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« Don Bachardy | Main | Self-Organizing System »

May 24, 2006

Elsewhere

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Trixie makes the whole "having cramps" thing about as vivid as can be. Men: read, learn, cower.

* Here's the best theme for a blog I've seen in a long time. Yummily written and very enjoyable too.

* Corbusier surprises with a posting in praise of Houston.

* Talk about working at something ...

* Jim Kalb suspects that Lao Tze wouldn't have had much patience with our present-day experts.

* Do men have sex on their minds all the time?

* Tyler Cowen points out an interesting inflation-adjusted list of movie hits, an archive of Virginia Postrel articles, and the fact that the best-selling book in all of French history is "The Da Vinci Code."

* More on the media-making company behind Harvard plagiarist Kaavya Viswanathan.

* God only knows how they arrive at these figures, but a billion people are now said to have access to the web.

* Words of substance: Thomas Fleming of Chronicles magazine on the classical tradition and American democracy. I was impressed, but am eager to know what the real history junkies make of Fleming's piece.

* Why do conservatives put up with Republicans?

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at May 24, 2006




Comments

Thomas Fleming seems to be drawing his own conclusions, somewhat erratically, from basically accurate facts (at least as far as I know them) about Athenian democracy. This does not mean I agree with his conclusions. To cite only a few areas of such disagreement:

(1) Mr. Fleming claims that Athenian democracy was subject to law and tradition. While in some matters Athens was as conservative a place as he describes it, I think you should remember that Athenian constitutional history was pretty eventful. Full (or Periclean) democracy was installed by a coup in 462 BCE executed by a radical democrat (i.e., demogogue) Ephialties. Prior to this coup, Athens had seen its political framework changed significantly by the (anti-traditional) innovations of both Solon (c. 594 BCE) and Cleisthenes (c. 507-8 BCE); the latter intentionally undermined the political influence of the phratries, or clan-groups, that Fleming seems to think highly of. Between Solon and Cleisthenes, BTW, Athens was ruled by two generations of tyrants, who were effectively populist authoritarians. The joint was jumpin' in terms of constitutional innovation; I think describing Athens as a highly stable regime is a bit of an exaggeration.

(2) While it is true that Athenians--like all Greeks--paid no direct taxes, the high water mark of Athenian democracy coincided with the Athenian Empire (a.k.a. the Delian League), which was quite a money-making venture. Athens taxed the other members of the Delian League, making them pay for the same Athenian fleet that prevented them from exiting said League). Athens also taxed the commerce flowing through the Aegean and the Black Sea. This is what permitted the democratic Athenian government to pay the salaries permitting even its poorer citizens to spend a lot of time in the public sector as jurors, for example. The same source of funds paid for the Periclean "full employment acts" such as decorating the Acropolis; the military might of Athens also permitted the democrats to ship excess citizens off to be settled on expropriated property in the city states of the Delian League. So while the Athenians might not have often felt the the coercive hand of their own government (unless they were in politics and were exiled), it didn't stop them from living well as a result of the coercion of others. So the assumption that the Greeks lived in a polity in which everything was on the up-and-up financially is a bit dodgy.

And by the way, as I understand it, in contradiction Mr. Fleming's statement, the Romans did pay wealth taxes for many centuries until the income generated by their growing empire made those unnecessary as well.

So, perhaps sadly, things have never been as neat or clean-cut as Mr. Fleming paints them.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on May 24, 2006 8:57 PM



Why would praise of Houston be surprising?

Posted by: beloml on May 25, 2006 9:01 AM



FvB -- Sigh. But still: taxing other people! I like that idea.

Beloml -- Praise for Houston surprises me, anyway, when it comes from an architecture buff. Houston's often used by the architecture-and-urbanism crowd as an example of what not to do.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 25, 2006 10:19 AM



It is probable that Athenian democracy was a big factor in Athen's loss of the Pellapenysian (sorry about that spelling) War. The Athenian senate voted for the execution or exile of many of Athen's greatest Generals and Marine Captains (the equivalent of our Admirals) even, at times, after victories! Sparta was much more conservative in that respect.

Posted by: ricpic on May 25, 2006 11:00 AM



Conservatives put up with Republicans for the same reason libertarians and pro-defense liberals do: there isn't a better alternative. Politics in a democracy is about livable compromises and choosing the lesser of evils, not finding sex or fulfillment or perfecting society.

Posted by: Jonathan on May 25, 2006 8:55 PM



Jonathan:

Isn't it interesting, though, that there is so little discussion of the factors that make "Republicans" or "Democrats" indispensible to politics: winner-takes-all voting patterns, gerrymandering, restrictions on which candidates for office get to appear on the ballot, etc., all of which in combination make the two major parties virtual arms of the government. None of these "procedural" issues are discussed in the constitution, which of course means that there's no out-in-the-open discussion, and thus no "democratic" consent to their use. So it's a little hard to know exactly how livable compromises might be if the deck weren't so procedurally stacked in favor of certain outcomes.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on May 26, 2006 10:41 AM



FvB,

I think there's a lot of discussion on this topic, just not usually in the MSM or by Republican or Democratic partisans. Libertarians, for example, have been complaining about the stacked deck for years. Also, I think there are good reasons to have a two-party system, mainly because it tends to encourage consensus (at least that's the view of proponents, and I think they are right). The downside is that the two parties can function as a cartel, where both of them hold similar positions that benefit the political class but do not accurately map the views of their constituents. (The parties' current position on govt spending seems to be a good example of this.) It's a complex issue.

Posted by: Jonathan on May 26, 2006 11:39 AM






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