Freedom for what and for what end?

February 6, 2011

Ah yes, the sanctimonious Germans. For fifty years, the free Germans were protected by the US who helped rebuild Germany as a nation and a democracy. Now they sneer while worrying about the growth of Islamism amongst their Turkish population…

Freedom for what and for what end?
If they vote for an Islamic republic, ruled by the clergy, it will not be the democracy that you wish to see. It will be a theocracy with elections managed by the clergy, where real power is held by the Army, the secret police, the clergy themselves and the ruling elite.
Eastern Europeans wanted, campaigned for and died for Western democracy where elections are underpinned by the rule of law. Where are the Arab liberals? Where are the Arab feminists and those campaigning for civil liberty? The answer is that outside of metropolitan elites, these are surrounded by conservative populations to whom the ideas of the nationalists and Islamists have a stronger appeal. Even amongst the educated, the Islamists are strong.
Does Der Spiegal not realised that the doctors and lawyers federations in Egypt are controlled by the Islamists? Do they not realise that there is a strong ‘street’ feeling that the woes of the Arab world are due to Israel’s existence and US power? Pan-Arabism never died but has morphed into an idea of the Islamic global community. This idea is strong in the Middle East as it gives a wider sense of community and allegiance.

Was the West ever a role model or is this a display of sentimental narcissism? Did the Arab world ever really look to us as a whole? The Islamist movements have been growing in strength in the Arab world since the 1960s but not at the expense of liberal secularists but at the expense of Arab nationalism, which itself was never far removed from Fascism.
Where there has been strong liberal currents as in Lebanon, these have been opposed by an alliance of the Arab Nationalists (Baath) and Islamists (Hezbollah/Iran). The West has not failed Lebanese liberals because of a lack of faith in its own ideals but because it has persistently mistaken Arab Nationalism and Islamism as moderate movements, reacting to Western provocation.
The chief Western fault has been a seduction of our intelligentsia and policy elites by the ideas of Edward Said (and his school), denying agency to the Arabs and insisting that our very intellectual consideration of the Arab world is conditioned by racism. Through this paradigm, the West has tried to treat with the anti-liberal forces as if they were European states and not fundamentally hostile ones. The negotiations with Iran over its not-so-covert nuclear weapons programme should have demonstrated this; nothing has made Iran shift from this destabilising programme, short of fear of a United States invasion after 2003.

Der Spiegal demonstrates once again that we are substituting wishful thinking in the West for cogent analysis.
Yes, we neoconservatives want to see democracy in the Arab world. We still think that even one successful Arab democracy will create the momentum for long term change in that region. But we recognise that a democracy is about more than just elections. It is a civil order.
In order for a democracy not to fall victim to demagogues using the language of democracy in order to end it, it needs civil institutions committed to a defence of democracy, it needs a relatively liberal society and especially one prepared to tolerate religious and ethnic minorities. And it needs a strong sense of civic identity.
Some of these are present in modern Egypt but others are not. The Army is the backbone of the present regime; the clergy are hostile to liberalism (and this matters); the Muslim Brotherhood are stronger and more deeply entrenched in educated society than Western journalists realise and are by their ideological nature hostile to liberal democracy.
Is this the fault of the West or are we overestimating our own potestas?


Egypt and the Democracy Paradigm

February 5, 2011

How to draw a false comparison in three easy steps. Example, Iran, pre 1978-79 and Iran 1979-present.

1. Examine Iran under the Shah and Iran under the Ayatollah regime: declare both to be tyrannies.
2. Declare that this is your starting position for comparison (tyrannies as nature of regime). (This involves ignoring nuances).
3. Declare that since both were tyrannies, and therefore undesirable to our point of view, both are equally wicked.

This means we can ignore the modernisation of Iranian society under the Shah, the moderation of its politics and foreign policy and focus on the wickedness of the secret police and of the United States’ support of the regime.
This also means in the comparison that we can ignore the murderous repression of Khomeini’s revolution involving the slaughter of feminists, democrats, communists, socialists, trade unionists and those who publicly criticised the regime.
It means we can ignore Khomeini’s order to massacre the surviving political prisoners from 1987-1989.
It means we can ignore the regime’s active sponsorship of Islamic terrorism around the world.
It means we can ignore the continuing persecution of the minorities in Iran.
It means we can ignore the precedent set by the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, in spite of this being a direct threat to freedom of speech in our own countries and a criminal incitement of murder.

