Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Soldier of Monarchy: Hermann-Maurice, Comte de Saxe

In the annals of the military history of the Kingdom of France (which is impressive despite what detractors say), one name that stands out is that of Hermann-Maurice, Comte de Saxe. Not only was he a brilliantly successful battlefield commander and quite possibly the greatest soldier of his time, he was easily one of the most influential war captains in the history of the world. King Frederick the Great and, later, Napoleon Bonaparte both learned a great deal from the example and the writings of the famous Maurice de Saxe. Born at Goslar, Lower Saxony, in Germany on October 28, 1696 he was the illegitimate son of Augustus II, aka “Augustus the Strong” who was King of Poland and Elector of Saxony by one of his mistresses, Countess Maria Aurora of Koenigsmarck. After only two years he was sent to live with his father in Warsaw, Poland but the tumultuous state of affairs that prevailed in the old Kingdom of Poland meant that he spent most of his childhood elsewhere. His lack of parental supervision also meant that he grew up to be a very independent and self-reliant young man.

Before he was even a teenager he already began gaining first-hand experience at the art of war and that at the hands of one of the greatest captains of all time, Prince Eugene of Savoy. Along with the Prince and his Austrian Imperial forces, Maurice de Saxe participated in numerous successful campaigns, battles and sieges. He threw himself into the occupation of professional soldier and was so fearless that the Prince of Savoy had to remind him that being brave was not to be confused with being reckless. As he served with the Allied forces in the War of the Spanish Succession, with the Saxon military contingent, he was able to see the leadership style and learn first hand from two of the greatest that ever lived, his own commander Prince Eugene of Savoy and the commander of the British forces, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, a thoroughly despicable man but quite possibly the greatest English general in history.

Maurice de Saxe was a quick study, bold and ambitious. He rose rapidly in rank by his own merit, becoming a colonel at seventeen. Ironically enough, the enemy he most often faced was the French, though he also served against the Swedes in the north, at that time serving under the command of another illustrious historical figure; Czar Peter the Great of Russia. When not fighting battles, he also became quite notorious for his womanizing, drinking and rather “colorful” private life. In 1713 he married but spent the fortune of his wife on a string of mistresses and ended by persuading his father to purchase him a commission with a German regiment serving in the French army. A common practice at the time, this was done and in France Maurice de Saxe showed such a talent at training his men, particularly in musketry tactics, that he was soon promoted to brigadier general.
His greatest trial, in personal if not military terms, came soon after when the death of his father sparked the War of the Polish Succession. Loyal to his employer, the King of France, Maurice de Saxe was compelled to face both his own brother, Frederick Augustus II, and his old mentor Prince Eugene of Savoy as Saxony and Austria were on the other side in this conflict.

The young Maurice was able to prove that he had learned his lessons well and he won a string of solid victories. In 1734 he gained his greatest fame to date by his action in covering the siege of Philippsburg. His success on the battlefield more than warranted his rise to lieutenant general by the time the war was over but he was also helped by the fact that King Louis XV had taken notice of him and, even more to the point, he was good friends with the King’s mistress Madame de Pompadour who could be counted on to always speak up in his favor. However, no one should think for a moment that he owed his rising status to his connections at court. His brilliant military leadership was proven time and time again.

In 1740, with the start of the War of Austrian Succession, he first commanded an unofficial “army”, a group of French volunteers fighting for Bavaria. He planned the campaign and led the attack that succeeded in capturing the historic city of Prague and later, when France officially joined the war in 1744, he was sent to Flanders to command the royal army with the rank of Marshal of France. This was a critical period for it would see Maurice de Saxe and his French army triumph over enemies that outmatched his in every way, in training, experience and in numbers. The only thing France had which the others could not match was the mind of Maurice de Saxe himself and he ultimately prevailed over the combined armies of Austria, the Netherlands and Great Britain.

One of his greatest moments of triumph came on April 25, 1745 at the siege of Tournai which clearly demonstrated his remarkable leadership. An allied relief column was approaching and Maurice de Saxe took a portion of his troops and deployed them on carefully chosen high ground at Fontenoy to block this column. This, they successfully accomplished, using a powerful combination of musketry and artillery fire that inflicted very heavy losses on the allied forces. Still, by sheer weight of numbers, it looked as though they would break through the French defensive lines. At that point, Maurice de Saxe, who had been confined to a litter due to a bad case of dropsy, rose up to rally the French troops, inspiring them by his personal example, to beat back the enemy in fierce fighting. Fontenoy would go down as one of the greatest victories Maurice de Saxe ever achieved and he followed it up by capturing Ghent, Brussels, Antwerp, Mons and Namur, cutting a swathe across Belgium and becoming only the third general in French history to be awarded the rank of Marshal-General of France. Unrelenting, de Saxe pushed on into the Netherlands and in the last year of the war won another victory at Lauffeld and captured Maastricht on May 7, 1748.

Once the peace was negotiated, Maurice de Saxe was easily the most prominent military commander in France and widely considered one of the best in the world. In thanks, the King gave him a chateaux, to which he retired but he kept his old German regiment camped on his estate where he continued to refine his training and tactics with them. Sadly, he also continued his very dissolute private life with a succession of mistresses and wild parties. When the famous marshal dropped dead on November 30, 1750 some said he had been killed in a duel while others, more credibly, said it had been after over exerting himself while “interviewing” a group of eight young actresses. Talent and good character certainly do not always travel hand-in-hand. Nonetheless, it would not be for his debauchery that Maurice de Saxe would be best known but for his matchless skill as a military commander, influencing the art of war for ages to come and influencing generations of the great captains of history.

What was it that made Maurice de Saxe so successful? He was an innovative thinker, though not so much in what he fought with but how he used the resources available. He was extremely adept at integrating the use of cavalry, infantry and artillery to best effect and was a master of maneuver. The careful attention he gave to training paid huge dividends in this area as he was able to adeptly move his forces around the battlefield, bringing reinforcements in at the right place at the right time so that he was able, on numerous occasions, to defeat forces far superior to his own. Furthermore, he had a leadership style that galvanized his soldiers. He was able to keep up their morale, inspire them to acts of bravery and determined resistance. His men admired him and his presence on the field at a particular place often proved instrumental in winning a victory. He also displayed an uncanny ability to evaluate his enemies, get inside their heads and so, despite his reputation for recklessness as a youth, was able to give battle on terms most favorable to his own army. He knew how to use his artillery to best effect and came up with a very well balanced combination of cannon, cavalry and infantry to bring about the best results.

Few would dispute that Maurice de Saxe was the most capable battlefield commander of the mid-Eighteenth Century and yet, through his writings, his influence was to be felt for many, many years to come. His book, “My Thoughts”, written in 1732, was considered the definitive work on how to train, organize and prepare an army for war. Of course, not all of his ideas held up in the long-term such as the attention he gave to weapons such as the plug-bayonet, which would soon be replaced by the more practical socket-bayonet and the pike which would be discarded altogether very quickly in the age of the musket. Still, his emphasis on close cooperation between the three main branches of the army, were well in advance of their time and would make his book ‘required reading’ for French officers under Napoleon. Alongside Napoleon and Jomini, Maurice de Saxe remains today one of the most influential military thinkers in the French history of warfare.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Popular Sovereignty VS a Popular Sovereign

Since at least the late XVIII Century the nature of sovereignty has been changing in the world, particularly and starting in the western world. A dramatic example of this was seen with the creation of the United States of America. Having discarded the monarchy, and with it the concept of having a single individual as the sovereign, a personal sovereign one might say, the new Union of republican states instead embraced the concept of “popular sovereignty”. This meant that, ideally anyway, that everyone was sovereign. The people collectively were the sovereign of this new country rather than an individual person who sat on a throne and wore a crown. This is why, to this day, in legal cases on a national level, cases are known as “the People vs. John Doe” whereas in Canada or the United Kingdom such a case would be known as “the Crown vs. John Doe” because America has popular sovereignty whereas the British and Canadians have a monarch who is the sovereign, represented in legal terms by “the Crown”.

