Saturday, 27 January 2007

Nietzsche and Liberalism with Teeth


Continuing with the theme set up in the last post on issues which came out of last semester's teaching, as usual I find many students are associating Nietzsche with the 'Master Morality' outlined in Genealogy of Morals, Essay I. At the extreme, one student blamed Nietzsche for World War Two in an exam answer. The claim that Nietzsche was a proto-Nazi is a familiar one, but not one with much credibility amongst informed commentators. The more modest assumption that Nietzsche represents a morality aimed only at the elite, in which only the creation of the higher types of human counts, is one shared by many Nietzsche commentators.

These commentators are wrong, though it is not surprising they make the interpretations they do. My students did not have previous knowledge of Nietzsche commentaries, and I presented a rather different emphasis, but the students still largely thought of Nietzsche as an extreme elitist, and even an enthusiast for oppression and cruelty. Those students who got past that image where I believe largely the ones who studied Essay II most carefully. Essay II makes clear Nietzsche's distaste for the lust for cruelty he sees at the root of the punishment of criminals.

This is rooted in a theory of ressentiment, which refers to the pain of the restraint of instinct in consciousness, a pain that is discharged through cruelty. The act of cruelty relieves the pressure of damned up action, and that pressure increases in situations where we cannot take revenge against those who harm us. The slaves are in that position. It is important to note that ressentiment has origins that precede the master/slave relation. This is clear in the first few sections of Essay II, where a description is built up of how memory and calculative abilities emerge from violent restraint of instinct. It is clear that human consciousness develops through
the pain of restraint on instinct.

It is not only the slaves who have a morality of ressentiment. Those masters who become priests have the same morality, and it is the priest-masters who organises the ressentiment of the masses in religions and churches. It is not only the slaves who are condemned when 'slave morality' is condemned.

Nietzsche cannot be taken as finding a model in the master as warrior. The picture of uncultured violence is very far from what Nietzsche advocates. It is the master's conquest of pacific agricultural communities which founds the state, and the state is something strongly criticised by Nietzsche in 'The New Idol' in Thus Spoke Zarathustra and 'A Look at the State' in Human, All Too Human.

Nietzsche clearly indicates that he advocates the position of the 'Overman', or 'Superman', who is unprecedented in history. The 'Overman' is not the same as the 'Master'. The 'Overman' has capacities for creativity, self-legislation and integration of a multiplicity of strong internal forces. This does not correspond at all with the violence, lawlessness and one-sidededness of the master.

Nietzsche does not give his 'morality', or code which enhances life, in the Genealogy. The Genealogy is no-saying philosophy, according to Ecce Homo. The yes-saying philosophy is in Zarathustra. After Zarathustra, Nietzsche wrote criticism of existing morality in Beyond Good and Evil and in the Genealogy. Zarathustra includes a section on the friend, which suggests another form of relationship apart from master-slave of the community of masters or slaves. The values promoted by Zarathustra include: a single goal for humanity, the generosity of the individual overflowing with strength, liberation from dependence on the neighbour, emancipation from all conformism.

Nietzsche advocates the development of life and the highest possible form of humanity. He points out that in history, cultures and elites have been created on the foundations of cruelty and slavery. That is not the same as advocating these phenomena or saying that they are necessary in future. Does Nietzsche argue for slave society now? No, though he does advocate 'aristocracy' and inequality. It's clear that by aristocracy Nietzsche means inner qualities, not membership of a social class. He does not advocate the aggressive German Nationalism of his time, associated with the policies of Bismark, which were closely tied with the Prussian/German monarchy/Empire and aristocracy. Nietzsche condemned Bismarkian nationalism along with anti-Semitism and socialism. While Nietzsche did not care for politics, parliamentary debates and the associated culture of newspaper reading, he did have views on politics and those were very clearly in favour of the more liberal aspects of German politics. He clearly favoured Emperor Frederick III,who supported liberal policies in a rather short reign.

Another hero mentioned by Nietzsche in both Human, All Too Human(section 453 in 'A Look at the State) and in Genealogy of Morals, Essay I (section 10), is Mirabeau the Elder, Physicocrat (liberal economist) and father of a prominent moderate figure in the French Revolution who aimed to reconcile the monarchy and the constituent assembly, according to the principles of limited government, on representative constitutional foundations. Another enthusiast for Mirabeau was the great German liberal philosopher, Wilhelm Von Humboldt, as can be seen by checking The Limits of State Action (download e-book).

The cruelty and mastery that Nietzsche advocates is only that of self-mastery, of the inner struggle of integration of conflicting forces. For Nietzsche the wish to be cruel to others is contemptible and is the sign of a lack of inner mastery. This is explained at some length in Essay II of Genealogy of Morals.

Lester Hunt, a Libertarian political philosopher described Nietzsche as supporting a 'liberalism with teeth' in Nietzsche and the Origin of Virtue, he was right to do so.

Self-Love as the Foundation of Kierkegaard's Ethics

I've just got through grading last semester's courses and submitting grades at the two universities in Istanbul I was giving courses last semester, one full time and one part time. The process of grading overlapped with getting next courses ready, and it's been an intense time. It's left with me with a few ideas which I hope to keep developing. Some of this comes from what I feel I did not convince students of last semester. I usually get that when I'm teaching Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and I spent 8 weeks on them in an Ethics course last semester, after working through Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Bentham and Hegel. The other figure I might have that problem with is Machiavelli. I'm teaching him in a Politics course next semester, but I'm teaching the overtly Republican Discourses (pdf download) instead of the merely covertly Republican Prince (pdf download), in the hope that cuts out all the Machiavelli was a life style coach for power junkies kind of stuff. Machiavelli may well feature in future blogs.

My immediate concern is the tendency to see Kierkegaard as a Christian Moralist. This is a misleading way of looking at Kierkegaard, with respect to both words. That is an absurd thing to say in some sense, as Kierkegaard devoted himself to Christianity and to Christ as the supreme moralist. There are strong reasons for rejecting this label for Kierkegaard though. In his philosophical arguments (as opposed to his declarations of faith, and even those are still conditioned by the philosophy), the problem is what it is to be a self.

I chose to illustrate this in my Ethics class with a thorough look at Part I of Works of Love. That seems like a high risk place to start a non-theological and non- Fideist reading of Kierkegaard. The non-Theological reading emphasises Kierkegaard's Enlightenment attitude to the metaphysical reality of Christianity, which is that there is no objective reality established for Christianity. The non-Fideist reading emphasises that Kierkegaard does not put pure unmotivated faith at the beginning of his thought. The Fideist interpretation of Kierkegaard partly relies on the widespread myth that Kierkegaard advocated a 'a leap of faith', a phrase he never used. In general it ignores the structure of argument in which a relation within the self in Kierkegaard is a relation between the empirical self and the absolute self. In genral it ignores Kierkegaard's use of dialectic. It is 'dialectic of the absurd' but it is still a dialectic. Kierkegaard advocated a passion for paradox, which is sill a rational philosophical exercise in finding paradoxes of reason. Philip Quinn's argument for a Divine Command Ethics does not rest on an irrationalist form of Fideism in its reading of Kierkegaard, but its emphasis on the acceptance of divine command as absolute is still failing to engage with the question of subjectivity in Kierkegaard.