All this is of course deplored by Western liberals but since Iran is supported by Russia and China (and probably France playing a double-sided game) and is not supported by the United States, then we can cheerfully keep our ‘consciences’ clean.

This applies to Egypt today. For all his and the regime’s faults, Egypt is an immeasurably better place than when it was at war with Israel. The war was not so damaging to Egyptian society as the state-led and encouraged hatred of Jews, the United States and of a supposed plot by the Western world to oppress the Arabs.

The state of war brought the Egyptian economy to a state of ruin. Even before peace was secured with Israel (even a cold peace), Sadat was introducing economic liberalisation as a policy into Egypt. This is significant because what he and the regime were attempting to do was to redirect the energy of the state into creating prosperity and improve the lot of Egyptians.

The chief opposition was then, as now, the Islamists who wanted to return to the existential struggle with Israel not just on ideological grounds but also as a means of unifying Egyptian society. The Islamists were preparing to launch a coup to seize the state from within and without the Army; this was detected and destroyed but one cell went undetected and eventually assassinated Sadat.

Since Sadat’s death, Egypt has been stable. It has not launched international adventures, it has not launched radical social programmes designed to transform Egyptian society into an enterprise aimed at producing some abstract outcome and it has not allied itself with the Baathists or with the Islamists of Iran. As a government often survives for a long period by reflecting the prejudices of its population, the Egyptian state has continued to indulge in anti-semitic and anti-american propaganda, has done little to improve the lot of women and engages in various forms of brutal behaviour, usually against outside groups such as the African refugees who regularly try to enter Israel through the Sinai.
(Actually this leaves an interesting thought experiment here: why if Israel is an apartheid state, do African refugees flee though Egypt to Israel?)

On the other hand, Egypt is well-educated, prosperous (the quarrels over economics seem to focus on nepotism and the effect of the economic downturn on employment) and populous.

Which leaves an interesting question open for consideration: if we are to support those protesting for democracy and freedom, why are we in government and media talking about accepting the Muslim Brotherhood – indeed, making them a necessary part of any solution, when even a cursory reading of their speeches, texts and political positions reveals them as anti-democratic, anti-liberal, anti-civil rights (especially on women and religious minorities) and pro-war against Israel and more widely the United States?

I suspect the answer is that most officials and journalists in the West are blinded by the false comparison – Mubarak’s a dictator, dictatorship is worse than democracy (conflating appeals for democracy with the establishment of a fully functional and robust democratic state) and so therefore a democracy with dominant anti-democratic forces is morally better than a military dictatorship. Dictator, bad; democracy, good. Two legs, bad; four legs; good. (Apart from the ducks and chickens…)

Through this simplistic paradigm, we neoconservatives are forced to watch our feckless governments and intelligentsia appealing for democracy in order to install those who would trample on every ideal we should be promoting abroad: women’s empowerment, secularisation, political moderation, free market economies, a free press* and suppression of practises such as female circumcision? In the interest of being on the side of democracy, as opposed to promoting democratic societies, we will side with those who preach an anti-modern agenda and show every sign of their willingness to put this into action?

* How long would that last in an Islamic democracy and what would classify as defamation of religion?


Politics and the collectivists

December 20, 2010

Notes: the term liberal here is used in the context used by F. von Hayek in Why I am not a Conservative. I have also drawn upon his “triangular” theory of political alignment.

***

The language of revolutionary socialism has permeated the wider collectivist polity; collectivism being rooting in utopian ideals is particularly susceptible to demopathic language.

The language of democracy is used by the revolutionary collectivists to undermine and corrupt democratic collectivism. Likewise, liberals may be drawn to revolutionary language in democratic guise for reasons of defending democracy; witness the infiltration and control of the “anti-fascists” by the Socialist Workers Party in Britain.

The poisoning of democratic language with the ideology remnants of revolutionary collectivism has left a large, educated constituency in the West with a low-level antipathy to capitalist democracy, based as it is, not upon utopian (collectivist) ideals but upon a moderate acceptance of the status quo as the basis of politics.

Collectivists dream of changing the world for the better but capitalist societies with a strong and healthy liberal and collectivist instinct have steadily improved living standards, political and social conditions and have made great strides towards ever more equality between the citizens of the state.

