Category Archives: Politics

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

Messages From A Lost World

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Messages From A Lost World –
Europe On The Brink
By Stefan Zweig
Pushkin Press – £16.99

Darkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our heads. It was necessary for this dark hour to fall, perhaps the darkest hour in history, to make us realise that freedom is as vital to our soul as breathing to our body.

                                                                                                                        Stefan Zweig

With regards Germany having fallen unto the abyss of such abhorrent absolutism during the nineteen-thirties; are the above words not as equally descriptive and heartbreaking as events currently taking place in both the United Kingdom and the United States?

With such division as directly manifested by Brexit and the vile, vitriolic likes of Donald Trump, one cannot help but ask if humanity, let alone society at large, has learnt anything (from history).

Wasn’t Hitler’s madness enough?

The New Republic succinctly refers to Stefan Zweig as ”one of liberalism’s greatest defenders,” which, it has to be said, this astonishingly brave and in parts, beautiful book, more than quintessentially attests to.

In ‘The Sleepless World’ alone, the Austrian born, Jewish writer bequeaths the reader with such majesty as: ”A thousand thoughts restlessly on the move, from the silent towns to the military camp-fires, from the lone sentry on his watch and back again, from the nearest to the most distant, those invisible gliding threads of love and tribulation, a weft of feelings, a limitless network now covering the world, for all the days and all the nights.”

To think that an array of monsters amid the Third Reich may well have read these words – but still acted the deplorable way they did (by among other atrocities, initiating the Final Solution), really is hard, if not impossible to comprehend.

There gain, certain books were only written so’s to be burnt – were they not?

Were the likes of Gove, May, Farage, Johnson and that utterly messianic, deplorable cunt, Trump, to even have the capacity to evoke, let alone believe in and/or act upon ”those invisible gliding threads of love and tribulation […] a limitless network now covering the world, for all the days and all the nights;” said world would (today) be a far better, safer place.

As Will Stone has written in this edition’s Introduction: ”Nationalism is the sworn enemy of civilisation, whether past, present or future, its malodorous presence thwarting the development of intelligence, its tenets those of division, regression, hatred, violence and persecution. In nationalism, with the Nazis as its most lethal form […]. Zweig’s Europe is an almost mystical conviction that whatever remains of the European spirit, the sum of artistic achievement that has accrued for centuries, can only survive the modern plague of nationalism, materialism and philistinism, can only safeguard its crown jewels of philosophical thought, art and literature through a practicable spiritual integration, a higher guild of amiable coalition.”

Try telling that to the current Foreign Secretary; or indeed, any of the words contained herein (and no, I’m not coming from a coveted pedestal of implausible idealism).

If you only read ONE book this year, make it Stefan Zweig’s Messages From A Lost World.

It really is that stunning, pertinent and invaluable.

David Marx

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands

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Fools, Frauds and Firebrands –
Thinkers of the New Left
By Roger Scruton
Bloomsbury – £16.99

Peace never appears in Newspeak as a condition of rest and normality. It is always something to ‘fight for,’ and ‘Fight for Peace!,’ ‘Struggle for Peace!’ took their place among the official slogans of the Communist Party.

From the same source comes the penchant for ‘irreversible’ changes. Since everything is in motion and the ‘struggle’ between the forces of progress and the forces of reaction is always and everywhere, it is important that the triumph of ideology over reality be constantly recorded and endorsed. Hence progressive forces always achieve ‘irreversible changes,’ while reactionary forces are wrong-footed by their contradictory and merely ‘nostalgic’ attempts to defend a doomed social order.

(‘What is Left?’)

In light of the above, it’s mighty ironic that in the Introduction of Fools, Frauds and Firebrands – Thinkers of the New Left, Roger Scruton rather deftly writes: ”and I have allowed my publisher, Robin Baird-Smith, to persuade me that a new book might bring some relief to students compelled to chew on the glutinous prose of Deleuze, to treat seriously the mad incantations of Zizek, or to believe that there is more to Habermas’s theory of communicative action than his inability to communicate it.”

Talk about a brazen and altogether elongated (robust) black kettle; which, to all intents and utterly non-humble purposes, Scruton appears to have been soundly inoculated with.

Indeed, whether by default or some sort of academic vaccination that’s gone risibly wrong, it is cantankerous, if not amusing, that Professor Scruton – who is not only Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford but also Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Centre in Washington, DC – should lean towards ”mad incantations of Zizek” (whose most recent book, Disparities, I reviewed just a few days ago). Reason being, he has himself proceeded to write a veritably high-octane book of dense, yet highly dispassionate, ruthless New Leftism.

That said, these eight chapters (which range from ‘Resentment in Britain: Hobsbawm and Thompson’ to ‘Disdain In America: Galbraith and Dworkin;’ ‘Liberation In France: Sartre and Foucault’ to ‘Tedium in Germany: Downhill to Habermas’) are, as one might expect, littered with a menagerie of politically salubrious one-liners: ”’social justice’ is a goal so overwhelmingly important, so unquestionably superior to the established interests that stand against it, as to purify every action done in its name.,” ”the transformation of the language of politics has been the principal legacy of the Left, and it is one aim of this book to rescue that language from socialist Newspeak.,” ”The ‘isms’ that govern political change work through people, but not from them.,” ”The reality of the free economy disappears behind the description, to be replaced by a strange baroque edifice, constantly falling to the ground in a dream-sequence of ruin.,” ”An enemy is identified, a ‘struggle’ defined, and a theory provided to show that you can fight with the heroes merely by staying at your desk.”

Such philosophical/political usurpation, might at best be defined as all too considered; but surely there has to be an abundance cracked chaos within its initial calculation? That is, seismically cynical to the point of no return.

No deliberation.
In other words, brazen braggadocio at its finest.

A place where the likes of Mark’s twain shall never meet the likes of Gramsci’s humanism: ”It is indeed the very historical reality of fascism that undermines the communist dream – the dream of a society without conflict and opposition, not because the first is resolved and the second accommodated, but because the ‘conditions’ of conflict have been removed. Marxists assume these conditions to be social, changeable, dependent on ‘antagonistic production relations.’ But if the conditions of conflict lie, as they evidently do lie, in human nature, then to hope for their removal is to entertain an inhuman hope and to be moved towards inhuman action (‘Culture Wars Worldwide’).

Isn’t UKIP’s Nigel Farage, that most terrible of human beings (for whom lying is nigh tantamount to drinking beer) the most perfect embodiment of ‘antagonistic production relations? ‘

Come, Come, m’Lord, surely Farage’s fakedom is ‘painless praxis’ at its most regal robust? Wherein Brexit – and it’s tumultuous trajectory of a thousand little Hitlers per-hour – do reigneth supreme amid the ”human nature” of ”inhuman hope.”

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands – Thinkers of the New Left is a quintessentially entertaining read; the sort of which is simultaneously adroit and annoying. That said, I’d like to leave the final word(s) to that of the author himself: ”[…] this is not a word mincing book. I would describe it rather as a provocation.”

Hmm….

David Marx

Free Speech

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Free Speech – Ten Principles for a Connected World
By Timothy Garton Ash
Atlantic Books – £20.00

In ‘Post-Gutenberg,’ the very outset of Free Speech – Ten Principles for a Connected Free World, author Timothy Garton Aash writes: ”We are all neighbours now. There are more phones than there are human beings and close to half of humankind has access to the internet. In our cities, we rub shoulders with strangers from every country, culture and faith. The world is not a global village but a global city, a virtual cosmopolis. Most of us can also be publishers now. We can post our thoughts and photos online, where in theory any one of billions of other people might encounter them. Never in human history was there such a chance for freedom of expression as this. And never have the evils of unlimited free expression – death threats, paedophile images, sewage-tides of abuse – flowed so easily across frontiers.”

True. True True.
And just where has ”such a chance for freedom of expression” got us?
Furthermore, where is it continuing to get us?

There may well be an abundance of free speech, where ”evils of unlimited free expression – death threats, paedophile images, sewage-tides of abuse” traverse their way across the planet in nigh every medium imaginable, but never before have both The United States and (utterly unsurprisingly) England been so horribly and relentlessly divided.

Divided, not only socially and economically, but politically too.

Suffice to say, the ”free speech” of certain segments of the media appear to do nothing other than exacerbate already volatile and highly inflammatory situations – the cretinous likes of The Sun, The Daily Express and perhaps most vilest of all, The Daily Mail especially. This was most recently evidenced during the torrid run-up to Brexit; the result of which has so far been ghastly, futile, toxic and highly dangerous. And its continuation will probably see the further decline of England as we know it. This is why, at the outset of the book’s fourth chapter, ‘Journalism,’ where Garton Ash writes: ”We require uncensored, diverse, trustworthy, media so we can make well-informed decisions and participate fully in political life,” one cannot help but ponder unto an oblivion of self-induced, poignant wonder.

Of course ”we require uncensored, diverse, trustworthy, media so we can make well-informed decisions and participate fully in political life.’ But life, and most definitely the media (in Britain in least), doesn’t work like that. Such is idealistic, wishing thinking.
That said, it’s interesting how Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury (and Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge) describes this book as: ”A major piece of cultural analysis, sane, witty and urgently important. Timothy Garton Ash exemplifies the ”robust civility” he recommends as an antidote to the pervasive unhappiness, nervousness and incoherence around freedom of speech, rightly seeing the basic challenge as how we create a cultural and moral climate in which proper public argument is possible and human dignity affirmed.”

