Posts from September 2006

Unless you are free

Chris Clarke’s post on yesterday’s political developments is very good and very important. Something I hope to have something intelligent to say about later. For right now, though, I wanted to thank Chris for leading me to something I’ve been hoping to find for for a while now. Specifically, an online recording of Mario Savio‘s speech on the steps of Sproul Hall, during his time in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. After the speech, Savio joined about 800 people from the assembled crowd to face arrest in a nonviolent sit-in against the arbitrary arrest of their fellow student Jack Weinberg:

An online copy of this recording of the 2 December 1964 speech is, I’m glad to say, now available through YouTube. Here is the best remembered part of what he said:

We were told the following. If President Kerr actually tried to get something more liberal out of the Regents in his telephone conversation, why didn’t he make some public statement to that effect. And the answer we received–from a well-meaning liberal–was the following. He said: would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a statement publicly in opposition his Board of Directors? That’s the answer. Well I ask you to consider: if this is a firm and if the Board of Regents are the Board of Directors, and if President Kerr is in fact the manager, then I’ll tell you something: the faculty are a bunch fo employees, and we’re the raw materials! But we’re a bunch of raw materials who don’t mean to have any process upon us, don’t mean to be made into any product. don’t mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University–be they government–be they industry–be they organized labor–be they anyone. We’re human beings!

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part–you can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it and the people who own it that unless you are free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.

— Mario Savio (December 2, 1964), on the steps of Sproul Hall, at the University of California at Berkeley

Today in history

No, this hasn’t anything in particular to do with anniversaries.

The Court of Star Chamber was a court of law which evolved from meetings of the king’s royal council. Although its roots go back to the medieval period, the court only became powerful as a separate entity during the reign of Henry VII. In 1487 the court became a judicial body separate from the king’s council, with a mandate to hear petitions of redress.

In a sense the court was a supervisory body; its members oversaw the operations of lower courts. As well, its members could hear cases by direct appeal. Members of the court were either privy councillors or judges drawn from the courts of common law.

The mandate of the court expanded under the Tudors to include instances of public disorder. Judges would receive petitions involving property rights, public corruption, trade and government administration, and disputes arising from land enclosures. Under the leadership of Thomas Wolsey and Archbishop Cranmer, the Court of Star Chamber became a political weapon for bringing actions against opponents to the policies of Henry VIII, his ministers and his Parliament. Although the court was initially a court of appeal, Henry VIII and his councillors WoIsey and Cranmer encouraged plaintiffs to bring their cases directly to the Star Chamber, bypassing the lower courts entirely.

Although the court could order torture, prison, and fines, it did not have the power to impose the death sentence. Under the Tudors Star Chamber sessions were public.

The power of the court of Star Chamber grew considerably under the Stuarts, and by the time of Charles I it had become a byword for misuse and abuse of power by the king and his circle. James I and his son Charles used the court to examine cases of sedition, which, in practice, meant that the court could be used to suppress opposition to royal policies. It became used to try nobles too powerful to be brought to trial in the lower courts. Court sessions were held in secret, with no right of appeal, and punishment was swift and severe to any enemy of the crown.

… Finally, in 1641 the Long Parliament abolished the hated Star Chamber, though its name survives still to designate arbitrary, secretive proceedings in opposition to personal rights and liberty.

— Tudor Place: The Court of Star Chamber (1487-1641)

Although the Court of Star Chamber did not itself have the power to order torture for gathering evidence, other commissions under the power of the Crown did, and testimony extracted under torture was often used against prisoners brought before the Court. The power of imprisonment included the power to throw convicts into prison at the King’s pleasure, to remain incarcerated indefinitely as long as the King wanted.

