Reappraisals (repost from 2011)

by John Q on June 30, 2020

  • As Princeton has just repudiated Woodrow Wilson, I thought I’d repost this from 2011, which seems relevant to a lot of current discussion*

As an Australian, I’m not much accustomed to think of political leaders in heroic terms[1], something that reflects the fact that nothing our political leaders do matters that much to anybody except us, and even then most of the decisions that really mattered have always been made elsewhere. So, I’m fascinated by the US activity of ranking presidents and other political leaders, and eager to try my hand.

What has brought this to mind is running across George Will’s campaign against Woodrow Wilson, who always seemed to be presented in hagiographic terms until relatively recently. Much as it goes against the grain to agree with Will on anything, he surely has the goods on Wilson: a consistent racist, who lied America into the Great War, and used Sedition acts and similar devices to suppress opposition. His positive record appears to consist of a variety of “Progressive” measures (in the early C20 sense of the term) many of which were inherited from Teddy Roosevelt, and few of which were particularly progressive from a left viewpoint[2], and his proposal for the League of Nations, where he comprehensively screwed up the domestic politics, leading the US to stay out of the League.

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“Traditional British values” in political science

by Chris Bertram on June 30, 2020

Yesterday, one of those reports was released purporting to reveal some things about British political attitudes. The take-home was that the public were closer to Labour than the Tories on the economic dimension but that things were reversed when it came to social attitudes, with voters being more authoritarian and traditional than their representatives and more closely aligned with the Tories. This, coupled with the claim that the social values dimension is gaining in importance compared to the economic one, looms large in some “political science” explanations of Brexit and Tory success.

Looking at the report, I noticed an odd thing: one of the questions was about “traditional British values” and whether respondents thought young people should respect them more. I imagined, naively that there must be a list somewhere of what these values are, given that they are purportedly what voters have opinions about. But no. Respondents are expected to interpret the question for themselves, so if a person thinks Britain is traditionally open and tolerant and thinks this has gone into reverse in recent years and says “yes”, their response will nevertheless count as a score for authoritarianism. I don’t know how likely my hypothetical case is, but it is at least possible, particularly, perhaps, from a disappointed immigrant who had been sold on a particular image of Britain.

There is, by the way, an official list of British values. It occurs in the case of the British goverment’s “Prevent” strategy, which is supposed to combat extremism. According to that policy, the British values are “democracy”, “the rule of law”, “individual liberty and mutual respect”, and “Tolerance of different faith and beliefs”. If you run an educational establishment, you have specific duties to encourage these. (A nursery for under-5s I’m acquainted with had a little official explainer on the wall, telling its charges that the “rule of law” is about “following the rules”.) I suppose, hypothetically, that a respondent with these values in mind, and thinking of the Brexiteer and Johnson record on them – plans for voter suppression, illegal prorogation of Parliament, frequent abuse of executive power in immigration, racist and Islamophobic diatribes by the man at the top – might regret their demise and say “yes” but be coded as “authoritarian”. Perhaps not so likely, I admit.
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