Monthly Archives: February 2013

Curing media abuse – A statutory right to reply is needed

Robert Henderson

A statutory right of reply (RoR) is the thing of media nightmares. That alone tells you it is the best remedy for the general public. But the media is looking a gift horse in the mouth because an RoR would provide the strongest bulwark against any government desire to regulate the media. If there is a truly effective means of rapid redress available to everyone, including incidentally politicians, the prime argument for outside regulation is removed.

An RoR is also the perfect practical solution to the problem of media abuse because it is a self-regulating mechanism, able to develop organically and requiring no great bureaucracy to administer it or vast amounts of money to fuel it.

The only expenditure would be that incurred where an individual challenged the denial of an RoR by a newspaper or broadcaster. That cost could be kept to a minimum in two ways. First, by making libel the only reason for refusing an RoR and then only for that part of a proposed reply which was libellous. Second, by empowering Small Claims Courts to decide whether a claimed libel exists and, if the court does not agree that it does, to order the newspaper or broadcaster to publish the disputed reply. To keep things simple, there should be no appeal against the Small Claims Court’s decision.

The other mechanism which would provide redress with little cost would be to extend the powers of the Small Claims Courts to hear complaints against the media for libel and slander and other torts such as trespass. These two measures would ensure that money did not prove a barrier or determinant of ultimate legal success.

How would it work?

I would restrict the right to individuals because corporate bodies should be able to look after themselves through normal legal action.

The qualification for a right to reply would be simple and objective: the media outlet has printed or broadcast material about an individual. Hence, no prior legal decision, other than on possible libel, would be needed before an RoR was enforced.

What should the RoR entail in terms of opportunity? In the case of newspapers I would give a respondent 300 words as an automatic right and another 500 words for every 1000 words published about him or her over 1500 words. The respondent’s reply should be printed on the same page as the story to which they are responding. If the newspaper responds to a reply then the person responded to would get another RoR.

Broadcasting is more problematical, but at the least a written reply by the person criticised could be read out on air. Where the person has the confidence to speak for themselves, they should be allowed to broadcast their reply.

Practical fears

The objections to an RoR are heavy in the imagination but in all probability slight in practice. It is a case for suck-it-and see.

The media will say that it is completely impractical, that their papers and broadcasts would be full of nothing but replies. In fact, we can say with a very high degree of probability that they would not be.

The general experience of the introduction of any new opportunities for the public at large to act upon is that there is an initial burst of activity which soon settles down to a hard core of those willing to make the effort. If by any chance the introduction of a right to reply proved the odd sociological man out and the media was overwhelmed, the system could be reviewed .

A narrow RoR would be worthless

The media will doubtless throw up their hands in horror at the idea of a RoR which is anything other than a narrow one based on correcting inaccuracy. There are two solid reasons why it should not be limited to inaccuracy. The first is that there is often no easy way of proving the truth or otherwise of ostensible “facts” nor any clear distinction between what constitutes accuracy and inaccuracy or a certain definition of what is an objective fact. For example, what is the objective truth of this statement: “Harold was killed by an arrow through his eye at the battle of Hastings” in 1066? We can be more or less certain that the battle took place in 1066, assuming that we do not have a general scepticism about that which we have not personally witnessed, but the nature of Harold’s death is much more uncertain and problematical. If the RoR were restricted to inaccuracy, the media would assuredly use the lack of objective truth and falsity to undermine the RoR by arguing interminably.

The second objection concerns opinion. This is often more damaging than inaccuracy and there is no clear distinction between fact and opinion. Suppose I write of an actress that “she is a whore”. That is a statement of fact which in principle could be tested objectively, that is, does she take money or other material rewards for providing sexual favours? But what if I write “she has the morals of a whore”? Is that fact or opinion? If it is to be treated as fact how could it be tested? Again, the opportunities for argument are limitless.

The effect on the media

The effect of an RoR and small claims court libel access would be profound. Faced with an immediate published response to any inaccuracy or abusive opinion and the possibility of having to submit themselves to public examination in a small claims court, journalists and broadcasters would cease to be cavalier in what they write. An analogy would be with the recording of conversations where everyone in the conversation knows they are being recorded. Where that occurs people generally cease to lie about what was said and are careful about what they say.

The present remedies

Compare an regime such as I have proposed with the present supposed remedies for those criticised or represented by the media. These are both cumbersome and the success of a complaint is dependent upon the judgement of others. In the case of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), the judgement is made by people drawn from the media or from those associated in some way with the media, and the organisation is funded by the press. Unsurprisingly, a non-celebrity complainant to the PCC rarely succeeds – in its entire history the PCC has never found for a complainant where to do so would be to tacitly accept that a serious libel had been committed.

