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Trust us

by marie Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 05:58:11 PM EST

Today's UK Telegraph has an article on the EU by Bruno Waterfield and has two interesting quotes by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the architect of the EU Constitution:

"We are evolving towards majority voting because if we stay with unanimity, we will do nothing," he said......
It is impossible to function by unanimity with 27 members. This time it's Ireland; the next time it will be somebody else."
That is troubling enough on its own given 13 or 14 countries may be able to control the policies and actions of the EU. But combined with this next, it appears to indicate that the representatives, and not the citizens of Europe, will be in total control. [editor's note, by Migeru] The article's byline paraphrases
Future referendums will be ignored whether they are held in Ireland or elsewhere
One will have to trust -
  1. One's own government as well as the governments of all the other countries
  2. Your country's representatives as well as the representatives of all the other countries
  3. That the right representatives of the right countries will get together on the right side of the right issues.
He then goes on to reassure us:
Mr Giscard d'Estaing also admitted that, unlike his original Constitutional Treaty, the Lisbon EU Treaty had been carefully crafted to confuse the public.

"What was done in the [Lisbon] Treaty, and deliberately, was to mix everything up. If you look for the passages on institutions, they're in different places, on different pages," he said.

"Someone who wanted to understand how the thing worked could with the Constitutional Treaty, but not with this one."

That doesn't leave me with a lot of trust.


Display:
I couldn't have put it better myself.

"Question authority!" is a common Progressive rallying cry.  I think someone even made a T-shirt.

But apparently, so long as some authority, any authority, promises to save Europe from the horrible Americans, it mustn't be questioned.

__
I am the most conservative Unitarian-Universalist you will ever meet.

by John in Michigan USA on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 06:32:03 PM EST
Would you have been a Federalist or an Anti-Federalist in 1790?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 06:37:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you are asking, would I have been in favor of adopting the Constitution in 1789, the answer is yes.

I would have objections that the Constitution didn't end slavery or provide for universal suffrage, but neither did the Articles of Confederation; meanwhile, the country needed a stronger union, for any number of reasons, so I would hold my nose and vote for it.

Are you asking why would I be willing to support rule by propertied White males, but against rule by an expert elite?

Your choice of the date 1790 suggests maybe you are asking, would I favor Hamitonianism or Jeffersonianism?  I'm not sure what this has to do with being for or against the EU technocracy, so if this is what you mean, could you elaborate?

__
I am the most conservative Unitarian-Universalist you will ever meet.

by John in Michigan USA on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 09:22:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am suggesting a parallel between the Confederation v. Federation model and the issues the EU faces today around, for instance, unanimity vs. qualified Majority at the European Council.

Note that the European Council is not unlike the original Senate, which wasn't directly elected but had Senators appointed by the States, while the European Parliament is like the House and the Commission is like the agencies of the Federal Government.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 04:44:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I see your analogy.  And I agree, the Senate, and by extension the federal government, wouldn't be able to function if the Senate required unanimity.

There are other problems with QMV.  Unlike a simple majority, or a 2/3 majority, QMV is inelegant, and reeks of politics.  To me, it creates a precedent that voting is a matter of expediency, rather than principle; the rules are always subject to negotiation; one may tweak the rules until one gets the outcome desired.  It was a similar sense of expediency that led to the infamous 3/5 compromise in the US Constitution.

Still, I could see how, if Europe is convinced that it must have a Union, QMV might be a reasonable compromise.

But your analogy is flawed in other ways.  You wrote:


Anyway, you only have to look at what happened with the CIA flight/prison scandal, with the passenger data transfers, the SWIFT data protection violation, the EU's stance on Israel's war on Lebanon in 2006, and the proposed missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, and the recognition of Kosovo, to understand why many on this site think that our governments (and the EU Council as a result) are corrupt US vassals. It seems that at the EU Commission (below the political appointee level) they have no illusions about being able to have a constructive relationship with the US...

Americans of 1790 (or today, for that matter) did not believe their state governments to be corrupt vassals of a foreign power.  Even if they did, its hard to imagine they would have believed a federal government, particularly one that promised to preserve states rights, could somehow rescue them from their illegitimate state governments.  Rather, they would have understood that the solution was to take back control of their state governments at the ballot box...or by force of arms.  Only when state governments were seen as legitimate could there be any meaningful discussion of a more perfect union between them.

As to the Commission, there are no good parallels to the US in 1790.  The concept of a professional, regulatory class didn't exist back then.

