Newsletter of the Campaign to Defend the Right to a Secret Ballot (CDRSB)
August 2015 Issue No. 10
ISSN 1756-4964 (Print)
Magna Carta, Common Sense and Postal Ballots
This article examines the significance and consequences of Magna Carta from the political philosophical perspective of common sense realism. Historical and contemporary conflict is also examined in this light and a strategy for progress proposed. The barrister and UKIP donor Stuart Wheeler declined his invitation to attend the 800th anniversary official celebration of Magna Carta on 15th June because it would not allow for any debate. He stated the event more closely resembled a funeral given that the Cameron government opted into the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) which effectively annuls the Magna Carta provisions prohibiting arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Given such duplicity the power of jury nullification in defending press freedom was shown as being just as necessary to preserving liberty in 2015 as it was in the trial of William Penn in 1670. Charges against journalists rounded up during the Cameron Leveson attack on the Murdoch (Fox News) papers were thrown out by juries despite the vast amounts of money and elaborate legal facade assembled to get them convicted. This is also the year in which the King of Jordan has stated that World War Three has begun, using asymmetric and hybrid methods. The Catholic Church is in deep crisis, with its traditional wing strongly opposing the Pope. These developments are connected.
Church opinion is divided between a relativistic, ‘living’ view of catholic theology – that truth can change with history – and the view that its chief truths are immutable. The perspective advanced here is that truth has an immutable component and also that the church has, in large part, failed to uphold it. Christ’s message according to John was essentially threefold: that truth exists and is divine in nature; that lies are caused not merely by human frailty but also by supernatural evil; that we should love one another. The view here which can be seen as incorporating such possibilities is that change has been necessary not because truth has changed but because in the long run the love and spirit of truth can ultimately lead to correction of false practices. Such love can be seen as both divine and natural and, like heroism, compatible with evolutionary theory regarding reciprocal and group altruism. Execution for religious dissent was as wrong in the fourth century as it would be today. Such church error arose from failure to properly manage the difficulties arising from its then newly acquired favourable relation to the state. The use of force by the church has been excessive and while it may be reasonably argued that despite this it has nevertheless retained positive attributes judgement of it should not ignore or minimize this trail of deep, often grotesque error.
Compromised by the pressures of coexistence with and favour from monarchical state power the church did not retrieve and consistently promote the republican and democratic traditions in regard to the business of government. Paul’s advocacy of passive subjection to the state in expectation of an early second coming helps explain the early church embrace of Platonic philosophy. Once legalised Christianity adopted an elitist and excessive reliance on scripture and the ceremonial aspect of faith at the expense of good works aimed to resolve the practical difficulties of earthly existence. Platonic idealism in philosophy has been associated with disdain for democracy, manual labour and craft industry. Church error in these matters led to failure to promote, and even at times opposition to, democratic and scientific development. These shortcomings took place within a complex process of enquiry and were not as simple as some may seek to portray them. The Galileo affair illustrates their intricate character. The view put by Pope Urban VIII that God may have so constructed nature as to be ultimately too complex for man to comprehend may appear as dogmatic subterfuge, but less so when account is taken of the unresolved problems of fundamental theory that now besiege both subatomic and astronomical science. After centuries of supremacy empirical verification and the ‘experimental method’ pioneered largely by Galileo is now, albeit somewhat disingenuously, being partly substituted by unverifiable speculation.
The historical imperfections of the Christian church resulted in a more protracted development of modern science and democracy. Its conflicted standpoint in regard to trial by jury presage the existence of both positive and negative trends within the church along with the great scale of decisive consequences that derive from these failings. Papal support for monarchy at the expense of Magna Carta reflected the dominant clerical preference for aristocracy over democracy and with this the tendency to misconstrue the relation between divine right, common sense and practical reason. Perhaps due to pressures arising from foreign invasion and internal subversion the medieval church downgraded support for democratic development both in regard to its preference for the inquisitional judicial system over and above trial by jury, and also in regard to its elimination of sortition in papal elections. Despite theological legitimation for jury decision making – the grand jury number of 25 (as also the Magna Carta council) and, more obviously the jury number of 12 have biblical precedent – the church has since been committed to elective monarchy by a self selecting aristocracy as its dominant constitutional form. Similarly despite the social background of Christ and his disciples - nearly all of them were manual workers – and notwithstanding its affinity with democratic sentiment in moral philosophy catholic theology has been so wedded to aristocracy as to lend support to monarchical claims of divine right. This impeded development of both democracy and science.
At a time when the church sought to prevent infiltration by dishonest ‘converso’ elements the most effective democratic device for constraining secret factions – sortition – was abandoned by it both among the European laity and at the highest level, despite the fact that trial by jury had long since been endorsed by the Holy Roman Empire and was included in Magna Carta almost certainly through enlightened clerical influence. Aristocracy, as Harrington noted, generates faction; democracy implied sortition before its general substitution in name and meaning by elective aristocracy under Hamilton’s title of ‘representative democracy.’ Democracy to 1776 served to constrain faction, including secret factions. Conservative resistance to political progress was strengthened by papal failure to uphold original democratic principles. Over centuries of feudal tyranny pressures for change mounted against this reactionary wall of intransigence. The weak points of monarchical rule by superstition, secrecy and force developed where the powers of reason and common sense were at their greatest. The tectonic fault lines in constitutional and scientific development between the Atlantic and Europe in regard to relations between knowledge and power were in this way largely created as a consequence of papal error in its ambivalence towards Magna Carta contrasted to its enthusiasm for the inquisitional method. The modern democratic cause developed from these fissures ultimately resulting in the American Revolution. This was not a simple process but it may reasonably be stated that most conflict that has since taken place emerged from its incomplete results.
