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|From: Irish Foreign Affairs: Editorials|
|Date: October, 2011|
Nationhood, Legitimacy, Sovereignty & Statehood
|On the morning that the Libyan Government troops entered Tripoli, Radio Eireann gave a potted history of Colonel Gaddaffi’s career, in which it said that the Colonel had “come to the aid of extremists in many countries including the IRA in Ireland” .
Did it forget that the “extremist” IRA has for many years been a pillar of the Northern Ireland Government, giving the region the first reasonably stable and representative devolved Government it had ever had, and that it was through its “extremism” that it had arrived at that situation?
It is entirely in accordance with the nature of things that stable government should be the product of successful “extremism” . The modern world came about through the success of one extremist act building on another. It was brought about through a succession of wars waged by Britain over three centuries, none of which was a war of defence against an enemy threatening to invade it.
On the day when the personnel of an irregular army entered Tripoli, that army had been formally recognised by France, the USA and Britain as the army of the legitimate Government of Libya, with the consequent downgrading of Colonel Gaddaffi’s Army to the status of a bunch of terrorists. But Radio Eireann continued to refer to Gaddaffi’s opponents as rebels and Gaddaffi’s group as the Government, and this usage was kept up for a number of weeks. Did it signify disagreement by the Irish Government with the recognition by the Western Great Powers of the Benghazi rebellion as the legitimate Government of Libya?
Some weeks earlier the Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, had raised a difficulty about recognising a declaration of statehood by the Palestinian Authority. He said it was a precondition of legitimate statehood that the body declaring it should be in actual control of the relevant territory—and of course this territory was controlled by the Israeli military conquest and the Jewish colonisation which it fostered.
Trinity College, which gives the British view of these things (at least as far as Irish affairs are concerned), has a different take on this issue. Joost Augusteijn (a graduate of Professor David Fitzpatrick’s Trinity History Workshop) has declared that the Government established in Ireland by democratic election in 1918 was not legitimate because legitimacy depends on international recognition. The mere Irish could not legitimise their own Government just by electing it, and by supporting it against the attempt of the British Government to continue governing in defiance of the will of the Irish electorate. Only foreign Governments could legitimise the elected Irish Government.
It was Ireland’s bad luck that it elected its own national Government at a moment when the international scene was sewn up by the Conference of the Great War Victors at Versailles at which Britain exercised a de facto veto on recognition of the elected Irish Government. “Nation-states” which had not been foreshadowed by national movements—either in the form of elections or rebellions—were set up by the Versailles Conference, but the Irish nation-state, which asserted itself electorally after four generations of national agitation, elections and insurrection, was disallowed.
The Dail Government was illegitimate because no foreign Powers recognised it—the foreign Powers all acting in cahoots at Versailles deciding what to make of the world, and being respectful of each other’s vital interests. And it was a British vital interest that the Irish national democracy should be given the brush-off.
Within days of Foreign Minister Gilmore’s assertion that actual control of territory by the Palestinian Authority was a precondition of recognising its declaration of independent statehood, the three Western Great Powers recognised the Benghazi rebellion as the legitimate Government of Libya, even though it controlled a small fraction of the territory of Libya and could not raise even a small riot in Tripoli.
At that point the matter became teleological. The rebellion itself was a hopeless venture. Left to its own devices, it would have been snuffed out in a week. But NATO decided that the Benghazi rebellion should become the Libyan State. The end was set by NATO, and NATO, which had overwhelming physical force at its disposal, could not be seen to fail to achieve such an easily achieved end as the destruction of the Gaddaffi regime and the bringing of the Benghazi rebellion to Tripoli. The British Foreign Secretary said repeatedly that this end was inevitable because whatever force was needed would be deployed.
The Benghazi rebellion crept slowly towards Tripoli behind a barrage laid down by twenty thousand flights of bombers.
Ireland has a problem with foreign affairs. It begins with uncertainty about where foreign begins. Does it begin a few miles north of Dundalk, or does it not begin until Calais? Ambiguity about whether the Border within Ireland is or is not international has been calculatedly fostered by Britain. When it suits British purposes, the Border within Ireland is an indisputable international frontier, North of which absolute British sovereignty begins. On other occasions, Britain finds it advantageous to allow it to be supposed that it recognises an Irish national interest which includes the whole island. Irish Governments, unable to decide which is the case and to act on that decision, have been manipulated into accepting basic responsibility for what are, on an objective view, the consequences of undemocratic government by Britain of the Northern Ireland region of the United Kingdom state.