Today of course things are different (unfortunately, IMO, but that's another debate).  The US bureaucracy forms a virtual 4th branch of government.  Even those Americans who don't see this as a major problem (as I do) see it as a virtue that the source of the bureaucracy's authority is grounded firmly in the democratic institutions of the Presidency and the Congress (House and Senate).  The US bureaucracy could be massively reformed, or eliminated, without the need to amend the Constitution.  Whereas, once the current EU reform process concludes, I don't see how you could control or reform the EU bureaucracy in any major way, without having yet another long, complex, and divisive EU reform process.

No-one left or right in the US believes that amending the Constitution to, for example, put the unelected Supreme Court in charge of the bureaucracy, or to formally elevate the bureaucracy into a co-equal branch, would some how make the bureaucracy perform better.

Thus my puzzlement at why Progressives believe that the EU reform process will somehow result in EU institutions that are legitimate, responsive to the people, and free of this vassaldom; indeed, it seems more likely that the Council, and the political appointees of the Commission, would tend to "infect" the rest of the EU with its contagion; arguably, this is already under way.

Furthermore, the most faith seems to be placed in the least democratic aspects of the EU -- the experts -- for example, what you call the  "EU Commission (below the political appointee level)"

Well, the Progressives and the experts may, for the time being, have a common agenda of constructing an alternative to the US hegemony...but at best it is a happy coincidence, since there seems to be no viable mechanism to ensure that the experts stay faithful to the Progressive agenda, or to hold them accountable if they stay faithful but fail to deliver.

What if a gang of experts with very different views than the current experts were to gain power?

You say your national governments are corrupt, and the solution is to balance them with a class of experts.  One assumes that experts will naturally have progressive views, which is quite flattering to Progressives, but may not always be the case.  Are these experts supposed to be Socratic philosopher-kings?  What keeps these experts from becoming corrupt?  What price will they demand, in order to continue helping you take back or at least counter-balance your national governments?

Maybe the European Parliament would keep the experts in line.  It is, after all, the only EU institution that is both democratic, and not (so far?) corrupted by the same influences that have corrupted your national governments.  But that could change; the US could corrupt the EP the same way we've allegedly corrupted the national governments.

Furthermore, compared to our House, the EP is weak, and none of the current reforms seem likely to make it stronger (or at least, none of them will make the EP stronger in proportion to the Council and Commission).

It seems to me, Progressives would be better served by taking back control over their existing governments, rather than trusting these existing governments to create a new layer of government that is mainly held accountable via existing, democratic institutions that are already corrupt or at least highly suspect according to the Progressive analysis.

In summary, think of me like the French.  I am trying to give Progressives, and the whole pro-EU movement, the constructive criticism and tough love that is the duty of a true friend to give.  If the French are the most reliable ally of the US in Europe, then I am certainly the most reliable ally of Europe in the US!

Well, I've rambled on long enough.  I don't know if I've convinced anyone, but hopefully I've given you all something to think about.  Marie, I hope I haven't taken your diary too far off-topic; to me all this boils down to the vital question of trust.

__
I am the most conservative Unitarian-Universalist you will ever meet.

by John in Michigan USA on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 01:01:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
John in Michigan USA:
It seems to me, Progressives would be better served by taking back control over their existing governments, rather than trusting these existing governments to create a new layer of government that is mainly held accountable via existing, democratic institutions that are already corrupt or at least highly suspect according to the Progressive analysis.

It doesn't have to be either/or. As the US shows - if there's a democratic deficit, almost any form of government will amplify it until it becomes an oligarchy which systematically excludes popular influence.

The difference with the EU is that there are signs the EU establishment is attempting to have a debate about this rather than assuming it as a given. The US, of course, doesn't want genuine populist democracy in the EU and has always worked hard to prevent it, both overtly and covertly.

Whatever democracy existed in the US - which has never been much, for the most part - is currently pointing stiff legs skywards. The EU still has some possibility of accomodating bottom-up influence - although with both regressive and progressive camps within the political structure, the outcome is still in the balance.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 01:39:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are other problems with QMV. Unlike a simple majority, or a 2/3 majority, QMV is inelegant, and reeks of politics. To me, it creates a precedent that voting is a matter of expediency, rather than principle; the rules are always subject to negotiation; one may tweak the rules until one gets the outcome desired.

