Print Story We'd all love to see the plan
Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Thu May 03, 2007 at 10:56:43 AM EST) Reading (all tags)
Me. Reading with rambling. Web.


Me
I ought to post diaries more often. Was going to post a "things are finally going well at work" diary the other day, which would have set up some dramatic irony for today's "another round of layoffs" diary, but missed the chance.

I'm not in the "at risk" group, but people I know and like are. Seems to be a stupid and semi-random selection. 2 people out of 3 in the "at risk" group have to go. That group includes both our ASP.NET guys, and one of the two people who specialise in the highly unusual language we rely on. The "at risk" group does not include the guy who joined a few weeks ago, and while a nice guy who seems competent, doesn't know anything about our complicated, idiosyncratic, specialized and completely undocumented systems.

I ought to start looking for a less barmy company to work for I suppose. Feeling pretty apathetic about it though. Also I have a cunning plan for a new system I'd like to build: might see if I get the chance.

Reading
Very slow progress. Couldn't face "Globalisation and Its Discontents" so soon after all. Instead going through Tim Powers' latest novel: Three Days to Never. Set in 1987 so far: Mossad and a secret society are competing using magic, demons and remote viewing, trying to get their hands on an artifact and a psychic 12-year-old.

Pretty good, well done, but somehow not as involving as it should be. Maybe I'm in the wrong mood, or just too familiar with this kind of thing.

Audiolecture-wise, only 13 lectures into the history series "Europe and Western Civilization in the Modern Age". The lecture style is more academic and less entertaining than some in the series: he sticks to overviews and the big picture, without going into the cool little details, digressions and personalities. Still veryinformative though.

I think it's crystallizing why I disagree with cam so much over the efficacy of constitutions. Going through history this way gives a very clear sense of the way the cycles of revolution and restoration work. In England we had the Civil War leading to the execution of the King and the Commonwealth: not democratic but certainly republican; the Restoration of the monarchy, then the Glorious Revolution limiting the powers of the monarchy.

In France there were similar cycles. The French Revolution produced first a constitutional monarchy, then an extreme republic with universal suffrage, then Napoleon who still held mass elections, then a restoration of the monarchy with a limited Charter/constitution, then the Second and Third republics, and so on.

Cam I think is trying to generalize from the American Revolution, where there was a single revolution leading to a stable long-term state. As such, he tends to think in terms of a single constitution establishing a permanent settlement. However, when you've gone through the long series of revolutions, counter-revolutions and restorations from the rest of the world, you can't see a constitution as being a particularly powerful document.

In particular, the trouble with a constitution is that if it doesn't reflect the actual balance of power within in a society it will tend to just be overthrown in the next cycle.

The US was a special case. Firstly it was a regional superpower from the start, with oceans and vast distances protecting it from other great powers: very hard to invade even when weak. Secondly, it had abundant land and natural resources, so there was little cause for internal conflict. You didn't have the peasantry, rural aristocracy and the Church all hungrily eyeing each others land. Thirdly, there weren't the heavily entrenched interest groups of aristocracy, bureaucracy and guilds and so on, all trying to get more control over the state.

All those factors led to the situation of a single revolution, creating a single constitution, with no subsequent restorations, military takeovers and counter-revolutions.

Web
Walking speeds worldwide.

Socially responsible design

< Hypocricy or juxtaposition? | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >
We'd all love to see the plan | 18 comments (18 topical, 0 hidden)
I don't know if the US is a special case by lm (4.00 / 1) #1 Thu May 03, 2007 at 11:52:03 AM EST
But I do know that the US both has a fairly unique constitution. And even then, keep in mind that the present constitution was not the first attempt. Nor should we forget that less than a hundred years after it was ratified, a long and brutal civil war broke out.

