Self-Taught Engineer Successfully Flies aboard Steam Rocket

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 22/09/2018 - 3:17am in

And now, before the serious stuff, something completely different, as Monty Python used to say. This is a short video I found on YouTube from the Inside Edition channel. It’s their report on the successful flight of a steam-powered rocket, built and crewed by ‘Mad’ Mike Hughes. Hughes is a limousine driver and a self-taught engineer. His reason for building the vehicle is, er, eccentric: he wanted to see if the Earth was flat.

The video was posted on 18th March 2018, and shows Hughes and his rocket taking off in the Mojave desert in the south-western US. It climbed to an altitude of 1,850 feet before finally returning to Earth, its descent slowed by two parachutes. Hughes had spent ten years building it, and the video shows stills of early versions of the rocket.

Hughes’ landing was rough, however. The video describes it as a crash. A rescue team got him out of the cockpit, but he complained that his back was broken. When the news crew caught him with him to talk, ironically just outside a courthouse where he’d been giving a ticket for speeding, Hughes’ claimed that he might have a compressed vertebra.

The video ends by reassuring its viewers that, yes, the Earth is indeed flat.

I’m actually saluting this bloke, because he’s obviously really clever and has done something I’d love to do myself: build a low power rocket that could hold a man or woman and send them up to a reasonable height. Way back in the 1990s I had a paper printed in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society arguing for the construction and flight of such vehicles as a new leisure industry. I based this on the use of hang-gliders, paragliding and microlight aircraft as hobby aviation. People fly them because they want to enjoy the experience of powered flight, not because they actually want to go from A to B. In the same way, I feel, human-carrying rockets could be built and flown to give ordinary people something of the experience of astronauts going into space aboard real rockets, like the Space Shuttle or the Russian Soyuz craft. But obviously without having to spend millions on a ticket to space.

Steam, or hot water rockets, have been around since the 19th century. The first modern hot water rocket was patented in Britain in 1824 by the American inventor, Jacob Perkins (1766-1849). The American Rocket Research Institute, based in California, and founded in 1943, established a special centre for the research and construction of hot water rockets, the Perkins Centre, named after him. The Institute runs a number of training programmes for students and aspiring rocket engineers. The rockets developed could carry payloads up to 5,000 feet.

After the War, the German rocket scientist, Eugen Sanger, and his wife Irene Sanger-Bredt, carried out research into hot water rockets to see whether they could work assisting heavily loaded aircraft into the air. The main US researcher in the area was Bob Truax.

The rocket engines developed by the RRI ranged from senior student college engineering projects with a thrust of 700 lbs per second to the Thunderbolt II constructed by Truax Engineering, which had a thrust of 16,000 lbs per second.
The photo below shows the STEAM-HI III hot water rocket being installed at the Perkins Safety Test Centre in 1963.

This photo shows Truax Engineering’s Thunderbolt rocket and its static test firing in 1973.

See ‘The Rocket Research Institute, 1943-1993: 50 Years of Rocket Safety, Engineering and Space Education Programs’, George S. James and Charles J. Piper, in Jung, Philippe, ed., History of Rocketry and Astronautics, AAS History Series, Vol. 22; IAA History Symposia, vol. 14 (American Astronautical Society: San Diego 1998), pp. 343-400.

And the Earth is very, very definitely round. As it has been known to be by educated European since the 9th century, and by the Greek astronomers long before that. All that stuff about how people in the Middle Ages believed the world was flat and that if you sailed far enough west you’d fall off was basically invented in the 19th century by Washington Irving. The Church Fathers knew and accepted that it was round. St. Augustine said so in one of his works, and argued that when the Bible spoke of the world as flat, it was an instance of God using the beliefs of the time to make His moral message intelligible to the people then alive.

I’ve no idea where the modern delusion that the world’s flat comes from. Well, actually, I do – it seems to have started a year ago in 2017 with the comments of a rapper on American radio. But before then I thought the idea was very definitely dead and buried. In Britain, the Flat Earth Society had dwindled to a single member. This was actually a physicist, who believed that the Earth was round. He used the Society to argue against dogmatism in science. And I thought he had packed finally packed it in, leaving the number of Flat Earthers in Britain at zero.

Now it seems that there are any number of eccentrics, who believe the world is really flat. They’re completely wrong about that, including Hughes.