But you do have qualified majority voting in the States. You have just decided to codify it by the number of senators and representatives each state sends, whereas in the Council it is codified by giving each member different weight.

The more probable reason for the horse-trading, manipulation, behind the scenes backstabbing and generally unsavoury behaviour of the Council is that it is indirectly elected and that until very recently its deliberations were not a matter of public record. Imagine the cesspit that would result if your Senate held its deliberations behind closed doors and was appointed by the governors of each state instead of directly elected (although given the level of gerrymandering in US elections, one has to wonder how much better the US Senate is on the latter score...).

Americans of 1790 (or today, for that matter) did not believe their state governments to be corrupt vassals of a foreign power. Even if they did, its hard to imagine they would have believed a federal government, particularly one that promised to preserve states rights, could somehow rescue them from their illegitimate state governments. Rather, they would have understood that the solution was to take back control of their state governments at the ballot box...or by force of arms. Only when state governments were seen as legitimate could there be any meaningful discussion of a more perfect union between them.

We're working on that at the moment. But there is no reason not to work in two parallel tracks here, and there are some institutional reasons to believe that the battle will be easier to win on the federal side than on the state side.

And at any rate, we will have to fight and win the battle at the federal level eventually, because until and unless we do, we will be subject to defeat in detail. Arguably, any of the 13 Colonies could have constituted themselves as independent countries and held their own as such, because the infrastructure, technology and geopolitical framework they operated within permitted independent states of that size. In this day and age, that is simply not the case. Today, it is increasingly obvious that you can be a major power, or you can be a client state. The size band between the two is getting narrower by the day.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 04:17:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
although given the level of gerrymandering in US elections, one has to wonder how much better the US Senate is on the latter score...

Senators are elected on State-wide ballots - no gerrymandering there.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 04:21:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh. Thanks. Alright, the Senate is better than the Council on account of not being indirectly elected, then.

So actually, the Senate corresponds to the Council in function (roughly) and to the Parliament in electoral procedure, while the House corresponds to the Parliament in function (roughly) but the Council in terms of elections.

Confusing...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jul 1st, 2008 at 12:04:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This comment also confuses me.

Perhaps Americans, who've made an utter much of governance and democracy, for all the world to see, might think better than to opine on European matters of democracy, representation and governance, lest they find themselves farting higher than their bunghole.

Solve your own democracy deficit please before lecturing us. Europe arguably has one, but nothing remotely akin to the rot and corruption in the US, whose political system is as good as money can buy (and, in fact, the monied have bought it).

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 12:14:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I call America bashing.

Europe and the U.S. have virtually identical problems with their political systems. You can make a more comprehensive list of corrupt European politicians than I can, surely.

At least in the U.S. we generally get rid of them eventually, unlike Europe's problems with certain Italian Prime Ministers, French Presidents, etc., etc.

by asdf on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 12:18:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I call bullshit.

Identical problems with their political systems? Surely you jest. America is deeply corrupt. There is corruption, in varying degrees, in EU member states. But very few with levels anywhere near America's institutionalized corruption.

And, I have to vigorously object to offhand comments by an American relating to the Ireland vote on Lisbon as having been a wonderful thing. Especially one pretending to be from the left side of the spectrum. It is absolutely in America's interest that EU integration fail, which is why a big funding source for the No campaign in Ireland came from pro-US business elemets associated with the American military.

Seeing such shallow analyses, in view of the geopolitical context, coming form the so-called American "left" is like lecturing Europeans on income inequality or torture.  

Excuse me for calling bullshit.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 01:16:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How about France - very corrupt power establishment with cozy relationships to the business elite. A media even more in hock to the elite than the US media. A system of government tailor made for a war criminal who came to power in a military coup against a democratic government, and where the president is very much an elected monarch. A state where the legislature is weak, and the upper house is a travesty of democracy even worse than the US Senate. Perhaps the French should stop lecturing Americans and solve their own problems.

Or perhaps we can stop the ridiculously one sided portrayals and criticize problems in both countries without the annoying flame baiting ad patriem attacks.

by MarekNYC on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 05:01:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wasn't aware that tu quoque argumentation had entered into the realm of the credible.

And greatly disagree with the lack of parliamentary power your analysis supposes, see Jospin government v Chirac.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Tue Jul 1st, 2008 at 02:07:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you have evidence the US gets rid of corrupt politicians? What's the incumbent re-election rate - 98%? Wonder how that happens...