When the Six Counties were split off from the rest of Ireland in 1921 and retained within the British state, they were at the same time excluded from the British system of political democracy and subjected to a provocative caricature of democracy in a subordinate local system. This caricature blew apart in 1969 because of the tensions it created. The nationalist minority of about 40%, deprived of a democratic outlet for its political energy and affronted by being told it lived in a democracy, then sustained a war against the State for close on thirty years, as a result of which the caricature of democracy was set aside and an apartheid system favourable to the minority was set up in its place.
While that remarkable war was being fought, it was condemned utterly by Dublin Governments, often in terms which suggested that the sovereignty against which the Provisional Republicans were fighting was their sovereignty, rather than the British sovereignty which was the actual State power in the North.
They reversed the famous maxim about courtesans, and accepted responsibility for a matter in which they had no power.
This moral collapse happened in the summer of 1970 and ended the active engagement with the Northern minority which the Irish Government had begun after the pogrom of 1969, leaving the Northern minority to take its fate entirely into its own hands, and then condemning it for doing so. It did this under pressure from Britain. But, while washing its hands of the North in what was in the circumstances a very destructive way, it did not recognise the legitimacy of British sovereignty in the North—and was not strongly pressed to do so by Britain. Essentially, it went into denial about the realities of the Northern situation.
What the isolated Northern minority did during the next thirty years would have been hailed as a very remarkable achievement if something like it had happened somewhere else in the world. But in Ireland, under the rapidly increasing British influence which followed the moral collapse of 1970, it is viewed with resentment.
While the Northern minority was tending to its interests by the only means which were found to be effective, the disorientated Dublin Establishment—when it reneged on the Northern obligations it had contracted in 1969—began to sicken of itself, and it turned the history of its own Independence movement over to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge to be remade.
On August 31st the Irish Times carried a review by Professor Eunan O’Halpin of Trinity College of a book on the Black and Tans. The review was accompanied by a well-known photograph of two Black and Tans holding up a civilian at gun-point. The caption reads: “Black and Tans: implicitly licensed to give republicans a taste of their own medicine” .
That photographic event happened in either 1920 or 1921. In 1918 the Irish electorate had given the Sinn Fein party three-quarters of the Irish Parliamentary seats. In accordance with its election programme, the Sinn Fein Deputies did not go to Westminster and submit themselves to the authority of the British Crown. They went to Dublin and met as an Irish Parliament, calling on all other Irish Deputies to join them. The Ulster Unionists did not join them of course. Neither did the handful of Home Rulers—who went to Westminster and swore their Oaths accepting the legitimacy of British rule in Ireland.
The Sinn Fin representatives met as an Irish Parliament, the Dail, and the Dail declared itself an independent Irish Parliament and appointed its own independent Irish Government.
The Dail was, of course, self-constituted. It was not constituted by the British Parliament. And it was not recognised by any of the Great Powers—the Powers that had defeated Germany in November 1918 and were still plundering and starving it in January 1919, when the Dail met, and for many months afterwards. In order that the victorious Great Powers might deliberate on what to make of the world they had to recognise each other’s accomplished facts. And British control of Ireland was an accomplished fact—a fact which very few in January 1919 thought could be disaccomplished. The Irish Times certainly did not think so. It saw the Dail’s Declaration of Independence as a joke in poor taste.
When the Westminster Parliament met in 1919 it took no notice whatever of the fact that 80 elected MPs did not attend but set up their own assembly in Dublin and declared it to be an independent Parliament.
Joseph Devlin was returned as Home Rule MP for Belfast. He went to Westminster and made another submission to Westminster sovereignty. Devlin had been an eminent Parliamentarian before the Great War. He had recruited actively for the British Army during the War. And now he returned to Westminster and demanded that Parliament should apply its mind to the rejection of Westminster sovereignty by the Irish democracy.
And the Westminster Parliament—the first ever democratic Parliament at Westminster—just ignored him, and ignored the Irish vote. It authorised its Government to carry on governing an Ireland that had rejected it.