But Hughes did something superb in building his own, human-carrying rocket

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Anti-Semitism and the Aristocracy

Last night I put up a piece debunking the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, based on the chapter about this vile book in Jon E. Lewis’ The Mammoth Book of Cover-Ups (London: Constable & Robinson 2007), pp. 433-50. The Protocols are a notorious anti-Semitic forgery, probably concocted by Matvei Golovinski of the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, to make his master, Nicholas II, even more anti-Semitic and to intensify the persecution of the Jews.

The Protocols purport to be the minutes of a secret meeting of a group of elite Jews, intent on destroying all non-Jewish religions and conquering and enslaving Christians and gentiles. They claimed that the Jews were at the centre of a massive conspiracy controlling the banks and were encouraging the downfall of Christian civilization by promoting liberalism, democracy, socialism and anarchism. At the same time they were distracting gentiles from uncovering this plot through using alcohol, gambling, games and other amusements.

There is absolutely no truth in any of this whatsoever. But the book became an immense success and was read and influenced many Fascists and anti-Semites. These included Adolf Hitler, who made the book a compulsory part of the German school syllabus.

Like much of Fascism, it’s a rejection of modernity – the mass society of modern politics that emerged in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Modern politics and secular ideologies were attacked. At one point, the Protocols claim that Darwinism, Marxism and Nietzscheanism have been successful because they have been promoted by the conspiracy. (Lewis, Mammoth Book of Covers-Ups, p. 444). The forger’s own view of what constitutes the best society is revealed very clearly in another passage, in which the conspirators celebrate their destruction of the aristocracy.

The people, under our guidance, have annihilated the aristocracy, who were their one and only defence and foster-mother for the sake of their own advantage, which is inseparably bound up with the well-being of the people. Nowadays, with the destruction of the aristocracy, the people have fallen into the grips of merciless money-grinding scoundrels who have laid a pitiless and cruel yoke upon the necks of the workers. (p.446).

Historically, some of the persecution of the Jews in the later Middle Ages was due to the fact that a large number of the aristocracy had become seriously in debt to Jewish bankers, and tried to get out of their obligation to pay it back by urging for their persecution and expulsion.

A significant number of aristocrats and the upper middle class were supporters of Nazism before the Second World War. The leader of the British Union of Fascists, Oswald Mosley, was a baronet. Aristocrats and landlords joined pro-Nazi and appeasement organisations like the Anglo-German Fellowship. Martin Pugh on his book on British Fascism between the Wars describes how the aristos welcomed members of the Nazi elite at dinner parties on their estates, when the swastika was discreetly flown from the flagpoles.

And there still seems to be a fascination and dangerous sympathy with Nazism even today. Way back in the 1990s and early part of this century, Private Eye published a number of stories about one Cotswold aristocrat, who had very strong anti-Semitic, racist and anti-immigrant opinions.

And then there’s the Traditional Britain Group on the far right of the Tory party. These also have the same, genuinely Fascist attitudes, and one of their leaders is fascinated with the Nazis and the Third Reich. It was the Traditional Britain Group, who invited Jacob Rees-Mogg to their annual dinner, which Mogg accepted. When the Observer published the story, Mogg claimed that at the time he hadn’t known anything about them. If he had, he wouldn’t have gone. Which doesn’t really sound convincing, as people don’t normally accept dinner invitations from organisations and people they know nothing about. But perhaps Mogg, as well as being viciously right-wing, is also very naïve.

As for the Tories being good friends of the Jews, as the current head of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyle claimed in a speech, David Rosenberg posted up in response a series of incidents across the decades which put the lie to it. These showed very clearly how anti-Semitic the Tories had been, and which parts of it may very well still be.

And one of the attractions of anti-Semitism, apart from sheer racism, is that, in the form of conspiracy theories like the Protocols, they blame the Jews for all the forces of modernity that threaten the aristocracy and the upper middle class, and celebrate the aristocracy itself as the people’s saviours, and so appealing very strongly to certain types of Tories.