The Christian readings of Kierkegaard cannot deal with Kierkegaard because they cannot deal with his approach to subjectivity, which is at work in all his texts, including both the 'aesthetic' texts of literary philosophy and the 'Christian' texts of Biblically based faith. We will see how this works in the highly Christian looking Works of Love. This is centrally concerned with a philosophical problem of moral motivation taken from Kant, as interpreted by Hegel. Kierkegaard deals with the question of why we should obey law if it exists in the univeral rational form suggested by Kant. What motivates the individual to follow law? It is Hegel who suggested that an absolute gap opens between subjective inclination in Kant and the abstract universality of law. Kierkegaard has a solution in love.

Christ commands us to love. Kierkegaard looks at that injunction itself, before looking at hiw it applies to 'God', 'the neighbour' and so on. In the Bible (pdf download), Christ says you shall love, or you ought to love as Kierkegaard says in an echo of Kant's formulation of moral law as a universal ought. The command to love, however, is not a command to follow abstract duty, it is a command to be what you already are, to become what you are, since love is part of human inclinations and needs.

The command to love your neighbour comes out of the command to love (again echoing Kant on respect for humanity) through self-love. I can only love my neighbour if I can already love myself. The command to love the neighbour is the command to love yourself and then love what you see of yourself in the neighbour. The command to love God continues on this basis since it is the command to love the absolute in myself.

Kierkegaard is not a 'moralist' since he puts our capacity for ethical judgement on the grounds of out subjectivity, not of the duty to obey external commands. The subjectivity itself is not Christian in the sense of giving ethical commands from God which are external to us.

Therefore, we do not read Kierkegaard in all his philosophical riches if we assume that his philosophy leads us to an extra-rational faith, or willingness to follow external commands. Truth is already in us and becomes apparent in the subjectivity of life, without reference to the historical truth of the Bible or the external existence of God.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Foucault and the Body; or Why Foucault is not a Post-Modern Social Constructionist

I'm following up the last post on Derrida and Nietzsche with a briefer post on Foucault. As I emphasised in the last post, neither Foucault nor Derrida can be reduced to a cliché of 'Post-Modern' social constructionism which excludes the body as natural object.

Like Derrida, Foucault never sailed under the flag of 'Post-Modernism', or post-ism of any kind. They are rather different cases, and though Derrida was Foucault's student at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, they appear to have had a long term falling out. This seems to have been more on Foucault's side than Derrida's. Despite Foucault's expemplary qualities as thinker and libertarian social activist (future posts will return to the topic of Foucault and Libertarianism), he does seem to have been more prickly than Derrida. The prickliness seems to go all the way back to Derrida's 1963 paper, 'Cogito and Madness' (collected in Writing and Difference), which is a critical but appreciative discussion of Foucault's Madness and Civilisation.

The stereotypical view of Foucault circulated by his 'Analytical' philosophical critics and his 'Post-Modern' fans (more typically to be found in humanities and social science departments other than philosophy) is that he was a relativist who denied the existence of truth or objective, knowledge, and that he had a related assumption according to which reality only exists as a discursive social construction serving power interests of some kind. Something similar to that 'Post-Modern' interpretation of Foucault is also widespread in interpretation of Thomas Kuhn, a leaidng figure in Philosophy of Science in the Analytic tradition. Again very different cases, but there is no more reason to think of Foucault as a Post-Modernist than there is to think of Kuhn in that way.

There are many issues to be explored in future, but just one for today. Just a remark that one of Foucault's most widely read books, Discipline and Punish, does refer to the discourses of power/knowledge, but it also refers to discourse as what affects the body. There is something pre-discursive in Foucault, the body. There is no 'body' or 'nature' we can identify from outside discourse for Foucault, but physicality and natural forces are there. His view of power/knowledge is just as much an attempt to think of social relations in terms of natural forces, as a discourse centred theory. The body is experienced in social and discursive contexts, but is not eliminated as a body. It is the body where there is resistance to power.

What Derrida takes from Nietzsche in Ethics

Readings of Derrida on Nietzsche
There is a myth about Derrida's philosophy. The myth of a philosophy which is only concerned with style and not with content. This comes up frequently in discussions of Nietzsche's ethics. The issue of style and ethics comes up in discussions of Nietzsche because there is a substantial and growing body of work by Analytic philosophers on Nietzsche, particularly with regard to Ethics. While these people do not appear to have made any deep study of Derrida, they have felt it necessary to express brief opinions about Derrida's reading of Nietzsche. In the tradition of John Searle's attack on Derrida, they have not found it necessary to acquaint themselves deeply with Derrida's texts before making dismissive comments. These comments do have some applicaiton, but to Derrida's more parodic followers rather than to Derrida himself.

Examples of this genre include Nietzsche on Morality by Brian Leiter (see also Leiter's Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry on Nietzsche's Moral and Political Philosophy, the inclusion of politics in Leiter's entry is perverse since he dismisses in typically pugnmacious style the idea that Nietzsche has anything to contribute to political philosophy) and Nietzsche's Conscience: Six Characters from the Genealogy byAaron Ridley.

Leiter on Nietzsche
Leiter has a head on attack on 'Post-Modern' readings of Nietzsche in Foucault and Derrida, though neither ever adopted the label 'Post-Modern'. There are a number of Analytic Philosophers around who take Foucault seriously (Ian Hacking, John Searle, Bernard Williams) as Leiter acknowledges but never to the extent of questioning his own use of the label 'Post-Modern' in opposition to Analytic or Naturalistic. Derrida, and those who value Derrida's work, have been consistently damned by Leiter, as bad philosophers hardly worthy of the name (so I must be a complete moron), without any acknowledgement of Analytic Philosophers who take Derrida seriously (A.W. Moore, Tom Baldwin, Stanley Cavell). I've discussed Derrida's relevance to Analytic Philosophy at length myself in Derrida on Deconstruction. This is in the same series as Nietzsche on Ethics, Leiter must be furious. Leiter's argument is that 'Post Modern' discussion of Nietzsche is only concerned with play of style and ignores the extent to which Nietzsche has a theory of human nature, because 'Post-Modernists' think of human nature as socially constructed. The latter issue is really more in Foucault's field. I consider it a misrepresentation of Foucault, but I hope to return to that topic in another blog).

Ridley on Nietzsche
Ridley is less concerned with attacking 'Post-Modernism' but shares the assumption that Derrida's interest in Nietzsche is too undermine all claims to objective truth and depth of knowledge, with reference to the multiplicity of ways of writing in Nietzsche. This isopposed to his own examination of 6 figures of ethical significance in the Genealogy of Morals
Derrida on Language, Context and Hermeneutic Ambiguity
What both Leiter and Ridley must be thinking of is Derrida's book Spurs: Nietzsche's Styles. Derrida's concern there is to argue for a version of the 'context principle' in questions of meaning. That is the principle that the meaning of a word is fixed by the sentence to which it belongs, that the meaning of a sentence is fixed by the circumstances of use, and so on. That claim is not in itself foreign to Analytic Philosophy.

In this book, Derrida takes the principle to the length or arguing that fragmentary phrases jotted down in Derrida's notebooks may have a significant meaning. They may have such a meaning because the hermeneutic ambiguity (uncertainty about meaning) which follows from the context principle (what Derrida discusses as the inseparability of word from context) means that the meaning of the sentence could be a contribution to a major philosophical idea in Nietzsche. 'I have forgotten my umbrella' could have Freudian meanings about castration, or it could be comment on constant possibility of forgetting meaning, which would lead us into the really radical kind of contextualism which questions the basis of a claim to constancy in the meaning of words.