Five centuries after Magna Carta the ‘core’ rights inherited, largely endorsed by the Holy Roman Empire, preserved and further codified by the British people – the rights to bear arms, jury trial and some form of accountability in government – helped unleash the growth of skilled labour throughout one of the richest countries in the world. As Bacon recognized the technology of the metals industry, including its associated relation with armaments manufacture, provided the example from which modern scientific method could be fashioned as servant to the needs of everyday life, in distinction to the medieval tendency to meet such requirements with deduction from scripture. In this way the teleological, abstractly speculative methods of Aristotle were supplanted by the more experimental, deliberately empirical methods of modern science. Moreover, as a hybrid product of multiple invasions English became the most advanced language, with more than twice the vocabulary of any other language. These advances in turn were affirmed and further reinforced, as Tocqueville recognized, with the development of reasoning abilities among the general population by way of the jury system of democratic decision making and debate.
Intellectual dissent from the dogmas of catholic theocracy detectable around Magna Carta eventually became explicit primarily in England through Wycliff. The printing press spread its influence throughout Europe. Religious war followed and with this, ultimately, peacebuilding and development of international law. Locke laid hold of the basic insight that the most reliably accurate resource available to philosophy lay in the judgement of ordinary people, not merely experts, including with regard to their support for equal rights. He also observed that Christ’s message must have been deliberately intended to be understood by the common man. The growth of religious toleration demonstrated the new reality that British common sense had won definition and support from its native, radical intelligentsia. Its determining, a priori and fundamental relation to knowledge – the direct realism of self evident truth - was given precise philosophical expression by Reid. In America these processes gathered pace through the concentrated medium of the colonial assemblies. Reasoned debate within religious discourse emerged in the scholarly traditions of Christian apologism and assumed broadly political form in the practical orientation of theistic rationalism (see The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders, Gregg L. Frazer, 2012). These developments culminated in the achievements of the American Revolution, chief among which was the first amendment of the Bill of Rights establishing freedom of worship and speech.
The fundamental distinction between what is self evident to common sense and what can be derived from the self evident underpins modern scientific method and the ‘blueprint for democracy’ alike that comprises the Anglo-American achievement in social progress. It is this distinction, anchored in political process by jury trial, that has ensured steady progress in both the UK and the USA based on essentially realistic assessments of what constitutes the public interest, notwithstanding partial, even persistent error in this regard. Nevertheless this progress could be improved: it has not yet fully fulfilled Anglo-American democratic aspirations. These included abolitionist ideals inherited largely from longstanding catholic antislavery achievements. A high point of such progress was adoption of the American Bill of Rights, with three of its ten amendments emplacing the right to trial by jury as entrenched law in the US Constitution. Moreover, this entrenchment included explicit recognition of the primary ‘point’ of jury trial – not, as John Adams saw, to prosecute criminals but rather to protect the people against government tyranny, a merit which only possesses full meaning when juries are explicitly informed of their right to judge both fact and law. Government in the USA by such means became explicitly accountable to common sense as the ultimate safeguard against tyranny in law making and enforcement short of rebellion.
The next step in the American achievement envisaged by Jefferson and Paine would have been to emplace the self evident truth that the ‘earth belongs to the living’ at the heart of the US Constitution. This aspiration could not be met because, as Madison advised, the anti-British revolutionary alliance would not have held together. As with slavery therefore, American radicalism had to shelve this aspiration for pragmatic purposes. Similarly, jury democracy though greatly strengthened was not developed to the levels hoped for by Jefferson and Paine. While slavery was eventually conquered, further advances have been beleaguered both by conservative resistance and also by failures of leadership and confusion on the left. The principle that the earth belongs to the living, both in regard to its implications for inheritance tax and the facilitation of ongoing, long term systemic change upon the non-partisan foundation of jury democracy, has, in consequence, never been incorporated in the US Constitution. This shortfall in developing a non-partisan constitutional basis for multisystemic change has lain at the heart of conflict between conservatism and radicalism ever since.
The catholic response to these developments has been ambivalent. Although some fought for the American Revolution their views have not prevailed. Pope Pius IX held that the separation of church and state is not necessary and that Catholicism as the sole, state religion can remain legitimate. This view is not wholly incorrect – good government can be exercised in various forms (e.g. slavery under British rule was abolished long before its conquest in the USA) but on a general basis the arguments for the first amendment outweigh such exceptions, not least because it was primarily the errors of Catholicism from which arose its necessity. The Catholic Church presided over marriage law and with this the inherited rights and wealth of aristocracy throughout the medieval period. Some clerics were aware, at the level of moral intuition and common sense, of the self evident truth that ‘the earth belongs to the living.’ The 1381 peasants revolt, led largely by radical clerics - some, followers of Wycliffe - stated a clear aspiration for the believed equalities of ancient life (‘when Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’). Church failure to support the revolt demonstrates again the aristocratic orientation of catholic theology, which remains confused even today concerning relations between certainty, doubt and common sense.