Private Eye on New Labour’s Support for Private Sponsorship at Party Conference

New Labour’s desperation to obtain and please donors and sponsors from private industry is clearly displayed in this old snippet from Private Eye’s edition for Friday, 2nd October 1998. Entitled ‘The Lobby Party Conference’, it runs

Clear proof of Labour’s commitment to cash-for-access comes in a memorandum from party organizer Chris Lane to “all MPs and MEPs in the South-East Region and any staff or guests accompanying you to party conference in Blackpool.”

Lane urges the MPs: “Please make a priority in your conference diaries for Thursday evening for a reception sponsored by Seeboard PLC. This is a generously-sponsored event, on condition that we enable the company to maintain contact with regional MPs and MEPs.” In other words: come and talk to the bosses of privatized Seeboard which supplies electricity to the south-east, or the party doesn’t get the sponsoring money. If that’s not cash for access, what is?

The reception was due to take place at Yates Wine Lodge, Blackpool, on 1 October. The subject of pay awards for the fat cats of the electricity industry was not high on the agenda. (p. 5).

Lane’s letter is a very clear example of the corporativism that has corrupted politics both in this country and America, where private companies donate and sponsor the political parties and individual politicians. The result is that those parties and politicos, once in power, work for their donors and not for their constituents. It’s why less than 20 per cent of Americans feel their government works for them. And a few years ago, Harvard University published a report that concluded that because of this, America was no longer a functioning democracy but an oligarchy.

You can read how far Blair took the policy in George Monbiot’s Captive State, which describes how Blair’s New Labour passed legislation that enriched the corporate donors at the expense of public services and small businesses, like farmers and local shops. And Blair also rewarded the donors by giving them or their senior management positions in government.

But this cosy relationship between private industry and the Labour party is threatened by Jeremy Corbyn and his policies of reviving the traditional Labour policy of a mixed economy, strong welfare state, workers’ rights, strong unions and a proper, nationalized NHS.

Blair’s policy was to court private industry and Tory voters at the expense of ignoring the wishes of ordinary party members and Labour’s traditional, working class electorate. He and the rest of his coterie arrogantly assumed that the working class would continue voting for them because there was nowhere else they could go. The result was widespread disaffection with New Labour. Many members left the party, and the number of people voting for Labour actually went down. The party won elections because even more people were sick and tired of the Tories.

This has been massively reversed under Jeremy Corbyn. Millions have joined the Labour party since he became its leader, and its now the largest Socialist party in western Europe.

Which is why the Tories, the Blairites, the Israel lobby and the mainstream media are so desperate to destroy Corbyn’s leadership and even the party itself. It’s why Corbyn and his supporters have been and are being smeared as Trotskyites, Stalinists, Communists and the Hard Left as well as anti-Semites. It’s why the Blairites in parliament have tried coups, and threatened to split the party. And why Blair crawled out of whatever vile hole he’s been living in since he left office ten years ago to warn that the Hard Left had taken over the Labour party, and that ‘moderates’ – meaning far right Thatcherite entryists like himself – should leave and join a new, ‘centrist’ party. Which sounded very much like ‘Unite for Change’, which seems set up to carry on the old, corporatist politics of Blair’s New Labour.

School's out

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/09/2018 - 10:58am in



Education in the West is a waste of time and money, argues Bryan Caplan in a confronting new book, reviewed by Vladimir 'Zeev' Vinokurov.

Fall Talks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/09/2018 - 2:58am in



It’s going to be a busy fall with lots of talks and presentations. Here’s the schedule. If you’re in the area, stop by and say hello!

Tuesday, September 25

5 pm: “The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump

University of Edinburgh (Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary History; School of History, Classics, and Archaeology; School of Social and Political Science)

Meadows Lecture Theatre, Doorway 4, Medical School, Teviot Place

Tuesday, October 2

4 pm: “Invisible Man: The Black Nationalism of Clarence Thomas’s Jurisprudence”

Rutgers University (Department of History and Raritan)

Alexander Library, 4th Floor Auditorium

169 College Avenue, New Brunswick

Friday, October 5

6 pm:“On Fear and Governance”: A conversation about Euripides’s The Bacchae with director Anne Bogart and poet Monica Youn (followed by a performance of the play)

Brooklyn Academy of Music

BAM Fisher, 321 Ashland Place

Monday, October 22

4:30 pm: “Invisible Man: The Black Nationalism of Clarence Thomas’s Jurisprudence

Princeton University (Law and Public Affairs Seminar)

