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Archive for December, 2008

Uncompromising

December 30, 2008 4 comments

Harold PinterOn Christmas Day, I sat amongst friends and family and together we observed the headlines of Harold Pinter’s death. Almost unanimously around the room there was an expression of unconcern, indeed a few jibes were made about the old man. I suppose it’s true that plenty can be found to poke, such as the petition Pinter signed in support of the freedom and fair trial of Slobodan Milosevic. However, there was a lot to admire also, I think.

One incident in Pinter’s life caught my attention. As part of the International PEN society, Pinter and Arthur Miller went to Turkey to protest human rights abuses. At a dinner given at the US Embassy there, thrown in honour of Miller, Pinter confronted the American Ambassador. When indications were given for Pinter to exit, Miller left with him, preferring to leave with his friend than allow Pinter to be subjected to an indignity on his own, over a few political comments.

I share that tendency with Pinter, and I respect it. I don’t wish to preach, though it may come across like that, but if there is one thing I cannot stand it is hypocrisy. When you add American foreign policy to domestic rhetoric, what you have is almost pure hypocrisy. Regardless of how diplomatic it was to raise the subject, Pinter was right to do so. He didn’t do it because it would be reported by the media; it wasn’t due to ego – it was due to his own personal conscience.

Susan and Paul have recently made reference to the generation gap in politics, but actually this is one of those things which crosses generational lines. Pinter was a great playwright who belonged to the generation before mine, and the generation before that, but the sheer rudeness of his confrontation with the American Ambassador to Turkey is something for the ages. It will always be considered rude to raise Left-wing politics in the circles of high society.

Such circles are much more comfortable with some amusing homophobia, or a little mild racism or anti-semitism. Right-wing humour is the meat and vegetables to the dinner conversation of such circles. To go against the grain in that respect is considered the height of bad form – but we certainly must get used to it. It’s this moral compass, and our almost innate compulsion to follow it which Susan references. Susan also raises a great fear of mine.

Having children has been on my mind for the last few months, and one of my greatest fears is that they will grow up to be completely apolitical. Perhaps one could like this to a homosexual child being born to fundamentalist Christian parents, but I think to be apolitical or vigorously religious would be the most cardinal of sins in my eyes. I have trouble not locking horns with my right-wing or religious friends; how would I be able to control myself with my children?

My ‘moral compass’ points me towards attempting the creation of a genuinely egalitarian project that will tear up capitalism by the roots and rebalance the world. This is why I get up in the morning; it goes beyond relationships, friendships and family – what on earth would I do if none of Harold Pinter’s irreverent spirit was shared by my own children? When I was younger, it seemed like it was little enough shared by my generation and as a result of my rage at this, I got into an inordinate amount of trouble.

And yet, I can’t bring myself to be melancholy about the prospects for our movement and our world. We face challenges from a newly emergent capitalist consensus, that will in time make a bid to gain the allegiance of popular Left-wing consciousness. We face challenges from our own Left flank, the post-Marxists and their Hegelian monism. If my children won’t take Pinter’s words to heart, to inscribe them as motto, maybe yours will:

“I can’t stop reacting to what is done in our name, and what is being done in the name of freedom and democracy is disgusting.”
– Harold Pinter, 1930-2008.

Categories: General Politics, Obituary

Why is George Monbiot such a horse’s arse?

December 30, 2008 14 comments

Research has been keeping me busy recently; I’m researching the Gramscian concept of hegemony (and its subsequent evolutions) while at the same time trying to write a rather more limited critique of the work of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. In the meantime however, I stumbled across the following article by George Monbiot and I really have to ask; is this man deranged?

The thesis of his most recent offering is that Wales, blessed Cymru, is being held down by the bloody English. The English extracted all the natural resources and sold them on, they constructed a railway system to suit this exploitation, they drowned a small village to supply Liverpool with clean water – oh and the English are more grasping, less liberal and more socially stratified than Wales.

I recently defended John Pilger’s comments regarding Obama’s potential for being an Uncle Tom; whilst I disagreed with Pilger’s lazy characterization, I recognize that Obama will not be what many black people hope he will be. Now, here this sort of thing comes up again: Monbiot is indulging in yet more lazy characterization – not to mention drawing rather silly conclusions from his own laziness. There is no defence for this.

