Monday 28 February 2011

Yes, Mr Gove, please can we have this fucker mess about with our History syllabi

What makes a good historian? A good memory? A nice style of prose? Ruthless self-promotion and a pathological need to be seen as upsetting applecarts? A very very large book and tv deal? Schilling on American News networks, pushing cathartic bullshit mythology for a partisan section of the audience? Speaking fluffy banality unto the powerful who pay your cheques? A choice and somewhat undemanding tenure at an Ivy League university or one of the Russell group? An nice Scottish (but not too Scottish) brogue? Pushing amusing High table games of Counter-factual history as some how revolutionary heuristic tools? No longer being arsed to do original research but claiming some standing above, and greater wisdom over actual working Historians?

If Gove is looking for these "qualities" within a preposterous History "Tsar", then Niall Fergusson is your urbane fellow. What you also get is a bad historian.

When put forwards your prespective, on the evidence you present and, as importantly, how that evidence came to be selected, engagement with other interpretations is the essential mounting. A honest historian engages with the strongest prespectives of competators, looking to synthesise and answer more fully the discoveries and new evidence these cases have brought up. To return to older more amendable narratives, ignoring the new riches brought forth by rival alternatives, is sheer propaganda. It is a matter of respect, not only for others, but your own craft. Let mock cursory platitudes begin

Fergusson over narrative is thus:- He depicts a classic whig perspective but with an added cynicism engendered by the turmoil of the 20th century. A goldern era of Euro-generative progress and power is suddenly ended by a series of "incidents", unattached to the social and political condition out of which they arose. Thus Britain inflames a neccesary conflict between a European Germany and a backwards Slav fringe creating World War I by a few bad apples in government. This ushered in a era where actual existing Liberalism relaxed its power over subject peoples and in various metropoles allowing barbarities to gain power. By the end of the short 20th century, this multi-polar world is ended and a workable and essential just compromise of cheap subject labour and capital is combined with high living amongst the Liberal core. Military Power is to be transmitted via the United states and the "stability" of economic progress continued.

You can see why he is so upset by the revolutions in today's middle east. Why he must libel the people who made them and the diaspora of Arab democratic dissendents and lie outright about American revolutionary history. How can these poor stupid latter-day san-cullottes aspire to anything worthy of Fergusson's praise? To the wisdom of slave owning gentry, to Bismarckean real politick, to the Solomans of the Bush Pentagon. His apologies for empire reveal his Whig dialectical process. The rich make better decisions, so make the oppressed or their children or grand grandchildern richer and they might, if their culture passes muster, get a seal of approval. Only by decades long "tutelage" can cure the masses from their improper expectations of not being kicked in the face

Chin up though, Niall. If you can seek progress in laying down with the Congo Free State, José Napoleón Duarte or Savimba or Mubarak, then the Muslim Brotherhood should be no problem

Thursday 10 February 2011

Poetry Fruit Corner



once and for a while

we lay unearthed
a humanity awaiting
in turmoil and slumber

in the earth of vibrant stasis
under the weight of our old liberties,
exceptions and guilds

we awaited

for Hobbes and Locke
Ricardo, Bentham, Smith
and machines, Coke and Coal
Iron, more Iron, Cotton and Sugar
Iron Ships, Iron roads, More and More
Faster. Great lanes across mountains and seas
wealth from Sultans and Rajas, Gold under Sioux and Zulu
Millions march, to the beat of coins rubbing, notes and bonds counting
Cotton, Coal, Iron, Coffee, Corn, release the Grain, end the famine pact!

Let us breath free
shake the world, kings and the masses
cut down, put up, burrow and burn, slice and sell on
Steam, Power, Light and Reason, Steam, Power, Light
Turn cities to shells, desert into Jerusalem, onwards, busyness soldiers
Steam, Machine, under foot, eclipse Rameses and Hadrian, Marvel, display

Mills and Comte
Fire and Rifles and Krupps
From Preston to Liege to Essen
From Vyborg to Milan to Concord to Osaka
Cut, Cut, Now, onwards, Faster, Quicker, Pace, Power
Let Nations arise, let them fall, nothing in our way, under foot
God is with us, God cannot stop us, God worships us, marvels at our works
Steam, Power, Iron, More Iron, Cotton and Machine, resist us and starve

And now we should bow
before the creators, the demons of construction
breaking eggs
and making miracles
bloody acts of divinity
out of shell, bone, flesh and the sacraments
kiss the plinths on which they stand
as we catch our breath
and wonder where we are

Lazy, Moi? Part some number or other

“The Blood flowed and covered the land – and daylight filled the world” - Spatial discourses within Hamas’ terrorist violence

“It occurred when the Palestinian, from the isolation of his world, asked another world that stood with its back to him: who am I and what am I in the scheme of things that seemed to govern other people's lives but not mine?” Fawaz Turki

“The world is a Paradise for the infidel, but a prison for the believer” Hadera Bus bomber, Ammar Armaneh’s will, 1994

There is no country for the Muslim except where the shariah of God is established, where human relations are bonded by their relationship to God” Sayyid Qutb

Spatial conceptions are a mainstay of Hamas’, and other groups’, terrorist ideology and the violence it manifests. Each act of violence constructs an alternative “…terrain of social utopia” . When added to the temporal and psychological aspects of forcing history via seemingly aimless acts of violence, this spatial dimension might well produce a more nuanced cartography of the terrorist and extremist worldviews. Whilst each “atlas” must be particular to each imagined geography, the primordial commonalities of a human-wide phenomena such as terrorism count as much as the specifics. Indeed, what is unique to Hamas and its attacks serve to highlight the supra-species universals, their limits and their extent, of the Muqawama’s geography of messages and discourse. As such, it is possible to highlight a tentative taxonomy of certain spatial processes, messages, contradictions and ideas within ideologically loaded violence