But to complain that the PCC is no remedy is to miss a larger point. No matter how formally honest the PCC or any other media regulating body was, it could no more serve the public generally than the legal profession can serve the general public in actions for libel where there is no legal aid. The question is one of practicality.

The numbers of complaints actually considered formally by the PCC and the Broadcasting authorities is minute, running into a few hundred a year – most complaints never get to a full hearing or investigation. If the public began to use these bodies enthusiastically they would be overwhelmed. Short of the Government devoting a large segment of the national budget to funding vast public bodies capable of dealing with tens of thousands of complaints a year, the redress for the public will remain notional and the existence of bodies such as the PCC worse than useless. I say worse than useless because their existence gives a spurious appearance of media misbehaviour being subject to sanctions.

All that adds up to a further powerful argument for an effective RoR. Those within the media who oppose such a thing should consider whether it a lesser evil (from their point of view) than the likely eventual alternative of state-control, either openly or through quasi-independent bodies.

I will leave you with this thought. At present the relationship between someone in the media and anyone they choose to criticise is analogous to someone who binds a man and then punches him. It is not a contest, but an act of cowardice. It is essentially what anyone in the media does when they attack someone outside the media in the certain knowledge that the person will be denied an uncensored opportunity to reply.

 

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The Bruges Group meeting From Here to the Referendum held on 12 February 2013

Robert Henderson

The Tory  MPs Peter Bone and Richard Shepherd were the speakers . (http://www.brugesgroup.com/eu/from-here-to-the-referendum.htm?xp=speeches).  Both are in favour of the UK leaving the EU, although that of course begs the question of on what terms.   Much of their speeches were not directly to do with the referendum . To get the parts which were go  into  the Peter Bone speech at 9 minutes 27 seconds and the Richard Shepherd speech at 11 minutes and 50 seconds to get to their views on the future and the prospective referendum.

The MPs were frank about why no referendum could be held in this Parliament:  a consequence of the lack of a Commons majority and the deadweight of the Lib Dems on the government. Both admitted that  prospects of a referendum being held  in the next Parliament  (the  audience was decidedly sceptical on this point)  were far from certain, but they were distinctly more optimistic than most of the people at the meeting.

The most positive move suggested by the MPs was for a campaign by Tory Eurosceptic MPs  to get Cameron to introduce a paving Bill for an in/out referendum  before the next General Election for a referendum in the next Parliament.  This would put both Labour and the Lib Dems in a difficult position because, if they did not support and pass such a bill,  it would allow the Conservative Party to go into the next election as the only major party promising a referendum. If such a paving Bill were passed, it would then be effectively impossible not to have a referendum in the next Parliament.   In principle, this is a sound tactic but of course it does beg the question of the terms of the referendum and how it would be done.  Reports appeared  in the media for precisely such a Bill on 17 February (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/active/9875024/Tory-MPs-want-new-law-to-lock-in-EU-referendum-pledge.html) .

Apart from the question of whether  a referendum will actually be held, there were two things of note  about the meeting: a widespread legalism which led  a number of the questioners from the audience to fret over the restrictions placed on a member state leaving by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and an  undue  concentration by both the speakers and audience on economics as the ground on which the anti-EU and pro-EU camps would fight. (Richard Shepherd in his general comments  did show himself to have a strong sense of  nation and to understand that the core issue at stake was being masters in our own house, but still fell back on economics when it came to his doubts about how the public would respond).

When I asked  a question I prefaced it with a refutation  of the idea that leaving the EU meant invoking  Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty .  I did this by pointing out that international law is no law,  but merely agreements between sovereign states. For laws to have meaning, they must be  applied equally within the jurisdiction. International law patently does not do this, a  fact due to  the absence of  any practical means to make all states abide by the law (who would invade China or the USA to enforce breaches or  impose sanctions? )  Richard Shepherd thanked me for making the point with which he agreed. After the meeting a number of people sought me out and did the same.  I suspect this would have widespread appeal in a referendum campaign.

As for the concentration on economics, this is simply playing into the hands of the Europhiles.  The general public simply will not take the detailed economic arguments  on board.  At worst they will simply hear the frightening false claims about millions of jobs being lost.  The campaign to leave the EU should be centred on the question “Do we wish to be masters in our own house?” That will be readily understandable to anyone of normal intelligence and will tap into the innate tribal sense of human beings.  If the stay-in camp have to fight on ground other than the economic they will have no sure footing, their only argument  being the demonstrably false one that the EU has prevented war in Europe for 60 years. (This argument can be readily punctured by pointing out that for its first twenty years there were only six countries involved and only until the 1980s.  It was the  Cold War that kept the peace).  The economic arguments must be addressed but they  should be subordinate to the political issue of sovereignty.