Adding, that if you don't like America-bashing, that's fine, but sometimes, it is in fact in order. Like right about now. How are your representatives serving you? Why is a war criminal still President and your Democratic congress doesn't hold hearings? Why do your Democratic representatives not immediately review bankruptcy reform now that we see the end result? Why are you still in Iraq?

Until the US cleans up it's act (a very big "if" in my book) your lot are just going to have to get used to America-bashing.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 01:21:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed, the problems are similar. Where I have to disagree with you is your statement that you eventually get rid of your corrupted politicians. There are quite a few old war criminals who keep reappearing again and again.
by generic on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 01:32:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Across the board, we Americans certainly do have a hard time getting rid of crooked politicians, that's for sure. But don't you think that electing Berlusconi AGAIN is a bit over the top?

I don't know how to rate the corruption of politicians, but it sure seems to me that there are problems on both sides of the Atlantic. Maybe it's worse in the U.S., but I'm not convinced...

by asdf on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 12:16:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How is this different from national politics, and how do you propose to reform Ireland (leaving aside the EU for a while).
  • Half of the TDs control the decisions of the entire Dail.
  • Representatives, and not citizens of Ireland, are in total control.
  • You have to trust your TD, as well as the TDs from all other constituencies.
I am no saying that representative democracy is perfect, but is your problem with representative democracy, or with European identity?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 06:45:42 PM EST
Link

You should remove your addition of quotation marks from the second block-quote. Based on the article, it is apparent that the sentence is the author paraphrasing what he thinks Valéry Giscard d'Estaing said, not a direct quotation.

Interestingly, the author's source appears to be an Irish Times article (interview referred to here, but probably not the actual article) in which Giscard d'Estaing complains about his words being taken out of context and their meaning being distorted.

by det on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 04:09:08 AM EST
Thanks for posting your first diary, marie!

But, what exactly is your point? As Migeru says, you can make the same statements about all the existing democracies. Starting a debate about the limits and flaws of the current forms of democracy and in which ways they could be improved could make a very interesting diary.

As for the European Union, are you in favour of the idea, or do you think we should stick to nation-states? And, if you are in favour of the European Union, what kind of governance and decision-making system would you propose?

By the way, the quality of the debate on ET requires to respect strict rules: when referring to an article, you should always put a link to it. Also, as det underlines it, you should not present as a quote a statement that is the journalist's interpretation of the interviewed person's words.

And when quoting the Telegraph, don't forget the Torygraph Alert!
 

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 07:26:43 AM EST
[ET Moderation Technology™] link added and paraphrase made explicit. Using a [Torygraph Alert] is optional...

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 07:40:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Starting a debate about the limits and flaws of the current forms of democracy and in which ways they could be improved could make a very interesting diary.

I'm tempted to write a diary on Confederal Direct Democracy for the EU based on the Swiss model as a case study...

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 07:41:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Please, do. I will happily contribute.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 08:10:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But I would prefer if someone who actually knows something about Switzerland writes it :-P

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 08:14:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Reiterating what others have said more eloquently, why even have legislative bodies? Why elect representatives whose sole vocation will be to process for constituents, on their behalf, the currents, issues and needs of the day and address them ?

Adding only that direct referenda, as for instance the California experience in America ably demonstrate, are even more easily gamed by the wealthy than first past the post two party systems. Lefties who think direct referenda are the way to go are sadly mistaken, the street being far better. Noting further that while party cadres are powerless without activists and citizen-supporters, it is also true that the base is nothing without able party cadres.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 10:32:44 AM EST
representatives whose sole vocation will be to process for constituents, on their behalf, the currents, issues and needs of the day and address them

Now, now, let's be realistic here... :-P

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 10:43:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Heh.

Of course, I refer to what they should be doing, not what many of them in fact do.

And the solution to that?

That's right, the ballot.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 12:04:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are a number of reasons for pouring cold water over this article.

One is that it's in the Daily Telegraph, which is not just a C/conservative newspaper, but has consistently shown itself to be a campaigning Eurosceptic newspaper.

In itself this is not enough, of course. But a comparison of Waterfield's article with the Irish Times one he quotes from reveals cherry-picking and tendentious interpretation. An example of cherry-picking: "Ireland is 1 per cent of the EU" is quoted as if it is part of Giscard's reasoning about referendums, but in fact he said it in the context of whether Ireland should have its own permanent commissioner:

ireland.com - The Irish Times - Thu, Jun 26, 2008 - Giscard rules out keeping of Irish commissioner

"Ireland is 1 per cent of the EU. You're not going to have your own commissioner. It isn't reasonable

Waterfield also ignores (as Migeru points out) Giscard's denunciation of the unfair use of what he has said about the unreadable nature of the Lisbon Treaty, which Giscard in fact criticised as "unworthy" and likely to encourage people in the idea they were being led by the nose.

