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Category Archives: Society

Three ages of Western history summarised

In the Ancient period, the dominant ideal was to ennoble life (to seek glory). In the Medieval period, the dominant ideal was to sanctify life (to seek salvation). In the Modern era, the dominant ideal is to expand life (to live long and prosper). The ideal of the previous era never entirely dies, but becomes part […]

Ebola, Ferguson and political narratives

The Ebola virus reaching the US and the ongoing troubles and controversy over a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri display the power and the dangers of political narratives from all sides, both of US politics and more broadly. Thus, one of the more tired and embarrassing responses to Ebola mis-steps in the US has to […]

Orientation and action

The case of Gordon College (via) in Massachusetts, which propounds a traditional Christian view of homosexuality with a rather less traditional coda of sympathy, puts into sharp relief the “orientation is not sinful, acts are” position. The policy of Gordon College is: The orientation/action distinction has two major problems with it. First, it sets up an utterly […]

The eternal now of conservatism (2)

Catholic writer James Livingstone (see previous post) is hardly the only conservative writer who sees inherited social arrangements as based in verities of human nature rather than contingent historical circumstances. Not counting as human This notion of social arrangements as being rooted in verities of human nature, not the contingencies of history, can have a very […]

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 […]

ISIS, ibn Khaldun and patterns in history

One of the benefits of reading Ira Lapidus’s A History of Islamic Societies (which I review here and here) is understanding how much Islamic history shows recurring patterns. For example, how conflict between modernisers (we should learn from others), traditionalists (we should practice the religion as it is handed down to us) and reformists (we need to recover the purity of original Islam) is a […]

Equalising consumption => lowering vulnerability

A comment on a previous post expresses a common set of views among conservatives: Darwin has the final word on sillyness. If same sex marriage was a useful thing in society, then the vast range of human societies would show us a successful society with same sex marriage as normal. This confuses natural selection with social selection, […]

Modernity struggles: how priests and clerics are unreliable moral guides

Priests and clerics tend to be unreliable moral guides, because their interests are served by complexity and differentiation. Which is not to deny that, for example, Christianity has been a major factor in the distinctive achievement of Western civilisation. The ambivalent civilisation The late Kenneth Minogue argued that (via) the Enlightenment saw a shift among Western intellectuals from belief that […]

Migration, history and countries as club goods

This is based on comments I made here and here. Thin conceptions There is a line of argument which holds that if free trade in goods and services is good for economies, if free trade in capital is good for economies, then surely free trade in labour would also be good for economies. So, just as one should […]

Banking privilege as social bargaining: a nice case study

Have been reading Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit by Charles Calomiris and Stephen Haber. It is an excellent, and highly readable, history of banking: slides from a presentation explaining the basic thesis of the book are here (pdf). The information in the book also explains a puzzle of economic history. Technologically, the key […]