Opinion

John Lloyd

Where is the Paul Ryan of Europe?

John Lloyd
Aug 22, 2012 12:30 UTC

“European” is Representative Paul Ryan’s insult of choice for President Barack Obama, and for his policies. Yet the influences Ryan cites, and the thoughts behind his plan for debt reduction, were offered by Europeans of the 20th century. Their ideas, the foundations of which were laid in Europe’s turbulent twenties and thirties, have nearly a century later found an influential apostle in the United States.

Like his European precedents, Ryan the savior-theorist has appeared at another turbulent time. The near-century-old politico-economic school he embraces now seeks to prove itself on ground made fertile by the fearful debt that hangs over the world’s greatest power.

The first of these influences, and the one on which his enemies have most eagerly seized, is the controversial capitalist-individualist Ayn Rand. Rand was born, raised and educated in Russia, during the period spanning the revolution that ruined Rand’s comfortably off family. Although many consider Russians to be non-European, Rand was raised in a secular Jewish family in Russia’s avowedly European city, St. Petersburg, and her educational influences were all European.

By allying himself with the views of Ayn Rand, Ryan has taken a great risk. Rand’s extreme individualist thought, and tutelage of a coterie that formed around her, which included former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, was for long (and still is) derided. Yet she, and her rambling, passionate novel Atlas Shrugged became a kind of semi-underground spur to those who found inspiration in the hero’s determination to succeed.

Along with Rand, Ryan cites less controversial figures – Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, protagonists of the Austrian school of market economics, and their disciple Milton Friedman (the only one of Ryan’s galaxy born in the U.S.). From them he has taken a strong aversion to socialism of even the mildest kind, a horror of debt and its effects, and a belief that, loosed from an interfering state, all active individuals will strive to better themselves, and thus society. Those who can, do, but those who don’t would be classed as parasites – and, as Greenspan put it in a letter to the New York Times in 1957 – if they “persistently avoid either purpose or reason”, they will “perish as they should.”

Britain basks in its jingoistic achievement

John Lloyd
Aug 13, 2012 19:25 UTC

The British like to think of themselves as self-deprecating, and normally they’re right, even if much of that is a self-compliment. But now, with Britain winning more Olympic medals than it had since 1908, self-deprecation has been jettisoned. It ended the games on Sunday with the third-most gold medals after the U.S. and China, and the fourth-most medals overall, with Russia just ahead.

This was good for a midsize, broke country. As the third spot seemed increasingly like the final result through the last week, the Brits became increasingly delirious. BBC commentators, normally schooled in judicious and balanced commentary, were shouting their larynxes out as the medals rolled in: When Sir Chris Hoy, the cycling tyro, won his sixth gold medal in the keirin (speed-controlled) race last Wednesday, the “commentary” melted into a stream of hysterical liquid sound.

Yet if the British did very well in the games, the BBC did badly in what it is supposed to be best at: being fair, balanced, neutral and objective. Frankly, it went ape.

Changing the Moscow rules

John Lloyd
Aug 6, 2012 20:48 UTC

Around the time Vladimir Putin started his first term as Russia’s president in 2000, a man named Gleb Pavlovsky appeared on the Moscow scene. Pavlovsky was a former dissident in Soviet times who called himself a “political technologist”, a highfalutin term for spin doctor. That isn’t to diminish him: Spin doctors in different administrations all over the world are among the most interesting political figures of contemporary times, because their job is to give a narrative about the government and the leaders they serve.

In doing so, they help give the narrative to the leaders themselves, who may not have worked out quite what they were going to do with power, since they were too busy getting and keeping it. They are the necessary middlemen between political power and the media. The media need a big story, and the spin doctors, or political technologists, are there to provide it.

Vladimir Putin, the man chosen by former President Boris Yeltsin to succeed him, didn’t know what to do when he arrived. At the time Pavlovsky moved into the Kremlin as his aide, the new president was – as Pavlovsky later said – consumed with anxiety that he would not succeed in imposing his will on a Kremlin still full of aides who were not his choice. Putin, remember, was still less than a decade away from being a middle-ranking, surplus-to-requirements KGB officer.

