The Long View 2004-03-02: Reforms; Diversity; Red-Brown-Green

John has a tongue-in-cheek suggestion here that perennial basket-case countries like Haiti might be better served by a form of government like the city manager model of medium-sized American municipalities.

I think he is on to something. There is an unfortunate belief in the US that majoritarian democracy is identical to liberalism and human rights. The Arab Spring should have made it abundantly clear that it isn't, in most of the world.

The city [country] manager allows you to keep the polite fiction of a mayor [head of state] and a city council [legislature] that decides policy, while the city manager is a city employee who just runs the bureaucracy. In reality, the city manager tends to be the sober adult in the room while the elected officials bloviate and grandstand.

My own city has a city manager, and I am rather fond of this model of government for American cities at least. I doubt it would actually work in Haiti, or any of the other shitholes of the world, but it probably couldn't fail any worse.

Reforms; Diversity; Red-Brown-Green

There is no way for me to tell whether Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide left his capital wistfully but voluntarily when he understood the US would not protect him, or whether he was tied up in a gunny sack and carried bodily to a waiting plane by unsympathetic Marines. I incline to the former view; the fact that he did not make a departing statement suggests that he simply did not want to make a public acknowledgment of defeat. He appears to hope to make yet another comeback in the future.

Might I suggest that the problem with places like Haiti is that the stakes in politics are too high, while the potential rewards are too small? You have to become absolute dictator just to make sure that people don't break into your backyard and steal your bicycle. Obviously, people in such places should rule themselves, but need the price of self-governance for small, fractured societies be a politics of life or death?

There is a solution to this dilemma. The medieval Italian republics were often ruled by foreign magistrates. The local senates, seeing that their factions could never agree on a single chief executive, would hire some learned and experienced person from out-of-town to govern the city. The magistrate got the respect and the authority that his position required, but he was not a head-of-state. He was scarcely even a head-of-government. He was just a respected expert who ran the bureaucracy.

We have this today, of course, in the institution of the city manager. In the city-manager form of government, there may be a nominal mayor, but the city is actually run by an administrator, who is hired by the city council. Any form of government is subject to abuse, but city managers are part of a profession, with recognized standards and qualifications. You can tell a good manager from a bad one objectively. For middle-sized municipalities, the city-manager structure may be the best form of government.

Surely something similar could be arranged for Haiti. Let there be an elected parliament, but let its functions be limited to choosing a foreign manager and approving the budget he prepares. Politics would cease to be interesting to ambitious people. If the experiment works, then other small countries might adopt it, and an international profession might spring up.

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For you enthusiasts for spelling reform (and I know you are out there) here are two recent links on the subject. The first is a disrespectful account of the spelling reform bill that actually passed the British parliament in the middle of the 20th century. Had a reform started then, we would now be enjoying the benefits of higher literacy rates and more substantive education. (It takes about a year for a child to learn to read a typical European language; English takes about three.) The problem is that the proponent of the bill favored a proposal that would have scrapped English spelling rather than regularizing it. The legislative effort was therefore sidetracked into phonics education.

The other item is yet another version of The Chaos, the famous poem that illustrates The Problem.

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Unlike some people, I am relatively sanguine about affirmative action. For the most part, it's really just a patronage racket. It will go away when the political system figures out a way to buy off the affirmative action industry. (Could it be set to promoting spelling reform? Now there's an idea.) However, some versions of affirmative action are nastier than others. Lebanon, for instance, has found that its intractable communal tensions had to be accommodated when the country recently reintroduced capital punishment:

The differences were underscored by the three men executed. Under pressure to punish a Shiite Muslim accused of killing eight people, all but one of whom were Christians, the government of President Emile Lahoud also chose to execute one convict from each of the nation's two other main creeds, a Christian and a Sunni Muslim.

Now that's diversity with teeth.

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Regular readers of my website will know about my continuing interest in the links between Islamism, Neo-Nazism, and the occult. However, my study of these things is largely confined to theory. Now comes William Grim, with some provocative examples of Al-Qaeda's Neo-Nazi Connections.

Some of these assertions are less than compelling. Neo-Nazi leaders may well write supportive fan mail to Islamists, but what of it? It is plausible that Timothy McVeigh had Neo-Nazi encouragement and even material support in blowing up the Oklahoma City Federal Building, but the alleged Islamist components are much more hypothetical. Nonetheless, there are deep historical connections between Islamism and Fascism, and this association is expanding to include elements of Left-Anarchism. I don't find this prospect altogether unimaginable:

The next 9/11-style terrorist attack may not be attempted by a keffiya-wearing Arab terrorist spouting quotations from the Koran, but by an IRA terrorist whose services were purchased by a left-wing European intellectual attending a Middle Eastern Studies caucus of some leftist academic group during an annual conference in Omaha or Chicago or San Francisco.

Meanwhile, the ever-perspicacious Belmont Club had this to say on February 25 about CIA Director George Tenet's recent congressional testimony, which described the threat arising from the collapse of much of the world into barbarism:

It was in many ways a rabble waiting for a leader. In the two generations since the end of the Second World War more than a billion people were abandoned to anarchies and tyrannies euphemistically called "developing nations". Most of them, little more than a stamp and a seat at the United Nations, have already ceased to function -- the 50 "stateless zones" of Tenet's speech. If left to the leadership of men like Osama Bin Laden, these steerless multitudes can snuff out the living nations, as growing entropy blots out a system. The logical response would be to seize control of the movement ourselves, to raise the disaffected masses against their own tyrants. It is a step President Bush has vowed to take but it is so audacious and regarded so cynically by the left that it would be a wonder if the world actually took the only path that can save it.

Finally, cranky old Spengler has this to say about seventy years ago, towards the end of The Hour of Decision:

But the greatest danger has not yet been even named. What if, one day, class war and race war joined forces to make an end of the white world? This lies in the nature of things, and neither of the two Revolutions will disdain the aid of the other simply because it despises its supporters. A common hate extinguishes mutual contempt. And what if some white adventurer - and there have been many such - whose wild soul cannot breathe in the hothouse of civilization and seeks to satiate its love of danger in fantastic colonial ventures, among pirates, in the Foreign Legion - should suddenly see this grand goal staring him in the face? It is through such natures that history springs her great surprises. The loathing of deep and strong men for our conditions and the hatred of profoundly disillusioned men might well grow into a revolt that meant to annihilate. This was not unknown in Caesar's time.

Sometimes I get this falling-elevator feeling.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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