Derrida for Empiricism and Against Scepticism
However, there is no attempt in Derrida to assert a sceptical claim, he is trying to resist transcendental philosophical claims about meaning from an empiricist point of view. The point of the emphasis on style on Nietzsche is not to promote an aestheticised kind of scepticism. The point is that the context principle/hermeneutic ambiguity appear in the necessarily plural possibilities of style. Derrida also tackles the question of supposed misogyny in Nietzsche, by emphasising how the references to women in Nietzsche are figures of ambiguity, which demonstrate the ambiguities of context and hermeneutics, including the necessary ambiguity of differentiating depth in meaning from surface meaning. 'Woman' tends to be distant and transparent, shallow and ungraspable in Nietzsche.

Derrida and Naturalism
Lieter presumes that Derrida's approach is opposed to his own emphasis on Moraş Naturalism, that is the view that ethics comes from human nature, described in scientific terms. But,there is nothing in Derrida that opposes Naturalism. Derrida emphasises repeatedly that it he is not an idealist. In Analytic terms, he is not a constructionist or a conceptualist. For Derrida, language is derived from the relations between material phenomena, written or spoken. Consciousness, largely discussed in terms of language, is view as emerging from relations between neurons.
Derrida and Ethics
Derrida does not make any Naturalist claims about ethics, but he certainly always denies that a break can ever be established between the natural and the social. According to Derrida, physical forces are inseparable from consciousness and physicality is inseparable from communication. When writing about ethics though he concentrates on questions on ethical law, particular ethical responsibilities and the constitutive contradictions of law and individual responsibility, as I have emphasised.

These concerns are brought into Nietzsche's ethics, particularly in The Politics of Friendship. Derrida does not concern himself with any Naturalistic elements in Nietzsche's ethics. He does however focus on friendship in Nietzsche, on why Nietzsche quotes a statement attributed to Aristotle, 'O my friends, there is no friend'. He looks at how the friend in Nietzsche is both the self and the enemy, of how Nietzsche suggests a goal of absolute friendship. He looks at how Nietzsche looks at friendship as opposed to despotism. Derrida takes from these thoughts a view of friendship as a contradictory ideal which should be followed, and is inseparable from the political ideal of democracy. The goal is to have perfect communication with someone outside the self, but there could only be perfect communication between the self and itself. However, there cannot be perfect communication, even there because the self conducts an inner dialogue, which turns a part of it into its own external friend. There is no Naturalism in these ethical thoughts, but no abolition of ethics through a mere play of style.

Political Notebook. Saturday 20th January 2007. Leading Adocate of Privatisation Backs Moves towards EU Energy Policy

Dieter Helm, veteran of the Privatisation of the British Energy Industry and Major Academic in the Field Argues for EU Energy Policy

A major expert on privatisation at Oxford University, Dieter Helm (described to me by a business friend as a privatisation guru), has recently posted a website article favouring EU moves towards an energy policy. Much confirmation that British Eurosceptic national-conservatives posing as Classical Liberals or Libertarians are contradicting themselves. It is the EU which provides the political and legal framework for continent wide competition, and opening up world markets.

Friday, 19 January 2007

The Preventable Death of Hrant Dink: Ultra-Nationalist Hysterics and the Political Leaders who Have Appeased Them

End the Appeasement of Ultra-Nationalism
Repeal Article 301 and all laws which Criminalise Political and Historical Discussion
Push the Ultra-Nationalists into the Political Wilderness
State and Political Leaders must totally Separate themselves from Ultra-Nationalism

The fourth post I wrote for this blog was on the 'The Nationalist Upsurge in Turkey'
where I emphasised the harassment of Hrant Dink, through the courts and outside court buildings through the despicable campaign of hatred mounted by hysterical ultra-nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz. I certainly do not accuse Kerincsiz, or other leaders and manipulators of ultra-nationalist hysteria, of connection with the murder. I do accuse them of creating an atmosphere of hysteria through their harassment in a country where political violence has been all too frequent. In the context in which which extreme political divisions have led to violence, including murder, the possible consequences of Kerincsiz' hysteria campaign is all too obvious. He is guilty of knowingly, deliberately and calculatingly, creating an atmosphere in which the chances of Dink's murder was increased.

I emphasised in my earlier post that Kerancsiz' hysteria campaign was being tolerated by the state and by the mainstream political parties. Kerancsiz is a member of the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Action Party; though the party has cleaned up its act in the last 10 years, under the leadership of Devlet Bahceli, after a long period of involvement in political violence, they did nothing to restrain Kerincsiz. Though they did not directly endorse his hysteria campaign, they have clearly benefited from the atmosphere of hatred and tension raising that Kerancsiz has created.

When the AKP (a conservative party rooted in Islamism which now defines itself as Conservative Democrat, on a Christian democratic model) came to power, the new Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was greeted by many liberal-left intelligentsia in Turkey, and by many foreign observers, as a great reformer and enemy of the hard core statist-nationalist old guard in Turkey. Where has Erdogan been in opposing Kerancsiz? What was done to stop Kerancsiz from turning the court room and the court steps into a theatre hatred and hysteria? What did Erdogan, Prime Minister and leader of Turkey's largest party, do against this? Nothing. Does Erdogan wish to repeal article 301 of the Penal Code, criminalising 'insults against Turkey, which was used against Dink and many others? No. Article 301 gives legal and state sanction to idea that the individual can be punished for criticising the nation. It is fundamental to the hysteria campaign of Kerincsiz who frequently uses it to bring prosecutions. It's time for Erdogan to behave like a modernist conservative democrat, and not just try to talk like one.

The largest opposition party in Turkey is the Republican People's Party, a social democratic party which is a member of the Socialist Internationalist. Has it demanded the repeal of 301? No. Have they opposed ultra-nationalist ideology? While many members of the party are consistently opposed to ultra-nationalist hysteria, leading members have endorsed intolerant attitudes, for example on the question of a free discussion about the 1915 deportation and massacre of Armenians. It was Dink's insistence on claiming that this should labelled 'genocide' that started his troubles. I've always argued against such an interpretation, but it is a question to be settled by free discussion. The laws, like 301, which criminalise free discussion, have contributed to the atmosphere in which Dink was defined as an enemy of Turkey who deserved to be murdered. When I meet RPP members, they like claim the party is a modernist party based on human rights and political freedom. The time has come to act, not just talk. Has the RPP leader, Deniz Baykal opposed the Nationalist Action Party? No, he is seeking to bring them into a coalition government. Has he condemned Kerincsiz? No. Has he demanded the repeal of 301? No.