When I got to my question,  I took the subject  beyond the next election and painted a future in which   the  Tories had been returned with a working majority, the in/out referendum had been held and the vote had been to leave the EU. I then asked what confidence we could have that whoever was in power would not sell us down the river by renegotiating  terms which would in practice lock us into the EU through such things as the “Four Freedoms”  of the EU, the free movement of goods, services, capital and most importantly people not only within the EU states but the larger European Economic Area which includes the likes of Norway.   I particularly stressed the importance of regaining control over our borders when it came to immigration, something which got the loudest murmur of agreement of the night.   I got no meaningful answer from the MPs  on that point –  the best they could offer was the tactic already described of pushing for a paving Bill for a referendum.

Apart from the question of the EU, it was very interestingly to see how disenchanted both Bone and Shepherd were with Cameron’s leadership  and the issue of gay marriage in particular. Shepherd spoke of Cameron “racing against his party” (Go into his speech at 5 minutes).   The audience was very much in sympathy with both their general dissatisfaction and their opposition to “gay marriage”.

There were  approximately 60 people attending.

Politically incorrect film reviews – A Lincoln convertible

Robert Henderson

Main cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader,  David Strathairn, Peter McRobbie, Lee Pace (There is a very extensive cast, but Day-Lewis is so dominant in terms of screen time that the main cast could have been him alone)

Director Stephen Spielberg

Running time: 150 minutes

What is the most damning word  that can be applied to a film? I suspect  it is dull. That is the word for Lincoln.  Too many characters, too much poorly orchestrated verbal  scrummaging in Congress, an avalanche of posturing earnestness and  a good deal of ham acting –  yes, that’s you James Spader I am particularly wincing at for your  Republican fixer William N. Bilbo and you Tommy Lee Jones for your painfully  ridiculous abolitionist Thaddeus  Stephens, a man unable to open his mouth without engaging in abuse.   The only performance of any note is that of Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln.

If there was ever an actor capable of single-handedly rescuing an  indifferent film  it is Day-Lewis. He did it magnificently in Gangs of New York with his riveting performance as Bill the Butcher.  The man does his level best here and in truth is a pretty convincing Lincoln, but  the film is so generally  flaccid, overly wordy and positively cartoonish in its representation of the debate over the Amendment to abolish slavery  that he cannot obscure its seriously disabling weaknesses.  Day-Lewis is also handicapped by the character of Lincoln which is devious while he maintains a façade  of reasonableness. It is too quiet, too restrained  a personality  to rescue  a poor film by obliterating the mediocrity around him, especially one of this length.

To those considerable weaknesses  can be added the film’s  gross dishonesty in representing Lincoln’s position on   slavery and blacks generally. This misrepresentation is made simple by restricting  the action in the film to a few months at the very fag end of the American  Civil War  during which the 13th  Amendment to the US  Constitution abolishing slavery was brought to the House of Representatives, debated and eventually passed.  The short time span allowed Lincoln’s earlier equivocal and changing positions on the relative importance of abolishing slavery and respecting state rights and  for modern liberals his distinctly embarrassing views on blacks to be almost entirely hidden from view.

What did  Lincoln’s think of slavery?  He was very much the Lincoln convertible, with different messages, often subtly different, for various audiences and political circumstances.  But there is a clear line to be followed in his thought.  There is no reason to believe that he did not find the institution obnoxious in the abstract  and the actual mistreatment of slaves distressing. But the fact that Lincoln was distressed  when  for example, he saw blacks being transported chained – a story repeated in the film – did  not mean he thought of blacks as the equals of whites or wanted them to have full legal equality with whites. Here he is putting his views unambiguously in 1858:

I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the White and Black races – that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes – nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to inter-marry with White people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the White and Black races which will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality, and in as much as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the White race.” (ABRAHAM LINCOLN, in his debate with Senator Douglas at Quincy, IL, on Oct. 13, 1858 and quoted in Abraham Lincoln – Complete Works, published by The Century Co., 1894, Vol. I, page 273).

Lincoln’s belief that white and black could not live in equality led him to be an advocate of colonisation, which in this context meant  the transfer of blacks in the USA to other parts of the world , especially Liberia in West Africa.  He had doubts of the practicality for  in the Douglas debates   we find him saying “My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia,—to their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me that whatever of high hope (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If they were all landed there in a day, they would all perish in the next ten days; and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough in the world to carry them there in many times ten days.