If we look at a railway map of the mainland United Kingdom, it’s fairly easy to see that all railways are ‘extractive'; they are purpose built to carry men and materials where men and materials needed to go. Ports and the nation’s capital fit pretty high up on that bill. It is not just Wales – it is the whole country: whether to ports in Liverpool, London or Southampton, or from outlying areas to centres of industry where people can find jobs, to be extractive is the whole point of a railway.

The railways are not a bloody insult to the Welsh. More importantly, living for two years in Wales doesn’t make you Welsh, Mr Monbiot, anymore than my living in England makes me English. I am Irish, though a citizen of the United Kingdom, and I’d support the Republic’s football team over that of England in a heartbeat – not through any misplaced sense of nationalism but simply because I won’t have to listen to the Irish media crowing about it. If you support the Welsh team, ask yourself why.

If it is a reason similar to mine, then that’s fair enough. Frankly I’d support Germany over England for the simple reason that German footballers don’t seem to be quite such drunken, arrogant primadonnas. If the reason is different, tending towards a love of surroundings, then I suggest to you that your anti-nationalism is not rationally predicated and is in danger of being subverted towards an equally nationalist counter-nationalism.

Whilst none of us can afford to turn a blind eye towards the wrongs of the English government in its provincial territories, nor should that be our only or even our main focus. Much of what was done to Wales was done in the name of private industry – and the function of the British government in that regard was simply the function of any capitalist state. The problem is capitalism, not the English.

It may or may not be the case that Wales feels less socially stratified, or less grasping or more liberal but this is not simply because they are Welsh! Scotland and Wales by virtue of their subsidiary positions could not develop the same weight of Shires-and-Dales middle class as sustains the Tory base in England to such a degree. Indeed, both enjoyed higher levels of unionisation – on a par with one of the industrial centres like Liverpool.

Labour’s strongholds (and the few places where Communists got elected to Parliament) weren’t simply built in Scotland and Wales because of the more liberal nature of the Scottish and Welsh national character – but they were built off the back of vicious class struggle, which compelled ever greater and more conscious acts of working class solidarity. And you, Mr Monbiot, mention none of this.

Your lazy characterization must stop.

Categories: General Politics

Left New Media and internet censorship

December 29, 2008 2 comments

Andy BurnhamAn excellent article by Frank Fisher dissects some of Andy Burnham’s comments on the need to restrict access to certain parts of the web. In the resultant detritus, Fisher notes with alarm a prevailing ethos amongst Labour that disrespects individual freedoms. Fisher warns of impending censorship, such as plans to beef up the current IWF/Cleanfeed model and to make bloggers easier to sue, should they post libellous material.

Burnham suggested that ‘there is content that should just not be available to be viewed.’ Fisher, along with half the internet, reacted indignantly to such a suggestion. Although I agree by and large with the sentiments expressed – and particularly with the worry that the logic of the market will allow Google to continue censoring the internet access of whole nations – I also find them to be incomplete criticisms.

Firstly, on the subject of censorship, we need to put that in context. Censorship over British media has always existed – from D-notices to the more ‘cultural’ side which compelled Filmation to put morals at the end of every He-Man story, lest children be influenced by one cartoon character beating up another. It is just one more ideological battleground, certainly not the only ideological battleground.

Yet this is how many self-proclaimed libertarians tend to treat it.

Secondly, when considering British libel laws and their applications to bloggers (not to mention the mainstream media), we need to consider just how dangerous the very concept of unfettered speech is. Whilst I am more than happy for different political viewpoints to be heard, I am not happy to have individuals or groups write, print or speak outright lies in the furtherance of political ends.

We can do nothing to deal with the endless non-stories published by the mainstream media, but we can try to tidy up their endless hypocrisy. The Daily Mail is famous for targeting women, immigrants, homosexuals and other groups by fitting them into a preconceived narrative (regardless of the facts). Why shouldn’t we give teeth to the PCC to go after editors who approve stories despite full knowledge of facts that would radically alter the narrative of the story?

Dealing with the blogosphere is substantially more difficult – but equally, why should any author be permitted to publish ridiculous distortions of fact? Truth is not to be toyed with; when we know the facts, we should state them, and when we don’t, we should be prepared to admit as much but also to speculate on the basis of educated guess what those facts might be – provided when we do find out, we return to the subject if corrections are needed.

The political blogosphere should attempt to follow journalistic ethics – and not the atrophied kind beloved of Mr. Dacre and his motley crew – but the type that mean we are devoted to publication of truth. Our own ideologies can interpret the facts, but the mark of an honest writer is to make special mention of those facts which may contradict his own view – and to attempt to grapple with those facts.

