare out of the Constitution. They need people to believe it's a fabrication of the liberals.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 10:58:03 AM PDT

    •  In 1918, women got the vote for 2 reasons (10+ / 0-)

      1) their contribution to the war effort

      2) the number of women who became property owners because of being widowed.

      It took a few more years before there was universal suffrage, but like a leak in a levy, whenyou make one small hole, the water will turn it into a major breach.

      "Lethality is the prime function of a firearm why pretend otherwise?" 2dimeshift!

      by senilebiker on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 11:09:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I am using 'Conservatism' in a more restricted (8+ / 0-)

      sense where it is common to both England and American political traditions, and not simply to refer to Birchers' etc.

      That is I agree with your point but want to put it in the form of a question: what if anything  is there in traditional conservatism that makes exclusion of the 'general welfare' explicable as something else than pure sociopathy.

      That is I am trying in my fumbling way to explore the Conservative Mind rather than just labeling it "There be Monsters".

      Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

      by Bruce Webb on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 11:17:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You did put forth a viable explanation (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        It's exactly what has confounded me for a while: the authoritarianism underlying nearly all of the modern conservative credos - from tolerating executive power grabs (both state and feds), despising the common good, and letting corporate elites set policy, to demanding fealty to a certain religion - while supposedly also demanding "liberty" and "freedom."  

        I agree with you that the Conservative Mind is neither inherently cruel nor stupid and cannot be changed when assuming such a simplistic answer - although I admit it's tempting, because what they stand for does come across as both of those things. I'll be following your coming diaries with interest.

  •  I'd suggest (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kalmoth, scott5js, mkor7, fizziks, CoolOnion, kurt

    that what you're overlooking is the role of the Crown as the ultimate anchor and center of the British Constitution. To this day, the British government - presently Her Majesty's Government or HMG for short - operates as the Crown in Parliament.

    The UK has obviously very substantially constrained the powers of the monarch, but in this country, where the Presidency has grown in power since 1786, we've gone the opposite route.

    Modern American movement conservatism obviously doesn't have a monarch to serve as the focus of loyalty, but prefers what has become, by default, an imperial Presidency.

    That's the root cause, I think, why successive Democratic Presidents - Carter, Clinton, now Obama - have driven the cons to the point of lunacy with rage. Not having what is essentially the throne with all its trappings and symbols, to them, in a very real sense offends the natural order of things as they should be.

    Country first, assholes.

    by MBNYC on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 11:50:27 AM PDT

    •  18th century Conservatism wasn't Toryism (8+ / 0-)

      The relation between the property owning class and the crown was as often as not one of tension and hostility as of cooperation.

      Certainly the relations between the Stuart Kings and Parliament were hostile to the point of Civil War, Regicide (Charles I) and Deposition (James II), nor I think did the earlier Hanoverian Kings (George I & II) have full support, being more interested in extracting English taxes to fight Continental Wars. The ultimate merger of Whigs and Tories into what we would recognize as a Conservative Party today seems to me more a product of the systematic removal of the Crown as an effective political actor starting with the periodic madnesses of George III. An effort that was cemented during the long, long reign of Victoria when Ministerial rule became an unchallenged norm.

      To that degree the Monarchy only became the anchor of the English Constitution after its crowned head became mostly weightless.

      And 'Crown in Parliament' is a tricky concept as is 'Prerogative', a good part of English history is taken up with struggles between various Kings and the Crown in Parliament as to who actually held what whether that be Crown Lands or certain legal powers. And Kings who pushed this too far, notably Charles I, found out the hard way how sharp the distinction could be.

      In any event I don't think anyone would dispute that the 18th c. Whig Party was economically conservative even as it was in opposition to King and Church Tories.

      Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

      by Bruce Webb on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 12:26:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  My understanding of British history (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        drewfromct, neroden

        Is that the Crown lost its power, first after losing the Civil War in the 1640's, culminating in the trial in Parliament and execution of Charles I, followed by the overthrow of James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1689, followed by the enactment in that year of the British Bill of Rights that restricted the Crown's authority as well as guaranteeing certain individual rights.  Queen Anne cast the last royal veto in 1707.  The Monarch lost his/her power to appoint a Prime Minister without the consent of Parliament, in derogation of the last election results, in 1839 as a result of the Bedchamber Crisis where a young Queen Victoria refused to appoint a Conservative Prime Minister because he had insisted that she fire her Liberal chamber maids and replace them with Conservative chamber maids, which Victoria refused to do.  

        I also learned that the gradual expansion of the franchise in both Britain and the U.S. was the natural result of the gradual democratization of both countries.  Thanks for providing a somewhat different point of view.

