君臣 之 礼 [Chaos Between Rulers and Officials]

君臣 之 礼 [Chaos between rulers and officials]…the endless lament about those who presume to govern us:

乌呼! 君臣 之 礼 既 坏 矣, 则 天下 以 智力 相 雄 长, 遂 使 圣贤 之后 为 诸侯 者, 社稷 无不 泯 绝, 生民 之类 糜 灭 几 尽, 岂不 哀哉![Sima Kuang 司马光 (2012-11-23). Comprehensive Mirror 资治通鉴(1) (Kindle Locations 42-43).  . Kindle Edition.]

More subtle than the commonly criticized tendency of the powerful to believe that the people exist for their pleasure, rather than that they serve for the people’s benefit, is the cancerous corruption of competition between the leader and the elite—the high officials, local barons, major CEO’s, and generally the super-rich. The elite always strive to select, manipulate, and bribe the leader. Any leader with a spine will naturally struggle for independence, which may serendipitously lead to some benefit for the oppressed if not forgotten masses…albeit perhaps only after centuries (e.g., the Magna Carta contest opening the door to democracy) or to the people becoming grass under the feet of political elephants. This corrupt and self-serving contest of elephants seems independent of time and culture.

“Chaos between rulers and officials!”The endless lament about those who presume to govern us:

乌呼! 君臣 之 礼 既 坏 矣, 则 天下 以 智力 相 雄 长, 遂 使 圣贤 之后 为 诸侯 者, 社稷 无不 泯 绝, 生民 之类 糜 灭 几 尽, 岂不 哀哉![Sima Kuang 司马光 (2012-11-23). Comprehensive Mirror 资治通鉴(1) (Kindle Locations 42-43).  . Kindle Edition.]

More subtle than the commonly criticized tendency of the powerful to believe that the people exist for their pleasure, rather than that they serve for the people’s benefit, is the cancerous corruption of competition between the leader and the elite—the high officials, local barons, major CEO’s, and generally the super-rich. The elite always strive to select, manipulate, and bribe the leader. Any leader with a spine will naturally struggle for independence, which may serendipitously lead to some benefit for the oppressed if not forgotten masses…albeit perhaps only after centuries (e.g., the Magna Carta contest opening the door to democracy) or to the people becoming grass under the feet of political elephants. This corrupt and self-serving contest of elephants seems independent of time and culture.

Austerity for the Poor, Then and Now

The “grandmother of the Russian Revolution,” Yekaterina Breshko-Breshkovskaya, who spent half a century fighting for justice for Russia’s poor or in jail, came of age as Russian nobles were manipulating the landmark 1861 decision to free the serfs by transforming them from starving slaves into starving “free men,” a process that any “free black” in the U.S. South in the 1870’s would have found very familiar, not to mention the people of Detroit, Greece, Puerto Rico in the current era. After liberation in 1917 (her personal liberation from the Tsarist gulag, that is), Breshko described in her oral memoirs the shock of the newly freed serfs at the betrayal of the rich:

The peasant was free. No longer bound to the land, his landlord ordered him off. He was shown a little strip of the poorest soil, there to be free and starve. He was bewildered; he could not imagine himself without his old plot of land. For centuries past, an estate had always been described as containing so many ‘souls.’ It was sold for so much per ‘soul.’ The ‘soul’ and the plot had always gone together. So the peasant had thought that his soul and his plot would be freed together. In dull but growing rage, he refused to leave his plot of land for the wretched strip. ‘Masters,’ he cried, ‘how can I nourish my little ones through a Russian winter.’^ Such land means death.’ This cry rose all over Russia.