The United States, however, was not nearly so influential or had nearly so great an impact as many people today like to think, their perception being warped by either how powerful the United States has become or by their own exalted view of the country. For most of its early history, the USA was seen as a relatively minor collection of former British colonies on the edge of a distant wilderness, a sort of geopolitical oddity that was not likely to long endure. Much more significant and consequential was the larger, more radical and more horrific French Revolution which again saw a sovereign (King Louis XVI) replaced by popular sovereignty. That regime did not long endure but it had a huge impact and would come back again and again until the crowned heads of Europe began to feel compelled to make some sort of accommodation with its concepts. So it was that emperors suddenly became more popular and more numerous in the western world and there was, for a relatively brief time, a fascination with the concept of what is known as “popular monarchy”.

In a popular monarchy, while there was still an individual sovereign, that sovereign was the sovereign of a people rather than a particular piece of territory. So, King Louis Philippe was not “King of France” but rather, “King of the French”. Leopold I was not the “King of Belgium” but rather, “King of the Belgians” and one of the last to take such a tone was the Prussian Wilhelm I who, while remaining King of Prussia, did not become “Emperor of Germany” but took the title “German Emperor”. This change in titles was not, of course, in itself all that significant. The King of England had previously been known as the “King of the English”, the official title of the Kings of Sweden had been, “King of the Swedes, Goths and Wends” and so on, however, it symbolized a change in attitudes and a new and major shift in the nature of how countries or peoples are ruled which was the rise of what is known as “representative government” to a higher status and more widespread status than the world had probably seen since before the fall of the Roman Empire. As a result of this, even in countries where the titles did not change, the system effectively did. The United Kingdom, as mentioned, has a sovereign but it behaves in a similar fashion to countries with popular sovereignty, even to the point of referring to the people as “citizens” rather than “subjects” now. That is because the UK just like the US and most other countries, whether in name or in fact, have embraced the liberal concept of representative government.

Now, if these two concepts; popular sovereignty and representative government, are not one and the same, why address them both together? I address them both together because it seems to me, in light of current events and recent history, that they have come together to create a ‘perfect storm’ of thoroughly bad government. Representative government, particularly after the French Revolution and the rise of mass involvement in government by the populace through the franchise, gave rise to politics as we know it today. It led to the creation of political parties and competing ideologies that formed warring tribes struggling to dominate the levers of power, none of which had existed before. This, in my view, has been extremely detrimental to civilization. However, representative government was able to make a good case for itself and that in accordance with traditional authority and what became known as popular monarchy or constitutional monarchy more broadly. Representative bodies, such as the Westminster Parliament in England or the Estates-General in France or the Imperial Diet in Germany were meant to be, originally, advisory bodies. They were to assist the monarch in the governing of the country by putting forward ideas, refined by vigorous debate and examination, as well as to provide a mild reflection of popular sentiment so that the boundaries of what the public would be willing to tolerate would be known. This could be, and at times was, quite beneficial.

Ultimately, however, the rise of liberalism, illustrated by the embracing of popular sovereignty, began to change the nature of this relationship. Power shifted and the change can be seen quite clearly in Britain today where the monarch is said to advise the government whereas in the past it was supposed to have been the other way around. With no individual sovereign to owe allegiance to, allegiance was instead given to rather vague concepts or to “the people” as a whole. This did not last long and has quickly degenerated. Sovereignty has become another example of what is known as “the tragedy of the commons” (something libertarians most often talk about). What does that mean? It means that if everyone is sovereign then, really, there is no sovereign. Just like land that is supposed to belong to everyone, effectively doesn’t belong to anyone and so falls into disuse and neglect. If “everyone is special” then effectively no one is special. This seems to be happening today and I do not think it would be much of a stretch to say that the shift from individual sovereignty to popular sovereignty has had something to do with what is going on right now.

Take, for example, the ongoing problem of mass movement of peoples. Be it waves of people from the Middle East and Africa coming into Europe or the rush of people from Central America coming into the United States, there is a great deal of this going on across the so-called First World group of countries. This actually has a great deal to do with sovereignty and brings up some fundamental questions about the very concept of representative government which, unfortunately, I have yet to see any prominent person ask or address the issue in any way. It comes down to the observation that the politicians in countries like the USA, Germany or Sweden do not seem to feel themselves limited to representing the people who put them in office but rather that they must represent the interests of various and sundry peoples all around the world.

Say that you are a Somali who has entered Europe illegally and made your way to Sweden. You claim refugee status on the grounds that Somalia is too poor, violent and dangerous for you to live there. Usually, such claims are bogus because such a person, if actually fleeing imminent danger, would seek the nearest available haven and not keep going all the way to the northernmost reaches of Europe, but, nonetheless, Somalia has, since its independence, been an extremely unpleasant place to live where danger is certainly never far away. What should be asked, though, is what any of this has to do with the Kingdom of Sweden? For the Swedes to accept Somali refugees on the grounds that Somalia is too violent and chaotic to live in and so accommodation must be made for these people in Sweden is to accept that the Swedish people, that the Swedish government which is supposed to represent their interests, is also responsible for the interests and wellbeing of the Somali people. How can this be? The Somalis did not vote the Swedish government into power, the Somalis do not pay the taxes that Swedish officials spend and the Swedish flag does not fly over, nor has it ever flown over, Somalia. The hellish condition of that country has nothing to do with Sweden. So, again, one must ask why the representative government of Sweden, which is supposed to represent the interests of the Swedish people who put them in power, feels compelled to also represent the interests of the Somali people and assume responsibility for their safety and wellbeing?

This is a major problem for the concept of representative government in the world today, the very fundamental nature of the concept itself seems to be changing and no one is really talking about it or offering any explanation. I remember saying this when America was dealing with the flood of illegal immigrants, all claiming refugee status, from Central American countries like Honduras or Guatemala. I said at the time that if, as many are arguing including President Obama, the United States is responsible for these people, that they must accept them and care for them because their quality of life in Guatemala is so bad, you are effectively saying that the United States is responsible for how Guatemala functions, its security and its economy, in which case the Marines should be landed, the American flag raised, a Governor appointed and we should start teaching them all English because Guatemala is not really an independent country but belongs to the United States!

Obviously, if anyone important were to suggest such a thing, there would immediately be cries of imperialism or colonialism. Nor do I think that would be the ideal situation as I have no doubt Guatemala would be an even worse case than Puerto Rico, a territory that is a drain on the U.S. economy and which tends to resent or even outright despise the country they depend on for economic bailouts. However, the point is that for some reason there are politicians in America who feel as though they must represent the interests of the people of Guatemala even though the Guatemalans did not vote for them, do not pay their salary and do not even belong to the same country. This is not the same as normal immigration after all, these are cases of huge influxes of peoples from various countries who are claiming that they do not need to follow the rules and established procedures for immigration because their situation is particularly desperate and, for some reason, the people in Germany are responsible for providing a better life for Syrians or the people in Belgium are responsible for the quality of life of Algerians and so on.

