Category Archives: Politics

The Legendary Past

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The Legendary Past –
Michael Oakeshott on Imagination and Political Identity
By Natalie Riendeau
Imprint-Academic – £30.00

In the modern world, as Oakeshott’s theory of modality implicitly recognizes, an irreducible plurality of viewpoints is the norm, but this plurality precludes the shared background he believed the Roman and Christian social myths had provided in ancient and medieval times. Hence, the possibility of maintaining the practical analogue of civil association, that is, government through the rule of law, is also adversely affected insofar as this depends on the existence of such a shared background.

(Legends of Political Life: Ancient Rome and Modern England)

Michael Oskeshott once declared that humans ”know who they are, where they are in the world and how they come to be there.” This might well be the case when it comes to normal people, normal, replete with a modicum of intellect.

Yet so far as Westminster is concerned, I’ve just read that a second Brexit Referendum may well soon be upon us; which, either by proxy or immense stupidity (or both), would wholeheartedly suggest that the so-called humans in charge of running Great Britain, have not an iota of a clue.

A sure-fire premise of a political persuasion, which looks set to continue ruining the lives of many millions -for many years to come. A fiasco of sorts, this book – which contends that political legends are imaginative constructs, poetic creations, which evoke an event from the practical past and allow societies to translate their political experience into the idiom of general ideas – does much to inadvertently shed some sort of abstract light on.

But where The Legendary Past – Michael Oakeshott on Imagination and Political Identity really comes to life, is amid its many provocative and social assertions, of which there are numerous.

For instance, the declaration that humans ”inhabit a mysterious and menacing universe for instance,” upon which authoress, Natalie Riendeau continues to write: ”while this might sound like a dramatic declaration […] a hyperbole the meaning of which may be easily dismissed or deemed to be only of relatively minor importance to his thought, such a conclusion would, in fact, be mistaken. The idea that humans are able to find their way in a menacing ad mysterious universe, more than this, that they are successful in making themselves at home in such a world, an achievement that paves the way for our ‘human living-together,’ to use Hannah Arendt’s expression, and consequently the political, is key to Oakeshott’s political thought.”

Hmm, human living-together, now there’s a concept (as well as an”expression”); especially given some of the raging conflicts currently taking place throughout the world – of which there really are far too many mention in a book review.

That said, when one places the above two strands of relative complex thinking side by side (Oakeshott’s and Arendt’s), one invariably knows one is going to be in for a topsy-turvy read of the most intense design; which in truth, is just one way of describing this altogether confrontational and rather robust read.

David Marx

The End Of British Politics

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The End Of British Politics
By Michael Moran
Palgrave Macmillan/Pivot – £37.99

The film director Alfred Hitchcock once summarised his aim in film making as ‘to scare the wits out of the audience.’ This is a fine formula for a great film director but not a credible strategy of statecraft.

                                                                                                      (‘The End Of State’)

Can’t argue with that.
Indeed, who would even want to?
Especially given the fact that what’s left of Westminster’s ‘strategy of statecraft,’ is itself, being flushed down the toilet (of all misbegotten hope), faster that a jack-booted-skinhead can decide whether or not to Sieg Heil outside a mosque or a synagogue.

That Britain’s politics are no longer a joke, but rather, an international cataclysm of the most profound disdain, ought come as no surprise.

Doesn’t the mere (succinct) title of this rather tough and gritty book, wholeheartedly illustrate as much?

What accounts for The End Of British Politics being such a resolute and rather spot-on read, is it’s no nonsense account of current day Britain, by way of a vituperative, yet well analysed consideration of condemnation.

Take the military for instance, upon which Michael Moran (who is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of Manchester and Professor of Government in the Alliance Business School, University of Manchester) writes: ”In perhaps no European country bar Russia is militarism so powerfully ingrained as in Britain. Britain is the only member of the European Union which allows the military to enter schools for the purpose of recruiting schoolchildren. Military spending, and the economy’s military production, is uniquely high for a state the size of the United Kingdom […]. There has only been one year (1968) since the Second World War when a British Service person has not been killed on active service. Some of the greatest military engagements, such as the defiance of Hitler in 1940, have fed into the belief in providence: that the British are a chosen people with global military responsibilities.”

That just one recent aspect of said ‘responsibility’ manifested in the terrible Iraq War – upon which Moran also writes: ”In Chilcot we see this pragmatic face of the special relationship: no sooner was the invasion over than the two parties began, like gangsters dividing the loot, to argue over the division of the spoils, notably Iraq oil and the lucrative market in defence services” – is, like Brexit and the ever widening cleavage between the country’s haves and have nots, just one example (of many), of where the country is going so horribly, horribly wrong.