Certainty can be found first in the self evident truths of common sense (for which in any case divine cause can be invoked), secondly in truths which can be directly derived from them and thirdly in truths which though not self evident can be established through empirical verification. It is against the background of this hierarchy of certainty that the modern common sense understanding of the relation between truth and scepticism both in science and theology developed. Truth based upon divine papal revelation cannot be granted the level of certainty in constitutional matters which underpins the blueprint for democracy attained by the American Revolution no matter how loudly its enemies – including Marxists – claim such truths to be ‘living’ and relative. Separation of church and state remain valid most especially in regard to the role of jury democracy.
Truth, certainty and doubt in matters of justice are least imperfectly adjudicated upon by juries, certainly in regard to deciding what belongs to Caesar, most especially in those instances where monarchs disagree with such verdicts. While there may be no case for ending the principle of celibacy, there is clearly a case for developing democratic structures of the Catholic Church and laity as means to constrain the influence of secret factions. Failure to successfully combat infiltration has been associated with disastrous consequences including those concerning child protection. Difficulties in democratic development partly in consequence of these errors in catholic organisation have remained intractable. They have been compounded by similarly erroneous modes of thought within European radicalism.
The reasons for these shortcomings lie not only in conservative resistance to necessary change but also in the further obstacles to progress created by the role of extremism in European radicalism. Culpability for such impediments can be traced to limitations in European theory and social development presupposed ultimately, as indicated, by papal error. Papal failure to support democratic development in continuity with the Holy Roman Empire endorsement of trial by jury resulted in a much greater backlog of overdue reform in Europe than in England and its American colonies. The general educational level of the population was less conducive to the development of self government. The origins of totalitarianism can be traced to attempts to use force to overcome this backlog based on intellectually backward, philosophically confused premises.
In France the peasantry were denied arms and accordingly the power to make them. French craft industry was mainly confined to the manufacture of toys for the aristocracy, not goods for purposes of general utility. The population was deprived of the educative benefits which the jury system provided. In 1789 the French radical intelligentsia did not hold common sense in the high esteem in which it was celebrated in America: instead of signifying independent reasoning they associated it with the unthinking tendency of the lower classes to embrace the prejudices and dogmas of those in power. In France the revolutionary zeal of the peasantry and the urban proletariat was associated less with reason, more with the mob. The public interest – the ‘general will’ - was to be conceived and serviced by a radical aristocracy, not the common man. Such conclusions were premised not merely by a less esteemed appraisal of common sense, but also by confusion in the realm of political philosophy.
Rousseau’s state of nature idealized primitive man but did not equip him with the power of commonsensical reason: he would still have to be ‘forced to be free’ because civilization had corrupted him. Civilised man was for Rousseau less a reasoning being and more, like Hume’s man, a slave of his passions, prone, like Machiavelli’s citizenry, to base motives, manipulation and deception. It is from such pessimism that Robespierre concluded, as had Machiavelli – for him the ‘guiding spirit of the French Revolution’ - that the masses were too fickle to be allowed freedom of worship and would be better served by the imposition of a new state religion. Machiavelli advised it should be on pain of death, since though rulers ‘may wish to be loved it is better that they are feared.’ While Anglo-American democratic culture had developed from religious toleration through Christian apologism to theistic rationalism and the first amendment, French radicalism reached its farcically totalitarian apotheosis with Robespierre’s ‘festival of the divine being.’
Jefferson doubted that the French could cope with any but the most limited form of political development from absolutism to constitutional government, and this is reflected in the content of the French Declaration of Rights. Unlike the American Declaration and Bill of Rights, French government by consent remained constrained to the beneficent consent of the governing class, not those they govern. The rights to trial by jury, arms and free speech remained non-existent or subordinate to the wishes of the ruling faction. In that sense the French Revolution is something of a myth, but an extremist myth, because the freedoms which the ruling elite denied the common man were buried by loud rhetoric and sweepingly radical pronouncements which ultimately bore little practical fruit.
Even so the storming of the Bastille generated vast amounts of confusion among the radical movement on a global scale. To this day leftists remain in a state of bewilderment and stupor regarding its true content. Hence throughout its 800th Anniversary not a single ‘activist’ British Judge has been able to publicly provide clear insights into the key constitutional role of Magna Carta in granting randomly selected jurors the right to judge both fact and law. Its funeral has instead been accompanied by variously tangential, irrelevant or imbecilic remarks, not least that of Lord Sumption, a Supreme Court Justice who praised the supposedly modern character of the French Declaration of Rights while dismissing Magna Carta as a ‘long, turgid’ document of no relevance to the present day. It was from such confusion bequeathed by Jacobin terror that totalitarian theory traces its origins. The conundrum born with it was that the revolutionary elite supported democracy in name only: in reality they preferred power to be held tightly in the hands of a new, radical aristocracy.
This conundrum can be seen in the work of Machiavelli and Rousseau alike, given expression in the concept of the ‘general will.’ Babeuf, the supposed founder of communism, formulated the concept of ‘democracy according to the French Revolution’ in which an elite must exercise power to destroy conservative resistance. On a general basis the French intelligentsia failed to resolve such difficulties. Saint-Simon recognized the key significance of inheritance tax but proved unable to correlate faith and reason in a manner consistent with common sense, eventually opting to develop a quasi-religious order. Compte, as Chernyshevsky noted, may not even have read Locke and was unable to make any substantive comment in regard to political philosophy. US neutrality in the Napoleonic wars reflected both the strength of transatlantic conservatism and the concerns of American radicalism regarding the suspect nature of Bonaparte’s aims. Opportunities to rally French democracy to the American path were thereafter lost in the struggle against freemasonry and slavery that engulfed the new republic.
