The Curses of Caesarea

A Channel 4 documentary on Saturday night brought home an ancient controversy. Illustrated with a treasure-trove of material from Caesarea on the coast of Roman Judea, what was found is shocking.

The programme was on Roman chariot racing, but that is not what stuck in the mind – it was the physical evidence of life in a city which was not as it should have been.

Today Caesarea is a modern city, and its predecessor was modern in the Roman world too, founded by Herod the Great as his capital, named after Augustus and modelled on the cities of the Graeco-Roman world. This city had all the trappings of a Roman city, including a theatre, a temple dedicated to Roma and Augustus, and a hippodrome, for chariot racing. Around the circus were all those shady stalls found in every Roman arena – the temples, the taverns, the cauponae, the knocking-shops and magicians selling charms and curses.

The city attracted a large gentile community, though the majority of the city’s population were Jewish, until later centuries. What they could see around them in this new Hellenistic city was abomination: heathen temples, murders as entertainment in the theatre, soothsayers and magicians. A foreign culture was taking over and one which offended against every aspect of the Law.  In a well in the city Israeli archaeologists have found many curse tablets, rolled sheets of lead with curses written in Greek invoking Greek deities to bring death or ill-fortune on enemies, or on the opponents of favoured chariot racers.

The reaction of observant men must have been of horror that here within the Land of Israel there stood in stone the very antithesis of all the law and the prophets.  Further, it was modernity and seems to portray the inevitable future for all, and it was embraced by those who went to live within the city. We do not know if any of those curses invoking the Goddess were laid by Jewish inhabitants of the city, but the fact that pagan idols were being invoked and pagan magicians thriving in the land, seducing even Jewish men, must have looked like the evil that arose in the days of the prophets.

Unlike the days of the prophets though, no end could be imagined as all the civilised world was in the hands of the Romans and the Greeks and all modernity embraced their civilisation. To reject that culture was to reject modernity and to be “on the wrong side of history”. Therefore it could only grow: pagan temples, pagan culture, idols, orgies, indulgence, ritual murder, debauchery, astrologers and soothsayers and all that the Law forbids celebrated in the cities of Israel with official approval.

The men of Judea were strangers in their own land, mocked by those who had come among them for their old-fashioned, joyless religion and stale morality.

There were rebellions.  They were suppressed, with brutality: Roma triumphans.

However there may have been a memory of the prophecy of Daniel, the King’s dream in which “a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces”, and “the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” – this was a vision of the future Messianic kingdom, but for those in the land seeing everything ebbing away, this must have seemed a vain hope.

It was not a vain hope:  Roman culture was in time overthrown by “the stone the builders rejected”.

Our western culture, our world culture, has been built on religion and morality that King David would understand and Caesar Augustus would not. Now that foundational culture is under relentless attack we are urged to give up, to accept an inevitability of modernity which claims eternal truth, as did Rome. I hope that the ruins of Caesarea can provide us with a lesson for today.

The Long March: conspiracy or accident?

The Long March through the Institutions was advocated by Rudi Dutschke, a German, Communist student activist in 1971: he saw the progress of revolution stifled by the established order and so wrote that Communists could subvert this order by infiltrating the institutions which make it up.

As those with Marxist or cultural-Marxist ideas have apparently taken control of all institutions, the conspiracy would seem to have been sprung.  Something does not feel right about this neat theory though.  For one thing, giant conspiracies do not work, and for another, writing your whole plan in a popular book for all the world to see is a terrible way to run a secret conspiracy.

It has happened though, and as ConHome reminds us frequently, research has found five times more labour supporters have been appointed to public bodies than Tories.

Conspiracy or natural selection?

There may be an element of deliberate exclusion of Tories.  This might be the sort of action which is co-ordinated over dinner parties or WhatsApp groups.  This is a conspiracy, but a localised one rather than anything centrally directed.

It can be hard to deny a conspiracy against conservative-minded candidates when we see apparently co-ordinated attacks on such appointees bursting out into the media.  This might just be a ‘Twitter congregation’.  More studies would be needed to determine how much planned co-ordination goes into such attacks (but with few conservatives now in academic positions it may be impossible to commission such research).

There may be other explanations though for the overwhelming dominance of Marxists and cultural-Marxists in institutional positions; essentially that it has been a natural process caused by the characters and motivations of those involved; an osmosis where the red particles pass more easily in through a membrane and others more easily pass out. 

