Saturday, February 03, 2007

Poor old socialists...

Mr. Eugenides highlights a truly amazing piece by Richard Gott celebrating the suspension of democracy in Venezuela. Despite the illiberalism of Gott's article I find it hard to get upset. It is difficult to get angry at the old fashioned socialists these days. They must know that when all of your political hopes are resting on Latin America the end of the line isn't far away. The Tranzis have major international institutions behind them, a sheen of respectability and a sense of optimism that lures dreamy idealists. Islamism has a limited appeal but can genuinely threaten the west and has demographic trends on its side. By contrast the old fashioned socialists have the pot of oil money Chavez has laid his grubby little hands on and a couple of other dingy South American republics. They're not exactly threatening, just a little sad.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The IRA, Islamists and Moral Sacrifice

Tony Blair is defending the RUC against criticism for possible collusion. A report by the Northern Ireland police ombudsman has alleged that members of the RUC special branch protected informers from criminal investigations for charges as serious as murder. I think there are two reasons this particular report might be less significant than it is being made out to be and that the more important debate is over the lessons this holds for what it takes to defeat political violence.

Firstly, the police officers accused of complicity have described the criticism as unfounded and challenged the writer of the report, Nuala O'Loan, to bring forward any evidence. While there seems no reason to assume that she is making this up it might turn out the scale or extent of the police involvement is over exaggerated. Until formal charges are brought these accusations should be considered somewhat suspect.

Secondly, it isn't quite as revelatory as is made out. Matthew Teague's article from early last year for the Atlantic highlighted the security services turning a blind eye to Republican informers. Unfortunately the article is only available to Atlantic subscribers which is a shame as the entire thing is utterly brilliant, however, this section should serve to illustrate the point I'm making:

"Fulton knew the voice, and its owner: Scap, one of the IRA's most feared interrogators. Fulton had once helped prepare safe houses for such interrogations, and knew that sometimes Scap's subjects survived.
Sometimes not.

Colleagues called both men "hard bastards"—true IRA boys, mothered by terrorism. They killed for the cause, time and again. But British spies had infiltrated the IRA, spreading deceit and rumors of deceit. The IRA had turned against itself. Scap couldn't say for sure who fought on his side.

The interrogation dragged on for hours. Fulton remained outwardly calm, and denied everything. Inwardly, though, he felt sick. He'd been spying on the IRA for a decade and a half, and he knew that if Scap broke him—if he admitted anything—he'd be a dead man—own a hole," in IRA slang.

So throughout the interrogation, Fulton sat stone-faced, blindfolded, and facing the wall. Double blind. He held tight to his secret: yes, he was a British spy.

But then, so was his interrogator."

That article created a huge stir and involves a very similar 'turning a blind eye' by the security services but did not have the same impact in British politics. I guess its story of IRA moles was a little too embarrassing for the Sinn Fein to make a stink about.

We are responding to these revelations in a similar manner to the way we responded to Republican claims of a shoot-to-kill policy. When people call themselves an army at war with your state, blow up innocent members of your citizenry and run a steady guerrilla war against the soldiers you send in to keep the peace shooting at them with the intention of killing is an entirely legitimate response. Holding the security services to the same standard that is applied to those working in peacetime is to deny them the capacity they need to fight what is somewhere between regular police work and a war and is a recipe for losing. However, we were never willing to defend the SAS and other organisations accused of shooting to kill and accepted Sinn Fein's standard of how a counter-insurgency should be fought. We were, and apparently are, unwilling to accept that it might take moral sacrifices to beat terrorists.

An analogy would seem to be with what is known as turning state's evidence in the United States. A strategy used by every Western country when dealing with organised crime is to give reduced sentences or even immunity from prosecution to those who are willing and able to prove exceptionally useful to more important or more numerous criminal investigations than that they are subject to. Take the example of James "Dick" Liddil who was a bank robber and murderer but was given immunity from prosecution. Turning a blind eye to the crimes of informers is an almost identical sacrifice of justice to giving people reduced sentences for turning state's evidence which is accepted with regular organised crime, far less lethal than the IRA.

