Governments and the People

There’s a saying out there, which I’ve come to agree with, which states that people get the government they deserve. A common response to this is that it only applies in a democracy, and I used to agree with this, but nowadays I don’t. Something people often overlook is that even dictators are drawn from the population, as are the people who support and enable them. That a dictator can come to power and run things as he sees fit is itself a reflection, to some degree, of the people over which he rules.

This ties in to what I was saying last week:

The root cause of a country being a shithole is the prevailing culture, and what else is culture but the aggregate behaviour, attitude, and customs of a population?

The reason Hugo Chavez came to power, imposed bone-headed socialism, and ruined Venezuela is because enough Venezuelans were stupid enough to be wooed by the promise of socialist economics. You can’t separate this decision from the general population, as if he was some foreigner imposed by outside forces. Venezuelans allowed this to happen and therefore they must take responsibility for it. This is true even if, which is surely the case, a huge percentage of the population didn’t want it: on aggregate they did.

One of the things which once amused me was the way Russians would speak of the Soviet Union as if it were some outside force imposed on them. The fact that the USSR was largely made up of Russians, many of whom bought into the idea and happily went along with implementing it’s worst aspects, never seemed to occur to them. I’m not willing to give the non-Russian Soviet States a free pass, either. Enough of them went along with the programme to keep it in place; not that this is necessarily wrong – I wouldn’t want to fight a guerrilla war or become a martyr either – but we can’t ignore the fact that, on aggregate, the population chose to cooperate.

What I’m saying is not so much to heap blame on a population for the state of their government, but rather to stop ourselves absolving the people of any responsibility whatsoever. To varying degrees, the people are responsible for how they are governed. There might be some exceptions – perhaps Iran under the Ayatollahs? – but I’m struggling to think of a single case where the government of the day was vastly, unrecognisably different from the collective population. I’m not talking about individuals, they can and do differ wildly from the government, I’m talking again about the aggregate.

Actually, I can think of exceptions: countries under colonial rule. It’s hard to argue that colonial governments were reflective of the populations they ruled over, which is why the countries changed so drastically once the colonialists left. Then again, a lot of the locals went along with that programme, too.

In summary, I find it rather too easy to claim governments and people are entirely separate, absolving the latter of any responsibility whatsoever. We might find things improve if we stop giving out free passes to whole populations, even if they live under dictators. Individuals, however, we should still take as we find them.

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38 thoughts on “Governments and the People

  1. Haiti is a good example of this. I believe it was the first freed slave state and has thus had longer than anywhere to make itself not a shithole if it so wished. I read of examples of the behaviour of most Haitians after the earthquake that convinced me Haiti is a no-hope locked-in-forever shithole.

  2. You can apply this to most things, it’s revealed preferences on a large scale.

    I once commented to someone that Aberdeen was a bit of a shithole, they replied that was because people in Aberdeen like living in a shithole.

  3. Patrick
    “Haiti is a good example of this. I believe it was the first freed slave state and has thus had longer than anywhere to make itself not a shithole if it so wished”

    The wonderful thing is that there is a direct measure next door in the Dominican Republic. While not Switzerland, it’s a far far better place than Haiti.

  4. ” . . . I’m struggling to think of a single case where the government of the day was vastly, unrecognisably different from the collective population.”

    It can be a fine line, though, when a populace is almost evenly divided.

    The same population that elected Obama in the USA for eight years has now elected Trump.

    There was no sea change in the philosophy of the bulk of the people. There was a change in just enough people to swing away from the hard-left direction Obama promised to the alt-right that Trump promised.

    As in all democracies, we the citizens “own” the results of our elections, but when one side in a social war loses, I think it’s simplistic to consider them to be complicit in the winners’ acts. I can despise certain residents of Venezuela and still consider others to be honorable.

  5. I can despise certain residents of Venezuela and still consider others to be honorable.

    Ditto for a lot of Turks too, who are appalled at the direction their country is now heading in. The problem is, these westernised middle-classes were quite happy to enjoy the status quo which benefited them for decades, ignoring the (genuine) plight of the backward peasants in the countryside. Unfortunately, the peasants had the numbers, and they proved fertile ground for Chavez-style socialism (or Erdogan’s conservative populism). The middle-classes in Venezuela who are suffering so much are not *completely* blameless here: they should have done more to ensure the masses don’t want to vote for socialism. A big ask in South America I know, but still.