And the byline claiming Giscard said future referendums would be ignored is tendentious. Giscard says

"there is no alternative" to a second Irish vote

which is not the same as saying referendums will be ignored. His words quoted by Waterfield in support of that idea

"We are evolving towards majority voting because if we stay with unanimity, we will do nothing," he said.

are about majority/unanimity principles in general, in response to a question asking whether the EU was not founded on the unanimity principle.

So it's a cut-and-paste job by Waterfield.

The final point is that Giscard is not as important as he's made out to be.

Waterfield:

The former President of France drafted the old Constitution

He did not. He chaired the drafting committee, and no doubt had considerable influence, but he wasn't alone in charge. And he has lost, rather than gained, influence as a result of the "Constitution" (he has been criticised for wanting to give it that grand title) being rejected - in his own country. So he's an elder statesman, unfortunately a narcissistic one who likes the sound of his own voice, but with no really considerable power.

But a vain and talkative former French president is quite a gift to the Eurosceptics. The sub-text in the Telegraph article, imo, is "here are the French dictating to everyone again". Par for the course from the UK press.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 10:58:41 AM EST
Waterfield also ignores (as Migeru points out) Giscard's denunciation

Thanks, but that was det.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 11:11:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Right. Apologies to det.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 11:21:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is, though, that the article reflects the opinion of a huge fraction of the population.

The original poster, Marie, for example, presumably thinks that there are trust problems associated with our current representative systems, and I hear this over and over in the U.S. For example, lack of trust in representative government is one of the arguments used to support a continued fight for "lower taxes," even if this gets translated into "lower taxes mostly for the rich" because since no system is perfect, a system that reduces my taxes even a little bit is better than one that raises them.

States in the western part of the U.S. tend to have systems that allow direct representation by citizen-initiated petitions for changes to state constitutions. This is a huge problem in California and Colorado, where the state constitutions continue to grow without bound, often with conflicting amendments that have to be sorted out by the courts, and with financial rules that make it virtually impossible for the legislatures to manage the state budget. Many, many people think that this is a better way to run things than for the citizens to give up control to, presumably, corrupt politicians.

In Colorado, the TABOR amendment has essentially crippled government services across the board. Many people think this is just fine.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxpayer_Bill_of_Rights

If there weren't so many obviously corrupt politicians, the arguments for representative government would be a lot easier to support...

by asdf on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 11:29:03 AM EST
What I'm trying to say is that there are plenty of people who have problems with representative government. What is the answer to their complaints?
by asdf on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 11:30:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When I talk to people who have had experience of "direct democracy" or "assembly democracy" (for instance, in radical leftist political movements in the 1960's) tend to have a negative impression of it. The breakdown of the initiative and referendum system adopted in several American states during the Progressive Era 100 years ago has been mentioned a couple of times by you and redstar, and I got to experience it when I was in California and I have to agree. The only people who seem happy with their direct democracy are the Swiss, but even in that case direct democracy leads to things like people denying citizenship to neighbours on a racist basis, female suffrage being delayed by several decades, and other "undesirable" outcomes. However, it doesn't seem that Swiss direct democracy (also adopted about 100 years ago) cripples the government to the extent it does in California.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 11:43:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Keep in mind that there are still big chunks of New England where the local governments are essentially run by direct participation, via the town meeting system. Although in many cases they have moved to representative town meetings--because they had problems making quorum...
by asdf on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 12:14:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So, does direct democracy not scale, is that the problem?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 12:21:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, because the quorum in a New England town is only a few hundred people out of maybe a population of 10,000--and yet they still can't get a quorum.

The problem is that most people aren't all that interested in politics, so any system gets manipulated by the few who are. I don't think you can get around this problem, actually.

Isn't it true that historically, most societies have had monarchies? Maybe that's the most natural way of running a government...

by asdf on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 12:30:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, the US is a parliamentary elective monarchy with term limits...

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 12:47:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
monarchy

You mean because Bush said Jesus wanted him to run for President or whatever?  PUH-lease.  Sen. Obama's campaign uses different language but is easily as religiously inspired as Bush's was.  Compare and contrast.