Hmm, if there’s anyone who might know about free speech, it could well be the former Archbishop; although I’d have to clarify that many things have indeed been affirmed of late.

Human dignity isn’t one of them.

Likewise, if there’s anyone who knows about the total abuse of free speech, it’s surely those who are responsible for having enabled society to spout forth and rile one another up like never before – in the first place. Facebook’s Mark Zuckenberg for instance.

Now I’m not for a single second, laying the blame for the current torrent of widespread abuse of free speech at his door; but, as is written herein: ”Never was there a time when the evils of unlimited speech flowed so easily across frontiers: violent intimidation, gross violations of privacy, tidal waves of abuse. A pastor burns a Qu’ran in Florida and UN officials die in Afghanistan.”

Timothy Garton Ash is the prize-winning author of nine previous books of political writing, including The Magic Lantern, The File and most recently, Facts Are Subversive, so he’s clearly an experienced writer of analytical panache and wit. In and of itself, this may go some way in explaining why Free Speech – Ten Principles for a Connected World is simply strewn throughout with thought provoking, well researched analysis.

Indeed, all ten chapters of this very readable of books, go some way in bequeathing the inquisitive, caring, reader, with an array of deeply entrenched political writing(s) of the first order.

The sort(s) of which is bound to trigger reams of internal, moral debate.

David Marx

Democracy For Realists

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Democracy For Realists – Why Elections Do Not Produce
Responsive Government
By Christopher H. Achen & Larry M. Bartels
Princeton University Press – £22.95

With the upcoming referendum on the European Union – for which there is surely only one, morally sane/right way to go – this more than erudite book couldn’t have been published at a more apt, if not fractious climate amid modern British and European political history.

Just one reason being, Democracy for Realists ”assails the romantic folk-theory at the heart of contemporary thinking about democratic politics and government, and offers a provocative alternative view grounded in the actual human nature of democratic citizens.”

A most assuredly rigorous and tremendous ”provocative” alternative it does indeed offer, replete with more zeal, not to mention political nuance, than a Churchillian connoisseur who ought to perhaps know better. The kernel of the book did after all, begin in earnest way back in 1974, when the two authors, Christopher Achen and Larry M. Bartels, first had a conversation. A conversation that is touched upon in the book’s hearty Preface: ”[…]the book resulted in a kind of intellectual conversation experience for us. Much of what we had believed and trusted turned out to be false. To be faithful to the evidence and honest with ourselves, we had to think very differently.”

The mere fact that they mention as much, warrants some kind of acknowledged applause, which in turn, should be all the more bolstered when they further write: ”In conversation, many readers find this book irritating – or worse. We can only say that we sympathize; we would once have thought it quite irritating, too.”

Hmm, I’d have to say the book’s 328 pages (excluding References and Index) are everything but ”irritating.”

Along with a very substantial list of illustrations which reinforce some very key points (the first of which on page five, immediately asks the question: How important is it for you to live in a democracy/How democratically is this country being governed?), much of the writing is open-ended in as much as it allows so many of the arguments to stand alone, to breath.

In other words, the authors don’t moralise and are in no way, remotely dictatorial – which is what and how true democracy for realists ought to be.

In turn, this might account for each of this superb book’s eleven chapters being a powerful and altogether vital source of thoroughly well-researched, democratic, geographical nuance. The likes of which, one doesn’t come across all too readily.

Let alone everyday.

From ‘Retrospective Accountability’ (”To support the Ins when things are going well; to support the Outs when they seem to be going badly, this, in spite of all that has been said about tweedledum and tweedledee, is the essence of popular government – Walter Lippmann, The Phantom Public) to ‘Groups and Power: Toward a Realist Theory of Democracy’ (”One consequence of our reliance on old definitions is that the modern American does not look at democracy before he defines it; he defines it first and then is confused by what he sees… We become cynical about democracy because the public does not act the way the simplistic definition of democracy says that it should act, or we try to whip the public into doing things it does not want to do, is unable to do, and has too much sense to do. The crisis here is not a crisis in democracy but a crisis in theory – E. E. Schattsschneider, The Semisovereign People), this book really does traverse a terrain that is simply littered with more explosive rhetoric than the authors ought to (not) know what to do with.

Alas, they deal with many an explosive terrain more than comfortably. More comfortably that is, than so many self-styled illusionists whom claim to know about democracy – yet ultimately know very little. That ”the modern American does not look at democracy before he defines it; he defines it first and then is confused by what he sees…,” really doesn’t come as a surprise.

For it is fundamentally, only in America, where the political parameters are forever altered by a baying populace, whom want everything its way.

And not only that – they want it now:

”What do want?
Everything
When do we want it?
Now.”

If nothing else, Democracy for Realists will set minds thinking and trigger an array of debate; which, at the end of the day, is what democracy is all about.

David Marx