It is necessary for the simple reason that crime, and even killing, is what gives credibility in these organisations. Those who are not criminals have no status and, hence, don't have much to tell the intelligence services. For that reason fighting terrorism will require us to deal with criminals and if we do not we are likely to wind up denying justice to far more victims as we prove unable to gather evidence against the rest of the organisation.

This was hugely effective. Teague highlights how the IRA wound up riddled with informers and it was this combined with other security measures which brought them to the negotiating table. The final settlement was not substantially different to that on offer throughout the troubles and the main British cave during negotiations was to release prisoners who would not have been in jail but for the armed struggle. Equally, the idea that Adams and McGuinness are independently reformed characters stretches plausibility. British security services defeated the IRA and, as a result, we are all safer and Northern Ireland has a chance at a better future. It is worth paying quite a price for such a result.

Justice is served because those who inform the security services pay a huge personal price. Teague's article is, in part, the story of the massive risk of torture and death the IRA informants took. In return for helping the police they face a lifelong threat of a violent death at the hands of the Republicans and exile from their community. They have not gotten off lightly.

The debate over whether we are willing to accept sacrifices in justice in order to fight terrorism is important because we are facing a new terrorist threat and may need to make the kind of utilitarian calculations with justice that were made with respect to the IRA again. The Times coverage of the plot to behead a Muslim soldier correctly focussed on how similar this is to the IRA strategy of enforcing community loyalty. New plots are being discovered with such regularity that it appears the problem of Islamist violence will get worse before it gets better. At the moment it is still a rather informal movement of isolated lunatics but this is not necessarily the way it will stay. Particularly if the movement becomes more organised we might find it necessary to make sacrifices in our values, possibly different ones to those required in the struggle against the IRA, in order to protect security and ensure justice is, more broadly, done.

More is at stake as the IRA could, at most, have caused more deaths and us to abandon the Unionists to their fate. While this would have been a tragedy the Islamists have the will to cause, as demonstrated by 9/11 and 7/7, near unlimited destruction and, through crimes like the murder of Theo van Gogh or the threat to Salman Rushdie, attack our most precious values such as freedom of expression. They pose an existential threat to the West as a civilisation. While we should not sacrifice who we are we have to be prepared to do what is necessary to beat them. Balancing these priorities is a key challenge for twenty-first century Britain but striking that balance will require a more honest appraisal of what is, and has been, necessary to defeat terror.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Tranzis, the EU and More History

One of the most important ideas in conservatism today is the identification of transnational progressives as the new challenge to liberal democracy's preeminence as a universal philosophy; the next stage of history which refutes Fukuyama's prediction that there might be no new universal challenge. It's an idea which has been gaining speed for some time but is now becoming increasingly important as an identification of the internal threat to the Western community. It is the key socialist response to the failure of Communism and the challenge globalisation poses to European Social Democracy.

A few articles to read on the subject. Cosh Colby from Report Newsmagazine in October 2002 (I can't find an online version) has this description:

""Tranzi": it's the hottest new term of abuse since "nerd." If you ever had the uneasy feeling than UN officials, humanrights commissions, ecunemical groups, Amnesty International and Liberal cabinet ministers were reading from the same hidden songsheet, John Fonte's influential new paper, "The Ideological War Within the West" (written for the foreign affairs journal Orbis, but much-distributed online), is for you. He argues that liberal democracy has spawned an "alternative ideology" within the western world which he calls "transnational progessivism." The handy nickname appears to be the brainchild of English commentator David Carr.

To sum up a complicated portrait, a Tranzi basically thinks like this: the basic building blocks of society are not individual citizens or families, but ethnic and gender groups. In the name of "fairness," all such groups should be represented in all professions in proportion to their percentage of the populace. "Diversity" is the imperative for a Tranzi: institutions must reflect and act on the "world views" of minority groups, and the populace itself may be reshaped through immigration, to enhance diversity.

Tranzis praise democracy, but have a markedly new definition of it: to them, "democracy" is not majority rule but balanced power-sharing among minority groups. The nationstate is the Tranzi's great enemy: he is not afraid to alter the teaching of history, "deconstructing" national narratives, nor does he have much use for the concept of citizenship. In the Tranzi utopia, "global governance" will supplant the nation-state. Tranzis habitually talk of the United States as an illegitimate and thuggish regime; not coincidentally, it is the main obstacle to their ultimate goals."

This article from John Fonte is the original identification of the movement which Cosh refers to. It is a truly brilliant article and worth printing out and reading if you can make time. Here's his conclusion:

"Scholars, publicists, and many others in the Western world-and especially in the United States, original home of constitutional democracy-have for the past several decades been arguing furiously over the most fundamental political ideas. Talk of a “culture war,” however, is somewhat misleading, because the arguments over transnational vs. national citizenship, multiculturalism vs. assimilation, and global governance vs. national sovereignty are not simply cultural, but ideological and philosophical, in that they pose such Aristotelian questions as “What kind of government is best?” and “What is citizenship?” In America, there is an elemental argument about whether to preserve, improve, and transmit the American regime to future generations or to transform it into a new and different type of polity. In the terms of contemporary political science we are arguing about “regime maintenance” vs. “regime transformation.”

In the final analysis, the challenge from transnational progressivism to traditional
American concepts of citizenship, patriotism, assimilation, and at the most basic level, to the meaning of democracy itself, is fundamental. It is a challenge to American liberal democracy. If our system is based not on individual rights, but on group consciousness; not on equality of citizenship, but on group preferences for non-citizens (including illegal immigrants) and for certain categories of citizens; not on majority rule within constitutional limits, but on powersharing by different ethnic, racial, gender, and linguistic groups; not on constitutional law, but on transnational law; not on immigrants becoming Americans, but on migrants linked between transnational communities; then the regime will cease to be “constitutional,” “liberal,” “democratic,” and “American,” in the understood sense of those terms, but will become in reality a new hybrid system that is “post-constitutional,” “post-liberal,” “post-democratic,” and “post- American.”

This intracivilizational Western conflict between liberal democracy and transnational progressivism began in the mid to late twentieth century; it accelerated after the Cold War and should continue well into the twenty-first century. Indeed, from the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 until the attacks on the heart of the American republic on September 11, 2001, the transnational progressives were on the offensive.

Since September 11, however, the forces supporting the liberal-democratic nation state have rallied. Clearly, in the post-Sept. 11 milieu there is a window of opportunity for those who favor a reaffirmation of the traditional norms of liberal-democratic patriotism. The political will to seize this opportunity is unclear. Key areas to watch include official government policy statements for the use of force and the conduct of war; the use and non-use of international law; assimilation-immigration policy; border control; civic education in the public schools; and thestate of the patriotic narrative in popular culture."

John O'Sullivan's Gulliver's Travails from New Criterion in 2004 describes US relations with the transnational progressive institutions. This section is a good one:

"All that unilateralism amounted to in reality was the assertion that the United States would defend its vital interests in the last resort by force if it could not win the approval of the U.N. Security Council for doing so. That assertion rests on a combination of national sovereignty and the right of self-defense under the U.N. Charter. It would be endorsed by most U.N. member-states. And its modest logic was established in a BBC radio debate between Richard Perle, the foremost neoconservative strategist, and Baroness Shirley Williams, a moderate social democratic peer. Perle argued that the liberation of Iraq was either right or wrong. If Baroness Williams thought it was wrong, she should oppose it. If she thought it was right, why would she subordinate her opinion to a Chinese, Russian, or French veto in the Security Council? The only riposte to Perle’s question is that a statesman might subordinate one aim to gain a larger one. But that cannot be a reason for subordinating one’s national interest to a Chinese or Russian veto in principle. Of course, for the Tranzis such subordination is the point. They see it as the central principle of global governance and treat the mildest resistance to it as “unilateralism.”"

This section indicts the EU's role in pushing this postnational, postdemocratic vision of the future:

"In large measure the E.U. is a Tranzi project—though one still hobbled by scattered resistance from the voters and national governments. It has a missionary desire to export its distinctive postnational ideology to the rest of the world. It is increasingly driven by an ideological hostility to the United States as the classical liberal democratic alternative to its own post-democracy. And in particular it believes itself superior to the United States in dealing with premodern states and Islamist terrorism—preferring diplomacy to the war on terror and deferring to international bodies in principle."

Then this highlights why our continued membership is the best reason for hope and our staying out will not protect us from the rot. After highlighting that the Islamist threat to Europe will concentrate minds and hurt the transational progressive consensus in Europe he describes how the US might change the EU and what might happen if that fails:

"If that is to be accomplished conclusively, however, then the United States must also encourage those powers that share its distrust of postmodern structures—plainly Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and less plainly the Baltic states and some East European countries—to seek more liberal constitutional arrangements within the E.U. Until now, it has consistently discouraged any such resistance to whatever was described by Brussels as “integration.” Even a modest version of such reforms in the E.U. would be a major setback for the Tranzis—their Grenada—and have knock-on effects on their other projects such as the International Criminal Court. And, of course, the mere fact that the E.U. and the U.S. were fighting the war on terror on more American terms would tend, as after September 11, to reduce Tranzi power and influence throughout Acronymia—just as the current Iraqi troubles have helped them. Gulliver would give some Yahoo energy to the overrefined Houyhnhnms of Europe—and maybe get some patience and subtlety in return. That in turn would speed the defeat of the Islamists.

If, however, Mr. Steyn is right in his pessimism—and that’s the way to bet—then the United States will face a difficult future as a military superpower continually frustrated in middling matters by the resistance of international bodies. Europe and America will divide into two separate civilizations—the Anglosphere (minus England, plus India) and the Holy Secular Empire—uncomfortably housing a growing Muslim minority. Even in America, liberal democracy will be gradually transformed into a politically correct judicial oligarchy on Tranzi lines. The political atmosphere of both sides of the Atlantic will obstruct and delay the inevitable defeat of Islamist terrorism. And Gulliver, undefeated and undefeatable, will nonetheless apply for entry into the new euthanasia program brought in following a Supreme Court decision that cited judicial opinions from the International Human Rights Court in Harare."

Here's a new reason not to leave the EU. We need to be the liberal democratic sword in Europe once again and fight to reform the EU into a democratic institution otherwise, eventually, the tranzis will come for us.

History and Nation, Continued

Gracchi and I's debate on the merits of historical nationalism continues. The question has separated into whether historical national pride can be justified and whether, if historical nationalism is a lie, it is a noble one.

Firstly, Gracchi argues that the "shared endeavour" which I suggested we were all a part of by virtue of our Englishness/Britishness (that I keep writing English then going to rewrite it says something about the weakness of British identity at the moment) does not exist. He points out that the objectives for and understanding of Britain would have been desperately different between Canute, Cromwell and Churchill and that they can hardly be described as labouring at a single, coherent project. This is obviously the case and "shared endeavour" was a somewhat unfortunate choice of words as it suggests a common purpose. However, while people might have had different ideas of what the purpose of England, or Britain as a successor state, might be there clearly has been a sense of being a part of the English 'team' since around the time of the Tudors when English identity first developed. As such, while I might think that Cromwell's vision for our nation is a poor one that does not mean that we are not both a part of that nation for exactly the same reason that Gordon Brown's different vision of Britain to mine does not mean we cannot both be British.

That nationalism provides a link between people with so little else in common illustrates its strength. This is why it can create common feeling which prevents those with irreconcilable political differences tearing each other apart. This is why it can provide a common identity for those from different ethnic backgrounds to unite around. I have almost nothing in common with Cromwell but that we are both English. That this matters to me, would have mattered to him and a majority of the rest of the population (leaving aside the question of the minority nationalisms) illustrates just how real it is. This common nationalistic myth connects me to those in other historical eras and that connection, in turn, allows me to be inspired and proud of their achievements; as well as wincing at their mistakes.

For Canute the case is somewhat more problematic as he is from a period before England was a nation in the modern sense but I still think that he has something of a stakeholder interest in the country as one of those who made a contribution, however minor, to its formation. I don't think this is the same as those, post the advent of English nationalism, who actually understood themselves as English/British but it is still a very real connection and makes him a part of the story of England and, therefore, a part of my historical inheritance.

On the second question of whether or not historical nationalism is a good idea I think Gracchi's notion of being nationalistic when it is necessary but recognising its irrationality to keep us from getting too enthusiastic the rest of the time is a little unrealistic. Nationalism competes with many other group loyalties, ethnicity, family, ideology, class and more, and it is a key part of running a successful state that you ensure that it can compete with these other loyalties. If national loyalty is outcompeted by ethnic loyalty you get racial bigotry, if by family you get nepotism, if by ideology you get political violence and if by class you make industrial compromise impossible. Loyalty to nation encourages people to compromise the interests of the other groups they are loyal to in the interests of the common national good. Of course, the counterpoint to this which, I expect, Gracchi will raise is that nationalism encourages international division but I would argue divided nations have, historically, been more dangerous to the international order than overly united ones. Even classic examples of nationalism gone mad are unconvincing as cases that excess national unity is dangerous, Fritz Stern in Einstein's German World discusses how Germany chose militarism and then fascism in response to a failure to establish a national unity.

However, note that peoples united around their nation are historically rare. If nationalism were such an easy thing to establish that it could be turned on and off like a light in the manner Gracchi describes that might be wonderful but it seems more plausible that, when we turn to people's national loyalty to encourage sacrifice and get us through hard times we will find it absent and that subgroups are out for themselves.

It would seem to me that giving people examples of where people from their nation have achieved in the past would strengthen their desire to identify with that nation. In that regard an understanding of Britain's historical achievements might contribute to nationalism winning out over less uniting group loyalties. This does not have to and should not be the exclusive purpose of history but teaching some history to this end seems deeply worthwhile.

Building a cohesive nation is one of the great challenges for any state and building pride in the nation is the way to do this. There is plenty to be proud of in British history and giving young Britons examples of things worth taking pride in is a fine thing to do in citizenship lessons. British achievements throughout history might inspire and unite a people who can fracture like so many others have.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

In Defence of Richard Dawkins

Many conservatives in the States, and some over here, have a caricature of 'militant' atheists on the warpath which rouses the faithful but bears very little relationship to reality. This piece from Colby Cosh in the Canadian National Post is an excellent defence of atheism and Dawkins in particular.

"If it’s true that some form of religious faith is positively required for a satisfactory human life, then there is no need to oppose Richard Dawkins at all; any minute now, the professor is bound to see through the miserable shallowness of being a bestselling author, holding a chair at the world’s greatest university, and enjoying marital bliss with a beautiful television actress. In the meantime we are confronted with the spectacle of Dawkins and thousands of other unabashed atheists going about their business without becoming deranged by existential nausea. On the evidence, they seem to become more common, not less, as one ascends the ladders of income, education, or cognitive ability. Nothing much visibly distinguishes their behaviour or fate except a notable tendency toward smugness.


We also still encounter controversies like the one now going on in several Ontario municipalities, where secular groups have quarrelled continually with religious conservatives over the right to commence council meetings with public prayer. If prayer works, there should be no reason elected Christians cannot ask God’s blessing on their work in private. Evidently they’re not fighting for the right to pray, which no one proposes to deny them, but for the right to make a collective gesture of exclusion — to seek public sanction for the supremacy of religious faith and, by implication, the supremacy of believers. What has Richard Dawkins ever said or done that is uglier or more dangerous to social peace than this?"

The only real problem is his definition of atheist as anyone who doesn't require God to understand the world around them. He uses this to argue that many agnostics are, in fact, atheists but I'm not sure this actually accords with common usage of the two terms.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A World Civilisation or a Clash of Civilisations? Video of the Debate

A friend who used to blog but has too many important things to do these days pointed me towards this debate held recently by Ken Livingstone. The press chose not to give it much notice as it didn't quite turn out the way Livingstone hoped. Livingstone and Yaqoob got utterly owned. Douglas Murray, in particular, I've never seen before on this kind of form; incredibly impressive. It'll take you an hour and twenty minutes to watch it all but it is well worth the time. If you don't have time skip ahead to Murray's speech.

Ken Livingstone Part 1

The rest of the videos are after the jump to ensure that this doesn't slow the homepage too much.

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Ken Livingstone Part 2

Daniel Pipes Part 1

Daniel Pipes Part 2

Salma Yaqoob

Douglas Murray

Q & A Part 1

Q & A Part 2

Testing Splitting Posts

I'm just testing my ability to split posts up. Find out why after the jump...

Read More

...because I want to embed all eight YouTube videos which make up the Livingstone/Pipes/Yaqoob/Murray debate.

18 Doughty Street and the Taxpayers Alliance take on Tax

The first of 18 Doughty Street's new political adverts is online. The production values are good, it is reasonably amusing and it makes a solid attempt to confront the rapid expansion in the variety as well as quantity of tax. Its main value isn't really going to be in changing people's mind but in breaking the public consensus around a shift to a high tax economy. Tim did a good job of defending it on Newsnight.

What worries me is that, thanks to broadcast regulation, these adverts can only be distributed via the Internet and might not reach the mainstream audience which isn't decided on these issues; that the Internet may not have yet sufficiently matured as a mass political communication medium. I think we should be asking the question of why, exactly, this advert can't be placed on television. Issue driven television adverts might play a massive part in reenergising politics outside of the parties. While television is more expensive it is still the crucial medium in connecting with a broader public and I'm sure funding to place this advert could be found.

The one criticism I would make of this particular advert is that it doesn't bring out a serious argument at the end. A relatively lightweight, comedic presentation like this could use a statistic (perhaps one comparing changes in our tax levels to other countries) or two to make those who think the increases in tax we are seeing are moderate or unavoidable think again.

How important is the row over an exemption for Catholic adoption agencies?

I'm not sure this issue is quite as important as it is being made out to be. This is not really "the death of religious freedom in Britain".

There are many other areas in which we do not accept that religious freedom entails a right to discriminate in who you offer a public service to. This is similar to the case of the Muslim taxi-driver who refused to take a blind woman as a passenger because of her guide dog. Conservative anger at this case was based upon the idea that excluding someone from a public service on the basis of your religious convictions is to treat a fellow citizen unfairly.

Suppose a Muslim doctor did not want to treat a woman patient because he considered such contact unclean; it seems unlikely they would be allowed such an opt-out. Why is the freedom of Catholics to discriminate against gays in offering the public service of an adoption agency a more worthy cause?

The best argument against this would seem to be that adoption isn't really a public service but a private one. As adoption relies upon making judgements about the suitability of people to parent it must exclude vast swathes of the public. As this kind of decision making is central to running an adoption agency this is a service which must, by its very nature, discriminate between different prospective parents on some ground or another and it is right that Catholics are able to run an agency which discriminates on grounds which they think are proper. There is no serious argument that Catholic agencies are really harming the children they are charged with getting adopted and there are other agencies out there which take a different view of gays as parents.

However, note that this problem with the legislation now hinges on the rather thorny question of whether this is a public service or not. I think that makes it an excellent candidate for a free vote and that is what Cameron has given the parliamentary party.

Another reason I don't think that this issue is quite as important as it is made out is that it seems twinning with a secular agency would allow Catholics to continue to avoid working with prospective gay adopters. Is referring gays to your sister organisation which might then allow them to adopt really such a violation of Catholic principle?

I do think this legislation needs rethinking, however, I do not think that it is the death of or even a serious infringement upon religious freedom.

Monday, January 29, 2007


I have won PragueTory's poll for the best young Conservative blogger. Huzzah!

Hard luck to the other, excellent, blogs nominated. A big thank you to those who voted for me; it is nice to win.