That said, I think the US Constitution is exceedingly well written. Most (not all) other constitutions blur the distinction between constitutional law and general law and blur the distinction between the executive and the legislative functions of government.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
Even so by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #2 Thu May 03, 2007 at 12:08:50 PM EST
It was 85 years until the American Civil War broke out. I think that's long enough to count as stable: most revolutions seem to last somewhere between a couple of months and a couple of decades. I think once you've got past a generation the new order is pretty well established: most people can't remember what things used to like.

Look at Indian and Pakistani independence for a comparison. That was a generally successful independence, done with the consent of the former imperial power. But even so, within 25 years there had been three wars between Indian and Pakistan, and one war between Pakistan and Bangladesh.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Wars with foreign powers by lm (4.00 / 1) #6 Thu May 03, 2007 at 12:58:23 PM EST
Rather than the number of wars between India and Pakistan, I think the number of civil wars and coup detats is the relevant observation. Otherwise, you also have to consider the war of 1812 and the Mexican-American war that involved the US. I also think you need to account for the speed of communication and transportation in the 19th vs. 20th centuries.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
I disagree by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #9 Thu May 03, 2007 at 10:07:23 PM EST
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were all part of British India. Bangladesh was originally the East Wing of Pakistan until they had their own war of independence.

I might be splitting hairs, but I don't think you can quite class the War of 1812 with these as Canada was part of the British Empire at the time. As such, I'd class it with conflicts-with-foreign-powers rather than conflicts-between-revolutionaries.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
I think maybe I'm not sure what you're saying by lm (4.00 / 2) #13 Fri May 04, 2007 at 03:38:54 AM EST
But having slept on this issue, I think that maybe the situations are not comparable. The thirteen original colonies had a unity of religion, culture and language that India and Pakistan never had within their own borders let alone with each other. If Britain's response to the desire for US independence had been to partition the country along religious and ethnic lines into three separate sovereign nations with forced relocations of large populations, then the US may have been a good deal less stable in its early years.

The other interesting thing is that some of the US founding fathers (John Adams, for instance) correctly predicted the outcome of the French Revolution based on a combination of critiquing their constitution and observing the culture of the day. While I don't think that having a good constitution in and of itself makes a country more stable, I think that having a properly republican constitution that respects human rights makes it much easier to achieve stability in a democracy. It helps, but it isn't a guarantee of anything.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
IAWLM by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #8 Thu May 03, 2007 at 03:54:28 PM EST
The War of 1812 was definitely Revolution 2.0

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
I think the difference may come by cam (4.00 / 2) #3 Thu May 03, 2007 at 12:23:11 PM EST
because the earlier constitutional systems were based on expansion; Rome, England, the Dutch and France. A malleable constitution in those cases met the need for expanding the military and administrative enfranchisement. Since the US Revolution, the nation-states have expanded through out the globe and now form stable political entities. So they aren't geared toward expansion, competition for resources now comes through the market-state which we aren't sure yet demands the same political structures as an empire state. In a market-state anchoring liberty, especially maximum liberty, is more important that a constitution able to increase centralised administrative enfranchisement.

cam
Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

typo by cam (2.00 / 0) #4 Thu May 03, 2007 at 12:24:33 PM EST
is more important than a constitution able to increase centralised administrative enfranchisement to take care of the increased demands of conquest.

cam
Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

[ Parent ]
Manifest destiny? by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #10 Thu May 03, 2007 at 10:12:06 PM EST
If you look at the size of the US at its creation, it expanded massively later on, to several times its original size. England and the Dutch Republic didn't really change their size much in response to their internal revolutions or independence.

I thought one thing we agreed on about Rome is that it was precisely the failure of their unwritten constitution to deal with their expansion that primarily caused the Republic to be replaced by the Principate.

So, I would say if you're looking at successful expansionism, the US is the best example.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Tsarist Russia is also a good example. by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #18 Sat May 05, 2007 at 07:04:13 PM EST
Huge acquisition of territory there.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
"little cause for internal conflict" by ucblockhead (4.00 / 2) #5 Thu May 03, 2007 at 12:53:04 PM EST
You mean, other than the internal conflict in the middle of the 19th century that killed half a million men?

