Richard Dawkins Promoting Atheism at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature

This week is the Cheltenham festival of literature. It’s an annual event when novelists, poets, illustrators and increasingly TV and radio personalities descend on the town to talk about and try to sell the books they’ve had published. There can be, and often are, some great speakers discussing their work. I used to go to it regularly in the past, but went off it after a few years. Some of the people turn up, year in, year out, and there are only so many times you can see them without getting tired of it.

Dawkins, Atheism and Philosophical Positivism

One of the regular speakers at the Festival is the zoologist, science writer and atheist polemicist, Richard Dawkins. The author of Climbing Mount Improbable, The River Out Of Eden, The Blind Watchmaker and so on is appearing in Cheltenham to promote his latest book, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide. It sounds like a kind of successor to his earlier anti-religious work, The God Delusion. According to the accompanying pamphlet for the festival, he’s going to be talking to an interviewer about why we should all stop believing in God. There’s no doubt Dawkins deserves his platform at the Festival as much as any other writer. He’s a popular media personality, and writes well. However, his knowledge of philosophy, theology and the history of science, which forms the basis for his attacks on Christianity, is extremely low, and defenders of religion, and even other scientists and historians, who are just interested in defending their particular disciplines from factual mistakes and misinterpretations, have shot great holes in them.

Dawkins is, simply put, a kind of naive Positivist. Positivism was the 19th century philosophy, founded by Auguste Comte, that society moved through a series of three stages in its development. The first stage was the theological, when the dominant ideology was religion. Then came the philosophical stage, before the process ended with science. Religion was a thing of the past, and science would take over its role of explaining the universe and guiding human thought and society. Comte dreamed of the emergence of a ‘religion of humanity’, with its own priesthood and rituals, which would use sociology to lead humanity. Dawkins doesn’t quite go that far, but he does believe that religion and science – and specifically Darwinism – are in conflict, and that the former should give way to the latter. And he’s not alone. I heard that a few years ago, Alice Robert, the forensic archaeologist and science presenter, gave a speech on the same subject at the Cheltenham Festival of Science when she was its guest director, or curator, or whatever they term it. A friend of mine was less than impressed with her talk and the lack of understanding she had of religion. He tweeted ‘This is a girl who thinks she is intelligent.’

War of Science and Religion a Myth

No, or very few historians of science, actually believe that there’s a war between the two. There have been periods of tension, but the idea of a war comes from three 19th century writers. And it’s based on and cites a number of myths. One of these is the idea that the Church was uniformly hostile to science, and prevented any kind of scientific research and development until the Renaissance and the rediscovery of ancient Roman and Greek texts. It’s a myth I learnt at school, and it’s still told as fact in many popular textbooks. But other historians have pointed out that the Middle Ages was also a period of scientific investigation and development, particularly following the influence of medieval Islamic science and the ancient Greek and Roman texts they had preserved, translated, commented on and improved. Whole books have been written about medieval science, such as Jean Gimpel’s The Medieval Machine, and James Hannam’s God’s Philosophers. Hannam is a physicist, who did a doctorate in examining the development of medieval science, showing that, far from retarding or suppressing it, medieval churchmen were intensely interested in it and were active in its research. Medieval science was based very much on Aristotle, but they were well aware of some of the flaws in his natural philosophy, and attempted to modify it in order to make it conform to observed reality. The Humanists of the Renaissance, rather than bringing in freedom of thought and scientific innovation, were actually a threat. They wanted to strip philosophy and literature of its medieval modifications to make it correspond exactly with the ancients’ original views. Which would have meant actually destroying the considerable advances which had been made. Rather than believe that renaissance science was a complete replacement of medieval science, scholars like Hannam show that it was solidly based on the work of their medieval predecessors.

Christian Theology and the Scientific Revolution

The scientific revolution of the 17th century in England also has roots in Christian philosophy and theology. Historians now argue that the Royal Society was the work of Anglican Broadchurchmen, who believed that God had created a rational universe amenable to human reason, and who sought to end the conflict between the different Christian sects through uniting them in the common investigation of God’s creation. See, for example, R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press 1972).