        "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

        by Navy Vet Terp on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 03:48:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Separation of Powers and the Taming of Powers (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        on the cusp

        The foundation of the English constitution was the Norman conquest, and the foundation of the Conquest was that most effective technology for predation, the motte and bailey castle.  What we think of as the "landed aristocracy" of the 19th century was just the semi-pacified version of a social class and order, which had been focusing its ambition on conquest and pillage for centuries on end.  The European Expansion had begun in the 11th century when the fusion of Viking and Frankish energies in Normandy exploded outward in feudal conquest: the Norman Conquest of the British Isles, the German crusades in central Europe, the holy Crusades in Palestine & the Meditterranean, the re-conquest of Spain, the conquest of Sicily, and so on, culminating in the Age of European Exploration, imperialism and world domination.

        The transformation of this militarized class of predators into "property owners", who focused their ambition, domestically at least, on commercial ventures, was of profound economic, cultural and political importance.  It was the work of the Tudors, and then, the English Civil War.  English politics and foreign policy was focused relentlessly on issues of commercial advantage by the end of the 17th century.

        Many of the reforms of the late 17th and early 18th century were "designed" to get the sources and excuses for war and pillage off-the-table of domestic politics, substituting an exclusive focus of personal and national ambitions, onto commercial advantage.  It didn't transform the essentially predatory relationship between the mass of ordinary people and an hereditary and still somewhat militarized ruling class; but, it did end the perpetual violence among the ruling classes, domestically.  Those with great landed estates became improving landlords, not military chieftains, more interested in legal processes of enclosure and turnips, than armor plate and retinues.  The Catholics and the Dissenters were excluded from contention for political office.  Scotland was married to England in the United Kingdom, with the pointed exception of the nature of the established church and the law code.  The King's Treasury was put firmly and permanently "in commission" shortly after the death of Queen Anne, which became the foundation of cabinet government, transferring the executive's operational control of taxes and spending, into the hands of members of Parliament.  The first modern mania and crash -- the South Sea Bubble -- confirmed the Bank of England as proto-Central Bank and put Walpole in the position he would construct as Prime Minister.  

        We tend to see the Great Reform of 1832 as the preamble to democracy, but on its own terms, it was part of the process of softening the settlements of 1688, in light of the universal acceptance of their outlines -- a constitutional, Protestant monarch, regular Parliaments, an aristocracy and gentry with commercial ambitions, etc.  The original Whigs were those, who favored the Glorious Revolution, and the Tories were the ones, who opposed it, making the original Tories, I suppose, at least theoretic Jacobites.  By the accession of George III, Jacobite pretension was forgotten and the Tories were the often stupid and reactionary imperialists, jealous of the privileges of membership in the established Church, and honors derived from the King, as fount of all honor, etc.

        What got the ball rolling on parliamentary reform was Catholic emancipation.  That made the most reactionary Anglican Tories mad as hell, and ready to strip their Whig & Tory overlords of their rotten boroughs, the Crown office-holders of their seats in Parliament, and so on.

        What made the Great Reform a mythological, if not a practical prop, to later democratic reforms was that it became a contest for mass popular support and public opinion.  Some failed harvests and the propaganda effect of the July revolution in France provided the impetus for some dramatic rioting.

        More interesting for your theory of the anti-democratic nature of conservative thought, though, is that some of the Ultra-Tories initiated Reform, and toppled Wellington, because they wanted to rationalize, if not exactly expand the electorate, because they thought it would strengthen the anti-catholic resolve of Protestant England.  

        The democracy of the Ultra-Tories was of the in-group/out-group type, typical of authoritarian followers, which defines the legitimacy of democracy with reference to membership in an in-group.  It constrasted with the conservatism of Whigs, who guarded aristocratic privilege and power, but wanted to expand the franchise to include the Dissenters among leaders of the urban industrial revolution, and Catholic recusants among the blue-blooded.

        The Catholic issue and democracy continued to haunt the Liberal Party, in the form of controversy over the Famine, Home Rule and, finally, the partition of Ireland.  

        •  William the Conqueror didn't agree (0+ / 0-)

          He constantly held that he was the legal successor of King Edward the Confessor and that Harold was the usurper, a narrative fully laid out in the contemporaneous Bayeaux Tapestry that along with the Battle of Hastings depicted Edward making William his heir in it's opening panels. And in fact William had a strong legal claim.

          The notion that all English Land Titles originate with the Conquest and subsequent distribution of the spoils is belied by the oldest legal record of England, that is Domesday Book which on every page appeals back to T.R.E. Or the times of King Edward. Similarly William at his taking the crown explicitly reaffirmed the Laws of King Edward.

          Under English Law treason against a rightful king resulted in forfeiture of all lands to the King. And as late as the compilation of Domesday in 1086 there were still 'Saxons' who maintained their pre-conquest property. Not many because between those that backed Harold (many of whom dying on the field of battle) in 1066 and those who participated in the Rebellion in the North a few years later almost all English nobles and a number of Norman ones ended up on the wrong side of the outcome. The net result was that most major estates by 1086 were in fact under control of Anglo-Norman lords holding by feudal tenure, but there was never a legal clean sweep using a straight out Right of Conquest claim.

