Machiavelli’s Republic: A Disciplined and Religious Liberty

In his writings Machiavelli repeatedly discusses liberty in the context of republican virtue. It is tempting to consider him the forefather of our modern liberalism. There are three main reasons why this is incorrect. 
Firstly, Machiavelli was outright opposed to the notion of a licentious mob unimpeded by any moral restraints. Secondly, he promoted religion as a means of constraining bad habits and social diseases. Lastly, he was convinced that dictatorships and revolutions were healthy and necessary: the specific reason was that they restored virtue and purged corruption. 

This last point – whereby he supported the suspension of freedom for basically puritanical reasons – offers us the clearest glimpse into Machiavelli’s anti-liberal mind.

Under normal circumstances, Machiavelli supported civic equality, although he was not an egalitarian. Public offices were to be kept open and not used as personal fiefdoms, but only the cream of society would be likely to fill them and wield power. A free society was seen as a good thing, but not a good in and of itself. Nonetheless, he drew the line at an irreligious disorder, recognizing that as much as republicanism involved freedom from domination, it also involved freedom from decadence. 

When we think of Machiavelli the republican, we should have a picture of someone who envisioned responsible adults regulating themselves and sometimes being harsh on their own inclinations.

I am currently writing a book exploring themes relating to Machiavelli, as well as Carl Schmitt and Ibn Khaldun. Stay posted for details.

 

Islamic Gardens and Ultimate Politics

Did anyone see Monty Don’s Paradise Gardens on BBC 2? If you haven’t, it’s a two part series (late January 2018) exploring the symbolism and artistry of Islamic gardens from Spain to India.  In the first part, Monty Don introduced a British audience to classic gardens such as the Alhambra in Granada and the main square in Isfahan, Iran. It was delightful. Aside from the lush scenery (you could nearly smell the fragrances), the warm sunshine was a welcome tonic from the bitter winter cold. While there were a few private gardens featured, the majority were public works commissioned by some of the major dynasties of Islamic history like the Persian Safavids or Moroccan Almoravids. Gardens were not the only public works  featured; mosques, markets, castles, and reservoirs, also augmented the plantations, and made their way into the programme.

Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Symbolism of the urban oases as they related to the Quran and Islamic theology was a major theme explored. Another aspect struck me, however. In political terms, the gardens would have been powerful statements of authority as well as aesthetic masterpieces. The ruling dynasty would have been declaring to the world that they were able to perform quasi-miracles and could bring the dead earth to life. In other words, the sultanates were making an image of paradise on earth.

Having watched the programme it became clear that while we often discuss types of government, be they democracies, monarchies, despotisms, etc … the telos of political power is often forgotten. Governments, if they truly seek to govern, want to create a paradise on earth. Even the Communists; what did they intend other than to build a ‘workers’ paradise’? Although liberalism might seem an exception (liberals say we are free to make our own heaven on earth), we have to remember that liberalism started as a form of resistance to government, largely led by aristocrats who wanted to protect their palatial manors from the chaos of political conflict. So the essential point still holds.

Naghshe Jahan Square, Isfahan, Iran

Islamic gardens are a good example of the fact that the purpose of sovereign rule is to direct those under the administration to ever more complex and subtle forms of civilization, until everyone feels as if they are living an absolute dream that will never end. Fine landmarks and monuments are one way of achieving this but the means also involve less salutary methods. It’s a paradox that peace and security always involve violence and government intervention, and often entail criminal and fraudulent actions. Civilization co-exists with bestiality. The ends do not reflect the means. High arts require patrons of the lower arts.

It is perhaps a kind of revenge on the part of beauty that such artistic masterpieces have outlasted the turmoil of conflict they were born into. I remember another excellent programme commissioned by Channel 4 where a Syrian man (now deceased) made a small garden within the crumbling ruins of Aleppo. Whether as a form of escape or a political language that creates an image of heaven on earth, the lesson is that exhibitions of beauty can be more powerful and permanent than the ugliness that often brings them into being.

I am currently working on three books that should be released in 2018. Information on my published books are here.

The Question Concerning Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli, and Carl Schmitt

Sometime next month (February 2018) I am planning to publish my fifth book. Here is some info presented as a conversation I am having with myself (I do that a lot!).  