Christian Monotheism and the Unity of Physical Law

It is also Christian monotheist theology that provides one of the fundamental assumptions behind science. Modern science is founded on the belief that the laws of nature amount to a single, non-contradictory whole. That’s the idea behind the ‘theory of everything’, or Grand Unified Theory everyone was talking about back in the 1990s. But this idea goes back to St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Aquinas said that we must believe that the laws of nature are one, because God is one.  It’s the assumption, founded on Christian theology, the makes science possible.

Atheist Reductionism also a Danger

When The God Delusion Came Out, it was met by a series of books attacking its errors, some of them with titles like The Dawkins Delusion. The philosopher Mary Midgley has also attacked the idea that science can act as a replacement for religion in her books Evolution as a Religion and The Myths We Live By. On page 58 of the latter she attacks the immense damage to humanity atheist reductionism also poses. She writes

Both reductive materialism and reductive idealism have converged to suggest that reductivism is primarily a moral campaign against Christianity. This is a dangerous mistake. Obsession with the churches has distracted attention from reduction employed against notions of human individuality, which is now a much more serious threat. It has also made moral problems look far simplar than they actually are. Indeed, some hopeful humanist reducers still tend to imply that, once Christian structures are cleared away, life in general will be quite all right and philosophy will present no further problems.

In their own times, these anti-clerical reductive campaigns have often been useful. But circumstances change. New menaces, worse than the one that obsesses us, are always appearing, so that what looked like a universal cure for vice and folly becomes simply irrelevant. In politics, twentieth-century atheistical states are not an encouraging omen for the simple secularistic approach to reform. it turns out that the evils that have infested religion are not confined to it, but are ones that can accompany any successful human institution. Nor is it even clear that religion itself is something that the human race either can or should be cured of.

Darwin Uninterested in Atheist Campaigning

Later in the book she describes how the Marxist Edward Aveling was disappointed when he tried to get Darwin to join him in a campaign to get the atheist, Bradlaugh, to take his seat as a duly elected MP. At the time, atheists were barred from public office by law. Aveling was impressed by Darwin’s work on evolution, which he believed supported atheism. Darwin was an agnostic, and later in life lost belief in God completely due to the trauma of losing a daughter and the problem of suffering in nature. But Darwin simply wasn’t interested in joining Aveling’s campaign. When Aveling asked him what he was now studying, hoping to hear about another earth-shaking discovery that would disprove religion, Darwin simply replied ‘Earthworms’. The great biologist was fascinated by them. It surprised and shocked Aveling, who hadn’t grasped that Darwin was simply interested in studying creatures for their own sake.

Evolutionists on Evolution Not Necessarily Supporting Atheism

Other evolutionary biologists also concluded that evolution has nothing to say about God, one way or another. Stephen Jay Gould stated that he believed that Darwinism only hinted at atheism, not that it proved it. Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who published his own theory of evolution in Zoonomia in 1801, believed on the other hand that the development of creatures from more primitive forebears made the existence of God ‘mathematically certain’.

Frank H.T. Rhodes of the University of Michigan wrote in his book Evolution (New York: Golden Press 1974) on its implications the following, denying that it had any for religion, politics or economics.

Evolution, like any other natural process or scientific theory, is theologically neutral. it describes mechanisms, but not meaning. it is based upon the recognition of order but incorporates no conclusion concerning the origin of that order as either purposeful or purposeless.

Although evolution involves the interpretation of natural events by natural processes, it neither assumes nor provides particular conclusions concerning the ultimate sources or the significance of materials, events or processes.

Evolution provides no obvious conclusions concerning political or economic systems. Evolution no more supports evolutionary politics (whatever they might be) than does the Second Law of Thermodynamics support political disorder or economic chaos. 

(Page 152).


I realise that the book’s nearly 50 years old, and that since that time some scientists have worked extremely hard to show the opposite – that evolution support atheism. But I’ve no doubt other scientists, people most of us have never heard of, believe the opposite. Way back in 1909 or so there was a poll of scientists to show their religious beliefs. The numbers of atheists and people of faith was roughly equal, and 11 per cent of the scientists polled said that they were extremely religious. When the poll was repeated in the 1990s, the pollsters were surprised to find that the proportion of scientists who were still extremely religious had not changed.

