THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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Rule of law, or rule of men?

Why Normblog isn't

normblog: Bow - wow - ow!.

I read every post published on "Normblog" with interest. Generally, it is intelligent, well written and wrong. Occasionally it's intelligent, well-written and right. Sometimes it's about cricket and I can't judge. But it's never a blog. I am not being a purist. Nor am I deriding Norm's considerable efforts or writing talents. It's just that a blog provides the opportunity for readers to comment. And today (for the first time) I really wanted to. And I couldn't.

Norm defends Obama for bowing to foreign potentates and says it doesn't matter. Yes it bloody well does. America is a beacon to the world, not just for (relatively) unrestrained capitalism, freedom of speech and rock n roll. It is a republic founded on the views of Tom Paine and others who believed that (until he proves otherwise) one man is of as much value as as another. It was founded on a word I hardly dare utter because - like "liberal" - it has been hijacked, deformed and repackaged into meaninglessness. That word is "equality."

Equality before the law. Equality in the face of state power. Equality in everyday dealings between people. Not the fake equality of the Socialist, but striving for equality of opportunities. America has strived and has succeeded, not completely, but enough for a boy from an Arkansas trailer park to become President. The whole point of America, in short, is the much-derided (by "liberals" and believers in "equality") "American Dream."

As an Englishman, my first political thought was the realisation that I could not aspire to be head of state because my father was not the "right" guy. That's the opposite of the American Dream. It is disempowering. It undermines ambition. It inclines the nation's heads to the ground, not the horizon. Though Queen Elizabeth II is a good woman who does her best, the institution of monarchy is damaging to the national psyche. Of course an Englishman can do well and an American can do badly. But the American Dream makes the reverse more likely.

The Original and Best Tom Paine believed America should leave the bowing and scraping of monarchies and aristocracies behind. He wanted to build something better in fellowship and freedom. He was right to set such goals. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and the rest understood as well as old Tom why an American should bow to no man. Still less should their President, who symbolically stands (unbowed) for them all. Every president since has understood it. Oddly and shamefully (for a man who professes to worship equality) Obama does not.

If Bill Clinton had so much as inclined his head, his own followers would have muttered. There is something sinister about the inability of Obama's supporters to recognise a mistake on his part. Norman is wrong. More wrong than usual. He is even more wrong because, while calling his web page a "blog" (twice in the heading alone) he does not allow his readers the facility to say so.


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All meetings are of equals, until proven otherwise.


To me it seems one head of state should only bow to another if they are ruled by them.

Otherwise surely it should be a meeting of equals?


My point is, if you do not challenge the world, the world will creep up on you. One day they will not have to buy this inconvenience-of-the-moment of having your 'part of the deal'. They will one day find someone clean to do business. Jesus grew up in that Orthodoxy you admired.

"Had I not understood the rule and had refilled their glasses, I would have blushed when they couldn't drink what I had poured..."

The Nation of Islam also have a cup for you to drink out of.

I guess dhimmi-for-money is but the price for your children's children.


Well they are only going to enjoy it, if they are prepared to buy my part of the deal; respecting my customs too. As ever, though with the best of intentions I suspect, you miss the point.


'I have done deals with Orthodox Jews and toasted their successful outcome in plastic glasses to avoid the risk of them ever drinking from the same vessel as me. It didn't irritate me one bit. I liked the people in question, it's their custom... to treat me unclean, thus inferior'.

The Muslims are going to love doing business for mammon with you.

Yes, it's me, your conscience.


Norm and I go back to Stephen Pollard days and I'd like to think we get on well. However, he is a Marxist academic who was a key figure in the Euston Manifesto. Despite that, he loves cricket and so can't be all bad - except on politics.


I wouldn't and I am sorry if you are shocked. I try to treat all my fellow-humans (except officials trying to boss me about) with conditional respect, but I will demean myself to no-one. In line to be introduced to our heir to the throne I told the courtier marshalling and briefing us on protocol that if said prince was not satisfied with a "sir" and a handshake I was happy to step aside. All others present (British businessmen mostly) promptly said the same (having been shuffling uncomfortably at what the courtier claimed was expected). Whereupon, he admitted that (a) that would suffice and (b) it was what most people now did without asking. Customs are changeable. In fairness to the man himself, he seemed unbothered and mutual pleasantries ensued. I don't hold his birth against him, and he didn't show any sign of holding mine against me. Fair enough, I thought. He is a nicer chap than I had imagined, actually.

Respect for cultural traditions cuts both ways. POTUS should never object to or look down upon a Japanese person for bowing, but a Japanese person should also understand that in our customs, it is demeaning. I have done deals with Orthodox Jews and toasted their successful outcome in plastic glasses to avoid the risk of them ever drinking from the same vessel as me. It didn't irritate me one bit. I liked the people in question, it's their custom and I respected it. I was keen to spare their evident embarrassment at having to treat me thus, actually. Had I not understood the rule and had refilled their glasses, I would have blushed when they couldn't drink what I had poured, but I am sure they would not have been offended because I would only have been attempting politeness by my own conventions. Why should a Japanese Emperor or Saudi king be irritated if POTUS does not bow? He's not asserting the superiority of his culture, he's asserting its equality. I don't believe they would be upset, actually. Their predecessors never were.

I have lived and worked successfully in several different cultures. I have negotiated deals with many nationalities. Respecting their right to their ways, while quietly expecting respect in return for yours, is perfectly acceptable everywhere and has led in my case to many friendships - despite many faux-pas. The cultural cringe is just as wrong as the cultural sneer.

Mr Eugenides

Well, now, I'm not sure I agree.

As you know very well (I am sure), in countries like Japan and Korea, it is customary to bow as a mark of respect. Yes, this marks your place in the social hierarchy, at the apex of which stands the Emperor. And yes, we can probably all agree that the American disdain for social conventions of this sort is rather healthier than the rather 18th century behaviour that Japanese are still expected to display in the presence of royalty.

But we convey respect in Western societies too, merely in more subtle ways. Try to picture how Obama might greet, say, a WW2 veteran at a Remembrance Day parade. He would convey respect in his verbal and his body language. The same would probably be true if you were treated to a meal in the home of some Russian matriarch, say, or if while wandering round a beautiful Moscow church you were accosted by the Orthodox priest. You'd be polite, of course, but I suspect you would display more than "mere" politeness - you would display overt respect, as a guest of the other.

You might not "bow and scrape", as you put it, but you would use their honorific titles, if Russians use such forms of address (I don't know), and at that point and in that situation you would look for all the world like you were behaving in a subservient manner. That doesn't mean that you believe some 60 year-old Muscovite, male or female, to be "superior" to you in any way. It means that you are respecting the social norms of the culture with which you are interacting.

American businessmen, I am quite sure, bow to their Japanese and Korean counterparts all the time - and if they don't, they probably should. Japanese CEOs have probably learned by now not to expect too much adaptation to their customs by their American counterparts, but we both know that even a small degree of reciprocation, say a greeting in their language or a bow, goes a long way in such cultures.

This may well be an exceptional case, in that the deep bow is reserved for someone very important indeed, such as the Emperor. And it may well represent the Japanese traditional of servility to those more important. But to the outsider visiting such a culture, it's simple good manners.

Anyway, all this is to ignore the simple fact that, in objective terms, Obama is exponentially more important than the Japanese Emperor. So what's the harm in humouring some old foreign dude in a starched shirt? Better than vomiting in his Prime Minister's lap, at any rate...

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