          Those claims were the product of later Plantangenet Kings land lawyers holding that all land was held of the King. An agreeable outcome for the systemizing jurists of the 13th-14th century eager to press the claims of the latter Plantangenets against the nobility and other but not well supported by contemporary record from the immediate post-Conquest years.

          Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

          by Bruce Webb on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 06:45:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  well, he would say that, wouldn't he? (0+ / 0-)

            Of course, William the Bastard is going to make claims of legitimacy.  Wouldn't you?

            The reality of the British political economy, post-Conquest, is that of a violent, predatory ruling class.  Before the Conquest, England's rulers struggled to protect the land and people from invaders.  After, walls go up, to protect the rulers from the people, and the rulers from each other.  William Rufus was, "hateful to almost all his people and odious to God" in the words of the chroniclers.  Henry Beauclerc and Stephen of Blois, also descendants and successors of the Conqueror, each forcibly seized the throne, when the opportunity presented.  Stephen spent most of his reign fighting an indecisive civil war with the legitimist claimant, the Empress Matilda, which later historians dubbed the Anarchy.  

            Henry II, the first plantagenet, and the first to adopt the style, King of England, could claim descent thru his maternal grandmother from the Saxon Kings, as well as legitimacy of descent from Henry I and Henry's designated heir, his mother, Matilda.  It is he, whose person repairs the legitimacy deficit in the dynasty.  Here's an anecdote about Henry II, which is quite informative about the nature of feudalism.  When Henry was still a teenager -- I think he might have been 15, without parental permission, he hired a band of mercenaries and sailed to England, with the aim of taking some castles.  (Such fun!)  He ultimately failed, and did not have the money to pay off the mercenaries or get back home to Anjou; his mother didn't have the funds, either.  So, in desperation, he went to King Stephen, who gave him the money.

            The Plantagenet kings would keep up the civil wars right through the last, Richard II, who probably killed the Princes in the Tower, and died at Bosworth Field.  It was Richard II, who finally authorized the translation of the laws from the traditional French into English.

            •  Missed the point on William (0+ / 0-)

              it was not just that he claimed legitimacy on dynastic grounds, he equally made no claims to have full control of the soil of England via Right of Conquest.

              The traditional notion that the Normans conquered England and summarily displaced all Anglo-Saxon landlords and redistributed the entirety of the land to the various Norman, French, and Flemish supporters is not supported by the record which instead is consistent with traditonal English law that would have estates of rebels forfeit to the King and then be re-granted. One would expect a wholesale redivision of the land post-Conquest to result in a more standard set of tenures with perhaps more standardized and might I say exploitive rents under the presumed novel Norman feudal system as opposed to the native system however characterized. Unfortunately this nice, neat, several century old depiction of William simply importing and imposing feudal structures on a non-feudal economic and social system doesn't hold up well to the evidence of Domesday. Not as surprising as it would sound, the full text of Domesday wasn't available in translation until the 1990s, and Latin texts were only widely avaialable on a County by County basis that would have made it very expensive and bulky to have a complete set.

              In the event the Godwinsons, i.e. Harold Godwinsson and his brothers were collectively the largest landholders in England even before Harold ascended/usurped the Crown and hence Edwards crown and personal lands. When William's forces killed Harold and those of his brother's who resisted (one didn't) he at a stroke gained control of the family lands of the Godwinssons, Crown Lands, and I believe Edwards personal lands, those at least that did not remain in the hands of his widow (who although a sister of Harold was NOT dispossessed).

              As to the later history of the Angevins/Plantangenet (because the latter was the family name of Geoffrey of Anjou, the father of the first Angevin King Henry II a distinction without much of a difference) I can only say that it wasn't a history of unbroken Civil War from the time of Stephen to that of Richard II, there is a little too much compression of the Civil War between Stephen and Matilda/Henry, the Barons War between John and Simon de Montfort, and the War of the Roses between the Lancastrian and York branches of the Plantangenets for my comfort. There may have been armed conflict going on during most of this time but wars against Wales and Scotland and on the Continent even within the confines of the Angevin Empire do not in themselves meet the definition of English civil wars.

              Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

              by Bruce Webb on Mon Aug 15, 2011 at 05:37:24 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  Actually (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      scott5js, neroden, on the cusp, maxzj05

      The US constitution, and indeed the Declaration of Independence, was based on a distortion of the powers of the King. Rather than being absolute - as the latter implies, the powers had been substantially curtailed with the Restoration and even more after the Bill of Rights in which essentially the succession was to be defined according to Parliament.