Is this a result of the change in how we view sovereignty? I cannot say, but it is certainly a thought worth considering in my view because I think a good case can be made. Sadly, few people seem interested in pondering the point. There are, though, some cases one could point to that the issue of sovereignty in general is something that some people in some countries at least are willing to look at. In Europe, of course, this usually involves the European Union as people in Britain and more recently in France and Italy have begun to reject or at least question the authority of the European Union which contradicts the assertion that member countries are truly sovereign states. I have also been encouraged by recent events in Japan where the efforts to enact constitutional reform have included proposals to end the frankly bizarre status quo and reassert the status of the Emperor as Head of State, which His Majesty effectively is but legally is termed only as the “symbol” of the state since the post-war constitution brought the concept of popular sovereignty to Japan. If, as the conservative reformers wish, the Emperor is placed above the constitution rather than being subject to it, that will come extremely close to reverting back to the Emperor being the Japanese sovereign and away from popular sovereignty even if the change is not made specifically. I think that would be a good thing.

Too many countries have allowed their sovereignty to be watered down and I think all would be well served by taking the concept more seriously. Certainly in the case of the monarchies of the world, it should be clear and unequivocal that the monarch is the sovereign and all are expected to give that sovereign their unqualified allegiance. I cannot help but think that the shift, in fact or in name, toward popular sovereignty has led to the current situation. If everyone is sovereign, then no one is sovereign and if no one is sovereign there is no final focus of allegiance. I also cannot believe that it is entirely coincidental that this change in attitude has corresponded with the breakdown in representative government as the politicians who are supposed to represent the interests of their constituents, now see themselves as unbounded by any ties of loyalty, nationality or law to represent the interests of any people anywhere in the world they wish. That this is a damaging and unhealthy state of affairs is, to my mind, quite self-evident.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Battlefield Royal Profile: Princess Pingyang of China

These days, radical feminists would have one believe that in traditional, pre-revolutionary societies women were inevitably treated as property, were oppressed and never allowed to show what they were capable of achieving. Yet, it was in the Middle Ages that Europe saw women who were capable military commanders like St Joan of Arc or Matilda of Canossa. Even earlier, in China, there is the example of Princess Pingyang, a warrior-princess who proved to be a shrewd political and military leader. She was born in 598, during the Sui Dynasty, the third daughter of Li Yuan, Duke of Tang by his consort the Duchess Dou, the only daughter he had by that wife. It was a chaotic time in China as the Sui Dynasty was nearing the end of its life and was beset by internal unrest as well as frantic efforts by the state to lash out in desperation to survive. Her father, military commander of Taiyuan in Shanxi province, had been imprisoned by the Sui authorities and this undoubtedly encouraged him to rebel against the Sui Empire.

He had earlier married Pingyang to the son of the Duke of Julu, Chai Shao and when he determined to rise against the Sui, he wrote to his children, who were in the capital of Chang’an, asking them to come join him in Taiyuan. Princess Pingyang sent her husband along first, knowing that, as a woman, she would arouse less suspicion and could join him later and perceiving that if they all suddenly moved at the same time it could alert the authorities that something was up. At first, Pingyang went into hiding but was all the while working to support her father in his effort to claim the Mandate of Heaven. The Sui Emperor Yang, a rather brutal man who lacked the ability to back up his ambitions, being beaten in separate campaigns by the Koreans in the north and the Vietnamese in the south, provided the final push for the rebellion by ordering the execution of Li Yuan. His daughter was prepared to do everything in her power to prevent that order from being carried out and proved herself cunning and courageous in the process.

While in hiding, Pingyang disposed of all of her wealth, using it to buy the support of a rough collection of about a hundred leaders and warlords. The region was suffering from famine and she gained a huge amount of popular support by opening up her grain stockpile to the locals, winning their affection and allegiance. Once this was done, she openly rose up in rebellion, along with the other forces of her family, against Emperor Yang. With her own army behind her, she was better placed to increase her forces through her own effective persuasion. Sending off letters via one of her servants, she enlisted the support of the rural insurgent leader He Panren and united under her banner the existing rebel factions of Li Zhongwen, Qiu Shili and Xiang Shanzhi. Her combined forces, because she led them herself, became known as the “Army of the Lady”. Those whose support she could not buy with money, resources or rank in her army, she swiftly defeated on the battlefield, always giving the survivors of her beaten foe the chance to join the winning side and so help make good her own losses.

It is extremely remarkable that a woman such as her was able to accomplish all of this, in a very traditional society based on Confucian morality but also that she was doing so at the tender age of only 20. Veteran, battle scarred bandits and warriors followed her into battle and she demonstrated an amazing range of talent by how she was able to raise such an army, by bribery, inspiration or political maneuvering and then to also lead to victory on the field of combat. She also showed great diplomatic skill in winning widespread support for the cause of her father by distributing food to the peasants as she conquered towns and villages while also keeping her very colorful collection of soldiers from looting or molesting the locals as was often the case with other armies.

Near the end of 617 her father, Li Yuan, crossed the Yellow River into the capital district of Chang’an to threaten the Sui seat of power. With 70,000 men in her “Army of the Lady”, Pingyang represented a threat that the Sui Emperor could not ignore. Unfortunately for him, she crushed every loyalist force sent to oppose her. As her father gathered his forces together, she commanded one wing of his wider army. Her husband has his own troops but each had their own commands and Pingyang was subordinate only to her father and had her own generals serving under her. Together, their combined forces crushed the remaining Sui loyalists. Emperor Yang fled and was finally killed by one of his own disgruntled generals. It was left to his grandson, Emperor Gong, to preside over the final downfall of the Sui, the only significant event of his brief reign. He formally handed over the Mandate of Heaven to Li Yuan who thus became Emperor Gaozu, founder of the Tang Dynasty. His daughter then officially became Princess Pingyang of the Great Tang Empire. Although the new Emperor had eighteen other daughters, none were ever shown as much favor as Princess Pingyang who had played such an important part in the founding of the Tang Dynasty.

There were, of course, other campaigns to be fought to solidify and secure the new dynasty but Princess Pingyang would play no part in any of that and after the successful capture of Chang’an she never set foot on a battlefield again. She had fought because she felt she had to and once her father was placed on the Dragon Throne, her mission was accomplished and she could return to the more peaceful domestic life. Sadly, her life did not last much longer. When she was only 24 or 25 she died in 623. Over the objections of his orthodox Confucian officials, Emperor Gaozu ordered that his daughter be buried with full military honors, in recognition of her part as one of his top generals in the fight to bring the Tang Dynasty to power. One sticking point was the presence of a band and the use of drums which was unheard of for the funeral of a woman. The Emperor, however, insisted, saying that, “The band would be playing military music. The Princess personally beat the drums and rose in righteous rebellion to help me establish the dynasty. How can she be treated as an ordinary woman?”