Those who committed the murder are very likely rather pathetic individuals, people who know very little about Turkish politics, and even less about the world outside Turkey, except the 'knowledge' that Turkey has enemies who ought to die. Probably people from low income and low education backgrounds dependent on god fathers and distributors of patronage who fill them with ultra-nationalist fanaticism. They have probably seen all kinds of injustice in their life, and are conditioned to blame it on national enemies, traitors, and liberal appeasement, no doubt aware that many liberals and liberal democrats, on the centre right and the centre left, in Turkey are part of a system of patronage and corruption. However pathetic, they must pay for what they have done. However, if all that happens is that they get life in prison, nothing will have been achieved to improve Turkey. The pseudo-nationalists will have won, they will have preserved and entrenched a system of patronage, clientalism, favouritism, corruption, mafia criminality, and protectionism which keeps Turkish people poor but enables the people at the head of these activities to be rich. I've met some radical left and democratic people in Turkey who deny the problems of corruption in Turkey. These are people who benefit from party patronage, or from well intentioned international subsidies for NGOs, the problem is not just with the stereotypical ultra-nationalist apes, it is also with apparently civilised, intellectual and democratic people. All the people who benefit from these distortions find that distributing patronage will create loyal and pathetic clients, very likely the status of those who murdered Dink. The real planners will have kept themselves distant of creating tension within Turkey, and between Turkey and the international community. The international Armenian lobby has already jumped onto the murder of Dink, though Dink strongly criticised Armenians who put anti-Turkish lobbying above positive action to improve Armenian conditions, in Armenia itself and for Armenians everywhere. While we must sympathise with the sincere horror that Armenians throughout the world will feel at this murder, we must note the risk that this will turn into a campaign of ant-Turkish hysteria creating further nationalist hysteria in Turkey. The godfathers will have succeed in their gaols unless.....


The political and state leadership in Turkey has announced its intention of bringing Turkey up to international standards with regard to political freedoms and human rights. They have failed to do so. They have failed to challenge ultra-nationalism. Leaders must must accept responsibility for the atmosphere in which Dink was murdered. They must atone. Public opinion and leaders of all kind must see this as the moment to make a definitive break with ultra-nationalism and to to make the rule of law, freedom of speech and tolerant democracy supreme.

We shall attempt to raise our national culture above the level of contemporary civilization. Therefore, we think and shall continue to think not according to the lethargic mentality of past centuries, but according to the concepts of speed and action of our century. We shall work harder than in the past.
Kemal Ataturk, Speech on the 10th Anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey

South Park. The Latest Episode: 'Smug Alert', South Park Libertarianism and Childishly Subjective Conservatives

One of the best current TV shows is the animation South Park created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who based the central characters Stan and Kyle on themselves. The show features elementary school kids who deal with many dilemmas in bizarre story lines which often push to the limits of the offensive, but always make good morally reasoned points about families, small town life, religion, politics, friendship and many other things.

The most recent episode (the most recent one broadcast in Turkey) is 'Smug Alert'. Kyle's father starts diving a 'hybrid' car that switches between petrol and electric propulsion, and is more environmentally friendly than a car which just runs on petrol. Kyle's father embarrasses Kyle and annoys everyone in the town with his smug attitude which leads him to 'ticket' less environmental cars than his own. Seeking people as pure as himself, Kyle's father takes the family to San Francisco, portrayed as a nightmare place of self-satisfied hippies, lacking in real life. Back in South Park, Kyle's best friend Stan tries to get Kyle back by converting everyone to driving hybrid cars in a 60s protest style song. However, disaster strikes when it turns out that like San Francisco, South Park is producing a cloud of 'smug'. What's worse George Clooney's Oscar acceptance speech has produced a virulent cloud of smug which keeps repeating phrases like 'Hollywood is ahead of the curve on social issues'. If the Clooney 'smug' cloud hits the other ones destruction will rain down. Meanwhile Stan and Kyle's ambiguous friend Cartman, who is anti-Semitic, selfish, and sadistic, misses ripping on Kyle's Jewishness. His solution is to enter San Francisco in what looks like a very old fashioned deep sea diving suit he wears to avoid hippy contamination, and pulls Kyle's family out before San Francisco is destroyed. The pay off is that Kyle tells the town's people that hybrids might save the world, but that smugness is bad.

The Politics of South Park
Like many episodes of South Park, 'Smug Alert' attacks left-wing self-satisfied political correctness. The episode title really sums up that theme of the series as a whole. However, it also emphasises that environmental concerns are well founded and that individuals should take responsibility for protecting the environment. The emphasis on individual responsibility might be considered to oppose left-liberal big government, but it could also be opposed to conservative social disciplinarianism.

Let's look at what the makers say about politics in a recent interview in Reason Magazine.

Reason: A few years ago, Matt, you said, “I hate conservatives, but I really f.....g hate liberals.” Who do you hate more these days?

Stone: That’s a tough question. Obviously, South Park has a lot of politics in it, but ultimately we want to make a funny show and a good show. We try not to be, “All right, here’s the point we want to make.” But things like California’s smoking ban and Rob Reiner animate both of us. When we did that Rob Reiner episode [2003’s “Butt Out”], to us it was just common sense. Rob Reiner was just a great target.

That’s when a lot of people started calling us conservative: “How could you possibly rip on Rob Reiner? You must be conservative.”

Parker: A big key to us is that we both grew up in Colorado in the ’80s, and we wanted to be punk rockers. When you were a teenager in Colorado, the way to be a punk rocker was to rip on Reagan and Bush and what they were doing and talk about how everyone in Colorado’s a redneck with a gun and all this stuff. Then we went to the University of Colorado at Boulder, and everyone there agreed with us. And we were like, “Well, that’s not cool, everyone agrees with us.” And then you get to Los Angeles. The only way you can be a punk in Los Angeles is go to a big party and go, “You can say what you want about George Bush, but you’ve got to admit, he’s pretty smart.” People are like, “What the fuck did he just say? Get him out of here!”

The show is saying that there is a middle ground, that most of us actually live in this middle ground, and that all you extremists are the ones who have the microphones because you’re the most interesting to listen to, but actually this group isn’t evil, that group isn’t evil, and there’s something to be worked out here.

The interview, which is with a Libertarian magazine emphasises two things politically: Centrism and Libertarianism as opposed to Conservativism and (Left) Liberalism. This seem clear enough and is born out by the general tone of the series which tends to be for small government in the economy, and freedom in the social sphere. Conservative Republicanism is targeted with regard to stem cell research, religion and anti-gay attitudes. An episode about immigrants from the future mocks anti-immigrant attitudes which come from a left wing wish to keep up wages and a right wing dislike of people who come from the future. Mel Gibson is mocked as a 'complete douche' and his film The Passion is represented as anti-semitic. An episode, which refers to a fictionalised version of Walmart, mocks the Walmart equivalent as tuırning customers into shopping obsessives and mocks the town people who keep trying to destroy it but then flock back to it, or a new version of it. Though Stone and Trey seem generally sympathetic to the free enterprise spirit, in this instance they clearly parody consumerism and suggest that companies work by subordinating individuals who work for a remorseless inhuman process.

Despite the above, Conservatives and 'Libertarian' Conservatives try to claim the show as their own. Rather oddly, despite clear criticisms of Conservatism in conversation and in the series, there is a book called South Park Conservatives which assumes what the title says, the series belongs to Conservatives. The absurdity of this is made clear in an Amazon.Com review ('All Humor is Conservative') posted by the editor of a magazine which had published essays by the author Brian C. Anderson. The review is based on the truly pathetic position that SP is Conservative because there is a lot of humor direct at left-liberals. Humour directed at Conservatives is ignored. Significantly, the post argues that the private media companies in the US are largely left wing and that SP is part of a counter movement which all encompasses The Passion. That would be Gibson's The Passion which is condemned in one episode of SP as ant-semitic, and as the rantings of a violent maniac.

This is a good example of the kind of contradiction, and outright nonsense right wingers get into when they appropriate Libertarianism. A more subtle but still distotring version can be found on which is closely associated with the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The Institute claims to be Libertarian, but it stretches this to included self styled 'PaleoConservatives who are nostalgics for the Slave owning Confederacy which fought Lincoln in the Civil War. Quite apart from all that, two articles posted on make tendentious claims. The Politics of South Park by Michael Cust only refers to right wing targets on the show, and overlooks the strong advocacy of gay rights, embedded in all the mocking of political correctness and guilt grievance politics. The Invisible Gnomes by Paul Cantor is more balanced, but still tries to define the show as more conservative than liberal, and assumes that the show only has good things to say about big corporations. Cust gets his history of Libertarianism completely muddled. He argues that it starts with Adam Smith and is carried on by Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig Mises and Murray Rothbard. Smith was taken by Hayek as the starting point, though this kind of reading of Smith has been widely contested, in the blog Adam Smith's Lost Legacy, along with books by Jerry Evensky, Samuel Fleischacker, and others. What is even more serious is the failure to recognised that Hayek placed Smith on pedestal (possibly ignoring him most of the time), Mises gave him credit but wrote little about him, and Rothbard condemns Smith as the precursor of Marxism, looking for roots to Libertarianism in 16th Century Jesuit Natural Law thinkers. Despite his role as Mises heir, Rothbard differed strongly from Mises in following natural law ethics, and in his condemnation of Smith. Silly Cust. Or as the South Park kids might say, Cust sucks *ss.

Sadly Cantor and Cust in their conservative version of Libertarianism, don't get SP, because they think it must be Libertarianism of the anti-left kind, and just think that all Libertarianism is like that. Like the characters in the show, they are childish but with less reason.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Political Notebook, Wednesday 17th January, 2007.


How Kadima Killed Israeli Liberalism
The Financial Times reports today that the Kadima (Forward) led government is struggling, as the Army Chief of Staff has resigned over the conduct of the Lebanon incursion, and the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces inquiries into alleged corruption in has past. The resignation of the head of the head of the armed forces clearly raises the question of the responsibility of political leaders, particularly the Prime Minister.

Kadima serves as a weakly defined centrist gathering, dominated by ex-members of Likud and then Labour, dominated in the first place by the very strong personality of Ariel Sharon and then the rather last imposing personality of Olmert.

A third party was all but completely absorbed into Kadima, the Israeli Liberal party Shinui (Reform). Shinui was the third party in the 2003 Knesset election, standing for a healthy mix of free market economics, and progressive social values. In the latter field, it particularly emphasised secularism, strongly and resolutely challenging the privileges of ultra-orthodox religious Jews. Sadly Shinui leaders and Knesset members were sucked into the personalised vague populist centrism of Kadima. The remainder of Shinui split into two parties, both with no influence whatsoever, and certainly no representation in the Knesset.

Likud are now making a come back under the brutally suave charm of Benjamin Netanyahu. Whatever one might think about Israeli politics, Israel needs stable well defined parties to face its very considerable challenges and to make the decisions which will guarantee Israel's future.

It's important that Israeli democracy works well. Even those who are most critical of Israel must understand that Israel has a genuine functioning democracy and market economy. If these things cannot survive and work well in Israel, how can they work in the other Middle Eastern countries? In the long run, Middle East peace and co-operation must make positive use of the example of Israel as a Middle Eastern nation, rooted in common Arab and Jewish culture. Even those who question the origins of the Israeli state must recognise its real political and economic achievements, and must seek benefits from them for all the peoples.

Unfortunately the unnecessary death of Shinui has left Israeli democracy bereft of a strong force for individualism and secularism at the heart of its democracy. A lesson to be learned on sticking to politics of meaningful choice and meaningful alternatives, I believe.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Political News Notebook. Tuesday 16th Jannuary.

Despite Eurosceptic Propaganda in Britain the EU is Promoting Competition in the Provision of Public Services
Today the Financial Times reports that European Union law will require the National Health service in Britain to open more services to bids from private companies across the EU, and that 'sweet heart' contracts between the NHS and former employees will have to open to competition. I happen to think this is a good thing as a point of economic policy and political principle. Whether or not you agree, it certainly makes a nonsense out of the incessant ranting from predominantly right-wing Eurosceptics that the EU is forcing socialism on Britain, and the EU can even be compared with the old Soviet Union. These people have no sense of reality or proportion. It all goes to show that Classical Liberalism benefits from transnational institutions, including the quasi-federal European Union, despite rantings to the contrary from conservative nationalists posturing as Classical Liberals.

Kierkegaard's A-Theist Philosophy

Kierkegaard appears to be as Chrisitian and religious as any philosopher? Nevertheless, there are at least two senses in which he was an a-theist.

1. He was no mere Theist. A Theist refers to a God who intervenes in the universe with omnipotent power. For Kierkegaard, that belief in itself was mere paganism. Religion must be Faith, in which the individual is transformed.

2. In light of 1, the claim that Kierkegaard was a-theistic may seem like a mere play with words, which is just a superficially paradoxical way of saying that Kierkegaard was a Fideist, that is he had a theology of faith. But, the rigour with which Kierkegaard pursued 1. leads towards atheism in the normal sense.

What theological commentators like to call Kierkegaard's 'fideism', or possibly his 'divine commandment ethics', is Kierkegaard's definition of faith as subjective experience and as experience of subjectivity. Some would like to relegate such views to Kierkegaard's 'aesthetic' or 'pseudonymous' works such as Fear and Trembling and Either/Or, which are considered as merely the way to Kierkegaard's religious point of view. One response to this, is that there is only the way and there is never more than the way in Kierkegaard, but today I will concentrate on something else.

I spent a lot of time last semester considering Works of Love in an ethics class. I structured an ethics class to contain consideration of virtue and reason in Plato, friendship in Aristotle, sympathy in Hume, universality in Kant, the Utilitarian Maxim in Hegel, the superiority of ethical life to subjective morality in Hegel, all the ethical issues in Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morality including the relation between master and slave.

In this context, it is particularly clear that Works of Love is a text concerned with defining ethics. The answer seems to be straightforward: Ethics is based on Christian love, inparticular the commands 'You shall love' and 'Love your neighbour as yourself'.

But what comes out of Kierkegaard's exhaustive analysis of these commands? He is finding a response to Kant's suggestion that ethics derives from the possibility of a universal command. For Kierkegaard, Kant's kind of command lacks a place for the individual who commands and is commanded. What does a universal command mean to me, or to you, or anyone?

The command to love makes it clear where the individual fits in. The individual must love the self in loving the neighbour. I can only love my neighbour if I love myself. Self-love is already a relational love. I become the subject and object of love. The command to love myself is not an abstract irrelevance since only in the self-relation of self-love can there be an individual. Individuality which is more than the moment to moment of some pure flow of perceptions in experience must be the relation of empirical self with something in itself more than the moment, but which can be contained in the moment.

What is there in Kierkegaard's discussion of love which takes us beyond subjectivity? All love with the individual outside myself is intertwined with my own self-relation. There can only be love where there is love of self. That applies to God as well. Love of God is a relation with the absolute, and my relation with the absolute must be the relation with the self which exists as more than the moment.

The theological reader of Kierkegaard may assert that Kierkegaard refers to love of, and obedience to a God outside subjectivity, but can the theologian show this in the detail of Kierkegaard's philosophy, other than those moments when Kierkegaard uses the formulae of Christian theology. His thought is never in the formulae, it is always in the conditions of subjectivity, of an individual who experiences individuality.

The Quiet Revolution in the Liberal Democrats

Will Nick Clegg lead the British Liberal Democrats to a revival of the Classical Liberalism of Gladstone and Asquith?

British Liberals and Liberal Democrats: An Ageing Parody of the Party

The Liberal Democrats, and the predecessor Liberal Party, (the name Liberal Party name is now used by a very small left-Green-decentralist-communitarian party whose founders decline to join a merger between the old Liberal Party and the centrist Social Democratic Party, founded by Labour Party defectors) have often been dismissed as an irrelevance full of well meaning activists lacking a plausible program for government, and as having no hope of government, which suits the eccentricity of activists interested in activism as an end in itself. Generally, the activist are associated with well meaning if utopian leftism of a libertarian kind, while leaders are associated with vacuous centrism, only concerned with splitting the difference between the Labour Party and the Conservatives. This is parodic but it has some elements of truth in it, however, the elements of truth are lessening in a way which has yet to be picked up in the collective wisdom of public opinion, even in its supposedly expert vanguard of political journalists. It reflects the way the party evolved from the 1950s onward, in an upward swing after a long decline dating from the split between H.H. Asquith and David Lloyd George, succeeding Prime Ministers during World War One, which very nearly lead to the death of the party in the immediate post World War Two period. A mixture of parliamentary centrism, containing an element of Classical Liberalism, combined with localist activism, containing a strong element of left-libertarians at the core, served the party well to survive and then prosper as the definite third force in British politics.

The Change
The Liberal-Liberal Democrat party was changed twice over by the Conservative Party. First Margaret Thatcher revived free-market economics, combined with social conservatism. A clear place was created for those combining free-market economic liberalism and anti-conformist cultural and social liberalism. Second, the flight of Conservative voters after Black Wednesday in 1992 (collapse of government attempts to maintain the value of sterling in relation to other currencies) undermined the Conservative reputation for economic competence, and led to high interest rates to maintain the credibility of sterling and to create a new anti-inflationary pressure, also modified the activist base of the Liberal Democrats.

Paddy Ashdown's rather confrontational attempts to create a more 'Classical Liberal' party, though he never used that phrase, largely failed. Charles Kennedy tried but gave up very quickly in the face of pressure, before his career completely collapsed amidst concerns about alcohol abuse. Nevertheless, during Kennedy's leadership, Centre Forum, a legally non-party liberal foundation close to the Liberal Democrats in practice, was established and has leant towards Classical Liberalism. Employees are already making their way into key Liberal Democrat positions. Also a key book appeared, The Orange Book, which collected essays emphasising a market based form of liberalism, with reference to new strategies on crime and reforming the European Union.

A rather exaggerated notion of the book as Thatcherite, socially disciplinarian and Euro-Sceptic (a euphemism for anti-European Union attitudes in British politics) got round the press. This appears to have been at least partly the result of briefings by Mark Oaten, who was briefly the apparent standard bearer for Classical Liberal style policies before his political career crashed in even more abrupt fashion than Kennedy's, during a particularly farcical run for the party leadership supported only by the famously eccentric MP Lembit Opik. Oaten's undignified collapse allowed it to become clearer that the real leading figures in the revived Classical Liberal wing are David Laws, Christopher Huhne and Nick Clegg. Getting past Oaten's briefings of Fleet Street, the Orange Book, is a more moderate shift than had been assumed. Left-wing MP Steve Webb contributed, criminal policy suggestions were very much about rehabilitation rather than harshness, EU reform was suggested in the context of the strengthening of European integration.

During the leadership contest to succeed Kennedy, only Huhne stood out of the three Classical Liberals and shifted leftwards pushing the previous standard bearer of the left, Simon Hughes, into last place. Laws has faded into the background, though he is still a very credible figure, and the next leadership election looks like a head to head between Huhne and Clegg. The left simply has no up and coming leaders. Presumably its roots in local activism and self-consciously anti-establishment protest culture, which prefers opposition to the compromises of government, has left it a poor training ground for leaders and policy advisers.

The current leader, Ming Campbell is clearly only a transitional leader before the showdown on the long term future of the party. As a self-identified centre-left politician with a strongly consensual middle of the road style, he is not the most obvious person to continue the push towards Classical Liberalism, but he has done more than Ashdown or Kennedy in that direction, at least partly reflecting the understated influence of his deputy Vince Cable, the old Don of the Classical Liberal current . A form of post office privatisation has become party policy and promises to increase income taxes on the rich have been replaced by policies on indirect environmental taxes. There are no plans to increase public spending; policies to minimise economic regulation, abolish the Department of Trade and Industry, and restrict the total of local and national taxes paid by any individual remain in place.

The Future for the Liberal Democrats
The parody which began this blog entry is still dragged out by political commentators, in a positive way by left wing commentators who wish for a force to the left of Blair, and in a negative way by right wing commentators. Pro-Conservative columnists are particularly patronising and dismissive with regard to a party which is not rooted in recent government power. One thing which distinguishes Conservative and Lib Dem free marketeers is their relation to traditions of power and assumptions about automatic entitlement to power. Ming Campbell's lack of dominating charisma, and David Cameron's really rather modest revival of the Conservatives, have reinforced a tradition of dismissiveness. There is also some recognition, that the Lib Dems are shifting towards a mixture of Classical Liberalism and a greater focus on what it means to have the responsibilities of power. More on this below.

Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism in the Liberal Democrats
I've used the term 'Classical Liberal' above without definition. Like every political label, it is used in many different contexts to refer to many different views. That does not mean that we should settle for complete ambiguity. I take it that Classical Liberalism is distinct from Libertarianism (though it is compatible with many Soft Libertarian positions) and Conservatism (though it is compatible with many Liberal-Conservative positions), and is no closer to those two positions than it is to the most liberal forms of centrist Social Democracy.

A big problem here is that 'Classical Liberalism' has been kidnapped not just by Conservatives, but by really right-wing national-social-cultural conservatives. These people have also kidnapped Libertarianism. While I'm not laying claim to Libertarianism, it's important to note that Libertarianism has a core distinct from right-wing Conservatism. I intend to investigate these issues in detail in later blogs, and that will also involve discussion of Classical Republicanism. For now, I will simply offer a position.

Classical Liberalism is in favour of a limited state but does not regard the state as a purely negative phenomenon.
Classical Liberalism aims for a free-market economy but regards the state not just as a legislator for property rights, but also as a provider of public services and a social minimum.
Classical Liberalism is a reformist progressive position which recognises that the state should push against social conservatism in the pursuit of freedom, and establishing the conditions for freedom.
Classical Liberalism recognises 'negative freedoms' from state interference and 'positive freedoms' of active participation in society; and self-improvement through culture and education which are necessary conditions for freedom.
Classical Liberalism values diversity of opinions, defends the right to peaceful expression of extreme and unpopular views, while seeking a common discourse of public and community interest.

While the changes in the Lib Dems have not led to anyone claiming to be a Conservative, self-declared Libertarians are becoming more evident. The best way to follow this is to regularly check the LibDem Blogs aggregate. While I'm not in full agreement with these capitalist Libertarians, I welcome this as a counter to the more socialist Libertarians (though they don't usually use this label, Radical or Radical Liberal are more normal) in the party. However, some are flirting with the more bizarre Libertarians outside the party, who can be followed through the Libertarian Alliance Blog. Many Libertarian Alliance members are disturbingly prone to the view that anything ant-communist and anti-socialist is Libertarian, and that can extend to an intolerance anything non-western, non-Christian and other manifestations of extreme Conservatism.