Using a single attack and its symbolic “topia” as a structural guide, this essay seeks to use several sociological and geographic constructs to examine the act, it’s importance in spatial terms and how it connect to wider spatial discourses in Palestinian Islamist thought. The first conception is that of Heterotopias, taken from Foucault’s essay Of Other Spaces . Here a space is created where ideological discourse shapes the space, its rules, norms, rituals and meaning, marking it out from other more homogenetic spaces, a space “…of deviation” . Secondly, Soja’s idea of thirdspace , i.e. a place both real and imagined, both solid and air, will be applied in its most extreme reading to recombine and consider the internal world of struggle and the actual existing conditions of the conflict. Here, there is “[a] site where one’s radical [identity] and subjectivity can be activated” . Finally, by using a form of Bhabha's concept of mimicry , this essay will examine the messages and symbolism within the spatial conceptions underlying Hamas’ resistance. Hamas power, in relation to Israel’s “…is at once resemblance and menace” . In addition, a conception of differential frames of temporality in violence, Griffin’s “Dreamtime” , provides another dimension to this tentative analysis .

Hamas and its progenitor, the Muslim Brotherhood, are deeply attached to discourses of space. Hamas goal of resisting Israel and leaving “not one Jew in Palestine” combines with the goal of remaking Palestine as “Islamicized space” . It is a campaign of rejecting the Jewish “….cancer expanding in the land of Isra and Mi’raj” combined with regenerating “Islamic observance in the public sphere inside Palestine” and the nature of the Pure Muslim. Cathartic expulsion with regeneration is Hamas’ re-formulation of its varied intellectual ancestry. This mixture of Palestinian Nationalism and the Supra-nationalism of Qutbish ideas of Caliphate and Ummah gave Hamas a symbolic mental geography. This stretches from the micro-scale of the refugee camps of Gaza or Jenin, the “Palestinian Street” to the macro-scale of cosmic struggle and history being “corrected”.

On the evening of March 27 2002, Abdel Baset Odeh, a 25-year-old Palestinian from nearby Tulkarem, blew himself up in the Park Hotel function room in Netanya. In the explosion, 30 others were killed, mostly elderly Jews celebrating Passover . Such was the force of the blast, a butter knife was found stuck two inches into the concrete ceiling. The overt intention of the Al-Qassam brigades who had sent Odeh to die and kill had been to overshadow the recently announced Saudi peace plan. In the words of the Hamas communiqué after the attack, it was “a message to the summit convening in Lebanon that our Palestinian people’s option is resistance and resistance only” . Yet an attack on a Seder consisting of family-less Holocaust survivors clearly had a symbolic significance. This knot of messages and meaning is intrinsically geographic, intrinsically spatial.

Odeh grew up in a classic anomic space. Tulkarem exists just within the boundaries of the Palestinian authority and is ringed with Israeli checkpoints, “a demonstration of power” . The ritual and daily humiliation of passing these combined with a lack of any other mundane opportunities provided an environment where firstspace, the physical material world, was constricted. Though the eyes of Hamas, this world offered only “...the dispossession, deportations, prisons, tortures, travel restrictions, the dissemination of filth and pornography, the corruption and bribery… a life of suffering and degradation” . As waves of violence and insecurity mounted for the Palestinians,”… the more they have supported martyrdom operations and even demanded more” . There were no grand meanings outside of Jihad, no heroic arena beyond that of the resistance.

In the words of Odeh’s father, people were “…frustrated and they don’t want to live any more”. Odeh, in particular, had only “…. a bitter life” . This arena was severely contracted when Odeh was denied a visa to visit his potential in-laws in Jordan 9 months before the bombing. After this he retreated into more and more ostentatious displays of piety before going underground as the Israeli military began to take an interest. Odeh’s firstspace had been not only become painfully anomic but had become impossible.

To this push towards his act of violence, the pull of the promise of a meaningful thirdspace was present. By marking the “unjust” world with a murderous example of Islamic resistance, Odeh was transported and transformed in both space and time. He brought a cosmic struggle, one of a manichean and eternal nature, a truly heroic mythos, into a comfortable, complacent Jewish reality. Qutb explicitly takes up this reforming and transporting notion of violent struggle, of violent Jihad. The Jihadi “….remains busy to strive against others, really strives against his own self also” , released from “…the bonds of earth and soil, the bonds of flesh and blood” . Ridden from corruption within, the Jihadi creates and enters a sacred space, combating “…existing power relations at the source” , one in which their actions had cosmic and dialectical significance.

This space is one of war, truly a Dar es Harb, house of war. In every action of violence, Hamas re-declares war and creates a topography of a cosmic battlefield. The function room at the Park Hotel was the site where Hamas proclaimed it’s power, it’s force and it’s struggle, “….a war of religion and faith” . In an asymmetric conflict, the smaller party increases its challenge by extending the reach of the struggle. The possibility of causing great harm to Israel by the launching of the Al-Qassam rockets from the Gaza strip is small. Yet the extension of uncertainty over a wide area of the realm of the “other” extends the war, its importance, it’s central meaning to all history, “The hour of Khaybar has arrived” . This reaffirmation of struggle into the space of the “other“ declares “We are at war”.

