Category Archives: Academia

The rhetorical appeal of The Donald

The Donald is a demagogue and central to demagoguery is wish fulfilment politics. Demagoguery is not about believing in things, but in saying whatever the audience wants to hear. (The real trick is saying what they want to hear but haven’t articulated themselves yet.) Say it well enough and almost any amount of contradiction will […]

The Perfect Soldiers

LA Times journalist Terry McDermont’s study Perfect Soldiers: The 9/11 Hijackers, Who They Were, Why They Did It goes into the otherwise unremarkable lives of the 9/11 hijackers, firmly establishing that family background had nothing to do with their suicidal jihadism. Most did not come from particularly religious families; one, Ziad Jarrah from Lebanon, apparently did […]

Westerners have moral agency, Muslims have excuses

The recent case of a Norwegian left of centre politician who is apparently distressed that his convicted Somali rapist is likely to be deported has caused a minor online stir. I was, however, particularly struck by this statement: But perhaps the most notable lesson Hauken says he learned is that “rapists are from a world […]

Post-Enlightenment is the Counter-Enlightenment rebooted

There is a clear difference between the modernist Left and the postmodern progressivism. The modernist Left was an Enlightenment project, and proud to be so. This is the stream of political analysis and commentary represented in our time by such figures as the late Christopher Hitchens and Norman Geras, by Terry Eagleton’s jeremiads against post-modernism and by the Euston Manifesto. They are the […]

Decency, righteousness and the add-more-morality error

Having what we might call a moral sense, but which is better called a normative sense, has been basic to the evolutionary success of homo sapiens. The ability to accept, and internalise, constraints on behaviour hugely expands the range of practicable social interactions. Particularly important over the longer run in “scaling up” human social interaction has been the […]

So, you want to reduce inequality … (some modest, and some practical, proposals)

Concern over rising inequality has certainly been a significant feature of recent intellectual and political discourse, particularly in the US (for example here). Let us suppose we were serious about reducing inequality, what would we do? One thing you would not do is significantly raise top income tax rates, that would not have much effect at all. Besides, at […]

Lenin, Luxemburg and Gorbachev’s failure (a Vladimir, Rosa and Mikhail story)

Vladimir Lenin gave his name to Leninism, a way of operationalising revolutionary socialism. In fact, essentially the only way that has proved effective, based on adopting the Jacobin model of political action. That is, totalist politics–no limit on the range, or means, of political action in pursuit of a specific political project. Lenin was happy to adopt the title of Jacobin: A Jacobin […]

Cause and context

In the postwar period, the Democratic candidate for President has received a majority of votes cast in precisely four elections: Johnson 1964 (53.4%), Carter 1976 (50.1%), Obama 2008 (52.9%), Obama 2012 (51.1%). Which makes the first African-American President the only Democratic candidate to get a majority of the votes cast twice in the postwar period. (It is […]

The good people syndrome

I doubt that there is any more corrupting element in contemporary public debate than the good people syndrome: talking heads who say things, not because they have any knowledge or understanding, but because it is what good people say. There are forms of it on a wide range of issues, and on all sides of politics, but it seems unlikely […]

Ahistorical pomposity and gnostic sneering: why academics write deep crap about “neoliberalism”

Humanities and social science academics write a remarkable amount of nonsense about “neoliberalism”, typically understanding neither the reasons for the general shift in public policy nor the motivations and ideas behind it. A nice example of such nonsense is provided in a post by philosopher Robin James: neoliberals think everything in the universe works like a […]