__
I am the most conservative Unitarian-Universalist you will ever meet.

by John in Michigan USA on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 01:35:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually I think that's what he just said.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 01:42:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sheesh...

If I remember correctly, Hamilton wanted the President to be elected for life. Republican Constitutions bear more than a passing resemblance to the monarchies they replace an the US system rather resembles the enlightened monarchies of the 18th century.

Not that I expect you to agree...

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 02:18:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One could argue that Hamilton's elected president for life is little more than a dictator.  However, to argue that he is a monarch, is to suggest that the source of the authority of office is both divine and hereditary.  

That is precisely the opposite of what Hamilton proposed, and even that was enough to get him smeared as a monarchist.  In any case, Washington prevailed in that argument, until a certain Progressive, FDR, thought he knew better.  He didn't.  Now Bush will leave office, and neither his relatives, nor anyone from America's other, parvenu royal family (the Clintons), will replace him.

That suggests to me that even Hamilton's non-monarchy idea remains a fairly rare meme in the American memepool.

__
I am the most conservative Unitarian-Universalist you will ever meet.

by John in Michigan USA on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 03:41:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
to argue that he is a monarch, is to suggest that the source of the authority of office is both divine and hereditary

I said elected monarchy. You might be interested in knowing Germanic tribes (among others) used to have such a system. A monarch doesn't have to be hereditary or by divine right to be a monarch.

You mentioned FDR - see also De Gaulle.

How many US american elected politicians are children of political families, by the way? The dynastic principle is active.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 03:49:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and I also disagree with

One could argue that Hamilton's elected president for life is little more than a dictator.

Hamilton's President for Life still needs the Congress to enact laws, appoint the Supreme Court and pass the budget. Unless he chooses to rule by executive order. And even then he can be impeached.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 04:10:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
All I meant is that if you had called the Presidency an elected dictator with term limits, you would still be wrong, but not as wrong as calling it an elected monarchy with term limits :-P

__
I am the most conservative Unitarian-Universalist you will ever meet.
by John in Michigan USA on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 07:11:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but were the voters in these Germanic tribes noblemen themselves?

More importantly, in their political culture, was the question of who to elect phrased as "to whom shall we delegate our sovereign power?" or was is phrased as "who do we think has the true divine mandate?"  In the former sense, the source of authority is the people themselves; in the later, the source of authority is God.  So an elected monarch would still be very different than an elected president for life.

When I write divine mandate I am thinking of the Asian concept that the ruler rules with the mandate of heaven.

A broader example: In traditional Islam, the caliph was selected by consultation.  This was a form of election, it varied between election by consensus, and election by majority.  Of course, "the people" meant the Community of Believers (Ummah) which excluded women and non-Muslims.  But most importantly for this discussion, they weren't delegating their power to the caliph; all power and legitimacy came from Allah and was delegated by Allah directly to Muhammad.  The Ummah was merely using the "wisdom of the crowd" to decide who was Muhammad's true successor.  In that sense, the caliph could be said to be a sort of elected monarch.

Do you see the difference?

So aside from snarking Bush as some sort of theocrat, which is absurd, I just don't see the utility of the term elected monarch to describe the US Presidency, or even Hamilton's ideas.

__
I am the most conservative Unitarian-Universalist you will ever meet.

by John in Michigan USA on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 07:07:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I see the difference.

You focus on the cultural narrative source of legitimacy - is it divine right or the will of the people?

I focus on the functional form of the government - executive heads of state who are also commanders in chief (see US, France, Russia) vs. "prime ministers" who are "first among peers" in an elected parliament under a figurehead (whether the latter is elected or nor is mostly inconsequential).


When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 02:33:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I note that the elected monarch system continued into Christian times, in the Holy Roman Empire [of the German Nation]. The Emperor was always elected. The circle of electors narrowed down from all free men to the top noblemen, who carried the title Kurfürst (older spelling: Churfürst; c. "elector-count").

I find the last Emperor, Francis II, carried a title reflecting a narrative combining the divine and the will of the people: divina favente clementia electus Romanorum Imperator, semper Augustus = "Roman Emperor elected by the mercy of God, always multiplier of the Empire [sic!]".

Some kings have been elected by assemblies of noblemen in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Kingdom of Hungary, too.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 04:02:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Some kings have been elected by assemblies of noblemen in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Kingdom of Hungary, too.