It was in these circumstances that Marxism emerged as a significant force in radical politics in 1850. Schooled in German philosophy, Marx, like Hegel and Kant before him, had scant knowledge of common sense understanding within English philosophical realism, notwithstanding Engel’s extravagant but misconceived claim that such a ‘stout fellow’ had actually been superceded by ‘dialectics.’ The speculative Marxist paradigm had quickly settled on a monosystemic, mono-directional conception of historical development based on inevitable succession from lower to higher modes of production. Marx deduced such sweeping conclusions by way of reference to various utopian and leftist theories, including those of Moses Hess, Louis Blanc and Robert Owen, regarding the merits of social ownership. Less blinkered approaches such as those of Blanqui and Hodgskin were probably closer to common sense thinking, but none were able to offer clear, funded or freely expressed guidance through the confused state of radical politics and police repression that had long predominated in Europe. Marx claimed socialism would now comprise the end-point of historical development towards which economic determinist ‘laws’ of production must drive the class struggle.
Largely to save face in having supported the reformist approach of Louis Blanc in the failed 1848 revolutions Marx affirmed his enthusiasm for Jacobin terror and advanced the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ as panacea to problems of conservative resistance. The experimental method may have taken centuries of struggle against religious persecution, continental war and revolution to triumph in science, but there was to be nothing experimental about Marx’s reversion to rationalist certainty about socialism. Marx deduced from Hegel’s determinism that socialism was inevitably going to be more efficient than capitalism.
The speculative certainties of the Marxist legacy were presupposed by a confused understanding of democracy: Engels at first praised it but then after 1848 condemned it as a ‘chimera.’ Throughout their careers Marx, Engels and Lenin demonstrated no understanding of the distinction between democracy and elective aristocracy and little or no understanding of the philosophical and theoretical debates informing the development of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. They had little or no idea that it is a self evident truth of common sense that sortition must help to constrain the influence of secret factions. Marxism dismissed natural law in favour of Hegel’s relativism and with this any cogent grasp of the stable, self evident truths of common sense. Despite his enthusiasm for Darwin, Marx failed to incorporate evolutionary biology in his approach. These flaws affected Engel’s ‘Anti-Duhring,’ in which he infers that under slave owning production the human personality might be so shaped as to actually prefer slavery to freedom. Hegel’s relativism permeated the Marxist approach to science for decades, culminating in the madcap schemes of Lysenko which led Stalin to believe that genetic theory is a bourgeois perversion of science.
Equipped with a dogmatically relativist understanding of philosophical method and democracy Marx nevertheless insisted upon the certainty of a communist utopia – defined by plagiarizing Louis Blanc’s slogan of ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his needs.’ Dictatorship seemed an uncomplicated way to resolve difficulties encountered in the construction of communism. This would involve the abolition of private ownership of the means of production, which would inevitably, as indicated, prove to be more efficient than capitalism. When this was achieved the state would ‘wither away’ and be replaced by what is defined in the USSR Constitution as ‘public communist self government.”
The Marxist understanding of modern government is accordingly that of an essentially three step process: step one: democracy; two: dictatorship; three: communism. These supposed deductions were arrived at by inverting Hegel’s idealist determinism into materialist determinism. As such, unsurprisingly akin to certain strains of catholic theology (Hegel, it seems is a favourite even of Pope Benedict XVI) they rest upon a similarly flawed, erroneous conception of the relation between certainty and what needs to be verified by experiment. Marx invested the speculative possibility that socialism is more efficient than capitalism with the status in certainty of a self evident truth or one that has already been proven by empirical verification. In reality such possibilities for socialism were neither self evident nor proven. They did not merit such confidence even in 1917, notwithstanding the minor results of Owenite production which even Hodgskin found doubtful at their inception. Experience demonstrates that socialism may have merits but their relation to capitalism is not simple. That is to say, unsurprisingly the methodology upon which Marx based his assumptions has proven to be irrevocably flawed.
In reality democracy is best developed upon common sense realist foundations because it is only this approach which can rely upon an accurate hierarchy of certainty in regard to the relation between speculative theory and the practical world. This can be shown through further inspection of the intellectual confusion that lies at the centre of the Leninist understanding of democracy.
Lenin lived in times in which democracy was still to attain the universal approval it enjoys today, warts and all – what Churchill famously termed the ‘worst form of government apart from all the others.’ Mussolini, ideologically inspired by the same idealist European philosophical traditions that gave birth to Marxism, would present fascism as the ‘modern’ way of solving problems of government. Shallow, superficial reasoning of this kind bearing little or no relation to common sense pervaded the European intellectual climate of the Bolshevik era. Lenin’s strategy was to maximize the speed at which political progress could be achieved. In peace time he campaigned for the most rapid possible pace of democratic development using both legal and extra legal methods; in conditions of war and civil war he sought to actively prepare the worker’s movement for physical confrontation with class enemies and eventually to seize state power. His reasoning was that political conflict in Russia could intensify more rapidly than in western Europe due to the long overdue nature of social and economic reform. The Russian revolution could serve as the ‘spark’ to ignite world revolution. Lenin viewed democracy not as a goal in itself but as a means to disorganise and destroy the binding elements and fabric of the Tsarist state. Admixed with what G.D.H.Cole described as the ‘mumbo jumbo’ of Hegelian dialectics democracy according to Lenin’s version of Jacobin extremism was in all seriousness detailed in 1917 as follows:
“We must look forward to the emergent new democracy, which is already ceasing to be a democracy, for democracy means the domination of the people, and the armed people cannot dominate themselves.” (Lenin, Collected works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Vol 24, p. 86).