But at the end of the day, who really (really) cares?
The government? Nigel Farage? Theresa May?

This blunt and altogether forthright publication is one book the Prime Minister won’t be wanting to read; which is why everyone else in their right mind at least, absolutely should.

David Marx

Why Wilson Matters

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Why Wilson Matters – The Origin Of American Liberal Internationalism and It’s Crisis Today
By Tony Smith
Princeton University Press – £27.95

If evidence is needed of Wilson’s ability to act decisively on matters of world affairs upon becoming president, and this with respect to his understanding of the virtues of democratic government, his policy toward Mexico should lay any doubts to rest. This observation is especially true of the ”nonrecognition doctrine”that Wilson issued only weeks after assuming the presidency in 1913. Here Wilson acted quickly and decisively, in terms of a policy that had little precedent in America (or indeed European) policy, for it was based on the presumption that Washington would do as best it could to encourage the Mexican Revolution in the direction of stable constitutional democracy.

                                    (‘Democracy Promotion Through Progressive Imperialism’)

Hmm, ”in the direction of stable constitutional democracy.”
Fast forward a hundred years and we find ourselves on the precipice of the world (seemingly) falling apart. While the UK embraces a return to the dark ages, President Trump’s America is antagonising nigh everyone and everything there is to antagonise – including climate change.

Why Wilson Matters focuses on American principles and American policies – where there supposedly could could be ‘no other’ – where, like Wilson himself, it highlights the principles and the policies of forward looking men and women everywhere. Along with every modern nation and every enlightened community.

Key here, is the word ‘enlightened,’ which, for all of Trump’s highfalutin with Putin, would suggest he’s about as enlightened as a piece of discarded bark.

In other words, he absolutely ain’t; although he’d be mighty wise to take note of some of what’s written amid these 289 pages (excluding, Preface, Acknowledgements, Notes and Index). Naturally he won’t, because the likes of the current president would no doubt equate Wilson’s ”principles of mankind […] must prevail” with that of his own twisted, conceited principles: primarily that of his own business empire.

Indeed, the only thing that must prevail in today’s White House, is the colossal continuation of dishonesty.

Much of the above stems from the very same chapter as the opening quote, where, addressing the Senate, Woodrow Wilson called for a worldwide movement toward ”government by the consent of the governed;” further insisting ”I hope and I believe that I am in effect speaking for liberals and friends of humanity in every nation and of every program of liberty.”

As such, Why Wilson Matters renews hope that the United States might again become effectively liberal by returning to the sense of realism that Wilson espoused; one where the promotion of democracy around the world is balanced by the understanding that such efforts are not likely to come quickly and without costs.

Tony Smith – who is the Cornelia M. Jackson Professor of Political Science at Tufts University, and whose books include America’s Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy and The Crisis of American Foreign Policy: Wilsonianism in the Twenty-First Century – has herein written a most in-depth analysis of Wilsonian pragmatism.

Broken into two distinct sections (The Essential Wilson: Wilson’s Wilsoniasm and Wilsonianism After Wilson), the book’s crystal clear and well considered (political) prognosis sheds new light on an era we might not know too much about, but an era nevertheless, we’d all be wise to take heed of.

David Marx

Germaine de Stael

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Germaine de Stael – A Political Portrait
By Biancamaria Fontana
Princeton University Press – £24. 95

          It is a cult, but one yawns in church.

What I particularly like about Germaine de Stael – A Political Portrait, is the fine fact that it addresses the very nitty-gritty, head-on, a mere few pages into what is clearly, a most well-researched thesis. There’s no particular elaboration, no flim-flam nor skirting around the edges of what was a resoundingly feisty and exceedingly independent thinker.

To be sure, some might readily argue that Germaine de Stael’s idiosyncratic independence of mind was a reaction to the fractious events taking place in France at the time. As Richard Bourke, author of Empire and Revolution: The Political Life of Edmund Burke states, this book is ”a captivating portrait of a fascinating figure caught up in the whirlwind of events.”

Quite possibly best known (today) as a novelist and literary critic, lest it be said it was Stael’s political outspokenness that perhaps best captures her all-round milieu within the parameters of the French Revolution.

The banker’s daughter who became one of Europe’s best-connected intellectuals, Stael was an exceptionally talented woman who achieved a degree of public influence to which not even her ”wealth and privilege would normally have entitled her.” Indeed, when the lives of so many around her were destroyed, she succeeded in carving out a unique path for herself, thereby ensuring her views and thoughts were heard – initially by powerful men within her immediate vicinity, and later by the European public at large.