Mr. Hallam, who wrote most authoritatively of the English Constitution said that the course of proceeding in the Star Chamber seems to have nearly resembled that of the chancery. … The Star Chamber was established to secure good government. … The Star Chamber’s powers were directed towards preventing riots and unlawful assemblies. … In the Star Chamber there was no indictment. … In the Star Chamber there were no witnesses, and the evidence was produced in writing and read to the council. … In the Star Chamber there was no trial by jury. … In the Star Chamber the council could inflict any punishment short of death, and frequently sentenced objects of its wrath to the pillory, to whipping and to the cutting off of ears. … With each embarrassment to arbitrary power the Star Chamber became emboldened to undertake further usurpation. … The Star Chamber finally summoned juries before it for verdicts disagreeable to the government, and fined and imprisoned them. It spread terrorism among those who were called to do constitutional acts. It imposed ruinous fines. It became the chief defense of Charles against assaults upon those usurpations which cost him his life. From the beginning it defied Magna Charta in denying jury-trial, in forcing men to incriminate themselves, or what is scarcely less repugnant to reason, to manifest their innocence. … At last with the inhuman punishment administered by it to Prynn, Burton and Bastwick, the people long cultivated by the constitutional lawyers of England procured its abolition. Can the chancery courts of this country expect to escape appropriate discipline when the time shall arrive that the eyes of the people shall see that these courts have habitually over-ridden the laws of the land?

… For nothing relaxes objection and silences criticism upon usurpation so much as the creation of a condition which strengthens the Must-do-something policy. Nothing has helped the employer so much in the plainly lawless and forbidden use of the writ of injunction as that condition of violence which he so loudly deplores. …

— Edgar Lee Masters (1904): The New Star Chamber

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

— William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

You get the general idea

Quick anarchist history quiz. Who said this?

I have proved … that commerce, independently of the service rendered by the material fact of transportation, is in itself a direct spur to consumption, and therefore a cause of further production, a principle of the creation of values.

At first this may seem paradoxical, but it has been demonstrated by economic analysis: the metaphysical act of exchange, in addition to labor, but by a different method from labor, is a producer of real value and of wealth. Furthermore, this assertion will astonish nobody who reflects that production or creation signifies only change of form, and that therefore creative forces, labor itself, are immaterial. So that the merchant who has enriched himself by real speculation, without usurious profit, enjoys the fortune which he has acquired by a perfectly just title: his fortune is as legitimate as that which labor has produced. And pagan antiquity, as well as the Church, has unjustly aspersed commerce, upon the pretext that its rewards were not the remuneration of real services. Once again, Exchange, an entirely immaterial operation, which is accomplished by the reciprocal consent of the parties, cost and distance of transportation being allowed for, is not merely a transposition or substitution, it is also a creation.

Commerce, then, being in itself a producer of wealth, men have engaged in it with ardor in all ages; no need for the legislator to preach its advantages and to recommend the practice of it. Let us suppose, what is not an absolutely absurd supposition, that commerce did not exist, that with our vast means of industrial execution, we had no idea of exchange: it is easy to see that if some one should come to teach men to exchange their products and trade among themselves, he would be rendering them an immense service. The history of humanity mentions no revolutionary who could compare with such an one. The remarkable men who invented the plough, the vine, wheat, did not rank above him who first invented commerce.

… Do you have it yet? If not, here’s another clue. It’s the same author who said this, later in the same work:

You say that you will make but few laws; that you will make them simple and good. That is indeed an admission. The Government is indeed culpable, if it avows thus its faults. No doubt the Government will have engraved on the front of the legislative hall, for the instruction of the legislator and the edification of the people, this Latin verse, which a priest of Boulogne had written over the door to his cellar, as a warning to his Bacchic zeal:

Pastor, ne noceant, bibe pauca sed optima vina. [Pastor, for your health, drink but little wine, but of the best.]

Few laws! Excellent laws! It is impossible. Must not the Government regulate all interests, and judge all disputes; and are not interests, by the nature of society, innumerable; are not relations infinitely variable and changeable? How then is it possible to make few laws? How can they be simple? How can the best law be anything but detestable?

You talk of simplification. But if you can simplify in one point, you can simplify in all. Instead of a million laws, a single law will suffice. What shall this law be? Do not to others what you would not they should do to you: do to others as you would they should do to you. That is the law and the prophets.

But it is evident that this is not a law; it is the elementary formula of justice, the rule of all transactions. Legislative simplification then leads us to the idea of contract, and consequently to the denial of authority. In fact, if there is but a single law, if it solves all the contradictions of society, if it is admitted and acceptedby everybody, it is sufficient for the social contract. In promulgating it you announce the end of government. What prevents you then from making this simplification at once?