This statement at first glance seems nonsensical. A Marxist would try to defend it by explaining the following points, but as can be seen, the end result is still nonsensical. Lenin seems to be implying that arming the people is a militantly democratic demand – hence it is included in the maximally democratic 1917 program of the Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party (RSDLP). This was designed to destabilize Kerensky’s Government – in order to create the conditions for a proletarian dictatorship, which will then construct communism. Soviet Marxism defines Communist Public Self Government as the “..perfection of the forms of popular representation and the democratic principles of the electoral system…and gradual extension of the electivity and accountability principles to cover all high officials of state and social organizations.” (Dictionary of Philosophy, Progress Publishers, 1984, p.76).
Lenin wanted to create a dictatorship of the proletariat by developing democracy to the full, which will then transform into a dictatorship to supercede democracy, which will then bring about the development of democracy to the full. Even with such explanation therefore the last impression remains as tautological as the first. The solution to this riddle is that Hegel’s mystically ‘dialectical’ approach pervaded that of Marx also, itself overlaid upon the elitist radical assumptions of Jacobin terror. Top this with extreme relativistic assumptions concerning the utopian possibilities of social engineering in changing human behaviour and the end result is mere confusion hidden from plain view beneath an invalid claim to scientific status. Marxism represents the cumulatively disastrous result of a wrong turn in radical strategy the origins of which can be traced back to the French Revolution (and, if you will, even, ultimately, papal error).
Nevertheless militant democratic sentiment can still be found within Bolshevism. It includes non-Marxist influences such as those of Nechaev and Chernyshevsky. Tkachev’s concept of the ‘thinking proletarian’ helps explain why Lenin’s approach to party leadership was at the outset actually very democratic. Jefferson held that political opinion is essentially divided into two tendencies: those who on balance trust the judgement of the people – i.e. democracy – and those who, fearing the people, favour the judgement of experts – i.e. aristocracy. Jefferson is almost certainly correct. Such distinctions however are not as simple as might appear. The struggle between Lenin’s approach to working class leadership as opposed to almost all of his comrades – including to the present day – provides a fine example of such complexity. Lenin was accused of ‘elitism’ by his insistence that the party paper should be aimed at the level of politically advanced workers. He defined such persons as those who ‘despite the stultifying penal servitude of factory labour’ had the moral character and intelligence to study politics to such a level as to understand and even develop complex theory. Such persons are of course very rare, but even so Lenin insisted that those who by contrast wanted to ‘treat the workers to politics only on festive occasions’ were in fact looking down on them, underestimating their abilities and because of such snobbery failing to recognise that different levels of competence affected all classes, including the bourgeoisie.
Accordingly though some have made much of the fanatically secretive approach adopted by Nechaev there was a powerful democratic current running through Bolshevism under Lenin’s leadership which held common sense in high esteem. He argued that the record of RSDLP leaders – their ‘triumphs and defeats’ – should be transparent to the rank and file to examine ‘as if in the palm of their hands.’ Comparing party leadership to that of an orchestra, he argued that on the basis of such transparency the rank and file would best be able to judge who should be assigned the correct role, from drummer to conductor. Lenin characterized both ‘tailism’ - the belief that policy should be shaped by day to day events not by a general plan – and terrorism as amounting to one and the same refusal to develop the conscious understanding of the working class. Terrorism requires secrecy. Tailism does not require secrecy but theorists of this ilk, including Kautsky, regarded it to be an expedient necessity that complex policy be decided within cabals of intellectuals, not in front of the party as a whole, on grounds that such matters were too sophisticated for the rank and file. By comparison to these trends Lenin’s approach was, as stated, democratic. At the 10th Party Congress in 1921 decisions to curtail the intensity of struggle between factions were taken, but even so Lenin still argued that there should be a ‘struggle of shades’ of different opinions provided they were expressed within bounds acceptable to the party as a whole.
Stalin obviously did not uphold Lenin’s approach to party democracy, so what may have transpired in Russian constitutional development if Lenin had lived another decade cannot be known. It is not unreasonable to assume however that, alongside the warnings of his ‘last testament’ Bolshevik extremism may have been moderated by his belated attempt to introduce checks and balances in party leadership – e.g. he advocated formation of the workers inspectorate to this purpose.
Stalin sealed the fate of democratic development in the USSR by resort to Nechaevist, gangster methods. Lenin’s approach to policy development has never been resurrected due largely to this resort to secretive methods. Hannah Arendt defined totalitarianism as the takeover of the party by its conspiratorial wing. This is an incomplete but usefully accurate insight. As the iron curtain descended across Europe, yet more veils of secrecy also descended across the world communist movement. The so-called collapse of communism has yet to result in a fully open account of Marxist strategy. Such obfuscation is associated with Gorbachev’s support for Frankfurt School ideology concerning the relativist nature of truth. Given that left policy is not decided by open methods secrecy has become more acceptable as a tactic due in large part to the predominance of relativism in social theory. If everything is relative and obscure then a general plan seems less necessary, while openly formulating one carries with it perceived disadvantages, such as weakening claims of plausible deniability. Secrecy is favoured by those who place higher importance on methods such as infiltration, plagiarism and terrorism than on open debate.
