Character imbues the endeavour

Behind every successful enterprise is the character of its founder, without which it can only fade into mediocrity. History is but the biography of great men, Carlyle assures us: we prefer now to see systems and processes, but he was right: that initial spark of genius puts life into words and forms it into success or failure. The departure of that founder may often be its end.

Rome required Augustus. There could have been no Napoleonic Empire without Napoleon. As in the macrocosm, so in the microcosm.

A successful institution cannot be created just by one who knows that something must be done, but who knows what must be done, and how. It is not enough to determine objectives and pay hired men to pursue them: they do not have the vision nor motivation. Real objectives cannot be rendered in words but must be lived. It was the genius of the late Duke of Edinburgh that he could see the destination and the route, he could find those who shared his vision and he made them enthusiastic. He also made sure they got on with it. He was a consummate naval officer.

He did not see ideas in a one-dimensional nor black-and-white manner. His enthusiasm for science and engineering saw no contradiction in his love of nature and drive for conservation. The two do not conflict and have come to complement each other. Nature conservation is very much of our time, but before the Duke of Edinburgh took a hand it barely registered beyond the confines of the National Trust and faintly embarrassing feelings of nostalgia – but while the National Trust were content to buy to preserve and leave otherwise alone, the charities established by Prince Philip took on active research, education, engagement of local bodies, and creating a ‘conservation community’. That cannot be done without vision and a clear objective, and these cannot be achieved without the mind to direct them. The Worldwide Fund for Nature, the Wildfowl Trust (‘We formed it over dinner – duck I think it was.’); these are the product of a focussed mind.

The most popular legacy is the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, which was quickly established all over the Commonwealth, and it above all bears the stamp of the Prince’s character and drive. It breeds drive, independence and resilience: I cannot imagine any committee coming up with it. Those of us who have been through it up to Gold, carry its legacy with us, which is a piece of the character of the Scheme’s founder. It has gone beyond the Commonwealth too and had imitators. (The Duke of Bragança, the man who should be King of Portugal, formed his own scheme in his homeland, but follows the template and the drive laid down by the Duke of Edinburgh.)

The challenge for a founder is to keep the foundation going beyond his time.  It is not easy.  The state built by Cromwell could be built only by Oliver, and when he died, his son Richard was unable to hold it even for a year, as Hobbes recounts:

Thus was Richard Cromwell seated on the imperial throne of England, Ireland, and Scotland, successor to his father; lifted up to it by the officers of the army then in town, and congratulated by all the parts of the army throughout the three nations; scarce any garrison omitting their particular flattering addresses to him.

….The army was inconstant; he himself irresolute, and without any military glory. And though the two principal officers had a near relation to him; yet neither of them, but Lambert, was the great favourite of the army; and by courting Fleetwood to take upon him the Protectorship, and by tampering with the soldiers, he had gotten again to be a colonel. He and the rest of the officers had a council at Wallingford House, where Fleetwood dwelt, for the dispossessing of Richard; though they had not yet considered how the nations should he governed afterwards. For from the beginning of the rebellion, the method of ambition was constantly this, first to destroy, and then to consider what they should set up.

Systems are attractive, but systems are dead hands: it needs men and women of vision. Systems without new growth are restraints against the very creativity which was required for the foundation they bind. The founder must therefore not just create a system but create successors who have the life of the idea within them. Robert Baden-Powell achieved it, with a good deal of the cult of personality to follow him – each troop runs as if B-P were looking over their shoulder even today.

I think of the sudden enthusiasm for free schools, which had great success, when there was for each a directing mind. As long as that mind has remained to guide and to chide, they continue to thrive. Some were established by parents wanting a better school for their children, but they have seen their sons and daughters grow up, leave the school, and they themselves need no longer be involved: those schools can flourish only if the enthusiasm is renewed with each upcoming generation.

Now, to be fair, vision is not enough for continuance: Jordan Peterson observed that two characters are needed: it takes a liberal, creative mind to create a new endeavour, and a diligent, conservative mind to run it. The great men are those who can be both.