What is the name of the book?  Controversy and Crisis: The Question Concerning the Unquestioned in Ibn Khaldun, Machiavlli, and Carl Schmitt.

What is it about? It’s about how Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) rebelled against the political establishment in their thinking and about how right I think they were. I’m kinda shoe-horning my own beliefs into theirs but being faithful to their philosophy.

Explain the book in terms of the title: Key words are ‘question’ and ‘unquestioned.’ Every political authority – assuming it is the real authority – tries to remove questions from its rule. But under any form of government you will have losers and winners. The losers will question authority with the hopes of gaining power themselves. Invariably, authority must constantly adapt to changing political shifts and try to make itself unquestioned. So there are ‘controversies’ and ‘crises.’ The triumvirate are called upon to describe this basic phenomenon in politics.

Many writers on politics have addressed controversies and crises. How do your so-called ‘triumvirate’ differ from the pack?  Most other authors on political matters would approach the challenge of political disputes in two ways; either (a) disputes will always exist but can be domesticated, or (b) disputes can be done away with. Our triumvirate not only integrated questions into their discourse but they recognized the value of controversies and crises as a permanent and necessary feature of politics.

Who is the audience for the book? A well-educated readership, but not an academic one. I have tried to make the book as accessible as possible but it will be a challenging read in places. So, a mature audience who is prepared to read a few pages, put the book down and absorb what I’ve said, read on a bit more, etc …

Roughly how long is it? At the moment it is a little less than 250 pages, standard book size, about 250 words per page. It is relatively short.

Price? No one buys my books so I usually sell them at cost price, about $8.50 for paperback and 99 c for e-books.

This has been me in conversation with me. Further details over the next few weeks. I should have two more books after this out in quick succession as well. Stay tuned. 

Trumps NFL weekend smacks of political correctness

Welcome to PC world Donald Trump! Political correctness is silencing debate. One method of achieving this is casting doubt over the character of people expressing views you don’t like. This is what you did over NFL protests. You turned PC.

Instead of answering criticisms over police brutality, the higher than average chance of blacks being imprisoned or shot, and the general racial inequalities experienced by people of colour, what did you do? You went long and doubled down. Players protesting were SOBs, unpatriotic, against the military, disrespectful to the flag, and basically traitors. All false flags. 

No, they are not protesting the waving of a flag, or service in the military, or the national anthem. They believe there is institutional racism against blacks and are trying to change the culture of institutional silence and inaction on the matter.

Regretfully, your PC antics have had some effect. Players are being vilified because of your PC. You refused to tell your supporters that the US has problems with institutional racism. You refused to promote unity. You refused to state truthfully what the protests were about and lied as to what they weren’t about. 

You lied because you are a politically correct president spreading fake news.

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Were the Nazis Socialists?

National Socialism … does the noun identify the Nazis, or indeed Fascists, as Socialists? If you spend way too much time on Twitter like me, you will know that the stakes are deadly high on this question. Left-wingers react badly to this statement because it tarnishes them with the Nazi brush. By contrast, right-wingers, particularly those who are free-marketeers and reject State interventionism, relish the thought that Nazis and Communists share common ground. Its a neat characterization of the sociology of totalitarianism which distances them from xenophobic and toxic politics, but which also allows them to score points against lefties. It was famously asserted in von Hayeks outstanding book The Road to Serfdom.
But what is the truth of the matter?

A lot hinges on the question: what is a socialist? In a narrow, technical sense (or a broad, linguistic one), a socialist is someone who wants everyone in society, if not the world, to be political and social equals. Socialism is simply the process of making everyone the same. Granted, it is an aspirational state. Every socialist movement will have their elites and full socialization will never occur. But as far as it can be achieved, everyone should have the same education, health access, political voice, job prospects, family life, etc …

In a sense then, Nazis and Communists are alike. But this definition of socialist also includes utopians like Thomas More or Imperialists like Napoleon (who favoured universal education). It’s too broad to be useful.

In common day parlance, socialism refers to a less militant form of Communism. The adherents of socialism call for people of all nations, regardless of race or religion, to regard society as a co-operative endeavour. Socialism is less radical than Communism. For example, they are not outright anti-commerce like Communists, but believe in subordinating commercial interests to the greater good. Their methods differ fundamentally to that of Communists, their politics less so, but they are a horse of a different colour.