The Whitehall Government took no notice of the Dail for a couple of months, treating it as a trivial affair that could do nothing. But when the Dail purposefully set about governing the country, the British democracy declared it to be illegal and set about suppressing it. And so there was war between the elected and the unelected Governments in Ireland.
In British law that Dail was, of course, an illegal assembly. But Irish independence was something that there was no legal way of achieving on British terms. The British Constitution ruled Irish independence off the agenda. The Union Act of 1800 decreed that the Union should continue, not for a mere thousand years, but for ever. And the British Prime Minister cited the obligation of that eternal provision in support of the Black and Tan terror by means of which he sought not only to suppress the Dail but to break the will to independence in Ireland.
The Irish Times caption about the Black & Tans giving republicans (i.e., the Irish, since it is not said that the man in the photo was a republican in any other sense) a taste of their own medicine would have been normal for that paper (the British paper in Ireland) ninety years ago. Forty years ago it would not have dared to put it like that. But now it feels confident about reverting to the mode of 1921.
Professor O’Halpin, a descendant of rebels who oriented himself on British legitimacy in Ireland before returning to be a Trinity Professor, concludes his article thus:
“It is not the drunkenness or the temporary madness but the enduring sanity and balance of most of those who fought and killed during the War of Independence—Black and Tan, Auxiliary, RIC, military, Special Constabulary, loyalist, as much as the IRA—that historians need to comprehend.”
The fracas of 1919-21 should be regarded as a faction-fight, after which both sides went home and were fine fellows and saw that the others were fine fellows too and that it had been a great scrap.
There is a lot of sense in that. We don’t deny it. Indeed we think the principle of it could be much more widely applied.
Of course it requires a setting aside of the consideration that one lot were acting as agents of the democratically elected Government in the country, while the other lot had the job of suppressing the elected Government as agents of a Government elected elsewhere.
Professor O’Halpin sets aside democracy as not being relevant to the matter. We could go some distance with him on that road too. It is a realistic approach to the reality of things in the world today. But it should not be applied furtively and with prejudice.
The British Parliament became a democratic body in 1918, under the 1918 Reform Act, but that fact made no difference to its handling of the Irish question.
Democracy is a form of State, and the State is prior to its democratisation and gives the democracy much of its character.
We know of no clear case in which it could be said that democracy was somehow prior to the State. We think it probable that the Dail elected in 1918 would have conducted viable government long-term if the British democracy had not been determined to destroy it. The United States and Israel may present a false appearance of having been, in some sense, democratic from the outset, but both were aggressive colonial movements intent on the conquest, destruction, or displacement of existing populations in the territories they saw it as their destiny to rule, and the process of conquest meant they had to hang together in a kind of rude egalitarianism.
On the whole, however, it is clear that States are not formed by democracy, but that some States shape themselves into political forms that we call democracy. But what we call democracy is far removed from Lincoln’s famous definition: government of the people for the people by the people.
The British State became what we call a democracy in 1918. In 1917 the British Prime Minister (the radical Liberal, Lloyd George, who headed a predominantly Unionist Government), said:
“The whole state of society is more or less a molten mass and you can stamp upon that molten mass almost anything as long as you do it with firmness and determination” (quoted from Contesting Democracy by Jan-Werner Müller, Yale 2011).
About 90 years later another British Prime Minister compared the world to a kaleidoscope that had been shaken, providing Britain with another opportunity for hyper-active intervention to ensure that the pieces fell to its advantage.
Judging by the conduct, rather than the propagandist ideology, of the major democratic states, one must come to the conclusion that democracy is incompatible with peace in the world. The great democratic Powers are the great war-making Powers. It seems as if these Powers are driven by an internal need to find external enemies to destroy. While the underlying reason may be a simple pursuit of ever-greater power, that drive for power has produced a need in the internal culture of those states to be always discovering enemies to destroy.
Irish democracy is so much in earnest about peace that it doesn’t even have an Army capable of fighting a war. It has become the fashion in the Great Power democracies to call their Armies Defence Forces, even though they are all shaped for the fighting of aggressive wars. But Ireland has a Defence Force with a negligible capacity for defence against the only possible aggressor. It must therefore be judged not to be serious about peace in a world in which war is now generally accepted, de facto, as being the normal condition.