301 Marx Hall

Thursday/Friday, November 1-2

On Clarence Thomas

Symposium on 50 Years Since 1968: The Global and the Local

Brown University: time and place TBA

Monday, November 5

5 pm: “Race Man: The Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas

University of Cambridge (Joint Seminar of the Faculties of American History and Political Theory and Intellectual History)

Old Combination Room, Trinity College

Tuesday, November 6

On Der reaktionäre Geist, the German translation of The Reactionary Mind

Munich: time and place TBA

Thursday, November 8

On Der reaktionäre Geist, the German translation of The Reactionary Mind

Berlin: time and place TBA

Wednesday, November 28

12:30 pm: On Clarence Thomas

New York Public Library (Berger Forum)

476 5th Avenue


Archbishop of Canterbury Condemns ‘Gig Economy’, Tories Go Berserk

More hypocrisy from the Tory party. This week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave a long speech attacking Universal Credit and zero hours contracts. He described the ‘gig’ economy the Blairites and the Tories have created, in which workers in insecure jobs are only called in if their bosses decide there’s work for them to do, and go without pay if there isn’t, the ‘return of an ancient evil’.

He made the speech after Labour had outlined its commitment to empowering workers, which included a comprehensive attack on the gig economy. Zero hours contracts will be banned, and employment benefits like sick pay and maternity leave will be extended to cover part-time workers. The party also pledged to end the ruse in which many firms seek to dodge their obligation to provide their workers with proper rights and benefits by making them officially self-employed.

The Archbishop mentioned Labour’s John McDonnell in his speech, who in turn praised the Archbishop. McDonnell said

“The Archbishop of Canterbury has set out a bold vision for a different society, one without the evils of the gig economy, the exploitation of workers and tax dodging of the multinationals.

“I welcome his speech, and the growing movement against the failures of austerity and neoliberalism. Labour will end zero hours contracts, clamp down on the tax avoiders, and ensure everyone has access to sick pay, parental leave and protections at work.”

The Tories, however, immediately went berserk, and showed their own hypocrisy when it comes to supporting the political intervention of religious leaders. They were more than happy when the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks claimed that Corbyn and the Labour party were anti-Semitic. However, they were outraged that the Archbishop had dared to criticize the wonderful Thatcherite capitalism they’d created.

The Tory MP, Ben Bradley, tweeted

‘Not clear to me when or how it can possibly be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to be appearing at TUC conference or parroting Labour policy.’

He added: ‘There are a diversity of views as to what is best for the economy, but [he] only seems interested in presenting John McDonnell’s point of view.’

Simon Maginn tweeted his response

Rabbi Sacks: “Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite.”
Tories: “Listen to the holy gentleman.”
Archbishop of Canterbury: “Tories have increased poverty.”
Tories: ‘Must keep religion out of politics.”

Mike in his article notes that Archbishop Welby was unapologetic, and observed that ‘The Bible is political from one end to the other’.

Mike concludes

His intervention is to be welcomed.

The Church of England is often seen as a haven for Conservatives and it will be interesting to see what happens to those Tories’ attitudes, considering this new direction from the pulpit.


This has been going on for decades. The Anglican Church has been described as ‘the Tory party at prayer’, and the Tory party itself was set up back in the 17th century by supporters of the aristocracy and established church against the more liberal Whigs.

However, the Church has also contained passionate reformers working against social evils. Archbishop Temple in his book, Christianity and the Social Order, published in 1942, pointed to reformers like William Wilberforce and the others in the ‘Clapham Sect’, who campaigned against slavery; John Howard and Elizabeth Fry and prison reform; and F.D. Maurice and the Christian Socialists in the 19th century. These latter wished to see businesses transformed into co-operatives, which would share their profits with their workers. This strand of Anglican social activism continued into the 20th century, and in 1924 the Anglican church held a conference to examine the question of how the Church should tackle the poverty and injustices of the age. Temple also pointed to the example of the pre-Reformation Church in attacking some of the economic and social abuses of the times, and particular Protestant Christian leaders and ministers, like John Wesley, after the Reformation.