The life of Princess Pingyang may have been short but it was certainly unforgettable. Her victories were critical, the public support she won was essential and her inspiration was no small part of how the Tang Dynasty was able to establish itself. As it happens, the Tang period would go on to be one of the higher points in Chinese civilization and over all the years since the part played by Princess Pingyang has never been forgotten. To this day she remains a popular figure in art, literature and works of drama for stage and screen. Even so many centuries later Princess Pingyang is one of the most famous and easily one of the most admired women in Chinese imperial history.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Monarch Profile: Czar Alexander II of Russia

The reign of Alexander II Nikolayevich, Czar of all the Russias, stands as a tragic illustration of the old adage that, ‘no good deed goes unpunished’. His time on the Russian throne saw many important changes in Russia and in Russian interaction with the outside world. Actions which Alexander II took had a profound impact on his country and the world around him. At least as important as the actions he took, however, was the fate which befell him as this had a dramatic effect on the nature of Romanov rule in the eras of the two Russian emperors which followed after him. His reign reveals the immense potential that the Russian Empire possessed as well as revealing the great dangers that were festering in its midst which would ultimately lead to the downfall of this empire which had, for centuries, stood as a colossus on the world stage. Czar Alexander II was a man who tried to learn from the successes and failures of those who had gone before him and his own successors would take a hard lesson from how he fared as the autocrat known to history as, “the Czar Liberator”.

His Imperial Highness Grand Duke Alexander Nikolayevich of Russia was born in Moscow on April 29, 1818 to the “Iron Czar” Nicholas I and his consort Charlotte of Prussia. Obviously, with a father known to history as the “Iron Czar” and a mother who was the daughter of a Prussian king, the atmosphere in which Alexander was raised could be called extremely conservative to put it mildly. He had a somewhat liberal tutor for the time, upon whom historians have tended to put rather too much emphasis in explaining the later actions of Alexander but he was given a very well rounded if not extremely intricate education. It was, rather, life experience which was most to shape the views and actions of Alexander in his adult life. As is often the case, he was quite a different character from his very strict father and would come to possess a considerably different worldview from the Russian monarchs who preceded as well as succeeded him. His time as a free and unattached youth was rather short as his father passed away during the height of the Crimean War in 1855 when Alexander was only 37. The state of affairs that existed at the time of his coming to the Russian throne was to effect him profoundly.

On September 7, 1855 Czar Alexander II was crowned “Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias” in a grand and solemn Orthodox ceremony. His distaste for military adventures was certainly impacted by the fact that he came to the throne at a time when Russia had lost the Crimean War and it had fallen to him to agree to the peace terms imposed by the Allies, primarily the British and French empires. The importance of this was quite significant. Czar Alexander II had seen his father stand as the champion of traditional authority in Europe. He had extended help to the Austrian Empire in suppressing rebellion and had offered it to others only to see these same powers collude against Russia, on the side of Ottoman Turkey, or at least take no action to come to the aid of Russia. Not only did this defeat sour Alexander II on the subject of war but it also caused him to take a more pragmatic and less idealistic view of foreign affairs than his father had. There was to be no ‘brotherhood of monarchs’ among the crowned heads of Europe and so, Alexander II would play the diplomatic game and seek to gain what advantage for his country he could and align himself with those powers most similar to Russia in their values, politics and system of government.

Austria and Prussia had at least remained neutral, though Austria had certainly threatened to intercede against Russia which caused a souring of relations which never really ended while he would always harbor suspicions of the French and British. The Crimean fiasco also prompted changes at home. Russia had been defeated, frankly, by relatively minor expeditionary forces which she should have been able to crush swiftly and completely. Czar Alexander II studied the matter closely and found rampant corruption and gross inefficiency in the upper echelons of his empire. This, not without foundation it must be said, he tended to blame on the aristocracy which he viewed as altogether too grasping and devoted to leisure rather than the good of the nation. His hopes, therefore, were placed on the great mass of the Russian peasantry, hard working, God fearing, loyal people who endured much and seemed more simplistic and wholesome.

As a result, not long after taking the throne, Czar Alexander II began instituting a series of reforms such as abolishing corporal punishment, allowing for elected judges and encouraging local self-government. Because of this, some historians have labeled Alexander II a “liberal” but he was far too sensible a man for that. Rather, it was his belief that the autocracy could be maintained as part of a modern state and his reforms were aimed at making Russia more efficient, more effective and more prosperous. He had supported the strict defense of the autocracy of his father and never wavered in that position, however, he thought that with the proper changes Russia could advance to the level of countries like Britain and France which had triumphed over Russia due to how backward Russia was in terms of industry, infrastructure and the state bureaucracy. In general, it was his ministers who carried out these reforms though the Czar did deal personally with some he took a particular interest in and he was instrumental in settling disputes between his top officials.

One act for which Alexander II remains famous in “the New World” was his decision to sell Alaska to the United States of America in 1867. Some, given the immense mineral wealth discovered there later, have criticized the Czar for this but, it must be remembered, at the time many Americans thought they were the ones who had gotten the worst of the deal. Before anyone knew of the gold and oil deposits there, it seemed that the U.S. had simply purchased a huge, frozen wilderness that was largely uninhabitable and devoid of prospects for development. In any event, Alexander II had sold the territory simply because of the continued tensions between Russia and the British Empire. The Russian presence in the region was extremely minimal and there was no way Russia could defend the territory. Alexander II feared, not unreasonably, that the British could easily move from Canada to seize Alaska and thus place themselves at the backdoor of the Russian Far East. It was far better to have Alaska in American hands as that would ensure the British never gained control of it and, at the time, the United States had a far friendlier relationship with Russia than Britain or France did.

The other act for which Czar Alexander II remains most famous is his emancipation of the serfs in 1861. This was a dramatic change for the Russian Empire but it was not so radical as many people think. A number of Russian monarchs, including his father Nicholas I, had wanted to end serfdom but never felt able to. Numerous conservative voices had, for some time previously, advocated abolishing serfdom on the orders of the Czar as a preferable alternative to having it end by means of a massive servile insurrection that might bring down the monarchy and destroy the Russian Empire entirely in the process. Liberals lauded Alexander II for this action but it stirred up considerable resentment on the part of the aristocracy and land owners. Nor was it a smooth transition, which is to be expected considering how deeply engrained serfdom was in Russia. The Czar took the ultimate step of freeing the serfs and insisted that they be given land to sustain themselves once they were free. Unfortunately, the landowners inflated the value of the land and the peasants had to go into considerable debt to the government to pay for it. Because of the way it was handled, Alexander II had to issue further reforms, dismiss a number of the ministers responsible for it and deal with a certain amount of unrest.

At home, Alexander II showed himself to be rather unlike his father but more akin to his more distant predecessors in his private life. In 1841 he had married Maria of Hesse-Darmstadt, the daughter of Hessian Grand Duke Ludwig II. It was a marriage willingly entered into by a loving couple rather than an arranged matter of state and the two initially had a very happy and successful wedded life. The two were certainly busy, having eight children before the death of the Czarina in 1880, however, long before that time the Czar began a series of affairs with a number of aristocratic ladies. Upon the death of his wife, the same year Alexander II married Katia Dolgorukaya, his latest mistress, by whom he had four more children. His infidelity was heartbreaking for his Hessian bride, who was a very sincere, good-natured lady, disliked by the more haughty ladies at court who often ridiculed her for being bothered by her husband’s affairs. Alexander II was known to be rather short-tempered and was often in poor health and not a few attributed this to his irregular private life.

On the world stage, the policy of Alexander II was to end the isolation the Russian Empire had been in since the end of the Crimean War, though to do so carefully. His greatest rival remained the British and while he was on friendlier terms with Prussia (being the son of a Prussian mother) the north German kingdom was then in no position to be of much help. During the American Civil War, some feared that the biggest and bloodiest conflict in the western hemisphere might draw the Old World into conflict as well. With the British and French empires being seen as sympathetic to the southern Confederacy, Russia had little choice but to foster good relations with the United States. Expansion in Asia was also underway at this time and there, again, the British were the primary opposition to Russia. 1861-62 saw the Russian Imperial Navy wintering in New York so that, in the event of war with Britain and France, the Russian fleet would be free to prey upon their ships in the Atlantic rather than being stuck in the ice blocked ports of the Russian coast. San Francisco, California also received a visit from the Russian navy.