But if that is not the answer Lincoln has no ready solution for he goes on to say:

What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery, at any rate; yet the point is not clear enough to me to denounce people upon. What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment, is not the sole question, if, indeed, it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded. We cannot, then, make them equals. It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted; but for their tardiness in this, I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the South.” ( http://www.bartleby.com/251/12.html).

Despite his concerns at the practicality of colonisation, Lincoln was still promoting the idea during his presidency. He mentioned it in his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 and created  a special office to oversee the process of colonisation under the control of the Rev. James Mitchell of Indiana and established a Bureau of Emigration.

Lincoln’s feelings towards slaves are suggestive of those  of  the man who sees animals being cruelly treated and wishes for the mistreatment to stop. Those feelings do not signify  that the animals  would be welcome round and about the homes of the pitying onlooker merely that the onlooker wished the mistreatment to stop.

Then there is the question of priorities. When he became president Lincoln had no hesitation in making clear his first concern was the preservation the Union. He did this in his first inaugural presidential address on March 4, 1861 when he offered no objection to the pending Corwin Amendment which ran “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.” ( Volume 12 of the Statutes at Large at page 251).

This would have effectively made the abolition of slavery by Congress impossible by reserving the power to be a  free or slave state to the individual states Lincoln said this at his inauguration:

 “I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution . . . has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.” (http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html)

Well into the war Lincoln was unequivocal about the priority of the ends for which the war was fought, the primary end being the preservation of the Union:

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views. I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free…” Lincoln, Abraham. “Letter to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862”. In Miller, Marion Mills. Life and Works of Abraham Lincoln. Current Literature. Retrieved 2011-01-24.

The film’s presentation of the pro and anti-abolition arguments  will ring a bell with anyone who is familiar with the BBC’s idea of balance.  The pro-slavers are allowed to say something but they are always outnumbered and are never allowed the last word. Moreover, the fact that Day-Lewis’ Lincoln takes up so much of the screen time allotted to argument that any other voice is lost in the general babble of an overloaded cast.  Interestingly, the pro-slavers in the film engaged in argument  while the abolitionists readily turned to crude abuse. This is very reminiscent of the way modern liberals behave in real life (see https://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/the-liberal-bigot/).   There is also the gaping hole of a virtually absent Confederate voice, not so much to give  the pro-slavery arguments  but those of the  state rights versus federal powers conflict.

Perhaps the most telling facet of the film is the depiction of the double dealing of Lincoln and his fellow Republicans. Opponents of the amendment are shamelessly bribed with offers of government jobs with the full approval of Lincoln  who also engages in a piece of gross dishonesty by delaying the arrival of a peace delegation from the Confederacy  to ensure the Amendment passes.  This also requires him to give a lawyer’s evasion to the question  of whether such a peace delegation exists by answering that he knows of no such delegation in Washington rather than saying he knew of no peace delegation.    All of this skulduggery is portrayed as a legitimate means to an end, which of course,  is the besetting sin of liberals today who eagerly embrace any enormity provided it is intended to move some part of the world towards their nirvana of unalloyed political correctness.  The problem with such dishonesty and is that even if it gains the immediate object –which often it does not – it invariably has a corrosive effect on political trust .  Even today there are still the lingering resentments in the states of the Confederacy over their treatment after the war during the reconstruction era.

In the end the question has to be asked, was the abolition of slavery as it was done worth 600,000 dead and many more injured, often hideously?  What was the greater good, no civil war and the retention of slavery for a time or the immediate abolition of slavery bought at the costs of  huge numbers of  killed and maimed ?  It might seem a simple calculus to us today  because slavery to us is self-evidently beyond the Pale,  but in mid 19th century America things looked very different, just as they have looked very different to every society which has had a form of legal servitude, which includes most societies in most times and places with servitude ranging from full blown chattel slavery through serfdom to indentured labour.  It is also worth bearing in mind that the free poor in the vast majority of societies throughout history have in practice been in a de facto servile position because of their material circumstances and  the general imbalance of power between employer and employed. Indeed, the iconic  English  abolitionist William Wilberforce  was much taunted with the fact that while he made a great uproar about slaves he bore with equanimity the abject poverty of many of his countrymen.

