Tag Archives: Brexit

Europe Since 1989

europe

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

Why The UK Voted For Brexit

brexit

Why The UK Voted For Brexit –
David Cameron’s Great Miscalculation
By Andrew Glencross
Palgrave Pivot – £37.99

I’m still exceedingly hard pressed to think of at least ONE iota of a good thing to have emerged as a result of the referendum on Brexit. But am alas, inexorably stumped beyond profound shock, disbelief and tumultuous frustration.

The cacophonous hordes, who from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, continue to reside amid the myopic charge of far too many immigrants (supposedly coming over here, nicking our jobs and changing our way life) is so astonishingly adolescent; were it not so utterly detrimental for all concerned – in the extreme might I add – it would be nigh laughable.

The (laughter and) latter of which, the most concise Why The UK Voted For Brexit – David Cameron’s Great Miscalculation both touches on and reflects upon without any undue flim-flam nor skimming around the immense political disaster that Brexit invariably is.

And will continue to be for many, many years to come.

As Andrew Glencross, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations and author of these six chapters writes: ”The over arching purpose of this book is […] twofold. It seeks, firstly, to shed light on how the UK came to vote for Brexit; secondly, it evaluates the implications that this decision has for the country’s international relations as well as for its domestic politics.

What the referendum outcome probably demonstrated most clearly was how far public opinion was out of step with the government’s cost-benefit argument for EU membership. Confident of winning the referendum on the basis of a pragmatic, bean-counting evaluation, David Cameron’s gamble proved a great miscalculation.”

If nothing else, such words are a great understatement.

Economically alone, Brexit will prove devastating for the country, as Glencross continues: ”It ranks amongst the major political blunders of British Prime Ministers and has sent shock waves across Europe and the North Atlantic.”

Very readable and very to the point, Why The UK Voted For Brexit is a brave and altogether timely book, which absolutely needs to be read by anyone and everyone who actually cares about Britain and it’s future.

David Marx

The End Of British Politics

9783319499642

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

The Great Brexit Swindle

brexit

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

Fighting Over Fidel

fidel

Fighting Over Fidel –
The New York Intellectuals and the Cuban Revolution
By Rafael Rojas
Princeton University Press – £24.95

The Moon of the Cuban
Revolution’s gone under
the Laughing Carib-
I told you so!

[…]

What’ll we do for new
hope for the masses now
politics shows its tricks
How should I know?

Communists, Capitalists
play up to the masses
and both are sincere but
Business is slow!

Cut up the world, and
You’ll see the right answer
Words are the weapons,
the weapons must go!

(Allen Ginsberg – in the poem devoted to the closing of Lunes de Revolution)

When I lived in New York, I had the great fortune to interview Allen Ginsberg in his East Village apartment, who, it has to be said, remained true to his inexorable Howl induced, esoteric self.

We discussed everything from the validity of poetry to Bob Dylan (who he admitted was his favourite poet), American politics to William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac to nineteen-fifties/sixties Cuba; the latter of which is more than well assimilated and brought to bear in the fifth chapter of this overtly, eye-opening book, Fighting Over Fidel – The New York Intellectuals and the Cuban Revolution.

Aptly entitled ‘Moons of the Revolution,’ author Rafael Rojas traverses the entire trajectory of the Beat Poets fraught relation(s) with Cuba when he writes: ”Many members of the Beat Generation were enamoured with the Cuban Revolution and travelled to the island in order to directly experience its social and political process […]. These were the years (1960-62) when US policies toward Cuba were turning increasingly hostile, as reflected in the American-supported Bay of Pigs invasion, other violent US actions against the Cuban regime, and the Kennedy administration’s subsequent declaration of a trade embargo against the island […].

From his journal notes, we know that Ginsberg came under great pressure during the US hearings against the FPCC at the beginning of the 1960s. That pressure only increased when Castro declared the ”socialist” character of the revolution just hours before the Bay of Pigs invasion. As the revolutionary leaders pronounced their public declarations of Marxist-Leninist ideology, the position of figures like Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, who had defended the Cuban Revolution as standing for another kind of Left, was put in a state of suspense.”

Needless to say, said ‘suspense’ led Ginsberg to write his first critical poem on Cuban socialism, when in December 1961, he penned the following:

Allessandri [sic] of Chile, trickery and oily manners, Castro
     of Cuba, a big cigar and he wants to be a hero too,
He thinks of his name in the future & shuts down the Moons of
     the Revolution.-
The Moon of the Cuban Rebellion’s gone under the laughing
     Carib!

All the above said – which is clearly open to a myriad of interpretation given how things are continuing to pan out in today’s Cuba – these 250 pages (not including Notes, References and Index) sets much of the record as well as the narrative straight; especially so far as the backdrop of the ideological confrontation betwixt the Cold War and the spiky/inevitable breakdown of relations between Havana and Washington are concerned.

As such, from ‘Hipsters and Apparatchiks’ to ‘Socialists in Manhattan,’ from ‘Negroes with Guns’ to ‘The Skin of Socialism,’ Fighting Over Fidel is a superbly written and well put together book. Each and every chapter sheds yet more (profound) significance upon a most turbulent time in recent history, which, in relation to 1960s New York, Rojas wholeheartedly underlines in the book’s Introduction: ”That decade and this city constituted a microcosm of activity whose resonance was felt around the globe. New York in the 1960s was the moment and the place for progressive movements of all kinds: artistic vanguards, women’s liberation, sexual liberation, civil rights, and opposition to the Vietnam War. But these movements and struggles were also privileged scenarios for the emergence and circulation of debates over the ideological identity of Cuban socialism – its truths and its errors, its coincidences and divergences from the Soviet model, its lessons for the Western Left – as well as for the articulation of critiques of US government policy towards Cuba […].