Some foundations of our age have fallen into dotage by following good but dead rules, the fire having gone out. Many have been captured by political activists lusting after their funds and the prestige of their name, but with no care for the original drive.

For those foundations created by the Duke of Edinburgh there is hope, because much of his drive was in creating in his successors the same vision. The Award Scheme has alumni ready to take on the world, knowing what the scheme is for. The conservation charities found a new dynamic, beyond mere preservation. He has gone, but his spirit imbues them all. Long may it last.

Going back to Carlyle, he explained his theme at greater length than an line:

Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world’s history, it may justly be considered, were the history of these

The imperial system of Augustus went into decline the moment he breathed his last. Napoleon’s too as he boarded the Bellerophon to exile. Their achievements were “the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men” and nothing without them. We may hope for better from the foundations left to us where the spirit of the founder still fills them.

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Good night, sweet prince

In many fields, the Duke of Edinburgh’s service to the Commonwealth and the world was immeasurable. His passing leaves a hole it would take legions to fill.

I met him but once, many years ago, while he was engaged in his keenest endeavour: encouraging the development of youth through his Award Scheme.

He alone could create such a scheme with credibility, as he represented its highest values. He served with distinction in war and peace; those humourless souls who in later years jibed at his great heart had never fought with a cool head in a ship under heavy enemy fire, deep in the heart of a war for civilisation itself and earning in his own right, high praise of his fellows; nor have they, as he did, created in peacetime so many schemes and charities whose good work we may take for granted.

His first duty, he often said, was to support Her Majesty, and that he did, over a reign of some seventy years by her side, troubled and bewildering times as they often were, ensuring that our Queen, whose own sense of duty is unwavering, could perform her role without being worn down by life which would flatten most of us in a moment, with a smile and an ever-kindled heart.

Many, like myself, may have had most influence from Prince Philip through the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Unfashionably, but with immense success across the world, it reproduced something of those lessons drummed in at Gordonstoun, character-building, resilience-building, providing in each new generation those who can stand against the storm. Had it not been for the founder’s own character, wrought in peace and war, it could not have succeeded as it has.

he was indeed the glass
Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves:
He had no legs that practised not his gait;
And speaking thick, which nature made his blemish,
Became the accents of the valiant;
For those that could speak low and tardily
Would turn their own perfection to abuse,
To seem like him: so that in speech, in gait,
In diet, in affections of delight,
In military rules, humours of blood,
He was the mark and glass, copy and book,
That fashion’d others.

This was just one aspect of the man. Many more have been touched by him whether they know it or not, whether from endeavours like the World Wildlife Fund, the Wildfowl Trust, the Work Foundation or many others: he might have said that “constitutionally I don’t exist”, but wherever he trod he made the world that bit better.

Our thought now are with Her Majesty in her grief. I will pray for her comfort, as will we all, for this is first and foremost a time of sadness for our Queen. I will also give thanks for a life of service beside her.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

As Rome gave way to Byzantium…

As Greece gave way to Rome, so Britain would give way to the United States, so Harold Macmillan is misquoted as saying. Britain’s imperial decline after the War is not in doubt, and the Suez debacle was a psychological turning point. Suez was 65 years ago though. Time is turning and the world has been transformed.

Macmillan’s words were actually said not of Suez but during the War, when he already realised, as he could hardly fail to see, that the United States had become a military and naval power of overwhelming strength, through that country’s suddenly acquired wealth, and that we had entered the age of the American empire. He told Richard Crossman at Allied Forces HQ:

‘We, my dear Crossman, are Greeks in this American empire. You will find the Americans much as the Greeks found the Romans – great big vulgar, bustling people, more vigorous than we are and also more idle, with more unspoiled virtues, but also more corrupt. We must run A.F.H.Q. as the Greeks ran the operations of the Emperor Claudius.’

If Macmillan thought the Romans needed help running an empire, he was unfair to them – as Virgil says:

Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento
(Hae tibi erunt artes), pacique imponere morem,
Parcere subjectis et debellare superbos.