The effort to foster better relations with the United States, it must be said, was not because of any political or ideological sympathy, despite what some historians have tried to portray as a friendship between President Lincoln and Czar Alexander II as two crusaders against slavery. At most, Russia wished to encourage the United States as a counter-weight against the British Empire, particularly at a time when Anglo-American relations were extremely poor due to the U.S. blockade of southern ports and the building of ships for the Confederate navy in England. It was also not as though the spread of the American Civil War to Europe was the only potential source of conflict. Russia was also at odds with the major European powers over turmoil in Poland.

Polish nationalists began orchestrating anti-Russian demonstrations in 1860 and some terrorist attacks, such as an outbreak of arson in St Petersburg, were blamed on Polish forces. Initially, Czar Alexander II responded in a conciliatory fashion by granting the Poles greater autonomy within the Russian Empire but this failed to satisfy the dissidents. They wanted nothing less than the restoration of complete Polish independence and this eventually escalated to outright rebellion in 1863 when Russian authorities tried to conscript the Polish leaders of this movement into the Imperial Army. When the rebellion spread to parts of Lithuania, Belorussia and Ukraine, Czar Alexander II abandoned his earlier effort at appeasement and reverted to brute force. The military was sent in to crush the rebellion, Polish officials were sacked and replaced by Russian officials and the teaching of the Russian language in Polish schools was made compulsory. Contact between Poland and the leadership of the Catholic Church in Rome was cut off and Ukrainian books were banned. Great Britain, France and the Austrian Empire were seen as being sympathetic to the Poles and thus antagonistic toward Russia and this caused a real concern that Russia could, again, be drawn into war.

Czar Alexander II hoped it would not come to that and set about trying to even the odds by getting one or more of the great powers to move away from the British and French and closer to Russia. The French Second Empire seemed the most likely candidate. Britain and Russia had too many conflicting interests, the Prussians were as yet too weak and a great deal of animosity still existed with Austria. In 1857 Czar Alexander II and Emperor Napoleon III met in Stuttgart and in the following years worked out a Franco-Russian agreement which stipulated that France would support a revision of the 1856 Treaty of Paris and that, in return, Russia would not support Austria in the clash between France and Austria in Italy everyone knew was coming. Unfortunately for Alexander II, this short-lived alliance proved to be a mistake. When war between France and Austria came, neither side emerged satisfied and the French resented the fact that Russia had not done more to help them, even though their agreement had promised only Russian neutrality. To make things worse, the Czar was alarmed by the upsurge of Italian nationalism the war caused, for which France was blamed, as this also inspired Polish nationalists to acts of anti-Russian resistance. When Napoleon III joined Britain and Austria in criticizing Russian actions in Poland, Alexander II regarded the agreement with France to be ended and focused on strengthening ties with their arch-enemy Prussia.

Russian expansion in Asia also prompted ill-will from the French as well as the British. Since the Crimean War settlement had effectively blocked in Russia from the west, expansion to the east, toward the Pacific seemed the only available option. Russia extracted treaties and territorial concessions from the Chinese, expanding Russian territory and leading to the establishment of Vladivostok in 1860. The British were becoming increasingly friendly with Japan, had extensive influence in China and the French, around this same time, were expanding in Southeast Asia and briefly became involved in Korea. Neither welcomed Russia as a competitor in East Asia and the tension this caused helped prompt the Czar to sell Alaska to the United States. Russian power also expanded in Central Asia, which alarmed the British, and the Caucasus which alarmed the Turks and Persians. By that time, however, Prussia was rising rapidly as a force to be reckoned with again, though this was potentially a double-edged sword for Russia. In the end, Czar Alexander II chose to shun the newly republican France for an alliance with the German and Austrian emperors though relations between Russia and Austria would never be very trusting or cordial.

The rise of the German Empire changed the situation in Europe and Russia and Britain, once bitter enemies, began to slowly drift more closely together. Aiding this was the rise of the Pan-Slav movement which opposed any friendship with Germany and Austria-Hungary, viewing the Austrians and Hungarians in particular as their greatest rivals for influence in the Balkans as Turkish power continued to decline and Slavic, Orthodox populations began to come ‘up for grabs’. A Serbian uprising against the Turks did finally spark another war between the Russian and Ottoman Empires in 1877, something that Alexander II had not wanted but likewise would not back down from either. By this time, his son and heir, Nicholas, had died and Alexander became noticeably more depressed and temperamental. His mood was not improved by the number of attacks against the Russian monarchy by revolutionaries, in spite of his many reforms and concessions. The war, this time with the Turks alone unsupported by Britain and France (who had been rather turned off by their former ally of the Crimean War after Turkish persecution of Christians in the aftermath), went quite well for Russia. The Russian armies joined with the Bulgarians in driving the Turks almost completely off of the European mainland.

Czar Alexander II obtained a favorable peace from the Turks but the war effectively ended the “Three Emperors League” as Austria objected to Bulgaria falling within the Russian sphere of influence and the Germans, under Bismarck, took the side of their Austrian brethren against the Russians so that many in Russia, particularly the Pan-Slav activists, felt robbed of the fruits of their victory. Russia would never be friendly with Germany and Austria-Hungary again and in the years to come would align with her former enemies of Britain and France, forming what would become the battle lines of the First World War. And, at the same time, Alexander II faced nothing but hardship on the home front. Attacks by revolutionary radicals included shootings and bombings and this prompted the Czar to take repressive measures, a change in attitude from his earlier efforts to encourage support for the throne through reforms and concessions.

The Czar also continued to suffer from numerous health problems and in 1880 the Czarina passed away. Only a few weeks later Alexander II married his latest mistress which prompted outrage from the Russian Orthodox Church and the ranks of his own family. In an effort to regain public support and calm instability, Alexander II began to shift again toward allowing greater freedom for his subjects. Unfortunately, it was just at this time that he came under attack by a gang of assassins who threw a bomb at his carriage. The vehicle was armored, so the Czar was unhurt but, in a rush of unthinking compassion, he left the carriage to attend to his wounded driver and the murderers immediately threw a second bomb at his feet which exploded, gruesomely and mortally wounding the “Czar Liberator”. He was taken to the Winter Palace and died on March 13, 1881, the throne passing to his son Czar Alexander III.

