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Stefan Zweig on killing your darlings and getting to the point

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 18/04/2021 - 4:50pm in


I put in “Getting to the point” on the marvellous free graphics site Unsplash, and up came this: by salvatore ventura

Just in case people aren’t sick of my extracts from SZ. I liked this. It very much describes my own approach – right down to one of the main temperamental drivers – however much I fall short of the aspiration, however verbose some of my efforts are.

I could not help wondering what exactly it was that made my books so unexpectedly popular. In the last resort, I think it arose from a personal flaw in me—I am an impatient, temperamental reader. Anything long-winded, high-flown or gushing irritates me, so does everything that is vague and indistinct, in fact anything that unnecessarily holds the reader up, whether in a novel, a biography or an intellectual argument. A book really satisfies me only if it maintains its pace page after page, carrying readers breathlessly along to the end. Nine-tenths of the books that come my way seem to be padded out with unnecessary descriptions, too much loquacious dialogue and superfluous minor characters; they are just not dynamic and exciting enough. I get impatient with many arid, slow-moving passages even in the most famous classic masterpieces, and I have often suggested a bold idea of mine to publishers—why not bring out a series of the great works of international literature, from Homer through Balzac and Dostoevsky to Mann’s The Magic Mountain, with the unnecessary parts cut? Then all those undoubtedly immortal works would gain a new lease of life in our own time.

This dislike of mine for anything tediously long-winded must have transferred itself from my reading of other authors’ works to the writing of my own, making me train myself to be especially alert for such passages. I naturally write easily and fluently, and in the first draft of a book I let my pen run on as it pleases, setting down anything that comes into my head. Similarly, when I am writing a biography I study all the factual material available. For my biography of Marie-Antoinette, for instance, I looked at all the details of her financial accounts to find out what her personal expenses were, I studied all the contemporary newspapers and pamphlets, I ploughed my way through the case files of her trial to the very last line. But none of that will be found in the final printed version, because I have hardly finished writing the first rough draft of a book before I begin on what to me is the real work, condensing my material and finding the right way to put it. I go on working tirelessly like this from draft to draft. I am constantly throwing ballast overboard, intensifying and clarifying a book’s inner architecture. Most writers cannot bring themselves to leave anything out, and having fallen rather in love with their subject hope to display a greater breadth and depth of knowledge than they really possess in every well-turned line, whereas my own ambition is always to know more than shows on the outside.

Later, at the proof stages, I then repeat this process of intensifying and thus enhancing the dramatic effect once, twice or three times. In the end I find myself enjoying a kind of hunt for another sentence, or just a word, which can be cut without affecting my precise meaning and at the same time might speed up the tempo. I really get my greatest satisfaction in my work from leaving things out. I remember that once, when I rose from my desk feeling pleased with what I had done, my wife said I seemed to be in a cheerful mood today. “Yes,” I replied proudly, “I’ve managed to cut a whole paragraph and make the action move faster.” So if my books are

 sometimes praised for sweeping readers along at a swift pace, it does not come from any natural heated or agitated approach to the work of writing, but is entirely the result of my system of always cutting unnecessarily slack passages—anything at all that, like radio interference, might distract the reader’s attention. If I have mastered any kind of art, it is the art of leaving things out. I do not mind throwing eight hundred of a thousand written pages into the waste-paper basket, leaving me with only two hundred to convey what I have sifted out as the essence of the work. So if anything at least partly accounts for the success of my books, it is my strict discipline in preferring to confine myself to short works of literature, concentrating on the heart of the matter.

Author Interview: Q and A with Dr Ian Sanjay Patel on We’re Here Because You Were There: Immigration and the End of Empire

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/04/2021 - 8:51pm in

In this author interview, we speak to Dr Ian Sanjay Patel about his new book, We’re Here Because You Were There: Immigration and the End of Empire, which explores post-war immigration laws, the afterlives of British imperial citizenship and related attempts to reimagine and rejuvenate British imperialism after 1945. Contributing to transnational histories of decolonisation, the book also explores the interconnections between human rights, post-war migration and international diplomacy.

Author Interview with Dr Ian Sanjay Patel, author of We’re Here Because You Were There: Immigration and the End of Empire. Verso. 2021.

Q: The title of your book, We’re Here Because You Were There, draws directly from the words of Ambalavaner Sivanandan. How does his phrase open up the themes explored in your study?

Ambalavaner Sivanandan was a Sri Lankan political essayist and anti-racism campaigner based in London. He was also a gifted aphorist. His phrase ‘we are here because you were there’ captured with a simple elegance the relationship between post-war migrants (we) now settled in Britain (here) on the one hand, and the former crown colonies and other territories of the British empire (there), maintained by Europeans in imperial service (you), on the other.

I use Sivanandan’s aphorism in an expansive way, since my book moves beyond a single relationship between imperial heartland and colony, or home and abroad. Rather, I show that the history of migration and the British empire involved multiple places, groups of people and migrations that interacted in an often overlapping series. Once post-war migration is placed in its various settler-colonial and intra-imperial contexts, you realise that here means more than one destination, there means more than one former home and that you refers as much to previous generations of British white settlers resident outside the British Isles as to a perceived Anglo-Saxon community ‘native’ to Britain.

I am also at pains to describe the various legal statuses of post-war migrants to Britain, who were either British citizens (citizens ‘of the United Kingdom and Colonies’) or Commonwealth citizens, both of which groups had unrestricted rights of entry and residence in Britain between 1948 and 1962. (Things become more complicated after this period.) Legally speaking, Sivanandan’s aphorism might have been re-written as ‘we are here under the provisions of British nationality law passed by British lawmakers’ – far more unwieldy and not half as sonorous, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Q: What are some of the key myths that your book challenges when it comes to post-war immigration, Britain’s transition to becoming a post-imperial power and the perceived ‘end of empire’?

Any book on post-war Britain with ‘end of empire’ or ‘after empire’ in its title ought to acknowledge the ambivalences contained within such designations. Although Britain’s formal empire was all but over by the mid-1960s, there was never a final ‘end of empire’ moment in Britain, either at the constitutional level or within the imagination of British political classes. (The announced military retrenchment ‘east of Suez’ in 1968 is sometimes used to mark the final end of empire; I dispute this in the book.)

As paradoxical as it might sound, the transfer of sovereign power to former colonies was not perceived as the final end of British imperialism, but simply its latest, evolved iteration in the form of the Commonwealth of Nations. Today, the Commonwealth might hardly seem a formidable vehicle for British imperialism, but its function between 1945 and 1973 was to kick the question of the end of empire into the long grass, as it absorbed the sources of and arguments for British imperial power, both real and imagined, in the post-war decades.

At the level of British nationality and citizenship, decolonisation did not begin in Britain until 1981 and the British Nationality Act of that year. In other words, British nationality and citizenship remained imperial throughout the age of decolonisation and until 1981. The 1948 British Nationality Act created a single, non-national citizenship around the territories of the British Isles and the crown colonies. Once you let go of the intuition that British citizenship must have become national rather than imperial in the 1960s, in line with the end of formal empire, you can begin to understand the paradoxes of post-war Britain. After 1945 Britain was indeed ending formal empire – but not at the level of nationality and citizenship, and not in order to create a post-imperial identity or constitution, but rather to redirect existing and new imperial structures around the Commonwealth. Of course, as it turned out, by the early 1970s even the most quixotic believers in an imperial Commonwealth had to acknowledge it to be more a diplomatic damp squib than a vaunting world-political bloc under British auspices.

The British Commonwealth of Nations (Art.IWM PST 15786). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/32881.

Q: Your book stresses the need to move away from seeing post-war immigration as a domestic issue to understanding these diverse international dimensions. What do we gain when we move outwards and encompass international perspectives?

I can well understand why a person’s intuition would be that the story of post-war migration and Britain is confined to the British Isles – after all, a large part of the story is indeed about the circumstances and experiences by which various constituencies of people arrived in Britain itself from former or existing parts of the British empire. But a good deal of the story takes place off-site, overseas, within the memory and practices of colonial governance, and, later, amid the regional and national politics of a new world of postcolonial states.

For example, most accounts of post-war immigration begin with the 1905 Aliens Act passed by the imperial parliament in London. But immigration as we know it today begins somewhat earlier in the white-settler colonies – in today’s Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. Immigration laws were devised by Anglo-Saxon settlers to protect their colonies from ‘Asiatics’ (Chinese, Japanese, Indians). In other words, migration and immigration laws were occurring intra-imperially, as white emigration from Britain flourished, as indentured labourers were moved from India to the so-called sugar colonies after the abolition of slavery, and Indian immigrants were encouraged to settle in the British East Africa Protectorate. Later, the postcolonial politics of East Africa and South Asia, and Britain’s bilateral relationships with certain key states (among them India and Kenya), would often dictate the exact terms of migration to Britain and immigration policies in the late 1960s. Indeed, one of the more important revelations of the book is the great significance – previously overlooked – of British-Indian relations to post-war migration in the 1960s and early 1970s. These included many diplomatic attempts by British officials to foist British citizens and British Protected Persons – in particular, these were South Asians in East Africa – on to Indira Gandhi’s government for permanent settlement in India. Britain tried – sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding – to exploit India’s complicated relationship after 1947 with so-called overseas Indians, despite the fact that the overseas Indians in question were often British citizens.

Q: You describe the 1948 Nationality Act as a ‘momentous event’. Why is this such a landmark moment for understanding the history of post-war immigration in the UK? Was its significance fully understood at the time?

The 1948 British Nationality Act was momentous because it gave rights of entry and residence in Britain to millions of non-white people around the world, on the basis of their connection to existing crown colonies or independent Commonwealth states. Awareness among British lawmakers at the time of the scale of future non-white migration to Britain appears to have been not far from nil. The true motivations behind the 1948 Act were squarely imperial – namely, retaining and rearticulating the scheme of British subjecthood for the post-war world, and keeping a soon-to-be-republican India in the Commonwealth. The afterlives of the 1948 Act were manifold as the age of decolonisation continued and, yet, successive British governments refused to dismantle the imperial structures of British nationality, instead passing immigration laws as so many bandages on nativist wounds as the imperial heartland became home to more and more non-white migrants.

Screenshot of title of British Nationality Act, 1948, available under Open Government Licence v3.0, available at https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo6/11-12/56/resources.

Q: As a history of post-war immigration, your book also traces state racism in Britain, showing how the UK government introduced racially discriminatory laws that sought to reclassify non-white British citizens as ‘immigrants’. How did non-white immigration come to be constructed as a ‘problem’ in the post-war era and what were some of the consequences for non-white British citizens? 

It’s important to understand that a particular kind of hostility after 1945 was reserved for ‘coloured immigrants’, as the term went both among British officials and policymakers and within the national press. The hostility in the 1950s was social, political and administrative – and violent; consider here the 1958 so-called race riots – but in the 1960s and early 1970s this hostility transposed itself into the key immigration laws of the post-war decades. In particular, the 1971 Immigration Act represented a tiering of British citizenship (citizenship of the UK and Colonies) and Commonwealth citizenship along racial lines.