The government appointed in every district an ‘arbiter’ to persuade the peasants. The arbiter failed. Then troops were quartered in their huts, families were starved, old people were beaten by drunkards, daughters were raped. The peasants grew more wild, and then began the flogging. In a village near ours, where they refused to leave their plots, they were driven into line on the village street; every tenth man was called out and flogged with the knout; some died. Two weeks later, as they still held out, every fifth man was flogged. The poor ignorant creatures still held desperately to what they thought their rights; again the line, and now every man was dragged forward to the flogging. This process went on for five years all over Russia, until at last, bleeding and exhausted, the peasants gave in. [Breshko-Breshkovskaia, Ekaterina Konstantinovna Verigo, 1844-1934. [from old catalog]; Blackwell, Alice Stone, 1857-1950; Catt, Carrie Chapman, 1859-1947, former owner. DLC [from old catalog]; National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection (Library of Congress) DLC [from old catalog]. The little grandmother of the Russian revolution; reminiscences and letters of Catherine Breshkovsky (Kindle Locations 254-259). Boston, Little, Brown, and company.]

Of course, there is a difference between austerity for the poor in the 1860s and in the second decade of our highly civilized 21st century. In that time long past, the poor and the sympathetic intellectual had an answer for oppression by the rich: revolution.

Leaders, Not Dissidents, Make Revolutions

Le cardinal de Richelieu avait affecté d’abaisser les corps, mais il n’avait pas oublié de ménager les particuliers. Cette idée suffit pour vous faire concevoir tout le reste. Ce qu’il y eut de merveilleux fut que tout contribua à le tromper et à se tromper soi-même. Il y eut toutefois des raisons naturelles de cette illusion ; et vous en avez vu quelques-unes dans la disposition où je vous ai marqué ci-devant qu’il avait trouvé les affaires, les corps et les particuliers du royaume ; mais il faut avouer que cette illusion fut très extraordinaire, et qu’elle passa jusques à un grand excès. Le dernier point de l’illusion, en matière d’État, est une espèce de léthargie, qui n’arrive jamais qu’après de grands symptômes. Le renversement des anciennes lois, l’anéantissement de ce milieu qu’elles ont posé entre les peuples et les rois, l’établissement de l’autorité purement et absolument despotique, sont ceux qui ont jeté originairement la France dans les convulsions dans lesquelles nos pères l’ont vue. Le cardinal de Richelieu la vint traiter comme un empirique, avec des remèdes violents, qui lui firent paraître de la force, mais 3une force d’agitation qui en épuisa le corps et les parties. Le cardinal Mazarin, comme un médecin très inexpérimenté, ne connut point son abattement. Il ne le soutint point par les secrets chimiques de son prédécesseur ; il continua de l’affaiblir par des saignées : elle tomba en léthargie, et il fut assez malhabile pour prendre ce faux repos pour une véritable santé. Les provinces, abandonnées à la rapine des surintendants, demeuraient abattues et assoupies sous la pesanteur de leurs maux, que les secousses qu’elles s’étaient données de temps en temps, sous le cardinal de Richelieu, n’avaient fait qu’augmenter et qu’aigrir. Les parlements, qui avaient tout fraîchement gémi sous sa tyrannie, étaient comme insensibles aux misères présentes, par la mémoire encore trop vive et trop récente des passées. Les grands, qui pour la plupart avaient été chassés du royaume, s’endormaient paresseusement dans leurs lits, qu’ils avaient été ravis de retrouver. Si cette indolence générale eût été ménagée, l’assoupissement eût peut-être duré plus longtemps ; mais comme le médecin ne le prenait que pour un doux sommeil, il n’y fit aucun remède. Le mal s’aigrit ; la tête s’éveilla : Paris se sentit, il poussa des soupirs ; l’on n’en fit point de cas : il tomba en frénésie. [Cardinal de Retz, Memoires.]

A series of minor events can invisibly construct a revolution, each event preparing the way for a new and slightly more serious step. From the outside, these tiny changes, appearing either invisible or separate from each other and thus apparently of no long-term consequence–are ignored altogether or noted only in passing and then forgotten; it is so much easier to ignore details than to inquire endlessly into whether or not some long list of details appearing over a prolonged period of time together constitute something of significance. Is not the significance of all these trivial events precisely that not one of them amounted to anything? Perhaps, but not likely: politics is a complex adaptive phenomenon, not amenable to reductive reasoning. Cardinal Retz, in modern parlance, is portraying Richelieu as a master capable of seeing the complexity of reality and Mazarin as but a simple schemer capable perhaps of brilliant manipulation of the political game of the moment but–crippled reductionist thinker  that–to Retz at least–he was, blind to the long-term underlying dynamics.

