I seem to remember that when some Scots started calling for Scottish independence, the British government’s response was not to crack down on Scottish nationalists, but instead it was to give Scotland a referendum to let Scots decide what they wanted. In the event, in that referendum the Scots decided that they didn’t want to leave the Union.
I’m not Scottish, but I can’t help but think that many Scots were impressed at the civility of the British government, in allowing them a referendum, and conducting it fairly and openly. And that may have swayed a few waverers to retain the Union.
Contrast that with the Spanish government’s approach to a similar push by Catalans for Catalonian independence from Spain. Some 40% of Catalans want independence.
Efforts by Madrid to stop a Catalonia independence vote, currently slated for October 1st, seem to be growing more hostile by the day. Earlier this week Spanish police seized control of Catalonia’s finances, seeking to ensure that separatist politicians could not spend further public funds on the referendum, and conducted raids across Catalonia to confiscate ballots and campaign materials from printing shops and delivery companies.
Now, as the New York Times notes this morning, Spanish police have detained 14 people during operations conducted yesterday which included the secretary general of economic affairs, Josep Maria Jové.
I have some interest in Catalonia, because from 2001 to 2010, I visited Catalonia every year, usually staying in Barcelona. I was seriously considering buying a house in Spain. The intensifying Spanish smoking bans were a large part of the reason why I didn’t, and also why I’ve never been back.
Now, gazing from afar, I can’t help but think that if I was a wavering Catalan, the bullying and browbeating approach of the Spanish government would push me towards voting for independence from it. After all, the bullying and browbeating attitude of the some EU politicians towards Brexit has made me glad I voted for it.
Bullying and browbeating seems to be the standard way of doing things these days. Tobacco Control engages in full time bullying and browbeating of smokers to get them to stop smoking. The EU, when it’s not trying to bully and browbeat the UK, is bullying and browbeating Eastern European states. And the global warming zealots in the UN are bullying and browbeating sceptics to take measures to combat the supposed threat. And Political Correctness everywhere consists in bullying and browbeating people in a wide range of matters.
Bullies are everywhere these days, it seems.
Perhaps it’s a propensity that is never buried very deeply. You want somebody to do something, and you ask them politely to do it, but when they don’t do it (because they don’t want to), you start to try to force them to do it: you start bullying them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s smoking, carbon dioxide emissions, membership of the EU (or Spain), or anything else, when you don’t get what you want, you start trying to force people to give you what you want.
It reminds of a Labour party activist who I once knew, who in response to a request from me to help out with a theatre project I was involved in, replied: “I’ll see if I can twist a few arms.” And I was shocked that his very first idea was not to “ask around” or “seek advice”, but to apply pressure to people, and “twist a few arms.” I wondered whether that was what it was like in the Labour party, and it was all people twisting each others’ arms. These days, I’m inclined to think that that’s probably exactly what it’s like.
It seems that, whatever organisation it is, it sooner or later gets taken over by bullies and browbeaters. So now there’s an army of bullies at the top of the medical profession in the WHO. And there is an army of bullies in Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and more or less every other environmental group. And there is an army of bullies in the EU.
Historically, Hitler was a bully. And so was Stalin. And so was Mussolini. And so was Franco. But there were plenty of bullies on the other side as well. WW1 and WW2 might well be thought of as wars between armies of bullies. And war itself might be thought of as being unrestricted bullying. And if the bullying stops when the war ends, it’s just because one army of bullies has triumphed over another army of bullies, and have finally got their way, and have no more need to bully people into submission. Peace reigns for a while, and then the bullying gradually restarts.
All of which thoughts reminded me of a chapter in Friedrich Hayek’s The Road To Serfdom on “Why The Worst Get On Top”, in which he wrote:
“Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure. It is for this reason that the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful in a society tending towards totalitarianism.”
You must either abandon your plans, or push them forward with determination. But the problem here surely starts when someone starts “planning economic life”? In fact, does it not start when people start “planning” what other people should do in any respect whatsoever? Tobacco Control has made plans for a “smoke-free” society. The global warming zealots plan for a “carbon-free” world. The EU politicians plan for a European superstate. And so on elsewhere in other matters. None of them show any signs of abandoning any of their plans. And so all of them are showing signs of assuming dictatorial powers, and disregarding ordinary morals. Any kind of large-scale social planning is always inherently dictatorial and totalitarian, and sooner or later this truth of the matter emerges. Once I decide what’s good for you, I have already taken the first step towards totalitarian control. It only needs a Hitler or Stalin or Mussolini to complete the journey.
All the mounting bullying and browbeating produces counter-bullies and counter-browbeaters. Donald Trump may have emerged in response to the bullying and browbeating of Political Correctness in all its forms, but Trump is himself a bully. The US left will have to find someone who is an equal bully to him. We have therefore entered into a bullying arms race, to see who can be the biggest bully of all. It can only be a matter of time before new super-bully Hitlers and Stalins appear.