Modern Marxists are consequently even more confused about democracy than Lenin was. That is why it is no surprise that trial by jury is seen by leftists in Europe – and even in the USA – as an impediment to their strategies. The inquisitional system allows more scope for ‘judicial activism’ and its doctrines of a ‘living constitution’ as a more pliable means to implement Marxist strategy by means of a radical aristocracy than the troublesome common sense decisions of jury trial. Fabian doctrines of stealth have received increased support, often by resort to Machiavellian ends means argument. The approach adopted by President Obama typifies this line of reasoning, as Fox News analyst Monica Crowley explains: “After college, Obama moved to Chicago to be trained in community organizing by Gerald Kellman, an Alinsky protégé, who schooled Obama in the Alinskyite ‘power tactics,’ including hiding their true goals by any means necessary.” (What the (bleep) Just Happened? Monica Crowley, 2012, p. 42).
Saul Alinsky, like the ‘tailists’ of the Bolshevik era, forsook open, democratic policy development in favour of subterfuge and manoeuvre about everyday issues. As his Lucifer dedicated ‘Rules for Radicals’ states: “As an organizer I start from where the world is as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be – it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system.” (quoted in ibid).
Alinsky opines further: “The means-and-ends moralists, constantly obsessed with the ethics of the means used by the have-nots against the haves, should search themselves as to their real political position. In fact, they are passive – but real – allies of the haves… The most unethical of all means is the non-use of any means… The standards of judgement must be rooted in the whys and wherefores of life as it is lived, the world as it is, not our wished for fantasy of the world as it should be.’ (ibid).
All this is presupposed by the almost complete absence on the left of any understanding of common sense realism and its relation to the American Revolution. Ironically, therefore, while Obama made a career out of denying association with communism, the left approach to both common sense and democracy is now even more confused than that of Lenin. Compare for example, Alinksy’s attempted piety regarding community organizing in ‘the world as it is’ to Lenin’s view of tailism: “That struggle is desirable which is possible, and the struggle which is possible is that which is going on at the given moment. This is precisely the trend of unbounded opportunism, which passively adapts itself to spontaneity.’ (Lenin, ibid, Vol. 5, p 392).
It would be wrong to draw a simple one to one comparison between Alinskyite tactics and tailism, but similarities do clearly exist. There are two features of Alinskyism which nevertheless distinguish it from tailism: first, unlike tailists Alinksy is deliberately opportunist in his approach and accordingly advocates the avoidance of honest debate. His rule for radicals is instead to personalise the argument, and use slander and ridicule to demonise your opponent. Alinksy does not, as Lenin described opportunists, ‘wriggle like a snake between two mutually exclusive points of view’ or change positions ‘like a hare’s coat turns white in winter’ to curry favour with the working class for selfish career purposes at the expense of consistency and clarity in purpose. Rather, Alinsky advocates lying to the working class who are not members of his conspiratorial elite to exploit the ignorance of the people to pursue deliberately duplicitous, deceptive practices as a ‘revolutionary’ strategy. Like the rest of post-Leninist leftism, Alinsky does not seek clarity in understanding among the advanced workers by means of open debate. Lenin regarded Machiavelli as a significant but still minor bourgeois theorist. Alinsky saw Machiavelli’s advice to exploit ignorance as central to his strategy: ‘The people are often content with what appears to be, not what is.’
Against this background Alinskyism may appear qualitatively distinct to tailism. If two considerations are taken into account however, this distinction assumes much less significance: first, Lenin’s chief criticism of tailism was that it amounted to a refusal to develop the conscious understanding of the working class. Second, as indicated Lenin levelled this same criticism at terrorism. The chief advocate of Russian terrorism was Nechaev, who, like Alinsky, also took a Machiavellian approach to questions of organisation and debate. Nechaev also pursued extreme strategies of infiltration, including within religious movements (see Marx and Satan, Richard Wurmbrand, 1986). He also advocated ‘personalising’ debate – not just with opponents but most especially with comrades. He believed activists only undertake dangerous tasks when they are under some form of compulsion to obey. Correspondingly he would investigate personal lives to a fanatical extent in order to find some point of pressure or blackmail that could be deployed to ensure loyalty. He pursued coercive, clandestine control as a principle of organisation, such that even ‘comrades’ may be manipulated without knowing who is behind it.
Given the affinity of the tailist and terrorist approaches in their common refusal to organise the conscious element it therefore becomes clear that in fact there is little substantive difference between modern day Alinskyite tactics and those Lenin condemned as opportunist over a century ago.
In contrast to the Frankfurt School approach Lenin was a critic of neo-Kantian theory and was closer than most fellow Marxists to the direct realism of Reid. He condemned Hegel’s ‘disdain’ for common sense and criticised Chernyshevsky’s failure to recognize that the ordinary worker could understand the ‘world as it is’ of class society more easily than the bourgeois intellectual. Modern day Alinskyites are not less but probably more confused about the relation between common sense and democratic strategy than was Lenin. Their approach has not equipped Obama with any coherent understanding of how to develop the popular basis of the US Constitution to bring about egalitarian change based on consent.