The Cardinal’s summary of the causes of the Fronde revolt–a classic example of the long-term damage resulting from war, the insidious undermining of society resulting from bad government, and the harm that results from putting power in the hands of the blindly arrogant–constitute a good start for an explanation of many of history’s political disasters:

on ne doit rechercher la cause de la révolution que je décris que dans le dérangement des lois, qui a causé insensiblement celui des esprits, et qui fit que devant que l’on se fût presque aperçu du changement, il y avait déjà un parti. Il est constant qu’il n’y en avait pas un de tous ceux qui opinèrent dans le cours de cette année, au Parlement et dans les autres compagnies souveraines, qui eût la moindre vue, je ne dis pas seulement de ce qui s’en ensuivit, mais de ce qui en pouvait suivre. Tout se disait et tout se faisait dans l’esprit des procès ; et comme il avait l’air de la chicane, il en avait la pédanterie, dont le propre essentiel est l’opiniâtreté, directement opposée à la flexibilité, qui de toutes les qualités est la plus nécessaire pour le maniement des grandes affaires. [Retz.]

While the Cardinal may have been as arrogant and self-serving a politician as any of the other actors who manipulated affairs leading up to the Fronde for their own benefit at the expense of the common good, at least he left behind some thought-provoking memoirs with considerable contemporary relevance.

The Invisible Staircase of Small Event Series

Pendant ces six semaines d’absence, il s’était passé en France tant de petites choses qu’elles avaient presque composè un grand événement. [Alexandre Dumas, Vingt Ans Apres, 250.]

A series of pebbles linked by cause and effect so B builds upon A can be as significant as a single mountain…and with the additional significant trait that perhaps no one will notice–and thus no one will oppose–the rising influence of the staircase of pebbles; the mountain may be as high but invisible. A series of small events may go unnoticed because most observers will assume that after each individually insignificant event, the situation will “return to normal.” If, instead, each event causes a change in behavior that prepares the way for a new change that would otherwise have been less likely to occur, then the result will be: surprise!

The Expediency of Justice

Words carry cultural, philosophical, ideological overtones far more significant than their bare, stripped down dictionary definitions, the term “justice” being one of the most loaded. From the Western democratic perspective, a very short-lived and geographically marginalized perspective (as Solzhenitsyn has pointed out) not to mention being a concept that no state has ever managed to implement, “justice” is defined from near the individual extreme of a political continuum that reaches a social extreme at the other end. The historical roots of this view, which 21st century Westerners are mostly content to take credit for may well extend back to early Christian days. In any case, the contemporary view in a U.S. that likes to forget how recently it has accepted anything remotely resembling individual rights (the morality of slavery split the nation to the point of nearly provoking self-destruction only 150 years ago and only that battle paved the way to ending the economic slavery of restricting voting rights to those with property and the sexual slavery of restricting voting rights to men, while the rich in the U.S. in 2010 won a historic battle to reverse centuries of struggle and legalize the purchase of elections) is so far over on the individual end of the continuum that it is constantly necessary to remind people that individual liberty does not confer the right to poison the commons or ignore the rights of other individuals, be they fellow drivers or victims of an oil corporation’s poisoning of the Gulf of Mexico.

There is of course an alternative perspective, as implied by the existence of a continuum, and that, to simplify the already simplified view of a single continuum into a neat, black vs. white choice, is to place society firmly ahead of the individual. (How some faction is to be selected to define the “needs of society” once the individuals in that society are denied that right is a second-stage question not to be addressed here.) Other continua may well be more important in evaluating the concept of justice than the choice between individual and society; for example, one might argue that the most important choice is between conflict resolution by discussion vs. force truly lies at the foundation of any structure of justice. In any case, those who put society first have a very different definition of justice than those who put the individual first, and when members of these two groups talk to each other, the delicate ship of communication is likely to founder on the sharp reef of how each implicitly, if not secretly, defines “justice.”