One more clue? Later in the same work, the same author wrote:

To be GOVERNED is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so…. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality. And to think that there are democrats among us who pretend that there is any good in government; Socialists who support this ignominy, in the name of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity; proletarians who proclaim their candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic!

The author is Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865), the French mutualist and revolutionary socialist, and the first political theorist to describe himself as an Anarchist. The work is his 1851 treatise, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (as translated by John Beverly Robinson in 1923), in which Proudhon argued that the abolition of all coercive government and the emergence of a decentralized, mutualist economic order were the tacit principles underlying the French Revolution. The completion of the Revolution in the nineteenth century would mean an explicit struggle for these principles and an end to the half-way measures of constitutionalism, liberal republicanism, and representative government: the point was not to constrain authority, or put it under the control of the majority, but rather to end it.

From both an anarchist standpoint and a feminist standpoint, it’s an interesting and maddening work — like a strobe light alternating flashes of brilliance with utter darkness from one section to the next, and sometimes from one sentence to the next. But in any case, it’s interesting, and if you can avoid cognitive seizures, it’s well worth a careful reading.

The reason that I mention all this — other than the interest of the quotations themselves — is that (as Roderick was vexed to find out a couple months ago), you couldn’t find General Idea of the Revolution online for love or money. Until now: I’m pleased to announce that a complete online edition of General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, in Robinson’s English translation, is now available at the Fair Use Repository. (In case you’re wondering, you can find the first quotation in the Third Study, ¶¶ 37–39, the second in the Fourth Study, § 2.2 ¶¶ 6–10, and the final quotation in the Epilogue, ¶ 39.)

Read, and enjoy!

Tu quoque

Here’s the latest from the Great Patriotic War on Terror:

WASHINGTON — Adding fire to the political debate over national security, a bleak government intelligence report says the war in Iraq has become a cause celebre for Islamic extremists, breeding deep resentment of the United States that’s likely to get worse before it gets better.

A four-page summary from an April National Intelligence Estimate — released Tuesday on President George W. Bush’s orders — offers little reason for optimism over the next five years. Despite serious damage to Al Qaeda leadership, it concludes, the threat from Islamic extremists has spread both in numbers and in geographic reach.

If this trend continues, threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide, it says.

Bush ordered the release after portions were leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post; both papers published stories about it Sunday.

Some people have guessed what’s in the report and concluded that going into Iraq was a mistake, Bush said Tuesday.

I strongly disagree, he said, calling those views naive. With portions of the report public, everybody can draw their own conclusions, he said.

— Detroit Free Press (2006-09-27): Terror report fans flames as election draws near

It would be a logical fallacy to dismiss George Bush’s argument based on George Bush’s own failings. Arguments can and should be evaluated on their own merits, independently of your assessment of the person who makes them. But I will say that the spectacle of George Walker Bush — after the grave and gathering danger, after Mission Accomplished, after stuff happens, after we were all wrong, after the past three years of major turning points and final throes — turning around and chiding critics of his Iraq policy for naiveté about the situation on the ground simply beggars belief.

I’d also like to note that declassifying a cherry-picked selection of portions of the report for public release may not be the best way for the Decider to dispel politicized spin on selective leaks, or to encourage everybody [to] draw their own conclusions.

Further reading:

Moral standards

Here’s part of a recent reply to my post on the use of the phrase moral relativism. The original post discussed a controversy over whether or not Harry Truman should be called a terrorist for knowingly and willingly slaughtering civilians — orders of magnitude more civilians than Osama bin Laden (et al.) slaughtered in the attack on the World Trade Center — for the sake of military and political strategy. Here’s how Jamie DeVries tried to make the case that we cannot draw any moral parallels between the two figures:

Here is the question we ought to ask ourselves: )Did Truman have the ability and power to incinerate each and every Japanese citizen, even after a surrender was declared? The answer is: yes. Did he or the U.S have the WILL to do so? The answer: of course not.

Well, that was mighty white of him.

In all seriousness, how much lower could the bar possibly be set for rulers of the Allied governments in World War II? Is there absolutely any atrocity in the name of unconditional surrender that the Court Intellectuals and their countless acolytes would not rush to defend, or at least to excuse? I wish this were merely a bit of pointed rhetoric. But actually I’m asking it as a serious, open question.

Further reading: