Sunday, February 05, 2006
Europe needs to wake up
We seem to be witnessing an alarming growth in hostility between Europe and the Islamic world. The cartoon incidents show that even very trivial perceived slights from the most moderate western countries can become pretexts for some to embark on violence, threats and the destruction of Danish and Norwegian Embassies. Meanwhile Iran seems to be developing its own Atom bomb, complete with its promise to wipe Israel off the map.
There seems to be no shortage of voices in the Islamic world seeking confrontation with not just the West in general, but with Europe specifically. European efforts to negotiate with Iran seem to have been contemptuously dismissed by the Iranians and the situation has reached such a stage that even the German Prime Minister is warning of danger.
This should be a wake up call for Europe. Since the 1940s we have been lulled into complacency. The defence of Western Europe for most of the Cold War was largely provided by the US military and their nuclear deterrent. Once the Cold War ended, even the modest military capacities of most European states were reduced to virtually nothing. The successes of the European Union in preventing war happened under this protective umbrella, yet the US role was played down by European leaders and the EU was talked up as a model which could be applied to the rest of the world. All conflicts were thought capable of peaceful diplomatic resolution. All that was needed is the operation of enlightened self-interest, as war was in nobody's interest. No problem was insoluble with some good will, the principles of international law and a bit of economic development.
Unfortunately this peaceful vision of the world relies on the rest of the world sharing Europe's love of material luxury and its denigration of nationalism and religion. If material progress is the only important thing, nobody will bother to fight over nations or religion. Unfortunately a lot of the rest of the world has quite strong, often Islamic, religious beliefs, anti-western nationalism and little economic prosperity. Diplomacy might have replaced arms in Scandanivia, but even on the Balkan and Caucasian fringes of Europe ethnicity, nationalism and religion are much stronger forces.
One consequence of the European vision of the world, where diplomacy has replaced arms, is that European countries have allowed themselves to become virtually undefended militarily. Social spending was seen as a higher priority than arms and armaments. Entire European states now exist with virtually no defences, becaues we live in the complacent belief that war is somehow a thing of the past.
If current trends continue we are likely to be heading into a new cold war, between the West and the Islamic world. Europe has laboured under the complacent belief that because we do not back Israel, the way the US does, we will somehow be ignored by the Islamic extremist fringe that seeks to provoke conflict with the west. This is a hopelessly naive view. Very few in the Islamic world would have the courage to burn down their local US embassy, as they know that they might face retribution from Uncle Sam. Yet they are quite prepared to walk past the local representatives of the great Satan and go on to burn down the Embassies of the peace loving Danes and Norwegians. Theyknow that when they attack the Europeans they are quite safe, nobody in Europe can do anything about it except give them a stern talking to in some tedious diplomatic forum. By leaving our continent undefended we have left ourselves vulnerable to being the first casualties if a shooting war ever emerges between extremist Islam and the west.
Europe needs to wake up. We must abandon our 1930s style vision for appeasement and re-arm our nations and renew our commitment to NATO and common transatlantic defence before it is too late. Only a militarily strong Europe has any long term future. We cannot continue to behave as if we can talk ourselves out of any trouble. In a war an enemy usually attacks at the weakest point. In the west, Europe is the weakest point.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Iran and Israel
Hat tip to David's MedienKritik.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
I suppose there was little surprise when Saddam's first act on the start of his trial was to refuse to recognise the court.
Irish nationalism and history
All nationalisms need a historical narrative, a tale of the nation stretching back into history either to the foundation of the nation or back into the mists of time. Irish nationalism has chosen for itself a narrative that connects the modern Irish nation to the Gaels living in Ireland prior to Strongbow's invasion in the 12th century.
There are quite a few aspects of Irish history that do not fit easily into this narrative, especially the Plantation and the following religious wars of the 17th century and the Penal Laws of the 18th century. The way of assimilating these episodes to the national struggle has been to superimpose the later "Irish" national identification onto the Catholic side in each of those struggles. In other words it turns the Catholics of the past into the true Irish and the Protestants of the past into either British or the traitors. The Penal Laws, for example, cannot be just a persecution of the Catholic religion, they have to be interpreted as another chapter in the suppression of the Irish nation.
This would not have much significance if the divisions involved had somehow ended before the rise of Irish nationalism into a mass movement in the 19th century. Unfortunately the divisions had not come to an end when Irish nationalism began to look into its history to create its national myths. The "bad guys" of the nationalist historical discourse were still there and were not unsurprisingly largely opposed to the political movement founded on this discourse.
I do not believe that Irish nationalism as an ideology is capable of producing any self-image for the Irish nation that includes the children of the Plantation. To have a common sense of nationhood a group of people need to be able to look back on a shared sense of their own history. The parts of Irish history that nationalists look to in forming their sense of nationhood, such as the Penal Laws and the struggles against England, are largely those parts of history that are the most divisive for Ulster Protestants.
This nationalist narrative is now fairly well established as the story of the Irish nation. It works well for the nationalist community in Ireland, it is only when it comes to trying to assimilate Ulster Protestants that it falls down. I do not believe that it is possible to change nationalism so that it embraces unionists. Attempting such change may be counter productive. In a divided society, such as ours, changes within one of the communities that are both drastic and painful from the inside often seem shallow and cosmetic from the outside. Such changes rarely receive a large positive response and often the efforts to change end up leading to more bitterness.
Saturday, June 25, 2005
I don't normally go in for chain letters, but Paul over on N.I.Magyar has nominated me to answer some questions for a bloggers' book quiz, so here goes:
How many books do you own?
I have got a lot of books, I would guess that I have about 1500 or so filling 3 rooms of my house and my attic. I'm not a great fiction reader (except for short stories). Most of my books are on history, politics, religion and on law.
What was the last book you read?
Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, by Robert Kagan.
This was a short neo-con political piece about the relationship between Europe and the US. The author's basic thesis is that American unilateralism is as a result of the country's unchallengable strength while European love for international law and multilateralism is as a result of our military weakness. He suggests that Europe is far too weak to constrain the US, but that despite this the US should show more understanding of European sensibilities.
What was the last book you bought?
Why Angels Fall: A journey through Orthodox Europe from Byzantium to Kosovo, by Victoria Clarke.
I bought this to read this during my holidays. At the moment it is sitting beside me enticingly, beckoning me to start reading it. I must resist temptation....
What are your 5 most meaningful books?
Choosing the 5 most meaningful would be very difficult, the ones which have made profound impacts on my thinking would probably be the following:
1. The Bible
Sorry if lots of people say this, but the Bible, particularly Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament and Romans in the New, has had the most influence on my thinking. Ecclesiastes is the wisdom of a man who has been through a lot and which I have frequently returned to at many points in my life. I also like Paul's letter to the Romans where it sets out justification by faith, showing me that God's love is based not on my works but on Christ's work on the cross.
2. The God who is there, by Francis Schaeffer.
On a similar Christian theme, the book that turned me into a bookworm (for good or ill) was Francis Schaeffer's "The God who is there". I bought a copy of this book in a second hand bookshop on the Antrim Road in Belfast back in 1988. Reading the book back then when I was 20 sparked my interest in philosophy and culture. I was not successful at school and I was not that interested in anything intellectual (except NI politics, of which more below) before then. Scheaffer's critique of the intellectual culture of the 1960s (when the book was written) led me to want to explore and discover the intellectual culture of the then contemporary 1980s. This intellectual interest the led me to decide to go to college and then on to university a few years later. When I read this book I agreed wholeheartedly with all that it said, today although I agree with the broad outline I would be rather more critical of some of the details, but that is a different story.
3. Memoirs of a Statesman, by Brian Faulkner.
When it comes to politics, the book that got me interested in Northern Ireland politics was "Memoirs of a Statesman", Brian Faulkner's autobiography which I read in 1985 when I was 17 in lower sixth form at school. It was the time of unionist opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and a period when school was very politicised. My own background and views were apolitical and I had no emotional attraction to unionism. If anything the opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement seemed to be a disproportionate reaction that I had little affinity for. I probably still have no such emotional attraction but at that time Faulkner's brand of moderate unionism seemed to show that there was more to the belief than hysteria. I borrowed this book from the library and I have not reread it since, so it would be interesting to see what I would make of it now. Deep down I still prefer the idea of an independent Northern Ireland but I usually vote for one of the unionist parties and regard them as nearer my views than Alliance or the nationalist parties.