Throughout his reign, most epitomized by his emancipation of the serfs, Alexander II had endeavored to be a monarch of mildness and reason. Yet, his reforms angered the traditional elites while winning no support for the Crown from the liberals and certainly none from the revolutionaries. The lessons of his life were not lost on his successor Czar Alexander III. His father had extended a hand and had been brutally murdered for it. From that time on, a return to strict discipline and harsh repression would be the order of the day. On the world stage, the Russian Empire had expanded but, to the eyes of the Russians at least, had been betrayed by first Napoleon III and then by the Germans and Austrians. Alexander III would firmly plant himself in opposition to the Germans and Austrians, even if that meant an alliance with republican France, the ideological opposite of the Russian Empire at every level. So it was that the reign of Czar Alexander II, beginning with granting greater freedom, emancipation for the serfs and efforts at reconciliation, ended with the battle lines of World War One being formed and the assertion by his son and later grandson that reforms to win over liberals was a wasted effort and that only strength and stern measures would preserve the Russian Empire.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

What We Can Learn from the Trump Win

Billionaire real-estate mogul Donald Trump is the new President-Elect of the United States and most of the world is still in shock about it. No one thought it would happen. Many thought it couldn’t happen. But it did. Like the referendum on Britain leaving the European Union, all the polls were wrong, all the predictions were wrong and all the pundits were wrong. Now, everyone is trying to analyze how they got it wrong and why. Personally, I don’t think that is too difficult to figure out. I also do not think this is going to bring about any major change in behavior on the part of the political class. A simple look at the Democrats in America proves that point. They are now saying that the defeat of Hillary proves that they need to move further to the left. This is exactly what they said after Obama was elected twice, that his victory proved the country wanted to go in a more socialist direction. So, win or lose, they are going to be moving left and will use victory or defeat to justify it no matter which one occurs. The Republicans, likewise, are saying that now is the time to move on matters that they have given a priority to rather than the issues Trump championed. Neither side wants to change.

However, regardless of why it happened or how it happened, the victory of Donald Trump provides everyone with a great deal of learning material concerning government and how the world works, because things in the United States are not all that dissimilar to many other parts of the world. I was remarking on this long before this intolerably long campaign season was even half over. Even if he had lost, Donald Trump would have still done the American people a great service by revealing facts about the federal ruling elite that most did not know or wanted to deny. Some of these points, Trump revealed personally but others were revealed simply in the course of his unprecedented and unorthodox campaign by others who either wanted him to win, wanted Hillary to lose or who simply wanted to reveal how corrupt and hypocritical the most powerful people on the planet really are. What was revealed will probably be taken by most readers here with a yawn. Many people have been saying it for a long time but now there is proof, and proof that was revealed in full public view for all the world to see, at least if they want to.

The election of Donald Trump revealed that neither of the major parties of the United States really believe in what they have each long claimed to champion. They are liars, hypocrites and corrupt to the core and that is no longer an opinion but a verifiable fact. We should start with the Grand Old Party itself, the Republicans. Trump showed that the Republican establishment are a bunch of liars, plain and simple. Their opposition to Trump, originally at least, was that he was not a “real” conservative. They had plenty of facts to support them too. Trump used to be a Democrat, he used to be in favor of abortion and he used to support government-run healthcare. Trump supporters said, that did not matter because he had changed all those positions and he was someone who could win. The establishment, however, showed their hand with this exchange. In the last election, after all, it was they who said everyone had to support Mitt Romney because he was the candidate who could win (though he didn’t of course) even though he too had previously been pro-abortion and previously supported government-run healthcare too. Likewise, none of them made an issue out of the fact that another candidate, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, had previously been a Democrat. Even President Ronald Reagan had previously been a Democrat.

They also said that, in defense of their case, that Trump had proposed more government programs and more government spending, which a “true” conservative would not do. This, however, rings hollow in the wake of the George W. Bush administration which created entire new government departments, new government programs like the failed “no child left behind” program and which had spent more money than all American presidents of the past combined until Obama came along and took that title away. So, given the fact that these same people often supported Jeb Bush and would never say anything negative about George W. Bush or anything he had done, it was revealed that they did not mean a single word of it. Their opposition to Trump was not principled at all as they had shown by their own actions that these principles were not so important so long as someone other than Trump was the candidate.

Another thing that many neocons in particular claimed to base their opposition to Trump on was his stated opposition to military interventions overseas and his opposition to the Iraq War. This too rings hollow when one remembers, as I do, that when George W. Bush was running for president, he promised the same thing. He said that America should not be the ‘policeman of the world’ and that nation-building was not something that the U.S. military should be tasked with. Maybe, since Bush was ‘one of the club’, they knew he was lying to the American people when he said that, but no one at the time made an issue out of it. Either way, they were either lying about their opposition to Trump or they were complicit in the lie of George W. Bush. They have tried to have it both ways and some of us have not failed to notice.

There were also those in the establishment who based their opposition to Trump on moral, religious grounds. Trump is widely known for his playboy past, his affairs and his multiple marriages. All of this, as well as him never being known as someone who attended church regularly, was used as justification for not supporting him and urging Christian evangelicals not to support him either. However, just since the Bush administration, these same people had supported Senator John McCain, a man who had numerous affairs, cheating on the wife who had stood by him during his time as a prisoner of war, his long medical recovery and who had herself been nearly killed in a car accident that left her crippled. McCain had a number of affairs and finally divorced his first wife to marry his latest mistress in 1980. The next GOP candidate who, again, the establishment clearly favored and supported, was Mitt Romney, a member of an American religious sect which most traditional Christians do not consider to be truly Christian and which does or did believe in such bizarre things as the Garden of Eden being in Missouri, Native Americans being Jews, that Black people don’t have souls and, more famously, believing in polygamy and magic underwear. Obviously, none of these people really cared about their candidate being a strictly traditional Christian.

All in all, the more excuses the Republican elites came up with to justify not supporting Trump, even after he proved to be the most popular of the candidates on offer, fails to hold up given who these same elites had supported in the past. There was also the issue of the pledge, at the beginning of the nomination campaign to support the eventual nominee no matter who it was. All the candidates but Trump eagerly promised to support the winner and castigated Trump for not doing so. A short time later, he finally did but once Trump did become the nominee, many of these same people broke their pledge and refused to support him. This revealed to everyone how dishonest these individuals are.

The most prominent was certainly Senator Ted Cruz, the favorite of the ‘constitutional conservatives’. Cruz refused to honor his pledge to support the nominee, Trump, but still claimed to be principled in doing so, saying that it was because Trump had “attacked” his family, referring to a rude internet meme about his wife Trump had re-tweeted and questions raised by Trump about Cruz’ father and the assassination of President Kennedy. However, this showed Cruz (or “Lyin’ Ted” as Trump called him) to be rather disingenuous given how, early on, he had been Trump’s best friend in the campaign and had refused to attack him or condemn him when Trump said even worse things about other GOP candidates. Cruz only seemed to care about Trump’s junkyard dog tactics when he was not the one being targeted. Trump, on the other hand, was so bluntly honest about the situation that most found it humorous, openly stating that he only started attacking Cruz when Cruz started to become a threat to his ‘front-runner’ status.

The biggest revelation, overall, though was just what both the Republican and Democrat elites think of their own voters and the democratic process. At the Republican National Convention, all former Republican presidents and all but one former Republican presidential candidates refused to attend because of their opposition to Trump. This was especially noticeable on the part of the Bush family. George W. Bush, a man who had no hesitation about going to war to “spread democracy” and even defended the democratic change he brought to Iraq when it resulted in a pro-Iranian government, refused to accept the democratic will of the Republican voters when their choice proved to be Donald Trump. Not only did they refuse to endorse him, they refused to show him any support whatsoever and refused to vote for him. They had not treated John McCain the same way, even though McCain and Bush had been bitter enemies. Respect for the will of the voters but only when the voters choose the way their betters want seems to be the rule.

The Democrats, on the other hand, have long been openly hypocritical in this regard but still managed to surprise at least a few people when evidence emerged about how un-democratic the Democratic Party really is. Everyone already knew about how the Democrat nominating process makes use of so-called “Super Delegates” to ensure that the Party elite can override the will of the Democrat voters, so long as the popular support for a certain candidate is not too overwhelming. However, it was clear in this election that, from start to finish, Hillary Clinton was going to be the nominee no matter what actual Democrat voters really thought of her. Opposed by a few relatively unknown and completely forgettable nonentities plus one eccentric, elderly socialist from Vermont, it was clear that Hillary was never supposed to have any real competition in winning the nomination of her party to run for president. However, thanks to the “Wikileaks” revelations, we have since found out that the Democrat elites were lying when they claimed to be neutral and were actively working to help Clinton and sabotage her socialist rival Bernie Sanders who proved to be her only half-way effective competition.

