Democracy makes us Dumb

Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche

Democracy makes us Dumb

by Ilana Mercer

From the riffs of outrage coming from the Democrats and their demos over “our democracy” betrayed, infiltrated even destroyed—you’d never know that a rich vein of thinking in opposition to democracy runs through Western intellectual thought, and that those familiar with it would be tempted to say “good riddance.”

But voicing opposition to democracy is just not done in politically polite circles, conservative and liberal alike. For this reason, the Mises Institute’s Circle in Seattle, an annual gathering, represented a break from the pack. The Mises Institute is a think tank working to advance free-market economics from the perspective of the Austrian School of Economics. It is devoted to peace, prosperity, and private property, implicit in which is the demotion of raw democracy, the state, and its welfare-warfare machine.

This year, amid presentations that explained “Why American Democracy Fails,” it fell to me to speak to “How Democracy Made Us Dumb.” (Oh yes! Reality on the ground was not candy-coated.)

Some of the wide-ranging observations I made about the dumbing down inherent in democracy were drawn from the Founding Fathers and the ancients. A tenet of the American democracy is to deify youth and diminish adults. To counter that, let’s start with the ancients. The Athenian philosophers disdained democracy. Deeply so. They held that democracy “distrusts ability and has a reverence for numbers over knowledge.” (Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, New York, 1961, p.10.) Continue reading

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Canadian Thanksgiving, 2019

Brandon, Manitoba, 1922

Canadian Thanksgiving, 2019

Mark Wegierski dissects Canada’s prosperity 

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. Canada is certainly a country which has been blessed with great material bounty. However, in these troubled times, some somber reflections seem appropriate. There has been a perceptible downward trend in the Canadian standard of living and quality of life, especially when compared to the United States. The weak Canadian dollar is a symbol of continuing Canadian decline. It is possible that the great bounty Canadians are accustomed to is increasingly fraying, and may even disappear in the third decade of the twenty-first century.

For seven years in a row in 1994-2000, Canada had been acclaimed as the number one country in the world in which to live, according to the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). In the year 2001, it dropped to number three, still a very high ranking. Whether such superlative rankings are accurate, depends on one’s perspective.

It is clear that Canada cannot be defended as the best country in the world for the majority of its citizens, if defined according to strict financial accounting. For the middle and working classes, taxation is exceedingly high, and the benefits of the current welfare state are a mixed blessing. For the bureaucratic and corporate elites, on the other hand, Canada is indeed bountiful. It is also bountiful for groups qualifying for state and corporate sponsored equity initiatives, who would face the prospect of a drearier existence under a different arrangement. Continue reading

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Don Pasquale

Don Pasquale

Don Pasquale, dramma buffo in three acts, music by Gaetano Donizetti, libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and Gaetano Donizetti, conducted by Evelino Pidò, directed by Damiano Michieletto, Royal Opera, Monday 14th October 2019, reviewed by Leslie Jones

In director Damiano Michieletto’s updated version of Donizetti’s classic comic opera, Norina, played by the gifted soprano Olga Peretyatko, in her Royal Opera debut, is a make-up artist, working on fashion shoots. This telling detail perfectly captures the meretricious character of this self-confessed manipulator of men, “A soul [supposedly]… innocent of guile…modest without compare”, “straight out of a convent”. All women, it seems, are ultimately false. Men, notably Don Pasquale (Bryn Terfel), are their victims or dupes. Even Ernesto (tenor Ioan Hotea), is a hapless victim of love – “mi fa il destin mendico” (fate has made me a beggar), he complains. Cynicism and misogyny reign here.

Norina – Olga Peretyatko
Photo: © ROH Photographer: CLIVE BARDA

According to Rosencrantz, an old man is twice a child. In a perceptive review of a previous production of Don Pasquale at Glyndebourne, Mark Valencia stated, “My beef with this…is its mean spirit. For a light comedy, Don Pasquale has a heartless streak that says it’s quite OK for old men to be humiliated…”. In similar vein, apropos the same production, Erica Jal opined that this is “…an opera that can seem to have as much to do with cruelty as comedy”. Rupert Christiansen concurred – we have “…a doddery old fool ruthlessly humiliated and cheated out of his money ….” (Daily Telegraph).

Indeed, Don Pasquale, throughout, is a figure of fun – ailing, overweight, white haired, bespectacled, possibly incontinent, self-delusional and worthy of mockery. His dressing gown and fauteuil roulant were supererogatory.

There is so much to enjoy in this production – the spirited ensemble work, the inspired conducting by Maestro Pidò, the revolving, spared down set, wherein Don Pasquale’s dreary residence, with its clapped out Fiat and furniture, is transformed into a consumerist paradise that is “…both horribly chic and oppressively minimalist” (Warwick Thompson, ‘A Designing Minx’, Official Programme). But we left the opera house, nonetheless, with a nasty taste in the mouth. Maybe it’s the ageing process.

Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of QR

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Homeless in Seattle, Part 2

Seattle Tower

Homeless in Seattle, Part 2

Ilana Mercer shows how high-tech sucks the soul from the city

Trust the late Anthony Bourdain, the Kerouac of cooking, to blurt out the truth when nobody else would. Following his Jack Kerouac wanderlust, Bourdain had arrived in Seattle to spotlight the manner in which high-tech was changing the city, draining it of its character and of the many quirky characters that made Seattle what it was.  

“Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Expedia, and Amazon are the big dogs in town,” mused  Bourdain. “A flood of them—tech industry workers, mostly male, derisively referred to as tech boys or tech bros—is rapidly changing the DNA of the city, rewiring it to satisfy their own newly-empowered nerdly appetites.”

That the “tech boys” “are so dull”, as members of a Seattle band say—and sing—in no way assuages their heated effect on the housing market. A street artist called “John Criscitello … told Bourdain how the high-tech influx has driven up housing costs and forced artists [like himself] out of the neighborhood.” Continue reading

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Blessed are the Peacemakers

Marquess of Lansdowne

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Lansdowne; The Last Great Whig, Simon Kerry, Unicorn, 398pp, 2017, ISBN  978-1-910787-95-3, reviewed by Angela Ellis-Jones

This biography of Lord Lansdowne, one of late Victorian and Edwardian Britain’s most distinguished people, is written by the subject’s great-great grandson, who modestly omits to mention that he is the heir to the current Marquess. Lansdowne was born into the Whig aristocracy. The founder of the family fortune was Lansdowne’s four-times great grandfather, Sir William Petty (1623-87), the son of a clothier who began his working life as a cabin boy but subsequently enjoyed a brilliant polymathic career. After he had served as Professor of Anatomy at Oxford (1651-2) and of Music at Gresham College, London, a stint as physician to  Cromwell’s army in Ireland led to his appointment as director of the land survey of Ireland for the purpose of dividing the spoils amongst Cromwell’s men. He finished the first complete map of Ireland in 1656, and amassed 270,000 acres of land in south Kerry alone. When he made his will in 1685, he calculated his annual income to be £15,000, an enormous sum at a time when the annual average was just short of £7!

Just as Petty was a member of a brilliant intellectual circle – he was a founder of the Royal Society – so also was his great-grandson, the second Lord Shelburne (1737-1805), who became the first Marquess of Lansdowne following his time as prime minister (1782-3), during which he negotiated the settlement of the American War of Independence. Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen while he held the position of librarian at Bowood. Bentham was a visitor to the house which Shelburne commissioned Robert Adam to decorate, and filled with beautiful paintings, furniture and sculpture. Shelburne’s son, Lansdowne’s grandfather, had been chancellor of the Exchequer at the age of 25, in 1806.

With such ancestors, Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, fifth Marquess of Lansdowne (1845-1927) was evidently well-endowed intellectually. The son of a half-French mother of distinguished lineage, he grew up bilingual. After he narrowly missed a First in Greats at Oxford, his tutor, the renowned Benjamin Jowett, commiserated: ‘You have certainly far greater ability than many First Classmen’ (Lord Newton, 1929, Lord Lansdowne, p 9). Jowett later saw him as prime ministerial material. Continue reading

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ENDNOTES, October 2019

Henri Fantin-Latour, Hector Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique, Un Bal

ENDNOTES, October 2019

Stuart Millson reviews Bach in Kent and a new Berlioz recording from Toronto

Bach’s Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 – dating from 1741 – is a work often referred to as one of the greatest achievements in all music: an opening ‘aria’, a statement, of the most subtle, contemplative, mellow beauty, leading to a journey of miraculous contrast and complexity through 30 variations; and then followed by a noble summation and restatement of the opening theme.

The variations are usually heard in piano or harpsichord form. One thinks of pianist Glenn Gould’s two recorded versions, especially his slow-paced CBS account from 1981 – or harpsichordist Kenneth Gilbert’s authentically baroque account on the Harmonia Mundi label, but at the recent Music@Malling festival in Kent, the audience at St. Mary’s Abbey were treated to a surprising and beautifully executed rendition of the work by violinist David Juritz, the guitarist, Craig Ogden, and cellist, Adrian Bradbury.