      The post of President therefore accrued more powers than that of the King whose powers were moderated through the Government and Privy Council. Thus the proposal for taxation was made by the Government, appointed by the Monarch, rather than the monarch themselves. The important difference in the two systems is that the government, ie the Executive and its powers, are drawn from the Parliament whereas in the USA the Executive powers are vested in one person. Thus the US Secretary of State is appointed by the President and is strictly and solely a member of the Executive but the equivalent post in the UK of Foreign Secretary is an MP.

      Fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur.

      by Lib Dem FoP on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 12:27:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Cabinet government (0+ / 0-)

        The institutional foundation of cabinet government in the U.K. was the decision to put the Office of Lord High  Treasurer "into commission", so that the authority of that Great Office of State was distributed in a commission made up of members of Parliament.  The First Lord of the Treasury is Prime Minister, the Second is Chancellor of the Exchequer and the junior commissioners are Whips in Parliament.  This is the core of the committee of the Privy Council, known as the Cabinet.

        It was the institutionalization of operational control of HM Treasury, which put arguments between Parliament and Monarch over taxation and spending, outside the normal ambit of politics.

        The American founding fathers were not in a position to appreciate in detail the importance of government by committee, or how executive authority rested on an  institutional focus on operational control of expenditures and taxation.  Their naivete may have been compounded by the role of Washington as the Man on a White Horse, Commander-in-Chief, etc.  But, the reputation of 18th century British cabinets for corruption, beginning with Walpole, didn't help.  Maintenance and manipulation of Parliamentary support seemed to require a great deal of Royal patronage.  Some of this was calumny thrown back and forth among rivals; some was, no doubt, the product of the proprietary attitudes of an hereditary aristocracy.

  •  Ah, I know this history. The Great Reform Act (5+ / 0-)

    of 1832 was one of the most important steps in the slow democratization of the UK.

    The crucial thing is that after that, the upper classes fought and fought to resist improvements, but they always gave in.  This kept the country going.

    Before that there was a long period of absolute resistance to change:  This was extremely dangerous.  This was recognized by Lord Grey, who had watched the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.  Unfortunately, other members of the elite took the wrong lesson from the French Revolution and decided to crack down even harder and refuse even a smidgen of power to the people.  So he had a tough case to sell.

    He eventually pointed out that if the bill was not passed there would be riots.  It wasn't.  There were.  Next time, it passed.

    Now, we have the same divide between "clueful upper class", who can retain their wealth and position if they allow more democratization, and "clueless upper class", who will create such rigidity that they will find their heads chopped off.

    The attempt to generate a grassroots group -- like the Movement Conservatives have -- to back the clueless upper class -- this has been done before.  It's called fascism.  It sometimes works.

    Read pp. 1-7 of Krugman's _The Great Unraveling_ (available from Google Books). NOW.

    by neroden on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 03:04:27 PM PDT

    •  When and how (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      on the cusp
      The attempt to generate a grassroots group -- like the Movement Conservatives have -- to back the clueless upper class -- this has been done before.  It's called fascism.  It sometimes works.
      did Fascism not work? That would be very necessary and useful information right about now.

      Al Qeada is a faith-based initiative.

      by drewfromct on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 04:24:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You're right, that's a critical question (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        on the cusp, drewfromct

        There have been bully-boy gangs with upper class support in many countries at many, many, many times throughout history.  The times when they didn't work tend to be remembered less well than the times when they did.

        I've had trouble coming up with common features of the failures.  One type is where the elite and the grassroots gangs never really get on the same page and end up fighting each other.  One is where the elite fascists do not have enough elite support.  These two possibilities may or may not happen; the best we can do is try to educate elites as to how dangerous what they are playing with actually is, and how it could backfire on them.

        One failure mode is where they do not have enough grassroots support, because the grassroots are calling for socialism.  This at least we know how to attempt.

        One failure mode seems to be simple gross incompetence leading to the evaporation of both grassroots and elite support, but that seems not a good thing to rely on, as it just leaves the situation open for a different sort of warlord to seize power...

        Read pp. 1-7 of Krugman's _The Great Unraveling_ (available from Google Books). NOW.

        by neroden on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 04:55:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  You're right. Fascism worked well in Spain, where (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        on the cusp

        Francisco Franco did not have the insanity of Hitler or the meglomania of Mussolini. It actually survived from the Revolution until Franco's death in 1975.

        However, there, too, it did not survive him; much as it did not survive Peron in Argentina.

        It's a very efficient way to govern until the governed decide otherwise.

        •  Depends on what "worked" means (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          charliehall2, prfb

          It worked in Spain to the extent that it allowed Franco to retain power until he was really, finally, dead.  But Spain under Franco did not prosper.  The very wealthy did, but, like its similar neighbor Portugal, it was a backwater of Europe.  The economy as a whole was no prize, and for most of the populace it was a shithole.

          •  Yep, but any form of government succeeds or (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            fails on its own terms. Since Fascism does not recognize the need for all people to prosper, but only the wealthy; and since Fascism is fashioned to serve the needs of the rulers, by its own standard it succeeded -- keeping Franco in power and allowing the wealthy to prosper.