Since the early Marxists, collectivists of all shades (here defined as three camps, conservative collectivist, revolutionary collectivist and liberal collectivist) have been seeking an answer to the failure (to emerge from the people) of the revolutionary will. The resentment borne by frustrated frustrated collectivists immediately finds a series of symbolic obstructions to explain this failure, whether Jews, the bourgeoisie, the establishment, capitalism, democracy or so on, always culminating in what the  revolutionary-collectivists currently term the “New World Order”. This myth is constituted of a shadowy group of opponents, who epitomise all that the revolutionary despises and whose ‘agents’ become the focus of all the pent-up frustration felt by these types and translated into aggression in their search for a mystical unity of individual and the collective mankind.

It is my long-standing contention that this phenomenon, seen since 1789 has its roots in the decline of organised religion and uses the same tropes and archetypes of the religious subconscious from which these religions derive their power.

As the Christians of the West became more settled following the wars of religion in the 16th and 17th Century and as religious tolerance crept in by degrees, organised religion began to lose its vitality, located in that peculiar need for a vision transcending the present and mundane and through which meaning and dignity beyond the present are granted to the believing. The dissenting protestant sects of the 17th and 18th Centuries are evidence of this but none so much as the events of the French Revolution.

The reaction of British liberals to the turn of the Revolution from liberty to revolutionary terror was almost universally to turn away from the revolutionary ideals and towards conservatism. Wordsworth began as a liberal collectivist and ended as a High Tory, becoming in between completely disillusioned and disgusted with the revolution, turning his back upon even liberal ideals. The cultural memory of the French Revolution lives on in Britain, reinforced by the belated knowledge of the horrors of the Communist Revolution in Russia and the revolutionary state.

No collectivist revolution has ever been attempted in Britain. Perhaps the history of the French and Russian Revolutions partly influenced this; even at our most collectivist in 1945, the Labour government was elected on a democratic platform, not a revolutionary one. Our society had been severely disrupted in the Civil War, the turmoil following the end of the Napoleonic Wars and conservative and liberal values have retained their strength.

In most other countries, revolutions have succeeded at some point in the course of national histories. In Germany, the 1918 Communist risings continued a tradition begun with the French occupation of Germany in the Revolutionary Wars and continued in the revolutions of 1848. The failed 1918 risings gave to the revolutionary collectivists their martyrs, liberalism succeeded in 1918-19 in alliance with conservative forces in the Army to overthrow the dead hand of the German Empire and gave liberals in Germany their first real taste of power. Yet in the end, conservative collectivism triumphed in the guise of the National Socialists.

Note that the Nazis called themselves socialists. This is because their ideas were at once conservative and utopianist. The National Socialists aimed to transform the existing German society from one ‘rotting in decadence’, the cause being located in the triumph of the symbolic enemy (Jews, socialists, modernity in general), into a renewed society, rescued by a purge of its internal enemies and defensible both internally and externally against this enemy. The past would thus be incorporated into the present to ensure a glorious future society.

Note the important themes here. We start with a near-dystopian present; a society unable to defend itself against its internal enemies. The revolutionary element is the willingness to to recognise the cause, its effect and to combat the agents of this cause and triumphing through their utter destruction. In doing so, the dystopian fate of the society will be averted and turned towards a utopian future.

This is conservative collectivism in action. Nazism owed a lot to the peculiar circumstances of its birth; the image of annihilating the symbolic enemy owed as much to the slaughter of the First World War as it did to the adapted ideas of class warfare, which themselves were derived from the factional struggles of the French Revolution.

In socialism, and especially communism, the near-dystopia is that of capitalist society; the agents of this decline, like the ‘Jew’, possessed of selfish and corrupting natures which must be combated, restricted or annihilated. The goal is a utopian society but unlike the conservative collectivist’s society, which must be defended against decline, here conservatism’s innate pessimism influencing the vision of the future society, contrasted against the glorious future represented by the liberal and revolutionary collectivist visions.

For the conservative-collectivist, the utopia is a society restored and secured against decline. For the liberal collectivist, it is a society in which moral improvement and sharing of wealth grants the same happiness to all citizens. For the revolutionary collectivist, the ideal society is much the same but the same struggle against the symbolic enemy continues and the guardians of the society must watch the ‘saved’ for signs of lapsed morals. In this, the revolutionary shares something of the same pessimism about human nature as the conservative. This may argue for an alignment of revolutionary and conservative categories of understanding.