All kings were elected in the Commonwealth, which also had a strong parliament (Sejm) and weak king system. All members of the noble estate had the right to vote. Since the nobility constituted some ten percent of the population on narrow suffrage grounds you could say the Commonwealth was more democratic than the UK before the Second Reform Act. More broadly that wasn't the case because of indirect voting (the nobles elected provincial 'sejmiki' which then elected the Sejm), open voting, and most importantly the hierarchical patron-client relationships of what was still a pretty feudal society.

by MarekNYC on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 06:50:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hm, I thought the Jagiellons were dynastic, so I went to Wiki... and found

  1. a terminology issue: I was thinking of the Polish-Lithuanian Union (1385-1795), of which the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was only the last inception (1569-1795);

  2. the Jagiellons themselves, despite dynastic succession, had to face election:

History of Poland (1385-1569) - Wikipedia
In 1505 Sejm concluded that no new law could be established without the agreement of the nobility (the Nihil Novi act). King Alexander Jagiellon was forced to agree to this settlement. The Sejm operated on the principle of unanimous consent, regarding each noble as irreducibly sovereign. In a further safeguard of minority rights, Polish usage sanctioned the right of a group of nobility to form a confederation, which in effect constituted an uprising aimed at redress of grievances. The nobility also possessed the crucial right to elect the monarch, although the Jagiellons were in practice a hereditary ruling house in all but the formal sense. In fact, Jagiellons had to give privileges to the nobles to encourage them to elect their sons to be the successors. Those privileges reduced king's power. King Sigismund II Augustus was the last of Jagiellon dynasty; he had no sons. The prestige of the Jagiellons and the certainty of their succession supplied an element of cohesion that tempered the disruptive forces built into the state system.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jun 30th, 2008 at 07:45:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
divine

Well, the monarch may, in theory, be anointed by God, but I'd quite like to point out that in the UK we beheaded the last monarch fool enough to believe it (or at least to act upon it).  And that was over a century before the War of Independence.

by Sassafras on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 07:18:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am very aware and concerned by the flaws of the current representative democracies and I don't hold most of the politicians in high esteem. However, I don't think there are so many obviously corrupt politicians in our countries. On the contrary, they represent a very small share of the numerous local and national politicians who make our democracies function.

And we must be careful: claiming that all politicians are corrupt has been a leitmotiv of the extreme-right throughout history (at least since the French revolution)...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 11:58:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And the other leitmotif of the extreme right, that of perpetual decline (some shades of which I read in Flipe Gonzalez interview Mig so well captured and xlated, when discussing "decadence" of of the EU states), is another one we should be wary of.

The fact of the matter is the regressive elements in France have been decrying France's decline since Napoleonic times. If in fact France has been in the sort of severe decline the right (and elements of the center-left whose time has alas passed them by) have been supposing since the days of the revolution, I wonder how it is were are still clothed, fed and housed, much less having developed a vibrant mixed economy.

 

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 12:11:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
However, I hope you won't deny my leftiness if I say that majorities for right-wingers and the centre-left's continuous shoft to the right is a decline (even if hopefully temporary) :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 02:29:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
oh no, you are absolutely correct. I am referring to the classic phenomenon of those who see decline whenever progress is made ;-)


The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 02:49:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Many, many people think that this is a better way to run things than for the citizens to give up control to, presumably, corrupt politicians.

The initiative referendum was passed at the urging of Hiram Johnson, the Progressive-Republican governor of California, in a time when the Progressives were a part of the Republican Party.  He also championed the direct election of U.S. Senators and women's suffrage.

At the time it was passed, it was a liberal reform. Especially since 1977, with the passage of the infamous Proposition 13 in California, which froze property taxes at the value assessed at time of purchase, it has come to be used by conservative groups with considerable effect. They are planning a referendum to overturn the legalization of single sex marriages this November.  But I expect they will loose.  Times have changed for some things.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 08:24:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is not to gainsay asdf's point about confidence in governments and elected officials in general, but it's an interesting sidelight.

This is from the latest Eurobarometer poll (69) (Spring 2008):

From which it appears that citizens' confidence in their national institutions is lower than in the EU.

Ireland, BTW, polled at 62% trust in the EU. Go figure.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jun 30th, 2008 at 08:50:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think there is some apples and oranges here: the equvalent of "the EU" would be "Ireland" or "political institutions of Ireland"; the separate question for EU institutions might be more in place. But not that different:

  • EP: 52% (-3); in Ireland 62% (-1)
  • Commission ("Brussels Bureaucrats"): 47% trust (-3); in Ireland 54% (-6)
  • Council: the fuckers left it out of the first report!