            In the same way, the United States is beginning to fail when measured against its own standard -- that the government serve the people, and that the nation be governed for the needs of the people, rather than any who might presume to rule.

            We now have a government in which all three branches are ignoring the needs of the people, and their desire that SS & Medicare be protected, and that the government focus on crafting policies that will help create jobs and invest in infrastructure. Instead, the government is operating for the benefit of the wealthiest to the detriment of the vast majority.

            Yes, Fascism can succeed for a time, but it will eventually collapse. The more critical question is, can democracy last?

    •  And one of the first acts of the new democratic (0+ / 0-)

      parliament was to pass a draconian revision to the Poor Law. Compassion went out the window.

  •  Big Subject (5+ / 0-)

    I am not sure I entirely agree with you, insofar as your diary relates to British history.

    Magna Carta was originally concerned with giving the Barons rights against the King. It was only later that the charter was misinterpreted to give rights to the general population.

    Parliament did not really exist in King John's time. There were expanded meetings of the curia regis, when the King needed to get general agreement from the rich and powerful to new statute law or especially taxes.

    The expanded curia regis eventually became Parliament, but it was only when Simon de Montfort controlled the country that mere knights were represented in the Parliament of 1265.

    After about 1295 most Parliaments included representatives of the lesser landowners and urban merchants, so they could consent to taxes after the King redressed a few grievances. Representative government was advancing. It would only take a mere five or six centuries to arrive at representative democracy.

    I think I will tackle the 19th century in another post.

    There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

    by Gary J on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 03:29:16 PM PDT

    •  Edward I, Hammer of the Scots (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      drewfromct, on the cusp

      was the first one to regularly convene parliament.

      Only to raise taxes mind you.

      A Catholic, Jew, Muslim and Buddhist walk into Al Aqsa Mosque. Buddhist immediately exclaims: "excuse me I appear to be in the wrong joke."

      by Salo on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 03:47:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Edward I was one of the shrewdest Kings (0+ / 0-)

        England ever had, and no slouch as an administrator.

        His son (Edward II) was none of the above.

        His grandson, Edward III, was nearly as capable as Grandpa, but oversexed and over-prolific, with thirteen legitimate children, no one knows how many illegitimate, and a quasi-official Royal Mistress. This prolificity led to trouble in the next generation....

        In a nutshell this encapsulates the worst problem with hereditary rule: you never know what you're going to get.

        If it's
        Not your body
        Then it's
        Not your choice
        AND it's
        None of your damn business!

        by TheOtherMaven on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 06:42:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  A Big Subject 2 - The Nineteenth Century (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      neroden, VigilantLiberal

      Both the Tory/Conservative and Whig/Liberal traditions, when became reasonably cohesive parties by the 1830s, were in modern terms deeply conservative. Neither group believed in democracy or contemplated moving towards universal suffrage.

      The difference was that the Whigs wanted to reform abuses and the Tories felt that there was no need to alter what already existed.

      The 1832 Reform Act was by no means a revolutionary measure. It just seemed that way to those who thought that government could not be carried on, without the full panoply of rotten Boroughs being represented in Parliament.

      Each successive wave of electoral reform, expanded the political nation. Each time there were those who feared the expansion of the electorate and the less unequal electoral boundaries. Each time it did not really make that much difference.

      ''Conservatives'' in the UK gradually reformed the political system, giving way before the point of revolution was reached, whereas in most of Europe no concessions were made and so change came through revolutions.

      I would consider the UK to be a democracy by 1885. After a majority of the adult male population was enfranchised, no other term is appropriate. The democracy was, of course, imperfect. However using a similar definition to that in the diary was the United States a real democracy before the Voting Rights Act ensured that the whole adult population had a reasonable chance to vote?

      There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

      by Gary J on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 04:00:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly the key. Whiggish reform (0+ / 0-)

        allowed the elites of the UK to survive, rather than being executed.

        In Germany, reform (circa 1848) allowed for the survival of the aristocracy -- until Bismarck was tossed from office and the country seized up into a very regressive mold, and eventually blew itself up in WWI.

        The key point here is that people care about the direction.  If things are slowly getting better, more reformed, people will tolerate a lot.

        If things are being made worse or stagnating... people will only tolerate it if they have a really solid sense that it's part of a better cause which will eventually make things better.