National Socialists, on the other hand, portray the world as a clash of cultures, with culture often synonymous with race or ethnicity. Commerce, and indeed all corporate interests, are subordinate to the State, and the State is in turn synonymous with the Volk. Any notion of socialism transcending peoples of all nations is non-existent in Nazi ideology.

In answer to the question, Nazis do not aim at socialism but at socialization within a nationalistic framework. They seek to make all members of the Volk the same but that is generally not the way we understand socialism. Are Nazis Socialists? I would say no.

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Tory Imitation of Corbyn a Sincere Form of Flattery

Tories are not only afraid of Jeremy Corbyn taking their seats and moving into a more upmarket London address. They are jealous of him and in awe of the social media and grassroots campaigns getting him closer to No. 10. Proof of this came in the shape of a Tory clone of Labour’s Momentum movement launched this week, called Activate. This complimented other efforts by Tories to pour their old wine into new bottles, another example that of Moggmentum (the equivalent of Dennis Skinner doing some word play on a movement led by Enoch Powell or Norman Tebbit). 

Tories may be incompetent buffoons when it comes to this organic growth sort of thing. But they do understand the growth a savvy social media technique fosters, in particular the links between a successful social media campaign and votes. The fact that Corbyn is an outsider underlines his success. For a party led by a traditional socialist, Momentum and other supporting acts offered a means of circumventing mainstream media coverage which is increasingly biased against old-school Labour. Aside from that, there are good reasons why social media is a source of political bonding, and hence political power. Sharing posts and interacting with like minded individuals boosts natural social ties. Having comments liked and shared gives a sense of importance. Memes allow everyone to share in a chuckle. In many ways, its similar to the Trump phenomenon, minus the fake news.

In theory, there is no reason why Tories couldn’t replicate the success of Momentum. Thatcher sold her vision of a de-regulated UK in the 1980s by appealing to the youthful desire to be free of restraint. Such a tack couldn’t be attempted now, however. To most youth, de-regulation means more expensive tuition fees and no job security. Corbyn’s message is hitting home and is a traditional Labour one. To counter, Tories need to appeal to the youthful zeitgeist. At the moment they lack the imagination to formulate a coherent narrative and only know what they don’t like. 

Activate is thus reduced to saying no! The first meme published on their Facebook page effectively says ‘no!’ to a Corbyn ‘Jez we can’ (apologies for making you cringe if you clicked on the link). Granted, Conservatives are the party of no, or at least the party of reluctant change. But they have to say ‘no’ while appearing to say ‘yes.’ (Like in this video released during the height of Thatcherism). Especially on the platforms of social media. Otherwise, they look like pre-Blairite Labour socialists of the 80s and 90s. And the votes will go the same way.

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Nazi Germany: Where Liberals and Racists Were Morally Equivalent

Nazis and Communists are so intertwined in the public imagination that vital differences between them get lost. One significant difference is how political opponents were dealt with. Communists in the USSR scythed down the opposition. This was in keeping with the transformative revolution. Nazis, on the other hand, dealt with opponents in a more nuanced way. True, they imprisoned and killed a not inconsiderable sum of enemies. But, in keeping with their more conservative revolution, Nazis used instruments of the previous liberal regime and kept many of the old guard around. In other words, Nazis allowed liberals to operate publicly and they followed the liberal Weimar constitution. Until the end of the war, Hitler went cap in hand to the Reichstag parliament asking for support, most notably for new Enabling Acts so he could govern under a state of emergency. All the while, there was vocal and organized opposition from liberals and increasingly disillusioned conservatives, the latter having supported Hitler initially.

Nazi Germany is a famous example of a country where liberals, and indeed moderates, were afforded moral equivalence with fanatical racists, nativist zealots, and militaristic thugs. The Nazis always claimed to be good democrats, merely using their legal and political rights to contribute to public discourse. After they seized power, they did not wipe out opponents as the Bolsheviks had done but engaged with them. Surely no major nation in the world in 2017 would repeat the mistakes of Nazi Germany and give liberals and racists the same public space?