Despite what Dawkins tells you, atheism is not necessarily supported by science, and does not disprove it. Other views of the universe, its origin and meaning are available and still valid.

The Fascist, Anti-Semitic, Islamophobic Thuggery of the Community Service Trust

Early today I put up a piece reporting and commenting on two articles on the thuggish attempt by the Israel lobby to shut down the launch of a book, Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief by Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg, Antony Lerman and David Miller, published by Pluto Press. The authors are respectable mainstream academics specialising in the media, Jewish-Gentile relations, anti-Semitism and political sociology at the universities of Glasgow, Cardiff, London, Harvard, Southampton, and Bristol. The book promises to reveal how the allegations of anti-Semitism have been used to misrepresent the Labour party in the press and by the BBC. This was too much for the Israel lobby, which cannot stand to have their smears against decent, genuinely anti-racist men and women, including self-respecting Jews, challenged. Like all witch-hunters, they do not feel that their victims should ever be allowed to defend themselves. And so they tried to have the launch closed down. They succeeded at Waterstones, which pulled the event due to threats and intimidation. It was moved to the Rialto, which stood up to them, despite suffering the same threats. This attack was supported by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Sussex Jewish Representative Council, and a score of foul individuals, whom Mike names in his article. Please read it, and another about this disgraceful affair by Tony Greenstein. They’re at

Bullying bigots tried to stop book launch. When will they be arrested?

This is not the first time pro-Israel organisations have used threats and abuse to attempt to close down opposition voices. Tony Greenstein has posted about a number of occasions where the local pro-Israel group has turned up to throw its weight around against those demonstrating or handing out leaflets against the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. However, Zionist organisations have also not restrained themselves to threats. On Wednesday, 6th March of this year, 2019, Tony put up a piece about the Community Service Trust. This is a charity, supposedly set up to defend Jews, their synagogues and burial grounds, from attacks by racists. However, the Trust receives training and support from both the Metropolitan police and the Israelis. It has been used to steward pro-Israel rallies, whose speakers and organisers have included the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the-then Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. As Tony describes below, the Trust has used its position at these rallies to assault and physically remove protesters, including Israel-critical Jews and women. The section where Tony describes the paramilitary activities of the CST runs

The CST is essentially, on one level, a private security contractor called upon to provide security at all pro-Israel activities from demos, conferences, fund-raisers, and to protecting the odd visiting Israeli war criminal. It has three offices and employees 69 people with an additional 3,000 trained CST troops (‘volunteers’) on call. Apparently the CST ‘mainly consists of ex-Israeli security personnel’. The CST also give combat training (self-defence) to 12,000 Jewish youth a year(2008).

The CST has a special relationship with the Metropolitan police, it receives its training from them and is granted special privileges during the policing of demos, etc. Whilst stewards and legal observers from the pro-Palestine side of a demo are not allowed to cross the police lines to approach Zionist side, the CST which stewards the Zionist side are free to cross the police line and approach the pro-Palestinian side to intimidate, take photos, etc.

The CST has a particularly brutish reputation, especially in dealing with anti-Israel protesters at pro-Israel events. Their special relationship with the MET means they have not been brought to book for their thuggery.

In January 2009, during the Israeli slaughter of children in Gaza, the Board of Deputies of British Jews who claim to be “the voice of British Jewry” – in reality the voice of Israel in the UK, held a rally in Trafalgar Square in support of Israel, essentially a celebration of genocide. The CST provided the security for the event. One brave young Jewish man, Dovid Von Neumann, interrupted the Chief Rabbi Sacks pro-Israel rant with a Jewish children’s song, highlighting how Israel has perverted a line from a Jewish children’s poem about a spinning top which were traditionally cast in lead to name their military operation “Cast Lead” which murders Palestinian children. He was pushed into the frozen fountain and stoned him with lumps of ice, then the CST thugs smashed his megaphone and dragged him out of the fountain throwing him on to the pavement. The police did nothing to arrest his assailants – the CST, instead they incredulously detained the victim for several hours before they were forced to release him without charge.