The acting out of this thirdspace of cosmic struggle; of war, a heterotopia ruled by the ideology of Hamas, occurred in the setting of an intensely sacred space for Jews; a Seder. This collision of spatial conceptions, of meaning was central to the symbolism of the act. The reception of the Israeli public of the attack as an invasion and attack on their own seder was it’s aim. This was not chance. To the manager of the Park hotel, Pauline Cohen, (who lost a son-in-law), the desecration was acute, “…they come on this holy holiday, they have crossed a line” . Suicide operations are not opportunistic events, they require planning, reconnaissance, strategic thinking. The Seder is the ultimate space of sanctuary and safety within Jewish culture, a place of refuge with family. Into this retreat, the bombing shattered all these assumptions. And it did so without warning or explanation. It was an arbitrary act par excellence.

This can be understood as an act of mimicry and of communicating control. In Palestinian nationalist discourse, Israel violence and influence is arbitrary, indeterminate and invasive. This invasion of Palestinian society, into the family home, demonstrates a stark disparity of power and reach. Hamas has yearned to “share” this insecure and fraught existence with Israel society, punctuated by state and non-state violence like the Hebron Massacre by Baruch Goldstein. In another communiqué after the Afula bus bombing on 6 April 1994, “Hamas vowed to make the Israelis pay for the pain and harassment”. Al Husseini warned even of Jewish culture that might “enter our houses and courtyards like adders, where they kill morality and demolish the foundation of society” . Onto the conceived complacency of Israeli society, Hamas’ violence mimics the seemingly arbitrary nature of the Israeli occupation, “…Treating like for like is a universal principle” to quote one Hamas communiqué. Regarding the Hebron massacre, Hamas was clear about the symbolism of violence, space and sacred days, “…You turned Eid’ al-fitr into a black day so we swore to turn your independence holiday into hell” .

This turning of the tables involves the creation of spaces of Palestinian power deep within Israeli social life. Out of this affirmation, two concentric zones are discernable, that of the explosion itself, full of chaos, suffering and the siren lights and that of a wider near existential space imbued with threat and insecurity. This “sharing” of experience, “sharing” of warning-less violence and all-pervading cultural insecurity communicates power, “…. proclaim to them: Allah is great, Allah is greater than their army, Allah is greater than their airplanes and their weapons” . This aping of the power of an occupying or colonial force thus produces spatial mimicry.

Such heterotopia can be described by Bhabha’s conception of mimicry. Here the powerful “other”, it’s rules, it’s forms and it’s behaviours are taken as exemplars for those contesting the existing situation. Hamas takes on the mantle of the colonial arbitrary power, it “…appropriates' the Other as it visualizes power” . Indeed, within Palestinian Islamist discourse, this is considered a re-establishment of the proper order of things. As people of the book, Jews should be under the power of Islamic grace. Without Islam in command, “…fighting and oppression will break out and corruption flourish. Obstinacy and war will break out” . The elusive nature of peace seems to confirm this prejudice. In the words of Qutb, “Whenever the Children of Israel reverted to evil-doing in the Land, punishment awaited them” . Thus the spatial mimicry of violence is given restorative power, recreating a “just” order geographically. Mimicking Israeli power and “sharing” insecurity, it declares “We are in control”

Netanya and Tulkamen each represent, for Hamas, spaces where spatial ideas clashed with the reality. Netanya, founded in the late 1920 from purchased land, is a successful sea side town, bustling with tourists and wealth. This is not how it should be in the minds of Hamas. In the dichotomy of “truthfulness” and ”falsehood” , Israeli material plenty is explained by a divine trick, lulling them into defeat. The crowded poverty and boredom of Tulkamen, haunted by the “…the plague of collaboration” and “…the existential antagonism of occupation” seemed paradoxical. How could the followers of the last Prophet fall so low; indeed, it seemed the entire glory of Islam“….totally unravelled in modern Palestine” . This set of contradiction is over-come by a total belief in prophetic and historic inevitability, “…history must confirm faith” and a reliance on Qur’anic examples.

The Nakba of 1948, which cleared the Arab villages around Netanya and swelled the slums of Tulkamen was re-imagined in the geography of the early Islamic community. To Hamas, the Nakba might well be a disaster and a personal one at that, it’s deputy leader, Rantissi, lamented “Our home still exists and is occupied by Jews from Yemen” . Yet it could also be represented as a modern hijra, where Muhammed fled Mecca in 622. The retreat leading to eventual victory, this “Mohammedan Paradigm” is clearly an attractive analogy for a people in exile, but it is further rewarding to Islamists. Before exile, “Islam had not yet fully existed in Mecca” , only the trauma of the hijra had created the world conquering faith. Exile could purify Palestinian Islam too, eventually leading to the day where “…the Jews shall drink what they have given our unarmed people to drink” . Here, despite the fitna and struggle of exile, victory was inevitable.