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MYTHBUSTER: “America Fought WWII to Save the World From Fascism”

Recent events in the US have prompted anti-racism activists, and the general public at large, to highlight America’s role in combatting right-wing governments, particularly those it fought during WWII. Indeed, America exclusively fought against nationalistic powers across the globe from 1941-1945, reorganizing Germany, Italy, and Japan after the war. So the sentiment “America fought the war to defeat Nazis” or Fascism appears self-evident. It is an exxageration, perhaps even ‘fake news,’ because of its inaccuracy, though. That is not to downgrade the fact that the US opposed Nazi-Fascist aggression and aspects of Nazism. Here is the truth about Americas relationship with right-wing extremism during WWII but also before and after.

The key event of course is Pearl Harbour. It left the US with little choice but to declare war on Japan, a country it had already sanctioned. However, the US did not declare war on Germany until December 11th, 1941. That was after Germany declared war on the US. Before December 1941, the US had adopted a nuanced stance regarding the Nazis. Relations had cooled after the 1938 Kristallnacht. Roosevelt used his presidential prerogative to support the Allied cause. A clear moral distinction was made between the Allies and the Nazis, but also between the Allies and the Soviet Union (the USSR had attacked several countries during WWII), although the US slightly favoured the USSR (there were strong pro-Soviet sympathies in the cabinet and in the bureaucracy). Public opinion in the US favoured neutrality and was not ill-disposed to Hitler in the main. It must not be forgotten that the key US foreign policy was isolationism, as opposed to any ideological opposition to totalitarianism. The proof is that the US forged a long-lasting alliance with Fascist Spain because Franco respected international borders and managed his public perception in a way which made friendship viable.

Its also disingeneous to say that America existed in a completely different moral universe to Fascist/Nazis. During WWII, and for decades before and after, Jim Crow laws segregated whites and blacks across much of the US. Immigration laws were passed, notably in 1924. Their intention was to protect white majoritarianism and they also had an element of anti-Judaism paranoia. Furthermore, the extermination of the Indian natives offers clear evidence of American exceptionalism. Lastly, eugenics was popular as in Nazi Germany, having official backing in many quarters.

US policy after the war showed the true face of American policy towards right-wing governments. Fascist and tyrannical governments were supported from Chile to Vietnam to the Phillipines, although some were more acceptable than others. This was to counter Communist expansion, proving the primary US preoccupation was with international order.

In conclusion, America fought WWII out of necessity, not to defeat right-wing extremism. The US entered the war because it had war declared upon itself. It was prepared to work with Fascist regimes who respected international norms and overtly demonstrated this support after the ink dried on surrender documents in 1945.

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Battle Lines Being Drawn in US

This week in the US, a grand jury was subpoened to inquire into clandestine meetings members of the Trump team had with Russian officials and agents, Trump fired his communications director, a radical immigration bill was published, the Statue of Liberty’s legitimacy was questioned by a Trump spokesman, and the Attorney General of the US announced a plan to end discrimination against whites in universities (i.e. an anti-affirmative action policy). This is why they say a week is a long time in politics! Where to start?

But, out of all the hubbub, perhaps the most significant event of the week was a speech Trump gave in West Virginia on Thursday. After all that has gone on (and has gone wrong), we saw Trump – for one of the few times since becoming President – acting, well, Presidential. Trump gave a nuanced dialogue where (1) he steered away from directly criticizing the investigation into Russian collusion, (2) didn’t dive into any rash statements, and (3) invoked (as he has done many times) the spectre of an out-of-touch Washington elite cheating the ‘people’ out of their crust.

Why was this speech significant? Taken together with the other key events of the week, such as Jeff Sessions anti-affirmative action program, we now have an inkling of how the next few years of US politics is likely to play out. On one side, opponents of Trump are going to do everything by the book. They are going to dig and scour for information, call witnesses, uncover evidence, pine over public statements, and refine every utterance. Trump, on the other hand, is going to play the populist card. He is going to stir up the hard-core racists in the South, the unemployed miners in the rust-belt, the conspiracy theorists in Texas, the do-or-die libertarians in the Great Plains.  Trump’s legal hand is weak; at best he can slow the advances of Robert Mueller and his team by constant appeals and objections. But where there is a will there is a way. Engaging with the base is the optimal method for Trump to overcome the storm that is threatening to wash him away, and this is exactly what he is doing.