Of course, this is not what the government seeks, judging by the comments of Andy Burnham, of Bridget Prentice (see the link to Iain Dale) or of Hazel Blears. However, it should be – and no doubt one method of enforcing it will be by re-writing the archaic British libel laws. Not necessarily to increase the grounds for litigation, but to modernise them and make it easier for those of lesser means to do so.

Facts are not in all cases provable, thus meaning that the establishment of truth becomes a social struggle. We should also be aware of the inherent bias in favour of the wealthy (not to mention the mainstream media) in getting away with whatever they like. In both cases, the wealth exists to back up extreme litigiousness, whereas for individuals no such wealth exists – and no legal aid exists for defamation cases.

We cannot merely rely on the willingness of a defamed individual or group to sue, of course. We need a more pro-active answer to this wealth bias, on which basis we can disseminate information rapidly and to a wide audience, to counterbalance prevailing narrative. Yet like any good General, we should not deny ourselves an extra weapon, but we should be able to show judgment as to its deployment.

This may not avoid unfortunate situations where one individual is trigger-happy, such as the lawsuits brought by Johanna Kaschke against Dave’s Part and Socialist Unity. On the whole, however, it may make bloggers more careful about what they write, making them more honest – and if while we’re at it, we can do the same for the mainstream media, then we’ll have scored a victory for free speech indeed.

Categories: General Politics, Law

A cavalier approach to decentralization

December 28, 2008 Leave a comment

Over any holiday, online reading material tends to accumulate. Christmas 2008 has been no exception even though no few blogs are on vacation. One that I really wanted to challenge was the post over at Mil’s place entitled, “The Petri Dish Philosophy of Politics“. Mil makes the argument that we should import regional minimum wages into the UK, allowing say Birmingham or Manchester to experiment with a higher minimum wage.

The problem with the analogy inherent in the title is that, as often as not, what we grow in a Petri dish is harmful.

Regional minimum wages exist in the US, where there is a federal, a state-by-state and in a few cases a city-based minimum wage. The San Francisco Chronicle carries an article about how the SF minimum wage is about to climb to $9.79 per hour, against the wishes of local employers, but much to the appreciation of SF workers. Economists on the other hand think it helps keep the unskilled unemployed.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, bearing in mind the racist argument that immigrants are ‘coming over here and taking our jobs'; if skilled indigenous people are chosen over immigrants, then we’re left with the reality that we should have programmes in place to train such people rather than allowing employers to exert pressure to lower wages by employing those who are the most vulnerable in the UK.

It isn’t the issue however; the issue is whether or not we should give such power to local governments in the hope that the closer legislative power is to the people, the more they will take an interest. Certainly businesses will take a big interest – and not just by funding local Conservative Associations. Regional minimum wages might pressure companies to move to where they find the cheapest labour, turning regions against one another in competition for ‘investment’.

Nor is that all. Regional minimum wages are great in that they determine the least someone might earn, they don’t determine what someone could otherwise earn. The concept of the minimum wage demotivates people in the struggle for higher wages – a struggle which, agreeing as we do that the minimum wage sucks, they should wage (aha) with alacrity. The system of the minimum wage replaces the method of collective bargaining.

This is why Sweden doesn’t have a minimum wage. Collective bargaining also avoids the nasty problem of politicians complaining about how a minimum wage makes people unemployed – unions can take specific account of layoffs when they are mobilising workers in readiness for the collective bargaining agreements. Consider the words of the Supreme Court of Canada on the subject:

  • The right to bargain collectively with an employer enhances the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers by giving them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work.
  • Collective bargaining is not simply an instrument for pursuing external ends…rather [it] is intrinsically valuable as an experience in self-government.
  • Collective bargaining permits workers to achieve a form of workplace democracy and to ensure the rule of law in the workplace. Workers gain a voice to influence the establishment of rules that control a major aspect of their lives.

(Health Services and Support – Facilities Subsector Bargaining Assn. v. British Columbia, [2007] 2 S.C.R. 391, 2007 SCC 27)

This is a cavalier approach to decentralization, bearing in mind that decentralization will replicate most of the problems extant at a central level. The only cases in which it won’t are those where the decentralized authorities exist in areas more progressive than the rest of the nation; it will make it worse for everywhere else. This is one more reason why the ‘progressive’ argument for Scottish independence is simply closet nationalism.