A body which effectively appoints its own successors, or which has an independent appointments board, will through natural processes entrench its own prejudices.  In making appointments, the board will be charged with choosing those considered sound and sensible: it is natural then to think that their own views are the sound, sensible view and that those who differ from them are lacking in principle or intellect.  If charged with ensuring political neutrality, it is natural to think of their own views as neutral and others as political or “fringe”.  Furthermore, it is natural for a board to choose as colleagues those with whom one can work in harmony, who will not challenge their colleague’s own views and assumptions.

A system fine-tuned to fail

A quick review of the positions offered in the quangocracy shows an interesting pattern:  most senior positions are part-time jobs, paid well for the few hours the holder is expected to work, but not as a career salary.  Therefore anyone who wishes to take a management role in a quango must be one who has the hours to spend: an academic, a semi-retired company director, or more particularly an existing quangocrat with a portfolio of positions to keep his family fed.  These are not career-structure positions:  they are to be filled by those with a “proven track record” in the field, which excludes new blood and favours those in the system.

The biggest ‘Public appointments’ advertising section is in The Guardian (which is essentially a socialist political party which happens to run a newspaper on the side).  The implication is obvious.

In addition, these whose instinct is in favour of commerce and enterprise will gravitate to what most of us would call getting proper jobs:  jobs in commercial business where merit is rewarded and wealth created. Those with no liking for commerce will gravitate to jobs living off state largesse.

Our nation’s social history does not help in this: in the days of a regimented class system, a gentleman would live from his rents and landed income, or seek such a worthy profession as the army the Church or the law, while ‘trade’ was considered a low calling.  Now there are few landed estates, the outlets for those who still despise ‘trade’ are academia and the quangocracy.

A man isolated from the realities of commercial life is isolated from reality and unfit to be entrusted with any great charge.  Also, he cannot be expected to appreciate the need for a limited state, if he has no love for any endeavour that is outside the state.

In this way, the institutions of the state will by natural process be filled with those who would despise the commerciality of a whelk stall and be unfit to be entrusted with one.

Challenging the entrenched powers

If all this is so, then reversing it will take more than exposing a conspiracy, as there is no conspiracy:  it requires a fundamental change in the system which makes this osmosis happen.

The reality of the take-over is undoubted, and it is realised as much by the left-wing as by conservatives.  The defence of left-wing hegemony has been deployed on notable occasions:  just months ago Sir Roger Scruton, Britain’s greatest living philosopher, was barred from an innocuous, unpaid position after a targeted attack:  no conservative is to be permitted a position of influence.

Public frustration at the leaden-headedness of bureaucracy and the strictures of public bodies (and alleged public bodies) has grown to anger, and if elections every five years seem to make no difference, the safety valve has gone.

The action to take?  That might require a longer article.

See also:

Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have – 2

In an earlier article I looked at the way that social radicals look to project “the power that the enemy thinks you have”, with a look at threats of boycott and the Twitterstorm.  I came to a grim conclusion that a few activists pretending to be a mass movement will succeed again and again unless business groups like chambers of commerce can give mutual support, practical and moral, to members who are targeted.

I later came across a useful comment by Jordan Peterson in answer to an audience question on being personally targeted:  if you have done nothing wrong, do not apologise – then wait two weeks and it will have gone away.  That is good advice to an individual who attracts the hatred of on-line activists, but a prime target, such as an influential company or institution, may not be allowed to rest after so short a time.

The determined campaign starts with Alinsky’s rule number one (“Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have”) and then employs his remaining tricks.  It is pretended power though that is frightening to the target.

In open debate, the mechanics are different from those on anonymous social media.  In open debate real faces are displayed and so the same malice that is applied to the opponent can be directed at the activist.  Here then some research is needed before approaching the debate.

First, is the use of statistics and statistical generalisations:  if an activist asserts that 10% of the population are in the group he insists be favoured, then correct them by reference to genuine statistics (but beware of a trap; even if it is less than 2%, and dependent on changes during the respondent’s life, that does not mean they are ignorable). Break their broad category down to challenge the legitimacy of treating all people in that activist-defined group the same way, or if it is a conglomerate of classifications put together to boost the statistics, make distinctions between them. If an activist claims that the majority of the population agree with them, which is a claim of democratic authority, then show them opinion polls that demonstrate the opposite, or if they really do have a majority, ask if it is permissible to disagree and persuade people to change their minds, or point out that the majority usually support hanging, so are they in favour too?

Secondly, and crucially, outflank the accusation of “hate” coming your way by showing up their own “hate-speech”; they might not think of it as such, but spitting venom at opponents, or at men generally, or at those with certain political ideas, or at classes of society, is “hate-speech” like any other.