  6. Haiti has been fucked ever since there so called Black Jacobin revolutions and it will always be a shithole. Napoleon would have sorted them out but had his handful back home so the whites were on their own. The clever ones got out, those that stayed were brutally murdered, raped and forced into marriage. Google Jean Zombi to give you an idea what they were getting up to, the term Zombie was named after him. I am not talking about slaves revolting here either I am talking Black Jacobins. This was arguably the first planned War on Whites.

    “For our declaration of independence, we should have the skin of a white man for parchment, his skull for an inkwell, his blood for ink, and a bayonet for a pen!”

    Did anyone seen the recent footage of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in St Martins. So there was widespread devastation, then the blacks started looting the shops of the Europeans and their Dutch armed police stood by observing but not opening fire. There was a lady been interviewed, broken hearted in seeing her business being destroyed in front of her, saying that they had organised for emergency supplies for everyone, yet they were looting, maybe looking for sneakers, this is people that she had served in her shop all her life. No whites looting either.

    Why, the fuck, did the cops not open fire, we have a hurricane recovery and an emergency evacuation situation going on and they have the authority to engage, this is a perfect example of the state letting you down when you most need them.

  7. Why, the fuck, did the cops not open fire

    Better let a black woman have her livelihood destroyed by a bunch of thugs than stand accused of racism. Ah, the modern state!

  8. “Well they’re definitely not going to step in and help”

    If you were to do an African version of Lord of the Flies the story would be all over in the first chapter, maybe a short story would be a better format.

  9. So what choices of political system do we have, communism, fascism or democratic capitalism.

    Communism is the worst of the lot in my books.

    Then there is the democratic system that most of us are part of which gives people the illusion of choice and majority rules. When in fact all political parties are the same and their leaders do the bidding of their masters, but we all think that it is the politicians that are making the decisions.

    “In a Democracy, the vote of two idiots counts for twice as much as that of one wise man.” Adolf Hitler

    So that leaves the much maligned Fascism. It has obliviously been misrepresented in modern times but for mine and given the choice a benign dictatorship keeping corporatism in check whilst ensuring that all of the nations brothers and sisters play an enthusiastic part and receive the benefits of the “nation” irrespective of the desires of other nation states makes sense to me.

  10. What of the two great national experiments, Germany and Korea? Partitioned into two very different government systems. Was East Germany closer to the German character, or was West?

  11. It’s more complicated than that. There’s a lot of problems about the balance between state and people, and particularly about industrial power Vs land power.

    Once people industrialise, when the wealth shifts from land to people, you get more democracy rights etc. And this has been so everywhere. Europe, the Far East and the Americas over the past 150 years. It’s why Zimbabwe descended from democracy to dictatorship, why Russia’s democracy never lasted long. They never had the industrial outbalancing the state. It’s also why Egypt is one of the better countries in the Middle East. They don’t have much oil revenue. It’s tourism and modern industries like textiles and chip making.

    So in these countries, the incentive is “fight to win oil fields and take the money” (or in the case of most of Africa and Afghanistan, just fields).

    I even think this is why southern Europe is more statist than north.we aren’t so reliant on agriculture.

  12. Also, what about climate? Coups, revolutions and violent changes of government tend to occur in the hotter parts of the world. The further north you go in the Northern Hemisphere, the more stable governments and cultures tend to be.

    The St Bartholemew’s Day massacre in Paris, for example, is said to have followed a sustained period of extremely hot weather. Obviously religious tensions and the marriage were the primary causes, but what additional effect did the weather have?

    The storming of the Bastille, we all know the date of that one. Riots in the UK, though rare, tend to happen in the summer months.

  13. ” . . . I’m struggling to think of a single case where the government of the day was vastly, unrecognisably different from the collective population.”

    It might be the exception that proves the rule, but I think Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge makes a good case. They acted more like an occupying power and I’d struggle to believe they had the support of any significant portion of the population. Still, having various superpowers fight proxy wars in your country probably doesn’t help.

  14. I am not sure I agree we have systems that give us imperfect choices. Like in the UK in 97 between Major and Blair.
    Saying that a lot of the mess in the UK is people like it, like that.

  15. “Saying that a lot of the mess in the UK is people like it”

    Just imagine how strong and unified Great Britain would be if it had a political system that was ruled by an Emperor.