Britain’s shaken reputation

John Lloyd
Jul 30, 2012 16:52 UTC

It was rude of Mitt Romney to cast doubt on Britain’s ability to successfully host the London Olympics, but it wasn’t stupid. His briefers on the London trip will have had files full of stories from the British papers, whose front pages had little else on them for days but forebodings over security lapses because of a screwup by G4S, the company hired to keep the Games safe. Britain hasn’t, in the past few years, been distinguished for excellence: Why assume the Games would be an exception?

For any foreigner, especially any American, alert to British events over the past year or two, these stories play against a backdrop of the perception of the British capital as “Londonistan,” a place whose tolerance of radical Islamism spills over into fatally dangerous carelessness. A city where, almost exactly a year ago, gangs of young men and women roamed the streets for several days, smashing shops, looting their contents, burning buildings, beating up passersby and isolated policemen. To voice doubts on U.S. television about London’s safety is not stupid, because doubts are in order.

Three institutions central to the world’s opinion of the United Kingdom have been and remain very badly shaken. These are the armed forces, the press and the banking system – three systems that, for two centuries or more, evoked real pride for the British people. The damage done – in two cases self-administered – has projected images of Britain that sharply contradict the sturdy, trusty, intelligently skeptical stereotype that the British like to think is a mirror of themselves.

Europe’s impossible dream

John Lloyd
Jul 23, 2012 20:41 UTC

The economic logic of European integration is now directly confronting nationalistic sentiments in the hearts and souls of Europeans. It’s becoming clear that nationalism resonates more deeply. That is the stuff of our patriotic life, fragments from our history that we use to shore up our present and point to our future. To discard them is to discard part of our mental and moral makeup.

For much of the last 60 years the Union has been Good, scattering tangible and intangible blessings upon its growing group of member states. It brought investment to the poorer countries that joined. It broke down physical and psychological barriers between states, so that their citizens now pass casually into and through countries that once required major preparation. It gave the former Communist states of Central Europe an ideal to which to aspire and templates by which aspirations could become routine. And it made inter-European war so unthinkable that its possibility ceased to be thought about at all.

The dream of the founders was an ever-closer union transforming itself into something like a federal state. They thought it could exist in idealistic form while the practical changes were put – with much labor, compromise and argument – into place. One of these founders, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, called up the ideal in a speech in 1948:

London’s Olympic fog

John Lloyd
Jul 17, 2012 15:56 UTC

The scenes of wild British rejoicing in July 2005, when it was announced London would host the 2012 Olympics, have faded and been replaced by visions of doom. Once the games begin, the sheer beauty of the sports will take over, but for now, most media attention is given over to threats, to chaos, to failure.

The day London celebrated in 2005, four British Islamist terrorists killed 52 people in four different bombs attacks, three on the metro system, one on a bus. Seven years later, the shadow still hangs heavy. The security arrangements include sharpshooters, missiles and, most recently, 3,500 soldiers called in because the security provider, G4S, was found last week to have failed to deliver the necessary number of trained guards.

Britain does grumbling as well as any country: It’s hard to find any Londoner who does not use the word “chaos” to encapsulate what he or she thinks will happen to London’s traffic and public transport from late July through August. Residents have been encouraged in that view by signs everywhere on the metro warning that “this station will be very busy during the Olympics.”

Progressives are progressing toward what, exactly?

John Lloyd
Jul 9, 2012 21:26 UTC

Liberals and leftists all over the democratic world have often called themselves progressives, because it seems, in a word, to put you on the tide of a better future. (Also because in some countries, the United States most of all, to call yourself any kind of socialist was a route to permanent marginalization.) Progress doesn’t just mean going forward: It means going forward to a better place.

But a better place isn’t currently available, not for the right, and not for the left.

In the past two decades, progressives hitched their wagons to several charismatic individuals who were generally successful, both in gaining and retaining power. Luiz da Silva (Lula) in Brazil; Gerhard Schroeder in Germany; Tony Blair in the UK; and Bill Clinton in the U.S. They improved the lot of the poor somewhat, and, social liberals all, worked to bring in women, gays and ethnic minorities from the cold of discrimination and inequality.

