Jan

26

On "progressive visionaries", by a fellow I know:

"[The author] went to college with these people, and for a brief time 40 years ago was one of them. He recalls their thinking. They have been striving to gain real political power for all these years, and in the process have carefully taken control of the unions, public education, most big city governments, and much of the underlying federal bureaucracy. The election of 2008 was the culmination of their lifetime of strenuous effort, and it awarded them the Presidency, insurmountable majorities in both houses of Congress, the prospect of soon controlling the U.S. Supreme Court, and one or two serviceable crises by which to justify hurried and drastic action.

This is the Golden Opportunity, the one they have been working towards all their lives. They will never, ever again have such an opportunity. If they let this slip away, all is lost, possibly for generations. But more than that, their lives will have been utterly wasted, their very identities shattered."

Alan Millhone comments:

The British Navy at the dinner table is best approach to politics.

Stefan Jovanovich returns:

The sagas about the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars are wonderful; but the notion that there was an absence of the discussion of politics at the ward room table for reasons of civility alone is a part of the fiction that has no basis in fact. The very purpose of the British Navy was political; and the men in the Navy were unambiguously candid about what the politics should be — mercantilism, not free trade — and ruthlessly dismissive of anyone who did not agree with them.

Politics was not "discussed" precisely because the only political argument of the day was about whether trade should allowed to be "free" — i.e. restricted only by tariffs and not by gunpowder; and the British Navy was, for reasons of understandable self-interest, "agin it". It very much helped their cause that most of their political opponents were no more in favor of "open" trade than Napoleon was. Instead, like the people whom Dan described in his post, they were believers in a "rational" authority that would have made a Marxists proud.

Here is how Henry Dundas, Stephen Matarin's fictional father, and First Lord of Admiralty saw the purpose of the Royal Navy:

"…be the causes of the war what they may, the primary object ought to be, by what means we can most effectually increase those resources on which depend our naval superiority, and at the same time diminish or appropriate to ourselves those which might otherwise enable the enemy to contend with us in this respect… I consider offensive operations against the colonial possessions of our enemies as the first object to be attended to in almost every war in which Great Britain can be engaged."

One interesting aspect of this is the extent to which abolitionism in Britain was an extension of mercantilism and the slavery patrols off West Africa were, in fact, a jobs program for the Royal Navy whose cannons could no longer thunder and men could no longer plunder. James Stephen is known to our age as Wilberforce's brother-in-law and as an abolitionist; but, like Dundas, his prominence came primarily from his devout support of the idea that British commerce should always be the handmaiden of the British Navy. You can detect a whiff of that nostalgia for the good old days in what James Stephen wrote in 1802:

"To impoverish our enemies used, in our former contests with France and Spain, to be a sure effect of our hostilities; and its extent was always proportionate to that of its grand instrument, our superiority at sea. We distressed their trade, we intercepted the produce of their colonies, and thus exhausted their treasuries, by cutting off their chief sources of revenue, as the philosopher proposed to dry up the sea, by draining the rivers that fed it. By the same means, their expenditure was immensely increased, and wasted in defensive purposes. They were obliged to maintain fleets in distant parts of the world, and to furnish strong convoys or the protection of their intercourse with their colonies, both on the outward and homeward voyages. Again, the frequent capture of these convoys, while it enriched our seamen, and by the increase in important duties aided our revenue, obliged our enemies, at fresh expense, to repair their loss of ships; and when a convoy outward bound, was the subject of capture, compelled them either to dispatch duplicate supplies in the same season, at the risk of new disasters, or to leave their colonies in distress, and forfeit the benefit of their crops for the year. In short, their transmarine possessions became expensive encumbrances, rather than sources of revenue; and through the iteration of such losses, more than by our naval victories, or colonial conquests, the house of Bourbon was vanquished by the masters of the sea."

James Stephen, War in Disguise of the Frauds of Neutral Flags (London, 1805)


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