  16. Somebody once tried to persuade me that, in some sense, slaves acquiesced in their slavery. If every slave refused to obey commands and chose punishment or death over obedience then slavery would cease to exist. I’m not persuaded by that argument because whilst it is logically true it doesn’t take into account the human factor. It sets up a standard that is impossibly high for normal people to reach.

    Moreover this is an oddly collectivist argument for a site that I assume was vaguely libertarian. It is remarkably similar to Rosseau’s General Will. It subsumes individual decisions into the collective so that we are all guilty.

  17. Somebody once tried to persuade me that, in some sense, slaves acquiesced in their slavery.

    It’s hard to make an argument that the white owners of American cotton plantations were drawn from the same people and culture as the slaves. Has there ever been a people that enslaved their own?

  18. That’s a pretty scathing attack on Americans, Tim.

    In my experience (now decades old) there were lots of Americans who were decent, generous and hospitable. The stereotypes were true of course; by and large they were ill-educated by European standards, and prone to strange superstitions. Their retail banks were comically inept, and their advertising plumbed the depths of lousiness. On the other hand, when I spent months there their big firms were still masters of mass production manufacture, and their supermarkets were far in advance of anything I’d seen in Europe.

    Of course the lead in manufacturing and shopkeeping has long vanished, but a new lead in google/fascbook/Amazon and all that has arisen (ignoring completely the American tradition of using anti-trust law to constrain the power of Robber Barons).

    To reach my point: the US government – particularly but not solely federal government – is a sink of iniquity, a cesspit of of moral and financial corruption, and of conspicuous incompetence. You wish to blame that on The People – fair enough, I can’t see anywhere else to blame it. But there are presumably still lots of decent, hospitable, generous people living there.

  19. @TDK

    Yes all the political systems mentioned so far are collectivist ie they will make you do something for the collective, which is actually symbolically at least “Fasces”.

    The alternative to government ie none and never needing one is natural law.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasces

  20. “Has there ever been a people that enslaved their own?” Yeah, most civilisations in history. In the Domesday Book 10% of the population were slaves. In Ireland the proportion was probably even higher. Under Norman/French rule slavery eventually dwindled away in England.

    Conscious abolitionism is essentially an invention, or at least a political cause, of 18th century Anglican evangelicals whose politics were essentially Tory. I’ll bet the kiddy-widdies aren’t told that at school.

  21. “I even think this is why southern Europe is more statist than north.we aren’t so reliant on agriculture.”

    Erm..Scotland, Scandinavia…?

    The State has more moral authority with its population in Northern Europe than in the South. Tax avoidance is considered a big sin in Northern Europe; in the South people just think you are clever if you manage to pay less tax.

    I expect this relates to the stability of the population in these countries over time, which has created high trust societies. For a time at least, the leap from a high trust society where people helped each other voluntarily, to one where the State acted as an intermediary, worked. Probably still works reasonably well albeit large swathes of the population live on the labour of others; these countries haven’t collapsed yet and have better State finances than anywhere else in Europe.

    We’ll see if they survive the latest wave of immigration.

  22. “Just imagine how strong and unified Great Britain would be if it had a political system that was ruled by an Emperor.”

    Yep. Imagine the grand reign of Emperor Corbyn.

  23. The king, the dictator the president. They only rule with the approval of the Mum of the guard on the palace gate.

    (If tPratchett didn’t say that, it was merely an oversight)

  24. Britain had unique culture, glorious revolution in 1680s lessened monarch’s power considerably and also had a culture of private property, which allowed regular people to improve their lot in life.

    Rest of European countries took a century or two before they caught up with Brits, I remember learning at university that England richest region in Europe for long time and Europeans knew it. And today, a bunch of Asian countries are rich because they had Western values imposed on them after WW II.

    Brits are somewhat unique in that their rulers and politicians didn’t randomly massacre large numbers of people when hoi polloi started to rebel, they were much more responsive to lower classes needs.

    Private property rights are key to developing decent country and more than half countries in world don’t have them, government is considered to own all land.

  25. Curiously, the Queen owns all land in the UK. The best it’s people can do is hold the right to live on it. Hence “freeholder”.

  26. “If every slave refused to obey commands and chose punishment or death over obedience then slavery would cease to exist.”