The extent to which British governments were racist in their adoption of post-war immigration laws has occasioned much debate among scholars. The decision to call British citizens (citizens of the UK and Colonies) and Commonwealth citizens ‘immigrants’ – both in the titles affixed to immigration laws and in political discourse more generally – was a rather hulking device by which to fudge any discussion of citizenship rights. Technically, the 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act and the 1971 Immigration Act are examples of indirect racial discrimination. Yet the effects of the 1968 Act on certain individuals were later found to be an example of racial discrimination and degrading treatment by the European Court of Human Rights in 1973. Most grievously, large numbers of South Asian British citizens resident in Kenya found themselves stateless in reality after the 1968 Act came into effect, despite still being described as British citizens in law. The British attorney general had, however, reassured parliament that because the 1968 Act offered a small number of entry-vouchers to the South Asian British citizens resident in Kenya, it could not be seen as an outright block to their entry, and neither was their citizenship itself being stripped of them.

In the minds of British political elites, non-white immigration was a ‘problem’ that was both abstract and concrete, domestic and international, political and personal, and about both the past and the future. The most prominent claim was that ‘coloured immigration’ led to forms of ‘social unrest’ and social-institutional overstretch in Britain. But no less formative was an associative realm within the minds of British officials in which non-white migrants conjured and embodied the destiny of the empire, the international challenges to Britain’s imperial record and the terms of decolonisation, the stymied imperial ambitions of the Commonwealth and Britain’s embattled place within the international public sphere, and an internal struggle between British imperial idealism and post-war British nativism. Ever implicated in world politics, the racial imagination of British officials and politicians was also interacting with real and perceived forms of transnational black solidarity during the 1960s.

Q: Your book relates how the racially discriminatory nature of British immigration laws attracted widespread international outrage. Did particular voices or institutions lead this international condemnation and how did British officials and politicians navigate the impact on Britain’s reputation on the world stage?

One of my main concerns in the book is to show the ways in which Britain after 1945 was a contender in the making of the post-war world, and that post-war migration was deeply implicated in the vagaries of Britain’s role in world politics after 1945. Decolonisation was not so much a turn inwards to domestic affairs as an adaptation to shifting international realities, norms and values – not least at the level of self-determination, anti-colonialism and racial equality. British political elites’ cultivated self-image was irretrievably damaged by international criticism at the UN General Assembly, in the various diplomatic fora of the Commonwealth, by diplomatic encounters within bilateral relationships and by human rights organisations and bodies such as the International Commission of Jurists and the European Court of Human Rights. This criticism sometimes levelled itself against Britain’s supposedly unique relationship to the rule of law, especially where immigration laws and decolonisation diverged from legal standards. Britain presented itself as an embattled, small island with a crucial ‘world role’ forced to deploy sovereign power in the face of immigration and other forms of crisis. By the late 1960s, Britain’s reputational power, especially at the United Nations, was closer to bankruptcy than apogee.

In other words, post-war British liberal imperialism accommodated the end of direct imperial rule, not as the end of empire, but as the realisation of a particular vision of empire based on constitutional tutelage and constitutional equality within the Commonwealth. Certain British politicians, officials and diplomats used the Commonwealth to reimagine British imperialism for the post-war era and move it towards various kinds of structural power. The Commonwealth was presented as ‘multi-racial’ and thus an answer to the United Nations, yet it was also, and more importantly, a grand constitutional and political receptacle of ‘Anglocentricity’ in world politics – the last vestige of previous imperial dreams of a British-led world government.

Q: Part Three of the book focuses on South Asian migration in the post-war period, particularly the 1968 Kenyan South Asian crisis and the 1972 Ugandan South Asian crisis. How revealing are British governments’ different approaches to these situations at the time?

These often overlooked episodes are deeply revealing ones for post-war Britain, and not simply because two of the great offices of state are currently held by children of East African South Asians (Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel). The South Asians in Kenya facing majoritarian policies in the late 1960s were overwhelmingly British citizens. They held an identical citizenship to Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson himself and an unrestricted legal right of entry to Britain. But such was the resistance to more ‘coloured immigrants’, Wilson’s government passed the 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act to block their entry, knowing full well it would leave Kenyan South Asian British citizens with ‘the husk of citizenship’, as the home secretary put it in a key Cabinet meeting. This was the first time that an immigration law had been levelled at British citizens per se, and showed the face of British sovereign power at the level of membership, borders and Britishness.

When South Asians in Uganda – a mixture of British citizens, British Protected Persons and Ugandan citizens – were expelled by Ugandan President Idi Amin in 1972, Edward Heath’s Conservative government in the UK balked at reacting in such a way that might be seen to mirror Amin’s act of denationalisation. Instead, Ugandan South Asians with British nationality were carefully cultivated as ‘refugees’, notwithstanding the fact that this was more in spirit than in law. I argue that Britain was here adapting to shifting international values, seeing more international leverage in humanitarian emergency than in the rhetoric of domestic immigration crisis. The new framework was effective in this instance, and many third states offered to settle Ugandan South Asians, including those who were British nationals.

During this same period, and unbeknownst both to the British public and the United Nations, both Wilson’s and Heath’s governments were responsible for the forcible displacement of Chagossians – longstanding inhabitants of the Chagos archipelago – during the preparation of the British Indian Ocean Territory (created in 1965) for US military purposes in the context of the Cold War. Indeed, the forgotten episodes of the end of empire are too numerous to discuss here.

Q: To explore such forgotten and overlooked episodes, what archives did you draw on for your research, and did you face any difficulties in accessing documents and materials?

I drew most heavily on archival material, declassified around the year 2000, from the Commonwealth Office, the Foreign Office and (after 1968) the merged FCO, as well as from the correspondence of those in British diplomatic service. I also draw on a range of other materials – parliamentary records, newspapers and various legal, political and intellectual texts – from a host of countries, particularly in East Africa and South Asia.

There are indeed a range of difficulties in making choices about which documents, materials and archives to use and to seek – and confronting what is and what is not available – not least because each of these is a methodological choice, and relates to one’s ideas about state and society, the domestic and the international, the official and the non-official, time and space, epistemology and evidence, ways of knowing and seeing, knowledge and the politics of knowledge, all amid a myriad of lived realities.

The most intellectually honest metaphor I can think of for the experience of writing a book, or perhaps a first book, is building a plane. I don’t mean this to sound grand or pioneering, but rather improbable and elaborate. You carefully consider your materials, your method of construction, the design of the whole as a dynamic form and the sustainability of its propulsion. Above all, you hope that it might get off the ground when you’re done. When you’re in the middle of the process, the knowledge that you’ll end up airborne is as much about faith as about craft, and in the end no amount of polishing will substitute for the care you took underneath the cladding.

Q: You bring together the lived experiences of non-white British and Commonwealth citizens; of British officials and politicians; and of those associated with new postcolonial states emerging from imperial rule. Did navigating these three sets of experiences pose any challenges when it came to writing the book?

I was keenly aware of the division of labour between these three sets of lived experiences. In a sense, I was trying to control for the fact that as a transdisciplinary writer, I was moving between the legal, the political and the social; as well as between the domestic, international and transnational; and between those who were at the helm of law and sovereign power and those who were not. This sounds very abstract, and in some ways one needs to think conceptually when attempting a global history. I was also interested, conceptually speaking,  in demarcating the different kinds of power that the British state attempted to marshal in the post-war period – namely, imperial power, reputational power, structural power and sovereign power. Various British officials, diplomats and politicians overestimated Britain’s remaining imperial and reputational power in the 1960s, yet the sovereign power to determine immigration laws remained with the British state.

But in another sense the various constituencies within the book – at the level of migration and also at the level of state officialdom – were all implicated within the sociology of empire and, later, the sociology of decolonisation. It makes little sense to treat these constituencies as somehow sealed off from one another. Conceptually, too, some of the distinctions I refer to above often make more sense in the abstract than they do within their proper historical texture. South Asians resident in East Africa were African in various ways as much as they were deemed Indian, Pakistani or British in other ways. Equally, the diplomats and politicians active during the age of decolonisation from various countries often knew each other, had studied at the same institutions or had travelled or lived between imperial destinations during the age of empire. The book’s cast of characters is very diverse, including the Indian diplomat, Apa Pant, the political economist, Susan Strange, the sometime adviser on colonial administration, Margery Perham, and the theatre director and migrant from East Africa, Jatinder Verma.

Q: You point out in the book that this history is not widely known. How important is it to recognise the transnational history of post-war migration as ‘not peripheral to post-war British history, but one of its central dimensions’, as you write?

The history of post-war migration in Britain is simply a proxy for and core dimension of an international history of post-war Britain, or perhaps more simply a history of post-war Britain. It is often surprising to me how little understanding there is about the Commonwealth – particularly its imperial and constitutional significance – as well as the actual trajectory of decolonisation, alongside real and imagined forms of post-war British imperialism. Equally, there is little popular understanding of Britain’s settler-colonial history and white emigration, particularly after 1945, and the ways in which these histories directly related to British constitutional structures. The circumstances of post-war migration were dictated by Britain’s self-understanding as an imperial Commonwealth during the first, crucial, post-war decades. The post-war settlement itself, and its upheaval in the 1970s, needs to be conceived within this construction of Britain more generally.

Q: You show that ‘Britain’s transition to a post-imperial age has been subject to endless deferrals’, in part due to a widespread refusal to truly examine – and break – the relationship between immigration, British identity and the imperial past. Do you think that contemporary Britain has the capacity to look ‘within’ and fully reckon with the history explored in your book?

That is a very deep question, one that is implicated in the philosophy of history. History suggests that the most intransigent of things finally change. Britain – if one can refer to state and society in the singular – will be moved into new relationships by the world around it, perhaps more by fait accompli than by choice. Yet one of the strange things that seems to occur when Britain looks ‘within’, as you say, is that as much of its history gets renewed and reimagined in continuity as much as other impressions are finally let go. Historical reckoning is often as disturbing as it is clarifying, not least because some of the imbalances at stake persist. As a social process, historical reckoning is more complex than it might first appear. We are perhaps all of us the less or the more deceived. To speak more plainly, I would suggest that better public education on the history of migration and empire – and empire after 1945 – would be a great place to start. My greatest hope is that the book contributes to this educational redress.

Note: This interview gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. The interview was conducted by Dr Rosemary Deller, Managing Editor of the LSE Review of Books blog.

 


Book Review: The Persistence of Party: Ideas of Harmonious Discord in Eighteenth-Century Britain by Max Skjönsberg

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/04/2021 - 8:55pm in

In The Persistence of Party: Ideas of Harmonious Discord in Eighteenth-Century BritainMax Skjönsberg offers a new intellectual history exploring the discussion of party politics in eighteenth-century Britain, focusing on a series of thinkers who heavily influenced one another’s views of parties and partisanship. Uncovering the ways in which the appreciation of party politics came about in the eighteenth century, Skjönsberg’s excellent book not only contributes to intellectual history but also offers us a new reason to think that the cure for the increasingly troubling political polarisation today may still need to include vibrant partisan competitions, writes Antong Liu

The Persistence of Party: Ideas of Harmonious Discord in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Max Skjönsberg. Cambridge University Press. 2021.

Find this book (affiliate link): amazon-logo

Political parties are both familiar and strange to us today. On the one hand, despite the growing worry about worldwide political polarisation, it is still widely acknowledged that party competition is indispensable to modern democracies. On the other hand, it remains underexplored how this contemporary appreciation of party politics came about. Parties too often were, and still occasionally are, dismissed as the expression of corrupt and dangerous factionalism. At best, they were tolerated as an unavoidable inconvenience that a society must somehow accommodate.

