Your Money or Your Rights

Posted by Anti Citizen One on December 17th, 2011

There seems to be a steady erosion of civil and personal rights: surveillance without warrants, erosion of free expression, removal of habeas corpus, extra-judicial killings, police brutality, privatization of intellectual, and cultural material and so on. There is also a stagnation or worsening of living standards and social mobility. When I debate these issues, people often mention that we cannot afford civil rights, given the turbulent economic situation. The time for civil rights is apparently when “the economy has recovered”. However, when we return to a stable (or bubble) economic conditions, people don’t have as much need of civil rights, since everything seems peachy, and they are moved off the political agenda. So when is the time for civil rights?

We are presented with a false dichotomy: go along with pro-monopoly, pro-totalitarian laws (under the guise of being pro-business) or face economic ruin. In other words, surrender your civil rights or starve. Given the prevalence of consumerism, people choose “bread and circuses” over seemingly abstract speech and political rights. However, much that we agree is worth protecting is based on those very principles of the rule of law, checks and balances, habeas corpus, free exchange of ideas, and various other enlightenment ideas (although many of the ideas originated well before then). Once you kick out the foundation and hand power over to a police, theocratic or fascist state, there is nothing stopping some authority figure taking whatever you wanted to protect in the first place and you won’t have any recourse.

Arguably, we already have lost our connection to these foundations and handed over political power to banking technocrats. Oh well. I take comfort in the sentiments expressed in the US declaration of independence.

Anti Citizen One

PS Looking back at this, I notice a certain similarity with Klein’s The Shock Docrine.
PPS Despotism Circa 1945

Acta Treaty

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 1st, 2011

The “Improvers” of Mankind

Posted by Anti Citizen One on October 17th, 2011

I have been thinking about moral crusaders and, despite their intention, their malign effect on everyone. I recently noted their confusion about alcohol and behavior. But in their superficial understanding, banning the symptoms of a problem is always the first step. For example, certain people I have talked to think that to reduce abortions, banning it would be a reasonable first step. As if it being legal was the cause of someone having an abortion. And similarly with divorce, violent movies, rap music, rock music, pornography, teenage sex… ban, ban, ban. Recently, the UK government is talking about having an opt-in Internet censorship, focusing on pornography.

I read in a Christian guide about happiness, that one should avoid alcohol because (to paraphrase) “just one drink can lead to an addiction.” Interesting. If we were to use that principle in a literal sense, we could take no action at all, since it could lead to addiction. But the literal meaning is not what is intended to be communicated to the reader. Of course, they intended to implied that the highly probable result of one drink is addiction and it will destroy your life! Best avoid it completely, rather than enjoy in moderation.

Talking to a Christian friend, they raised a few themes regarding this preference for abstinence over moderation by self control. Regarding pornography, my Christian friend disapproves because it will “change” the user in some way. They expect pornography will lead to addiction and it will change a person’s behaviour and thoughts. I can safely predict they think this change will be harmful.

On the subject of marriage, the fact that barriers to getting a divorce are reduced are a significant factor in the minds of people considering a divorce – leading to a direct causal link to an increased rate of divorce.

There are several problems with this conception of social problems and their solution. Firstly, there is only a very tenuous causal link, or no link at all, between the availability of alcohol, porn and divorce to the actual social problems they supposedly cause. Our reaction to these factors is largely culturally conditioned and they are merely a symptom, not a cause, of the underlying social problems. Without understanding the problem, it is all the more difficult in addressing it properly.

Secondly, and even more critically, experience shows us that banning these items does nothing to address the problem. For example, banning legal abortions causes people to get abortions illegally. The overall rate doesn’t decrease. Second example, banning alcohol in the US did not solve alcoholism. Sex abstinence programs do not decrease teen pregnancy rates. Censoring the Internet to protect children simply results in them circumventing the censoring system.

Thirdly, the moralists attempt at banning things they disapprove of results in worse social ills. Banning drugs and alcohol increases organised crime. Some studies claim US prohibition reversed a declining trend of the consumption of alcohol! Banning abortion harms women in unregulated abortions. Banning prostitution marginalises and endangers prostitutes. Regulating or banning porn removes the “almost mainstream” sector of pornography of it, which actually strengthens the more graphic sector of the industry. Alcohol prohibition increased drinking to excess.

When I point out a few of these problems with a moralist’s point of view, their responses was (to paraphrase):

I believe it, despite that.