Categories: General Politics

Happy Christmas? Zavvi, the IMF and terroristic capitalism

December 24, 2008 9 comments

Another major high street retailer has bitten the dust: Zavvi has gone into administration barely a year after a management team bought it from Richard Branson. Teas and coffees company Whittard has been sold to a private equity firm. All down the line, the reorganisation of capital proceeds apace, with little thought for the human cost of the procedure.

Subprime in ClevelandDavid Harvey in his recent lecture “A Financial Katrina” discusses this human cost. In fact he presents the clearest and most cogent Marxist analysis I’ve heard yet. Repossessions and job losses represent a war on the working class. An excess of liquidity drove investment in areas such as the subprime market but the people who will suffer most from the inevitable crash of that market (which is cyclical) are the working classes.

This is why the ideologues of free market capitalism have been arguing, a la Melanie Phillips, that the problem is with the working class people who chose to opt for home ownership on terms they couldn’t sustain. So not the fault of those pushing home ownership as the centrepiece of a consumerist ideology? Or those whose ethical guidelines are restricted to “Make a profit. That’s all.”

Black areas in ClevelandHarvey goes on to illustrate how it is the black neighbourhoods of the United States who are bearing the brunt of the punishment (though even by Harvey’s own data, white working class areas are still suffering, so we shouldn’t overemphasize the racial aspect).

A recent pronouncement by the IMF Chief Economist, Olivier Blanchard, seems to bear out some of Harvey’s contentions. Britain’s VAT cut is no good, he says; Britain needs to increase spending, but also Britain’s borrowing is going to cause problems. It seems that between the lines, the IMF wants Britain to hike taxes on the workers rather than create new business taxes or reduce regressive taxes.

Indeed this notion is reinforced by Blanchard’s support (surprise surprise) for Sarkozy’s plan to loan money to people to buy cars. If there is one symbol of unnecessary consumption, it is the car, yet the IMF Chief Economist wants people to be spending their money on such things. We might as well cut out the middle man and give the auto-giants their direct subsidy. At least it would mean less pollution and less personal debt.

In the United States, that is precisely what is happening, the Republicans are using the opportunity to squeeze out every last concession from the autoworkers’ unions, who have effectively rolled over. This is the bluntest end of the weapons arrayed against the working class; the direct assault on wages and terms and conditions, in order to allow a higher profit and to allow such newly accumulated capital to be refocused elsewhere.

It is clear that an opportunity is being lost. Surely now is the time to be investing in new patters of consumption? Such as the creation of vast networks of public transportation, which dovetails cutting carbon emissions and government stimulus packages. It’s not like the auto-companies wouldn’t have a part of the affair – especially if we nationalise them and retool them specifically for that purpose.

We should be under no illusions that the gloves have come off our capitalist overlords – indeed it is reflected in the increasingly sharp rhetoric from people like George Osborne. “Labour is bankrupting Britain again,” he says, and it is the ‘again’ part which has the sting in the tail. As Osborne surely sees, Labour expenditure now has nothing of the Left overtones of Labour expenditure in the 1940’s, 1960’s or 1970’s.

Yet Osborne is quite content to scaremonger that Labour’s class warrior spirit has returned. As Labour activists, we know better, more is the pity. Our response must be just as unyielding as the Republican Senators pushing to destroy the UAW, or Osborne trying to frighten the middle-classes with the spectre of a resurgent socialism. We must demand much, much more than we are getting from Labour.

Cultural Christianity?

December 23, 2008 9 comments

Richard DawkinsSue Blackmore comments on a debate from last year over whether or not it is consistent for non-Christians, especially Atheists, to attend things like Christmas Carol services. The rumpus was caused by Richard Dawkins admission that he was going to go Carol singing, and the protestations of Christians against the notorious atheists doing so. She asks her readership what she should do; to sing or not to sing?

Dr. Blackmore wonders about differing perceptions of carols, from the innocent and relatively irreligious “Holly and the Ivy” to the ramifications of singing of Jesus “no crying he makes”. Far be it from me to rain on anyone’s parade but I would rather choke than listen to “Away in a manger”. I love Christmas carols; I have CDs of Christmas carols from some of the finest choirs in Western Europe – but please, no more of that song!

Perhaps Sue should refrain from attending simply on the basis of taste.

On the wider issue, I sympathise with the notion of cultural Christianity. So many of us were brought up, baptised, confirmed and communed (?) in one of the Christian denominations. We may have no faith in them, regarding them as quaint fairy stories or vulgar, dangerous hypocritical centres for extraordinarily reactionary politics – but there are some aspects which cause us nostalgia.