This inevitability provides more sacred sources of strength, making this worldly conflict “…a living lesson of the eternal sacred exemplars” . As well as the aforementioned battle of Khaybar, the battle of Badr in 624 gave an example of miraculous victory of a minority over a seemingly invincible majority and is a favourite of Hamas literature . What was needed was enough faith and enough piety. In this exile, true Muslims could be built, those “…who are willing to sacrifice the precious and the dear in the Cause of Allah” . Violence recall this heroic age, it positioned itself as a repetition of the victory of the Prophet, “States built upon oppression last only one hour”…” . It claims “We will win”

To this end, Hamas encouraged, in both Intifadas and beyond, local campaigns that contributed to these dual ends. Attacks on public impiety and secular influences violently re-asserted the narrow Islamic nature of the space Hamas wished to create. Collaboration with Israel, the ultimate sin, lead Palestinians in the first Intifada to kill “…at least 800 of their own” . After defeating the Fatah in the Gaza strip in the brief 2007 civil war, creating “Hamastan” , the new authorities declared the “…end of secularism and heresy” . There was to be an end to the PLO “..debauching themselves, drinking, singing, carrying on” . Hamas had taken on from the beginning of the first intifada the nationalist tradition of using wall murals commemorating the dead and ambushes on lost Jews, cathartically clearing and marking their new space. One such piece of graffiti mused, “Ah, O time of prostitution, O time of betrayal, You will be conquered by the heroes of the stones, No matter how slow is history” .

Further away, the focus of Hamas spatial discourses rests in Jerusalem, the “…central point of the struggle between faith and unbelief”” . The al-Aqsa Mosque and the site where the Hadiths claim Muhammad ascended heaven is intrinsically contested space. The Dome of the Rock lies on top of the remains of the Temple of Solomon and was the background to Odeh’s martyrdom video as part of Hamas’ insignia. Anxieties and fears over the al-Aqsa and narratives strengthening Islamic prior claims to the area are of vital importance to Hamas. It is the lynchpin to their religious claim to the land.

The threat is not wholly imagined, as Jewish extremist groups such as Gush Emunim have sought to carry out plans to destroy the mosque. Yet even the presence of Jewish power around the al-Aqsa is taken as a desecration. The Hamas charter of 1988 remembers when Israeli troops captured East Jerusalem in 1967 “…they shouted with joy ‘Muhammed is dead, he left daughters behind” . Violent tussles over control of the Dome were to provide both sets of Nationalists pre 1948 with a rallying point of support and identity, creating ”… two well defined camps opposing each other, Jews and Arabs (or Muslims)” . Contested ownership and a sense of control over this cosmic pivot provided the occasion for the 2nd Intifada (2000-ongoing). The primacy of this locale to Hamas’ and the wider Palestinian National movement’s symbolic topos is manifest

To compromise on the status of Jerusalem or indeed a single inch of “the land between the River and Sea” is an impossibility for Hamas. Palestine is taken to be a Waqf, a divinely sanctioned endowment to the Muslim nation till the day of retribution , the cosmic “Day of Anger” . To compromise over this would mean “…renouncing part of the religion” in the words of Hamas’ charter. To the eyes of Palestinian Islamists, their heterotopian project of an Islamic space is the mirror and opposite of that of the Zionists who they consider to have realised “...their religious thought on Muslim soil” . They seek to ape this effort.

This combination of cosmic struggle with the particular firstspace geography of Palestine relies of narratives of despoliation and desecration understood via historical topography. By the Zionist nationalist project, the Jew had over-turned a righteous order of things and “…indeed done evil in the Holy Land” . This evil is clad in the darkest historical connotations, “…this despicable Nazi-Tartar invasion” From these larger spatial narratives, the choices within violence attacks “…aimed at controlling and redefining public space” .are clearly drawn, they give a manual of symbolic tactics and targets. These “…cartographies of fear…” remake the world, “…enter directly into its construction”.

In sum, we have three concepts, three overlapping heterotopias caused by violence, “…how destruction creates spaces for new rounds of landscape reproduction” . Firstly, there is a space of war. Here dichotomies, be it jahiliyya and Qur’anic revelation, Truth and Falsehood, believer and Kufr, are reasserted and their inevitable confrontation renewed. In the second concept, a space of control is discernable, underpinned with by a notion of “shared” insecurity. In “…a form of the tragic” , pain is returned to the presumed source and a mimicking control, aping the arbitrary nature of the dominant power played out. These “sharing” spaces have to feel “…like existential crisis, like hopelessness, like loss of the future” . Finally we have a space of inevitability, the victorious space. In this zone, the end of history is predicted. Historical precedent, prophetic prescience and the self-will of the perpetrators rush into the space created by the violence; giving a dialectical importance, shaping its meaning.

Combining spatial and temporal understandings of violence pushes deeper into the lived and imagined experience of violence. Just as space can be remade, so time can attain a different quality to the tick-tock Chronos of mundane time. As the Jihadi enters a thirdspace where the dimensions are now governed by a historic cosmos of ideas, so they also carry “…the experience of ‘dying’ to ‘this’ world in order to be ‘reborn’ in a higher, more substantial reality” . As “….projective narratives…”, mythologies, religious exegesis, ideologies combine and wax in front of circumstance, so they “…can imbue the time with transcendent collective values” . I suggest this is just as true for space.


“We are sleeping on a volcano....Don you not see the earth trembles anew? A wind of revolution blows, the storm is on the horizon” Alexis de Tocqueville to the French Chamber of Deputies, 1848


Another year, another revolt. A year ago last summer, Iranians in their millions protested against a fraudulent election and resisted bitterly against the state’s repression and brutality. The “Green revolution“, has so far, failed. The Revolutionary Guard – Ulema fix up remains unchanged and unmoved. Its vindictive punishment and public humiliation of protesters continues.

This year, the “secular” dictatorships of Tunisia and Egypt are the target of mass protest and demands of reform. Active disquiet in Algeria and Yemen, rumblings in Syria, “Hamastan” and Jordan provide a wider background for the fall of long term dictatorships in Tunisia and potentially, Egypt. “The Springtime of Peoples” or just another dank February day? I’m not the first to suggest the analogy to 1848 and I do so not out of any teleological expectation but rather to examine the possibilities, the dangers and the consequences of this particular set of circumstances. A brief look at 1848 highlights all of these current concerns.