The abolition of US slavery was reckless in its execution  because it was  made without compensation (with the exception of  Washington DC)  to slave owners  and was  not staggered over several years.  The British abolition of slavery in British colonies used both devices (the British taxpayer expended the then colossal sum of £20 million in compensation which represented two fifths of the annual British budget) and, though far from an easy transition, it did remove both the problem of the ruination of a very large part of the colonial economy (the slave related part) and provide the wherewithal for the now ex-slave owners to continue their various economic enterprises by paying wages and to make the necessary practical adjustments .  It also brought time for the transition from slave to wage-earner to be psychologically absorbed.  Slavery is the ultimate form of institutionalisation .  A man or woman born to  slavery and  knowing nothing but servitude may find themselves disorientated when suddenly freed even if they have long dreamt of freedom, just as long-term prisoners or mental patients  often do when released. That had benefits for both slave owners and slaves because it was preferable to the sudden disorganised shock of immediate and uncompensated

Had Congress arranged to compensate the slave owners at an honest price and staggered the ending of slavery there is good reason to believe the Civil War could have been avoided and slavery ended within a relatively short period of time. As it was the abolition as it stood made a mess of slave owning states economies, left the freed slaves in a precarious position to be subject to Jim Crow laws and segregation for nearly  a century and often the recipients of the practice of convict leasing whereby convicts  were effectively sold to private contractors for a set period of time.

If  the abolition of slavery been peacefully accomplished it would also have had the great benefit of leaving state rights and powers unsavaged by the  gross violations of the Constitution which Lincoln perpetrated during the war with his proclamations made as commander-in-chief which included the suspension of Habeas Corpus and his ignoring of rulings by the Supreme Court.   (http://www.civilwarhome.com/pulito.htm). Interestingly, the question of legality of his proclamations was addressed at some length by Lincoln in the film,  although primarily in the context of the legality of his Emancipation Proclamation.

It should be  very difficult for any person without a political axe to grind to come away from the film without seeing Lincoln as a slippery hypocrite with no regard for the truth.  Needless to say in these PC times  you would not guess it from the reviews. The  critics have generally grovelled before the film’s prime politically correct subject matter. The review by  Rupert Christianson  of the  Daily Telegraph (a Tory newspaper) gives a taste of the tone in the British media:   “I cannot vouch for the movie’s historical accuracy – so much about Lincoln remains contested – but, without resorting to pomposity or sentimentality, Spielberg has built the story into a stirring drama of dilemma worthy of Racine or Schiller… The word that came to my mind as I left the cinema is an unfashionable one: noble. This is a noble film, about noble people. Quentin Tarantino doesn’t do noble.” ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/baftas/9857721/Baftas-2013-Spielbergs-Noble-Achievement.html).

Should you go and see this film?  Well, if you do, visit  it in a spirit of inquiry into exactly how blatant in their bias the politically correct  can be when  producing what can only be described as unashamed  propaganda. Talking of modern liberals, the film  has provided me with some amusement. Discussing it with the politically correct  in Britain it is remarkable how many believe Lincoln to have been a Democrat and the opponents of slavery in the film to have all been Republicans. It is a treat to watch their credulous little faces drop when I tell them the truth.

Politically incorrect film reviews – Django Unchained

Robert Henderson

Main cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington,  Samuel L. Jackson

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Running time  165 minutes

Even by Tarantino’s standards this is an extraordinarily self-indulgent film, both in terms of his fixation with  disproportionate  violence only tenuously related to plot and with  his one-dimensional  representation  of slavery. This portrayal  is unambiguously cruel and, as with almost  every film about American  slavery, set against the background of a palatial  plantation.   American slavery was vastly more nuanced than that, with single slaves being owned by a master or mistress;  free blacks owning slaves; slaves working for commercial and  industrial enterprises; slaves employed in fieldwork and mining.  The most favoured in terms of their treatment were probably house servants in the larger  establishments. [1]

Slave owners being human beings it is reasonable to assume that the treatment of slaves would have varied greatly, from the indulgent to the use of the slave simply as an object to be worked or abused as the slave owner wished. Even at the base level of slaves as considered simply as  property,  the idea that slave owners would be routinely physically abusing their slaves to the point of greatly reducing their value or losing the value completely by killing them makes little sense because slaves were expensive.  The growth of the black population generally and of slaves in particular supports this view.  It is estimated that approximately 645, 000 slaves were shipped  to the territory which eventually formed the USA [2] The 1860 US census shows  a  total population of 31,443,321 with 3,953,761 slaves and 488,283 free blacks, 251,000 of which were in the slave-owning states.[3]

The plot is a straight forward revenge drama. Dr King Schultz  (Christoph Waltz) a German dentist turned bounty hunter seeks out a couple of slave traders (the Speck Brothers )  who are transporting some slaves.  Schultz wants to buy a slave from a particular plantation off them because the slave can identify three brothers who have a large bounty on their heads.   The Speck brothers  do not wish to trade, guns are drawn and a shootout ensues killing one of the brothers and trapping another under his horse with a broken leg.  Scultz, a pedant  for the  legal form but  not the spirit of the law throughout the film, makes out a bill of sale for the slave he wants, leaves this with some money with the surviving Speck brother and releases the other slaves with a suggestion that they kill the surviving Speck and head north to the non-slave states.  The slaves duly oblige Schultz.