All of which the Professor of the History of Political Ideas at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, Biancamaria Fontana, has instinctively captured. That her previous books include Montaigne’s Politics, Benjamin Constant and the Post-Revolutionary Mind and Rethinking the Politics of Commercial Society, such instinctive writing ought hardly come as a surprise.

Each of Germaine de Stael’s nine chapters (as well as Introduction and Conclusion) are written with a knowledge that nigh borders on the very dissection of the subject’s ideological belief(s).

A most pertinent example of this being Stael’s mode of necessary compassion within the general gambit of revolution, which Fontana captures perfectly in chapter six (‘Condemned to Celebrity’): ”In a revolutionary crisis it is claimed over and over again that compassion is a childish sentiment, opposed to those actions that are necessary to the general interest, and that it must be set aside, with all effeminate emotions, unworthy of men or state or chiefs of parties; it is on the contrary during a revolution that pity must become a rule of conduct. Where justice is well established, one can do without mercy; but a revolution, whatever its aim, suspends social order, and it is then necessary to go back to the source of all laws, in a moment in which legal power means nothing.”

Again, no particular elaboration, no flim-flam nor skirting around the edges of what was a resoundingly feisty and exceedingly independent thinker.

In the words of Ruth Scurr (author of Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution): ”An important and original book about a prominent female intellectual who took the measure of the French Revolution in both theoretical and practical terms. Fontana argues convincingly that Stael’s political ideas have been overlooked or underrated in previous treatments of her life and work.”

David Marx

The Rise Of The Far Right

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The Rise Of The Far Right –
Populist Shifts and ‘Othering’
Edited by Gabriella Lazaridis, Giovanna Campani
& Annie Benveniste
Palgrave Macmillan – £53.99

”From the 1960s onwards, influences coming directly from the neo-Nazi world, like the Odal or the Celtic cross, the symbol of an SS division, started to fascinate the youngest component of Italian neo-fascism. Introducing these symbols signified a detachment from Italian fascism and a new interest in Nazis and Eastern European fascism. The Romanian Codreanu and the Belgian Degrelle became reference points, together with Julius Evola, whose vision of the ‘tradition’ as a timeless entity running through the history of ancient times led to the discovery of the Nordic sagas (and indirectly to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings).”

Does the above not highlight the preposterous depths to which the fanatical Far Right will stoop, in order to lend the tiniest thread of credence to their wildly shambolic and dangerous ideology?

Who, in their right mind of appropriated sanity, would even want to be associated with the symbol of an SS division? Let alone embrace it? And to what degree have these sad and utterly misguided people been drained of all self-worth, all sense of self-value; to feel obliged in commandeering Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings into their warped category of humanistic hate?

Will there be no let up?

Will they watch Denial – the new film release which centres on the legal battle for historical truth (between university professor Deborah E Lipstadt and the historian David Irving)?

Of course they won’t.

Just like they won’t read this excellent book.
Although if anyone should read it, it’s surely the likes of Beppe Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five-Star Movement), Marine Le Pen’s Front National, Geert Wilders’ PVV (Partij voor de Vrijheid) and every member of Nigel Farage’s vile UKIP.

The latter of whom are brazenly deciphered in the final chapter of The Rise Of The Far Right – Populist Shifts and ‘Othering,’ where Gabriella Lazaridis and Vasiliki Tsagkroni write: ”The UKIP logo is a pound sign (£), with many activists wearing a gold lapel badge, opposition to the Euro being obviously necessary to the party’s euro-scepticism. Another symbol used is the pint of beer and the fag (cigarette): a number of young activists we interviewed mentioned the pint as something that should be in one’s hand. Party leader Nigel Farage’s most obvious image is that of being in the pub with a pint of bitter or a cigarette in his hand, or both. With its references to elements of British culture, this plays into ideas of Britishness, the ordinary against the elite and freedom from bureaucracy (UKIP would repeal the smoking ban). On occasion UKIP have been described as the ‘BNP in blazers”’ (‘Majority Identitarian Populism in Britain’).

This measured and more than balanced description of UKIP, more or less sets the tonality of these 266 pages as a whole.

With such chapter headings as ‘Neo-Fascism from the Twentieth Century to the Third Millennium: The Case of Italy,’ ‘Far-Right Movements in France: The Principal Role of Front National and the Rise of Islamophobia,’ ‘Right-wing Populism in Denmark: People, Nation and Welfare in the Construction of the ‘Other’ and ‘Posing for Legitimacy? Identity and Praxis of Far-Right Populism in Greece’ (among others), this book traverses nigh every current political persuasion of ‘otherness.’ A mode of thinking, which, if you really think about, harks back to the medieval burning of innocent women who were deemed to be witches.

With the advent of the deplorable Donald Trump as President of the United States, this most enlightening and essential of books, really couldn’t be more timely.

David Marx

The Great Brexit Swindle

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The Great Brexit Swindle
By T. J.Coles
Clairview Books – £10.99

Perhaps the best evidence for the truth about Brexit is Nigel Lawson’s article in the Financial Times entitled, ‘Brexit gives us the chance to finish the Thatcher revolution.

Just as Margaret Thatcher was capable of inciting one to spit blood during her incorrigibly vile and in-humane, eleven-year reign at the helm of British politics; the tiniest, sneakiest reminder of said tenure, remains just as equally spiteful and hateful, today, as when she used to regularly spout forth in the eighties.

Brexit notwithstanding, where millions of gullibles were hoodwinked into believing their day of democracy had finally arrived upon a wide-open platter of ‘Up The Junction,’ ‘Up The Arsenal’ and, wait for it,’ God Save The Queen’ last June (2016); the colossal and rather unfortunate irony lies in the fact that almost ALL of those who despised Thatcher, actually voted to Leave.

The three quintessential reasons being that huge swathes of the British (primarily English) populace are insecure, impeccably fick and guess what? Horribly racist – sometimes a caustic combination of all three.

Unfortunate qualities this equally impeccable, brave and brazen book, more than sheds pristine light on.

To be sure, The Great Brexit Swindle – Why the mega-rich and free market fanatics conspired to force Britain from the European Union is the utmost of invaluable and volatile of reads; quite simply because it tells the truth in such a way as it invariably needs to be told.

In the chapter ‘Finishing Thatcher’s Revolution,’ author T. J. Coles writes: ”In this book we have highlighted the genuine grievances of working and unemployed persons who saw their livelihoods and prospects decline and who ultimately voted for Brexit. We have also noted the propensity towards xenophobia. England is where pro-Leave sentiment was strongest, particularly in the deindustrialized north. Instead of educating working and unemployed English people about the common enemy of neoliberalism, the tabloids and television media have given people the impression that migrants are to blame for job insecurity and a general decline in living standards. In addition, the skewed demographic character of the UK gave older people greater voting power. The polls show that older people were more inclined to vote Leave.”

Indeed, older people, along with the mighty myopic, the uneducated and the hateful; in other words, those who subscribe to the ideology of the despicable tabloids.

For a balanced overview of Brexit: READ THIS BOOK.

David Marx

The Demarchy Manifesto

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The Demarchy Manifesto –
How To Enlighten, Articulate and Give Effect to Public Opinion
By John Burnheim
Societas – £9.95

The Demarchy Manifesto is divided into three, very distinct and compartmentalised sections: ‘Exploring the Problem,’ ‘Suggested Solutions’ and ‘Objections Considered,’ of which its 137 pages (excluding Preface, Appendix 1 and 2) is an altogether forthright read that takes absolutely no political prisoners.

It is what it is – you either agree with it. Or you don’t.

For instance, in the Preface of this compact and most pragmatic of books, John Burnheim writes: ”Democratic theory and practice has been focused on problems of power. It is torn between two objectives, giving power to the people and minimising power over the individual. I accept that our present democratic institutions are a reasonable solution to most of those problems, but they are not a satisfactory way of getting sound policies on many matters” (my italics).

Hmm; a ”reasonable solution to most of those problems/a satisfactory way of getting sound policies on many matters.” At the end of the day – one has to reasonably ask, what is reasonable? Immediately followed by: how does one fundamentally substantiate what is satisfactory?

In the Introduction, the author writes: ”What I call ‘demarchy’ is primarily a process of transferring the initiative in formulating policy options from political parties to councils representative of the people most directly affected by those policies […]. There is no question of constitutional change, no new parties or new laws, no call for a mass conversion of opinion, but a suggestion about how to initiate a change in accepted practice, starting with actions that may seem of little significance in the big picture, but are still justified by their specific purposes. My focus is on how policy is produced and adopted. I am not concerned with questions about the philosophical basis of state power, or human rights, or crime and punishment (again, my italics).

Regardless of what one is writing about, how can one not be concerned with questions of/about human rights?

Ought such a dictum of thought or ideology, actually be allowed to exist?

According to Dickinson McGaw of the American Political Science Review, The Demarchy Manifesto is ”penetrating, subtle and original;” to which I can only respond: with the (possible) exception that this book may be original, it isn’t in the least penetrating.
Let alone subtle.

David Marx