Arranged by David Juritz, who provided a brief but informative account of the work and his realisation of it, the trio succeeded in turning the work into what could almost be described as an hour-long Brandenburg Concerto – with the guitar part assuming the role and sound of a lute accompaniment. Bold cello writing and playing was especially to the fore toward the conclusion of the piece; Adrian Bradbury providing an exciting, sonorous dimension – an expansive, but also autumnal sensation. The modern stone interior of the performance space at St. Mary’s – uncluttered and simple, with natural light, but also a feeling of inwardness – gave a rich but never over-reverberant tone to the sounds of the instruments; so that what we heard was detailed and gracious, but also sweeping and noble, and full of “air” and warmth. Continue reading

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Homeless in Seattle, Part 1

Seattle skyline, Kerry Park

Homeless in Seattle, Part 1

by Ilana Mercer

To expatiate on the subject of homelessness in Seattle, Tucker Carlson regularly invites on his Fox News show a Republican liberal who broadcasts out of Seattle. Aside from a pastiche of liberal ideas, ‘Sleepy in Seattle’ has nothing remotely perceptive or probative to say about homelessness in the Emerald City. Eventually, this young know-nothing will read this Column and parrot it back to Tucker. Then, perhaps, Carlson’s viewers will stop being gulled by Big Tech and the other multinationals who are exacerbating the problem of homelessness in Washington State.

For these stateless corporations are the major importers, into King County and the surrounds, of a high-tech, feudal elite that compounds the homeless quagmire. If anything, the corporations who straddle the globe rely on immigration ignoramuses to perpetuate the single-cause theory of homelessness: addiction or mental illness.

However, even if drug addiction and mental illness are seen as necessary in causing homelessness, they are seldom sufficient. Substance abuse and mental anguish can, in themselves, be the consequence of other exogenous, existential and intractable circumstances. Like being priced out of your homeland’s housing market. For good. Continue reading

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They Shall not Pass

Arizona Desert Landscape

They Shall not Pass

Bill Hartley reconnoitres Trump’s wall

Periodically there are stories on television about President Trump’s plan to fence off the US-Mexico border. These are often illustrated by aerial shots of migrants trekking across country or of groups being held in detention by immigration officials. But the fence, the border and the way it affects lives is a more complicated story.

Migrants attempting to enter the US undetected have to cross unforgiving country. The Great Sonoran Desert which sweeps up from Mexico into Arizona is a harsh and beautiful place. Here the desert mingles with isolated mountain clusters called Sky Islands. The climate and limited water resources make this a thinly populated place. For example, Cochise County, which runs down to the border, covers 7,000 square miles and has a population of only 136,000. This has always been a country for wanderers, from the Apache whose land it once was, to prospectors seeking mineral wealth and today the profusion of trailer parks, accommodating people who migrate down from the frozen north during the winter months. For the permanent residents there is an opportunity to find space. Travel along Route 82 towards Nogales through some of the more verdant parts and the hills are littered with isolated ranch house dwellings. Continue reading

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Review of Agrippina

Joyce DiDonato as Agrippina and Andrea Mastroni as Pallante, in Agrippina C-ROH 2019. Photographed by Bill Cooper

Review of Agrippina

Dramma per musica in three acts, music by George Frideric Handel, libretto attributed to Vincenzo Grimani, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Maxim Emelyanychev, directed by Barrie Kosky, Royal Opera, Monday 23rd September 2019, reviewed by Leslie Jones

The men in Agrippina are generally weak and easily manipulated, especially by means of sex. Or as musicologist Panja Mücke puts it, “The male roles in this opera…are completely subordinate to the women…” (‘Revealing Sounds’, Official Programme). Agrippina herself, mezzosoprano Joyce DiDonato, a force of nature, deploys her formidable skills of deception at men’s expense. As she avers, “Those who can pretend achieve their desires”. Like monomaniac Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury), in John Frankenheimer’s film The Manchurian Candidate, Agrippina is focussed on only one thing, power. Her son Nerone, played by the gifted countertenor Franco Fagioli, and her husband Emperor Claudio, bass Gianluca Buratto, on fine form, are merely means to this end. Of all the characters, only Ottone, countertenor Iestyn Davies, and Poppea, soprano Lucy Crowe, have redeeming features. Both value love over power. They realise that “If you want to find peace cast hatred out of your heart”. Ottone, in particular, “is a model of sincerity throughout” (‘Revealing Sounds’). Continue reading

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A Modest Proposal for a Referendum Act

The World Turned Upside Down, Credit Pinterest

A Modest Proposal for a Referendum Act

by Monty Skew

The democratic  system is broken. Parliament was prorogued and that has now been deemed unlawful after legal arguments to reverse it were accepted in a process which will create yet more conflict. Parties are bitterly divided; Parliament is paralysed. And government may be acting outside the law. The country is falling apart even as the new PM sees his one-seat majority disappear and prepares for a snap general election. There are more resignations pending in both main parties which themselves no longer speak for the mass of voters.

Whatever deal is negotiated, if it is, it must be confirmed by the people and there is the possibility of yet another deadlocked general election. This might take place before October 31 but is unlikely to be conclusive.

Meanwhile, there are rumours of plots and sub-plots to stop the Parliamentary process. There have been demands for various innovations, such as a citizens assembly and sortition, supposedly ‘used by the ancient Athenians to decide major issues’.

Referendums are not really part of the British tradition but of the three major ones the Brexit referendum is being contested by the losers. But now that the EU referendum has exposed the problems of Parliamentary democracy perhaps a new settlement is needed. Continue reading

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