Thirdly, personalise it in order to challenge the authority or veracity of your opponent:  what qualifications and experience do they have? (Be careful with that though: they may have more experience with self-selected people in their generalised classification system than you.)  Track their writings and tweets before the encounter: should someone who has declared masculinity to be “toxic” be entrusted with the welfare and the very manhood of vulnerable boys, whom presumably they want to emasculate?  If a socialist denies that the government starving Venezuela is really socialist, find their own statements praising Venezuela’s socialist experiment, and other times when commentators have changed their tune in this way as every successive socialist states falls int starvation.

Opposing some radical activists should be like shooting fish in a barrel: they have no science on their side, no genuine statistics, their literature may be full of false statements and their typical personal histories are a psychiatrist’s dream.  However those activists keep winning, by insults and instilling fear.  That is a lesson not to assume you can prevail just by being right.

This suggests an alternative approach: be on their side, to a certain extent because presumably both you and they assert a desire to benefit mankind or some section of it.  Do not compromise even an inch, but lead them to a common ground, then launch an attack from that common ground.  (Ben Shapiro does this brilliantly.)  So, you say you want X, but you are causing Y, so to achieve X you would need to do Z:  you mean well but you do ill.  Do you believe it is acceptable for someone to disagree with you even where you have a fact wrong?  Should not any ideology be based on true statements and therefore be improved by challenging questionable statements?  If a speaker can only defend his or her arguments with threats or name-calling, they are not rational arguments and can be disregarded:  can you now say something rational I can consider?

This is a lot of research to be done, and easier for activists without full time jobs and responsibilities, so you are at once on the back-foot.

It is hard to take control of the conversation because you may be the polite one, and even if you are not, the aim should be to appear to be. You must emerge as the calm and rational one in spite of all provocation, but nice guys finish last.  If you do manage to take control somehow, do not rest there but establish your own ground.  Alinsky’s first rule is still there:  possess the power that the enemy thinks you have.

You must not be the isolated sandbank around which the incoming tide washes, dry for now but bypassed and to be washed away: you must be the sea.

See also

Books

Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have – 1

The first rule of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, and radicals know how to use it:  ‘Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have’.

Twitter has a baleful influence fatal to sense and realism (and yes, I know ThomasHobbes autotweets, as @hobbesblog since you ask),  It just needs some organisation, maybe a Twitter-group or a botnet, and thousands of tweets can flood out to a commercial or political organisation demanding action and it will look as if the whole world has risen; not just one spotty student with an understanding of antisocial media.  Companies do respond, and they do withdraw profitable lines of goods, or books, or articles; institutions withdraw invitations to speakers and apologise for things they have not done and would not in honesty be sorry for if they had.  That is the power of power the enemy thinks you have.

The success of boycott threats is incomprehensible to logical analysis.  As an example, a tiny organisation, ‘Stop Funding Hate’, has demanded of several companies that they stop advertising in newspapers that campaign opposes, and they have been successful simply by panicking those companies’ PR departments.  The cost in loss of sales must be measurable; yet there is no evidence that ‘Stop Funding Hate’ could have any influence to harm those companies had their demands been made. In 2017 the campaign demanded that Paperchase withdraw from a joint promotion with the Daily Mail, and to apologise for entering it, all on the say-so of a tiny group with a botnet; that is when the campaign was exposed for its dishonesty, but it carried on and Paperchase later withdrew all advertising from the Mail, saying that they had “listened to customers”; which is doubtful.

The influence of hate-filled activists in backroom studio-flats over professionally run companies is astounding.  Targeted companies may not even ask themselves whether a blackmail demand from a left-wing activist is a realistic threat, and whether complying will harm them more than ignoring it.  Presumably they are afraid of the times when a threat has gone wider; but even then it may be more harmful to be seen to give in than to resist.  In this, radicals have an advantage over conservatives:  radicals will act as they wish, unafraid of any consequences: conservatives tend to be quieter, and we do have reason not to put our heads above the parapet, as we have families and jobs to protect.

There are more conservatives than there are radicals.  Conservatives tend not to shout and threaten boycotts though.  We have the potential power, but unseen, and therefore no power at all. To combat a boycott campaign would require an immediate response, not to the leaders of the campaign but to the targets, before the target has moved to yield.  The resistance to the boycott should offer to give the target company comfort, to inform them of the reality of who the campaigners are and their relation, if any, to the company’s customer base, and to show with demographics that yielding to the demand may be more harmful to customer relations than ignoring it.

The problem is that there is no one who is in a position to do this.  A commercial organisation, like a chamber of commerce or the Institute of Directors might be in a position to organise a ‘response unit’, but otherwise radicals without responsibility have free rein to impose themselves on society without opposition.