Contrast this with Switzerland, which shows that it is entirely in earnest about peace by being well prepared for defensive warfare. The purpose of the Swiss Army is not to impose Swiss hegemony over any neighbouring part of the world and call it peace, but to prevent the world from intruding its militarist business on Switzerland. Its great battles are the ones it did not fight. The last one was the retreat of the German Army from Italy in 1944-45, which did not attempt to go through Switzerland.
Ireland lives, without a proper Army, in a militaristic world. The reasonable expectation of a world without war was dispelled long ago. It went with the demise of the League of Nations. The United Nations was from the start a body based on Great Power dominance in a world in which war was certain.
Ireland has been living in denial about the militarist reality of the world. It lives in the shadow of the most militarist Power in Europe, and as an open society with scarcely a press of its own, it is subject to the play of the militarist culture of the world. Militarist impulses which are generated within it by the Anglo-American culture of war find no internal means of expression in the absence of any serious internal military capacity in the structure of the State, and under the irrational need to dissociate from the war that was fought successfully in the North. In these circumstances it is not surprising that British militarism is exerting an increasing gravitational pull on society.
The last Irish military event of any real consequence was the assertion of neutrality during World War 2, in the face of Churchill’s denial that Ireland had a right to be neutral when the King declared war. Britain did not avail of the right asserted by its famous war leader to use Ireland as a base of operations because British agents reported that the Irish, though lacking serious armaments, had a will to fight. In the present condition of national demoralisation, that strong assertion of neutrality has become an embarrassment to be explained away or condemned. And a fairy-tale British version of the War has become the standard view.
If Ireland had a worthwhile national intelligentsia which looked at that War from the viewpoint of the actual Irish neutrality of the time, there would be Irish histories of the War showing the bizarre diplomacy by which Britain brought it about; Britain’s irresponsibility in encouraging the Poles to refuse negotiation over Danzig by promising a military alliance, and then refusing to deliver on the promise; the mad attempt to get into war with Russia after declaring war on Germany, leaving Germany to respond to the declaration of war on it by Britain and France at its own convenience; the refusal of Britain to negotiate a settlement after it had vacated the battlefield leaving France to fend for itself, and then denouncing it for doing so, etc., until the war ends with the Soviet Union, which Churchill had never ceased to view as the main enemy, in possession of half of Europe.
The Jewish question, which present-day propaganda presents as having been a central issue in the War, hardly figured at all in the actual conduct of the War. Indeed, until the Final Solution became evident, the British position was that, after the War, European Jewry would need to be held in check by a quota system limiting their access to various institutions and professions.
During the ten years after 1945—when one would expect the moral zeal of the crusade against Fascism to be at its peak, if that had been what the war was about—Britain and France each fought two very dirty wars: the British in Malaya and Kenya, the French in Algeria and Indochina.
There has recently been some tut-tutting about contemporaneous US interrogation techniques, but the issue is only one of hypocrisy. The Americans defend torture; the British do it and deny it self-righteously.
On the day when a leader of the Libyan rebellion let it be known that he had been renditioned by the USA to Colonel Gaddaffi to be tortured, BBC2 carried a brief discussion about rendition and torture between Menzies Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, and Michael Sheuer, former Osama Bin Laden Unit chief in the CIA:
Campbell: “As far as I am concerned rendition is illegal. It’s illegal in international law and it’s almost certainly illegal in the domestic law of the countries in which it is practised. And if you accept that rendition is a legitimate means of conducting the campaign against terrorism, then you’ve given away an enormous amount of your moral authority.
When the job was done in Malaya and Kenya, the British torturers came home to Britain and lived normal, decent lives with their wives and families in the Cotswolds, and no doubt in Wicklow. Just like the Black and Tans. We don’t disagree with Professor O’Halpin. These professional brutes are very nice people if you get to know them as friends or neighbours.
But what should you do if you meet them in their professional capacity, and survive? Put it down to experience? Understand your little problem in the larger scheme of things? See yourself in perspective?
The practices in which Britain engaged in its wars in Malaya and Kenya were of a kind with the practices which are presented as Fascist in the entertainment/propaganda which has been the standard fare of British television for two generations. But that fact does not devalue the impact of feature films and documentaries about the “Anti-Fascist War” because the British actions in Malaya and Kenya and the French actions in Algeria and Indochina, are never the subject of feature films and are the subject of mild documentaries only once in a blue moon. That is how democratic culture—the culture of a democratic state—conducts itself.