        Read pp. 1-7 of Krugman's _The Great Unraveling_ (available from Google Books). NOW.

        by neroden on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 04:58:04 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Whigs vs Tories vs Liberals vs Radicals (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          K S LaVida

          Obviously this can be over compressed in term of time and definitionally that said the landscape in the wake of the Napoleanic wars broke down roughly as follows:
          Tories= King and High Church Party
          Whigs= Landed Aristocracy and Gentry
          Liberals= Emerging Industrialists
          Radicals= a combination of Jacobins and Trade Unionists

          Liberals and Radicals were equally disenfranchised in that newly industrialized ares were largely unrepresmeted whereas 'Rotten Burroughs' in th West Country  that bad been essentially unoccupied for centuries sent two reps each to Parliament. So in the early years there was a rough alignment between Liberals and Radicals with the former giving some support for social and economic reform. A reasonable reading of the Reform Act of 1832 was Whigs and Liberals cutting a deal at the expense of Tories and Radicals that eliminated some Rotten Boroughs in return for representation of Manchester and Birmingham. While eliminating some of the pure patronage of pre-Reform Parliamentary seats, the working class was largely frozen out of participation until 1918, with the 1884 Act being fairly small beer.

          Direct comparison with the U.S. are distorted by the existence and aftermath of the Peculiar Institution, bit outside the South I think it beyond question that the franchise was more widely held in the US in 1917 than England by far.

          Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

          by Bruce Webb on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 05:31:44 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Not quite true about Germany. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Bruce Webb

          Actually the "Reichstag", the federal parliament of Imperial Germany after 1871 was elected by all adult males. Not just 20 or 40% of them. One of the things Bismarck had to do to win the support of National Liberals.

          Which is one of the major reasons the Social Democrats could become a large party in Germany so early. And one of the reasons why Bismarck introduced his social safety net laws. Trying to reduce the popularity of "Socialists". :)

          In fact IIRC in the last few elections before WW1 they were the largest party in the Reichstag. The only problem was that the Emperor still had the right to appoint the Chancellor. I suspect that without WW1 we would have seen a political crisis in Germany pretty fast. Social Democrats, (Catholic) Center party and (Democratic) Liberals with a majority in the Reichstag and refusing to support the appointed Chancellor.

    •  The idea of Magna Carta as Barons Charter (0+ / 0-)

      was an over-reaction to overly romantic notions about it current in the 19th century.

      But it's application was much wider than what we would term Barons today, i.e. lower nobility. For that matter Baron wasn't necessarily a noble title, instead being the dividing line between those who were individually summoned to Parliament.

      The Magna Carta wasn't exactly a democratically inspired document but did establish certain principles of due process for free men that led to it being reissued multiple times.

      Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

      by Bruce Webb on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 04:59:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  What you are saying is that democracy evolved (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      from divine right monarchy in England. The Magna Carta is notable in that it required the King to obey laws in regards to the rights of the Aristocracy.

      It's worth noting, too, that our Western heritage, running from Rome to today, had few examples of real democracy; so one could hardly call the government "anti-democratic" since democracy was imagined only as a distant historical thing in Ancient Greece and, briefly, in Rome. Even there, democracy was not democracy as it is defined today, for only property owners could serve as Senators.

      The United States' political heritage traced Britain's, in terms of the first requirements for voting were for free property owners. Again, this is how democracy was conceptualized at the time. One can say this is horrible, or one can say it is astounding that, after evolving so well from 1265 to 1776, it was an amazingly fast transition to the full democracy we expect in only 250 years.

      As far as revealing why conservatives are the way they are, I don't really find this useful. The modern conservative movement in the US was really born in the Red Scare of the 1920's, and matured in the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950's. This was joined with the remnants of the 19th century struggle between the Social Gospel and Social Darwinism, specifically the Social Darwinist Libertarians, as a result of Goldwater's bid for the presidency. After the Watergate affair, the GOP was reformed more in the Goldwater mold, and at the same time brokered an alliance with Evangelical Christian conservatives. That brought the conservatives to focus more on personal behavior that social and state structures, probably most energetically galvanized by the 1971 decision to allow abortions.

      You are quite right that conservatives pine for a strong man as president, and their belief that the president is above the law. But I don't think it's royal-ism inspiring them as much as the dictates of loyalty and efficiency. Democracy is messy, and conservatives really need things neat and tidy. A strong man as the focus of government and society, for them, hides the messiness of democracy.

      And yes, conservatives believe the vote should be restricted, because they believe that only those who have a concrete investment (read property) in a state/nation should have a say in how it is run. Those of us who do not own property really are, in their world view, just moochers.

      •  Divine Right Monarchy (0+ / 0-)

        was not particularly a marked feature of either Norman or Early Plantangenet Kingship, certainly they didn't hold themselves out as being absolute monarchs in the way say James I did later. I would even argue that such notions were a French import via Scotland (James I of England was also and starting earlier King James V of Scotland and by blood probably more French than Scot or English)

        The Magna Carta was not regarded by contemporaries as an innovation as much as a restoration of a previous set of affairs variously attribute to Kimg Alfred, King Edward the Comfessor, and even John's older brother Richard. In fact English law formally recognizes King Richard's reign as the starting point for legal precedent and record, in it's way an explicit repudiation of King John

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        by Bruce Webb on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 05:48:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  First comment: please don't use run-on sentences. (0+ / 0-)

    I know no post is perfect, but it's much easier to read, and comprehend, if some grammatical proofreading is done before hitting the post button.