What all three share is a distaste and horror at the present, a reverence for a lost past and a hope for a redeemed future. In this, all these are prelapsarian, the selfishness of man being the cause of the loss of this past, leading to the present dystopia.

Because this is a redemption religious viewpoint, it only superficially relies upon rational thought and analysis; the real power over men lies in its appeal to ‘Christian and secular’ beliefs and mobilises these in its cause. For all these reasons, rational critique and logical analysis are less effective as counter-technique than might be otherwise.

Critique will be met with faith dressed in rational language. Push hard enough and an appeal to group belief will be made, with the inevitable exclusion of the non-believer.

Because the collectivist will always despise the conservative, he holds a fascination for the liberal. The more inclined the liberal to non-deistic religion, the greater the temptation of the collectivist’s vision and the more effective will be the deployment of the language of the religious subconscious.

Before I proceed further, I will make a point of separating liberal collectivism from its two collectivist cousins. Being influenced by both collectivism and liberalism, the liberal collectivist will have a reverence for the principles of liberty and democracy. The danger for the liberal collectivist is in being seduced or manipulated by the revolutionary collectivist. The fate of the Russian liberals and those in France should warn us of this danger; I include the near-loss of the Labour Party to Militant Tendency in the 1980s.

An alliance between the conservative and the conservative collectivists poses a terrible danger for democracy. At his root, unless well tempered by a long association with liberalism, the conservative’s pessimistic distrust of human nature will dispose him against democratic principle. If liberals and conservatives have long been in the ascendant, then democracy will be defended by the conservative as a deeply valued tradition.

An alliance between the liberal and the collectivist is less fraught with danger, so long as the collectivist is not allowed the  upper hand or allowed to tolerate ideas of overriding law or democratic principle. If this happens, then unless a successful alliance is achieved between the liberal and the conservative, democracy is greatly imperilled.

The most stable but perhaps most mutually uncongenial alliance is that between the liberal and the conservative. If the conservative respect for tradition is respected by the liberal and the liberal understanding of the need for change is accepted by the conservative, the result is not that society is changed, so much as society is maintained and the internal and external stresses to which a society is subject are accounted and considered.

Where conservatism becomes obdurate or liberalism loses its moral bearings or perhaps where the challenges posed cannot be adequately met by this alliance, then we turn to the liberal collectivist alliance once more. This is almost taken as a corrective as one might take an aspirin to reduce or remove a pain the body politic. 1945 and 1997 are good examples of this development.

Once this arrangement becomes  exhausted, once change without vision becomes the order of the day, this alliance begins to prove damaging to society. This is where in all cases, democracy has proved essential as without democracy and the rule of law, political conflict will inevitably end violently as conflicts prove resistant to solution, political positions harden and the liberals are increasingly pushed aside by intransigent power blocs.

In examining today’s body politic and the danger posed from the liberal collectivists who regurgitate the language and the tropes of the revolutionary collectivists, we find the growth of symptoms as described earlier; symbolic enemies, the collective yearning for utopia and the cultural despair of those who only see developing dystopia.

As morbid collectivism grows stronger, the commitment to democratic principle weakens as collectivists and liberals begin to abandon the principle of free speech, whereby disagreement is to be respected in opposition as in themselves. An intemperance is growing, especially in the United States, which now more than ever is in need of a healthy liberal discourse upon which the next great political alliance can be founded and begin to reform and repair US society.

As vital as the Tea Party voice is in revitalising the body of US conservatism, without a liberal voice, the Tea Party is doomed to failure. The obstructionist danger within conservatism will predominate and discredit US conservatives at a time when the liberal collectivists are already discredited. This will open the door to both conservative and revolutionary collectivists whom, eschewing all compromise, will war political war upon their enemies and upon society itself.


Lords Reform and the flawed democratic argument

December 5, 2010

When democratic activists speak of “us the people” whom do they mean? The mass of ordinary voters who know little to nothing about life beyond the particular and parochial? Or the legion of opinion makers in the media and intelligentsia?
The people are not a panacea, they are just an amorphous collection of families, friends and individuals. We have an elected Commons because the Commons represents the consent of the governed. The Lords represented the great nobles of the realm; now because of botched attempts at reform combined with political place-holding, it represents very little.
The Commons holds primacy and that should be sufficient in our system. The government is chosen from the Commons and as such has the consent of the governed to be governed.
The Lords by contrast should be chosen not from the political parties, which are only representative of the governed when directly elected as MPS. A “Senate” formed from a PR list of the political parties would have no inherent consent and each Senator would merely be a political placement.
In a democratic system, we cannot have (as a norm) elected politicians who do not belong in a political party, yet we cannot have another chamber of Parliament dominated by the political parties.
A House of Lords chosen by a neutral selection committee with a ten year term for each Lord (which could be withdrawn on grounds of corruption or criminal behaviour), each of whom is chosen for knowledge, expertise and contribution to public life would possess more legitimacy than either the current average Lord or a PR-list “Senator” because they would be bringing something invaluable to Parliament.