Preceded by an unsuccessful revolt in Austrian Poland and a victory of the democrats in a civil war in Switzerland, one might well consider whereabouts de Tocqueville was coming from. The first uprising of note came in Sicily, against the systemically corrupt House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies on 12 January 1848. These were, in part, encouraged by the election of a “liberal” pontiff, Pius IX and a series of moderate reforms in Rome and the Papal states. The demands were grouped around a return of the liberal constitution of 1812, drawn up as a preventative of French revolutionary ideological contagion and quickly withdrawn after the peace of Vienna. Whilst the conspirators behind the revolt were mostly liberally inclined notables, the revolt relied on the urban masses of Palermo.

By the 24th of February, a French republic had been declared, ousting the good bourgeois king of Louis Philippe after a long term campaign of republican agitation via (in good French gourmand taste) a series of mass banquets. By March 2nd, i.e. 7 days later (1848 was a leap year), the governments of Baden and Württemberg has fallen, by the 11th, Bavaria, by the 13th, Vienna and Buda were at the barricades, by the 18th Milan had fallen, on the 22nd, Daniele Marin had broken in to the Venice Arsenal, on the 23rd, the newly “constitutional” monarch of Piedmont-Savoy, Charles Albert declared war on the Austrian Empire to liberate Venetia. By the summer, every government, with the exception of the Belgium and Dutch, between the Pyrenees to the Oder and the Black Sea had fallen; even Brazil would feel the breath of popular revolt. Even in areas unaffected per se, either increased agitation, Blanquist coup d’état or invasion by newly “freed” forces would spread its memory, in Ireland, in Belgium, in Britain, in Prussian Poland. This whirlwind spread of revolt would become archetype pattern of the Socialist dream and the Conservative nightmare for the next 150 years. Ironically the only continent wide revolution to come close would be 1989 where governments proudly socialist would collapse en masse.

In 1917, the revolution in Russia would over the next few years inspired other attempts at the “subjective mastering the objective”. Yet 1848 stands out. Firstly it was near universal, affecting constitutional monarchy, enlightened depots, the backwards of Kingdoms, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox flocks, industrializing nations, peasant nations, comic operetta princelings and continental superpowers. Secondly was its breakneck speed. While there was a “counter culture” against Metternich-ian Europe, cosmopolitan, Franch-phile, united to a certain degree behind revolutionary heritage past, these revolutionaries in the main were taken by surprise by the revolts and, certainly, their immediate (albeit temporary) and total success. This was no Europe wide conspiracy but rather a conjoining of disaffection and anger about each nation’s particular circumstance. Yet in a matter of weeks, a Europe drawn up after the defeat of Bonaparte was smashed and its future was thrown into the air.

Just as important is the revolutions’ almost universal failure. In France, various flavors of Bourbon monarchy were rejected for good and a constitutional order put in place. Yet the first President of this new republic would be its grave digger, a somewhat vain but forward thinking ex-Carbonari called Louis Napoleon. Thousands of those who had risked life and limb in February to found a republic were shot down by a new “Party of Order” in charge of same Republic in July. In Berlin, Vienna, Rome and Prague, new governments of public confidence were thrown out by troops and absolutism restored. Savoy was defeated and its King exiled. In Hungary, independence would last till vast Russian reinforcements crossed the Carpathians in 1849 and crushed a spirited, and at times, brilliantly led campaign. Marin and the Republic of San Marco were amongst the last hold outs, having lasted 17 months.

Eagle or sparrow eyed readers might well detect a variety of analogous points with the current revolts. Egypt as France, Tunisia as Sicily, Iran as Poland, the US as the Russian bear. It has enough correlations to suit many a taste. The ones that seem the most important to me are as follows

• The price of Bacon (or Lamb) – The triggers have been a steady rise in food prices, not just regionally, but globally. Food price rises not only means hunger, it means lack of income for other goods thus knock on under-employment in societies already cursed with high levels of joblessness or partial employment in grey areas of the economy. It means a reliance on state or party largesse and thus further and political loaded scrutiny of corruption and high living amongst the “Peoples’ servants”. It also means queues, that dangerous and yet unavoidable social gathering where the faults of the current regime are not only publically demonstrated but where too there is an arena to share this insight. In 1848, like in March 1917 and throughout the French revolution, food prices rises and scarcity provided a ready made example of government wrong and a forum for collective discussion and action. It provided an uncontrolled civic space away from the normative watch of the state. It is no surprise that Algeria has increased grain supplies and subsidies after the Tunisian food riots that prefaced the toppling of Ben Ali. Eric Hobsbawm noted that 1848 coincided an economic downturn of the traditional type i.e. an agricultural dearth with that of the new type, industrial downturn. Are we seeing a return of the ancient famine cycle to combine with the paucity of international credit or, more likely, a new(ish) form of food instability linked to an increasingly unbalanced global economy?