While some of what you say is true, I think you underestimate some of the particulars of the US constitution, particularly the attention paid towards maintaining the balance of power. It's something that was utterly missing from French revolutionary thought, AFAIK, and is exactly the reason the French revolution failed. The French copied the bill of rights, which was obviously important, but in their concentration on rights, they missed the structure of the base document, which was based on ensuring that no one wing gets too much power. The failures of the French Revolution was precisely one of one wing getting too much power and chopping the heads off their opponents.

(Though that balance of power in the US is certainly being sorely tested today. I'm optimistic that this will be the aberration that proves the rule.)

I have gained a new appreciation of this reading Churchill's WWII books, especially the bits before the US entry into the war, where he sort of shakes his had at the way Roosevelt can't do many of the things he takes for granted because of congress.

The most telling bit about the American Civil War is that the confederates created a constitution that was, for the most part, the same as the US one.
---
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

Balance of powers by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #11 Thu May 03, 2007 at 10:21:38 PM EST
As I understand it, the balance of powers was largely invented by Alexis de Tocqueville and was incorporated into the French constitutions: at least one had a bicameral legislature based on that.

As I've been saying to lm, I think the US civil war was too long after the American Revolution to be really seen as an outgrowth of it. If you look at Charlemagne, Cromwell and Napoleon; a single charismatic and capable leader can hold an unstable state together for his adult lifetime. But if a state lasts 85 years under a succession of different leaders, I think you can say that the state itself is pretty stable.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
I believe by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #14 Fri May 04, 2007 at 07:06:09 AM EST
... a more conventional view would be that the separation of powers was invented by Montesquieu and incorporated by Madison into the US Constitution, which predates the French revolutionary constitution.

I thought Cromwell invaded Ireland? Or was that Elizabeth I? Besides which, many states aren't in a fit state to invade anywhere just after a civil war. I guess it didn't stop the US expanding west though.

Actually given the manifest destiny thing you could argue that expansion put stress on the constitutional settlement of 1780, resulting in a civil war. It was the slave status of new states that was one flashpoint after all.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
Cromwell re-invaded Ireland by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #15 Fri May 04, 2007 at 07:25:24 AM EST
Henry II invaded Ireland in 1171. However, England had lost control in the chaos of the civil war, so Cromwell invaded again in 1649 to reestablish control.

Henry II was a French-speaking Norman though, so was of little use in creating anti-English sentiment, and isn't really someone Irish nationalists bother talking about.

[ Parent ]
westerward expansion by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #17 Sat May 05, 2007 at 06:09:11 AM EST
The US already owned both coasts by the Civil War. The post-civil war expansion was more of a filling in, and in this case, the native tribes were massively outnumbered. The Civil War likely made it worse because it meant that those military men they faced had real military experience.
---
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
The Lodge by MohammedNiyalSayeed (2.00 / 0) #16 Fri May 04, 2007 at 10:47:57 PM EST

put a great deal of thought into the Constitution. They circumvented a number of problems by simply being aware of the problems in prior attempts at a secular state.

That said, text is, ultimately, just text, and given enough time, mankind will return to it's shitty self, regardless of what the upper intellectual crust has etched onto paper with pen and ink.


-
You can build the most elegant fountain in the world, but eventually a winged rat will be using it as a drinking bowl.
[ Parent ]
it makes sense. by dev trash (4.00 / 1) #7 Thu May 03, 2007 at 01:37:13 PM EST
That dude makes less than the others.  Gotta save money, never mind making money.

--
Click
I don't know for sure by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #12 Thu May 03, 2007 at 10:23:22 PM EST
But I don't think he is. The "at risk" list is all people with the theoretically more junior job titles. If they were getting rid of the most expensive, it would be the people with more senior titles (and I'd be on it).
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
We'd all love to see the plan | 18 comments (18 topical, 0 hidden)