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jun 30th, 2008 at 01:06:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I admit to not quite understanding your point.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jun 30th, 2008 at 04:31:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe if I hadn't left out two words: "But the result is not that different:"

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 1st, 2008 at 01:44:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I still don't understand. Why apples and oranges? Why separate the EP from the Commission and Council?

The question asked above simply cited "The European Union", compared to "[your country's] parliament" and "[your country's] government".

Irish respondents said (see Tables in Eurobarometer69) they trusted :

  • the Irish parliament : 37% (+5)
  • the Irish government : 42% (+9)
  • the European Union   : 62% (+7)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 1st, 2008 at 02:47:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, you're looking at further chapters in the poll on the Commission and EP, the Council not being covered. But I'm still too thick to see what you're driving at.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 1st, 2008 at 02:59:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the apples and oranges part, what is there not to understand? "The EU" is neither a government, nor a parliament, but has institutions that are the equivalents of those; and neither the Irish parliament, nor the Irish government suffice as the equivalent of a prospective Confederation/Federation/Superstate.

Now, does that matter?

It can, in theory: one can have a positive image of something in general while having a low opinion of the particulars. (Witness Bush's job satisfaction ratings as opposed to his ratings on policies a few years ago.) One can have a romantic positive image of a political structure while having a low opinion of its real existing institutions. So, in theory, it may be that some people think the EU is a great thing, but think of nasty Brussels Bureaucrats and alternatively of McCreepy and attempts to take away Ireland's Commissioner when the Commission is mentioned, or think of waste when the EP is mentioned, or think of lack of transparency and horse-trading when the Council is mentioned, whatever.

But in the end, I was not 'driving at' anything, my 'drive' came to an end: my comment meant to say that having checked the numbers, the overall picture doesn't change if the correct comparisons are used, thus the apples-and-oranges thing became a minor quibble.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 1st, 2008 at 06:24:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, thanks, now I get it. <light dawns>

The interesting point for me was just to indicate that the general perception of the EU (vague though it might be) in Ireland was positive. And (wrt the diary title) the keyword in the question was "trust".

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 1st, 2008 at 06:36:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On a point that is less of a nitpick, poll data was collected until the end of April in Ireland - the negative campaign heated up and poll numbers became close thereafter.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 1st, 2008 at 07:31:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Could you please answer the comments?

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 12:01:00 PM EST
(though not Finland), citizens are required to serve jury duty in lower courts. I have a suggestion: that politicians be required to serve citizen duty. They would be required, for each four years of elected status, to live for 2 months in an 'ordinary' life, as decided by the citizens. They would be assigned a job in a factory or office, be paid the going wage, and have no access to their family home, their bank accounts, their cars etc etc for the period.

Totally stupid and impossible, I know. But imagine the informed decision-making that would result. ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 06:13:35 AM EST
Why should it be limited to the politicians ?

That would help democratic decision making at the citizen level, too.

And the random "Homeless" assignment would drive home the point that a society should be judged by the way it treats the worse off.

Ahh, Maoism...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 08:00:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It has been done-at least for a week:

Matthew Parris on living on benefit

But, though it wouldn't be true to say he learned nothing, he seems to have interpreted it pretty much through the lens of his existing beliefs.

[Murdoch alert.  Murdoch columnist alert]

by Sassafras on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 08:22:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it was the Romans who had the tradition that for one day of the year, the slave-owner and household slaves exchanged places. For some Roman nobles, that turned out to be a rather sobering experience. I think I remember a story about one slave-owner who was castrated by his slaves on their day off because he had a habit of raping his female slaves (I think he did something suitably nasty to the slaves the next day when things were back to normal, though).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 03:58:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Did any patricians ever get sold off on their day off?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 04:04:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know, but I can't see why anybody would want to buy them. After all, on the next day they would go back to being Patricians. Of course, the fact that I can't see it doesn't mean that it isn't there...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 04:19:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Only the females? Raping slaves of both sexes was Roman Empire standard.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jun 30th, 2008 at 07:49:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I may have read the sanitised version. Or I may have remembered the part about the slaves being tired of being raped and interpolated the gender of the slaves. I don't recall.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jul 1st, 2008 at 12:02:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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