We also found out that most of the talking points and slogans spouted by the Democrat Party to be purely self-serving lies. The Democrats have been the most vocal of all in denouncing the “fat cat” bankers, the Wall Street financiers, the super rich and so on, claiming to be the party of the struggling, working man or woman. However, this election showed that Wall Street overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton. Most billionaires in this country supported Hillary Clinton and she received a huge amount of monetary support from the biggest and wealthiest banks (most famously Goldman Sachs). Trump, on the other hand, received practically no support from any of these sectors. As Bernie Sanders (before showing himself to also be a complete hypocrite and endorsing Hillary) asked during the campaign, if Hillary really meant what she said about cracking down on Wall Street, the big banks and drastically raising taxes on the rich, why were all of these people giving such overwhelming support to her campaign? Either they are being completely suicidal or she is being totally dishonest. Well, again thanks to leaked information about speeches she gave to a group of Brazilian bankers, Hillary herself answered that question by telling the audience that she had to have a “public position” that was very different from her “private position” on issues for the sake of political expediency. Hypocrites and liars the lot of them!

Of course, we also have a whole ball of hypocrisy concerning the Democrats criticism of Trump. The same people who said that Bill Clinton getting oral sex from an intern in the Oval Office was a private matter that had nothing to do with how he did his job, and who voted against removing him from office for lying under oath about it, suddenly went into hysterics because of a secretly taped Trump boasting about what celebrity groupies will let famous men to do them. The same people who said that all the women who came forward in the past accusing Bill Clinton of everything from sexual harassment to outright rape were lying attention-seekers, suddenly produced their own assortment of women claiming Trump did the same to them and should have all their stories taken at face value. You had Hillary Clinton saying that someone like Trump was not to be trusted with nuclear codes based on things he said in his speeches whereas she should be trusted with them, even though she voted to invade Iraq, pushed for military intervention in Syria and Libya and threatened to launch military attacks on Russia for allegedly hacking her email. Of course, Hillary also thought it outrageous that Trump should say he would be okay with American allies like South Korea and Japan having nuclear weapons while having nothing to say about the growing number of American enemies having atomic arsenals.

No, if armed conflict is something you wish to avoid, Hillary Clinton certainly did not seem to be the “safe” candidate. She probably only thought she could get away with it because of the lying hypocrites of the anti-war movement who only seemed to oppose the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan while Bush was in office but had nothing to say about these and other armed interventions undertaken by Obama. The same people who made jokes about Mitt Romney (admittedly easy) for claiming Russia to be a threat to the United States, suddenly saw Russians hiding behind every corner, warned that Russia was about to launch World War Three and who seemed to blame Russia if the weather was bad or their soup was cold. Hillary made a big spectacle out of her effort to “reset” Russo-American relations, yet said that our relations are now extremely bad and Russia is the biggest threat to us while absurdly claiming that Hillary was the best person to deal with them!

Treatment of minorities was also a major plank of the Hillary Clinton campaign. She certainly seemed less than honest when she called Trump and his supporters homophobic considering that, for the first time ever, a gay man spoke at the Republican National Convention and Trump spoke in favor of and in defense of the gay community at the RNC and was met with thunderous applause. Hillary, on the other hand, had the father of a gunman who massacred gay nightclub patrons at one of her rallies. However, none of that can hold a candle to the Democrat hypocrisy on full display concerning the Black community. These same people who coddled “Black Lives Matter” activists, who said that Blacks are being hunted and murdered (by government employees), that they face “systematic” and “institutional” racism on a daily basis, suddenly did the fastest ‘about face’ in history and claimed that everything in the Black community was fine and dandy when Trump said that, yes, Black people have it bad in this country and that is why they should stop voting for Democrats as that has obviously not helped them.

This also played into a much larger ball of lies and hypocrisy for Hillary Clinton though. Her speeches on unity, tolerance and slogan that we are “better together” rang false when she was dismissing half of the American electorate as “deplorable”. She castigated Trump for saying that many of the illegal aliens from Mexico were rapists but thought nothing of labeling huge numbers of her own countrymen as racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic and so on. The Democrats said it was racist and bigoted to oppose bringing in Syrian refugees yet Hillary accepted large donations from countries like Saudi Arabia which are in the neighborhood of Syria and yet which have refused to take in any refugees. That also made her seem rather hypocritical to call Trump, who I do not recall ever saying anything negative about homosexuals, a homophobe while accepting donations from countries like Saudi Arabia where homosexuals are put to death. Perhaps laws against homosexuals are only bad when Russia enacts them? No, it has been made abundantly clear in this campaign that the Democrats could not possibly care less about any of the minority groups they claim to champion. These people are important for them only so long as they generate votes to keep Democrats in power. Look at it this way; when South Africa practiced racial segregation, that was considered a heinous enough crime for the United States to put sanctions on the country. Yet, countries which do far worse to women or homosexuals are not treated the same, even by the leftists who claim to be the champions of female and homosexual rights. Liars and hypocrites.

And that is the bottom line. What we have learned through this whole process, either because of Donald Trump himself or because of the reaction to Trump, we can see clearly that the political class in this country, left and right, does not believe a word of what they have been spouting for years. They are corrupt, lying hypocrites, kept in power by a corrupt and dishonest media, who will do or say anything to stay in power and pursue their own agenda. Many of us have long suspected it but this campaign has put it out in the open for all to see. We continue to see it even now as the champions of tolerance who voted for the candidate that promoted “togetherness” take to the streets to smash cars, set fires and beat up people because their candidate lost. I pointed it out before and warned that I would point it out again, that these people are proving the late Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini correct when he said that liberals (which would include both Republicans and Democrats by his definition) were phonies who believed in liberty for themselves but not for you. “The liberal state is a mask behind which there is no face, a scaffolding behind which there is no building” he said. It is all a scam, a scam the Republican and Democrat rulers of this country have been running on the people as a whole for many years. No matter if Trump proves to be a stunning success or a horrendous failure as president, he has at least, even if inadvertently, done us a service by throwing this fraud into the light of day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Suggesting an American Monarchy, for the Wrong Reason

The New York Times, that liberal bastion of leftist propaganda, recently saw fit to publish an article titled, “Consider a Monarchy, America” by one Nikolai Tolstoy, chancellor of the International Monarchist League. I must question the motives of such an institution as the New York Times allowing such a person to write such an article for their paper but kudos to Mr. Tolstoy for having a go at it. He, of course, remarks on the widespread amount of contempt that exists for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and argues for a royal Head of State, apart from the head of government, as a solution for the United States of America. It is a good argument that he makes, however, it is not really an argument for traditional monarchy and makes a number of assumptions with which this Mad Monarchist would have to disagree. The case he makes could just as easily, and more realistically, be made for having a republic of the sort that currently exists in countries such as Germany or Italy with a figurehead president as Head of State and a prime minister who effectively runs the country. A simple look at either of these countries would, however, show that to be no recipe for success.