According to scholars such as Harvey Mansfield and Nancy Rosenblum, this negative attitude toward parties did not change until as late as the mid-eighteenth century, when politician and philosopher Edmund Burke actively defended partisanship for its role in maintaining the liberty of Britain. But in light of the rich history of party politics, especially after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 that replaced King James II with Mary and William of Orange, this scholarly view broaches a new set of questions: how did Burke arrive at his defence of parties and partisanship? Was there nothing appreciative to be said about party politics before Burke at all? And how did the meaning of ‘party’ evolve with the changing history of British politics throughout the eighteenth century? These are the questions to which intellectual historian Max Skjönsberg aims to respond.

The Persistence of Party is an original book. Skjönsberg offers a rich intellectual history revolving around the discussion of party politics in eighteenth-century Britain. This history focuses on a series of thinkers who heavily influenced one another’s view of parties and partisanship, such as Paul de Rapin-Thoyras, Bolingbroke, David Hume and John Brown. Burke, the usual starting point of such a history, is also included but appears only at the end of the book. This arrangement is in accordance with Skjönsberg’s argument: the theoretical defence of party politics culminated in, rather than began with, Burke’s attack on Bolingbroke.

Image Credit: Cropped image of ‘Edmund Burke’ (Tim Green CC BY 2.0)

To make this point, Skjönsberg re-evaluates, for instance, the legacy of Bolingbroke’s account of parties. Against the common view that Bolingbroke was an anti-party thinker whose endorsement of an opposition party aimed only to end all parties, Skjönsberg argues that Bolingbroke was sensible enough to believe that party politics would not cease with the downfall of any particular parties (101). Accordingly, Burke’s engagement with Bolingbroke should be understood more as a development than a negation of the latter’s thoughts on party politics.

Meanwhile, Skjönsberg’s attempt to illustrate the continuity in intellectual history does not amount to a Whig or Hegelian historiography, which, in this case, treats the triumph of party politics as an inevitable result of history. Instead, aiming also to reconstruct the political history of eighteenth-century Britain from the oft-ignored angle of party politics, he pays close attention to the detailed political and intellectual context of the writings he examines. This includes the historical events to which the examined thinkers referred and the political debates in which politicians engaged. The close connection that Skjönsberg reveals between the history and the thought of party politics shows that, in the century when parliamentary democracy was trialled, the defence of party was far from ‘a straightforward narrative of intellectual progress’ (6).

A telling indication of the extent to which the thought of party politics was embedded in political history is that the examined thinkers seldom defended or criticised parties and partisanship in abstract. In the first half of the eighteenth century, the menace of Jacobitism (which sought to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne) to the Glorious Revolution fuelled the suspicion of party politics (30). As Jacobitism died down, the friendlier atmosphere for the defence of party politics rendered it possible for writers to delve into this topic. Meanwhile, the decline of the Tories and the corruption of the Whigs under the leadership of Robert Walpole gave rise to the idea of the opposition between the Country and Court parties. According to Skjönsberg, this development was foreshadowed in Rapin’s discussion of parties (71) and later culminated in Bolingbroke’s urge to abandon the Tory-Whig polarisation to mobilise organised partisan resistance to Walpole and the Court party (89). Later, party opposition became most conspicuous among different groups of the Whigs, and it was in this context that Burke’s political career and theory of party politics were situated. Even Hume, who seemed to follow in Rapin’s footsteps and thus exhibited little partisanship in his writings, largely framed his theoretical analysis of parties as a sympathetic critique of Toryism and Whiggism (171). In this way, Skjönsberg shows us that even the meaning of party was not entirely determined in the eighteenth century.

It is thus clear that Skjönsberg aims to strike a balance between the continuity and discontinuity in history (6), such that changing historical accounts are not only interesting in themselves but also can help us ponder perennial theoretical questions that are still relevant to us today (334). This affinity for balance also characterises the content of the book. For instance, in his account of Hume, Skjönsberg emphasises how Hume accepted the inevitability of partisanship and how he exhorted partisans to practise moderation in their political competition (172).

More importantly, party politics, according to Skjönsberg, is an institutionalised way to achieve ‘harmonious discord’ in politics (7). Such harmonious discord is necessary, as harmony with concord is unrealistic but discord without harmony is dangerous. The book shows that many eighteenth-century political thinkers adopted this view. From their perspective, party politics was an embodiment of the balance that sustained Britain’s mixed and hence free constitution. Given that the thinkers who tried to be impartial (Rapin and Hume) and those who were explicitly partisan (Bolingbroke and Burke) largely agreed with one another in this regard, this understanding of the nature and function of party politics constitutes a striking consensus. Uncovering the ways in which this appreciation of party politics came about in the eighteenth century, Skjönsberg’s book not only contributes to intellectual history but also offers us a new reason to think that the cure for the increasingly troubling political polarisation today may still need to include vibrant partisan competitions. For these reasons, The Persistence of Party is an excellent scholarly work that warrants our attention.

The book would be even better if Skjönsberg had responded to two quibbles. First, in arguing that Bolingbroke was not meant to create ‘a party to end all parties’, Skjönsberg aims to show that the gap between Bolingbroke and Burke was not as wide as it appeared to be. The argument here is that Bolingbroke not only ‘never expressed any belief in an end to political conflict’, but also envisioned the persistence of political opposition (as Niccolò Machiavelli did) even if the Country party had successfully defeated Walpole (101). Although this argument convincingly demonstrates that Bolingbroke cannot be treated simply as an anti-party thinker, it could be further elaborated, as Bolingbroke’s belief in the persistence of party politics does not necessarily amount to his willing acceptance of party politics.

This is directly related to the second and more important quibble from the point of view of political theory: Skjönsberg could further emphasise the conceptual difference between what I call the acquiescence to and the embrace of party politics. While both attitudes perceive parties as potentially valuable assets for politics, the acquiescence to party politics exhibits some reluctance because it still treats a society without parties and partisanship as an ideal unfortunately frustrated by the imperfection of human beings. In contrast, the embrace of party politics eschews such an ideal because it treats a society without parties and partisanship as intrinsically defective even if such a society could be realised.

This difference is perhaps better observed in the contrast between Hume and Burke than in that between Bolingbroke and Burke. Despite paying much attention to the subject, Hume appeared only to acquiesce to party politics. As a historian, he ‘disliked partisanship’ (199); as a theorist, he still envisioned a ‘perfect commonwealth’ free from partisanship (208). In contrast, at least before the French Revolution, Burke actively promoted partisanship, as he argued that party connection was necessary for the middle class to enjoy independence and thus to play a role in politics (268). Accordingly, Burke was far more willing to embrace party politics than Hume.

This conceptual difference between Hume and Burke is important for at least two reasons. From a theoretical perspective, it is reminiscent of a key difference between Rawlsian pluralism and realist pluralism in contemporary debates of political philosophy. While the former still searches for a thin consensus among conflicting worldviews, the latter treats this search itself as wrongheaded. It is also important to the intellectual history that Skjönsberg reconstructs in this book: if the first quibble above emphasises the difference between Bolingbroke and Burke that Skjönsberg aims to reduce, then this second quibble takes issue with the commonality between Hume and Burke that Skjönsberg aims to produce. As Skjönsberg successfully demonstrates, Burke’s defence of party politics is not so peculiar in eighteenth-century British political thought, but it may still warrant our special attention precisely for the above reasons.

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. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

 


Pyramids of lies: Some more from Stefan Zweig

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/04/2021 - 4:34pm in

I continue listening to Stefan Zweig’s description of the disasters of the twentieth century a passage of which I’ll reproduce below.

My big essay on the Productivity Commission’s Draft Indigenous Evaluation Strategy represented a bit of intellectual progress for me. As I wrote it, my previous decade of experience and reflection poured out as anecdotes all reinforcing a point which, once I had articulated it to myself I saw elsewhere. I’d read Hannah Arendt’s “Lying in Politics: Reflections on The Pentagon Papers” ages before, and been struck by her horror that the whole thing had snowballed from officials’ understanding that saving face was enough of a reason to kill millions of Vietnamese, tens of thousands of American kids and ruin the global economy. But only now did I focus on her other central point which is that a system of lies many of them small white(ish) lies had snowballed into official perceptions that were functionally unhinged from reality. A system in which, speaking or even thinking the truth was not thinkable, let alone sayable.

My essay argued in effect that the same thing was going on in Indigenous affairs – and in most other areas of ‘thick policy and practice‘ – but that it was immensely more subtle built on a thousand evasions large and small. By not putting itself or the system through the discomfort of looking the issue in the eye, the PC was effectively making itself part of the problem – and helping the system reach for its next fad-diet (evaluation) – rather than point it toward the preconditions of some substantial change.

In a teleconference with the folks from the Centre for Public Impact in London, they who told me of their own recent publication of a piece from someone in local government which puts it all more starkly:

I spent 10 years of my life writing. I wrote neighbourhood plans, partnership strategies, the Local Area Agreement, stretch targets, the Sustainable Community Strategy, sub regional infrastructure plans, funding bids, monitoring documents, the Council Plan and service plans. These documents describe the performance of local government and its partners.

I have a confession to make. Much of it was made up. It was fudged, spun, copied and pasted, cobbled together and attractively formatted. I told lies in themes, lies in groups, lies in pairs, strategic lies, operational lies, cross cutting lies. I wrote hundreds of pages of nonsense. Some of it was my own, but most of it was collated from my colleagues across the organisation and brought together into a single document. As a policy, partnerships and performance officer in local government, this was my speciality and my profession.

Why did I do it? I did this because it was my job.

And so onto Zweig below the fold:

I do not mean to overestimate these small, isolated attempts of ours [at various ruses by which intellectuals could foil quite comprehensive censorship to model a certain solidarity of respect across enemy lines when it had suddenly become fashionable to excoriate all things from enemy nations]. Of course they had no influence at all on the course of events. But they helped us ourselves and many unknown readers. They alleviated the dreadful isolation and despair in which a man with genuinely humane feelings in the twentieth century found himself, and now, twenty-five years later, finds himself again—just as powerless, if not more so, against all-powerful opposition. I was well aware at the time that I could not rid myself of the real burden with these little protests and devious literary ruses. Gradually, the plan of a book began to take shape in my mind. It was to be a book in which I did not just make a few points, but set out in detail my attitude to the time and its people, to catastrophe and war.

But for a literary discussion of war as a whole, there was something I still lacked: I had never seen it at first-hand. I had now been anchored to the War Archive office for almost a year, and the reality, war in its true and terrible aspect, was in progress far away and out of sight. I had more than once been offered an opportunity to visit the front; major newspapers had asked me three times to go there as a war reporter for them. But any account I wrote in that capacity would have committed me to presenting the war in an exclusively positive, patriotic light, and I had sworn to myself—an oath that I kept after 1940 as well—never to write a word approving of the war or denigrating any other nation. Now, by chance, an opportunity did offer itself. The great Austrian-German offensive had broken through the Russian lines at Tarnów in the spring of 1915, conquering Galicia and Poland in a single determined advance. The War Archive wanted the originals of all the Russian proclamations and placards to be collected for its libraries from the Austrian-occupied area before they could be torn down or otherwise destroyed. The Colonel, who happened to know about my collecting methods, asked if I would handle the assignment. I naturally set out at once, and an all-purpose permit was made out enabling me to travel by any military train and move freely wherever I liked, without being dependent on any particular authority or directly subordinate to an office or a superior. Producing this document led to some odd incidents—I was not an officer, only an acting sergeant major, and I wore a uniform without any distinguishing marks on it. But when I showed my mysterious permit it aroused great respect, for the officers at the front and the local officials alike suspected that I must be some kind of general-staff officer travelling incognito or carrying out a secret mission. As I avoided the officers’ messes and stayed only in hotels, I also had the advantage of being outside the huge army machine, and could see what I wanted to without needing ‘guidance’.