To laugh or not to laugh

John Lloyd
Jul 3, 2012 17:43 UTC

For most of the world, the memory of the slaughter of the Jews, pursued with such disciplined ferocity to the bitter end, demands respect. It gets it, not just in the thousands of records of the event, but in art, too. Primo Levi, the Milanese Jew who survived Auschwitz itself, wrote memoirs (If This Is a Man; The Truce) and novels (The Wrench; If Not Now, When?) that have the power of understated horror and serve as a kind of standard for all others. Films – Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002) and Stephen Daldry’s The Reader (2008) – two of the better known of the past decadeare somber, tragic affairs, the subject matter with which they work precluding anything approaching a happy ending.

There are exceptions, and, oddly, they are very funny ones. The earliest is the Ernst Lubitsch comedy To Be or Not to Be, released in 1942 and starring Jack Benny as a Polish actor who, through a series of comic turns, plays an SS Officer, Colonel Erhardt, in an ultimately successful escape bid. At one point, the real Erhardt, speaking of the concentration camps, snaps – “we do the concentrating, the Poles do the camping” – a line that still gives a start, though written and spoken when what the camping meant was still genuinely unknown by most. There are more, of course: Mel Brooks’s The Producers and Roberto Benigni’s 1997 La Vita e Bella, most memorably. Neither was uncontroversial, but what controversy there was has largely died, and they’re mostly seen as classics.

Now the Holocaust has a new creative frontier. In a ceremony that seemed as if it were made for another Mel Brooks movie, Hava Hershkovits won the Miss Holocaust Survivor contest in Haifa, Israel, last Friday. The organizer, Shimon Sabag, director of Yad Ezer l’Haver (Helping Hand), an institution that aids poor Holocaust survivors, said that the contestants “feel good together. They are having a good time and laughing at the rehearsals.” In the published pictures, Hershkovits, at 78, looks radiant and is wearing the victor’s tiara.

Julian Assange’s fall from the heavens

John Lloyd
Jun 25, 2012 19:54 UTC

Julian Assange, a fallen angel, remains, as of this writing, a guest of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. There he has sought asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces rape charges that he denies, and, he believes, possible extradition to the U.S., where he fears he may be tried and found guilty of espionage and sedition, for which death is still the extreme penalty.

When we talk of fallen angels, we invoke the original fallen angel, Satan or Lucifer, once beloved of God, the highest in his closest council, whose pride impelled him to challenge for heaven’s rule – and came before his fall to Hell. Assange was an angel of a sort, at least to many. They saw his role as founder of WikiLeaks and leaker of thousands of pages of cables on Iraq and Afghanistan, and then from U.S. embassies all over the world, as the act of a liberator, a rebel with a cause, one who could poke the U.S. in the eye in a new way, with only a laptop at his disposal.

He did set himself up very high. He challenged the deities and sacred texts of journalism, contemptuous of a trade that he saw as largely a handmaiden to power. In one comment, he said that the problem with the late News of the World’s hacking into people’s phones was largely non-existent. They had actually done original investigative work about people in this society that its readers were genuinely interested in.” In another, according to Guardian journalists who worked with him on the WikiLeaks material it published, he observed that if any of the informants who provided U.S. diplomats with the material in the leaked cables were to suffer retribution, they have “got it coming.” Now, he fears he does.

Europe’s reckoning is delayed…but for how long?

John Lloyd
Jun 18, 2012 18:33 UTC

Everything in Europe has a ‘but’ attached to it these days. Spain got a bank bailout last week, but it hasn’t convinced the markets. Mario Monti is a great economist and wise man, but he’s losing support for his premiership of Italy. Angela Merkel is listening to the voices that try to persuade her that Germany should bankroll growth, but she hasn’t done anything yet.

The New Democracy party, a grouping that, broadly, wants Greece to stick with the euro and bear more austerity (though it will bargain hard for less) has won… but what its leader, Antonis Samaras, has just got for himself is the worst political job on the continent, and may not be able to deliver. If, in democracy’s cradle, he can forge a coalition, keep to the terms of the bailout his country has received, enact rapid and deep reforms, and preserve democratic rule, he will deserve a place in the pantheon – a Greek word, after all, meaning a temple for the gods.

And so far, he’s been no god. A fellow countryman, the Yale political scientist Stathis Kalyvas, wrote in Foreign Affairs in June that Samaras “is widely seen as representing the corrupt and ineffective Athens political establishment that led the country to ruin”. Yet it’s this man, with all of his history, faults and frailties, on whom the future of Greece – and by many measures, the future of the European Union – depends.

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