Christmas carols are one such: I hated going to mass, which was just one series of obsequies after another, but many fine pieces of music are Christmas carols. It is not hypocritical in the slightest to enjoy them.

Albert Mohler comments that, “The thought of Richard Dawkins singing any carols with explicit Christian content is difficult to hold — unless the Oxford professor intends to sing of a faith he does not profess.” I have to ask, why wouldn’t we sing about a faith we don’t profess? It’s no different from reading Tolkien because the writing is masterful, or watching fantasy or sci-fi films or singing certain nursery rhymes to our children.

Singing a song doesn’t require one’s heartfelt belief in every aspect of what the author is trying to celebrate. We might sing along to modern pop songs and consider the lyrics to be meaningless trash (which they are, in the case of most modern dance, enunciated by vaguely mechanic Germanic women). I think it’s utterly silly to have any hang-ups about singing Christmas carols.

The cultural aspect to Christianity is independent of Christianity itself, and if you removed Christianity entirely, something similar would continue to exist: a celebration where people get together and go out singing. Indeed the ‘carol’ was a type of popular music long before it has the established religious connections of today, so why not go out and sing along? The lyrics don’t mean anything.

As that advert said, “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and go enjoy your life.”

(Incidentally, I have to publish the following link, to claim my blog at Technorati, so pay no notice: Technorati Profile)

Categories: General Politics, Religion

Restraining truisms

December 20, 2008 Leave a comment

How can we best explain the genre of the political book? I like to place the components of this genre on a sliding scale that takes no account of ideology. On the one side you have some of the greatest books of the 20th Century.Karl Popper On the other, you have the bargain basement punditry, sold god knows how and soon found in second-hand bookshops all over the country, often several copies to a shelf.

In the first category, I would list books such as Karl Popper’s Open Society, Isaiah Berlin’s Four Essays on Liberty or Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. I vehemently disagree with vast chunks of all of these books, but no one can doubt that they are profound works that have contributed much to our understanding of the political issues which confront us today. Nor are all three purely theoretical, though they lean that way.

Moving towards the second category, you begin to notice a change between the theoretical and the un-theoretical. Obama’s Audacity of Hope was one; it was a manifesto rather than a political treatise. McCain’s Faith of my Fathers was another, designed to endear him to the Republican base without actually grappling with the key political questions of his time. These books are thoroughly political, but they aren’t theoretical at all.

At the very bottom of this scale, you have journalists like Guy Sorman. Sorman has published around twenty books on ‘contemporary politics’ ranging from discussions on socialism, to the ‘happiness’ of the USA to human rights in China. Sorman was a professor at a university in Paris, but his journalistic traits are very much evident in his written works, for example here.

I have used words like ‘un-theoretical’ and ‘journalistic’ to describe these works which I hold in less esteem, though they are still bound together by the genre of political books. This illustrates my key problem with them; when not fully and openly engaged with the ideological contentions of their opponents and their own, they are compelled to fall back on the commonplace, the truism - and that is dangerous.

To illustrate my point, let me utilize Monsieur Guy’s latest oeuvre, linked to above.

European socialists have failed to address the crisis cogently because of their internal divisions. Born anti-capitalist, these parties all (to greater and lesser degrees) came to accept the free market as the foundation of the economy. Moreover, since 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet system, the left has lacked a clear model with which to oppose capitalism.

The truism is that all Left parties adapted to observe the free market as an unbreakable law of capitalist economics. The danger is that this truism informs several bald assertions that simply do not stand scrutiny, firstly that the Left lacks a clear model with which to oppose capitalism and secondly that ‘European socialists’ have failed to address the crisis in a coherently fashion because of internal divisions.

However the truism ignores that actually, it was the leadership of the Left parties which adopted wholesale the free market. By the admission of factions, Sorman’s other contentions are thrown into difficulty. First of all, no group of political factions ever address any issue in exactly the same way, so the cogency of the Left response is nothing to do with factions. Secondly, there has never been a universal model with which to supplant capitalism.

In fact, following the fall of the Soviet Union, the potential alternatives multiplied many times – whether they’re all workable or not is irrelevant, but their basic feature is workers’ control. It is unlikely to convince professional economists, but then those same economists have spent their lives working on exceptionally ideological premises that are simply bypassed by changing the means of capital accumulation.

Let’s try another.