In December 2009 when the CST was providing security to a JNF conference, the Israeli ambassadors speech was interrupted by two protesters. The Jewish Chronicle reported the protesters were “punched and kicked” and dragged out of the conference, again the assailants went scot-free.

On February 9th 2010 the CST provided the security for the “Israel: Blue White and Green” seminar at the Institute of Education (IoE). The seminar attempted to ‘greenwash’ the occupation, its key note speaker David Bellamy didn’t turn up after receiving many letters urging him to boycott the ‘greenwash’. During the questions session a Jewish member of the audience asked a critical question about Israel’s role in depleting Palestinian water resources, he was prevented from finishing the question and was “carried out bodily by members of the CST and denied re-entry”. When another member of the audience, a woman this time, wished to put a question on Israels denial of water to Palestinians as outlined in the Amnesty 2009 report she was “physically dragged out of the meeting by members of the CST. “I was frog-marched up the stairs”, she said afterwards. She later telephoned the Institute of Education to complain about the treatment she and her fellow activist had received, and received an apology. “From the reports the IoE have received from their own staff, they seem to feel that the level of restraint used by the CST was inappropriate for the situation”, she said. The two ejected activists are considering taking legal advice.”

It seems after every massacre the Zionists hold a celebration, like the celebration after Gaza in 2009, in 2002 after Jenin the Israel Solidarity Committee organised a celebration ‘Stand Up For Israel’. Funded by the United Jewish Israel Appeal(UJIA), the celebration was held in Trafalgar Square with the CST in charge of security. It was a particularly ugly event with an elderly anti-Zionist Rabbi in the counter-demo being punched in the face whilst police officers two metres away stood by and did nothing. After the rally Zionist gangs roved the streets attacking Muslims with impunity, easy visible targets being women with hijab – several were attacked. Even the Saudi ambassadors son was attacked by a Zionist mob. Both the MET and the CST were castigated for their roles.

The IHRC report on the ‘partisan’ policing of the rally with eyewitness statements is particularly damming. It reveals that whilst the police prevented Muslims from approaching the Zionist rally and even helped the CST eject any Muslims found in Trafalgar Square, they at the same time allowed free movement for the CST and other Zionists to approach, even walk through the counter demo draped in Israeli flags, and ultimately attack its speaker, Rabbi Grohman, whilst he was addressing the counter-demo. The thug was simply allowed to walk through two police lines unchallenged to carry out his assault.

The Jewish Chronicle reports that the Muslim Lawyers Committee complaints against the police included charges against the CST, one, the police’s ‘failure to prevent assaults against Muslims by CST officials’ and two, ‘the intimidation of Muslim women by CST officials’. The latter may be a reference to an incident where some Muslim women in hijab were enjoying a friendly conversation with some Arab Jews from Iraq in Trafalgar Square when suddenly they were surrounded by ‘blue caps’ – CSTs, who forcefully separated the Muslims from the Jews and with police help removed the Muslims from the Square despite protests from the Iraqi Jews.

There is also an account of how, at a rally celebrating Israel’s 60th anniversary in 2008, the CST attempted to block a cameraman from photographing the event, and tried to manipulate the situation so they could have the police remove him. See

From the above accounts, it’s clear that threats and violence by the Israel lobby against those who oppose them, and especially against Jews and Muslims, are not accidental but  usual, standard tactics. And the police turn a blind eye to their antics and even assist them. This includes assaults on women, the elderly, and rabbis – people, who have dedicated their lives to guiding their congregations in the way of the Torah and the Talmud. It is also glaringly obvious that in no sense can the Board of Deputies and CST be seen as serving the British Jewish community as a whole. Not when they attack and beat ordinary Jews like Dovid von Neumann and rabbis like Rabbi Grohman. These organisations are an absolute disgrace, and they should be investigated for their thuggery, racism, and vicious islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

The Board of Deputies, Sussex Jewish Representatives Council and the others, who supported the thuggery, bullying and threats yesterday need to be investigated, and the offenders arrested and punished. Bullying racists and bigots cannot be allowed to escape the law, even when they spuriously claim to be the victims of prejudice. It doesn’t wash when the NF claim they are only defending Whites from anti-White racism. It shouldn’t wash when the above Zionist organisation equally speciously claim they are protecting Jews.