4. The Uncivil Wars: Ireland Today, by Padraig O'Malley.
A second book which changed my thinking on the NI politics front was "The Uncivil Wars: Ireland today" by Padraig O'Malley, written back in 1983 or so. I read this in about 1986 and found the author's style, where he applied ruthless cold logic to the positions of all the major parties, very enlightening in learning to analyse Northern Ireland.
5. The Case for Democracy: The power of freedom to overcome tyranny and terror, by Natan Sharansky.
I notice on looking through all of the books that changed my thinking that they were all ones that I read during the 1985-1988 period when I was 17-21. I suppose this was a time when my opinions were not fixed and reading a single book could cause then to change radically. My opinions have not remained static since, but it is now rare that reading a single book would cause me to change my mind radically about any issue. For this reason the fifth book is one that gave me an interesting and fresh perspective rather than one which considerably changed my thinking.
This book is Sharansky's Case for Democracy, apparently a favorite of George Bush. Sharansky's view is that there is a fundamental difference between a free society and a fear society. A free society is governed by consent, while a fear society is governed by fear. A fear society needs to control its people and it accomplishes this by a mixture of coercion and of scapegoating external enemies. Sharansky suggests that the West should pressurise the Arab world into democracy, rather than supporting west-friendly tyrants. He argues that a democratic Arab world would not need to demonise the west to keep control of its people. This is a powerful critique of the realpolitik idea that the Arab world is doomed to tyranny or is unsuitable for democracy. I think he underestimates the strength of religious and national animosity and the role of non-state parties in using scapegoating for political advantage, but these criticisms aside it is a very thought provoking read.
How many Books Do You Own?
Last Book You Bought?
Last Book You Read?
5 Most Meaningful books In Your Life?
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Anti-Semitism, coming soon to a town near you..
I was at the University Bookshop yesterday in Belfast and I bought a mini-biography of Karl Lueger by Angela Clifford a socialist writer, with an introduction by Mark Langhammer, a Labour councillor. Lueger was the mayor of Vienna at the turn of the last century. He is really only famous for two things: anti-semitism and being one of Hitler's heroes.
I was very surprised on reading the book to find that it was written as a defence of Lueger. Despite lengthy quotes from his speeches in which he accuses Jews of using Christian blood in their rituals in Tiszaeszler, his opinion that all business and capital is Jewish run etc. the author unbelievably suggests that he is not anti-semitic because his opposition to the Jews was due to their wealth rather than their race!!
Interestingly, even though Lueger died in 1910 the author cannot restrain herself from denouncing Israel at various points in the book.
I think the European love of the Palestinians may be an unfortunate symptom of our failure to adequately root out anti-semitism on this continent.
Sunday, June 05, 2005
Thoughts on socialism
For any country to function people must work. To manufacture anything, to grow anything work is an absolute necessity. There are really only 3 ways that people will work:
1. Voluntarily because of their personal beliefs.
2. By being paid.
3. By coercion.
Socialism in theory tries to get people to do the necessary work to run the country voluntarily out of the goodness of their hearts. In the real world very few people work like this, they prefer to do nothing and hope that others will take up the slack. In a socialist economy the profit motive is utterly disparaged, so this tends to leave coercion as being the only means of operating the country. The more systematically socialist a country becomes the more coercive it needs to be to merely survive. When the coercion is eased the country collapses. The Stasi, the Securitate, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, show trials and the like are not just examples of the bad outworking of a good idea, they are inherent in the idea itself.
Capitalism permits the profit motive, so it does not need the same level of state coercion to function. Capitalism's main problem is that its economic system provides no check on individual greed and selfishness.
This is not, however, as big a flaw as it first appears. Why, after all, should we be looking to economics to provide us with morality at all? Starting from a utopian vision of the economy and then working back to derive rules for our behaviour from that is bound to fail because the economy is just too big and difficult for us to comprehend.
To use a different analogy, everyone wants a theft free society. If we imagine how such a society would operate we would realise that it would have no need for locks. If we derived our societal rules from this utopian vision we could easily conclude that locks and anti-theft devices should be banned, after all they would be unnecessary in our theft free utopia. In our efforts to create a theft free society we would create a theives' paradise.
