Friday, December 21, 2012

An Odd Type of Democracy

Pure democracy is very rare, and usually unsuccessful; for this reason, history admits more often of republics. But the democratic principle takes many forms. One of the strangest is when a nation votes to give its monarch the right to veto its vote. This is a political paradox: voting to ensure that the voting does not ensure anything. The English newspaper The Independent reports:

Citizens of the Alpine tax haven Liechtenstein gave their reigning prince a resounding vote of confidence yesterday in a referendum which flatly rejected attempts to curb royal power in one of Europe's most undemocratic countries.

Although The Independent editorializes that the Liechtenstein is "undemocratic," it seems that it was a thoroughly democratic process by which the citizens of that nation chose to give their monarch near-absolute powers.

Proposals to strip Liechtenstein's Prince Hans-Adam II, 67, of his power of parliamentary veto were opposed by 65 per cent of the country's 36,000 subjects in a referendum organised by pro-democracy campaigners.

The results of this election appear unambiguous. One might well wonder why the citizens would vote to render their votes powerless. Perhaps, while each voter trusts his own judgment, most of the voters do not trust the judgment of most of the other voters.

Only 15 per cent voted in favour of the proposal. Sigvard Wohlwend, one of the organisers of the referendum, said he was disappointed by the outcome. He described the prince and his son, Crown Prince Alois, 43, who has been acting in his father's stead since 2004, as "the most powerful monarchs in Europe."

Although living under nearly unrestrained royal power, the citizens of Liechtenstein enjoy a great degree of freedom - understood as the usual mix of civil rights and human rights: freedom of speech, freedom of the market, freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom to assemble, property rights, and low taxes. Many countries with elected governments have, at least according to international "watchdog" organizations, less freedom.

Again quoting Mr. Wohlwend, The Independent continues:

He said the prince of Liechtenstein held the absolute right to veto any decision taken by the parliament and people. "No judges can be appointed without the approval of the prince," he added.

If, with John Locke, we say that a government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, then the monarch of Liechtenstein is legitimate in his claim to be able to veto the results of a popular vote by his subjects, or able to veto a decision made by their elected representatives.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Crusades Begin

Most historians cite the year 1095 A.D. as the start of the Crusades. This is generally accurate, but several qualifications must be added. First, the concept of a military counterattack into Islamic lands was indeed first proposed in 1095, but no concrete action was taken until 1096. Second, although the term 'Crusades' is usually used in the plural - historians identify variously six or nine or some other number of allegedly distinct Crusades - the counterattack begun in 1096 was arguably one long action. As scholar Harold Lamb writes,

historians have picked out six of the crises of this conflict and have named them the six crusades. In reality it was all just an ebb and flow of the conflict begun by

Islamic attacks against Europe as early as 711 A.D., when Muslims invaded Spain, almost four hundred years prior to the so-called Crusades. After decades of coastal raiding, Islamic armies invaded Italy in 841, and occupied portions of the Italian peninsula for several decades. Massive Muslim armies attempted to invade France in 732, but were repelled by the soldiers under the command of Charles "the Hammer" Martel. Repeat attempts to invade France over the following two centuries alternated with decades in which the Muslims were content to loot and pillage French coastal cities, but not permanently occupy them.

Third, an emphasis upon the concept of counterattack, i.e., a largely defensive maneuver, must be understood as central to the Crusades. Although the Islamic occupational armies were pushed out of Italy by 884, as historian Will Durant notes,

their raids continued, and central Italy lived through a generation of daily fear. In 876 they pillaged the Campagna; Rome was so endangered that the pope paid the Saracens a year bribe of 25,000 mancusi (c. $25,000) to keep the peace. In 884 they burned the great monastery of Monte Cassino to the ground; in sporadic attacks they ravaged the valley of the Anio; finally the combined forces of the pope, the Greek and German emperors, and the cities of southern and central Italy defeated them on the Garigliano (916), and a tragic century of invasion came to an end. Italy, perhaps Christianity, had had a narrow escape; had Rome fallen, the Saracens would have advanced upon Venice; and Venice taken, Constantinople would have been wedged in between two concentrations of Moslem power. On such chances of battle hung the theology of billions of men.

In 1095, Islamic armies still occupied Spain; Muslim raiders were still sacking coastal cities and island around the Mediterranean; Islamic pirates were still marauding among cargo ships in the Adriatic and Aegean. By 1095, Europe had endured almost 400 years of continuous attacks. The time to do something about it had arrived.