My Review of Russian UFO Conspiracy Book Now Up At Magonia Blog

My review of Nick Redfern’s Flying Saucers from the Kremlin (Lisa Hagen Books 2019) is now up at Magonia Review of Books. Magonia was a small press UFO magazine, which ran from the 1980s to the early part of this century. It took the psycho-social view of the UFO phenomenon. This is a sceptical view which sees the UFO phenomenon as an internal experience generated by poorly understood psychological mechanism, whose imagery was drawn from folklore and Science Fiction. It took the name ‘Magonia’ from Jacques Vallee’s groundbreaking UFO book, Passport to Magonia. Vallee, a French-American astronomer and computer scientist, along with the American journalist and writer on the weird and Fortean, John Keel, took the view that UFOs weren’t real, mechanical spacecraft piloted by beings from other worlds, but were created by the same paranormal phenomenon behind encounters with fairies and other paranormal entities. The name ‘Magonia’ itself comes from a statement by a sceptical 7th-8th century Frankish bishop, that the peasants believed that storms were caused by men in flying ships, who came from a country called Magonia.

The magazine didn’t just discuss UFOs. It also covered other paranormal phenomena and subjects, such as witchcraft. It provided a very necessary sceptical corrective to the Satanism scare of the ’80s and ’90s. This was a moral panic generated by conspiracy theories, largely from the Christian right but also from some feminists, that Satanic groups were sexually abusing and ritually sacrificing children. The Fontaine Report, published by the British government over 20 years ago now, concluded that there was no organised Satanic conspiracy. This effectively ended a real witch-hunt, which had seen innocent men and women accused of terrible crimes through warped, uncorroborated testimony. It needs to be said, however, that sociologists, social workers and law enforcement authorities do recognise that there are evil or disturbed individuals responsible for horrific crimes, including the molestation of children, who are or consider themselves Satanists. But the idea of a multigenerational Satanic conspiracy is absolutely false. See Jeffrey S. Victor’s excellent Satanic Panic.

Nick Redfern is a British paranormal investigator now resident in Texas. In this book, subtitled ‘UFOs, Russian Meddling, Soviet Spies & Cold War Secrets’, he proposes that while the UFO phenomenon is real, the terrible Russkies have been manipulating it to destabilise America and her allies. This comes from the Russians attempting to interfere in the American presidential elections a few years ago. In fact, the book doesn’t actually show that the Russians have. Rather it shows that the FBI, Airforce Intelligence and CIA believed they were. Prominent figures in the UFO milieu were suspected of Russian sympathies, and investigated and question. George Adamski, the old fraud who claimed he’d met space people from Venus and Mars, was investigated because he was recorded making pro-Soviet statements. Apparently he believed that the space people were so much more advanced than us that they were Communists, and that in a coming conflict Russia would defeat the West. Over here, the founder and leader of the Aetherius Society, George King, who also channeled messages from benevolent space people on Venus and Mars, was also investigation by special branch. This is because one of the messages from Aetherius called on Britain to respond to peace overtures from the Russians. This was seized on by the Empire News, which, as its name suggests, was a right-wing British rag, that denounced King for having subversive, pro-Commie ideas and reported him to the rozzers. King willingly cooperated with the cops, and pointed out that his was a religious and occult, not political organisation. But he and his followers were still kept under surveillance because they, like many concerned people, joined the CND marches.

It’s at this point that Redfern repeats the Sunset Times slur about the late Labour leader, Michael Foot. Foot also joined these marches, and the former Soviet spy chief, Oleg Gordievsky, had declared that Foot was a KGB spy with the codename ‘Comrade Boot’. It’s malign rubbish. Redfern notes that Foot sued the Sunset Times for libel and won. But he prefers to believe Gordievsky, because Gordievsky was right about everything else. So say. Actually, Gordievsky himself was a self-confessed liar, and there’s absolutely no corroborating evidence at all. And rather than being pro-Soviet, Foot was so critical of the lack of freedom of conscience in the USSR that he alarmed many of his Labour colleagues, who were afraid he would harm diplomatic relations. The accusation just looks like more Tory/ IRD black propaganda against Labour.