See also:

Books

Register the establishment

There has never been an effective bonfire of the quangos nor is one likely.  The number of these beasts varies – the best estimates are around 2,000 just for central government, but it could be more, depending on definitions.  The powers they exercise vary: they may give advice, or just design forms, or administer an area of law, or may actually make law.  They may meet twice a year and consider a niche field, or they may have a billion-pound budget and more staff than a major company.

The landscape of quangocracy

The existence of any given body may be unknown to any but a small circle – some may not be known even to the ministers nominally responsible, and certainly responsible ministers may have little knowledge of what “their” quangos are doing.  The scope for corruption is high; the scope for forceful members to usurp authority is limitless.

A body which is not watched will step beyond its scope, and individuals will gravitate to it who have their own agenda, which is likely to differ from the instincts of the democratic element of government.

All this is well understood by government, but with little idea of how to control it.  The occasional little bonfire makes a minister feel good, but barely dents the system, and as one head is cut off the hydra, three more arise to fill the space, each time a politician wishes to be seen to be doing something.

Private business contrasted

To open the system, let us apply principles applied to private business.

Limited companies are under a single system contained in a single Act of Parliament (currently the Companies Act 2016) which is intuitive and well understood, and which applies comfortably to all limited companies, from a one-man enterprise to a multinational conglomerate.  Each is registered at Companies House, whereupon it receives legal personality and limited liability in return for a degree of openness: it must have a registered office and publish its accounts and the names of its directors, amongst other details.  This is so that that those doing business with the company can see what they are dealing with when they sign a contract.

A ‘quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation’ may be entrusted with a huge budget and legal powers without the same degree of openness.  Freedom of information requests may prise the lid off, but it is slow and you need to know where to look.  If a quango were a company, all this would be on a database published on-line.

Quangos are not all of a type: one may be established and organised by its own Act of Parliament or statutory instrument, royal charter or ministerial fiat.  Some are essentially just committees, others vast bureaucracies and most in between, and most are run by part-time commissioners who may sit on many boards and flit across the public sector; a professional tax-eating class who have been dubbed the ‘quangocrats’: in the meantime, the real control is in the hands of unaccountable employed staff.  A public body may have legal personality or not, with more official autonomy or less.  A new body may be an old one renamed or two merged, inheriting the debts and duties of the predecessors, or a fresh invention.

For a member of the public faced with a faceless quango which may or may not legally exist and may or may not be the same body they started dealing with, the prospect of redress from an uncertain entity is daunting.

A Minister too cannot be expected to keep track of what is being done and spent in his name. Whenever he wants to trim of bureaucracy, he can have no idea of what that bureaucracy is.  He may also find that the individuals who are set to lose one of their salaries can subvert that change using several other bodies, hiding behind their anonymous notepaper.

In such an unpoliced system, a driven individual can impose their radical ideas, ‘leading beyond authority’, with little chance of being stopped.

Register the establishment

Therefore, let us register the quangos at Companies House (and resist the Whitehall habit of establishing a new, expensive quango-over-the-quangos that has to work things out from scratch with an expensive new system and new commissioners).

Every public body other than main ministries, whether incorporated or not, must register.  As is expected of every private company however small, it must have a name, a registered office at which it can be contacted or sued, and be issued with a unique company number which will follow it through all its changes of name and shape. Its nature must be clear: is it incorporated or not, and with Crown immunities or not.  As a company must register its Articles of Association, we must know the constitution of every quango, and its directors, and the ‘shareholder’ who appoints and dismisses them:  he too must take responsibility.  The public should know too what the quango’s duties and powers are, or state where they can be found.  Finally, the accounts must be published at Companies House, available to all.

None of this is new information nor any burden to provide.  It might even help the staff of the quango to have the information at their fingertips, as sometimes even they may forget what they are and what their job is.

The sanction for failure in a private company is a fine, and eventual dissolution.  For a quango it should be this:  unless their registration is complete and up to date, they may not receive any public funds, they may not levy any fee, and their officers remain unpaid.

It may be embarrassing to find that, say Birmingham City Council has failed to file its accounts on time and so is barred from levying council tax, but there must be discipline.

There will be arguments over what is and is not a registrable public body, which itself tells us something of the undesirable complexity of modern government.  A simple answer may be that if it has an independent budget and is not just a task group of civil servants, it must register.

We may go further too and make the creation and the dissolution of quangos more systematic, which must simplify the process and save waste in repetition.  Further, if a public body is established for a particular task, it must dissolve at the end of it, and that end date be flagged up on the register.

There has never yet been a successful bonfire of the quangos, but until they are all registered in one place, with an understood procedure for dissolution, it is not even contemplatable.

See also