The slave Schultz obtains is Django (Jamie Foxx).  Django is a failed runaway who was caught  trying to escape with his wife  Broomhilda Von Shaft (Kerry Washington). As a consequence the pair of them are deliberately sold separately at auction and separated. Consequently Django does not know where his wife is.  Schultz strikes a deal with Django: join me as a partner in bounty hunting until the spring and I will help you find your lost wife.   Django agrees.  Much of the  rest of the film is taken up with Schultz and Django scheming to kill people for the bounty on their heads, killing people such people and killing people to revenge Django and by extension his fellow slaves.  Eventually Broomhilda is tracked down to a huge  plantation owned by Calvin Candy (Di Caprio) and   Schultz and Django lay a scheme to persuade Candy to sell her to them.

The character of Schultz is morally absurd. He is a bounty hunter for whom the words “captured dead or alive” have only one meaning: dead.   The concept of innocent till proven guilty is redundant because he kills simply on the issue of a warrant for someone’s arrest  and he never makes even a token attempt to take them alive. Hence,  Schultz’s  frequently made claim that he is only killing those who have committed serious crimes does not stand up to moral scrutiny. He could be killing an innocent man as easily as a criminal. Yet this immoral  character postures throughout the film as a morally superior being because he disapproves of slavery. Moreover, this supposed dislike for slavery does seem somewhat flexible.  To promote the end of purchasing Broomhilda,  Schultz (and Django)   watch without complaint a slave brutally killed in what is termed Mandigo fighting, that is , no-holds barred fighting between two slaves,  and a runaway slave ripped to shreds by dogs.   Schultz’s  final pc flourish occurs when  he behaves in a maniacally egotistical   way after  Django and he have  achieved their aim of buying Broomhilda from  the slaveowner Candy. All  he has to do to seal the deal is shake Candy’s hand.  Schultz refuses, shoots Candy and then dies in the farcical  “shoot ‘em up” sequence which follows.

The Eponymous Django (Jamie Foxx) , an actor whose screen presence exudes a dismal surliness at the best of times  is ridiculous in a different way.  He adopts an aggressive  and insolent attitude towards Candy and his associates, behaviour  which even as a free black it is wildly improbable would have been tolerated by a man as rich and powerful as Candy.   Nor is it readily imaginable  that he would have been allowed to dine with Candy and his family. His acting range recalls Dorothy Parker’s put down of  Katharine Hepburn: “She  delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.”

The two performances worth watching are DiCaprio’s malevolent plantation owner Calvin Candy and Samuel Jack’s privileged slave Stephen, part Uriah Heap, part licensed court jester,  part smart operator and wholly Uncle Tom.   Candy has something of the unwonted and disconcerting  charm of Ralph Fiennes as the Concentration Camp commandant  Amon Göth in Schindler’s List,  being capable of Southern  courtesy at one moment and gross cruelty the next.

Tarantino is continuing what he did in Inglourious Basterds . In his earlier films the themes and characters were simply violent and immoral. Inglourious Basterds changed that. Taratino suddenly decided he wanted to morally posture, in that instance by adopting the position that any mistreatment of Germans, Nazi or otherwise,  was justified in WW2 because of the Nazi mistreatment of Jews.   Consequently the film’s gang of Americans in Nazi-occupied Europe were allowed to engage in any violent  horror, for example, killing someone by sledgehammering them to death, on the pretext that it was reasonable because they were killing Nazis.  Even if that had been true it would not have given the characters  the  moral high ground  because brutality is simply  brutality when it involves killing defenceless men in a cruel fashion. But  Inglorious Basterds did not confine themselves to killing card-carrying Nazis: ordinary Germans, for example,  conscripted Wermacht soldiers,  were killed gratuitously and cruelly.    In Django unchained Tarantino substitutes slavery for the Nazi’s reatment of the Jews.  A comment made by Django early on  encapsulates the director’s intention:   “Killing white folks and  getting paid for it: what’s not to like?”  (Try to imagine a white character in any film saying “Killing black folks and getting paid for it: what’s not to like?”   Difficult  going on impossible isn’t it? )

The problem with this is that most white Americans of the time were not slave owners of any sort .   But just as the moral restraints in Inglourious Basterds were loosened to include any German regardless of whether they had perpetrated any atrocity or even whether they were Nazi party members, so were the moral restraints removed on what might be done to whites of any status in Django Unchained.