History and Nation

Gracchi has an excellent response to my piece on liberal guilt and history. He is a superb blogger, probably the best of the left wing blogosphere at the moment, and puts the case for cynicism of historical nationalism well but I shall, nevertheless, attempt to defend my hopeless, romantic pride and its transmission to new generations. Essentially, he argues that my vision of history giving modern Britons a sense of identity both underestimates and overestimates the role that the studying of history can play in our lives. Underestimating its capacity because I do not ask that history provides a subtle picture of the flawed characters who make up its central players. Overestimating its ability to provide a source of national identity.

We are, to a certain extent, arguing at crossed purposes as I do not seek that the national identity building history of Britain that I am calling for should act as a substitute to the broader study of history. Indeed one of the topics that I chose to study most during my degree was twentieth century economic history of the United Kingdom, hardly the proudest of periods. However, I do think that the study of important, formative, periods in British history can have a particular function in giving people a sense of where they come from and of pride in their nation particularly if combined with a broader study of history.

Gracchi contends that history's ability to build identity is questionable by posing the question of whether I can relate to Cromwell's crimes as well as his achievements. He quite sensibly points out the problems with my playing the eternal soccer fan crying "we won" when I played no part in the game. However, I think that he is taking a rather unfortunately materialistic view of the nature of nations. If our nation is merely one big nexus of social contracts then can we expect self-sacrifice in its name? Can we expect people to do more than pursue their narrow self interest within such a nation?

Nationalism motivates people to stand by their nation and fellow citizens by appealing to instincts of group loyalty hardwired into our nature. Even if we wished to avoid it we would likely only replace it with other loyalties such as the loyalties to extended family which it is thought impede democratic development in large parts of the Muslim world. There is a famous psychological study which found that, even if separated only by the modern artist they found most appealing, people still displayed significant loyalty to their group. Now, we can either have this national bond be based upon a heroic narrative, the sense of an old and grand project or a new and exciting one as in the States, or we can have it be based on something else; racial differences are a common substitute. It is a central conservative insight that working with the grain of human nature is far more productive than fighting it.

I do not think that, in order for history to contribute to this sense of nation it need be a caricature. Not Saussure is right to note that the Glorious Revolution is, like almost any historical event, divisive. However, some events like the Glorious Revolution are important as formative events and a knowledge of them helps us understand our nation's origin and place in the world. There are other events which might give us pride; there is plenty in the history of a nation as great as ours to celebrate even while acknowledging subtlety. For example, it is right and proper to acknowledge that there was hardship and sometimes cruelty in Britain's making of man's economic fortune in the Industrial Revolution but that does not obscure the importance of Britain's contribution to world prosperity. We do not require saints to inspire us; mighty achievements will do. Although not bound by blood or personality myself, Cromwell, Cnut and Churchill are all part of a great shared historical endeavour. If we can teach British children they are a part of that endeavour too they might show spirit worthy of such a heritage.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

FDR was irresponsible wasn't he?

Clinton on Bush from Reuters:

"This was his decision to go to war, [...] we should expect him to extricate our country from this before he leaves office."

She justifies this by arguing that "he went with an ill-conceived plan, an incompetently executed strategy". This may be true but why exactly should wars, even if they are going badly, coincide with presidential terms? That would be a little convenient wouldn't it?

BBC Ban Little Green Footballs

Those looking to defend the blogosphere from censorship might want to refocus their energies from blocking a rumoured voluntary code for bloggers to attacking this example of the BBC shutting down any thread which links to the American blog Little Green Footballs. Go to the Little Green Footballs blog and see for yourself if there is anything which deserves to be banned from BBC news forums. It is discussing Islamism critically but what's wrong with that? Other than being a bit right-wing what has LGF done wrong?

The best explanation I've heard for this, from Dave, is that some of the comments on LGF will have attracted someone's ire and the BBC, as a public service broadcaster has to avoid even a distant association with racist opinions. However, every big blog or website attracts unpleasant comments, the Internet comes with crazies. If linking to them is too much of a risk to the BBCs moderation then it has no business running Internet discussion boards.

This appears to be another example of how free speech is increasingly under threat more from the threat of violence and self-censorship than direct state action.