Category Archives: Current Affairs

Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism

policy

Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism 
U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security, 1920-2015
By Melvyn P. Leffler
Princeton University Press – £32.95

Living under a cloud of fear like this robs a child of his spirit. It’s one thing to be afraid when someone’s holding a shotgun on you, but it’s another thing to be afraid of something that’s just not quite real. There were a lot of folks around who took this threat seriously, though, and it rubbed off on you. It was easy to become a victim of their strange fantasy… When the drill sirens went off, you had to lay under your desk facedown, not a muscle quivering and not make any noise. As if this could save you from the bombs dropping. The threat of annihilation was a scary thing.”

                                                                   Bob Dylan
                                                                   Chronicles, 2004

That the above was written by Bob Dylan in his book, Chronicles (on pages 29/30), should go some way in both dismantling and deciphering the American psyche throughout much of the last century as well as the beginning of the twenty-first. That Dylan is of unquestionably severe intellect, and is rather renowned for his seething honesty, ought further highlight the very substantial link that lies at the heart betwixt American paranoia and its own self-induced perplexity.

After all, the very first part of this book’s title alone (Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism) immediately conveys a troubled, underlying essence of its own design.

The mere fact that U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security has to ”safeguard” it’s very own ”democratic capitalism,” is surely something of a political blight that has burdened North America for many years. Much of the manifestation of which has invariably been ingrained within the very fibre of American thinking. The above opening quote of which is a prime example.

One does need to remember however, that what Dylan professed to, absolutely wasn’t, and still isn’t something to be taken lightly.

It still isn’t something to be merely brushed aside, as if mere words; even if said words, were spoken by one of the most utmost of intellects in the world today. But where Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism – U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security, 1920-2015 comes into its own, is its quintessential acknowledgement that what Dylan was saying, still remains at the very core of American psychosis.

And if psychosis – as characterised by an impaired relationship with reality; in other words: a symptom of serious mental disorder – isn’t at the helm of the current American presidency, then I really, really don’t know what is. Neither for that matter, may Melvyn P. Leffler (who, apart from having written For the Soul of Mankind and A Preponderance of Power and is also the Edward Stettinius Professor of American History at the University of Virginia), because these eleven chapters rather frustratingly conclude in 2015.

That said, in Chapter Two’s ‘Herbert Hoover, the ”New Era,” and American Foreign Policy, 1921-1929,’ Leffler does have the clarity of literary mind to regale readers with an excerpt from 1921 no less, made by the then Secretary of Commerce, Robert H. van Meter:

”There is nothing that would give such hope of recovery in life and living as to have this terrible burden and menace [arms expenditures] taken from the minds and backs of men. As Secretary of Commerce, if I were to review in order of importance those things of the world that would best restore commerce, I would inevitably arrive at the removal of this, the first and primary obstruction.”

Again, it does need to be remembered that van Mater wrote this (to President Warren G. Harding) in 1921. So is it any wonder that thirty years later, a young Dylan was perpetually being ingrained with the preposterous notion that cowering beneath his school-desk would save him from nuclear annihilation?

The notion of Dylan wanting to ”die in his own footsteps,” as aided and worryingly abetted by American Foreign Policy ever since God knows when, is herein brought to bear amid perhaps some of the finest essays written on the subject in a long time.

As such, these 335 pages (excluding Preface and Index) are, as the author of The World America Made, Robert Kagan, has since said: ”Always provocative, never doctrinaire, and often surprising in its lessons.”

David Marx

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The Lies of the Land

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The Lies of the Land –
A Brief History of Political Dishonesty
By Adam Macqueen
Atlantic Books – £14.99

When truth is not spoken to power, the powerful do not always speak the truth.

         (‘Where Power Lies’)

They are the lies uttered by those in charge, told because they felt it was their duty to lie: that by doing so, they were serving what is often called the ‘greater good’ and that the end justified the means. They are the lies told because the people in power convinced themselves that they knew best. That they had a superior ability to see ‘the bigger picture’ and discern the ‘moral truth’ of a situation (as opposed to the boring, black-and-white details bogging down the folks closer to ground level). The lies told because it was the ‘right’ thing to do.

         (‘Where Power Lies’)

Talk about a literary nail in the coffin of politically induced fabrication.

The Lies of the Land – A Brief History of Political Dishonesty, calls it, tells it, and shares a menagerie of despicable lies that have been told over the years; either by, or on behalf of those who supposedly have the people’s best interests at heart.

Namely the leaders and politicians that are not only at the vanguard of Westminster, but many of the world’s capitals. As Adam Macqueen has so prophetically written in the book’s Introduction: ”As sure as night follows day, the louder you shout about your opponent’s lies, the less obliged you feel to tell the truth yourself.”
Indeed.