The problem with democratic utopianist sentiments is that such statements are Rousseauesqe, imputing a non-existent virtue to the mass of the common people. It also assumes an agenda held by the speaker is held in common with the people but only identifies the people as an extension of his own sense of virtue.
Hobbes was a far better judge of human nature than Paine or Jefferson.


The EU Referendum Campaign

September 10, 2010

Today I am going to argue in favour of the EU Referendum Campaign. It is time the British people had a voice in the debate over the corrupt and undemocratic European Union. We did not sign up to become a part of Greater Europe. We demand the abrogation of the treaties limiting British democracy and sovereignity and the negotiation of a free-trade treaty with the European Union states.
It is time that our elected politicians finally acknowledged that the European Project is one consistently rejected by the electorate and acquised in by the political class out of a sense of weary resignation from Conservatives and a vague and tired sense of “international” unity from the Labour Party.
There are times when the political class are right and when they are wrong and those who argue in favour of the European political project, rather than the existence of free trade are wrong.
To those who would argue for the European project expanding workers’ rights and so on, I would support much of the principle of those developments but oppose the means. We have to make those decisions in this country and not be informed by dictat that our laws are to be changed.
Vote for democracy and national freedom. Campaign for a referendum and vote “yes” to leave the European political project.
Sign the pledge and add your support today.
The EU Referendum Campaign


The idealist, the fool and the priest

January 20, 2009

“Pull out from Iraq and renounce the US policy of selective and unilateral military intervention to overthrow foreign dictatorships, like the Saddam Hussein regime, in favour of a policy supporting democratic and humanitarian civil society organisations within those countries, in order to empower the victims of oppression to liberate themselves.”

Peter Tatchell is an idealist and aspires towards the progressive and the good. There is a problem, not with the idealism but with the bloody stupidity of some of his sentiments. The question that hangs in the air at the sight of such a fatuous statement is “HOW?” How do you support such groups against barbarism? One cannot have a peace march against a government whose answer would be to machine-gun the crowds. In fact one might accuse Peter Tatchell of having a priest’s lust for imposing victimhood upon the weak – how many must be tortured, raped or murdered before such an end can be reached? How much terror will break a tyrannical regime?
The answer is “none”. Terror is always overthrown from the outside.


Striking a middle ground

August 29, 2008

There is going to be no avoiding the abortion issue in this election but I believe I have a way for the McCain/Palin campaign to strike a middle ground note which will appeal to most of the electorate and be sound and fair.

State that your policy is not to outlaw or restrict abortion, but to return the decision to the voters in the states and nationally. Say that the Roe vs. Wade decision was legally wrong, not because you oppose with abortion per se but because the decision was undemocratic and assumed powers to the court to interpret on matters that are left to the states and the federal government in the Constitution.
So that way, if the public opinion is in favour of tightening abortion law, then so be it. The pro-abortion campaigners will have to make their case for their version of the law. If public opinion is in favour of the broad status quo, then anti-abortion campaigns will have to make their case moral, legal and ethical for why it should be tightened.

That, my dears, is called democracy.


Nick Cohen’s genius once more…

August 24, 2008

“Greenpeace, so harsh on democratic countries, was as excessive in its praise. After registering a few reservations, it declared the dictatorship’s work was ‘tremendous’ and ‘positively unique”. Beijing was providing ‘important lessons to other Chinese cities’.”
From Prince Potemkin’s Olympic Village.

Nick Cohen highlights not only the duplicitous nature of the “Great Sham of our Time” in the Beijing games but the anti-western, pro-totalitarian nature of Greenpeace and the Environmental movement.

But then again, that’s alright. The West appears to have given up on democracy. Much better to have “wise” people in charge – it’s alright, they’re spiritual you know – they’ve been to India.