The other  serious difficulty with the film is  the violence. Violence is a necessary  and interesting part of film-making when it serves a dramatic purpose. Let it become a gorefest and it is pornography.  In  Django Unchained  it moves into the positively  cartoonish with killings which are not only incontinent in motivation but often  look completely unconvincing:  the worst example is the shooting of Candy’s sister when a single shot lifts her into the air and through a door in the manner of a pantomime fairy being lifted off the  stage.  All this becomes at first boring then irritating.

The film has been criticised for its free use of nigger.  Tarantino has a record of his characters using the word , although never with  anything like the fluency as happens here where it is used several hundred times. It is used freely by black as well as white characters. Bearing in mind the film is set in slaving country and much of the action takes place on plantations, Tarantino is probably being realistic in putting it into the film.  However, when did realism ever trouble him? Certainly not in the film as a whole with a KKK-style  slapstick scene inserted into the pre-Bellum South long before the KKK was created and the acceptance of wildly insolent behaviour by Django or his wearing of modern sunglasses for most of the film.    Could it be that Tarantino puts nigger  in simply for the thrill of playing the enfant terrible? Or perhaps he simply wants to have his pc and non-pc cake at the same time.

Although an offshoot of Blaxploitation films, both the 1975 film Mandingo and its sequel Drum were  much more finessed in their treatment of the relationships between slaves owners and their slaves. Although there was violence and harsh treatment shown it was not incessant or grossly improbable. There was  also some attempt to place behaviour in context . This last  is completely missing in Django Unchained.  For example, Stephen is shot in cold blood by Django for being an Uncle Tom after being told by Django to remain after other slaves are escape unharmed because Stephen is “exactly where he belongs  ”.  That  we are all prisoners to a large degree of where our birth places us and humans being humans will develop relationships even where the relationship may seem tainted by the disparity in power between those involved is unexamined.

Should you go and see the film? Well, Di Caprio and Jackson’s performances are well worth seeing. Just don’t expect  Gone with the wind.


[2] b Stephen D. Behrendt, David Richardson, and David Eltis, W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research, Harvard University. Based on “records for 27,233 voyages that set out to obtain slaves for the Americas”. Stephen Behrendt (1999). “Transatlantic Slave Trade”. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. New York: Basic Civitas Books. ISBN 0-465-00071-1.

The significance of borders –why Representative Government and the Rule of Law Require Nation States

Author: Thierry Baudet

Publisher: Brill

ISBN 978 90 04 22813 9

Robert Henderson

This a frustrating book.  Its subject is of the greatest interest, namely, how human beings may best organise themselves  to provide security and freedom.   It contains  a great deal of good sense because   the author understands that humans cannot exist amicably unless they have a sense of shared identity and a territory which they control.   (Anyone who doubts the importance of having such a territory should reflect on the dismal history of the Jews.) Baudet  vividly describes  the undermining of the  nation state  by the rise of  supranational bodies: the loss of democratic control, the impossibility of taking very diverse national entities such as those forming  the EU and making them into a coherent single society;  the self-created social divisions caused by mass immigration  and the rendering of the idea of citizenship based on nationality effectively null by either granting it to virtually anyone regardless of their origins or by denying the need for any concept of nationality in the modern globalised world.  He also deals lucidly with the movement from the mediaeval  feudal relationships of fealty to a lord to the nation state;   correctly recognises representative government as uniquely European;  examines the  concept of sovereignty intelligently and is especially good on how supranationalism expands surreptitiously, for example,  the International Criminal Court is widely thought to only apply to the states which have signed the treaty creating it. Not so. The nationals of countries which have not signed who commit crimes on the territories of states which have signed can be brought for trial before the ICT.

That is all very encouraging stuff for those who believe in the value  of the sovereign nation state. The problem is Baudet  wants to have his nationalism whilst keeping a substantial slice of the politically correct cake. Here he is laying out his definitional wares:  “I call the open nationalism that I defend multicultural nationalism – as opposed to multiculturalism on the one hand, and an intolerant, closed nationalism on the other. The international cooperation on the basis of accountable nation states that I propose, I call sovereign cosmopolitanism – as opposed to supranationalism on the one hand, and a close. Isolated nationalism on the other. Both the multicultural nationalism and sovereign cosmopolitianism place the the nation state at the heart of political order, whole recognising the demands of the modern, internationalised world. “(p xvi).

Baudet’s  “multicultural nationalism” is  the idea that culturally different  groups ( he eschews racial difference as important) can exist within a  territory and still constitute a nation which he  defines  as “a political loyalty stemming from an experienced collective identity…rather than a legal, credal or ethnic nature ” (p62) . How does Baudet think this can be arrived at? He believes  it is possible to produce the  “pluralist society, held to together nevertheless  by a monocultural core”. (p158).    Therein lies the problem with the book: Baudet is trying surreptitiously to square multiculturalism with the nation state.