In New York, with its strong liberal and socialist traditions, the Cuban Revolution was discussed as nowhere else, just as the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Civil War had energized the city’s public discourse decades before.”

Just as the very same city (and the UN?) now endeavours to comes to terms with the terrible fiasco that is Brexit – and the potential pulling apart of the European Union. Admittedly, a revolution it might not be (yet), but if current hatred and division is anything to go by – might it be a matter of time?

Either way, Fighting Over Fidel is a terrific read; one I’d highly recommend to anyone remotely interested in Cuban politics. Not to mention the Beat Poets.

David Marx

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands

scruton

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

The Ethics of Influence

ethics

The Ethics of Influence –
Government in the Age of Behavioral Science
By Cass R. Sunstein

Cambridge University Press – £19.99

At the outset of this very readable book’s initial chapter ‘The Age of Behavioural Science,’ author Cass R. Sunstein writes: ”We live in an age of psychology and behavioural economics – the behavioural sciences. For profit, companies are using behavioural research every day. They want to learn how people think and to use that learning to make money […].”

Indeed they do, although to any ethically minded person’s thinking, where does one actually draw the line?

For instance, having lived in the United States for a number of years, it is impossible to watch television. Period. This is because advertising literally dominates the airwaves. No sooner has an introductory theme-tune ended before the viewer is annoyingly informed of the latest toothpaste. Or health insurance policy; which, to my mind, is subliminal bad, artistic ethics. Imagine having spent several yours of your life toiling over a heartfelt or at least artistically stunning screenplay, only to have it accepted and broadcast, and then ultimately interrupted every three or four minutes by Toyota or Haagen Dazs?

Behavioral economics? How about brazenly capitalist economics?

Either way, this most enjoyable of studies consists of eight chapters that most coherently traverse the quagmire of both ethical and non-ethical (political) persuasion, and it does so in such a way that is formidably comprehensive and believable. Its 202 pages (not including ‘Appendix A – American Evaluations of Thirty-Four Nudges, ‘Appendix B – Survey Questions’ and Appendix C – Executive Order 13707: Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People’) most certainly sets the mind to thinking in a partially abstract manner to that of the ethical norm. As Professor Lucia A. Reisch, Behavioral Economist at Copenhagen Business School more than substantiates: ”Behavioral regulation has spread to governments worldwide. This brilliant book tackles the many myths that have evolved around the use of behavioral economics in politics. Cass Sunstein explains in clear words how (and why) the core values of an Ethical State – welfare, autonomy, dignity, and self-government – are indeed best served by governments that carefully base their policies on an empirical foundation and use behavioral insights as additional effective policy tools.”

A fine example of this is a continuation of the initial quote at the outset of this review: ”From the ethical point of view, there are large differences between coercion and influence […]. Many of the most objectionable forms of coercion come from governments, which may threaten people with jail, or with large fines, if they do not do exactly what public officials want. In his great book On Liberty, John Stuart Mill argued that coercion was unacceptable unless it was designed to prevent ”harm to others.” Mill’s target was the use of force.”

In this day and ultimately media saturated day of ethical persuasion, coercion is a tactic that is subliminally enforced by way of both profound and pathetic advertising. Governments and newspapers know this all too well.

Trouble is, it’s usually the wrong governments and the wrong newspapers that have essentially refined the very fine art of diversionary coercion; usually at the behest of supposedly ‘by the people, for the people.’

That said, The Ethics of Influence – Government in the Age of Behavioral Science most certainly contains a cornucopia of new information on peoples’ sociological attitudes towards a vast range of choice architecture and forever changing mandates – Brexit perhaps being the most pertinent, prevalent and provocative of recent political examples.

Diversionary coercion at its finest m’Lord…

On the slightly down side, the book has a fundamentally American slant that I find a little irksome, even if only for the nigh continuous use of the word/term, nudge – which is highlighted by Eric J. Johnson, Professor of Business at Columbia University, when he writes: ”Cass Sunstein knows more than anyone about nudging.”

He does, but again, it’s the aforementioned advertising that remains at the quintessential vanguard of this book’s influential/ethical premise.

In the book’s fifth chapter,’ ‘Fifty Shades of Manipulation’ (even the title is an evocative form of renowned advertising), the author quotes from what he terms ”ranks the most powerful scenes in the history of American television […] Mad Men.”

Now I have watched a couple of episodes of Mad Men, and have to confess to it being badly written and horribly, horribly acted. Yet herein, Sunstein quotes Don Draper, the star of the series: ”In Greek ”nostalgia” literally means, ”the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the Wheel. It’s called a Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around, and back home again… to a place where we know we are loved.”

Not only is the above utter hogwash of the first order, it makes for the most saccharine, unpleasant and confined of reading. Although more than that, it (almost) lets the book down.

Sunstein (who from 2009 to 2012, was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs) has already written a number of books of a similar persuasion, including: Why Nudge?, Valuing Life: Humanizing the Regulatory State, Choosing Not to Choose: Understanding the Value of Choice and Constitutional Personae: Heroes, Soldiers, Minimalists and Mutes; of which The Ethics of Influence may well be the most thought provoking and least answerable to big business.

An occasional nudge too far perhaps, but a fine read nevertheless.

David Marx