He also quotes the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament to show how property rights, while certainly existing and respected in ancient Israel, were also limited and intended to ensure that each family had their own portion of land and that great estates held by single individuals, did not develop. He writes

In the days of the Kings we find prophets denouncing such accumulations; so for example Isaiah exclaims: “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no room, and yet be made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.” (Isaiah v.*8); and Michah: “Woe to them that devise iniquity and work evil upon their beds! When the morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields and seize them; and houses, and take them away; and they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage” (Micah ii, 1, 2). And the evil here was not primarily economic, though that may have been involved. The evil was the denial of what Tertullian (c.160-230) would call ‘fellowship in property’ – which seemed to him the natural result of unity in mind and spirit. (p. 38).

The first chapter of the book, ‘What Right has the Church to Interfere?’, gives the reasons Temple believes that the Church indeed possesses such a right. It’s too long to list all of them, but one of them is that the economic structure of society is immensely influential on the formation of its citizens’ morals. Temple writes

It is recognized on all hands that the economic system is an educative influence, for good or ill, of immense potency. Marshall, the prince of orthodox economists of the last generation, ranks it with the religion of a country as the most formative influence in the moulding of a people’s character. If so, then assuredly the Church must be concerned with it. For a primary concern of the Church is to develop in men a Christian character. When it finds by its side an educative influence so powerful it is bound to ask whether than influence is one tending to develop Christian character, and if the answer is partly or wholly negative the Chu5rch must do its utmost to secure a change in the economic system to that it may find in that system an ally and not an enemy. How far this is the situation in our country to-day we shall consider later. At present it is enough to say that the Church cannot, without betraying its own trust, omit criticism of the economic order, or fail to urge such action as may be prompted by that criticism. (P. 22)

Temple was also very much aware how some politicians resented the Church speaking out on political issues. For example, Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, is supposed to have said after hearing an Evangelical preacher that ‘if religion was going to interfere with the affairs of private life, things were come to a pretty pass’. Temple added

(L)ater prime ministers have felt and said the same about the interference of religion with the affairs of public life; but the interference steadily increases and will increase. (P. 15).

And the friction between the Tory party and the Anglican and other churches has been going on ever since Thatcher set foot in 10 Downing Street. She got very annoyed when the-then Archbishop, Robert Runcie, issued a report detailing the immense poverty that had been produced by her policies. Norman Tebbitt, her attack dog, made comments casting aspersions on the good clergyman’s sexuality, on the grounds that he had a sing-song voice and the slightly camp manner of many churchmen. He was soon showed to be very wrong, as Runcie had been an army chaplain, whose ferocity in battle had earned him the nickname ‘Killer Runcie’. A friend of mine remarked about him that the really hard men don’t show it.

The Church has gone on issuing reports and holding inquiries into poverty in Britain, and other social issues. And the Tory response has always been the same: to attack and criticize the Church’s interference. There have been comments of the kind that the clergy should stick to preaching the Gospel, and then they might have larger congregations.

But if Thatcher and the Tories didn’t feel that the Church had any right to interfere in politics, they definitely believed that they had the right to interfere in the church’s ministry and pastoral theology. And that this right was absolutely God-given. When Thatcher was on the steps of Number 10, she started quoted St. Francis of Assisi’s famous prayer, ‘Where there is darkness, let us bring light’ etc. She also took it upon herself to lecture the ministers of the church on the correct interpretation of scripture. I can remember her speaking to a conference of the Church of Scotland, in which she explained to the assembled ministers and faithful her own view of charity and the welfare state, based on St. Paul’s words, ‘If a man does not work, he shall not eat’. Needless to say, the guid ministers were not impressed, and showed it in the massed ranks of stony faces.

Temple was absolutely right in stating that Christians had a duty to examine and criticize the economic structure of society as the major force affecting people’s morals and character. But Thatcherism goes far beyond this. I’ve read pieces that have stated that Thatcher’s whole outlook was based on her peculiar right-wing religious ideas. Thatcherism isn’t simply an economic system. It’s a political theology. Thatcher was strongly influence by Keith Joseph, who was Jewish. It’s why she prattled about ‘Judeo-Christian values’ rather than just Christian values. I have no doubt that the Jewish readers of this blog will have their own views about proper Jewish morality, and that these may be very different from Joseph and Thatcher’s interpretation.