The concept of a monocultural core is akin to  what multiculturalists are trying belatedly to introduce into their politics with their claim that a society in which each ethnic  group follows its own ancestral ways can nonetheless  be bound together with a shared belief in institutions  and concepts such as the rule of law and representative government.  This is a non-starter  because a sense of group identity is not built on self-consciously created  civic values and institutions –witness the dismal failure of post-colonial states in the 20th century –  but on a shared system of  cultural beliefs and behaviours  which are imbibed unwittingly through growing up in a society.  Because of the multiplicity of ethnic groups from  different cultures in  modern  Western societies,  there is no  overarching single identity within any of them  potent enough to produce Baudet’s   unifying “monocultural core”. Moreover, the continued mass immigration to those societies makes the movement from a “monocultural core” ever greater.  In practice his “Multicultural nationalism” offers  exactly the same intractable problems as official multiculturalism.

Baudet’s idea of a “monocultural core”  would be an unrealistic proposition if cultural differences were all that had to be accommodated in this “pluralist society”, but he  greatly magnifies his conceptual difficulties by refusing to honestly  address the question of racial difference.  However incendiary the subject  is these  differences cannot be ignored.   If human beings did not think racial difference important there would  there be no animosity based  purely on physical racial difference, for example, an hostility to blacks from wherever  they come.  It is their race not their ethnicity which causes the hostile reaction.

The idea that assimilation can occur if it is actively pursued by governments is disproved by history. France, at the official level,  has always insisted upon immigrants becoming fully assimilated: British governments since the late 1970s have embraced multiculturalism as the correct treatment of  immigrants. The result has been the same in both countries; immigrant groups which are racially or radically culturally different from the population which they enter do not assimilate naturally.  The larger the immigrant group the easier it is for this lack of assimilation to be permanent, both because a large population can colonise areas and provide a means by which its members can live their own separate cultural lives and because a large group presents a government with the potential for serious violent civil unrest if attempts are made to  force it to assimilate.

The USA is the best testing ground for Baudet’s idea that there could be a common unifying  core of culture within a country of immense cultural diversity.   Over the past two centuries it has accepted a vast kaleidoscope of peoples and cultures, but  its origins were much more uniform. At  independence the country had, as a consequence of the English founding and  moulding of the colonies which formed the USA , a dominant language (English) , her legal system was based on English common law, her political structures were adapted from  the English,  the dominant general culture was that of England and the free population of the territory was racially similar.  Even those who  did not have English ancestry almost invariably prided themselves on being English, for example,  John Jay, one of the founding Fathers of the USA who was  of Huguenot and Dutch descent, passionately wrote:  “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.” (John Jay in Federalist No. 2).There was the presence of a mainly enslaved black population and the native Amerindians, but the newly formed United States at least at the level of the white population had a degree of uniformity which made the idea of a core monoculture plausible.

From the mid-sixties after US immigration law was slackened migrants arrived in ever increasing numbers and with much more racial and ethnic variety. The result has been a balkanisation of American society with a legion of minority groups all shouting for their own advantage with the  original “monocultural core” diluted to the point of disappearance.

There are other weaknesses in Baudet’s  thinking.  He is  much too keen to draw clear lines between forms of social and political organisation. For example,  he considers  the nation state to be an imagined community  (a nation being  too large for everyone to know everyone else)  with a  territory  it controls  as opposed to tribal or universal loyalty (the idea that there is simply mankind not different peoples who share moral values and status). The problem with that, as he admits, are the many tribes which are too large to allow each individual to know each other (footnote 23 p63).  He tries to fudge the issue by developing a difference between ethnic loyalty and national loyalty, when of course there is no conflict between the two. Nations can be based solely on ethnicity.

Another example of conceptual rigidity is Baudet’s  distinction between  internationalism and supranationalism.  He defines  the former as the traditional form of international cooperation whereby nation states make agreements between themselves but retain the ultimate right to decide what policy will be implemented (thus preserving their sovereignty) while the latter, for example the EU, is an agreement between states which removes,  in many areas of policy , the right  of the individual contracting states to choose  whether  a policy  will be accepted or rejected.   Although that is a  distinction which will appeal to academics,  in practice it rarely obtains because treaties made between theoretically sovereign states often results  in  the weaker ones having no meaningful choice of action.

Despite the conceptual weaknesses ,  the strengths of the book are  considerable if  it is used as a primer on the subject of national sovereignty.  Read it but  remember from where Baudet is ultimately coming.

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