Monday, April 30, 2007

Religion in Turkey and New York

I see the secularist protests in Turkey (picture from here) and hints of intervention by the military on behalf of the secular cause, have received little coverage in the Australian media which thinks Europe stops around Berlin. The conservative record in all policy aspects of the ruling Islamist party provides further confirmation, if any was needed, of the perfect compatibility of political Islam (and of course political Christianity) with economic conservatism. Would-be business modernisers seem to have little time for the secularists according to business-friendly commentary here. Nor it seems does the European whose Enlargement Commissioner stated:
This is a test case if the Turkish armed forces respect democratic secularism and the democratic arrangement of civil-military relations.
Well, for a start note that the Islamist ruling party won a landslide parliamentary majority with only 34.3% of the vote.
On a slightly less serious note Elliott Spitzer, the first Jewish Governor of New York, has generated outrage from Christian groups as the only state governor not to support a National Day of Prayer. See outraged comments here.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Law and democracy

A predictable boilerplate criticism of human rights charters by Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian. But such charters can always be revised by governments, the fact that democratically-elected governments chose not to do so is their decision, as has been the case with the Racial Discrimination Act probably the closet to an Australian bill of rights. The bogy called up by conservatives of individual pieces of legislation being struck down as contradicting rights charters is a largely mythical one. WE could point to the hypocrisy of those who are happy to see government’s constrained by international trade agreements, but there is a more significant point. Their real concern is administrative law, that decisions might be challenged as unlawful. Says she:Now it's true that, armed with a charter, a judge will be able to hijack government policy. Therein lies the problem. You may disagree with some government policies, but at least you can boot out politicians when they get things wrong.Notice the use of 'policy' rather than 'law'. The point is not that one might disagree with a policy, but that a policy might be unlawful. A 'government' actually consists of thousands of individuals and agencies, and it is quite possible that one of these could act illegally according to legislation that a government has passed. In 1988 I was a Tax office clerk, should anyone who disagreed with my decisions have simply voted against the federal government in 1990? Perhaps Albrechsten accepts the argument of George Bush and Hugo Chavez for that matter that executives can legislate by decree. There is a current of left-wing opinion that counterpoises good 'law' to evil 'politics', but much of the right has its own demagogic view of a good 'politics' (=governments they like) versus evil 'lawyers' never law. A pragmatic view would be that there is range of manners in which the state’s legitimate violence can be exercised, courts are part of the state but have distinctive roles. There are right-wing discourses that do oppose law to politics; Hayek’s work and right-wing libertarianism, but the later in particular is not taken because of its lack of popular appeal. Its proponents such as Peter Saunders (some of the time) fantasise about a political consensus for right-wing libertarianism that given barriers to entry in the political market would be undemocratic, just as was the desire for a bipartisan consensus on the republic.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Democracy defined

So far Australian involvement in Afghanistan hasn't evoked the debate of Iraq, unlike Canada where the opposition parties have become increasingly critical of their involvement, although there is some anxiety about continued support for the war. Defenders admit that: While the democratically-elected Karzai government might be struggling to satisfy popular demands for law and order and public services, it is undoubtedly a better option than the two likely alternatives: a return of Taliban medievalist theocracy or rule by unstable coalitions of corrupt, brutal and incompetent local warlords. Yet we must ask why a democratically elected government seems to face such increasingly effective opposition. Both the Iraqi and Afghan governments are so dependent on their foreign backers that they do not exercise sovereignty. This is a statement of fact. The fact that parliaments were democratically elected does make them a democratic regime. If elections alone were enough, Imperial Germany was much more democratic than the United States of Woodrow Wilson. No doubt the current governments are infinitely preferable to those who would replace them. There was an argument after the Iraq war about wether not democratic regimes could be established by force. We could imagine a democratic government repressing by force a violent minority insurgency with its own military forces, but if the battle is conducted by military forces not under its control than this government ceases to be sovereign. Overall the Iraq debate has suffered through a failure to define terms and a tendency to use 'democracy' as meaning that which is desirable. So one side Adam Carr: Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed on 9 April and Iraq came under American and British military occupation. The occupation continued until July 2004, when authority was handed over to an interim Iraqi administration. Elections were held in 2005 and a fully democratic government established, despite a continuing terrorist campaign by remnants of the former regime and jihadists from other countries. Yet it is true that current Iraqi government is a 'puppet regime'. Perhaps it has no choice, but if a government is elected democratically and is then unable to exercise effective sovereignty the result must be disillusion. There is a broader point about democracy. Marxists have traditionally tried to strike a balance in the definition of democracy between form and substance. The mere holding of reasonably free and fair elections is likely to indicate a regime that is a considerable improvement on a regime that does not hold elections. However there have to be effective opportunities for subordinate classes to mobilise and influence policy. Sometimes traditions of deference can demobilise subordinate classes, the low levels of electoral turnout in early post-independence India or as Peter Lindert notes in many of the new European democracies of the 1920s are examples. Recent discussion of democracy either regards the liberal aspects as all that is significant, or it goes to the other extreme and dismisses all democracies as frauds, a position sometimes oddly combined with nostalgia for a imagined past of true democracy.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Liberalism in 1984

Recently read Liberals face the future a collection of post-defeat reflections by Liberals and sympathisers published in 1984. Maybe it sheds some light on where the Liberals might go in opposition. Most of the contributors are no longer politically active, although editor George Brandis is of course and so is Louise Asher. Overall it is an attempt to defend what the contributors saw as 'liberalism' against the conservatism that they associated the Fraser years with, although John Hyde and David Kemp (whom the editors criticise) do have contributions. The philosophical essays by Brandis, Tom Harley and Don Markwell criticise economic libertarianism for a focus on absolute economic rights rather than pragmatic balancing of outcomes, which sounds promising, but as we have seen recently this could justify a suppression of human rights. Denis White criticised Snedden-era Liberalism to which this books looks back to for its absense of any political criteria beyond the pragmatic. The chapter on industrial relations by Phil Gude sees the only alternatives as arbitration or collective bargaining. Andrew Peacock's chapter isn't brilliant, or particularly bad, and in its recognition of the need for change in Australia stated what Labor was concluding at the same time. Ian McPhee supports a phased reduction in tariffs. Nothing on national identity or education. Overall the book represents a transitional stage in the migration of Australian liberalism to the left side of politics, a 2008 version would emphasise much more the Liberals as a conservative party.

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Liberal anti-unionism

It seems to me a gap in industrial relations research that the emotional foundations of Coalition hostility to trade unionism are not examined. To a section of the Coalition and its support base trade unionism is self-evidentially a bad thing; the way to a much smaller section of radical opinion capitalism is self-evidentially bad. Business groups have seized the opportunity to advance managerial prerogative with delight, but this political crusade isn't economically driven. Is it a product of the close partisan alignment between unions and the ALP? However it didn't occur under previous Coalition governments when this was the case. Arguments about productivity don’t address this fundamental motive. I think the core theme is that managers and employers always know best and they have demonstrated themselves to be better people than those beneath them. There are signs of this in earlier Liberal argument; Menzies’ dismissal of the organised masses in his forgotten people speech, but in Menzies view the virtuous middle-class are separate from the organised masses, today’s Liberalism sees them as in a closer relationship of necessary dominance and subordination. Howard's 'enterprise worker' musings are related to this.