Since George W Bush showed the way towards bank nationalisation, vast public spending, industrial bailouts, and budget deficits, the socialists have been left without wiggle room. French president Nicolas Sarkozy tries to rekindle growth through the protectionist defence of “national industries” and huge investments in public infrastructure, so what more can socialists ask for?

By this, Sorman attempts to establish that socialist = protectionist, Keynesian. For all his erudite mention of the new Left groupings coming into being, alliances of ‘Trotskyites, communists and anarchists’, evidently the chap has never been slipped a copy of the Transitional Programme, much less an Erfurt-style Maximum Programme. This self-important political hack would piss his pants.

In the UK, Sorman’s type of cliché is one deployed by New Labour regarding Old Labour; no going back to the days of tax and spend, boom and bust etc. Well, in New Labour’s case, it has become spend and spend, but that’s besides the point. Sorman and others who play this sort of game rely on this vague, generally accepted view of the Left to deploy concepts which aren’t just wrong, they are a catacomb of lies and misinformation.

Another:

These institutions [the EU], based on free trade, competition, limited budget deficits, and sound money, are fundamentally pro-market; there is little leeway within them for doctrinaire socialism. This is why the far left is anti-European.

That the far left is anti-European is axiomatic and it suits our political establishment to say that over and over again. It ignores the fact that while the Sarkozys and their like were fighting for King or Republic, the socialists were trying to construct pan-national endeavours that would put a stop to war. The far left isn’t anti-European, and to say so deprives it of its anti-capitalist, anti-bureaucratic critiques.

It is anti-EU.

Once again then:

European socialists are also finding it hard to distinguish themselves in foreign affairs. They used to be reflexively pro-human rights, much more so than conservative parties. But ever since Bush included these ideas as part of his democracy-promotion campaigns, European socialists have become more wary of them.

Moreover, without the Soviet Union, European socialists have few foreign causes to take to heart: few understand Putin’s Russia, and today’s totalitarian-capitalist China is too far and too strange. And, since Barack Obama’s election, anti-Americanism is no longer a viable way to garner support. The good old days when Trotskyites and socialists found common ground in bashing the United States are over.

Socialists hate America; socialists are now in bed with those who are anti-human rights; socialists were Soviet or PRC second campists. The number of clichés with which these paragraphs are riddled is stunning – but none of them make the underlying contentions any more accurate. Socialists have plenty to keep them busy on the international stage, beginning with the anti-war movement and moving to Venezuelan and other Latin American solidarity campaigns.

If that were dying out, surely we’d get some remittance from Harry’s Place?

Secondly, the fact that Bush has appropriated words like ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ for America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the War on Terror generally, has had no effect on the human rights stances of the Left. The anti-war movement was universally opposed to the war on the grounds that it would completely shaft the people it was ostensibly supposed to help. I’d call that a defence of human rights.

I would go so far to say that even beyond the traditional socialist activists, to the average punter who reads the Daily Mail or the middle class family chap with 2.4 kids, there was revulsion at Bush’s gung-ho attitude to the invasions. In no small part this was shaped by Bush’s bastardisation of language, his petty jingoism about ‘evil-doers’ in light of the crimes that the American military has committed elsewhere.

As for being ‘reflexively pro-human rights’, that very doctrine is empty of political content and so it can be picked up as a shield and used to cover the most heinous of purposes. Such as imperial aggrandizement – witness Russia versus Georgia. I’d be appalled by the thought that the Left has ever been reflexively pro-human rights. We are much more politically sophisticated than the four-legs good model implied by that statement.

The bottom line is that this chap Sorman is making things up as he goes along, and he doesn’t even have the wit to provide at least some empirical grounding to cover his assertions. They are sustained by truisms, things he expects everyone will simply take as read in order to follow him in building a pyramid of perception – the only problem being, the metaphorical cornerstones are missing from his construction.

There are plenty of journos and political types who get up to this, and don’t have the redeeming man-of-the-people comedy of that arsehole Jeremy Clarkson. Jonathan Freedland, Timothy Garton Ash, Nick Cohen…all of them sell books numbering in the thousands off the back of their media careers as talking heads. Yet none of them have ever produced insights to rival Berlin or Popper.

Instead they are to such great minds as the cheeky girls are to Mozart; ripped off, dumbed down and playing to the gallery, rather than interested in creative and intellectual endeavour. It is this truistic behaviour which we should root out from among the shelves of our bookstores and burn them in a giant pile, in the middle of town squares all across the country, with the cry:

“No more mediocrities!”

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