The first example he names as a model the USA could follow is, as he calls it, “contented Canada”, America’s northern neighbor. However, the very fact that it is necessary to have a Canadian Monarchist League to fight against the forces of republicanism in that country, would tend to reveal that not everyone in Canada is so ‘content’ with their constitutional monarchy. Certainly American conservatives would look at a country with strict gun control, strict controls on freedom of speech, socialized health care, higher taxes, heavier regulations, a larger welfare state, a tiny military, two official languages and a country that only recently elected leftist daddy’s boy Justin Trudeau prime minister as a disastrous example to follow. If Canada is content it is only because the population as a whole has largely been brow-beaten or propagandized into more uniformity of thought. This is a country that, not so long ago really, actually changed its national flag in an effort to be more “inclusive” and “multicultural”, something which no American would ever even consider for a single, outrageous moment!

Mr. Tolstoy asserts that dictators have disliked monarchies, which is largely true, but also seems to imply that monarchy would prevent dictators from coming to power. Germany is cited as the obvious example, with the inclusion of a quote from Mr. Churchill effectively blaming America for the downfall of the German Kaiser and thus the coming to power of Adolf Hitler. Now, that, I must point out, is rather rich considering that Churchill was second to none in urging America to get involved in the First World War, but it also ignores the fact that the German Kaiser was ultimately brought down by the Germans themselves and that the U.S. refused to ratify the disastrous Versailles Treaty and made its own separate peace agreements with the Central Powers. The rise of Hitler had very little to do with the United States and much more to do with the damaging reparations payments Britain and France demanded as well as the carve-up of territories with various other soon-to-be Allied nations made by the French and British long before the United States ever entered the war.

The author does, however, give America credit for allowing the Japanese to retain their monarchy after World War II, though this does tend to discredit his previous argument given that the Empire of Japan was a monarchy that was partners with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. What goes too far is the line that, “This wise policy enabled Japan’s remarkable and rapid evolution into the prosperous, peaceful democratic society it has been ever since.” Honestly, if the monarchy was what was responsible for this, then Japan should have already been a “prosperous, peaceful democratic society” before World War II and the U.S. occupation, which, Mr. Tolstoy seems to imply, that it was not; which is rather a problem. In point of fact, Japan was prosperous before the war, was fairly democratic by the standards of the day at least and though not peaceful, since the war Japan has had no choice but to be peaceful considering that it is illegal for the Japanese government to go to war unless it is attacked and since the war it has been under U.S. military protection and when you are protected by the most powerful military on earth it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to attack you.

More bizarre, however, is Mr. Tolstoy’s effort to refute the argument of incompetent hereditary rulers by pointing to existing political dynasties in America. Strangely, he uses the example of the thoroughly discredited Bush family rather than the more topical but more controversial example of Hillary Clinton, wife of a former President (perhaps the NYT wouldn’t have allowed the article to appear if he had). However, it seems quite absurd to say that, “Americans chose to be governed by George Bush II” as an argument given that, again, his opening example of a monarchy America could be more like was Canada which just chose to be governed by a prime minister who is also the son of a former prime minister! His next line that, “The framers of the Constitution were, without question, men of preeminent judgment and intellect” also does not jive with the overall argument that the system which they established (on their second try, having made a pig’s breakfast of the first effort) is the one he is advocating be abandoned.

The core of the problem I have with the article overall, however, begins to be revealed in his next paragraph which points to the conservative icon Edmund Burke, a British statesman of incomparable ability who took the side of the American colonists in the war for independence (he was a Whig rather than a Tory) but who was an ardent defender of the British system of constitutional monarchy and became even more famous for his eloquent opposition to the monstrous French Revolution. Starting there, and in the lines that follow, Mr. Tolstoy makes it abundantly clear that he is arguing for a largely ceremonial monarchy according to the liberal worldview, which I do not share and which I do not think has been good for monarchy or ultimately good for anyone else. Frankly, I think this worldview, which I have previously referred to as the ‘republican/revolutionary mentality’ has ruined many outstanding monarchies among the precious few that remain in the world. Many of these countries are, I think, in a terrible state but I would certainly not blame this on their being monarchies but rather on the fact that they have become too nominal about being monarchies and have adopted the republican mentality or the liberal worldview if you like which is at odds with the fundamental concept of monarchy itself.

Personally, I tend to think that if HM Queen Elizabeth II were ruling the United States according to her own good judgment, America would be better off but that is not what is being proposed here, nor is it the case in the U.K. or Canada or anywhere else in the English-speaking world. It is not that the argument being presented here is necessarily wrong, it is rather subjective, but I do think it is something of a double-edged sword. After all, if things in Denmark, Belgium or Britain are fine and dandy, if Canadians are so content, and that is attributed to their constitutional monarchs, then if you think things in these places are not so great, if Canadians become less than contented, then logically their monarchs could be held to blame and that, I think, would be very unfair. It would be, if you can follow me, like keeping your cat in a cage and then blaming it for not catching any mice. If your cat is caged and you do not have any mice, I don’t think the fact that you have a caged cat is the reason for your lack of rodents.

The bottom line, for me, is that the public attitude, the prevailing mentality of the modern world in most parts of it, is the real root of the problem. For those unhappy with the two presidential candidates on offer today, would you be any more happy with them or think them any less disastrous if they were running for prime minister rather than president? Does the monarch in Britain or Canada or Spain have anything at all to do with how political parties choose their candidates? Did the Queen of Canada or her vice-regal representative have any real choice other than to approve of Justin Trudeau? No. According to the British political model, Hillary Clinton could still have been a candidate to be head of government because she was the choice of her party and in the British political model it is even more clear that the candidate for the top job is the choice of the party elites and not the party membership. The only candidate who might have been prevented from nomination is Donald Trump since he was able to achieve that status in spite of the adamant opposition of Republican Party elites and in the British system he would not have been able to win without their approval. Personally, I would be no happier if the choices for the person to govern America were Hillary and Jeb! Bush rather than Hillary and the Trump.

The real problem is with the liberal political system itself which, as I have pointed out before, has broken down. It has broken down partly because of its own inherent flaws and partly because it is based on everyone agreeing to abide by one set of rules and that is no longer the case. It is a system that *cannot* work if only one side follows the rules. It cannot work if one party is protected by the Justice Department and effectively given immunity from prosecution, it cannot work if the press refuses to scrutinize one party and it cannot work if one party can simply import new voters when their arguments fail to convince the existing population. Both sides have to be subject to the same rules and that is blatantly no longer the case. Europe is in much the same situation. In the U.S. if the ruling political class cannot get the public to vote for what they want, they simply get the Supreme Court to impose their wishes on the country. In Europe, if the people do not do as they are told, you have the unelected, unaccountable European Union leadership to impose its wishes in similar fashion. Monarchs, where they survive, have nothing to do but watch, having been stripped of any power to do good or repress evil.

Lastly, in case anyone draws the wrong conclusion from this, I am not saying that the existing, constitutional monarchs of the world are not worth defending. I firmly and adamantly believe that they are worth defending and must be defended. It is far easier to tear down than it is to restore and once the last semblance of monarchy is gone, it almost never comes back. Even if only the bare bones are left, I would fight to death to defend those bare bones and then push back to see their sinews grow back until they are healthy and vigorous once again. Monarchies must be seen in a cultural and not purely a political context. You don’t abandon your culture because others have sullied it, you don’t give up on your national traditions just because others have tried to pervert them. And, I would say, your view of monarchy should not be affected by presidential candidates and whoever wins tonight should make no difference. You should support your monarchy because it is yours and that should be enough.
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