Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Saying "yes" to Hiroshima

The contemporary West is built, not on Auschwitz and Treblinka to which we have said 'No’, but on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to which we have said 'Yes.’
- Desmond Fennell, The Postwestern Condition: Between Chaos and Civilisation

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


What will you do?

You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of art or life as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use - silence, exile and cunning.
- from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Sunday, August 26, 2007



I came across this article by Edward Said in Al-Ahram Weekly, written shortly after the September 11th attacks. At the end of the article, most of which is fairly unsurprising stuff, after referring to the beginnings of the development of a constituency of Americans willing to take a more reflective and critical look at US policies in the Middle East, Said says this:

Perhaps this constituency may grow in the United States, but speaking as a Palestinian, I must also hope that a similar constituency should be emerging in the Arab and Muslim world. We must start thinking about ourselves as responsible for the poverty, ignorance, illiteracy, and repression that have come to dominate our societies, evils that we have allowed to grow despite our complaints about Zionism and imperialism. How many of us, for example, have openly and honestly stood up for secular politics and have condemned the use of religion in the Islamic world as roundly and as earnestly as we have denounced the manipulation of Judaism and Christianity in Israel and the West? How many of us have denounced all suicidal missions as immoral and wrong, even though we have suffered the ravages of colonial settlers and inhuman collective punishment? We can no longer hide behind the injustices done to us, anymore than we can passively bewail the American support for our unpopular leaders. A new secular Arab politics must now make itself known, without for a moment condoning or supporting the militancy (it is madness) of people willing to kill indiscriminately. There can be no more ambiguity on that score.

I have been arguing for years that our main weapons as Arabs today are not military but moral, and that one reason why, unlike the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the Palestinian struggle for self- determination against Israeli oppression has not caught the world's imagination is that we cannot seem to be clear about our goals and our methods, and we have not stated unambiguously enough that our purpose is coexistence and inclusion, not exclusivism and a return to some idyllic and mythical past. The time has come for us to be forthright and to start immediately to examine, re-examine and reflect on our own policies as so many Americans and Europeans are now doing. We should expect no less of ourselves than we should of others. Would that all people took the time to try to see where our leaders seem to be taking us, and for what reason. Scepticism and re- evaluation are necessities, not luxuries.

Noble sentiments, and a corrective, perhaps, to any perception that Said was one-dimensional in his political outlook when it came to the Middle East.

Friday, August 24, 2007


"Tax and spend"

I know political slogans and attack-phrases are supposed to be meaningless and idiotic, but I've never really understood why "tax and spend" is supposed to carry such pejorative charge. Clearly taxing and spending is the very essence of government, and in so far as politics is a contest for control of the state all politicians, regardless of the level and types of taxing and spending they favour, are going to be intimately involved in the whole activity of forcibly extracting financial resources from people and allocating them to some end or another.

As I say, I'm aware it's naive of me to be puzzled when a widely-used slogan turns out to be intellectually incoherent, but this one has always seemed especially meaningless (and possibly ineffective) when compared even with other examples, such as "soft on crime", that could plausibly be thrown at left-liberal types like myself.


Growing up out of religion

Norm recently quoted Christopher Hitchens' claim that "Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud...looked upon religion as virtually ineradicable..." and rejected it with respect to Marx, on the grounds that he did in fact envisage the "abolition" of religion. The following, from the same lecture quoted in the previous post, would seem to indicate Hitchens was wrong about Freud too:

If one attempts to assign to religion its place in man’s evolution, it seems not so much to be a lasting acquisition as a parallel to the neurosis which the civilised individual must pass through on his way from childhood to maturity.
Mind you I haven't finished reading the lecture yet so I'll let you know if he changes his mind before the end.

UPDATE: Nope, he stuck to his guns and Hitchens was doubly wrong.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Of truth and tolerance

It is inadmissible to declare that science is one field of human intellectual activity, and that religion and philosophy are others, at least as valuable, and that science has no business to interfere with the other two, that they all have an equal claim to truth, and that everyone is free to choose whence he shall draw his convictions and in what he shall place his belief. Such an attitude is considered particularly respectable, tolerant, broad-minded and free from narrow prejudices. Unfortunately it is not tenable; it shares all the pernicious qualities of an entirely unscientific Weltanschauung and in practice comes to much the same thing. The bare fact is that truth cannot be tolerant and cannot admit compromise or limitations, that scientific research looks on the whole field of human activity as its own, and must adopt an uncompromisingly critical attitude towards any other power that seeks to usurp any part of its province.
- from Freud's "Philosophy of Life" lecture.


The fruits of self-restraint

I think this, from Henry Farrell, succintly expresses a key point in favour of international law:

Actors that are completely unconstrained are ipso facto not able to give credible commitments to others. This actually limits their effective ability to get things done in a world where there are other important players....This doesn’t mean that states such as the US are always going to obey international law, but it does mean that their compliance or non-compliance doesn’t flow in any simple or obvious way from their narrow self-interest.
On the other hand, while I tend to think the EU has played (and continues to play) a huge part in making war between its member-states "inconceivable" - this by normalising an enforced regime of law among nation-states - an international law-skeptic would nevertheless be justified in countering that war between, say, the US and Canada (or even Mexico) appears not much more conceivable than one between Germany and France.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Things banned by authoritarian regimes down the years - Greek edition

Although one shouldn't really be surprised at the things banned by authoritarian regimes down the years, and certainly not at the banning of works of literature, it is nevertheless somewhat, well, surprising to discover that the Greek military junta banned...Sophocles.

Also banned, and to varying degrees of surprise: Euripides, Aristophanes, short skirts, long hair, Russian, Bulgarian and sociology.

This is learned from Tony Judt's Postwar, which doesn't mention Anthony Summers' claim that the Greek generals won support from the US admninistration by funding the Nixon-Agnew re-election campaign to the tune of something like a million 1972 dollars (one possible motiavation behind the Watergate break-in). You can read a succinct review of Summers' The Arrogance of Power; The Secret World of Richard Nixon by Christopher Hitchens here.

Monday, August 13, 2007


Ne me quitte pas


In Stahlgewittern

...I felt a piercing jolt in the chest - as though I had been hit like a gamebird. With a sharp cry that seemed to cost me all the air I had, I spun on my axis and crashed to the ground.

It had got me at last. At the same time as feeling I had been hit, I felt the bullet taking away my life. I had felt Death's hand once before, on the road at Mory - but this time his grip was firmer and more determined. As I came down heavily on the bottom of the trench, I was convinced it was all over. Strangely that moment is one of the very few in my life of which I am able to say they were utterly happy. I understood, as in a flash of lightening, the true inner purpose and form of my life. I felt surprise and disbelief that it was to end there and then, but this surprise had something untroubled and almost merry about it. Then I heard the firing grow less, as if I were a stone sinking under the surface of some turbulent water. Where I was going, there was neither war nor enmity.

- from Ernst Junger's Storm of Steel (trans. Michael Hoffman), pp. 281 - 282.

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