As these hardly surprising, yet highly accurate and well written nine chapters make exceptionally clear, those in whom we are asked put our trust, are the most least likely people whom we would trust were we to bump into them on the tube or at some risible cocktail party along Whitehall.

Riddled with complete and utter contempt for that which we oft refer to as the truth, so many of those at the helm of the political persuasion, are themselves, no better than blatant criminals. In fact, many are worse, as again, The Lies of the Land remind us throughout.

For instance, on page 200 of chapter seven’s afore-quoted ‘Where Power Lies,’ the author, writing in reference to Margaret Thatcher and the sinking of the Belgrano during the horribly pointless Falklands War, quotes Labour MP, Tam Dalyell: ”He was a veteran conspiracy theorist, in many cases not without good cause, and in this particular case he and many others were convinced that the Belgrano had been sunk in order to scupper a peace plan which the US and Argentina’s neighbour Peru had been attempting to broker, so that Mrs Thatcher could pursue a war she had decided she had to win at all costs. In a 1987 polemic against the prime minister, Dalyell thundered: ‘I say she is guilty of gross deception. I say…she is guilty of calculated murder, not for the national interests of our country, not for the protection of our servicemen, but for her own political ends.”’

Suffice to say, to stumble upon such soaring home-truths again and again throughout these 337 pages, is what counters for this book being such a fascinating read. Or, as Matthew d’Ancona, author of Post-Truth and Guardian columnist has since said: ”An excellent guide through the thickets of political mendacity. Brilliantly-researched, intelligent, and lucid, this book is essential reading.”

There you go: essential reading.

David Marx

Surgery On The Shoulders of Giants

giants

Surgery On The Shoulders of Giants
Letters from a doctor abroad
By Saqib Noor
Kings X Press – £8.99

The term institutionalised corruption suggests that corruption has slowly crept into the psyche of the Pakistani people and into its government institutions like a plague of insects, thoroughly rotting the once noble foundations before taking over the system like money sucking leeches. However this term seems rather mild in describing the current affairs in the country.

                    ‘The Ministry Of Corruption (And Its Associated Buffoonery)’

That Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, recently resigned due to ‘dishonesty’ and corruption charges, would suggest said plague of insects have taken hold over the asylum. Or, in this instance, Pakistan, as if it were simply meant to happen.

I remember visiting the country on a couple of occasions (either side of 9/11) and in both instances, I was told by my host, that should we ever become separated, that under no circumstances was I to approach a policeman for help. Makes you think.

No wonder the country has an ”entire dedicated governmental Ministry of Corruption […] a specialised, well-formed institution with policymakers specifically producing disorganised and illogical thinking.”

Yey, now that’s what ye world needs: yet more policymakers specifically producing disorganised and illogical thinking.

But hey, wait; it’s already happening amid the epicentre of one of the most powerful countries on the planet. That’s right, Trump (who else?) and his co-conspirational cohorts from hell, subscribe to the very sort of illogical chutzpah – each and every one of us endeavour to avoid like cancer – on an almost daily basis. Hourly basis.

Makes the powers that be in Pakistan appear as if Noam Chomsky’s out on ethical manoeuvres, while this absolutely terrific book – the consummate template in what absolutely needs to be told. Right here. Right now.

Indeed, Surgery On The Shoulders of Giants – Letters from a doctor abroad, is, if nothing else, a mighty large humane inspiration.

Other than regaling the most varied and candid of ”human life lessons” from numerous front-line, health crisis constitutions in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Haiti, Cambodia, Pakistan, South Africa; its 197 pages (excluding many pages of black and white photographs) reveal sadness, truth, emotion, hypocrisy and of course, beauty.

Rather like that complex thing we oft refer to as life itself.
Powerful. Poignant. Persuasive.

David Marx

Polarized

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Polarized –
Making Sense Of A Divided America
By James E. Campbell
Princeton University Press – £22.95

You can compromise between good, better, and best, and you can compromise between bad and worse and terrible. But you can’t compromise between good and evil.

                    Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) – ‘One-Sided Party Polarization’

And so say all of us; well, most of us anyway.
At the moment however, there’s surely far more disparity within the realm of American politics, than, erm, well, perhaps anytime in it’s history.
At least within living memory, put it that way – which is where this stark and rather bold book ought to stand loud’n’roud within the current, quasi-blasphemous institution that both tellingly and rather laughingly, refers to the American Constitution, as if it were its own.

As if it were a standing joke – which clearly, Donald Trump, and his vile inner-circle are; although countless gullible innocents the (predominantly western) world over, will continue to believe the United States to be a nation of political moderates.

It absolutely isn’t.