So they cling to their social remedies irrespective of evidence or harm they cause. Sacred belief apparently trumps evidence. Not only do they not understand the actual cause of social problems, they don’t want to understand it. However they do seem to act in good faith; at least I can compliment them on that, even if their actions is misguided.

They mentioned their ultimate remedy:

The only real solution is when everyone believes in Jesus.

But I don’t take that at face value, since it is not only the belief in Jesus that is required but universal agreement to follow that moral code. Neither solution is achievable given actual human psychology and I fully expect they admit they are waiting for divine intervention to implement their remedy. However, this is not good policy in my view, since waiting for miracles is most unreliable.

Another interesting point is the moralists apparent need for extreme measures, rather than enjoying pleasures in moderation. Their asceticism is not based on a simple life is in itself good, but rather that the possibility of addiction to earthly pleasures must be avoided at all costs. As Christians say, people are “bad” and can’t help falling for addictions. The instincts must be crushed. “If thy eye offends thee, cut it out.” However, not everyone is slave to addictions and can control their competing desires through self control.

I want to argue that, despite moralists claiming they want to improve society, that is not their primary objective. I have already discussed how the moralists do not care if their remedy actually improves society and are willing to ignore evidence that contradicts them. If improving social conditions was their goal, they would have different remedies. They would learn better remedies and how to apply them. However, evidence links religiosity with many social ills; however, this is complicated because we cannot determine the exact causal direction and reasons why this is. It is circumstantially interesting but not conclusive. But combining these two types of evidence: “banning things to fix social problems usually backfire” and “more moralising societies have greater social ills”, I contend that these effects are two sides of the same coin.

A different Christian told me we need to ban things, in order to:

“take a moral stand as a society”

I imagine this is a more fundamental motivation than fixing social problems. This is incidentally very anti-biblical, because it contradicts its message (to paraphrase): “don’t judge people”, “let him who is without sin throw the first stone”, “turn the other cheek”, “forgive your brother 49 times”, etc. But the moralists persist in attempting to improve mankind, often with socially harmful results. Another attractive feature of the moralists world view is that social problems have a simple fix (that is, simple to understand, if not to implement), and they are usually the fault of other people – that part is critical!

I am an optimist: I think social conditions could, in principle, be improved. However, within the parameters of what constitutes an acceptable solutions as defined by moralists, actual improvement cannot be implemented. I say we should not seek to take revenge, as a society, on criminals. Moralists think otherwise. The TV series “The Wire” was most enlightening on this matter. They claim policing policy is not dedicated to protecting communities but only to fulfil political targets to protect the image of the powerful. A fictional attempt is made at quasi-legalisation of drug dealing but this is soon terminated as politically unacceptable, regardless of the fact that it improved social conditions. Art, in this case, reflects reality. Prisons are, according to influential voices, there to punish criminals. With this policy, no wonder reoffending rates are appalling.

So moralists are not allies of people who want to fix social problems. Even if they claim to want to improve society, their actions should speak louder than that. They do waste everyone’s time and block attempts to implement reforms that actually do work.

Anti Citizen One

PS I was influenced by many thinkers here, but one is probably too obvious and predictable: Nietzsche and his chapters “The Improvers of Mankind” and “Morality as Anti-Nature” are required reading in my book. Popper’s “Open Society and its Enemies” is also relevant. ‘And when they call themselves “the good and just,” forget not, that for them to be Pharisees, nothing is lacking but—power!’

PPS I started reading Spinoza’s Ethics but it is hard going. Just went I thought everything was getting profoundly interrelated and monistic, I watched “The Fountain” for the first time! I like!

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

Posted by Anti Citizen One on October 6th, 2011

I recently finished On Liberty and I was pleasantly surprised, after his book on utilitarianism. Mill’s basic thesis is that the state should not impose laws on people unless it is to prevent harm on other people. He then sets about examining the arguments for and against his principle. He begins by arguing for the necessity of free thought and speech, based on fallibilism. Since it is absurd to claim we are without error, we should allow what is “true” to be argued in the public space – otherwise we cannot except to arrive at knowing what truth is. Also, without properly knowing the full arguments for and against this “truth”, the knowledge of truth becomes an atrophied belief (like, he claims, Christianity has become in the western world). He then extends this principle of free thought to human action – given that the best mode of life might still be discovered in a diverse society. This seems fairly reasonable except his assumption that moral propositions could be “true” or “false”, so fallibilism would not apply in this case.