My real task of collecting the proclamations was not difficult. Whenever I went to a Galician town, to Tarnów, Drohobych or Lemberg, there would be several Jews at the station, known as ‘factors’, whose professional business it was to supply anything a visitor might want. It was enough for me to tell one of these jacks-of-all-trades that I would like to get the proclamations and placards from the Russian occupation, and the factor would scurry off quick as a weasel, passing on the job in some mysterious way to dozens of sub-factors, and three hours later, without moving a step myself, I would have the material all collected and as complete as it could possibly be. Thanks to this excellent organisation I had time to see a great deal, and I did. Above all, I saw the wretched state of the civilian population, whose eyes were still darkened by the horror of what they had experienced. I saw the misery of the Jews in their ghettos, something of which I had entertained no idea, living eight or twelve to a room on the ground floor or in the basement of a building. And I saw the ‘enemy’ for the first time. In Tarnów, I came upon the first transport carrying Russian prisoners of war. They sat penned up in a large rectangular space on the ground, smoking and talking, guarded by two or three dozen middle-aged Tyrolean reservists, most of them bearded, looking as ragged and unkempt as the prisoners, a far cry from the smart, clean-shaven soldiers in their neat uniforms pictured at home in the illustrated papers. There was nothing at all martial or draconian in their manner. The prisoners showed no inclination to escape, and the Austrian reservists obviously had no idea of strictly observing their guard duties. They sat with their prisoners in a comradely fashion, and the fact that they could not communicate in each other’s languages amused both sides inordinately. They exchanged cigarettes and laughed. One Tyrolean reservist took photographs of his wife and children out of his dirty old wallet and showed them to the ‘enemy’, who all in turn admired them, asking questions with their fingers—was this particular child three or four years old? I had an irresistible feeling that these simple, even primitive men saw the war in a much clearer light than our university professors and writers; they regarded it as a misfortune that had befallen them, there was nothing they could do about it, and anyone else who was the victim of such bad luck was a kind of brother. This was a consoling realisation to accompany me on my entire journey, past towns that had been shot to pieces and shops that had obviously been looted, because bits of furniture lay about in the middle of the street like broken limbs and gutted entrails. And the well-cultivated fields among the war-torn areas made me hope that within a few years all traces of the destruction would have disappeared. Of course at the time I could not yet guess that, just as quickly as the traces of war would disappear from the face of the earth, so too the memory of its horrors could be blotted out of human memory.

And I had not yet seen the real horror of war in those first days; when I did, it was worse than my worst fears. Almost no regular passenger trains were running, so I travelled sometimes on open artillery carriages, sitting on the limber of a field gun, sometimes in one of those cattle trucks where exhausted men slept in the stench among and on top of each other, looking like cattle already butchered even as they were taken to the slaughter. But worst of all were the hospital trains, which I had to use two or three times. How different they were from those well-lit, white, clean hospital trains where the Archduchesses and high-born ladies of Viennese society had undergone training as nurses at the beginning of the war! What I now saw, shuddering, was ordinary freight carriages without real windows, only a narrow vent for air, and lit inside by oil lamps black with soot. Primitive stretchers stood side by side, all of them occupied by groaning, sweating men, pale as death, struggling for air in the dense stink of excrement and iodoform. The soldiers acting as medical orderlies were so exhausted that they swayed rather than walked; there was no sign of the immaculate white sheets of the official photographs. Men lay on straw or the hard stretchers, covered with bloodstained blankets, and in every carriage there were already two or three dead among their groaning, dying comrades. I spoke to the doctor who, as he admitted to me, had really been only a dentist in a small Hungarian town and had not done any surgery for years. He had already telegraphed ahead to seven stations for morphine, but it was all gone, and he had no cotton wool or clean bandages left to last the twenty hours before we reached the Budapest hospital. He asked me to assist him, because his staff were so tired that they couldn’t go on. I did my best, clumsily enough, but I could at least make myself useful by getting out at every station and helping to carry back a few buckets of water—impure, dirty water, meant for the locomotive, but now it was a blessing to help us at least wash the men a little and scour the blood off the carriage floors. And the soldiers of all imaginable nationalities, cast up together in this moving coffin, were in additional personal difficulty because of the Babel of different languages. Neither the doctor nor the medical orderlies knew Ruthenian or Croatian. The only man who could do anything at all to help was a white-haired old priest who, in the same way as the doctor feared running out of morphine, lamented his inability to perform his sacred duty because he had no oil for the sacrament of the Last Unction. He said he had never administered it to so many people in his life before as in this last, single month. And it was from him that I heard a comment I have never forgotten, uttered in his harsh, angry voice. “I am sixty-seven years old. I have seen a great deal. But I never thought humanity capable of such a crime.”

The hospital train on which I travelled back came into Budapest early in the morning. I went straight to a hotel, first to get some sleep; the only place to sit in the train had been on my suitcase. I slept until about eleven, for I had been exhausted, and then quickly dressed to go and find some breakfast. But after taking only my first few steps I kept feeling that I ought to rub my eyes to see whether I was dreaming. It was one of those bright, sunny days that are still spring-like in the morning but are summer by midday, and Budapest was as beautiful and carefree as I had ever seen it. Women in white dresses promenaded arm-in-arm with officers, who suddenly looked to me as if they belonged to some army entirely different from the one I had seen only yesterday and the day before yesterday. With the smell of iodoform from the transport of wounded soldiers still clinging to my clothes, still in my mouth and my nostrils, I saw them buying little bunches of violets and presenting them gallantly to the ladies, I saw immaculate cars being driven down the streets by immaculately shaved, well-dressed gentlemen. And all this eight or nine hours by express train away from the front line! But did anyone have a right to blame these people? Wasn’t it the most natural thing in the world for them to be alive and trying to enjoy their lives? Wasn’t it natural for them to seize on everything that they still could, a few nice clothes, the last happy hours, perhaps out of the very feeling that all this was under threat? It was precisely when you had seen what frail, vulnerable creatures human beings are, lives capable of being shattered in a thousandth of a second, together with all their memories and discoveries and ecstasies, that you understood how the prospect of a morning spent promenading by the shining river brought thousands out to see the sun, perhaps more keenly aware than ever before of themselves, their own blood, their own lives. I was almost reconciled to what had shocked me at first. But then, unfortunately, an obliging waiter brought me a Viennese newspaper. I tried to read it, and now revulsion did overcome me in the shape of real anger. I saw all those phrases about an inflexible will to victory, the low casualties among our own troops and the huge losses suffered by the enemy—the lies of wartime leapt out at me naked, gigantic and shameless. The ladies and gentleman casually parading in that carefree way were not the guilty ones, the guilty were those using words to stir up bellicose feeling. But we too were guilty if we did not do our best to counter them.

 

Now I really did feel a powerful urge to do something against the war! I had the material ready to hand; to get me started I had needed only this last visible confirmation of what instinct told me. I had recognised the enemy whom I must fight—the false heroism that would rather send others to suffering and death, the cheap optimism of unscrupulous prophets promising political and military victory, keeping the slaughter going, and behind them the chorus they had hired, the “wordsmiths of war”,2 as Werfel called them in his fine poem. Anyone who expressed reservations was disturbing them in their patriotic business; anyone who uttered a warning was derided as a pessimist; anyone who opposed the war which inflicted no suffering on them personally was branded a traitor. It was always the same, the whole pack throughout history who called cautious people cowards, humane people weak, only to be at a loss themselves in the hour of disaster that they had rashly conjured up. Because the pack were always the same. They had mocked Cassandra in Troy, Jeremiah in Jerusalem, and I had never before understood the tragedy of those great figures as I did now, in a time so like theirs. From the first I had not believed in ‘victory’, and I knew only one thing for certain—even if victory could in fact be gained at the expense of countless victims, it did not justify that sacrifice. But I was alone among my friends with these warnings, and the wild howl of triumph even before the first shot was fired, the division of the spoils even before the first battle, often made me doubt whether I myself was mad among all these clever heads, or perhaps was the only person to be shockingly sober amidst their intoxication. So it was only natural for me to describe my own situation—the tragic situation of the ‘defeatist’, a word that had been coined to impute a wish for defeat to those anxious for reconciliation—and I did it in the form of a play. As a symbol, I chose the character of Jeremiah, the prophet issuing warnings in vain. But I was not setting out to write a ‘pacifist’ drama, expressing truisms in verse to the effect that peace is better than war; I wanted to show that a man despised as weak and fearful in a time of enthusiastic feeling is generally the only one who, when defeat comes, not only endures but rises above it. From the time of my very first play, Thersites, I had constantly turned to the question of the mental superiority of the defeated. I was always attracted to showing how any form of power can harden a human being’s heart, how victory can bring mental rigidity to whole nations, and to contrasting that with the emotional force of defeat painfully and terribly ploughing through the soul. In the middle of war, while others, celebrating triumph too soon, were proving to one another that victory was inevitable, I was plumbing the depths of the catastrophe and looking for a way to emerge from them.

Unconsciously, however, by choosing a Biblical subject I had touched on something that so far had lain in me unexploited—my common ground with the Jews and their story, founded in either blood or tradition. Were not they my people, who had been defeated again and again by all other nations, over and over again, and yet had endured thanks to a mysterious power? And was that power not the one that, through a strong effort of the will, could overcome defeat by always enduring it? Our prophets had known in advance about the constant persecution and exile that still keeps us apart today, like chaff thrown into the street, and had taken defeat as an affirmation and even a blessed way to God. Had a time of trial not always been a gain to society and to individuals? I felt that was so as I wrote my play, the first of my works that I myself thought was really worth something. I know today that without all that I went through then in the Great War, without that fellow feeling and anticipation of the future, I would still have been the writer I was before the war, con moto—with emotion—as the musical term puts it, but gently so, not intensely moved to my very heart. Now, for the first time, I had the feeling that I was really speaking for myself and for my times. In trying to help others, I helped myself to write what is my most personal and private work, together with Erasmus, in which I made my way out of a similar crisis in 1934, the period of Hitler. From the moment when I began trying to construct it, I did not suffer so deeply from the tragedy of the times.

I had not expected any visible success from this play. Tackling as it did so many questions posed by prophets, by pacifists, by Jews, and through the choral construction of the closing scenes, rising to a hymn by the defeated to their fate, the extent of the play had grown so far beyond the usual length of a drama that in performance it would have occupied two or even three evenings in the theatre. And then, how was anyone going to produce a play on the German stage that spoke of defeat, even praised it, while every day the newspapers were urging, ‘Death or victory!’? I could consider it a miracle if the text was ever printed, but even in the worst case, that is that it was not, it had at least helped me through the worst of those times. I had said in my dialogue everything I could not say in conversation with those around me. I had thrown off the burden weighing on my mind and recovered my true self. At the very moment when everything in me was saying, ‘No’, to what was going on, I had found a way of saying ‘Yes’ to myself.