Other people in the UFO milieu also had their collar felt. One investigator, who told the authorities that he had met a group of four men, who were very determined that he should give his talks a pro-Russian, pro-Communist slant, was interrogated by a strange in a bar on his own patriotism. The man claimed to be a fellow investigator with important information, and persuaded him to take a pill that left his drugged and disorientated. Redfern connects this the MK Ultra mind control projects under CIA direction at the time, which also used LSD and other drugs.

But if Redfern doesn’t quite show that the Russians are manipulating the phenomena through fake testimony and hoax encounters, he presents a very strong case that the Americans were doing so. During the Second World War, Neville Maskelyn, a British stage magician, worked with the armed forces on creating illusions to deceive the Axis forces. One of these was a tall, walking automaton to impersonate the Devil, which was used to terrify the Fascists in Sicily. Redfern notes the similarity between this robot, and the Flatwoods monster that later appeared in America. The Project Serpo documents, which supposedly show how a group of American squaddies had gone back to the Alien homeworld, were cooked up by one of the classic SF writers, who was also a CIA agent. And the scientist Paul Bennewitz was deliberately given fake testimony and disinformation about captured aliens and crashed saucers by members of the agency, which eventually sent the poor bloke mad. He was targeted because he was convinced the saucers and the aliens were kept on a nearby airforce base. The American military was worried that, although he wouldn’t find any evidence of aliens, he might dig up military secrets which would be useful to the Russians. And so they set about destroying him by telling him fake stories, which he wanted to hear. And obviously, there’s more.

It’s extremely interesting reading, but Redfern does follow the conventional attitude to Russian. The country was a threat under Communism, and is now, despite the fact that Communism has fallen. He is silent about the plentiful evidence for American destabilisation of foreign regimes right around the world during the Cold War. This included interference in elections and outright coups. The most notorious of these in South America were the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile by General Pinochet, and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. He also doesn’t mention recent allegations, backed up with very strong evidence, that the US under Hillary Clinton manufactured the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in 2012 to overthrow the ruling pro-Russian president and install another, who favoured America and the West.

If you want to read my review, it’s at



On Philosophy Being Political

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/09/2019 - 8:45pm in

The elimination of conscious fraud is seldom mentioned in formal discussions of the reasons for repetition in science. The quasi-mythological view that scientists are uniformly of higher moral standards than ordinary mortals is maintained, and subconscious bias is usually depended upon to explain the importance of independent repetition. To repeat, scientists are not much better than other men, and there certainly are at least a few among them who would fake experiments if there was something to be gained therefrom. The induced researcher has something to gain if he can get away with such a fraud. His income depends largely on the reputation he can develop, and this, in turn, depends on his “discoveries.” It is obviously easier to produce an important and exciting article if one simply invents the facts reported than if one is confined to reality. This being so, the prevention of fraud depends on a detection apparatus. Part of the detection apparatus involves repetition (Tullock The organization of inquiry [1966] 2005: 124).

Tullock considers economics, as we have seen, to be a discipline in which the possibility of concealment is greater than in what he calls science. Now, we consider what differential auditing possibilities do to Polanyi’s argument that scientific opinion is uniform. Long before Polanyi the uniformity of opinion had been viewed as a necessary condition for scientific status....

[In his 1962 “Republic of Science”] Polanyi asked what scientists believe and proposed that everyone believes the same thing. How could this be? With the division of labor, scientists in one specialization have no competence in another so why the unanimity? Polanyi appealed to an overlapping neighborhood of competence by which all problems in science is connected....All Polanyi needs is transparency.
Characterizing Polanyi’s argument as a special case of Longfield’s argument shows that we can use one principle to analyze the intra-community connections. This will be enormously helpful because the machinery which has been set in motion for one community can be applied to the other. Thus, [Adam] Smith himself discussed how monopolies form and create inequality within the labor market. A group keeping others out can enrich themselves. If we can move the argument across communities, what does monopolization look like among experts? We are using “experts” because following Tullock, we do not know whether they are “scientists” until we know something about the institutional structure in which they function.
Tullock, when he rehearses Polanyi’s argument, silently provides the missing step and thus fails to impress his delightful cleverness on the reader. To make the overlapping competence argument work, there must be data audits, results must be checked. He says this over and over again. This distinguishes economics and science. As Tullock writes, economics allows concealment. Therefore economics allows factions and it doesn’t have the Polanyi efficiency properties. Sandra J. Peart & David M. Levy (2012) "Tullock on motivated inquiry: expert-induced uncertainty disguised as risk," Public Choice, 171-3

