Belmont Club

The Tinpot Kings

The only problem with socialism is that it hasn’t been tried hard enough. That at least is the thesis of the Nation’s Greg Grandin, who mourns Chavez’s death.

“Chávez was a strongman. He packed the courts, hounded the corporate media, legislated by decree and pretty much did away with any effective system of institutional checks or balances. But I’ll be perverse and argue that the biggest problem Venezuela faced during his rule was not that Chávez was authoritarian but that he wasn’t authoritarian enough. It wasn’t too much control that was the problem but too little. … There’s been great work done on the ground by scholars such as Alejandro Velasco, Sujatha Fernandes, Naomi Schiller and George Ciccariello-Maher on these social movements that, taken together, lead to the conclusion that Venezuela might be the most democratic country in the Western Hemisphere.”

Sure ‘mistakes’ were made. There are always lessons to be learned. Here’s the NHS’s Sir David Nicholson explaining how 40,000 patients died unnecessarily each year under his watch. Listen to him explain about “his team losing focus” and “lessons to be learnt” and “process” and “improvement” with the greatest of apparent sincerity yet no diminution in his conviction that only he can put things right, as if people were the object of some social science experiment; like microbes in a petri dish whose role is to give their lives for Science.

When Alfred Hitchcock redid Dostoesvsky’s Crime and Punishment in Manhattan as Rope, he asked the same question. Are superior men above morality? Logically they would be if there were no right or wrong. If truth was simply convention then why shouldn’t the Great Man pursue art to its ultimate ends. ”

The premise of Rope is pure Dostoevsky. “On a late afternoon, two brilliant young aesthetes, Brandon Shaw (Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Granger), murder a former classmate, David Kentley (Dick Hogan), by strangulation in their apartment. They commit the crime as an intellectual exercise: they want to prove their superiority by committing the ‘perfect murder’. … Brandon’s and Phillip’s idea for the murder was inspired years earlier by conversations with their erstwhile prep-school housemaster, publisher Rupert Cadell (Stewart). While at school, Rupert had discussed with them, in an apparently approving way, the intellectual concepts of Nietzsche’s Übermensch and the art of murder, a means of showing one’s superiority over others. He too is among the guests at the party, since Brandon in particular feels that he would very likely approve of their ‘work of art’.”

Rupert Cadell: After all, murder is – or should be – an art. Not one of the ‘seven lively’, perhaps, but an art nevertheless. And, as such, the privilege of committing it should be reserved for those few who are really superior individuals.

Brandon Shaw: And the victims: inferior beings whose lives are unimportant anyway.

Rupert Cadell: Obviously. Now, mind you, I don’t hold with the extremists who feel that there should be open season for murder all year round. No, personally, I would prefer to have…”Cut a Throat Week”… or, uh, “Strangulation Day”..

But is murder — or dictatorship and mayhem in an effort, or supposed effort, to create “the most democratic country in the Western Hemisphere” (I see the Nation rates Chavez as better than Harper or Obama) justified? Obviously it is if you grant the premises. Once mankind is divided into the Vanguard and the Proletariat then the ‘superior man’ like Sir David Nicholson can make mistakes, but he can do no wrong.

Yet here’s the thing. Suppose the ‘superior men’ aren’t. What if they were really mediocrities whose prolific use of jargon masked a deep and fundamental imbecility. How often has the media presented the “smartest men on earth” to the public only for everyone to discover these savants cannot even manage simple arithmetic?

One of the reasons the Founders posited the existence of God was to pre-empt the fools who would usurp the divine throne; to warn off those who would entrust themselves with limitless power that the position was already taken. The basic function of any real Constitution is not to provide for limitless power, but to put it out of the grasping reach of sociopaths. As Voltaire said, “if God didn’t exist we would invent Him” — if only to keep the the really stupid from imagining that’s who they were.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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