Trump’s enemies are hoping he will go quietly (bar a few bizarre tweets) into the night. His more luke-warm hangers-on will hope he sees sense if the war with Mueller looks perilous. I suspect both will be disappointed, Furthermore, Washington is grossly underestimating Trump, confusing his lack of sophistication with a lack of street-smarts. Trump can’t speak English, can’t hold a coherent thought together, is clueless about the intricacies of many political details, and lacks any sense of diplomacy. But he is an outstanding communicator and has used the modern technology of Twitter in an alarmingly successful manner.

The dedication of his base shouldn’t be derided either. Liberals in the US (and much of the world) have largely ignored a sizeable minority, perhaps 25-35% of the country who have licked their wounds after Barry Goldwater’s defeat in 1964. The anti-liberal US has had to make do with scraps from the likes of Nixon or Reagan, and has waited for a leader like Trump, biding their time amidst momentous social change, seismic demographic shifts, and globalization. This anti-liberal US sees the last century as a constant litany of betrayals; the setting up of the Federal Reserve and institution of Income tax, Wilson’s universal approach to foreign relations, the entry into WWII, the Civil Rights movement, the Immigration Act of 1965, the Sixties, NAFTA, the Obama presidency. At this stage, the anti-liberal US sees itself as having its backs to the wall, and at a point where it has nothing to lose.

Stephen Miller’s comments about the Statue of Liberty (he basically said its message was a betrayal) would have only been found on the forums of alt-right groups last year. This year, they are the established wisdom of a US administration. Expect plenty more of these nuggets. Trump is now ready to unleash a whirlwind that is becoming energized and conscious that this opportunity may not come again if they let it slip. The Pat Buchanans and Kevin MacDonalds have their fingers at the ready. Conversations that have been buried in alt-right forums are now going to surface. The anti-liberal US – the ugly side of America, as progressives see it – is either going to have its last hurrah or its El-Alamein victory.

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What Trump Critics Missed About Boy Scout Speech

Irish history is a great teacher. Before I get to the meat and potatoes of this blog, I’ll first cite the example of a famous exponent of Irish national self-determination, Isaac Butt. Butt was notorious for droning on and on in Parliament, so as to obstruct the passage of bills he didn’t like. He was contemporary with heavyweights such as Disraeli and Gladstone, whose words can be quoted verbatim to support arguments of the most delicate discourse. Yet, boring Butt is the one who has his place among Irish nationalists, not the eloquent marksmen of British politics. Why? Because Butt got his message across to his constituents.

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Isaac Butt

 

Now, we get to Trump’s speech at the Boy Scout jamboree. It broke all Washington conventions, was hypocritical (‘I won’t get political’), obnoxious, damaging to the reputation of Boy Scouts, and cringe-worthy. Certain comments verged on the lewd.

Critics railed, saying “YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO TALK TO THE BOY SCOUTS LIKE THIS.” To them, its simple; Trump was merely speaking to 45,000 mostly teenage boys and his remarks were inappropriate and unprecedented, there were even accusations of brainwashing youth and distorting their minds.

All of these are valid points. But they miss the fact that Trump wasn’t just speaking to 45,000 Boy Scouts. He was really talking to the whole world, particularly anti-liberals in the US and abroad. Those who support Trump love when he tears up the rule book. They love his controversy. Every time the media or Washington is given a bloody nose by Trump, they whoop and holler.

What Trumps critics don’t get is that Trump is a communicator. Period. It was wrong for him to do what he did. That’s why he did it. It communicated to his base that he is going to drive a horse and coach through the rules. Trump is not going to be stopped, or at least not going to allow himself be hobbled by the rules. In a nutshell, he is different.

1200px-Charles_Stewart_Parnell_-_Brady-Handy
C S Parnell

Isaac Butts seat was occupied two years after his death by an even more famous nationalist, Charles Stewart Parnell, who said “No man has a right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation; no man has a right to say to his country – thus far shalt thou go and no further.” Trump would agree with the sentiment that rules are for saps.

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