American career radicalism is now geared to infiltrating the academic and judicial systems to engineer change secretly, i.e. by force. It has also cheerled direct action such as the Occupy Wall Street movement but as Crowley claims, such activists are mere ‘useful idiots’ in the infiltration oriented Alinskyite scheme of things. ‘Culture wars’ can bring about significant degrees of constitutional deconstruction but there is little or no conception of how to reconstruct democracy upon a consensual basis. Regional integration based on the EU model is seen by some leftists as a step nearer global governance which according to the utopian mindset must be a good thing. However without a coherent overall plan for international democratic progress left reformism ultimately risks alienating its own constituency of support and hardening opposition to its aims, as the King of Jordan has likely noted. Lord Anthony Giddens’ ‘Third Way’ was supposedly intended to serve such ambitions, but it rested upon a superficial approach to theory which did not attempt to deal with the difficulties of political conflict in a comprehensive, honest way. This is the background to the fact that Obama, as Crowley notes, has complained that the so-called ‘negative liberties’ – i.e. freedoms - designed by the founders to prevent the development of tyranny are now acting as constraints preventing implementation of his various projects, most especially regarding illegal immigration. As Crowley has stated, he seeks to ‘flood’ the USA with illegal migrants in order to set up a permanent Democrat majority by force. But today after decades of Alinskyite tactics the American worker is more likely than ever before to vote conservative.
As Crowley explains, Alinsky founded the ‘Industrial Areas Foundation’ (IAF) to train community organizers he used to ‘infiltrate traditional organizations such as churches.’ IAF morphed into successor groups, including ACORN (Association of Community Organisations for Reform Now) and the Gamaliel Foundation, which was joined by Obama in 1985. In 2007 Obama promised to let ACORN help shape his agenda. By 2012 at least 52 ACORN employees had been convicted of voter registration fraud (see townhall.com). Alinsky tactics of playing fast and loose with the electoral system accord with the general aim of disruption: “If a natural crisis does not exist, one could be created through the radical grass roots…Alinsky recommended neutralizing the opposition through humiliation, mockery, questioning of motives, smears, outright lies, and ultimately aggression if necessary: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”….. Alinsky preached polarization, not negotiation. … The first rule of Alinsky’s ‘power tactics’? Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have. Demonize the opposition, remind them of the power you hold and leverage it to stir chaos, divisions, and destruction, all the while casting yourself as the reasonable broker.” (Crowley, Ibid. p.41).
Further examples of Alinskyite tactics – once openly embraced in Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ projects - can be found within what Julian Astle in the Guardian described as the cross party ‘secret club’ of Europhile top politicians in the UK. Like Gorbachev, their sights seem set on building, by hook or by crook, a ‘common European home from the Atlantic to the Urals.’ A detailed account of relations between stealth communism, German nationalism, Europhile uber liberalism and US policy is provided by the Lindsay Jenkins trilogy on European integration. As in the USA, the Alinskyites see mass migration as serving their purposes to create a permanent Europhile majority. Like Blair, Cameron has repeatedly disguised his devotion to this aim, instead presenting himself as the reasonable broker. As in the USA the indigenous working class is less likely than ever to vote for either of them, with many now voting for UKIP. Similarities can accordingly be seen in their approach to suspect democratic practices concerning unlimited use of postal ballots. Despite support from Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Committee and former Conservative Party leader Lord Michael Howard for our proposal that postal ballots be counted separately from other ballots as a fraud preventive measure, as in Australia, Cameron has refused to change this Blairite policy. George Osborne’s and David Willetts’ membership of the ‘Demos’ think tank advisory board co-founded by Martin Jacques, previously editor of Marxism Today, shows how effective the UK Alinskyites have been in infiltrating academia and the top echelons of the Tory establishment. By way of Alinskyite last resort to aggression it has been observed that Cameron’s ‘big society’ government projects helped indirectly to fund so-called anti-racist outfits which organise physical attacks against UKIP activists, including Nigel Farage, who unsurprisingly has requested MI5 protection.
The UK Alinskyite approach shares the antidemocratic characteristics of its American cousin regarding the relation between common sense and constitutional reform. The approach of Blair et al certainly since the Tampere EU meeting of 1999 when juryless trial was put on an equal footing with jury trial has been to attempt wholesale adoption of the inquisitorial system in the UK. When this failed due to House of Lords resistance the same approach was continued but by more piecemeal methods. Cameron has not changed course since to any significant degree: his eventual opt back in to the EAW demonstrates this.
Comparison of this aristocratic approach to democratic rights to the track record of Leninism is quite interesting in this regard. Lenin had experience of the world ‘as it is’ concerning jury trial: he and his brother had both been denied this right and suffered as a result. His close comrade, Vera Zasulich, had inadvertently been granted this right for her part in a terrorist operation. She openly admitted the alleged crime, but justified it essentially on grounds of natural law. Her not guilty verdict represents one of the most significant examples of jury nullification in world history. Lenin grasped that the right to trial by jury was ‘dangerous’ for the ruling power. The 1917 RSDLP Program, devised and revised by Lenin, upheld the right of any citizen to pursue legal action against any state administrator in front of a jury. The RSDLP Program – which also proposed a progressive inheritance tax - was possibly the only such use of jury democracy ever proposed until 2014 when, by sheer coincidence, both these provisions were included in the CDRSB Program. This demonstrates how close Lenin’s thinking was to implementing the aspirations of common sense realism in the realm of politics. His approach was more grounded in common sense understanding than most of his comrades. There are other examples of this. Lenin’s support for the principle of one man management and the New Economic Policy offer clear demonstration of his willingness to ‘bend the stick’ of policy to practical requirements, in distinction to much of the utopian reasoning that pervaded Marxism, including the ‘absurdly left’ inclinations of Trotskyism.