    You have some interesting ideas here, some of which I'll quibble with. But I had to re-read paragraphs several times to sort through the compound ideas in each sentence.

    I know I have a tendency to do it too; maybe that's why I'm so aware.

  •  I fully appreciate all the fine points... (0+ / 0-)

    ...and suggested corrections to date, but let's not lose sight of the Diarist's central point: the establishment of rights for property (and by extension property holders) and commerce had a significant head start on the Commons.

    The so-called "rising tide" is lifting only yachts.

    by Egalitare on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 05:03:50 PM PDT

  •  Dont forget World War I. (0+ / 0-)

    basically, in order for the UK to have a functional political system at all, given the relative casualty rates in the First World War, (the last war where the butcher's bill fell disproportionately on the upper classes,) they had to expand the franchise.

    There simply weren't enough upper-class Britons left alive to make government work.


    "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
    "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

    by Leftie Gunner on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 05:28:59 PM PDT

    •  Well I wouldn't agree with 'disproportionately' (0+ / 0-)

      it mostly not being officers who went over the top and charged the machine guns through the wire. And it certainly is not the case that Parliament or the upper ranks of the Civil Service were stuffed with proles in post-War years or for that matter now.

      Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

      by Bruce Webb on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 06:00:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Disproportionally, as a function (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        of the relative numbers engaged.

        It is a feature of modern war that enlisted men are killed at higher rates than their officers, but this was not always so.

        For example, in the Civil War, generals had a casualty rate about twice that of privates, and lower to mid-grade officers, captains to majors, had the highest death rate of all.

        Leading from the front, in a distinctive uniform, is not safe, especially when long-range infantry weapons are accurate enough to allow soldiers to pick their targets.

        The Oxford class of 1913 (surely, attendance at Oxford would be a good proxy for upper-class status in turn-of-the-century Britain) lost 31% in the war.

        Members of Parliament, cabinet ministers, even the Prime Minister, all lost sons at the front. That's unthinkable today.

        in fact, another consequence of the appallingly high casualty rates for company and battalion-level officers during the war was that the British Army was forced, against their class instincts, to draw junior officers from the middle class... there weren't enough rich kids left.

        That also played a huge role in the changes in British class structure after the war. Men who've led men in combat, won the war, and lived to tell the tale aren't likely to accept being told to shut up and mind their betters.


        "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
        "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

        by Leftie Gunner on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 07:00:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The 1918 UK election (0+ / 0-)

    resulted in a landslide victory for the coalition government, mostly of Conservatives under Andrew Bonar Law but with the agreement that they would continue to support the Liberal David Lloyd-George as PM for a while. The Liberal Party never recovered.

    The second largest party list was none other than Sinn Fein, which won 73 of the 105 seats for Ireland -- an amazing feat especially since it only contested 76 seats. Ireland was grossly overrepresented because the apportionment was based on the approximate population of the UK as of the 1801 Act of Union. But something happened in the 1840s -- the Great Hunger, which partly as a direct result of the actions of the UK governments, a million Irish people starved and another million had to flee for their lives. Ireland had fewer people in 1918 than in 1801 -- dropping from about 5 million to 4.4 million -- while the population of England, Wales and Scotland had increased from 10.5 million to about 42 million.

    However, most of the Sinn Fein MKs were in jail or in hiding, and in any case none of them would swear the oath of allegiance to the UK so they did not form the official opposition.

  •  A suggestion (0+ / 0-)

    If you're going to propose an identity between British and American conservatism, much more work, and much more precise work will be needed.

    Just to start things off, American conservatism is not remotely one unified thing, and IMO treating it as if it were results in a lot of strange contortions in order to seat all those identified as conservatives at the same table. The economic conservatives aren't necessarily the social conservatives, for instance. In general, there is a strong strain of private rights/free markets conservatism (Ayn Rand, e.g.) that often butts up uncomfortably against the crusading moralism of the Christian right.

    There are similar strains on the left, of course, with what I think of as the free speech and better-regulated markets crowd fairly distinct from the more strongly socialist strains.

    Interestingly, both British and European conservatives and liberals have often looked at our politics and thought that our left-right distinctions largely occupy a fairly small stretch of the political spectrum that they see as generally near the center, in comparison to some of their own, starker political differences.

    •  But is there a commonality? (0+ / 0-)

      WHY do social, economic, and neos freely identify themselves with the term 'conservative' and themselves talk about an over-arching 'conservative movement'?

      And at least in my post I was careful to refer to 'modern movement conservatism' which is the fairly self-conscious blend of conservatism that led to an effective split of the Republican Party into its Rockefeller and Goldwater wings with the later transforming itself into the slightly larger tent that was Reaganism.