The most interesting chapter, particularly from a Nietzschian perspective, is “On Individuality”. I few choice quotes:

Having said that Individuality is the same thing with development, and that it is only the cultivation of individuality which produces, or can produce, well-developed human beings, I might here close the argument: for what more or better can be said of any condition of human affairs, than that it brings human beings themselves nearer to the best thing they can be?

But these few [innovators] are the salt of the earth; without them, human life would become a stagnant pool. Not only is it they who introduce good things which did not before exist; it is they who keep the life in those which already existed.

Persons of genius, it is true, are, and are always likely to be, a small minority; but in order to have them, it is necessary to preserve the soil in which they grow. Genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom.

In sober truth, whatever homage may be professed, or even paid, to real or supposed mental superiority, the general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind.

So he claims that development of individuals and of humans generally is only achieved though diversity and experimentally trying different ways of thinking and living. Due to social pressure and psychology, only a minority can innovate in this way, but the entire history of mankind depends on these types of people. Nietzsche poetically described this as “the song of the necessary ones, the single and irreplaceable melody.” But even Nietzsche would admit that the majority of non-innovators are “necessary” and cannot be done away with (“Are poisoned fountains necessary, and stinking fires, and filthy dreams, and maggots in the bread of life?”). To perhaps summarise the difference these two writers, Mill proposes a safely net for individualism of preventing people harming others – but there is no such safety net in Nietzsche’s concept of the superman. However either system of innovation encompasses morality and this is, according to Mill, incompatible with objective morality. Mill specifically states that Calvinism would be opposed to his principles, because that view considers diversity and expression of human will as something to be avoided – and to some extent this applies to all Christian morality. I touched on a few of this issues in a previous post.

Mill does state a principle of state power and it is a fine summary of my own view:

[T]he greatest dissemination of power consistent with efficiency; but the greatest possible centralisation of information, and diffusion of it from the centre.

Power should be localised, information should be shared. Good stuff!

Anti Citizen One

On Liberty (Librivox free audio book)

Voting Systems, Yes2AV

Posted by Anti Citizen One on April 17th, 2011

With the UK having a referendum about changing voting systems, I thought I’d say a word. Many countries have a representational system of democracy. Of course, one democratic alternative is direct democracy, where the electorate directly make laws, and appoint officials. In a representational system, the representatives perform the law making and executive functions and are selected by the electorate. The question is “how do we select the representatives?”.

A side note is that many philosophers and commentators recognise that the decisions that most affect our lives are not even taken by politicians! Most famous philosophers seem to be anti-democracy (Plato, Nietzsche), but I exclude polemicists, such as Thomas Paine, who often fall back on “natural rights” as a basis for democracy. Anyway…

Regarding Alternative Vote

Alternative voting system attempts to select the candidate with the most broad support of the electorate. If an electoral representative is intended to represent the views of the electorate, than AV matches the intention of an ideal system! The extent that AV succeeds in “broad support” candidate selection is a matter of dispute. Also, the UK is working with single candidates representing a single constituency, which is an un-proportional system. A proportional system would be better than AV in having the overall selection of representatives better reflect the overall views of the electorate. Given this constraint, AV seems like a step in the right direction but is imperfect compared to a PR system. The popular vote of the winning party has been scandalously low in recent elections – the winning party in 2005 with a large majority had a popular vote of 35.2%!

One interesting objection is the order candidates are eliminated in voting rounds can change the outcome of the final result. This can lead to some votes having an apparently larger influence. I am NOT referring to the fatuous claim that AV votes are counted more than once and it defies “one person, one vote” – that is simply an abuse of terminology and a play on words. (Each person has one vote under AV, but one or more preferences.) The candidate eliminator order quirk would probably be a rare event considering normal voting conditions and in the overall formation of parliaments. However in cases when there is no clear front runner candidate, it can make the outcome rather sensitive to one or two votes. However the resultant candidate would still have to gain a reasonable popular support, so in a way AV still fulfils its function.

An alternative voting system can be changed in future to a semi-proportional system AV+. Or it can be replaced with a fully PR system some point in the future. If AV is rejected, I think PR would be made even less politically feasible, so I recommend that PR supporters ignore any distaste of AV and tactically vote for it, as a stepping stone to a more ideal solution.