The Americans are not Romans – they really cannot run an empire, too fixed as they are on their own norms, which are not those of the wider world however much Hollywood the nations imbibe. They can however govern themselves well, and that is the main requirement for any nation. They are still eye-wateringly wealthy and accordingly strong.

Maybe that impression of unlimited opulence is just in the eyes of an outsider though. Here in Britain every penny of government spending is resented and for all the cutting of fat, and wails over every local budget not renewed, the government still runs deeper into debt day by day, while in America they seem to have billions of dollars to spend on military, engineering and spacefaring projects of which we cannot dream in the constraints of the government purse. The NASA budget alone this year came to £16.5 billion.

Actually though, £16.5 billion is well within the sort of budgets the British government does spend freely. It is a fraction of the total estimated HS2 budget, and that is just a single railway line (that the owners should be paying for anyway), albeit over several years. That is not to say that £16.5 billion space spending should be reproduced here, but it is perfectly able to be done. Ours is not a small, poor country. We just choose to run our government as if it were one, because elsewhere in government they are overbudgeting on touchy-feely things and spaffing it all up the wall.

Those huge marble halls and wide, sunlit spaces of the American capital contrast with the cramped streets and corridors of Westminster, but it is only show: the soaring Capitol was built when America was still a middling power, erected by toiling slaves, built big because there was unlimited space to play with. The White House is impressive, making 10 Downing Street look like a cramped flat, but it is no better than a hundred country houses in the Home Counties, or Leinster House in Dublin from which it was modelled. The Maryland sunshine hides what is actually quite ordinary.

The American Empire of the mind is still real, and that land is still the wealthiest in the world. The sickening feeling of decline is unavoidable though. The pioneers opened up the wilderness between the oceans, but their children are abandoning it. A society built on freedom, individuality and enterprise grew rich as a result, but the worm is at the root of those very qualities. The entrepreneurs still have fire in them, and the land on which to build, but the children of those who grew rich from their efforts are turning on them.

As the Greeks gave way to Rome, so the British Empire gave way to America’s dominance. If they cannot maintain it though, as in time they cannot, then there is a conclusion:

As Rome gave way to Byzantium, so America must give way to a re-emergent, international Britain. That is, if Britain can shoulder the burden and not fall prey to the fatal flaws of the Empire of Constantinople.

See also

Books

What did You do in the Culture War?

It has to come to this: action or defeat. Act, and wisely. First realise that this is not a two-sided fight: the new-left and alt-right are both the enemy to the values of good sense and freedom; the ideals of the English-speaking world.

What to though: what can be done by someone with no influence nor any real desire to be shunned at social gatherings, when they are finally allowed?

For one thing, ask yourself why you think you would be shunned for acting as you must or expressing opinions which are actually those of the great majority of people. What actual power do the new-left have over you or polite society?  They have none but the power your fear gives them. The first enemies to defeat are your own lack of confidence and your fear of shadows.

The left-wing, the woke mob, whatever you call the general tendency, do not have a monopoly of spoken opinion. Even if they have the numbers, they cannot dominate because modern media does not work like that. Looking at America, it has in this generation few journalists worthy of the name, but a variety of online media which has broken the dull conformity. The mainstream channels can pump out lazy platitudes and woke nonsense all they like, but Ben Shapiro on his own can have just as much reach alone in a studio. That is how opinion balances in the open market: one young man can beat ten thousand hardened journalists.

Then again, Ben Shapiro is a genius. Were he not there, we would be in trouble. He has the reach with others do not have, and he can do more. Recently his company even launched a film studio, specifically to break the dominance of the woke-bound big players.

Jordan Peterson is another, calling out nonsense on both sides: who would imagine that a university lecture series on clinical psychology would be getting million+ hits on YouTube? It works because he speaks plainly and truthfully. A lecture series full of mendacious left-wing platitudes would fall flat.