• So far, the protests have mainly drawn on a tradition of thought labelled by the western media Liberal but probably more precisely anti-authoritarian. This is grounded in indigenous criticisms of the establishment of nationalist dictatorships after independence. The motif of Nasser or Sadat or Mubarak as Pharaoh is a trope not of Qutb or the Islamists (though they were to adopt it with relish) rather it was a label born of secular and democratic opponents around the ailing Wafd Party and anti-fascist socialists of the Free Officer regime. Such critics do not fit easily into western boxes, yet they are part of a nationalist tradition in Egypt than has spurned both the supra-nationalism and theocracy of the Muslim Brotherhood and the authoritarianism of Nasserism. Similarly, the “outs” in Algeria, Tunisia, Syria and Jordan, Nationalists critical of the existing regimes and their arbitrariness and corruption but of a shared heritage of the dominant nation parties have keep a continuity of democratic or at least anti-authoritarian opposition alive. These may not be at the stage of mass movements or even beyond drawing room conspiracy, they have, until recently, had little room to organise publically. However, their common root with that of the “Ins” means they do have a ready made legitimacy, a betrayal to renounce and rectify. This counter-point to the otherness of the revolutionaries (outside of France) in 1848 may well provide a way around the end point of 1849. In 1848, the new regimes were either unable or unwilling to mobilise the required mass effort to fend off counter-revolution. Their legitimacy was too shallow. A new nationalist and democratic revolt for the people of North Africa and the Middle East has a ready made tradition of loyalty, parable and action. It even has a (oddly not oxymoronic) nationalist internationalism to call on, of the UAF and other schemes, one seen in the Green movements embrace of the Jasmine revolution and the intifada in Egypt being celebrated by the self-styled Youth of Gaza,

• Having said that, with governments falling, international relations in the area become (to put it politely) fluid. In 1848, this spilt into war, Piedmont against Savoy, Croatia, Serbia and Romania against a centralising Hungary, German radicals against Danish liberals. At best it engendered boorish chauvinism, for instance, that between Germans and Czechs and Engels comments on the reactionary nature of Croats. At the moment, with only Tunisia and Egypt affected, the Camp David accords are the main focus of international contention. Is a democratic Egypt good/bad for Israel? What of Gaza? What can America do? Beyond this is the wider picture of a period of international relations founded on Authoritarian governments agreeing things between each national elite, backed up and funded by various outside powers. This may well be at an end and the Peoples’, those experiencing spring, will want their opinions and their nationalism heard. The intertwined nature of the ethnic geography of 1848 Europe and the bombastic pretentions and assertions of old medieval borders made strife virtually inevitable. These are far less in evidence currently within the Middle East and North Africa, neither is the model of French style unitary power so dominant. Democratic co-association may well provide a solution to the Coptic Christian community and the Berbers. Re-centralisation, even with a democratic mandate, may well usher a troubled autumn of Peoples


How goes the day?

Hope you are all well. I've been busy, lazy, joyous, depressed, blissful, suicidal. Still here or here abouts.

Let us begin

Sunday 7 February 2010

Fragment #3 or how Bill Haley stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb
Between 1949 and 1991, the world had to consider its complete destruction. The possibility of auto-genocide by proxy marked out a porous barrier between a known universe and one where any rules and any knowledge broke down. This Event Horizon presented even the most inhuman of ideologue with a great void, a post human and post pretention world.
Good for Bill for imagining some up side

Tuesday 2 February 2010

More Goldberg.......Lucky lucky youse

Hello, comrades

I've been pretty ill for the last 6 months or so and have been not up to much blogging wise. I have a few things in my draft folder that I might put up for completeness sake. But apart from a few random bursts of energy, it seems the Republic might be beyond my feeble will :) I'll see how it goes and will surely lurk around comrades blogs, with an occasional ramble

Anyhoo found this, care of Peter Ryley aka Fat Man

Four historians take on 'Liberal Fascism'.

I will add they do seem to miss a trick. Goldberg's thesis depends on three definitions; his highly idiosyncratic take on fascism i.e purely statist with leader cult, his depiction of the right in America as being essentially small government/low taxes, his belief that applies to post war Italy and post depression Germany.

All three are wrong.

I've mentioned at length the problems with his definition here

and briefly mentioned the other two.

I shall expand (Told you were lucky). To proclaim the right or conservatism (Goldberg is not consistent when he talks about them) as small government/low taxes or 'Classical Liberalism as he puts it in his reply to the historians above is quite a leap. Conservatism, if we take its current configuration is a synthesis of four elements;
A - Religious politics,
B - rejection of the New Deal,
C - security Keynesianism,
D - rejection of the Great Society.

Only part of two (B & D) of these are really small statist issues. To begin with A, using the state to promote or, very charitably, 'protect' religion is very far from small state. It fies in the face of the sacred respect for the constitution conservatism proclaims. Bear in mind, Mike Huckerbee, the last competitor to John McCain in the Republican presidentual primaries in 2008, is a long term advocate of making Christian supremacy (no doubt of the soft and cuddly type) part of the founding document. Merely monitoring Christian and non-Christian numbers in a purely benign way, an essential part of maintaining a Christian nation, is a vast expansion of state power, far beyond any census.What is small government in the illegalisation of Abortion, in the insistence on school prayer, on controlling debate?

B is more complicated than the 'Rugged Individualist' Conservatives or the Libertarian wing of the GOP or the various Randian/Paulian grouplets make out. The New deal certainly increased the state, but it also shifted its focus. By coming to some type of social compact with the unions and ending many of the lopholes in the tax codes, FDR took away the protective arm of the state away from much of American industry and commerce. Whilst saving the banks, no longer would the state act as a free militia to private enterprise against its citizens. The state, as part of the National Liberal program of industrialisation that had reigned supreme from 1863-1912, was a vital big brother to American 'individualism', protecting it from British and German competition, breaking organised labour and direct infrastructure investment. The increase in the state was one of degree, not kind.