Thus in Thatcherism the free market is absolutely virtuous, and any interference in its operation is an attack on a divinely sanctioned system. But from the standpoint of a left-wing interpretation of Christianity, Thatcherite theology is like its economics, profoundly wrong, bogus and harmful. And her celebration of the free market turns it into an idol, an object of false religious worship.

More and more Christians both here and in America are turning against this idol, just as left-wing Jews are turning against right-wing politics as incompatible with the liberal politics of traditional Judaism. The Church has every right and, indeed, a duty as a moral body concerned with people’s spiritual welfare, to attack Thatcherism and its destructive legacy.

I’m very much aware that we now live in a post-Christian society, where only a minority attend Church and most people profess to have no religious beliefs. Just as there are also sizable non-Christian communities, such as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and the various neo-Pagan groups, who also have every right to make their voices heard politically. Temple also advances other reasons why the Church should speak out on more rational, non-religious grounds, such as morality and common human sympathy for the victims of suffering. I hope, however, that regardless their religious views, people will support Welby on the issues of employment rights as an entirely justified attack on an iniquitous situation, which desperately needs to be corrected.

Good Parenting vs. Good Citizenship?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/09/2018 - 3:54am in

I’ve been a parent now for six months and change, and I have exactly nothing figured out. I have gotten pretty good at thinking of things in terms of stark tradeoffs. Hooray, he fell asleep while I was nursing him, and stayed asleep when he went into his crib! (Crap. This means a missed opportunity to put him down “drowsy but awake,” and thus to train him to fall asleep on his own.) Hooray, I am really enjoying singing this song to him right now! (Crap. This temporary alignment of my interests and his surely means I am losing all ability to discern my own interests when they diverge from his.)

Don’t judge me too harshly for this insanity. Everything written about parenting seems expressly intended to make its readers think of their choices in terms of tradeoffs. (Seriously. If you don’t want your kid to be sleeping in your bed when he’s sixteen, you must put him down drowsy but awake!)

And a lot about our social environment seems expressly intended to generate tradeoffs. Take just one example: Privileged parents generally face a choice between schooling options that middle-class parenting culture approves as best for their children, and schooling options that progressive politics regards as best ethically. A fair bit of attention has been paid to this choice in popular media over the past week, largely in response to a book by Margaret Hagerman about how progressive, middle-class parents make decisions—decisions about where to live and thus what schools their kids will attend, and with whom, etc.—that perpetuate racial inequality. This is to be welcomed. It’s an important issue. While the tradeoff is generated by policy-level decisions—our practices for funding schools, our willingness to tolerate residential segregation by race and social class, our willingness to tolerate the extreme social inequality that makes that residential segregation so consequential—the policy failure generates seriously difficult decisions for individuals.

The philosophical considerations that bear on those decisions are complex. I want to quibble with the way the ethical tradeoff is being framed in the popular media discussions of it, encouraged, perhaps, by the way Hagerman herself sometimes frames it. Consider this remark from her interview in the Atlantic:

“I really think—and this might sound kind of crazy—that white parents, and parents in general, need to understand that all children are worthy of their consideration. This idea that your own child is the most important thing—that’s something we could try to rethink. When affluent white parents are making these decisions about parenting, they could consider in some way at least how their decisions will affect not only their kid, but other kids. This might mean a parent votes for policies that would lead to the best possible outcome for as many kids as possible, but might be less advantageous for their own child. My overall point is that in this moment when being a good citizen conflicts with being a good parent, I think that most white parents choose to be good parents, when, sometimes at the very least, they should choose to be good citizens.” (Italics mine.)

Contrary to Hagerman’s worry, this does not sound even kind of crazy, and I hope her work helps to make it sound less crazy even to those who ultimately disagree with it. But we shouldn’t frame the tradeoff the way Hagerman does in this quote. It’s misleading and it’s bad marketing.

It’s misleading because it misplaces the real tradeoff. I said that I have figured out nothing about parenting since having a kid, but this one I knew long before the kid arrived: Good parenting is not about providing as much advantage for your kid as you can harness. It is also—it must be also—about making your kid a good person. I don’t care whether we say that good parenting is about maximizing your kid’s flourishing and insist that being a good person is part of flourishing, or instead say that being a good person is a distinct thing from flourishing but that being a good parent involves promoting both. The point is the same: Helping your kid become a good person is part of good parenting, and helping your kid become a good person requires modeling being a good person. Good citizenship is part of good parenting. But because sometimes being a good person and citizen is causally inert as an investment in your kid becoming a good person, a second point needs to be made: On either understanding, being a good parent does not require doing the things constitutive of good parenting at any cost. Even in cases where being a good person and citizen would be causally inert as an investment in your kid becoming a good person, then, being a good person and citizen is perfectly consistent with being a very good parent, even if it means passing up an opportunity to maximize your kid’s advantage.