The quoted paragraphs is from a paper, even research program, methodological analytic egalitarianism, that (as regular readers know) has long influenced me. I was inspired to go back to it by Liam Kofi Bright's recent, interesting argument that "all philosophy is political is a trivial consequence of the more interesting fact that all inquiry is...united." [HT Dailynous] Drawing on Neurath, Bright argues this unity is a regulative or normative ideal, "it is an achievement to be won, not a fact to be granted." Neurath's argument is also a bit self-interested because within the division of scientific labor, it gives philosophers, a new kind of philosopher, a special role, of (linguistic/conceptual) orchestration. (See here; I link to this piece because Neurath is especially clear about the anti-totalitarian political significance of the program.) Uncharacterstically, Bright does not quite mention this, but the general gist is clear from his presentation:

The unity of science consists in the fact that we may potentially bring the results, methods, and fruits of inquiry in one field to bear on all others, providing we take the time to formulate our claims in a way that can be mutually understood, and are sufficiently clear in stating logical or evidential relations. The unity of science is thus a kind of consequence of the attitude of seeking to be clear and assist one another.*

If it is remembered that 'We' here is 'we [new] philosophers' Bright's position is echt Neurathian. If the 'we' here is all of of us engaged in science, Bright has subtly added a set of virtues some epistemic some social to the practice of all science. Notice, and Bright is very good on this, that even if one rejects some such normative unity program, the attitude is useful because "we cannot ever rule out the potential relevance of any one field of inquiry to another." Bright gives some cute historical examples. I would just add that anybody who is engaged in debates in contemporary climate science will be struck how many different,and different kinds of sciences are brought to bear on each other all the time. So far so good.

Now, here's my observation, if we think of different sciences also as reflecting different interests, then we should not automatically assume that when two sciences are brought in communication/trade with each other they will automatically agree. As Max Weber pointed out, pluralism is a consequence of the division of labor and differentiated interests. It is, thus, to be expected that when two sciences or sub-fields within a discipline/science are made to communicate some disagreement is to be expected. (Obviously, it does not follow there will always be disagreement or even most of the time.) The claim in this paragraph is strengthened, perhaps a trivial consequence, of the idea that not all sciences rely solely on epistemic commitments (see Heather Douglas' now classic book). 

Of course, if we think of the ways in which sciences are brought to bear on each other, it is quite possible to come to agreement either by creating a third new science (which may well has its task of figuring out the discrepancies between the two sciences) or by transformation of one of the sciences (in dialogue with each other). [If you think not all disciplines are science, then follow Peart/Levy and substitute expert-disciplines where necessary!] This sounds abstract, but actually happens quite a bit in the history of science. 

I put the Tullock in, in part, to show that Tullock anticipates the debates over the replication crisis (in some bits of the academy) by several decades. And that is I want to strengthen Bright's argument (in his spirit, see here) by suggesting that even if one is doubtful of the desirability or feasibility of general unity of science that he (and I, with slightly different sensibility) embraces, there are additional reasons to embrace the idea of leaving room to keeping open, '"the potential relevance of any one field of inquiry to another." It reduces the incentives and possibilities for fraud and rents for members of autonomous disciplines. As we have seen, that is not just a hypothetical possibility.