Regarding First Past the Post

The main advantage I can see of FPtP is that it is simple to implement. Frankly, electorate understanding of how political systems work is not really of critical importance (although it would be a bonus), as long as it resulted in good candidate selection (however you define “good”). But this simplicity is useful in disputed counts, were one or two votes can change the result. A FPtP is quicker to recount than AV. However helpful that is to individual candidates, this is not a significant benefit to a typical overall election outcome.

Another claim is that FPtP leads to strong governments. Apparently AV would have produced similar results in recent UK elections. However, who is to say voters would vote in the same way if the election system changes? But strong governments have not served us well, leading to presidential running of the UK leading to various fool’s wars and economic bubbles. I am not sure narrow majorities or politicians would serve us better, but they have been selected by a wider base of support. I guess if it all goes wrong, a larger proportional of the electorate is “responsible”…

A major problem with FPtP is of candidates splitting support when in fact they are similar in policies. If there are some hypothetical political positions A and B, with politician X supporting A and politicians Y and Z supporting B. It is often the case that although support for politicians that think B, the votes are divided between Mr Y and Mrs Z. This leads to politician X winning under FPtP, who then implements unpopular policy A. This phenomena has a large effect on the overall balance of candidate selection but FPtP poor in addressing it.

In Conclusion

Yes to AV!

Yes2AV

Wikileaks

Posted by Anti Citizen One on December 6th, 2010

Why do news agencies repeatedly report the various condemnations of leaked information being publish, without challenging it? As I understand it, the documents released are done in partnership with the news agencies themselves – and if there were any blame, they are at least as responsible as wikileaks and Julian Assange! The news agencies should stand up to this indirect criticism, which is effectively governments criticising the freedom of the press. The press tacitly acknowledges it things the information is in the public interest; otherwise they wouldn’t have published it. Perhaps this defence has already begun as the International Federation of Journalists has issued a statement condemning the backlash against wikileaks.

I found Hillary Clinton’s condemnation of the leaks is very ironic. She is responsible for that information. If that information leaks, lives would be put “at risk”, at least according to her. So that information should be carefully controlled. This information was not sufficiently protected – as shown by the recent leak. She is therefore negligent. Governments should learn that electronic records held in a database are at risk of abuse and unauthorised access. They should be distributed and properly secured – the weakest link is the human – particularly if there is no one who “watches the watcher”. Or as wikileaks puts it:

Big brother is watching. So are we.

I am apparently in a minority that agrees with wikileak’s stance – freedom of information is more important than saving embarrassment of politicians and civil servants. Accurate information is essential in a healthy democracy – voters need information to be informed. If politicians don’t like this, “if its too hot, get out of the kitchen”. Unfortunately, governments are generally interested in releasing information that fits their agenda. The “dodgy dossier” springs to mind. Freedom of information is too important to be left to the politicians. Admittedly, diplomacy has historically involved keeping secrets. Tradition is not, in inself, a reason for secrecy. A possible compromise between the need to protect negotations while satisfying the need for transparency: a 12 month limit on secrecy of documents would enable people, who would often still be in office, to be held accountable. Government practices, including mass surveillance, secrecy, large central databases and assuming new powers are all typical methods for centralising power. We need to challenge the assumption that centralising power and control is always a good thing.

Anti Citizen One

PS http://213.251.145.96 is their current IP
PPS The previous batch of leaks was similarly claimed to put lives at risk, but more recently, no evidence has been found of that was available that lives were lost.
PPPS.

PPPPS. Julian Assange has been arrested. I regard this as pressure applied to individuals that undermine state power. Hopefully he doesn’t end up like David Kelly. As JMS wrote:

Your credibility has become a threat to their credibility.

Universities and Employment

Posted by Anti Citizen One on December 4th, 2010

The UK university teaching funding by taxation was cut by 80%. This effectively shifts the burden of paying for undergraduate university tuition to the students. The living cost of university is already paid for by students – or if my limited experience is anything to go by – their parents. The funding changes will massively increase the burden on students and their parents. I am perhaps an idealist; I think that learning for it’s own sake is worth pursuing for its own sake. Of course, it has the secondary benefit of being economically wise to have an educated work force. Funding for access to learning is repellent. UK social mobility has been reducing and I would not be surprised if university fees are a regressive policy.

This is compounded by many graduates struggling to find an appropriate job, based on their training and aspirations. OK, yes most get a job – but most jobs don’t really require a degree. What is the point in training superfluous graduates? The oversupply has increased competition so one almost needs a law degree to get a job in a cafe (being a job not really requiring a degree). This is a waste of resources and an absurdity. Students are being charged for something that society doesn’t need.