For these reasons, the tradeoff that Hagerman’s work illuminates is not between being a good parent and being a good citizen. It is either a tradeoff between two different aspects of good parenting (investing in your kid’s advantage and investing in your kid’s moral development), or it is a tradeoff between plain investing in your kid’s advantage and being a good person.

(This formulation only makes sense if we don’t think of being a good person as a binary. If you sometimes favor your kid’s advantage over some benefit to someone who is unfairly badly off and just as morally important as your own kid, you are not necessarily thereby rendered a bad person, even if what you do is morally wrong. But you get the point. Maybe we say you’ve blamelessly or forgivably passed up an opportunity to do something morally good, or even morally required.)

I basically agree with the substance of Hagerman’s point, though, so why be a philosopher about it?

Because this bit of (what I take to be) infelicitous phrasing on her part is also bad marketing. I’m a few years off from having to make these difficult decisions. I know I will not be such a good person that I choose where to live based entirely on a judgment that my kid’s presence in that neighborhood’s schools would do the most good impartially construed. On the other hand, I hope I will live up to my principles enough to send my kid to public schools, even if I can afford (allegedly better) private schools. There’s a lot of space in between those options, and I don’t yet know where I’ll land. But I think I’ll do a lot better if I’m thinking of my choice as a decision about how to be a good parent in the social environment I inhabit, and in the context of my moral responsibilities in that environment, where good parenting does not mean optimizing my kid’s advantage, than I would do if I were to think of it as a choice between being a good parent and being a good citizen, where being a good citizen means failing to be a good parent.

It is the bizarre optimizing notion of good parenting that we should object to. Hagerman’s formulation in the italicized bit of the quote concedes far too much and forfeits too much persuasive potential. I suspect that Hagerman might be persuaded to agree. In the very same interview, she remarks on “this collectively agreed-upon idea in our society that being a ‘good parent’ means…providing the best opportunities you can for your own child.” At the very least, we need to be clearer that good parenting means doing that within the moral space we inhabit; probably in addition we need to think hard about how impoverished is the prevailing notion of “best opportunities.”

Book Review: Fundamental British Values in Education: Radicalisation, National Identity and Britishness by Lynn Revell and Hazel Bryan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/09/2018 - 8:54pm in

In Fundamental British Values in Education: Radicalisation, National Identity and BritishnessLynn Revell and Hazel Bryan explore an area in which particular conceptions of Britishness have been promoted: namely, the education system. Focusing particularly on the role of schools in counter-terrorism policy, this well-researched study shows how government influence has extended from defining British values to active interference with the school system, writes Benjamin Law.

Fundamental British Values in Education: Radicalisation, National Identity and Britishness. Lynn Revell and Hazel Bryan. Emerald Publishing. 2018.

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In recent years, Britain has been in political flux, and as such, questions about British identity have come to the fore. From the hazy summer of 2012 when the Olympics were held in London, through the Scottish independence referendum to Brexit, the question of what it means to be British in the twenty-first century is being debated, and there is still a long way to go before that question is answered. The time is ripe, then, for an academic interest in the notion of ‘British values’. Fundamental British Values in Education: Radicalisation, National Identity and Britishness, authored by Lynn Revell and Hazel Bryan, gives insight into an area where Britishness has been persistently promoted and yet is often overlooked: namely, the education system.

The UK education system is an obvious area for an investigation into British values. Schools are often the first places where we come into contact with the public sphere and learn cultural values outside of the family unit. As such, teachers play an important role in conveying the cultural norms and values of a society to future generations. Revell and Bryan argue this point; however, they go further by asserting that the education system has become a tool at the forefront of the UK government’s attempt at instilling ‘British values’, something which, they argue, is unique in the history of the British education system. Once, schools had a degree of autonomy from government interference. Now, schools are being deliberately used by the government, and we have arrived at a situation where the roles of the state and the individual have become blurred. Teachers have gone from being professionals with autonomy to educate children to agents of the state and its attempt to construct a brand of Britishness devised by government policy. With their investigation into British values in schools, Revell and Bryan paint a convincing picture of what is therefore at stake in the modern education system.