Book Review: A Philosopher’s Economist: Hume and the Rise of Capitalism by Margaret Schabas and Carl Wennerlind

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/04/2021 - 8:45pm in

In A Philosopher’s Economist: Hume and the Rise of CapitalismMargaret Schabas and Carl Wennerlind offer a new study that fills a gap in scholarship on David Hume, connecting his economic thought to his philosophy and showing the central place of Hume’s economics in his life and work. This is a well-researched and artfully written volume, finds Mark G. Spencer, that will leave readers with a much richer understanding of David Hume, his world and ours.

A Philosopher’s Economist: Hume and the Rise of Capitalism. Margaret Schabas and Carl Wennerlind. University of Chicago Press. 2020.

Find this book (affiliate link):amazon-logo

‘There is as yet no monograph in English devoted to a comprehensive study of Hume’s economics, let alone one that connects this body of thought to his philosophical tenets,’ write our authors in their Preface to A Philosopher’s Economist. ‘This book fills that gap’ (xii). They are right; their exceptional study is a welcomed contribution. A Philosopher’s Economist fills a gap in David Hume scholarship, and accomplishes much more besides. Along the way, many longstanding interpretations are challenged.

Margaret Schabas and Carl Wennerlind tackle their task in a monograph divided into seven chapters. Chapter One sets the biographical scene, highlighting ‘the sense in which economic ideas and policies pervaded Hume’s entire adult life, in his publications and correspondence as well as his actions’ (30). Their approach suggests that Hume’s ‘stints in Bristol [as a merchant’s assistant] and on the Continent as a young man, and in government service in Paris and London in his fifties, which served as bookends for his life of letters, were in fact integral to his lifelong identity as an economist and not, as many commentators have supposed, tangential or idiosyncratic’ (8). Hume’s early life — one might add — was not bereft of commercial concerns either, as Roger L. Emerson has shown. Hume’s biography matters.

Chapters Two and Three flesh out Hume’s ‘science of economics’. Hume, we find, was less of a Newtonian than some have maintained. He also thought ‘we are more likely to detect fallacious inferences in the moral sciences than in the physical sciences’ (63). Hume’s evidence was often gleaned from the pages of history, we learn in Chapter Two. ‘A man acquainted with history may, in some respect’, wrote Hume in a passage our authors quote, ‘be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his stock of knowledge in every century’ (68). Chapter Three, ‘Hume on Property and Commerce’, unpacks Hume’s conclusion that commercial nations tended to be ‘both the happiest and the most virtuous’ (89).

Chapter Four situates Hume’s economic thought in the context of his broader concerns with moral improvement. As Hume put it in ‘Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences’:

Thus industry, knowledge, and humanity, are linked together by an indissoluble chain, and are found, from experience as well as reason, to be peculiar to the more polished, and, what are commonly denominated, the more luxurious ages. (114)

It is in that context that Hume’s praise of middling-sort merchants makes sense. And it is why he could write that ‘The same age, which produces great philosophers and politicians, renowned generals and poets, usually abounds with skillful weavers, and ship-carpenters’ (132). ‘We cannot reasonably expect’, postulated Hume in another memorable line, ‘that a piece of woollen cloth will be wrought to perfection in a nation, which is ignorant of astronomy, or where ethics are neglected’.

Chapters Five and Six present Hume’s treatment of money, banking, international trade and public finance. On these topics the man of letters wrote ‘theory with concrete policy recommendation in mind’ (142), including for Scotland. Hume discovered the ‘specie-flow mechanism’ (144), building on Thomas Mun and others. He ‘was strongly committed to any methods that would promote the “universal diffusion and circulation” of money’ (162). And he advocated for low interest rates, while appreciating that money was a ‘complex phenomenon’; it had ‘a will of its own’ (176). Hume thought, as did his American friend Benjamin Franklin, that free commerce between countries — not a ‘jealousy of trade’ — would increase wealth and foster global peace. An unmanageable public debt put all at risk, however.

A concluding, seventh, chapter provides a survey of Hume’s ‘imprint’ on economics in his time and later. Part of Hume’s impact was second-hand, through his best friend’s book — Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Hume’s influence is traced to nineteenth- and twentieth-century economists as divergent as John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, among many others.

Few readers of this book will challenge that Schabas and Wennerlind ‘demonstrate that Hume was engaged in thinking and writing about economics for his entire adult life and that his contributions are extensive and significant’. At the core of the volume’s textual evidence are Hume’s fifty moral, political and literary essays, including the twelve essays in Political Discourses (1752). But all of Hume’s major philosophical and historical writings are referenced. Some scholars may resist the authors’ strongest claim: ‘An inquiry into the ideal economic conditions to promote political stability and peace more strongly connects Hume’s entire corpus of writings, from his Treatise on through to his History of England and posthumous Dialogues, than anything drawn specifically from his epistemology or metaphysics. We do not make this claim lightly’ (13). Their book also shows that Hume’s histories were central — more than his abstract philosophy — to Hume’s goals.

Most of Hume’s relevant writings are tapped. One that is overlooked is Hume’s suppressed review of Volume Two of Robert Henry’s History of Great Britain (1774). There, Hume drew attention to Henry’s account of Anglo-Saxon ‘commerce, shipping, and coin’. He even reproduced Henry’s comparative ‘Table of the Names of the Anglo-Saxon denominations of Money, and of real Coins; with the weight of each of them in Troy grains, and value in the present money of Great Britain’. Noting this piece — one of Hume’s last — may not have altered the interpretations offered in A Philosopher’s Economist. But, it could have bolstered some of them while adding additional colour to Hume’s keen interest in commodities and currency. Other relevant sources from Hume’s Scottish context go unnoticed, too. Revising his History of England, Hume found reason to cite — several times — Adam Anderson’s (1692?-1765) An Historical and Chronological Deduction of the Origin of Commerce . . . containing a History of the Great Commercial Interests of the British (2vols, 1764). So, Anderson’s ‘History of Commerce’ deserves mention in this account of Hume’s economic thought.

As with any study that covers so much, A Philosopher’s Economist has the occasional slip. Listing some, in the order in which they appear in the book: firstly, it is claimed that Hume ‘befriended’ (28) the historian Catharine Macaulay. That is a stretch. Hume was civil in the lone letter he was obliged to write to her. He neither admired nor supported her History, and did not become a friend. Secondly, the American Revolution became a ‘full-blown war’ in 1775, not in 1773 (42). Third, Hume’s friend and fellow historian William Robertson is described as a ‘fellow philosopher-economist’ (117). He was neither a philosopher nor an economist. Fourth, our authors write that ‘David Raynor argues convincingly’ for Hume’s authorship of Sister Peg, ‘a work that had mistakenly been attributed to John Millar’ (246, note 19). Adam Ferguson, not John Millar, was the previously attributed author. Fifth, we are told, too, that ‘Hume’s first volume [of history] on the early Stuarts was entitled The History of Britain (1754). Because sales were poor outside of Edinburgh, he changed the title’ (251, note 57). That stated reason for the changed title is highly speculative. Also, the original title was The History of Great Britain. Perhaps in a new edition the authors may wish to revise some of these blemishes, and others that mar their endnotes and bibliography. Quibbles aside, this is a good book.

A Philosopher’s Economist is a serious piece of scholarship that is well-researched and artfully written. A charming feature of the volume is that its two authors are sometimes set in opposition, one with the other. Why did Hume think economic output increased when money flowed into a country from abroad? ‘We will consider two different interpretations,’ they write. ‘One, which Carl Wennerlind favors’ (154) and ‘Another interpretation, favored by Margaret Schabas’ (156). What are the authors’ competing interpretations? Readers curious to know will have to consult this fine volume. When they do, they cannot but come away with a much richer understanding of David Hume, his world and ours.

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. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

Image Credit: David Hume statue on Royal Mile, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash.

 


My Proposed Article on Bristol’s Slavery Reparations – Ignored and Rejected by the Press?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/04/2021 - 8:20pm in

Okay, I’ve blogged about it before when Bristol City council first passed the motion all those weeks ago. These were a couple of pieces about the motion, brought by Green councillor Cleo Lake, and seconded by Labour’s deputy mayor and head of equalities Asher Green, calling for the payment of reparations for slavery to all of Britain’s ‘Afrikan’ community. I criticised this because this motion effectively means the payment of reparations to the African peoples responsible for the raiding and enslavement, and their sale to outsiders. It wasn’t just European, who purchased and enslaved the continent’s peoples, but also Muslims, Arabs and Indians. The motion falsifies history by reducing a complex situation to simple Black and White – White Europeans versus Black Africans. I believe Lake and Craig are playing racial politics here by trying to create a unified Black British community by presenting all British Blacks as the victims of White, European, British slavery when this was not historically the case.

The motion also raises other issues by setting the precedent for formerly enslaved peoples to sue their former captors. Thus Black Africans could also demand reparations from Morocco, Algeria, Turkey and the successors to the great Arab caliphates of the Middle Ages – perhaps Saudi Arabia? – Oman and other states for their enslavement. As could Europeans. 2.5 million White Europeans were carried off into slavery by the Barbary pirates from Morocco and Algiers. Would the councillors, who supported and passed Lake’s and Craig’s slavery reparations motion also support similar motions for the payment of reparations to these people from their former masters?

I wrote to Lake and Craig raising these issues, and so far have received no reply. Perhaps they’re too busy. Craig has received 6,000 racially abusive messages, which I condemn, so perhaps she hasn’t looked at it because it’s been lost in all the other mail she’s received about it.

I tried to get the press interested in this issue, and so submitted an article about it. I first sent it to the Guardian, and then to a number of right-wing newspapers when I heard nothing from the Groan. I thought the right-wing press would be perhaps be more likely to publish it, and it contradicts some of the attitudes and assumptions of the pro-Black activists that newspapers like the I, Independent and Observer share and promote. Along with the article itself, I sent the following cover message.

Dear Sir,

I would be very grateful if you would consider the attached article laying out some of the problems with the motion passed a few weeks ago in Bristol calling for the payment of reparations for slavery to the Black community. There are a number of difficult and complex issues raised by this, which I do not believe have been adequately discussed in the press. One of these is that the motion calls for both Africans and Afro-Caribbean people to be granted reparations. While I’ve no doubt that Black African people are as disadvantaged as people of West Indian heritage, there is a problem here as historically it was African peoples who did the dirty business of slaving, selling them not just to Europeans, but also to Muslim, Arab and Indian slavers. It would therefore be unjust for people the British enslave or who actively collaborated in slaving to receive compensation for slavery.

Other problems with the motion are that it sets a precedent for other peoples to demand reparations for their enslavement. White Europeans would, following this logic, also be justified in demanding reparations for the enslavement of 2 1/2 million Europeans by the Barbary pirates. And Black Africans would also be entitled to ask Muslim and Arab nations for reparations for their enslavement of them.

I also consider the motion to be racially divisive, as it seeks to create a unified Black community, who are represented as equal victims, against Whites, who are considered slavers, thus simplifying a complex historical issue.

I hope you will consider the article suitable, and look forward to your reply.

Yours,

And here’s the article itself.