Several ideas come to mind:

  • More jobs should be created that require a degree level of training.
  • Universities stay funded by taxation and abolish student fees.
  • Limit places on courses where jobs don’t exist. This includes most of the “soft” degree subjects.
  • Reduce the university places by 80%, in line with the funding cut. This option is strangely tempting.

The lib dems agonising over their commitment to abolish student fees, only to now increase fees is poetically tragic (but not the outcome I would have preferred). The target to have 50% of students go to university seems unnecessary to me. I love learning, but I doubt that 50% of students want to get a degree just for fun! Even economically, it doesn’t make sense apart from the lack of jobs. So basically employment is messed up, therefore universities are messed up.

Having students end university in massive debt is not a good place to be. Of course they will gradually pay it back, but our society already relies too much on debt. As the vastness of the debts increase, people are reduced to economic slavery and, if we lose confidence they will pay up, we have financial crises. That’s what seems to have caused the recent recession: too much debt.

I also think we might abandon our fractional-reserve banking. It’s only of the few things the abrahamic religions got right. Usury is – or was – a sin. It’s yet another ethical choice that is not closely examined by religious believers (at least in my very limited experience).

Anti Citizen One

PS I have been watching “Ian Hislop’s Age of the Do-Gooders”, and I note there are at least two reforming trends he highlights: the rise of meritocracy over hereditary aristocracy, and improvements in conditions of the working class. This ideas are often distinct.
PPS The “Ancient Worlds” documentary is also good. I really dig the most recent programme that pointed out civilisations created by armies (e.g. Alexander the Great) actually achieved very little impact on history and people’s lives, but ideas created and dispersed can change EVERYTHING.

There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come. Hugo

The greatest events – are not our noisiest, but our stillest hours. Not around the inventors of new noise, but around the inventors of new values, doth the world revolve; inaudibly it revolveth. Nietzsche

UK Alternative Vote Referendum

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 7th, 2010

A bill to introduce AV to the UK parliamentary elections took another step forward recently. The battle lines are about to be drawn for and against in a public debate. There are a few points that are needed for an informed discussion of this issue.

The referendum should primarily be about AV verses first past the post (FPTP). Getting distracted by which party stands to gain or lose is slightly short sighted. If a particular party loses out, perhaps that just reflects the unfairness of FPTP? Also, objecting to the date is a slight distraction. Everyone gets a vote. The turn out is expected to be less in England, due to regional elections in other areas. If people can’t be bothered to cast a vote, they can only blame themselves. That’s how democracy by vote works, you get a vote and you should use it or lose it. It is rather patronising to say that the English are being hard done by, because they couldn’t be bothered to vote. On the other hand, if the turn out is too low, it does throw the legitimacy into question. That is a separate issue from differential turn out.

Of course AV has some disadvantages. But, to directly argue that AV has disadvantages to the conclusion that AV should not be adopted commits the perfect solution fallacy. It is like arguing “Seat belts are a bad idea. People are still going to die in car wrecks.” To properly argue for and against AV, the advantages and disadvantages of FPTP have to be considered. Then we can conclude that – overall – one or the other is the best choice.

The most persuasive argument for YES is that the balance of political power better reflects the balance of opinions and views of the electorate. This makes parliament more representative.

To most persuasive argument for NO, that I have heard, is stronger governments are more likely with FPTP and strong governments are more effective. But we have seen many “strong” governments in the UK that have a minority of the popular vote and therefore have questionable democratic legitimacy.

AC1

PS Mentioning, for search engine purposes: No2AV, Yes2AV

Henry Thoreau

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 11th, 2010

I’ve been reading various Thoreau writings. He was a major figure in American Transcendentalism, along with Emerson. The movement was anti-dogma and attempted to find “truth” and “goodness” by personal reflection and intuition. For Thoreau, this meant rejecting contemporary culture and to attempt is own spiritual way in solitude and in nature. Thoreau would not really have called it solitude – he seemed perfectly happy with plants and birds as friends. His conclusion is we invent too much superfluous baggage in life which is without value. He attempts to avoid the distraction of this baggage and to focus on what he finds more important.

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, is a short account of a week spend on a river canoeing trip with his brother. There is no dialogue but, in typical style of Thoreau, it is very descriptive; the rivers, plants and animals are covered in great detail. This can be slightly heavy reading at times. He occasionally mixes proses with verse, which facilitates expressing his message, which is not rationalist, but also partly artistic. There are several digressions, mainly on the philosophy with respect to friendship.

