Code of Hammurabi and the Magna Carta

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 22nd, 2011

History 101

The Code of Hammurabi was a Precursor to a Modern Criminal Justice System

The first civilization was Sumer.  Along the fertile river valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.  In modern day Iraq.  Prime real estate in the early civilized world.  Good for growing food.  With established city-states throughout.  This land was attractive.  So attractive that many have conquered it.

Here are some who possessed this land.  The Akkadians.  Guitans.  Elamites.  Amorites.  And, of course, the Sumerians.  Who took it back a time or two.  It wasn’t a neat linear transition.  There were many bumps along the way.  And by bumps I mean power changes.  I.e., wars.  But eventually the Amorite Empire founded the city-state of Babylon.  Which brings us to the sixth king of Babylon.  Hammurabi.  And when he expanded his kingdom by conquering other city-states he became the first king of the Babylonian Empire.  And he did something spectacular in 1780 BC.  He gave us the Code of Hammurabi.  One of the first written codes of law in history.   Providing a giant leap forward for the civilized world.

Everyone has heard of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”  That goes back to the Code of Hammurabi.  A precursor to a modern criminal justice system.  Including trials and the presumption of innocence.  It delved into civil law.  And contract law.  Clearly setting the rules of the game for marriage, divorce, inheritance and economic exchange.  It also included rules for the government.  Sort of like a constitution.  And this was all happening in the second millennium BC.

The Magna Carta exploded the Rule of Law, Personal Liberty and Economic Development

Establishing rules for government is rarely easy.  For few welcome restraints on their power.  But there is a problem all despots have who enjoy wielding absolute power.  They are only one person.  They need others.  For food.  And for money.  Because despots like to fight wars.  Which takes a lot of soldiers.  A lot of food.  And a lot of taxes.  All of which the despot has to depend on others to provide.

King John in 13th century England was one such despot.  He fought a lot of costly wars.  Requiring a lot of taxes.  And the people supplying the soldiers and taxes for these wars were the nobility.  His Barons.    And they were getting tired of the King’s behavior as it was proving very costly.  Not to mention that he was pissing off the French who were planning to invade England.  And there were a whole host of oppressive acts against his subjects.   As well as a feud with the Pope.  Suffice it to say something had to be done.  Without having a suitable candidate ready to replace the king, the Barons instead tried to limit the king’s arbitrary power.  In writing.  What history calls the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta did not make sweeping change at the time.  But it had a profound impact in the English speaking world.  And the development of constitutional law.  It exploded the Rule of Law.  Personal liberty.  And economic development.  It is what allowed the British Empire.  And the Industrial Revolution.  It influenced the United States Constitution.  Under which America became the leader of the free world.  Because the law ruled supreme.  Allowing no man above the law.  Even a king.  Like on the fields of Runnymede.  When King John affixed his Great Seal to the Magna Carta.

The Rule of Law gave us Property Rights and Contract Law which provided Incentive and Security

The British Empire dominated the world in the 18th century.  Her greatness was only surpassed by the United States.  Thanks to the Rule of Law.  Which unleashed human capital.  Allowing people to create great things.  Because there were property rights.  And contract law.  Giving them both incentive.  And security.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #68: ” Beware the demagogue, the champion of the poor, for he has dictatorial aspirations.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 31st, 2011

A Despot needs a Mob

A despot can’t rise to power alone.  Because there is only one of him.  Or her.  A despot needs a mob.  Either to take power by force.  Or to vote him or her into office.  And unless the despot is in a despotic/third world country, the taking of power by force is not an option.  Military coups are just not that common in first-world democracies.  Mainly because no one’s life is that bad where they would risk the punishment for treason.  Because things like that will stay on your permanent record.  Doesn’t look good on a resume.  And treason can get you killed.

So, in a democratic country, you need to get people to vote for you.  Because the path to power is through the ballot box.  Even Adolf Hitler got his power in an election.  And he did that by lying.  Well, if you read his book (Mein Kampf), you had an idea.  Because he pretty much spilled his guts out in that book.  But few read it, apparently.  Even though it became a best seller.  After the fact.  When he had already ascended to power and it became required reading.  Or, required ownership.  It was the Nazi Bible.  Everyone had to have one.  Though few read it.

So how did Hitler rise to power?  He made the people like him.  And took advantage of some crises.  The armistice that ended World War I.  The Versailles Treaty reparations.  The Great Depression.  Things that really hurt the German people.  Made them angry.  Looking for relief.  And Hitler promised it.  Delivered in some magnificent oratory.   He hypnotized the masses with his speeches.  He knew what was wrong.  And it wasn’t the people’s fault.  It was others who wronged them.  The Allies.  The politicians who stabbed Germany in the back at Versailles.  And, of course, the Jews. 

Class Warfare works because it’s Emotional

It’s a winning formula.  Take advantage of a crisis.  By blaming it on someone.  It doesn’t really matter who.  As long as it is a small voting bloc.  And, of course, championing the little guy.  Being their voice.  Say the things they would like to say.  Say what they want to hear.  And who is the little guy?  None better than the poor.  Because there are always a lot of them.  And a lot of them are uneducated.  But they know one thing.  Rich people have a better life.  And an easier life.  While they have little.  And have a harder life.  Anyone can see how that isn’t fair.  Anyone that is poor, that is.  And anyone looking to exploit the poor.