The US is so utterly divided, it’s nigh impossible to distinguish between good, better and best, bad and worse; let alone good and evil. Although within the context of mainstream American ideology, it isn’t long before James E. Campbell writes: ”As rough as our political debates can be, and they can get quite vicious, happily we are not on the precipice of another civil war.”

Oh really?
Seems to me the US is most definitely on the precipice of something.
It might not be out and out civil war, but there’s absolutely no question that one of the most powerful countries one earth, is almost on the verge of self-imploding.
If not falling apart.
If not, along with (the former Great) Britain, very fast becoming the laughing stock of the world. A conundrum, which, in the big scheme of things – primarily that of Trump’s colossal ego – isn’t a particularly good thing.

The nine chapters of Polarized – Making Sense Of A Divided America pretty much contends as much throughout.

Hence my earlier description of these 246 pages (excluding Acknowledgments, Appendix, Notes, References and Index) being somewhat stark and outwardly bold: ”Some contend that party polarization has grown particularly severe in recent years as political leaders and activists sought ideological purity within their parties, particularly within the Republican Party. The ultra-polarization of American politics, as the claim goes, has been largely a one-sided or asymmetric affair. Republicans became a far-right ideological party while Democrats remained a fairly moderate and pragmatic centre-left party. This claim of one-sided party polarization was made most strongly by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein in their provocatively titled It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. Mann boldly claimed that ”Republicans have become a radical insurgency – ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of their political opposition” (‘One-Sided Party Polarization – Republicans Gone Wild’).

You can say that again (and again).
One need only refer to the Trump’s out and out, inflammatory dismissal of The Paris Agreement, to wholeheartedly agree, if not endeavour to come to terms with the above.
And a whole lot more.

Polarized – Making Sense Of A Divided America goes some way in deciphering the current shambles that is American politics; but I’m sure even Campbell must be somewhat surprised at the dire depths to which American politics has unfortunately sunk.

David Marx

The Politics of English Nationhood

english

The Politics of English Nationhood
By Michael Kenny
Oxford University Press – £18.99

What counts as culture in England now […] is the detritus left behind by the disappearance of the stolid independence and self-reliance of it’s working class. In its place has emerged a loud, rude, and self-interested individualism which occasionally erupts in the form of chauvinistic nationalism.

At the vanguard of Britain’s deplorable chauvinistic nationalism, stands the overtly vile, dangerous and detrimental excuse of a human being, Nigel Farage; for whom the words intelligence and understanding clearly count for very little.

If anything at all.

As one of the prime, fundamental architects of Brexit, he and his most myopic ilk have a hell of a lot to answer for. First and perhaps foremost, for having promoted Engerland unto the nigh high-octane stakes of it, along with the US, being the laughing stock of much of the western world. Not to mention the ever increasing upsurge in all round general nastiness and hate-crime – wholeheartedly substantiated by the above opening quote.

To be sure, The Politics of English Nationhood absolutely isn’t coy in what it says; and luckily, for those with a conscience at least, nor does it cower beneath the power of the right-wing media and (surely unsustainable) abundance of fake news. A social cancer of sorts, currently doing the elongated and inexorable rounds of ill-advised persuasion.

But herein, Michael Kenny, who is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University in London, offers more than a mere ”powerful challenge” to current day thinking.

These 243 pages (excluding a Preface to the paperback edition, Acknowledgements, Notes and Index) do much to traverse the staid, negative, political behaviour, that is by far, far too prevalent amid Britain’s current political ideology: ”Throughout the EU Referendum campaign, the dual focus of the ‘Leave’ campaign upon the elitist and metropolitan interests served by arguments for ‘Remain,’ and a continual focus upon immigration, were combined with the language of popular sovereignty and national recognition. This rhetoric spoke particularly to English voters for whom worries over migration have served as a proxy for fears about the perceived indifference of the political establishment to their economic position and cultural traditions. The ‘Leave’ slogan ‘Take back control’ proved highly effective in this context, and allowed figures like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to speak simultaneously to concerns about sovereignty, belonging, and nationhood.

Refreshingly and rightly so, Kenny brings in all the relative parties here, and tells it with all the fine nuance of how it really ought to be told.

He also addresses all the terrible, smokescreen bullshit head-on, as he continues: ” Its vernacular companion was the phrase ”I want my country back,” and was repeatedly used by UKIP leader Nigel Farage. This spoke to nativist fantasies of an England unmarked by ethno-cultural diversity and of a socio-economic order that had long disappeared. The Referendum afforded the opening for an outpouring of some of the nationally focused frustration, and the inchoate desire for greater self-determination, which had been building in many different parts of England for the last quarter of a century.”

Equally well researched and illuminating, The Politics of English Nationhood, will in future years, be undoubtedly held in high-regard; not to mention referred to as the book that divulged how, where and why, England got it so horribly and undeniably wrong.