Eleven years after defeating Fascism, and after fighting two wars by methods which it is reasonable to describe as Fascist—using the term as it is used in British entertainment/propaganda about the Anti-Fascist War—Britain went to war against Fascism again. In 1956, in alliance with France and with the triumphant and triumphalist Jewish colony in Palestine, Britain invaded Egypt.
The Suez invasion was a fiasco. It had to be aborted when the USA, which was still in Anti-Imperial mode, threatened to wreck the British economy with its financial power if the invasion was persisted with. And Britannia had emerged from its second World War, fought within a period of thirty-one years, as the kept woman of the USA.
The Suez fiasco is usually taken to mark the effective end of the British Empire. But the Prime Minister who launched the invasion, Anthony Eden, never apologised for it. In fact he claimed that it had been successful in its main object, which was to stop the spread of Nasserite Fascism across North Africa and the Middle East. Nasserism, he said, never regained its impetus after the shock of the invasion.
Now Eden had some credentials as an Anti-Fascist—much better credentials than Churchill. He had given the matter some thought in the 1930s. He had not come to a vision of the evil of Fascism overnight on 4th September 1939, having previously been something of an admirer of it, as was the case with so many Anti-Fascists of the war period.
But Eden, because of his Anti-Fascist credentials, misjudged the significance of Fascism. The World War was a war on Germany, not a war on Fascism. Fascism was incidentally involved because it was through Fascism that Germany broke the shackles of the Versailles Treaty and regained its independence and its strength.
Churchill was an open supporter of Fascism as the force that saved Europe from Communism in the chaos that followed the Great War. In the late twenties, when he was a senior Cabinet Minister, he went to Rome to praise Mussolini. In the early thirties he wrote that he hoped that, if Britain was ever reduced to the shambles to which the Great War victors had reduced Germany, he hoped a leader like Hitler would arise to restore it to independence and power. (It is not hard to guess who he had in mind!)
But, when Hitler restored German independence and power (which he did with the active assistance of the British Government from 1933 to 1938), he also restored it to the status of Britain’s enemy. The balance-of-power strategy, by means of which Britain manipulated European affairs, decreed that the strongest power in Europe was, by virtue simply of being the strongest, Britain’s enemy.
Fascism, though it came to play a dominant part in the propaganda of the War, after an outcome favourable to Britain came to depend on a Communist defeat of Nazism, was incidental to the genesis of the War.
Fascist Spain was not threatened with Anti-Fascist invasion during or after the War. And, if Fascist Spain had not maintained an armed neutrality, but had allied itself with Germany in order to take Gibraltar, Britain would have been disabled by being cut off from the Mediterranean, and it is a virtual certainty that it would have grabbed at the terms of settlement offered by Hitler.
But Eden, being himself Anti-Fascist, succumbed to the illusion that the War on Germany was essentially a War on Fascism, and that it was therefore in order to make war on a state just because it was Fascist.
There is no strict and generally agreed definition of Fascism. But, using the term loosely—as it is used—Eden’s characterisation of Nasserism as Fascism was not absurd.
Egypt, while being nominally independent, had been governed by Britain by one means or another since the 1880s. In 1952 a group of officers overthrew the monarchy installed by Britain, declared the state a republic, and then cast around for a political system. The organising of a continuous liberation movement was tried to begin with. Then it was attempted to organise the Liberationist mass movement into a party. After that, a multi-party system was experimented with. All of these gave rise to difficulties within the actual State, which was the officer corps of the Army. So the parties were suppressed in order to preserve the cohesion of the state, and politics came to centre on the person of Nasser, the Army man with what came to be called charisma.
Nasser established Egypt in a position of independence between the two blocs of the Cold War, and this was at variance with the plans of the Western Powers for the Middle East, which aimed at control by the West through a regional body which was no more than a Western façade. Nasser’s policy was for friendly relations with both blocs. When it became clear that this was the actual position of Egypt, Western aid for a dam-building project that had actually begun was cut off. To make good the loss, Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal Company. That was the reason why Britain organised the invasion with France and Israel, describing the Egyptian State as Fascist for the purpose.