A hundred years ago there were Marxists feeling frustrated that whatever they did, the Establishment institutions were in other hands and they would make no progress in breaking and remaking society until they could achieve a Long March through the Institutions. Well, now they have achieved that and are in command of the heights. Now it needs a Long March of common sense to drive them off.

Most of us are not capable of doing such great works as those like Ben Shapiro, but there must be things to do – the left-wing do not stop just because they are incapable.

First then, I will look at where those with power get that power, and how they pretend to power they do not have. There will be articles to follow. That is my target. What is yours?

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We cannot win on social media

Social media belongs to the angry, the malicious, the conspiracists, the unreasoning corner of the brain. There is no point in discussing how to convert it to rationality any more than to moderate a rabid dog. Rage beyond the edge of sanity is fundamental to its nature.

Nutters will dominate social media because they are less likely to have settled jobs and responsibilities.  They have the time and presumably little sense or they would have jobs (or they are academics, which comes to much the same thing).

There is no need to recite yet again the ills of social media; the slanders, the wounding insults, the depersonalising expressions of hatred, the incitements to hatred or to violence (which are not the same thing), the threats. The conspiracy theories, well, those are a whole new topic. We know all this. There are articles aplenty on it, electronic jeremiads, bewailing the contents of YouTwitFace or whatever.

The big players of social media take the overwhelming bulk of traffic, though a discussion board or social exchange medium may turn up anywhere, for local groups. Where it is among friends, they will write rationally because they are known and judged by their peers; or there is the wilder tavern gossip we love which goes far beyond any moderation, because we are liberated from talking sense, and we know we do not mean a word. The internet takes it beyond even this. An anonymous board is licence for every explosion of the brain, and that dominates – be it on Twitter, Facebook, the BBC HYS columns, and many more.

This does not apply to profession fora where contributions are from those who putting their professional reputations and those of their companies on line in front of their potential customers and suppliers. You won’t get ‘Q’ trying to whip up crowds on LinkedIn, There is the distinction: the constraint of enforced respectability against the liberating sense given by anonymity.

There are many articles asking what can be done to clean up social media. My answer is ‘little or nothing’. We know what goes on, and what we also know, but do not want to admit is that all this is just a reflection of humanity. It Twitter is a sewer, it is simply because it reflects mankind.

Nutters will dominate because they are less likely to have settled jobs and responsibilities. The Devil makes work for idle hands: so does ‘Q’ apparently. Things said online have no consequences so there is no limit to what can be said, whether you believe it or not, and it could become addictive. Actions without consequences can be a dizzying liberation, as they were to the Washington crowd last week, right up to the moment that a shot rang out and Ashli Babbitt fell dead. That moment marked a sudden change in their dynamic, as it was the first time that a real world consequence struck, and with deadly force.

A way then to moderate, control or even eliminate the abuse of social media? There is none, while it lasts in its current form. The platforms might try to become active publishers, picking and choosing contributions, and they know that would kill their customer base and their business model.

Regulation of some sort would be barely different, and drawing the distinction between vigorous free speech and dangerous incitement is not something which I would entrust to any politician, frightened official or social media magnate.

(You must also ask yourself what sort of person would volunteer to be ‘Controller of the Internet’, and whether you would allow a person of those characteristics anywhere near the levers of power.)

If anyone wants to start fighting falsehood and conspiracy theories on social media, go ahead, if you have the time and resilience. Do not start though with things like QAnon, which is just too ridiculous, but with the most pernicious and commonplace conspiracy theory; the one which preaches that all your misfortunes are caused by rich people hoarding all the wealth to keep you down. Sometimes there is a racial slur added to it, and we all know where that leads. Can the champion of truth react to every post or tweet about ‘fat-cats’ and ‘Tories’, and who should do it? What fact-checker sites can be established to direct those caught in the delusion? It is a political issue, for politicians, and that is how they should be working.

Social media will continue though to belong to those who have too much time on their hands and no responsibilities. Bringing calm reason to bear with the aim of creating a space for respectful collaborative development of ideas is an impossible dream.

See also

Books