The true corrective to the forces of unrestrained capitalism is not to be found in any economic doctrine. Instead it is to be found in our Judaeo-Christian moral tradition. The restrictions that our moral senses have placed on individual behaviour are of considerably greater worth and value that the ever changing prescriptions of economists.
We need a Northern Irish Thatcher...
Northern Ireland public spending fortunately does not come from Northern Ireland raised taxes, but is given by large scale transfers from the rest of the UK. We are one of the most highly subsidised regions on the planet. While some government subsidies may be necessary and they are occasionally even beneficial, the level of subsidy that our economy receives is so utterely enormous that we must devise ways of reducing it.
The people of Northern Ireland are too addicted to a socialist dependency mentality that thinks that the rest of the world owes us a living. It doesn't. We need to learn to stand on our own two feet. This can only happen through massive reductions in public sector spending.
Remember that only private sector business actually generates any wealth in the economy. Public sector employment spends wealth rather than generating it. This is why business is in many ways more crucial than anything else because wealth creation is necessary for a healthy economy. Redistributing wealth means nothing if there is no wealth to redistribute, as the USSR discovered to its cost in the late 1980s.
We need to encourage people into the private sector. Most people in NI work either directly or indirectly for the public sector. People will not be encouraged to go into the private sector when they can get a much better paid and vastly more secure job in the public sector. So long as the large public sector spending continues at its current level we are locked in a cycle of dependency on a continuing British government subsidy, which may or may not continue. Under this system we will never become self-supporting.
The only way that I can see to break out of this cycle is to reduce public spending drastically. We can see from the Thatcher years that this will be an unpopular policy, but it is still a necessary one. The only constant thing in life is change, we need a more flexible and slimmed down set of fiscal policies to be able to cope with change rather than closing our eyes, putting our fingers in our ears and hoping that the subsidies will come over from Westminster for ever.
Saturday, May 21, 2005
Some thoughts on political theory
During the Enlightenment, dissatisfaction with the Empire grew. An alternative form of government was proposed to replace the Empire. This was the Republic. In the Republic the sovereign was the body of citizens themselves, who exercised their sovereignty by electing a government which had limited specific powers conferred upon it. Political power was now to be exercised for the common good, not as a property right. All citizens participated equally in a state which was blind to their ethnic characteristics.
The primary concept used in the governance of the Republic was the rule of law. Each individual citizen was subject to the same laws and possessed the same rights.
During the mid to late 19th century the Republic went out of fashion, in its place the Nation became the fashionable form of government, at least in parts of Europe. The Nation was radically different from the Empire or the Republic. The Nation was essentially an ethnic unit of some sort. It was logically prior to the state and the essential purpose of the state is to function as the political incarnation of the Nation. The state which fails in its ethnic duties to the Nation is an illegitimate entity.
Unfortunately the Nation of nationalism poses no ideological constraints on the persecution of minorities. In fact if such persecution is rationalised in terms of advancing the will of the Nation, nationalism actually provides a justification for such activities. It is apparent therefore that there is something missing from nationalism. A society governed solely by nationalist principles cannot offer any real protection to minority groups.
In recent years the concept of the Nation has itself been further refined to create Postmodernism, also known disparagingly as political correctness.
Postmodernism is effectively a multicultural form of nationalism. Like nationalism it regards the primary function of the state as being to give political expression to ethnic sentiment, however unlike the Nation it tries to advance the idea that multiple forms of ethnicity can be given equal expression and have equal validity within the state. Its primary method of achieving this goal has been by the replacement of individual rights and duties by group rights and duties. In giving equal status to groups it tends to reject the equal status of individuals.
My own view is that the Nation and Postmodernism have both been very bad ideas. In placing the expression and accommodation of ethnicity at the core of the functions of the state, these philosophies have eliminated the possibility of a state which transcends ethnicity. All statecraft within this framework tends to be a squabble between ethnic groups for resources without any overarching conception of justice to evaluate and determine these squabbles.
The absent element, in my opinion, is any sense of the rule of law. The idea that the same rules ought to apply equally to "us" as well as "them" seems to be completely missing from both the Nation and Postmodernism. The idea that individuals ought to be judged by the law for their own actions is regarded by supposedly sophisticated political theorists as a naïve myth, yet their alternatives seem to reduce all politics to a naked ethnic power grab.