David Marx

Ethics for a Full World

ethics

Ethics for a Full World
Or, Can Animal-Lovers Change the World?
By Tormod V. Burkey
Clairview Books – £12.99

The ”control of nature” is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.

                                                                                        (Rachel Carson) 1962

Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.

                                                                                        St Augustine

As with the above quotes, this most thought provoking of publications is liberally peppered throughout with enough ”stop you in your tracks” type quotes, to hopefully hush even the the most buffoon induced likes of Boris ‘I Really Do Need To Start All Over Again’ Johnson (‘Especially In The Ethics Department’).

But hey, long-lost principals aside, Ethics for a Full World – Or, Can Animal-Lovers Change the World?, really is the sort of book that is not only paved with tumultuous good intentions, but needs to be read (and then re-read) by everyone in Texas and the deplorable likes of perhaps Theresa May’s entire government – over and over and over again.

Sadly though, Tormod V. Burkey has herein written the sort of book that will no doubt be wholly embraced by the likes of Brighton’s Caroline Lucas and perhaps Jeremy Corbyn, yet probably – or should I say absolutely – no-one within the Conservative Party (not to mention Texas).

The mere fact that the word ‘Ethics” appears on the cover, will undoubtedly substantiate as much.

Indeed, these 150 pages (excluding Notes) are, as the author of Environmental Politics for the 21st Century, Lloyd Timberlake has said: ”one of the shortest, sharpest, clearest and most compelling descriptions of the causes and cures of our environmental bankruptcy that I have ever read.” To which one can only comply and wholeheartedly agree, for if, as Thomas Pynchon is quoted as saying (in chapter three’s ‘Why Are We Not Acting To Save The World?’) ”they can get you asking the wrong question, they don’t have worry about the answers.”

Brexit?

One of the most vital, vivid and translucent of books in a very long time.

David Marx

Europe Since 1989

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Europe Since 1989 – A History
By Philipp Ther
Princeton University Press – £27.95

The Brexit campaign succeeded because it insisted there is an alternative, even if it is detrimental to large parts of the population and might in fact lead to the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

Who’d have thought that back in 1989 – when Germany was still (just about) divided into two parts and the dreadful Margaret Thatcher was still at the helm of British politics – that less than thirty years later, Westminster would bestow the entire country’s future upon the neanderthalic shoulders of rabid nationalism?

Whether it’s the inexorable bumbling oaf that is actual Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson (who, along with the vile Nigel Farrage, the more than accommodating playwright, Alan Bennett, has since described as ”not having a moral bone in his body”), or the tumultuous hordes of racist empty heads from Newquay to Newcastle – the United Kingdom is indeed on a dissolutory slope to unspeakable disaster.

As one reads through the ten chapters of this altogether compelling book, one very much comes to realise as much. Especially as Phillip Ther, who is Professor of Central European History at the University of Vienna, hurls a menagerie of political punches – almost all of which land right upon the wide-open face of current-day, populist posturing.

To be sure, since the initial inception of Europe Since 1989 – A History, Britain has a new Prime Minister in Theresa May, while both the US and France have new Presidents; but the all round general essence of what is written amid these 337 pages (excluding Preface, Acknowledgments, Notes to Chapters, Selected Bibliography and Index), makes for more than robust reading.

Not to mention, profound common sense.

In the final chapter (‘The Roads Not Taken’) for instance, Ther refers to the liberal, Oxford-based sociologist, Ralf Dahrendorf, who, in relation to ”Japan, South Korea and Taiwan […] having generated wealth before introducing democracy,” he quotes as having rejected ”the use of the term ”revolution” in the context of 1989. In his view of history, revolution always caused more harm than good, especially on an economic level. To him, 1989 was, instead, a ”transition” to a liberal democracy and market economy, which he hoped the West would assist, as actively and sympathetically as possible.”

In response to this, one can only agree that most of the West has assisted, although the UK, it has to be said, has major problems with said assistance. Furthermore, due to the utterly absurd and long-forgotten ideology of Cool Brittania, the powers that be do not even want to reach out to Europe – let alone Asia.

Again, as the author makes clear in the Preface to this English edition: ”As Brexit shows, the old specter of nationalism is back again, and has greater popular appeal than the EU, which as been made the scapegoat for all sorts of social and economic problems. The populists promise to safeguard their ethnically defined nation from the ills of global competition, labour competition at home, rising criminality, foreign terrorists, and the decay of traditional national values.”

Hmm., ‘traditional national values,’ at the acute and detrimental expense of everything it supposedly holds dear, and dare I actually say it: values.

For further substantiation and background, read this exceedingly well-researched book.

David Marx