    It’s the old paradox of collective action. Large groups, if composed of rational individuals, will not act in their group interest, because the cost to the individual of so acting means that it is against the individual’s interest to act in the interest of the group.

    See, e.g. Mancur Olson, Logic of Collective Action.

  27. Curiously, the Queen owns all land in the UK.
    Nope, just England. And possibly Wales.

  28. Places are reflections of their people. Walking down pavement in Bucharest, difficult because of the dog shit and cars, and a woman parks right in front of me blocking the pavement completely. I complain. She says effectively that’s what Romania is like. My response was that, no, it’s what YOU and people like you are like.

    And yet, as Douglas Murray pointed out in his book the left wing powers that be assume that you can inculcate western values into anyone by them merely coming to live here. This means they think shithole countries Are not the fault of the populous but some magical power as moving the people changes them. Hence the racism claim as they are seeing Trump make an association with a shithole and its population that, if proved, destroys the whole foundation of their open door immigration desire.

    In my work canteen last week I sat next to who discussed his friend’s father in law, a Nigerian pensioner, who self confesses to being a scammer. This Nigerian has a postal address here to claim pension and free healthcare. And my colleague says “I don’t blame him”. We should reward people for shopping such cheating scum bags just the US does for whistle blowers. A man could get reach robbing his scum bag mates in….

  29. @Andrew

    “shithole countries Are not the fault of the populous but some magical power”

    Shitholes do not have a location, you cant make them, you cant clean them up, you cant get rid of them and you cant put them in a wheelbarrow. If you cant put them in it then it isn’t a thing and if it is not a thing it’s an abstraction.

  30. Off-topic, and I mentioned this over at Other Tim’s place, but it seems like good grist for This Tim’s mill:

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Intelligent-Womans-Guide-Socialism-Capitalism/dp/1847492436/ref=sr_1_sc_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1516030613&sr=8-2-spell&keywords=shaw+inelligent+woman%27s+guide+to+socialism+fascism

    Now, GB Shaw, he of the “gentlemenly gas” to kill off undesirables, wrote “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, …” back in the 20’s, explaining the necessity of (his version) of Socialism. Which, of course, incorporates Eugenics.

    The 2012 reprint contains a gushing, damp-gussetted foreword by none other than Polly Toynbee, who lavished praise on the work, on Shaw’s utopian vision, and so on. You can read the foreword in the “preview” section at the link above – start at the contents and move forward to page 7.

    Now, if you go to this link here: https://books.google.ch/books?id=ys13gZliXFAC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

    you can read the summary on Eugenics on p. 16, and the full chapter from p. 53.

    Also, note the tone – it’s written in the most patronising, condescending style, mansplaining to the “intelligent women” whose worldview Shaw seems to think revolves around petty daily household life.

    Now, if the work didn’t get Our Pol’s ideological swonnicles revolving, do you think she’d have been so kind to such a condescending work from a non-Socialist, or would have gushed so profusely over a work promoting Eugenics (without mentioning it) from someone inadequately left-wing?

    I think we know the answer to that…

  31. Late to the party, but there is one interesting point here:
    “There was a change in just enough people to swing away from the hard-left direction Obama promised to the alt-right that Trump promised.”

    This is because, IMHO, the population of the US – possibly uniquely – does not conform to a bell curve in more or less anything. They don’t have a neat average with less frequent extremes either side: they tend to be bipolar. You’re either monstrously fat or super ridiculously obsessively skinny.

    This is true politically – they don’t appear to have a middle ground consensus just warring opposing factions. Hard to see how – if they had to do it all again now – the population of the US would come up with their enduring constitution.

    With hindsight, the crafters of that document must have been giants among men.

  32. Yeah, most civilisations in history.

    You’re right of course, and I should have at least remembered the Russian peasants. Perhaps my theory of people deserving their governments only applies to the modern era, e.g. post-colonialism.

  33. I’d leave it to history to judge nations. Classes, too – in the unsolicited company of Marxist historians. Tim’s thoughts on the Turkish and Venezuelan middle classes remind me of Marx’s observations on the French bourgeoisie in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, such as this passage: “The bourgeoisie, in truth, is bound to fear the stupidity of the masses so long as they remain conservative, and the insight of the masses as soon as they become revolutionary.”

  34. Living in a shithole country is the normal state of human affairs. Once in a great while one of the crabs will escape the bucket.

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