When US Conservatives say ‘lets get back to small government’, what do they mean? When? The mid eighties with taxes higher that today? The 1920s when much of the bread basket neared starvation and the economy reached over saturation and collapse? The late 1860s when much of the country was under military rule? The 1790s when the nation was less than a tenth of the size and had a population under 4 million? When? C is the counter point to FDR's social Keynesianism. The vast military apparatus that was created during WWII and maintained into the cold war was and remains a vast component of economic prosperity in the US. Via a regulated use of vast sums of tax payer money, pork was brought and deals made. While it is difficult to quantify the amount gained by private industry via subsidised research and development, a huge workforce of highly trained engineers, workers and white collar staff exist at the end of the military complex’s teat.

The sanctity of this is hardwired into the conservative program. The plethora of programs started under the Eisenhower administration, few of which saw the light of day but consumed multiple billions, were a clear exercise in security Keynesianism, remarkably surpassed by the Reagan administration without regard to budgetary limitations. The modest program of re-entrenchment pursued by the Kennedy and Clinton administrations created a maelstrom of conservative protests.

It is worth noting that the rise in military spending tends to somewhat spotty. Having restarted Star wars, the Bush administration could not afford to up-armour its Humvees in Iraq

I would also add to security Keynesianism the notion of the war on crime/drugs. This has been a huge business, with a thriving market for jails to reinvigorate depressed areas. Oddly these wars, plainly counter-productive, disruptive of due process and liberties, harmful and very expensive must be fought. Beyond a few suddenly quiet Libertarians, this is a conservative given.

D again is more complicated. For all of the moaning about welfare programs, much of the bile, the rhetoric and the policy is aimed at reversing the gain in rights and the presumptions within those advances. What seems to drive much of the US conservative movement is a wish for the state to continue to discriminate and to push the excepted norms of liberty into a pre-civil rights world. The state must protect a form of social solidarity from the manifestations of these reforms. The state must protect the sacred banner, English as a first language, the nature of marriage, the rates of teen pregnancy. It suddenly must do all to return the nation to the pre-60s pristine environment.

No. Even in the land of the free, to claim conservatism as solely or even mostly a movement of small government/low taxes is asinine.

How does this definition of the right/conservatives travel to 1920s Italy and 1930s Germany?


The major party of Italian Industrialists, the ANI , was a clear supporter of state planning, cartels and regulation, albeit controlled by them. They were to form the bridge between the Fascists and the elite within the Royal court and provide the foundation of the Fascist bureaucracy.

Italian Conservatism looked to the state to provide both a support to the hierarchies of rural society and promote forcefully industrialisation to maintain Italian pretensions of being a major power. For some reason, they had yet to realise the genius of Atlas Shrugged and school vouchers.

The bete noire of both Fascist and Conservative, along with much of the revolutionary left was Giollitti. He was considered the motif of Italian decadence and decay. Yet, he was one of the first social Liberals, much before Wilson. He created agreements with Unions, created rudimentary welfare schemes and sought to use the state to bring about a liberal social peace. To the syndicalists he was the ‘Great Domesticator’, taming the working class with material benefits and corrupting their leadership within the government. Yet according to Goldberg, he should have been Mussolini’s and the Movement’s hero, their patriach.

In Germany, there is even less of a case. The Vaterland Partei, the General Staff backed wartime front, was intrinsically linked to increasing state power for Conservative Militarist ends. Out of it were to come most of the early DAP/NSDAP leadership. Since Bismarck, the German right had been committed to some form of staatsocialismus to counteract the rise of the SDP. In the run up to the war and after, the German right looked to state mechanisms to revive traditional society via targeted welfare, reinforcing social structures, and thus mobilising the masses around Germany. As hard as you wish to look, no large component of the German right fits Goldberg’s description

Utter udder fail

The Republic does Weber - An ideal type for....Liberalism

Parts 1


3‘We Socialists consider Liberals to be dangerous compromisers’ – a very svelte Christopher Hitchens 1988
Liberalism in its many forms is probably the most important political ideology ever conceived. Whilst under its own banner, much of the world was transformed materially and conceptually; its offspring, Socialism and Nationalism continued to reassess and remodel human society. Liberalism, in many ways, charted and defined the rules and parameters of modern secular politics. Even as a dialectical antithesis or an inveterate and insidious creed o'corruption, Liberalism laid down the means and the expected norms of political thought and political activity. What meanings do the language of Rights, those of Laws or the nature of property or nationhood have without a basis within the Liberal canon. Liberalism makes up the political DNA of modern political discourse. It is a Leviathan, at times soft hearted, at other ruthlessly pitiless.
As for my ideal type, here goes:-

'Liberalism seeks a form of governance that strikes a balance between social stability and solidarity and defending against arbitrary rule via maximising individual liberty in a multitude of forms. The nature of both sides of this equation are informed by legalistic means almost to the point of fetish. It is essentially a materialistic creed that links self-worth and self-esteem directly to property but seeks to counter the alienating consequences of this reductionism by a collective nomos'

Unpacking blah blah

‘Liberalism seeks a form of governance...’ Liberalism is focused on government. Its central historical problem was the nature of ruling. How can one rule fairly, how can one rule legitimately, how one can rule effectively? Via wise governance, Liberal thought saw and continues sees the possibility of progress, of historical mechanisms driving towards a better world. Whilst the details of the 'end' are generally vague and the determination to overcome 'obstacles' varies, there is a clear dialectical relationship, a temporal and an implicitly futorial one, between action over and within governance and the improvement of humanity. When Locke or Smith saw the stirrings of revolutionary social changes, they attributed them to the forms of governance most informed by basic liberal tenets.