Slavery Reparations: Not All Blacks Were the Victims, Some Were the Slavers

A few weeks ago Bristol Council passed a motion calling for the payment of reparations to the Black British community for their enslavement. The motion was introduced by Cleo Lake, a former mayor and the Green Councillor for Cotham in the city, and seconded by Asher Craig, the city’s deputy mayor and head of equality. The reparations were to be both financial and cultural. It was moved that they should take the form of proper funding for projects to improve conditions for the Black community and raise them to the same, sustainable level of equality with the rest of British society. These projects were to be led and guided by Black organisations themselves. And the reparations should include all ‘Afrikans’, by which eccentric spelling Councillor Lake meant both Afro-Caribbean people and Black Africans. The motion was passed 47 to 11. It was supported by the Greens, Labour and the Lib Dems. Only the Tories opposed it. They said that while it came from ‘a good place’, the motion was ‘divisive’. In fact, there are a number of reasons why it should be opposed. The most important of these is that Black Africans were hardly innocent of slaving themselves.

Slavery existed in Africa long before the European invasion, and Britain wasn’t the only country that traded in enslaved Africans.  So did the Arabs, Ottoman Turks, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch. The first Black slaves in Europe were enslaved by Arabs and taken to al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. In addition to the transatlantic slave trade, there was also an Islamic slave trade to north Africa and Muslim nations in Asia. Although there were exceptions, Europeans did not directly enslave their African victims. Before the 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, powerful African states prevented Europeans from penetrating inland and seizing African territory. The European slave merchants were largely confined to specific quarters, rather like European ghettos, in these state’s main towns, from whom they purchased their human cargo. By the 19th century powerful African slaving nations, such as Dahomey, Whydah and Badagry had emerged in West Africa. In East Africa, the Yao, Marganja and Swahili peoples enslaved the people of other nations to sell to the Arabs. Some were purchased by the Imaum of Muscat, now Oman, for labour on his immensely profitable clove plantations in Zanzibar. It was to prevent Indian merchants from importing enslaved Africans into British India that the British government opened negotiations with the Imaum to halt the east African slave trade.

Part of the rationale for British imperialism was to stamp out the slave trade and slavery at its point of supply, and this was one of the causes of African resistance to British expansionism. The Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan, for example, was caused by the British attempting to abolish the Arab enslavement of Black Sudanese. It was to halt slaving by Dahomey that Britain fought a war against its king, Guezo. In some parts of Africa, slavery continued up to the 20th century because these countries had not been conquered by Europeans. The slave trade to Morocco continued to 1910 because the European powers had blocked the European invasion of that country. Slavery also persisted in Ethiopia, whose armies also preyed on the peoples of the surrounding African states, prompting a British punitive expedition in the 1880s.

This obviously presents problems for the payment of reparations to all sections of the Black British community, because some African nations weren’t the victims of White enslavement. They were the slavers. Someone once remarked on this situation that if reparations were to be paid, it should be by Africans compensating the Black peoples of the Caribbean and Americas.

And there are other problems with slavery reparations. If reparations were paid to Blacks for the enslavement of their ancestors, it would set a precedent for similar demands by other ethnicities. For example, up until the conquest of Algeria by France in the 19th century, White Europeans were captured and enslaved by Muslim pirates from Morocco and Algiers. About 2 ½ million people, including those from Bristol and the West Country, were carried off. The demand for reparations for the Black victims of slavery means that, by the same logic, White Europeans would also be justified in demanding reparations for the enslavement of their ancestors from those countries. At the same time, Black Africans would also be entirely justified in claiming reparations from the Muslim nations that enslaved them, such as perhaps Turkey or Saudi Arabia. But there have been no such demands, at least to my knowledge.

I don’t doubt that Black Africans in Bristol or elsewhere in the UK suffer the same problems of marginalisation, poverty, unemployment and discrimination as the rest of the Black population, nor that there should be official programmes to tackle these problems. And it is only fair and proper that they should be guided and informed by the Black community itself. But reparations cannot justly be paid to the Black community as a whole because of the deep involvement of some African peoples in slavery and the slave trade.

Furthermore, there’s a nasty, anti-White dimension to Lake’s motion. By claiming that all Blacks, both West Indian and African, were equally victims of the slave trade, she and her supporters seem to be trying to create a unified Black community by presenting all of them as the victims of White predation, simplifying a complex historical situation along racial lines.

I’ve written to councillors Lake and Craig about these issues, but so far have not received an answer. In Councillor Craig’s case, it may well be that my message to her got lost amongst the 6,000 abusive emails she is reported to have received. It is, of course, disgusting that she should suffer such abuse, and she has my sympathies in this. But this does not alter the fact that reparations for Black slavery raise a number of difficult issues which make it unsuitable as a means of improving conditions for Black Britons.

Well, I haven’t heard anything from any of the newspapers I submitted it to, not even an acknowledgement. It seems the news cycle has moved on and they’re not interested. But this doesn’t mean that the arguments against the motion are any less valid, and I thought people would like to read these arguments again for themselves, as well as about my efforts to raise them in the press.

The more things change … Stefan Zweig on the difference in mood attending the outbreak the two World Wars

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 5:02pm in

I’ve been listening to The World of Yesterday, the memoirs Stefan Zweig. Zweig was probably the best-known author in 1930s Europe and produced a mountain of material. Essays, fiction, history, poetry, translations, you name it. Today few know of him, though that may be different in the German-speaking world. He was known to my Viennese grandmother so it seemed like a great book to transport me into the world that produced my Dad. The memoirs was produced shortly before departing this world by suicide in Brazil (of all places) in 1942. Zweig was a great advocate for, and optimist about the European project. How you manage that from the late 1930s on is a bit beyond me, but there you go. As Manning Clark used to say “who knows what goes on in the heart of a mango?”.

Be that as it may, I was fascinated to hear his description of the blind optimism before WWI, the conviction of the educated classes that progress was ineluctable, that nothing really serious could ever really happen to Europe as its culture grew in sophistication, it’s economy grew in wealth, and its policy transformed towards ever more democratic governance. And then it all changed. There was genuine horror that war was breaking out, but then a sublime moment of calm and unreality as war was organised in front of people’s eyes and the propaganda started gearing up.

I’ve reproduced below Zweig’s musing on the change in atmosphere as WWI breaks out and how utterly different things were 25 years later when it all happened again. It struck me that there’s a pretty direct analogue between what we thought we might be able to achieve as a society at the height of the optimism of the 1960s with its War on Poverty and the various crusades to build the Great Society and the endless disappointments of today. In both cases there’s been a largely deserved collapse of what sociologists now call ‘vertical trust’ – the trust the people have in the institutions and the people ‘above them’, while their horizontal trust – their trust in each other continues on its fairly happy way.

And then there’s the keenness the educated classes feel to be propagandists – just like today – though in peacetime they’re neatly arranged into advocates of the left and right.

Next morning, in Austria, there were notices up in every station announcing general mobilisation. The trains were full of recruits who had just joined up, flags waved, music boomed out, and in Vienna I found the whole city in a fever. The first shock of the war that no one wanted, not the people or the government, the war that, contrary to the intentions of the diplomats who had been playing games of bluff, had slipped out of their clumsy hands, had now turned to sudden enthusiasm. Parades formed in the streets, suddenly there were banners, streamers, music everywhere. The young recruits marched along in triumph, their faces bright because they, ordinary people who passed entirely unnoticed in everyday life, were being cheered and applauded.

To be perfectly honest, I must confess that there was something fine, inspiring, even seductive in that first mass outburst of feeling. It was difficult to resist it. And in spite of my hatred and abhorrence of war, I would not like to be without the memory of those first days. Thousands and hundreds of thousands of people felt, as never before, what they would have been better advised to feel in peace—that they belonged together. A city of two million, a country of almost fifty million, felt at this moment that they were witnessing history being made, experiencing a moment that would never return, and that everyone was called upon to fling his tiny self into this ardent fire to be cleansed there of all egotism. Differences of social station, language, class and religion were submerged at this one moment in a torrential stream of fraternal feeling. Strangers spoke to one another in the street; people who had avoided each other for years shook hands. Every single individual felt his own ego enhanced; he was no longer the isolated human being he had been before, he was a part of the whole, one of the people, and his person, formerly ignored, had acquired significance. Every little post office worker who usually worked from morning to night, Monday to Saturday, sorting letters without a break, every clerk, every cobbler suddenly saw another possibility lying ahead—he could be a hero, the women were already making much of men in uniform, those who were not going to the front respectfully bestowed the romantic term of hero in advance on those who were. They acknowledged the unknown power that was raising them above their ordinary lives; even their grieving mothers and anxious wives were ashamed, in these first hours of elation, to show their only too natural feelings. But perhaps there was a deeper, more mysterious force at work in this intoxicating frenzy. The great wave broke over humanity so suddenly, with such violence, that as it foamed over the surface it brought up from the depths the dark, unconscious primeval urges and instincts of the human animal—what Freud perceptively described as a rejection of civilisation, a longing to break out of the bourgeois world of laws and their precepts for once and indulge the ancient bloodlust of humanity. And perhaps these dark powers also played their part in the wild intoxication that mingled alcohol with the joy of self-sacrifice, a desire for adventure and sheer credulity, the old magic of the banners and patriotic speeches—an uncanny frenzy that eludes verbal description but is capable of affecting millions, the frenzy that for a moment gave wild and almost irresistible momentum to the worst crime of our time. Today’s generation, who have seen only the outbreak of the Second World War with their own eyes, may perhaps be wondering: Why didn’t we feel the same? Why did the masses not burn with the same enthusiasm in 1939 as in 1914? Why did they simply obey the call to arms with grave determination, silently, fatalistically? Wasn’t it the same as before, was there not even something higher and more sacred at stake in the war now being fought,4 which began as a war of ideas and was not just about borders and colonies?

The answer is simple—they did not feel the same because the world in 1939 was not as childishly naive and gullible as in 1914. At that earlier time people still blindly trusted the authorities governing them; no one in Austria would have ventured to think that, in his eighty-fourth year, the venerated father of his country Emperor Franz Joseph would have called on his people to fight without extreme necessity, or would have asked men to sacrifice their own blood if evil, malicious and criminal adversaries were not threatening the peace of the realm. The Germans, in their turn, had read their Kaiser’s telegrams to the Tsar, in which he strove to keep the peace. Ordinary men still felt a great respect for those in high places, government ministers and diplomats, and were sure of their insight and honesty. If war was upon them, then it could be only have happened against the will of their own statesmen, who could not themselves be to blame in any way; no one in the entire country was to be blamed at all. Consequently the criminals and warmongers must all be on the other side; it was in self-defence that they were taking up arms, self-defence against a villainous and malicious enemy who had attacked the peaceful countries of Germany and Austria for no reason whatsoever. In 1939, on the other hand, this almost religious faith in the honesty or at least the ability of your own government had disappeared throughout the whole of Europe. Nothing but contempt was felt for diplomacy after the public had watched, bitterly, as it wrecked any chance of a lasting peace at Versailles. At heart, no one respected any of the statesmen in 1939, and no one entrusted his fate to them with an easy mind. The nations remembered clearly how shamelessly they had been betrayed with promises of disarmament and the abolition of secret diplomatic deals. The least of French road-workers mocked Daladier; in Britain any faith in Chamberlain’s vision had gone after Munich, when he brought home “peace for our time” from negotiations, and in Italy and Germany the people looked apprehensively at Mussolini and Hitler. Where, they asked themselves, will they drive us now? Of course they could put up no resistance—the fatherland was at stake, so soldiers must bear arms and women must let their children go, although not now, as in the past, believing firmly that the sacrifice was unavoidable. They obeyed, but in no spirit of jubilation. Men went to the front, but not dreaming of becoming heroes; nations and individuals alike felt that they were merely the victims of either ordinary political folly or the power of an incomprehensible and malicious fate.