Потому не нужны юридические тонкости, что не приходится выяснять — виновен подсудимый или невиновен: понятие виновности, это старое буржуазное понятие, вытравлено теперь (стр. 318).

Итак, мы услышали от товарища Крыленки, что Революционный Трибунал — это не тот суд! В другой раз мы услышим от него, что Трибунал — это вообще не суд: «Трибунал есть орган классовой борьбы рабочих, направленный против их врагов» и должен действовать «с точки зрения интересов Революции… имея в виду наиболее желательные для рабочих и крестьянских масс результаты» (стр. 73).

Люди не есть люди, а «определённые носители определённых идей». «Каковы бы ни были индивидуальные качества [подсудимого], к нему может быть применим только один метод оценки: это — оценка с точки зрения классовой целесообразности» (стр. 79).

То есть ты можешь существовать, только если это целесообразно для рабочего класса. А «если эта целесообразность потребует, чтобы карающий меч обрушился на головы подсудимых, то никакие… убеждения словом не помогут» (стр. 81), — ну, там доводы адвокатов и т.д. «В нашем революционном суде мы руководствуемся не статьями и не степенью смягчающих обстоятельств; в Трибунале мы должны исходить из соображений целесообразности» (стр. 524).

В те годы многие вот так: жили-жили, вдруг узнали, что существование их — нецелесообразно. [Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 287-288.]

The reason that fine points of jurisprudence are unnecessary is that there is no need to clarify whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty: the concept of guilt is an old bourgeois concept which has now been uprooted…

“A tribunal is an organ of the class struggle of the workers directed against their enemies” and must act “from the point of view of the interests of the revolution…having in mind the most desirable results for the masses of workers and peasants.” People are not people but “carriers of specific ideas.” “No matter what the individual qualities [of the defendant], only one method of evaluating him is to be applied: evaluation from the point of view of class expediency.”

In other words, you can exist only if it’s expedient for the working class. And if “this expediency should require that the avenging sword should fall on the head of the defendants, then no…verbal arguments can help. (Such as arguments by lawyers, etc.) “In our revolutionary court we are guided not by articles of the law and not by the degree of extenuating circumstances; in the tribunal we must proceed on the basis of coonsiderationsn of expediency.

That was the way it was in those years: people lived and breathed and then suddenly found out that their existence was inexpedient. [Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Arch

The Bolshevik thinking portrayed here by Solzhenitsyn lays out bluntly their stunning (to a naively modern Western democrat) dismissal of individual rights, but the Bolsheviks had it wrong in calling individual justice a bourgeois concept. Anyone is in principle capable of understanding the idea of individual rights, from Christians in Rome’s catacombs to a slave seeking freedom like the eloquent Frederick Douglass. In practice, it is not entirely clear what enables one to differentiate right from wrong or to visualize distinctions between liberty and oppression or to seize abstract visions of “justice” and apply them appropriately to real life. Perhaps the key to achieving that is simply to know that fundamentally different assumptions about the meaning of certain common words underlies one’s definitions. It is not just the Bolsheviks who defined “justice” in ways most Americans today would consider alien.

Liberty, Justice, and Expediency

… главное во всяком судебном процессе не так называемая вина, а — целесообразность….

За исключением считанных парламентских демократий в считанные десятилетия вся история государств есть история переворотов и захватов власти. И тот, кто успевает сделать переворот проворней и прочней, от этой самой минуты осеняется светлыми ризами Юстиции, и каждый прошлый и будущий шаг его — законен и отданудам, а каждый прошлый и будущий шаг его неудачливых врагов — преступен, подлежит суду и законной казни. [lib.ru 328.]

…what was important in every trial was not the charges brought, nor guilt, so called, but expediency…it was expedient to finish them off….