To illustrate the change that has occurred in the last twenty years or so, Revell and Bryan first describe the evolution of teaching British values in the education system over the previous century. Far from being a digression, this underlines the point that values are remarkably arbitrary things which are relative to time, place and government agenda. During the twentieth century, schools went from teaching British values based on the racial superiority of the British and their imperial destiny to those grounded in pro-monarchism and equality.

Image Credit: (Tim Green CC BY 2.0)

After World War II and in order to smooth the process of immigration from the dwindling ‘empire’, the education system focused on assimilating the children of immigrants by teaching certain values in schools. Yet, whilst Britishness was ostensibly promoted as being open and liberal, at heart it was still monolithic – based on being white, and more often than not discriminatory. For example, while schools took measures to ban racial discrimination, there was always an element of discrimination based on other factors. As the authors argue, by the 1970s black and Asian children who did less well than their peers were to be considered ‘deprived not because they were black and Asian but because they lived in poverty or because they did not speak English well enough’.

However, the most striking point is left until the end of the second half of the book where the authors show how the government’s influence has moved from defining British values to actually interfering with the school system, thereby breaking down the autonomy of schools and teachers and turning them into wings of government policy.

Revell and Bryan leave the reader in no doubt as to why this has happened: ‘The origin of fundamental British values is rooted in a positioning of radical Islam as a threat to liberal democracy.’ A 2011 speech by the then-Prime Minister David Cameron signified a move away from open tolerance of differences between communities to a ‘muscular liberalism’, which positively seeks to promote a set of values in the public sphere that are distinctly British. Muscular liberalism has little time for those who threaten these values and one group in particular is identified: Islamic extremists. What is perhaps most startling is that the new form of liberalism, as promoted by politicians such as Cameron and Michael Gove, sees no problem with making schools into battalions against the threat of extremism on the streets.

As a result, a ‘trinity’ of government policy initiatives was released, making the classroom a front line in the fight against ‘extremism’: namely, Teachers’ Standards in 2011; The Prevent Duty in 2015; and the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act in 2015. In the words of the authors, the latter firmly requires teachers ‘to promote fundamental British values inside and outside the school’. The aim is to prevent pupils from being drawn into radicalisation or terrorist activity, and to have the expertise to know when a pupil is experiencing radicalisation.

Revell and Bryan apply the term ‘Liquid Professionalism’ to illustrate a situation whereby the distinction between private and public spheres is blurred. They dedicate a chapter to show how ‘liquid professionalism’ has specifically broken down the boundaries between teachers and the state. This has led to a situation whereby ‘the teacher is positioned as a key player in a British counter-terrorism policy’ or, more worryingly, as ‘the eyes and ears of the state’.  British values are deemed to be liberal values, argue the book’s authors; and yet such government action presents a problem for liberalism itself. Liberal thinking values the individual and the ability of the citizen to form their own beliefs. Yet, schools and teachers are now expected to influence the private sphere and teach values defined by the state. The reader is left with the question of whether the government should have such influence over defining values and, at the same time, their promotion in the public sphere.

Revell and Bryan present an interesting and well-researched narrative on the evolution of British values in the education system over the past century up to the present day. However, the depiction of the increasing role of government in the book is what draws the reader’s attention the most. There could have been more detail about how the curriculum has been changed to fit the new ‘muscular liberal’ values. Providing insight into the teaching materials given to teachers and the content pupils are expected to learn would have given the reader a better sense of how far the government has a monopoly on what is being taught in schools. That said, the authors succeed in their aim to show how susceptible to change British values are, and how the government has succeeded in redefining the role of the education system in promoting the state’s agenda. In short, Fundamental British Values in Education is an apt read at a time when the debate over Britishness has never been so charged.

Benjamin Law studied both in the UK and Germany and holds a BA in Philosophy and History and an MA in History. In the past few years he has worked for an NGO, supporting the German education sector. Additionally, he has worked as an editor and translator on an array of academic texts and journals. He currently lives in the UK where he continues to work in the education sector.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

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