‘....that strikes a balance....’ Here is a core, indeed key element in Liberalism. Locke and others pondered the absolutist Leviathan and had to concede, after the bloody chaos of the 17th century, that some supra-individual overarching power was needed for order to survive. They were no anarchists, as Liberals today remain. Yet they dissented from Hobbes monarchical arbiter. Rather they conceived of an abstract state, directed not by the will of one deity anointed ruler, but by an aggregate of interests, a public will.

‘....between social stability and solidarity....’ Long before Marx, Durkheim, Tonnes or Simmel considered the centrifugal nature of an entirely ‘free’ society, Liberal thought had been painfully troubled by it. Liberals were no Levellers and sought to destroy idols, not out of sheer ecstasy of demolition, but to further human improvement within their own prejudices. A heat death society, one driven solely by individual passions was as abhorrent to the Liberal as a choreographed Tyranny.

As such, Liberals have attempt to find some suitable 'glue' for their societies. The principle of Nationality was an early candidate as witnessed in Defoe's popular francophobia and the Gironde's 'pure' hearted concern for those beyond the pale. American Nationalism is an undoubtably a child of Liberalism, both as a form of exceptionism and a sacred motive to reform/help/rule the rest of the world. In time, basically a-liberal sectarianism, racism or ‘Third Estatism’ (a vertical cleavage between producers and idlers) has also been synthesised.

‘…and defending against arbitrary rule...’ Liberalism, as a child of the enlightenment, carries within it a rejection of despotism and its historical characterisation of the absolutism regimes it sought to oust. While this may be partial and one-eyed, it is an important tenant. Resisting a form of tyranny, made akin to that faced by the pantheon of Liberal heroes, is an essential part of the Liberal makeup. One can still see the rhetoric and policy of the Third estate over the idlers and petty despots today. Be it Islamist regimes by pro-war Libs, or ‘plutocratic corporations’ by American Democrats or the perfidious nature of institutionalised poverty by Social Libs. Even the Neo-Liberals use such bombast when attacking the over-arching State. Arbitary rule, as in rule sans law, is abhorrent.

‘…via maximising individual liberty in a multitude of forms …’ As such, the defence against the despots/tyrants/idlers the maximum possible level of liberty within society. How much is changeable, as Liberals sought to change their societies without breaking them. For American Liberals, the dangers inherent in manifesting this aim for the Black chattel vital to the basis of American agriculture demanded a considerable and painful amount of circumspection and polluting compromise. Mills might well have been ahead of his time when he said ‘Over one's mind and over one's body the individual is sovereign’ but as a philosopher, his words had to be taken, at best, as something for later generations, or at worse, pious nonsense. Maximising Liberty, not perfect liberty was the Liberal creed.

The forms in which this was done varied as the ‘tyranny’ changed faces. Emancipation from the devilish travails of priesthood and sceptre might be replaced by those of peasant obscurism and idleness. Breaking the chains of Plutocracy and corruption might be replaced by the defeating the bane of racist laws or smiting nefarious red tape. Over-blown rhetoric aside, anything that seems to upset the balance, tilting into Hobbesian heat death or stony Leviathan, is to be conquered

‘... The natures of both sides of this equation are informed by legalistic means almost to the point of fetish…’ For the Liberal, the law cut both against anarchy and despotism. The law, when justly conceived and carried out (again greatly variable concepts….consider the long heritage of the torturable and non-torturable classes), is king. As a Lawyers’ creed, Liberalism is wedded to the law and legalistic methodology. The law provides both a rational and a-arbitrary route to gain consensus and punish as well as a in-built capacity to circumvent itself if the need arises. Robespierre, when he conceived of a situation too dangerous and fast moving for ‘normal’ legality, created a new class of legal norms, faster and more ruthless. Yet, he could not dispense with it. Consider the somewhat chicken-headed attempts to get or deny UN authority during the invasion of Iraq.

‘…It is essentially a materialistic creed …’ Which is not to say it is anti-spiritual. Rather, its dialectic is material. Progress is a matter of more, quicker, further and better. The liberal century, 1777-1914 was a parade of plenty for the ‘civilised’, the ‘enlightened’, the Liberal. More railway track, more yards of cotton, more boxes of matches, more science explored, more miles mapped. Whilst, the next fifty years somewhat contradicted this seemly endless momentum, material progress remained within Liberalism.

‘…that links self-worth and self-esteem directly to property…’ And the height of progress was universal or nearly so property ownership. Mass materialism was a primary defence against the serf owning divine lord, the centralised state, the communist collective, dehumanising poverty. For the Liberal, property became a rite of passage for the young or the self-made man. Before property, how could an individual be, how could they be worthy of the fullest extent of liberty? This absolute line has been modified, so rights are dealt out on the understanding property will eventually follow or at least be fervently sought. The property less freak or the society that cannot provide such opportunities is to be pitied.

‘….but seeks to counter the alienating consequences of this reductionism by a collective nomos’ Yet this property fetish must be countered by the aforementioned collective understandings. The anarchy of the rich must be tempered to a benevolent patriarchy. Liberalism demands of the rich only they be willing to forgo some of the maximum extent of their liberties to keep social peace. Much of this is material i.e. welfare, progressive taxation, much is mythos.

Sunday 24 January 2010