With the exception of a very limited number of parliamentary democracies, during a very limited number of decades, the history of nations is entirely a history of revolutions and seizures of power. And whoever succeeds in making a more successful and more enduring revolution is from that moment on graced with the bright robes of Justice, and his every past and future step is legalized and memorialized in odes, whereas every past and future step of his unsuccessful enemies is criminal and subject to arraignment and a legal penalty. [Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1, Ch. 9 “The Law Becomes a Man,” 355.]

В благополучном и слепом нашем существовании смертники рисуются нам роковыми и немногочисленными одиночками. Мы инстинктивно уверены, что мы в смертную камеру никогда бы попасть не могли, что для этого нужна если не тяжкая вина, то во всяком случае выдающаяся жизнь….

Наша судьба угодить в смертную камеру не тем решается, что мы сделали что-то или чего-то не сделали, — она решается кручением большого колеса, ходом внешних могучих обстоятельств. [lib.ru]

In our happy, blind existence, we picture condemned men as a few ill-fated, solitary individuals. We instinctively believe that we could never end up on death row, that it would take an outstanding career if not heinous guilt for that to happen….

Whether our destiny holds a death cell in store for us is not determined by what we have done or not done. It is determined by the turn of a great wheel and the thrust of powerful external circumstances. [G.A., Ch. 11 “The Supreme Measure,” 440-441.]

It is understandable, given the endless crimes of the Soviet state against Solzhenitsyn, that he might have concluded that a “great red wheel” of fate rolls mercilessly over mankind; more fortunate in our comfortable democracies, we in the West may, in these years between great global wars, choose to believe that we control our fates. Perhaps we have demonstrated that in theory we might, but the evidence that in practice we are not is overwhelming: the case at least is unproven. One thing is clear: citizens of a democracy who do not wish to lay their bodies down before that great red wheel must stand up and take action.

Just as the loss of liberty begins with subtle shifts in our views of morality and justice–a process brilliantly and mercilessly documented by Solzhenitsyn, “action” as well starts in subtle ways: first, thinking; next, expressing dissent; then, exchanging opinions. Solzhenitsyn notes that as early as the mid-1920s:

 Глухая закрытость уже уверенно формировала нашу историю. [423]

Silence was already confidently shaping our history. [465]

–an individual error that promptly resulted in a critical victory for the forces of repression:

…не было в стране общественного мнения!

…there was no public opinion in the Soviet Union. [473.]

Nothing vanishes faster than liberty undefended.

Revolution: By Design…or Accident?

To what extend is revolution the result of design,  of intent; to what extent an accident?

…il n’y eut rien de systématique dans la création du gouvernement révolutionnaire. Presque tous les faits ci-dessus relatés montrent que ce gouvernement ne fut l’application d’aucun système, d’aucune idée préconçue, qu’il se forma empiriquement, au jour le jour, d’éléments imposés par les nécessités successives de la défense nationale, dans un peuple en guerre contre l’Europe, armé tout entier pour défendre son existence, dans un pays qui était devenu comme un vaste camp militaire. Le gouvernement révolutionnaire, expédient de guerre, était sans cesse annoncé comme devant prendre fin avec la guerre. [Aulard, Histoire politique, 462.]

A defensible hypothesis would be that the French Revolution resulted as much from the extreme hostility of European kings and from the political plotting by Louis XVI as from any revolutionary plan in the minds of those now considered to have been the leaders of the Revolution. Aulard’s comment that the revolutionary regime “was not the application of any system, of any preconceived idea” brings to mind a host of Russian Revolution events described by Solzhenitsyn in his Red Wheel novels, e.g., the haphazard decision-making surrounding the effort to persuade the Tsar to resign, the general confusion among the leaders of the new post-tsarist regime about what their goals should be, the chance absence of General Gourko at the key moment when the Army could have intervened, and the analogous arguments within the leftist camp about whether to join the government, interact with the government, or flatly oppose the government.

Aulard goes further, arguing that the leaders of the French revolution were forced by external events to betray their own liberal convictions:

Obligés de faire la guerre pour être libres, obligés d’être soldats pour rester citoyens, c’est une discipline militaire qu’ils organisèrent, et ce gouvernement révolutionnaire fut le contraire de leurs rêves, de leur idéal. [473.]