The US sabotaged the invasion. The invasion forces withdrew and Nasser survived. The pedantic scrutiny of new states to see if they were Fascist lapsed. So long as states did not touch a raw nerve of the Great Powers by calling themselves Fascist—and thereby devaluing the World War ideology of the Powers—they might organise themselves in ways that it would not be unreasonable to describe as Fascist. The word, not the thing, was what was unacceptable.
It was not surprising that the Egyptian State failed to establish a functional multi-party political system for itself and make itself what we call a democracy.
The party-system of representative government, which is what we call a democracy when the voting system is extended to the entire adult population, was not established according to a plan or principle. It originated with the small British ruling class of the late 17th and 18th centuries. It was consolidated as fact between the 1720s and the 1740s, but it was not until much later that it was accepted as being a good thing, or at least a necessary thing. And, for a very long time after it was accepted as being a good thing in principle, the great majority of the population had no voting rights in it.
The principle that the Government should be established through a voting contest between a couple of parties was first asserted in the 1760s. The electorate consisted at that time only of the ruling class and its hangers-on. That continued to be the case until 1832, when the electorate was greatly increased, on the basis of a high property franchise, but still remained a very small fraction of the whole population. By the end of the 19th century, a majority of men had the vote but no women. It was only in 1918 that a majority of the population got the vote.
During the century and a half before the 1832 Reform the two parties, Whigs and Tories, were parties of the ruling class. The term ruling class then meant something different from just controlling the central Government. There was then very little in the way of a bureaucratic apparatus of State within England. The aristocrat and gentleman ruled in their localities whether their party won or lost the election. The major apparatus of State was the Navy, whose business was conquering the world.
Until 1832 the parties were groups of ruling families. After 1832 membership organisations were formed under the tutelage of the ruling families, and the extension of voting continued over the next 80 years.
The party difference grew up within a strongly collective ruling class, which had embarked on the great enterprise of ruling the world. Their interests were identical for the most part, their points of difference marginal, and the loss of an election was therefore no great matter.
That is how what we call a democracy evolved. It is said that the ancient Greeks invented democracy, but they would not have recognised this as democracy.
In the fully-fledged form of this model of democracy there are great sham battles between two or three parties, which denounce each other in extravagant terms, and seem to mean it—but they then proceed to act as if they understood very well that very little depended on who won the election.
This political system is something that developed historically, not something constructed according to a principle of political science. While it was happening there was no Super-power supervising and ordering it to do this or do that. But, in its fully-fledged imperialist form, it presents this system—not as an artificial historically-evolved system—but as a natural or scientific arrangement capable of being instantly implemented anywhere, and it considers itself entitled to invade any States which do not have it.
Winston Churchill, who did not quite approve of total democracy but had to live with it after the 1918 Reform Act if he was to have a political future, reflected in the early 1920s about the limits of parliamentary democracy. He did not think it was functional if there was a fundamental difference between the political parties. The established system of Tories and Liberals had broken up under the stress of the Great War and a new party, apparently representing organized labour, had suddenly become the second party of the state. The issue was whether labour could be drawn into the existing system, as there would be a fundamental conflict between Labour and Capital which the system could not cope with. Crisis was warded off by members of the disintegrating Liberal Party joining Labour with the purpose of taming it, but an implicit antagonism remained all through the 1920s and 1930s. This antagonism was resolved under cover of the Second World War, during which General Elections were suspended, and a minority Labour party took control of domestic policy from the demoralized Tory Party in a War Coalition while Churchill concentrated on the foreign policy of the War. The foundations of the post-War welfare state were laid during the War while the electoral aspect of democracy was suspended. After the War the Tories had to accept the welfare state arrangements as an accomplished fact and the superficial display of fierce political antagonism was resumed within a system that both parties supported. The rule seemed to be that, the less were the real differences between the two parties, the greater was the display of vituperating antagonism that was not only safely allowed but that was needed so that the parties could be distinguished form each other.
It must be evident that this system is unlikely to be functional in countries whose states have been destroyed by democratic imperialist action, where there are no long-established routines, and where differences are real and basic. Some of these situations will be considered in a future issue. Meanwhile let us moderate our totalitarian enthusiasm for the democratic pretensions of globalist capitalism, like E.M. Forster, give only Two Cheers For Democracy.