There’s a reason why class warfare has been successful.  It works.  It’s irrational.  Illogical.  But it’s emotional.  Which is how you win elections.  By tapping into the feelings of the masses.  You don’t want them to think.  You want them to feel.  To feel their wrath.  Their frustrations.  Their hopelessness.  For them to feel how unfair life is.  How those in power (the politicians, the rich, the Jews, etc.), are keeping you down so they can live a privileged life.  It’s powerful.  And wins elections.

Of course, it’s often nothing more than a bunch of lies.  A complicated formula of treaties started World War I.  After the assassination of an Austrian duke.  In contested land in southeast Europe.  The Balkans.  A great historical crossroads of culture and religion.  That everyone and his brother has laid claim to since time immemorial.  It was a mess getting into.  And a bigger mess getting out of.  It had less to do with Jewish bankers.  And more to do with territorial ambitions of empires.  Which Germany had.  As did Hitler.  But that doesn’t go over well with the masses at election time.  Because history is boring.  No one wants to hear about it.  History is old.  About a time long ago.  The voters don’t want to hear about that.  They want to know what you are going to do for them now.  What are you going to do about their anger and frustration now?

The Power of the Lie

Well, you lie, of course.  You have to.  Because an angry and frustrated people want some kind of relief.  And they’re going to vote for the person who promises to give them the most.  They’re not going to vote for someone that is going to take away their freedoms and make them live in a police state.  I mean, if Hitler had told the truth in one of those magnificent speeches instead of putting it in a book that was painful to read, people would have heard the truth.  And it would have made a difference at the ballot box.  “So, Heinz, who are you going to vote for?  The Independent (Hindenburg)?  The Communist (Thälmann)?  Or the Nazi?  That guy that’s going to create the Gestapo that will oppress us and make us live in fear?  And conscript us and send us away to fight in a world war while our cities are bombed?”  “Hmmm, I don’t want a harder life, Günter, so I’ll probably vote for the Commie or the Independent.”  Incidentally, the vote tally in 1932 was as follows:  53.1% (Independent), 36.7% (Nazi) and 10.1 % (Communist).  Hitler didn’t win the presidential election.  But because of the large vote he got, Hindenburg reluctantly made him chancellor.  Proving the power of the lie.  And the rest is history.

No one willingly votes for a harder life.  And that’s what a despot will do once elected.  Because the despot wants power and wealth.  Not to help the poor.  The poor are only a convenient tool to use during an election.  So the despot must lie.  And because they are lying and have no intention of following through on any of their promises, the sky is the limit.  They can promise anything.  Even things that are impossible to do.  And attack the rational plan of the opposition as radical and extreme.  So they appeal to the emotions.  And attack the rational.  That’s why dictators in third-world nations round up intellectuals, college professors, students and anyone with glasses (a sign that they can read).  They don’t want people thinking.  They want them feeling.   Feeling their anger.  And feeling their frustration.

And this is why they win elections.  For people would rather hear a pleasant lie than an unpleasant truth.  Because it feels better.  Vote for me and I will give you a free college education, a housing subsidy, a shorter work week, a longer summer vacation, a younger retirement age, a richer pension and, of course, free health care for everyone.  We’ll pay for it by taxing the rich.  And we’ll tax them so much that we’ll be able to cut your taxes.  People like that message.  Those who don’t consider themselves rich, at least.  They don’t want to hear that the country is broke.  That we can’t afford these generous benefits anymore.  They want to hear yes we can.  If only the rich pay their fair share.

Pushing People down into Poorer Classes

Of course, the problem becomes that dividing line between the rich and everyone else.  Because the rich are the bad guys.  The ones living the comfortable life without having to work hard.  They’re easy to demonize.  The poor have no love for them.  But the middle class is another story. 

The middle class is the sweet spot of the population.  They’re not rich.  And there are a lot of them.  More importantly, they’re not poor.  And they vote.  So what to do?  If you lump them in with the rich when you attack the rich, they may not vote for you.  But politics is about one thing.  Money.  And you get it by increasing taxes.  The rich are taxed so much that raising rates on them does little.  They got rich because they’re smart with money.  And they will only pay so much in taxes.  And the poor are poor.  No, if you’re going to increase taxes, you have to do it on the middle class.  So you do.  After the election.  After the lying.  Then you raise their taxes.  So much so that you force those at the bottom of the middle class into the poor class.

For this is the goal of the despot.  To push people down into poorer classes.  Push some of the rich into the middle class.  And a lot of the middle class into the poor class.  Then you champion the poor.  Attack the rich.  While taxing the middle class.  Those you allow to remain rich become your cronies.  As in crony capitalism.  Who lavish you with wealth in exchange for government contracts.  While the middle class toils away for less.  And the poor look up to you as their savior.  Grateful that you’re one of them.  Even though you live in a palace.  While they don’t.  And even though their lives are still pretty wretched, the rich at least got theirs.  Sure, it doesn’t put food on the table.  But it feels good.

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