Civil Disobedience recounts the authors experience of being imprisoned for a night for failure to pay taxes. He also includes an analysis of the relationship between the individual and the state. He observes the state cannot fully satisfy everyone, even in a democracy, given there is some differences in opinion. If the state will not be swayed by discussion, the individual is left with little recourse. Thoreau claims that a state that doesn’t represent an individual’s interests can be ignored. In his case, he objected to slavery and the Mexican–American War (he was writing in 1849). Since he refused to support these institutions, he refused to pay tax and was therefore imprisoned. His attitude is a world away from Rousseau with his “social contract“. This call for passive resistance was a forerunner to civil rights leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Walden describes the authors two year “experiment” in simple living in woods by Walden Pond, near Concord (which is near Boston). He provides almost endless descriptions of the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of nature. This can get a little … slow. But the point is tries to convey is that his life was far from boring to live (in contrast to read about). His curiosity keeps him active, not to mention spending hours hoeing his beans. His simple house was built with is own hands using little money. He also provides critique of civilization, in contrast to his life. He questions the need for progress for its own sake, such as rail roads, the telegraph, newspapers, the post office, etc. because he never has learned anything spiritually important from such things. Many of the themes were echoed in Enough by John Naish. Both say we can find happiness, or whatever we are seeking, by scaling back on consumption and avoiding distractions from what we want. I did detect a note in Thoreau of wanting to fight human instincts, but this seemed to be a passing thought. (To attempt such a thing is warned against by Nietzsche.)

I’ll write up A Life Without Principle separately, after re-reading it.

Anti Citizen One

The Social Contract

Posted by Anti Citizen One on July 13th, 2010

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Rousseau

I am on a roll with political philosophy books: I recently finished The Open Society, The Communist Manifesto, The Republic and The Social Contract. I have started on the collected works of Thoreau. Rousseau’s The Social Contract reminds me of Thomas Paine’s writing style. Arguments are put forward using rather large metaphysical assumptions and emotional appeals – although I sometimes agree with their conclusions. For example, the quote above sounds really cool but I am not sure it has any concise meaning. This is in contrast to Popper’s dry and logical approach to a similar goal. Rousseau is more abstract than other political philosophers, at times I was just reading “blah blah blah” as the meaning – I am metaphysically skeptical.

The way I (badly) understand Rousseau’s foundational argument, people collectively choose to participate in a state. So far, so existential. Rousseau calls the generalisation of their state’s interest as “the general will”, which is what people would want, if they had the interests of “all” at heart. This approach has some difficulties. We cannot objectively say what the general will is unless everyone is in agreement. Rousseau claims the general will is distinct and unified, as it is the will as if people had no private interests. Unfortunately, we cannot reconcile the possibility if people really have distinct interests, even distinct at the “state level”. Rousseau evades this difficulty by claiming there are sometimes two states in one geographical area. This makes his system unworkable and pretty tautological. This is similar to his definition of “laws”: they are the expression of the general will (and if they are not in agreement, they are merely “decrees”). Since we cannot easily say what is the general will in most realistic cases, we cannot know if a rule is a “law” or a “decree”. All this idealism tends to result in a ruling body, who “knows” what the general will is and can rule over the unenlightened masses. This is Poppers fear as expressed in The Open Society.

Rousseau’s criteria for a successful state are rather worrying. As I remember, he says history will be the judge (which can justify any arbitrary action), that stability and unanimity is good (we can bring in thought crime laws now) and population growth is a good sign. Obviously he was not aware of the dangers of unrestrained population growth! Basically he has some bizarre ideas.

He did have a few interesting points on how governments should be formed, with the executive (“the prince”) and the legislator being separated. This can reduce the arbitrary use of power by the executive. This idea was the basis of the US government system (among others? Greek? Roman?). I find this concept attractive.

He ends with an analysis of the instability that would arise in a completely Christian state. Since Christians tend to tolerate mistreatment (turn the other cheek), they are unable to stop a minority usurping power. He also notes that Christians have been persecuted, along with all non-state religions, for undermining the common code of right and wrong within a state. Having two masters, the state and religion can undermine the “general will”. He contrasts Christianity (and offshoots) with pagan religions where the entire state was forced to worship a common set of gods that represented the ideals of the state. This all seems rather illiberal but, of course, that does not make Rousseau factually wrong.

Anti Citizen One