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The Problem of Incapacitated Heads of State

by Christopher Chantrill
March 15, 2006 at 4:06 pm

WHAT DO WE do if the President is incapacitated? Or a drunk, or a depressive?

That’s the topic of an interesting essay by David Owen in QJ Med. Lord Owen was British Foreign Secretary in the Labour Government from 1977 to 1979.

We all know that President Wilson was completely incapacitated by a stroke in 1919. But did you know that President Mitterand of France was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1981 and became almost incapacitated later on in his second term as president? No, you probably don’t because they kept it pretty secret.

And Prime Minister Anthony Eden of Great Britain was fueled with amphetamines throughout the Suez Crisis of 1956.

What should we do about presidential incapacitation, and how much secrecy is acceptable?

Winston Churchill, of course, was a depressive and endured many attacks of the “black dog.” He had a heart attack in the White House in 1941. And what about his drinking?

In May 1953, Churchill as Prime Minister was standing in for Eden as Foreign Secretary weeks before he had a very serious stroke. A diplomat from the Foreign Office records lunching with him and his Private Secretary, ‘The lunch lasted for three and a quarter hours. A varied and noble procession of wines with which I could not keep pace—champagne, port, brandy, cointreau; Winston drank a great deal of all and ended with two glasses of whisky and soda’. It is hard to imagine functioning on such an input, but he had been used to it for over fifty years.

What should be the rules regarding the health of the head of government, and when should we step in and replace them?

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Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.  His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.


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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures


German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Knowledge

Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital


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©2007 Christopher Chantrill