Liberal Democrats in the News
The intention is to deal with this as frequently as news items emerge which offer a serious analysis of the changing spirit of the Lib Dems, that is in its shift towards a consistently Classical Liberal position.

On January 8th, Times columnist Tim Hames mixed humour about the private life of Lembit Opik, with a discussion of the shift in the Lib Dems towards limits on central government spending in a more disciplined economic framework.
An article in the Financial Times on the 9th January emphasised the key role the Lib Dems, particularly the science spokesman Evan Harris, have played in opposition to government proposals to ban stem cell laboratory experiments which combine human tissue with animal tissue.
An item on the BBC News website on the 12th January, referring to a English National Ballet dancer who belongs to an extreme right anti-immigrant anti Muslim party, pointed out that the Liberal Democrats defend her right to hold views with which they vehemently disagree.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Philosophy. A Note on Lévinas, Putnam, Nozick and Derrida

Robert Nozick between Athens and Jerusalem.

Is he right to think Ethics is Greek or Jewish?

I was recently reading quickly through Robert Nozick's Philosophical Explanations, a copy I borrowed from an office I use somewhere I gave one course in the last semester, while giving an exam on Derrida. Much to my surprise noticed a reference to a contrast between Greek and Judaic ethics. That created an unexpected link between Nozick and Derrida, since the idea of Greek versus Jewish philosophy, or culture, or ethics, is something that Derrida considers carefully in a long essay on Lévinas, 'Violence and Metaphysics', collected in Writing and Difference . The context in which Nozick introduces the distinction between Greek and Jew, is the difference between ethical 'push' and ethical 'pull'. The push is Greek, and refers to the concern in Ancient Greek thought with cultivation and flourishing of the self, in an ethics which is based on the balance and health of the self. The pull is Jewish, according to Nozick, and comes from the Old Testament, or what Nozick calls the Hebrew Bible. It is the pull of ethical law, the obligation to follow commands of the kind handed down to Moses as the Ten Commandments.

Where did an Analytic philosopher like Nozick come up with this? How does a philosopher who usually avoids cultural context, and comes from a way of thinking which regards cultural and historical context as highly secondary to philosophical argument, come up with this historical-cultural generalisation? Nozick gives thanks to his Harvard colleague Hilary Putnam in the acknowledgements section. We don't expect cultural-historical generalisations from Putnam either, but Putnam did make one major departure from concentrating on Analytic philosophy. Two of Putnam's texts refer to Emmanuel Lévinas, whose work took European philosophy since Kant as its departure. Lévinas' work is full of allusions to Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger and belongs to the French Phenomenological work of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. Where did Putnam refer to Lévinas and what was that about?

Putnam refers to Lévinas in 'Lévinas and Judaism' which can be found in The Cambridge Companion to Lévinas edited by two notable commentators on European Philosophy: Robert Bernasconi and Simon Critchley. Putnam's essay is rooted in Putnam's strong Judaism, I am not sure if he is a believer, but then I could say the same about Lévinas who was a Talmud teacher for children as well as an academic philosopher. The point is that Putnam takes Lévinas seriously as an expositor of what Judaic religion is. Lévinas ' s philosophy, most famously in Totality and Infinity, rests on a distinction between Greek Ontology and Judaic Ethics, the latter rooted in the Torah, the "Hebrew Bible" and the tradition of study of it. Greek Ontology takes the 'Same', that is the Ego or the Self, as primary; Jewish Ethics takes the Other as primary. Putnam briefly but significantly refers to Lévinas' views on Ontology and Ethics in Ethics without Ontology.

It looks very much like Nozick got the ex-cathedra judgement that the ethics of Obligation from Lévinas via Putnam. He very probably did not consider Derrida's critical remarks. Like Nozick, Putnam and Lévinas, Derrida was Jewish himself. I won't recapitulate Derrida's argument here, I will just note some problems in equating Greek Ethics (often known as Virtue Ethics) with Self-Cultivation and Jewish Ethics with obligation. One obvious point is that the Biblical Jews were following the commands of the God of their nation rather than abstract obligation as such. Their ethical commands are clearly located in the rules and taboos of antique eastern Mediterranean society. In any case, how can we locate obligation in a purely Jewish origin? Nietzsche who contrasted Roman master morality, meaning Greek Virtue Ethics, with Judaic Slave Morality, meaning the ethics of obedience to God, also located the origin of ideas of other worldliness and abstract morality in Plato, even as Plato developed a version of Virtue Ethics. Nietzsche clearly though that Old Testament morality was tied to Jewish national identity, and regarded the morality of obligation as Christian rather than Jewish. Christianity meant the teachings of the historical Christ as interpreted by St Paul, the converted Jew, from the point of view of Neo-Platonist philosophy.

Heidegger certainly thought of the early Greek ethics, as an Ethos which preceded ethical rules, abstraction and obligation in the way of life as it was lived. Ethical obligation arises in Heidegger from a turning away from Being, something that is phenomenal for Heidegger, towards law outside Being trying to dominate it, that law came from Plato.

Some philosophers have regarded Old Testament Jewish ethics as an extreme example of an ethics of obligation. Hegel presents Judaism as excessive in its sense of obligation, in comparison to Christianity, a view he supports with reference to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Kierkegaard looks at the story in a more favourable way, though his interpretation is a critique of obligation which argues that the story shows the necessity to will the unethical in obligation to God, and that ethics can only be properly rooted in a self-relation which becomes a relation with the absolute externality of God.

Kierkegaard argues for an alternative to the ethics of obligation by looking to the self which has to live with the paradox of ethics founded on following an absolute, subjectivity and God at the same time.ş Kierkegaard classifies Kant's ethics of pure obligation with the Greek following of Ethos of the community, as both examples of following external rules and universality, instead of the paradoxical unity of particularity and universality in absolute subjectivity.

Of course in recent decades a wide variety of thinkers have sought an alternative to obligation ethics in Greek Virtue and flourishing: G.E.M. Anscombe, Michel Foucault, Martha Nussbaum amongst many. Nussbaum though distinguishes between an emphasis in Aristotle on luck and fragility as opposed to the abstraction of a rule obeying moral self in Plato.

Nozick's attempt to distinguish between Greek and Jewish cannot be upheld, though he uses it with great force for establishing a central ethical tension.

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Political News Notebook. Tuesday 9th January 2007.

Market Liberalisation in Europe

The governer of the European Central bank is warning of the dangers of trade protectionism and is calling for liberalisation of international trade. Contrary to the myths created by right-wing Eurossceptics in Britain, the European Union is in many ways acting as a force for market liberalisation within the European Union, and in its trade with other countries.

Saturday, 6 January 2007

American Interventionism: A Condemnation and a Defence. The Cases of Iraq and Somalia

The invasion of Iraq stands as strong case of failed intervention. Some enthusiasts are still clinging to the idea that Iraq is better of than it was under Saddam and that opponents of the invasion can be dismissed as 'appeasers' on the model of those who failed to stand up to Hitler in the 1930s.