It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that had he lived longer Lenin may have initiated a process of reconciliation between the Russian and American republican traditions based not on Machiavellian intrigue but honesty:
“The attitude of a political party towards its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it in practice fulfills its obligations towards its class and the toiling masses. Frankly admitting a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, and thoroughly discussing the means of correcting it – that is the earmark of a serious party; that is the way it should educate and train the class, and then the masses.’ (Lenin, op.cit. Vol. 31, p.57).
Such similarities between the CDRSB and Leninism end there however: the rights promoted in the 1917 RSDLP Program were only, as explained above, a democratic means to establish a dictatorship. Upon seizing power in October 1917 the Bolsheviks established ‘revolutionary tribunals’ as the judicial arm of the new ‘workers’ state along with a licensing system for gun possession. Superficially such measures do not appear all that dissimilar to the tactics adopted as ‘war powers’ in the American revolutionary struggles for independence and to abolish slavery. In fact however they are presupposed by fundamentally different political philosophical assumptions. The US Constitution is founded upon clear distinctions between what is self evident to common sense and what can be derived from the self evident. The Soviet Constitution was designed upon a philosophical understanding in which these distinctions were never clearly recognized. Economic systems are not self evidently perfect: they must be subject to democratic review at regular intervals. It may be that socialism will gain recognition as being overwhelmingly superior to capitalism over time. Even then however the possibility of systemic review could never, for all time, be ruled out.
Marxism envisages a ‘fully developed democracy’ as being constitutionally designed to rule out such options. In that sense it is fundamentally erroneous and could never be acceptable as an ultimate democratic objective. At the root of that error lies the failure to distinguish the self evident from that which can be derived from the self evident. This failure is endemic not merely to Marxism but to social science upon a general foundation following the pervasive influence of blanket relativism promoted by sociologists such as William James. It has impeded the development of constitutional reform and compounded problems of democratic development upon a general basis: ‘Jefferson clearly inclined towards circumstantial determinants of moral validity while also adhering to ‘self-evident truths.’ But as pragmatism has dominated American attitudes, cultural and circumstantial relativism has often been assumed to imply subjectivism.’ (The Persistence of Racism in American’ Thomas Powell, 1992).
Even taking account of Marxist commentary that socialism may be attained in England by peaceful, reformist means the detritus of Hegelian autocracy and objective determinism still pervades the communist approach. A one way street in which socialism will replace capitalism by hook or by crook with or without civil war may represent the full development of democracy to the left totalitarian mindset, which supplants empirical verification by a speculative utopia, but it does not meet the standards of common sense in regard to government by consent. The aspirations of the American founders for the full development of democracy were, for the reasons stated here, formulated largely and consciously in conformity with these standards and in consequence provide the best available example from which to devise democratic strategy upon a world historical scale. These aspirations have still to be attained. The obstacles to such achievement comprise both conservative resistance and weaknesses of radical leadership, most of which today derive from Marxism. As shown these problems have deep roots within catholic history, economic development and the conservative and radical traditions.
Strategy for social progress can therefore, as indicated, be to recognize and develop the achievements and aspirations of Magna Carta and the American founders, most especially in regard to the key constitutional significance of jury democracy. Ultimately the resort to stealth that has been increasingly characteristic of leftist policy can be taken into account, certainly since the establishment of the Fabian Society. As indicated, it is a self evident truth of common sense that sortition must help to constrain the influence of secret factions. Against this background the defence and development of jury decision making in the justice system can be expanded to the legislature. Such policy will thereby enable eventual implementation of the principle that the ‘earth belongs to the living’ in regard to its implications for inheritance tax and the democratic requirements of ongoing systemic change based on non-partisan forms of decision making. Long term review by means of constitutional courts including juries or assemblies elected by sortition can serve as a means whereby capitalism, socialism and other systemic variants can be tested over time upon a less imperfect constitutional basis such that conflict between conservatism and radicalism may evolve within less polarised, more securely peaceful parameters.
A point of departure in seeking agreement to fulfill these objectives can be that the self evident truths of common sense comprise the most certain, least imperfect basis for addressing matters of constitutional design. Such truths do not infringe natural law and are not ‘relative’ to circumstance, at least upon an evolutionary scale. Pope Benedict XVI has stated that there exists a ‘dictatorship of relativism’ in contemporary social theory and, increasingly, law. Such tyranny is unacceptable. The advantage of upholding the understanding of common sense realism presented here is that parties to it are consciously aware that honesty is indeed the best policy. Those who consistently ‘uphold these truths to be self evident’ are less likely to promote or pursue policies based on deceit. Agreement that, as indicated here, truth does matter can accordingly comprise a first step in promoting conflict resolution between conservatism and radicalism. A second step could include agreement that common sense should no longer be defied in regard to the need to ensure that postal ballots are counted separately from ordinary ballots.
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© Dr. Keith Nilsen