      I may not have posed the ultimate question well, this being just a prep piece, but that question is why did a movement that ostensibly represents 'regular Americans' adopt an economic theory that clearly skews to the interest of a limited group at the top of the economic ladder? And one answer is that the kind of free market/free trade economics that underpins much of movement conservatism was devised at a time when most workers were disenfranchised and were not in that sense political actors. So when Ricardo and others promoted the still prevalent idea that free trade benefited 'everybody' there seems to be some sub-text, conscious or not, that defines 'everybody' as 'everybody who matters'.

      In the early period under discussion, that is the late 18th and 19th century the main line of battle between the Whigs and the Liberals was the Corn Laws, in short hand agricultural tariffs that served to keep food prices higher than they would be if free trade in those commondities were allowed. For the Land Owning Whigs the Corn Laws served to maintain profits, for the Manufacturing oriented Liberals high food prices served to drive up wage floors (whose bottom bound is essentially equal to subsistence) and so cut into profits. Ultimately a power sharing deal was cut with the Reform Act of 1832 being its main vehicle. This did not eliminate the tension between landowners and manufacturers but did serve to separate the latter from the Radicals who found that Freedom Gate kind of slammed in their faces after the Liberals had slipped through. Thus directly leading to the unrest known under the label Chartist of the 1840s.

      That is I could have used as a starting point "Conservatism = anti-Chartism" rather than "anti-Democracy", it works out to much the same in the end.

      Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

      by Bruce Webb on Mon Aug 15, 2011 at 05:56:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's always complicated (0+ / 0-)

        You know what they say about politics and bedfellows. Any movement has factions, often at odds on basics. CORE, the NAACP, SNCC, Malcolm X, th Black Panthers, Bayard Rustin, Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver go under some such heading as "the civil rights movement." But leaving it at that is, I think, inadequate. My own understanding is that the conservative movement similarly has certain practical goals that are sometimes based on divergent principles. The former bring them together, but it's an alliance, not a harmony.

        You offer the thought that there is a (unconscious, possibly) subtext that free trade's 'everybody' is actually only those who matter. I'd likely defend the proposition that, if not Ricardo, certainly Smith thought that he was promoting a rising tide that would lift the poor as well. More broadly, my impression is that the theorists of classical liberalism, Hobbes to Mill, thought they were broadening the franchise, not ignoring the disenfranchised. The poor may well have wound up harmed by the Corn Laws, say, but in that regard they are "collateral damage."

        I'm sure that sounds harsh, but there are nearly always such unwanted consequences when theory meets practice. It's just that for purposes of understanding the theory, I'm wary of beginning by mixing in the practical politics. I suppose that would be analogous to a contemporary Marxist insisting that Marx be understood on his own and not by whatever became of his thought in the hands of Mao, Stalin, et al.

        So I'd still rather start by studying and distinguishing the strains of U.S. and British conservatism before I lump them all together as modern movement conservatism. In its most basic form, I don't think that Pat Buchanan is William Buckley, or that Buckley  is Rick Perry and that they are all interchangeable with Newt Gingrich or David Cameron. That's all.

        •  Buckley wasn't Buchanan but-- (0+ / 0-)

          his first work that brought him national attention was "God and Man at Yale" whose thesis (if not it's verbiage) would not be foreign to Buchanites. Of for High Church posh types like Cameron, Catholic converts like Gingrich or apparent Domionists like Perry.

          The claim "oh there are all kinds of conservatives" doesn't mean there is in fact no commonality. I don"t admit that is just a vague label. At least not always. And as for the five disparate conservatives you note I don't see a lot of devotees to small d democracy.

          Nor is it fair to lump classical political liberalism with economic liberalism and tar Mill with the brush applicable to Ricardo. Which is not to deny that there is so,e commonality there as well, but you would have to stretch 'liberal' pretty far to find that commonality in explicit anti-democratic form, still less the "Screw the poor victims of free trade, GDP is the Pragmatic measure of choice" (the whole greatest good for greatest number thing being kicked to the curb)

          Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

          by Bruce Webb on Mon Aug 15, 2011 at 01:43:05 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Three things (0+ / 0-)

            1) I'm not saying the label is vague, just that it papers over differences that IMO are likely significant.

            2) I'm guessing I see more continuity between Ricardo and Mill than you would.

            3) I'd like to see more specifics on this "small d" democracy, whose dislike is the unifying thesis you are hanging on the conservatives. At the moment, I have some qualms that you may be using some assumptions as conclusions. Which is why I originally suggested more precision.

            As a kind of aside: the best professor I ever worked with used to insist that it was precisely when we disliked someone's thought that we were most obligated to do our damnedest to be at our absolute fairest, even to the extent of trying to make the "enemy's" case stronger than he himself might have done.

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