There is clearly a strong current in the US right which regards criticism of the war as treason. Fortunately the latter position has very little influence on the British right which now looks extraordinarily liberal compared with its US counterpart. Even the most traditionalist parts of the British right has learned to live with, and even love, civil partnership for gays. No one is calling for the return of the death penalty. There is little denial of global warning or the need to government action to at the very least moderate the change. There has never been a Christian Right and traditionalist social conservatives now consider it daring to criticise 'multi-culturalism', though equivalent critiques exist on the left of the separatist forms of multi-culturalism.

Leaving aside a deeply worrying tendency of hardcore US conservatives to interpret criticism of the Iraq war as treason, and criticism of Guantanamo Bay as support for terrorism, it is necessary to deal with the respectable residue of support for the Iraq Invasion.

Is Iraq better off now in human and civic rights thanks to the elected institutions?
Sadly no, and it is getting to the point of blind irrationality to deny this. Grotesque abuses of human rights by the Baath Party regime have been replaced by abuses committed by gangs. Essentially Iraq has lost central state power, the one achievement of the Baath Party was that there was a central state which held a monopoly of power however cruelly that power was used. The Iraqi state is now one gang amongst many. Armed militia are now mini-states which in many cases have colonised parts of the legal state. Their methods include torture with power drills before murder, even hospital patients are not free from this extreme sadism of political and religious resentment. The most peaceful region is the predominantly Kurdish north, but even here journalists, and people I've talked to with direct knowledge, confirm that tribal, ethnic and religious differences are festering and not much would be required to push the region into all out conflict between its own micro-state gangs. That's just leaving aside the impact on the whole Middle east and neighbouring states, which may be another blog.

Are opponents of the war habitual appeasers?
No. Some opponents are of the view that all American and Western intervention anywhere anytime is illegitimate and all resistance of any kind must be legitimate. However, many others supported armed intervention in Yugoslavia during the ethnic cleansing and persecutions in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia. Many also supported the Gulf War that pushed Iraq out of Kuwait and the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11. I certainly belong to this category, as to most liberal minded people in Britain, particularly, but not only, active supporters of the Liberal Democrats.

The case against the recent invasion of Iraq is not a general case against American interventionism, Western interventionism or armed Liberal Internationalism. I am an enthusiast for armed Liberal Internationalism, but on the basis of case by case judgement. The Iraq intervention was the wrong case for the following reasons.
1. The US led coalition had left Saddam in place after the first Gulf War, which inevitably calls into question the legitimacy of a delayed overthrow. To my mind there was a very strong case for at least degrading Iraqi armies enough to allow overthrow of Saddam after the first Gulf War, but once the opportunity was missed it could not be legitimately reinvented.
2. Claims that Saddam was allied with Al-Quida and connected with the 9/11 outrage were clearly false and dishonest, and were cynically used to manipulate that large section of US public opinion lacking adequate knowledge international politics to grasp the absurdity of the claim. It is clear that most US service personnel in Iraq believed that Saddam was connected with 9/11. That was the result of a scandalous and cynical manipulation by the Bush administration which showed contempt for service personnel risking life and limb.
3. Claims that Saddam was developing nuclear weapons were clearly believed by most Western intelligence agencies, and even many Iraqi generals. Nevertheless, the fact is no such program existed. Even given the suspicions that existed, they were not confirmed by hard fact, and the idea that a war can be legitimised by the possibility that the opponent is working hard to develop nuclear weapons is quite extraordinary, and would clearly introduce chaos into the international system if the accompanying doctrine of preemptive invasion against the possibility of WMD was widely adopted. Even the Bush administration has not applied this consistently, as was seen in the reaction to North Korea's testing of nuclear weapons. Though the nuclear weapons of Israel, India and Pakistan are less of a danger than weapons possessed by a loose canon like Saddam operating outside normal calculations of balance of power and risk, which establish some kind of self-regulating international system, the gap between the attitude towards the hypothetical Iraqi bomb and the very real bombs of other countries is just too great. The inflammatory effect on Arab opinion is rather obvious and was an inevitable consequence of an absurdly careless strategy. These considerations of consistency are not an intellectual game, they have real consequences in the Arab street, and those who do not care to bother much about Arabs should at least give some thought to the effects on Israeli and western civilians. Evidently Israel was initially keen on the US smacking a rejectionist Arab regime around, but I do not think Israelis are mostly thinking this anymore, as they are all too obviously faced with resurgent Iranian influence and manipulation in the region.
4. Following on from the above, pro-War hawks tend to correctly insist that the Middle East is festering with conflicts and resentments, which scapegoat the West/infidels/Israel/Jews that are there regardless of the invasion of Iraq or whether Israel gets out of the occupied territories. However, it is a very big jump to say that these problems are not intensified by the invasion of Iraq, and certainly absurd and boorish to claim that anyone who points out these effects is excusing Islamist terror.
5. The US supported Saddam against Iran in the 1980s, everyone has now seen the pictures of Rumsfeld from that time embracing the Butcher of Baghdad. Before that the US stood aside as Saddam butchered Iraqi Kurds in the 1970s when the Shah of Iran withdrew his support for insurgents, after settling a dispute with Saddam to his own satisfaction. Both moves by the Shah took place with US support. Where is the apology for any of this? Where is the humble gesture which should have been undertaken before contemplating a war against Saddam on the grounds that Saddam was the eternal enemy of the US and its principles? A large part of the justification for the war involved a swaggering refusal to acknowledge previous errors as a mood of self-righteousness was built up accompanied by vacuous appeals to 'strength' as the answer to problems of international relations and nonsensical attempts to smear Clinton as weak on terror, and as an appeaser. This despite Clinton administration enforcement of sanctions on Iraq, bombing of Sudan, and military intervention in former Yugoslavia. It was the Bush administration that came to terms with arch-terrorist and despot Gaddafi, if Clinton had done such a thing, clearly all the hard core conservatives would have interpreted this as weakness and appeasement.

Is American intervention always wrong? No.
Is intervention by the Bush administration always wrong. No.
Let us take the example of Somalia. I will risk being made foolish by events and insist that the US supported overthrow of the 'Islamic Courts' was a justified armed intervention. The actual intervention was carried out by Ethiopia, which is now seeking an African Union force to replace its army. There is no need to American hard-core conservative triumphalism here. The Ethiopian regime is one of manipulated democracy, ethnic and political persecution. The intervention in Somalia was sparked by rivalry with Eritrea, in which Eritrea is the wronged party in a border dispute. Nevertheless, Eritrea, which has a downright totalitarian regime, is not right to use Al-Quida linked fundamentalists as a weapon against Ethiopia. 'Islamic Court' radicals were appealing to Somali Muslims in Ethiopia and Kenya, and such an expanding arc of religious fundamentalist destabilisation could not be tolerated.

In the wake of the Bush disaster in Iraq, middle ground, including centre right, opinion in Britain has tended to condemn the US sponsored Ethiopian intervention as destabilising, though it has been too much on the periphery of attention for different views to emerge and contend on the topic. It is true that Somalia was divided between brutal micro-state gangs before the Islamic Courts established a central government. That government was destroying individual liberties, was clearly a boon for terrorists, and right now efforts are being made for an AU force to stabilise a secular central government. It could all go wrong, but if it works, globally dangerous terrorists have been ejected from the Horn of Africa, eastern Africa has been immunised from destabilisation, and the AU will have taken a step towards nation building through African cooperation. There is a risk here, but this is the risk here, and on this occasion
liberal minded British minded commentators are wrong. If Bush, and his conservative aides, come up with similar actions during the remainder of his term, then he will have done some good.