And what did the people as a whole know about war in 1914, after almost half-a-century of peace? They had no idea what it was like, they had hardly ever thought of it. War was a legend, and its distance in time from them made it seem heroic and romantic. They still saw it as it was shown in school textbooks and the picture galleries in museums—daring attacks by cavalrymen in immaculate uniforms, fatal shots always obligingly fired straight through the heart, the whole campaign an exultant triumphal march. “We’ll be home for Christmas!” cried the recruits in 1914, smiling at their mothers. Who in the whole country still remembered what war was really like? At the outside, a few old men who had fought in 1866 against Prussia, now our ally, and what a swift, bloodless, faraway war that had been, a campaign of three weeks ending before anyone had stopped to draw breath, and without too many casualties! A quick excursion into the realms of romance, a bold and virile adventure—that was how the ordinary man imagined war in 1914, and young people were genuinely afraid they might miss out on this wonderfully exciting event in their lives. That was why they impetuously flocked to join the army; that was why they sang cheerfully in trains taking them to the slaughter. A red wave of blood surged feverishly through the veins of the entire Reich. But the generation of 1939 knew about war. They no longer deceived themselves. They knew that war was barbaric, not romantic. They knew it would last for years and years, a part of their lifespan that they would never get back. They knew that you did not set out adorned with oak leaves and coloured ribbons to attack the enemy; instead, thirsty and infested with lice, you vegetated for weeks on end in trenches and military quarters waiting to be smashed to pieces or mutilated from a distance, without ever having set eyes on your adversary. You knew in advance from the newspapers and cinema newsreels about the new and terrible arts of technological destruction, you knew that huge tanks crushed the wounded in their path and aircraft blew women and children to pieces in their beds, you knew that a world war in 1939, thanks to its soulless mechanisation, would be a thousand times worse, more bestial and inhuman than any earlier war mankind had seen. None of the generation of 1939 believed in a just war with God on their side any longer, and yet worse, they did not even believe in the just and lasting peace that it was supposed to usher in. They still remembered only too clearly all the disappointments the last war had brought—poverty instead of prosperity, bitterness instead of satisfaction, famine, hyperinflation, riots, the loss of civil liberties, enslavement to the state, nerve-racking insecurity and the mutual suspicion of all and sundry.

That was the difference. The war of 1939 had intellectual ideas behind it—it was about freedom and the preservation of moral values, and fighting for ideas makes men hard and determined. In contrast, the war of 1914 was ignorant of the realities; it was still serving a delusion, the dream of a better world, a world that would be just and peaceful. And only delusion, not knowledge, brings happiness. That was why the victims went to the slaughter drunk and rejoicing, crowned with flowers and wearing oak leaves on their helmets, while the streets echoed with cheering and blazed with light, as if it were a festival. …

My position within my circle of friends proved … difficult …. Most of our Austrian writers, who had little European experience and saw life entirely from the German point of view, thought their best course was to reinforce the enthusiasm of the masses, promoting the alleged glories of war with literary calls to arms or scholarly ideologies. Almost all the German writers, headed by Hauptmann and Dehmel, thought it their duty to imitate the bards of ancient Germanic times and inspire the advancing warriors, by singing lays and casting runes, to go willingly to their death. Poems rhyming Krieg—war—with Sieg—victory—and Not—necessity—with Tod—death—came thick and fast. Writers swore to have nothing to do culturally with a Frenchman or an Englishman ever again. Indeed, overnight they took to denying that there had ever been any such thing as British or French culture. It was all slight and worthless, they said, by comparison with German art and the German nature. Scholars were even worse—all of a sudden philosophers could think of nothing better than to call the war an “immersion in steel”, which would have a beneficial effect by keeping the strength of the nations from being sapped. They were joined by the medical doctors, who sang the praises of their new prosthetic limbs so eloquently that you almost felt like having a healthy leg amputated, so as to get it replaced by an artificial limb. The clerics of all religious faiths were not to be outdone and joined the chorus. Sometimes it was like listening to the rantings of a horde of men possessed, yet they were all figures whose reason, creative power and humane attitudes we had admired only a week or a month ago.

But the worst of this madness was that the majority of its proponents were honest men. Most of them were too old to do military service, or physically incapable of it, but felt it was their right and proper duty to make some kind of helpful contribution to the war. They owed what they had done in life to their language and their country, so now they wished to serve the country with its language. They would tell people what they wanted to hear—that right was entirely on one side in this conflict and wrong entirely on the other; Germany would triumph and the enemy be shamefully defeated—with no idea that they were betraying the writer’s true mission of preserving and defending values in common to all humanity. It is true that, once the fumes of that first intoxicating enthusiasm had dispersed, many of them were soon nauseated by the bitter taste of their own words in their mouths. But during those first months, the more wildly you raved the more of a hearing you got, and so writers on both sides shouted and sang in a crazy chorus.

To me, the most typical and distressing case of such well-meant yet pointless ecstasy was embodied in Ernst Lissauer. I knew him well. He wrote succinct, cogent and harsh little poems, yet he was the kindest man imaginable. Even now I remember how I had to tighten my lips to hide a smile when he first visited me. Instinctively, I had pictured the author of those pithy verses, which aimed for the utmost concision, as a lean, bony young poet. But into my room waddled a stout little man, fat as a barrel, with a friendly face above two double chins, bubbling over with enthusiasm and a sense of his own importance as his words tumbled over themselves. He was possessed by poetry; it was impossible to stop him quoting and reciting his own verses over and over again. For all his absurdities, you couldn’t help liking him because he was warm-hearted, honest and a good friend, and had an almost daemonic devotion to his art.

He came from a prosperous German family, had been educated at the Friedrich Wilhelm Grammar School in Berlin, and he was perhaps the most Prussian or Prussian-assimilated Jew I knew. He spoke no living language apart from German, and had never been outside Germany. Germany was the whole world to him, and the more German something was the more enthusiastic he felt about it. His heroes were Yorck, Luther and Stein;5 the German War of Liberation of 1813-1815 was his favourite subject. Bach was his musical idol; he played him very well in spite of his short, stubby, thick and doughy fingers. No one knew more about German poetry; no one was more in love with the German language or more enchanted by it—like many Jews whose families came to German culture only quite late in the day, he believed more fervently in Germany than the most fervent of native Germans.

When the war broke out, therefore, the first thing he did was hurry to the barracks and volunteer. I can imagine the mirth of the recruiting sergeants and their men as his stout form, panting for breath, made its way up the steps. They sent him straight away again. Lissauer was in despair, but now, like other writers, he wanted at least to serve Germany with his pen. As he saw it, everything the German newspapers and military communiqués said was Gospel truth. His country had been attacked, and the worst offender—this was how they had staged the scenario in Wilhelmstrasse6—was Lord Grey, the perfidious British Foreign Minister. Lissauer vented his belief that Britain was chiefly to blame for opposition to Germany and for the war in a Hymn of Hate For England, a poem—I do not now have it before me—which in cutting, succinct verse raised the writer’s abhorrence of that country to an eternal oath never to forgive England for its ‘crime’. Disastrously, it was soon obvious how easy it is to set the forces of hatred working, for here the stout, deluded little Jew Lissauer was anticipating Hitler. His poem had all the effect of a bomb thrown into an ammunition depot. Perhaps no poem made the rounds of Germany as quickly as his notorious Hymn of Hate, not even The Watch on the Rhine.7 The Kaiser was enthusiastic, and gave Lissauer the Order of the Red Eagle; the poem was printed in all the newspapers, schoolteachers read it to their pupils, army officers at the front recited it to their men until everyone knew the litany of hatred by heart. But even that was not enough. The little poem, set to music and arranged for a chorus, was performed in theatres; soon there was not a single one of the seventy million Germans populating the country at the time who did not know the Hymn of Hate For England from the first line to the last, and not long after that so did the whole world—if with rather less enthusiasm. Overnight, Ernst Lissauer had won the most fiery reputation that any poet ever did in that war. Later, it was to burn him like the shirt of Nessus. For no sooner was the war over, businessmen were beginning to trade again and politicians were genuinely making efforts to achieve a rapprochement, than they did all they could to disown a poem calling for eternal hostility to England. And to absolve themselves of any blame, they pilloried poor Lissauer, the ‘England-hater’, as the man solely responsible for the crazy hysteria of hatred that in point of fact was shared by everyone in 1914. All who had praised him then now turned ostentatiously away from him. The papers stopped printing his poems, and when he appeared among his literary colleagues a dismayed silence fell. Finally, deserted by one and all, he was exiled by Hitler from the Germany he loved with every fibre of his heart and died a forgotten man, a tragic victim of that one poem that had raised him so high, only to dash him down to the depths again.

Graham Linehan’s Trans Day of Visibility: It’s Against a Harmful Ideology, Not People

I’m almost two weeks late writing about this, but I think it needs to be covered. On the last day of March, Graham Linehan and his conversationalists on The Mess We’re In channel held their own Trans Day of Visibility. As well as being the writer behind the awesome Father Ted, Linehan is very much a male feminist. He’s become notorious over the past few years for his opposition to the transgender ideology, along with Kellie-Jay Kean, Abigail Shrier, Benjamin Boyce, and the host of another YouTube channel, You’re Kidding, Right?. This last lady presents the arguments against the ideology from the perspective of a Black American woman, which is very enlightening. Especially when she forcefully tells the trans rights activists not to true to compare their ideology to the Civil Rights movement. One of her critics tried to tell her that she was the equivalent of the Klan. Her antecedents came from Georgia when the Klan were powerful and extremely frightening. She made it very, very clear that she was nothing like the Klan. But I digress.

Linehan is joined on his videos with Welsh feminist Helen Staniland and gay Canadian Arty Morty. Morty is, by his own admission, very much a part of the Canadian gay scene and worked as a bar man in a trans bar. Staniland is concerned about the threat to women and girls from biological men being allowed into female spaces on the grounds that they identify as women. Morty is particularly concerned that gender reassignment is being used as a form of conversion therapy to ‘cure’ gender non-conforming children and teens by parents who are afraid that their children will grow up gay. He’s particularly concerned as he was one of these kids. As a boy, he preferred to play with dolls, and he’s afraid that if he was a child today, he would have been put down as transgender and been put on the path to transition.

It was the ‘trans day of visibility’ a few weeks ago, and so Linehan and his friends have as guests in this video their transgender friends and supporters – Debbie Hayton, Miranda Yardlemort, Scott Newgent, and a transman who appears simply as Aaron. These gents and ladies give their perspective on the dangers of trans movement and ideology as transmen and women, and how they came to oppose it.

They did so for a variety of reasons. In the case of Yardlemort, it was through looking at what the gender critical feminists actually wrote for herself, and being horrified at the grotesquely exaggerated response by the trans activists to entirely reasonable points as well as the way opposing feminists were stalked, abused and maltreated. She was also concerned by the way the pro-trans stance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Women actually invalidates those rights and endangers women. She was thrown off Twitter for such crimes as saying that there are only two genders, transwomen shouldn’t be allowed into women’s spaces, and that rape and death threat to women aren’t acceptable. Yardlemort has also suffered her share of bullying from trans activists, as when one tried to take her to court for alleged ‘transphobia’.

