Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Nazis XIII: The Remains of the Day

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I am currently working on a longer (maybe, multi-part) text on nationalism, racism, etc. relating to the Left–Right issue. In parallel, I have been reading Kazuo Ishiguru’s “The Remains of the Day”, which not only has a sub-theme of Nazi perception in pre- and post-WWII Britain, but also contains some points of interest to my own discussions. (An interesting read in general, but I will leave out other topics.)

This in particular relating to democracy, where we e.g. have a “Mr Spencer” deride the idea that the broad masses are suited to the task of governing (correctly, in my opinion; also see excursion). A little later, “Lord Darlington” complains about how Britain is dithering, while the likes of Germany and Italy, even the Bolsheviks (his formulation) and FDR, have put their houses in order.*

*Here an interpretation of “strong man” as opposed to “elites” or “experts” is possible. The practical effects on the below are not that large, if the interpretation is changed.

Naively viewed, this might amount to “we need universal suffrage—or we get Hitler”. However, is is possible to largely agree with Mr Spencer (on this issue), without agreeing with other ideas that might have been held by him or Lord Darlington (and, in the extension, e.g. Hitler):*

*In addition: it was universal suffrage among easily manipulated voters that gave Hitler the opportunity to seize power—not a lack of suffrage.

  1. A typical modern representative* democracy approximately and nominally** amounts to the members of the broad masses collectively making decisions for themselves. When combined with increasingly big government and an increasingly Leftwards trend of society,*** we soon land in a “dictatorship of the masses” and a “the single sheep and the many wolves voting about what/who is for dinner” situation. Politicians are elected for how charismatic or crowd pleasing they are, not how competent, and those elected proceed to make poor decisions, be it through sheer incompetence or in order to buy votes, please lobbyist, gain personal advantage, …

    *Without this restriction, the set of problems is different-but-overlapping. (I am not aware of any current non-representative democracy on the national level, however. The closest approximation might be the Swiss. In smaller circles, e.g. a club of some sort, non-representative democracy might appear.)

    **Quite often, the intermediate layer of elected representatives gains power and/or makes decisions in a manner that eliminates the masses. Consider e.g. the massive attempts of politicians to force the people to hold the “right” opinions on various matters in recent years, most notably regarding COVID; or the German horror of repeated “great coalitions” between the nominal Conservatives and the Social-Democrats, which have severely reduced the value of voting.

    ***Both to a considerable degree caused by, or occurring much sooner in, democracies.

    To some approximation (nominally): everyone is governed to a high degree by the broad masses.

    To some approximation (real world): everyone is governed to a high degree by an elected pseudo-elite.

  2. They Nazis chose a different road, in that they tried to eliminate the masses from influence, but kept big government—or even “went bigger government”.

    To some approximation: everyone is governed to a high degree by Hitler or some similar person/grouping/whatnot.*

    *Note that these are not necessarily even close to “elite” in terms of e.g. competence, IQ, etc.

    (With an eye at the overall “Nazis are Leftists” theme, this well matches e.g. the Soviet Union, while more moderate Leftist regimes often move somewhere between this and the previous item—especially, in the “real world” version.)

  3. My own thoughts are a modification of democracy in the opposite direction from what the Nazis took. (Yet one quite likely to be misunderstood or misrepresented as closer to the Nazis by the Left.)

    By having a small government, with little intervention in the daily life of the people, the members of the broad masses individually make decisions for themselves. What small government there is, is to be ruled by a more select group, in that there are restrictions on (a) who is allowed to vote, (b) who may be elected for what role.*

    *In both cases, I have yet to settle on details, but one alternative is to replace a blanket age barrier of 18 years for “(a)” with a more dynamic and harder-to-pass test of IQ or critical thinking.

    To some approximation: everyone is governed to a high degree by himself(!), while remaining collective decisions are fewer and made by a (hopefully true) elite.

Towards the end, the protagonist (“Stevens”, the butler of Lord Darlington) seems to regret that he might have been too trusting and, unlike Lord Darlington, failed to commit his own mistakes.* This plays in well with much of my own writings, e.g. on agnostic scepticism: those who trust too much in the competence and good will of politicians, the statements of others, etc., will often be burned—and they contribute massively to the problems with modern democracies.

*This is somewhat ironic to me, as (a) Stevens made plenty of own mistakes, (b) Lord Darlington arguably also was led astray by trust in others, including a visiting Ribbentrop. Indeed, it might be argued that Lord Darlington, as implied by Ishiguru, was a useful idiot while Stevens was someone blindly following orders, thereby representing two common problematic characters in discussions around the Left and/or Nazis—of which I would consider the useful idiot the more problematic. (Writing this, I even see some similarity between Stevens way of thinking of his profession and the SS attitude of “meine Ehre heißt treue”, if maybe driven more by professionalism and less by personal admiration. Might be more to discover on a re-read, maybe with the household as a parallel to a totalitarian society and “Miss Kenton” showing how an idealist can fail to act through fear in such a society.)

Excursion on Ishiguru’s intentions:
I would not speculate on Ishiguru’s intentions based on this first read. I would certainly not vouch for his intentions matching my own ideas. However, I do note that the type of portrayal that he uses has often been used, if usually with far less nuance and more one-sidedly, by others to try to score cheap points—and usually in a fallacious manner, as e.g. various types of democracy criticism is blocked into a single unnuanced and undiscriminatory category of “evil”.

Excursion on the masses:
The problems with the broad masses are not limited to a, on average, low or lower level of intelligence, knowledge, and understanding. (Nor to e.g. the risk that someone barely able to put food on the table is vulnerable to promises of government money, should some party or candidate win.) A major problem is that many of the issues involved in government can require considerable expertise,* and that allowing those too low in such expertise even a vote can be dangerous. The appropriate bar for voting is certainly lower than for e.g. being a member of parliament, but some ability to judge the general soundness of e.g. a party program must be present. Note e.g. that there was a paradoxical positive correlation between amount of education and probability to vote for Biden in the 2020 elections, while he and the Democrats pushed politics virtually bound to do more harm than good—something borne out by the results in the almost 17 months since his inauguration.

*Note that I am not, absolutely and categorically not, claiming that current politicians would be satisfactory in this regard.

And, no, I am not being a snob here. For instance, going from my own first vote (Swedish parliamentary elections in 1994, age 19) to today (age 47), I have found that I used to be naive on a great many topics. Sometimes, I have revised my opinions as time went by; sometimes, I have kept the same opinions, but now hold them for better reasons. (And while I expect fewer new revisions going to 75, I do expect them.) Yes, in a time-travel scenario that brought me back to good old 1994, I would likely have voted the same as I did back then; no, I do not believe that a legal limit of just 18 (or 19) for voting is sensible. For instance, before I had acquainted myself enough with U.S. politics, I managed to make several naive statements about both Obama and Trump.* (And I fully expect both that there are statements from my past that will turn out to be naive in the future and that I will make further naive statements as time passes.)

*I note, preempting parts of the “text on nationalism, racism, etc.”, the complication that a foreign point of view can be highly misleading, e.g. because the local media’s reporting on other countries is skewed towards foreign policy and other fields with an international effect over fields with a more national effect, say, education. (For instance, the internationally relevant free-trade issue is likely where I disagree the most with Trump, while the more nationally relevant heavy “social justice” angle of Obama is where I disagree the most with him.) That the media’s understanding of foreign countries tend to be lower than for its own does not help.


Written by michaeleriksson

June 12, 2022 at 6:29 pm

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