Debbie Hayton joined the anti-trans movement because she was afraid that their extreme claims would actually damage the trans movement, and make trans people less accepted. She argues that being gender critical does not mean being anti-trans. She and Helen Staniland looked back to a time when transwomen and women were largely in harmony with each other, although there was occasional conflicts over the inclusion of transwomen in female-only events, such as the Michfest women-only music festival.

They also talk about the vexed issues of pronouns. The attitude of Arty Morty is that, while he doesn’t believe that there should be laws demanding transgender people be referred to be their chosen pronouns, he has no problem doing so for decent people. It’s only the misogynists he refuses to call ‘she’.

Aaron made it very clear that he believes transitioning is beneficial for some people. It worked for him, but he didn’t have a mental illness. This is important, as some of those being diagnosed a transgender may simply be mentally ill or have a neurological condition like autism. He turned against the trans ideology three years ago from concerns about the homophobia. He’s afraid that the excesses of the trans activists, such as the attacks on J.K. Rowling, will eventually lead to a ban on transitions, which will harm those who really need them. He is also afraid, like Linehan, Staniland, Morty and the others, that children and vulnerable adults are being misdiagnosed as trans and consequently mutilated. Debbie Orlander also shares this fear, especially when it comes to children as young as four or five.

Scott Newgent makes the point that part of the problem is medical corporations, who stand to make a profit from these drugs and treatments, telling vulnerable people they have the solution. This is compounded by social media, as Twitter and other sites will not allow the opposing side to be heard. He also makes the point that the trans ideology is supported by genuinely good people, who want to do the right thing, and have been falsely persuaded that the trans issue is the same as gay rights and comparable to the struggle over gay marriage. He believes that there is a positive side to trans activism, but this is a problem as its acceptance leads also to the acceptance of the negative aspects as well. He and the others also take down some of the ridiculously inflated and entirely false claims of the trans activists. Over here in the Blighty, the trans activists wanted a ‘trans day of remembrance’ for all the transgender people, who’ve been murdered. Except the numbers of transgender people who’ve been killed over here is vanishingly small. No transpeople have been killed in Scotland, for example. Newgent makes the same point about similar claims in his part of the US. He attended a talk about trans rights, in which the speaker claimed that trans children in his state of South Dakota were in danger of committing suicide. Except they weren’t. No trans children have committed suicide there.

The peeps do, however, express concerns that these threats and prophecies of suicide may be self-fulling. There is the danger that people, who have been misled into transitioning, may kill themselves when they find that it is not the cure they have been promised. Lesbian girls may be particularly affected by this. One of them talks about how they’re horrified by the the people, who’ve been physically harmed by the treatment – people with osteopathy and shrunken hearts due to puberty blockers and the hormones they’ve been prescribed. There’s also the case of the medical doctor, who contacted Linehan in distress at being officially barred from telling upset trans people that J.K. Rowling does not in fact want to kill them.

The team talk about the toxicity and violence of the trans activists. One of them physically attacked a gender critical feminist, Cathy Brennan, at Speaker’s Corner, a situation made all the worse by the actions of Stonewall, the gay advocacy organisation. They also criticise the left for its handling of the debate. They state that the left is undemocratic, intolerant of free speech and has a problem with racism and misogyny. Stonewall by its actions over a number of issues has provoked a backlash, of which the gender critical movement is only one part.

Hayton is optimistic, believing that more people are turning against the trans movement and being aware how it affects women’s rights and children’s safeguarding, as well as the way it harms transpeople themselves. Fionne, another transwoman, is also optimistic, noting the success of the Keira Bell case. Like Aaron, she believes that medical transition should be an option, but only for adults, not children, who need psychotherapy and a more diverse approach. She believes that transpeople have made a mistake in demanding access to women’s spaces, and should instead have demanded their own, third spaces. Yardlemort actually emailed a number of LGBTQ organisations about the need for gay spaces away from transpeople, but none of them replied.

The team also debate whether Donald Trump was the only person, who would have been able to stop the progress of trans ideology. They feel we need more people like J.K. Rowlings, who stand up to the trans lobby simply out of principle without any benefit to themselves. Newgent states that he has sacrificed his own career for his principles. He states that when it comes to the treatment of children,

I am very much aware that this is a very emotive issue and that many of my readers don’t share my views on this topic. However, I strongly believe that Linehan and his guests here are correct, and that vulnerable people, particularly women and children, are being unnecessarily put on life-changing, harmful medical treatment. And there is a problem with biological men being allowed into female-only spaces, such as prisons. There have been a series of rapes of women prisoners by biological men, who have been placed in women’s prisons because they have identified, or claimed to identify, as women.

I don’t hate transgender people, and definitely don’t wish anyone to come to any harm, much less be killed. But there are genuine dangers here, but unfortunately the climate of liberal opinion and many ‘official’ gay organisations, like Stonewall, mean that the gender critical side is silenced and their arguments not heard.

As you can see from this video, Linehan and his friends very definitely don’t hate transpeople, although they do discuss some extremely dangerous and predatory individuals. And they clearly have friends and supporters in the trans community, who share their concerns.

At the very least, they need to be heard and listened to. The topic should not be the monopoly of intolerant trans activists.

Colonial Ties, Not Oppression, Is the Best Reason for Granting Asylum

This has been irritating me for some time now, and so I’m going to try to get it off my chest. A month or so ago I went to a Virtual meeting, organised by the left wing of the Labour party, on why socialists should be anti-war. It was part of the Arise Festival of ideas, and featured a variety of speakers all concerned with the real possibility that the war-mongering of Tony Blair, George W. Bush and so on would return. They made the point that all the interventions in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere were motivated purely by western geopolitical interests. Western nations and their multinationals had initiated them solely to plunder and dominate these nations and their industries and resources. One of the speakers was the Muslim head of the Stop War Coalition, who stated that many people from ethnic minorities had supported the Labour party because historically Labour had backed independence for their countries of origin. And obviously the Labour party was risking their support by betraying them through supporting these wars. After the failure of these wars – the continued occupation of Afghanistan, the chaos in Iraq and Libya – the calls for further military interventions had died down. But now these wars were being rehabilitated, and there is a real danger that the military-industrial complex will start demanding further invasions and occupations.

I absolutely agree totally with these points. Greg Palast’s book Armed Madhouse shows exactly how the Iraq invasion had absolutely nothing to do with liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, but was all about stealing their oil reserves and state industries. The invasion of Afghanistan has precious little to do with combatting al-Qaeda, and far more to do with the construction of an oil pipeline that would benefit western oil interests at the expense of Russia and its allies. And the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy in Libya was also about the removal of an obstacle to western neo-colonial domination. These wars have brought nothing but chaos and death to these countries. The welfare states of Iraq and Libya have been decimated, and the freedoms women enjoyed to pursue careers outside the home have been severely curtailed our removed. Both of these countries were relatively secular, but have since been plunged into sectarian violence.

Despite this, one of the speakers annoyed me. This was the head of the Black Liberation Association or whatever Black Lives Matter now calls itself. She was a young a woman with quite a thick African accent. It wasn’t quite what she said, but the tone in which she said it. This was one of angry, indignant and entitled demand, rather than calm, persuasive argument. She explained that the Black Liberation Association campaigned for the rights and self-government of all nations in the global south and their freedom from neo-colonial economic restrictions and domination. She attacked the ‘fortress Europe’ ideology intended to keep non-White immigrants out, especially the withdrawal of the Italian naval patrols in the Med. This had resulted in more migrant deaths as unseaworthy boats sank without their crews and passengers being rescued. This is all stuff the left has campaigned against for a long time. I remember learning in ‘A’ Level geography in school that Britain and Europe had erected tariff barriers to prevent their former colonies competing with them in the production of manufactured goods. This meant that the economies of the African nations, for example, were restricted to agriculture and mining. As for the withdrawal of the Italian navy and coastguard, and the consequent deaths of migrants, this was very much an issue a few years ago and I do remember signing internet petitions against it. But there was one argument she made regarding the issue of the granting of asylum that was weak and seriously annoyed me. She stated that we had to accept migrants because we had oppressed them under colonialism.

This actually doesn’t work as an argument for two reasons. I’m not disputing that we did oppress at least some of the indigenous peoples of our former colonies. The colour bar in White Rhodesia was notorious, and Black Africans in other countries, like Malawi, were treated as second class citizens quite apart from the horrific, genocidal atrocities committed against the Mao-Mao rebellion. The first problem with the argument from colonial oppression is that it raises the question why any self-respecting person from the Commonwealth would ever want to come to Britain, if we’re so racist and oppressive.

The other problem is that the British Empire is now, for the most part, a thing of the past. Former colonies across the globe formed nationalist movements and achieved their independence. They were supposed to benefit from the end of British rule. In some cases they have. But to return to Africa, since independence the continent has been dominated by a series of brutal dictators, who massacred and looted their people. There is an appalling level of corruption to the point where the FT said that many of them were kleptocracies, which were only called countries by the courtesy of the west. Western colonialism is responsible for many of the Developing World’s problems, but not all. I’ve heard from a couple of Brits, who have lived and worked in former colonies, that they have been asked by local people why we left. These were older people, but it shows that the end of British rule was not as beneficial as the nationalists claimed, and that some indigenous people continued to believe that things had been better under the Empire. But the culpability of the leaders of many developing nations for their brutal dictatorships and the poverty they helped to inflict on their people wasn’t mentioned by this angry young woman. And that’s a problem, because the counterargument to her is that the British Empire has vanished, and with the handover to indigenous rule British responsibility for these nations’ affairs ended. It is up to these countries to solve their problems, and we should be under no obligation to take in people fleeing oppression in these countries.

For me, a far better approach would be to stress old colonial ties and obligations with these nations. Part of the ideology of colonialism was that Britain held these countries in trust, and that these nations would only remain under British rule until they developed the ability to manage themselves. It was hypocritical, and I think there’s a quote from Lord Lugard, one of the architects of British rule in Africa, about how the British had only a few decades to despoil the country. Nevertheless, it was there, as was Kipling’s metaphor of the ‘White Man’s Burden’, in which Britain was to teach these nations proper self-government and civilisation. It’s patronising, because it assumes the superiority of western civilisation, but nevertheless it is one of paternal responsibility and guidance. And some British politicians and imperialists took this ideology very seriously. I was told by a friend of mine that before Enoch Powell became an avowed and implacable opponent of non-White immigration with his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, he sincerely believed that Britain did have an obligation to its subject peoples. He worked for a number of organisations set up to help non-White immigrants to Britain from her colonies.

It therefore seems to me that supporters of non-White migrants and asylum seekers would be far better arguing that they should be granted asylum because of old colonial ties and kinship in the Commonwealth and continuing paternal obligations, rather than allowed in as some kind of reparation for the oppression of the colonial past.

The first argument offers reconciliation and common links. The other only angry division between oppressed and oppressor.

Macron thinks, Johnson doesn’t

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/04/2021 - 7:22am in

According to the FT – and amazingly to me: President Emmanuel Macron is moving ahead with a plan to close [the] Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA). Macron himself was a previous student of that same ENA, which was started by De Gaulle in 1945. It is in effect a post graduate school for administrators and many... Read more

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