But, and here I close, the idea of intellectual even disciplinary autonomy is very much part of the DNA of philosophy, perhaps uniquely so (with exception of 'pure' math) [recall this old post on Williamson]. To be an intellectual self-legislator, to have autonomous/foundational or self-sufficient reason, is an ideal that is a permanent temptation for philosophers (in ways not so for other disciplines within the division of intellectual labor)--go read Descartes, or even Kant. I think it is some such ideal that makes some philosophers also uneasy about the very idea of (what I call) a philosophical politics within philosophy or in its relationships with other disciplines. The Neurathian offers orchestration (and its modern successors) as a consolation prize to them (if orchestration seems like the wrong way to go, then see the program of synthetic philosophy!)

Of course, the would be autonomous philosopher can refuse to allow his philosophy to be scrutinized by outsiders. (Just as not all offers to trade are accepted.) The risk of such hermeticisms, of thinking philosophy pure and untainted by politics, is, in fact, to make philosophy a hiding place for charlatans and cultists.  It is amusing to see my own ilk, analytic philosophers embracing that risk.



Does talent matter?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/08/2019 - 11:56pm in

I’ve recently been in Germany which, to a greater extent than many other countries (such as my own), is a functioning and prosperous liberal democracy. It wasn’t always thus, as every participant in internet debate know very well. By the end of the Second World War, Germany had suffered the destruction of its cities and infrastructure, the loss of a large amount of its territory, and the death or maiming of a good part of its population and particularly of the young and active ones. Yet, though not without some external assistance, it was able to recover and outstrip its former adversaries within a very few decades.

Thinking about this made me reflect a little on whether people, in the sense of talented individuals, matter all that much. That they do is presupposed by the recruitment policies of firms and other institutions and by immigration policies that aim to recruit the “best and brightest”. Societies are lectured on how important it is not to miss out in the competition for “global talent”. Yet the experience of societies that have experienced great losses through war and other catastrophes suggests that provided the institutions and structures are right, when the “talented” are lost they will be quickly replaced by others who step into their shoes and do a much better job that might have previously been expected of those individuals.

I imagine some empirical and comparative work has been done by someone on all this, but it seems to me that getting the right people is much less important that having the institutions that will get the best out of whatever people happen to be around. I suppose a caveat is necessary: some jobs need people with particular training (doctoring or nursing, for example) and if we shoot all the doctors there won’t yet be people ready to take up the opportunities created by their vacancy. But given time, the talent of particular individuals may not be all that important to how well societies or companies do. Perhaps we don’t need to pay so much, then, to retain or attract the “talented”: there’s always someone else.

‘I’ Newspaper: Aristocracy Have Doubled Their Wealth in Past Decade

The cover story on Saturday’s I for 20th July 2019 was a report that Britain’s landed gentry had doubled their wealth in a decade. Beneath the headline declaring that very fact were the lines

  • Dramatic surge in fortunes of British nobility since the 2008 financial crash, I learns
  • 600 aristcratic families now as wealthy as they were at the height of the British Empire.

The story on page 12 of the paper by Cahal Milmo was based on the research of two academics, Dr Matthew Bond and Dr Julien Morton, lecturers, sociology lecturers at the London South Bank University, who had examined probates, or settled wills, of 1,706 members of the aristocracy going back to 1858. However, the article made the point that these wills only represented part of the aristocracy’s immense wealth, and their real fortunes is likely to be much higher because their lands, property, art collections and business investments are very frequently held in separate trusts which cannot be examined.

The article stated that

A hereditary title is now worth an average of more than £16m – nearly twice the value it stood at proior to the 2008 financial crisis, I can reveal. their fortunes contrast starkly with the decade experienced by the vast majority of Britons, whose inflation-adjusted wages remain stuck at 2005 levels.l Since the Thatcher era, the value of a hereditary title has also increased four-fold.

The academics’ research also

shows that the minimum value of one of these (aristocratic) titles now stands on average at £16.1m. The same figure, adjusted to reflect current purchasing power, stood at £4.2m between 1978 and 1987.

The four-fold increase suggests the aristocracy has prospered spectacularly under the era of financial deregulation and economic liberalisation ushered in by Margaret Thatcher when she came to power in 1979.

The I also stated

The figures represent a sharp recovery in the fortunes of the nobility, which went into a decline during the Second World War and the post-war consensus, which brought in more progressive taxation and the welfare state. From a pre-war high of £23m, average fortunes fell to £4.9m by the 1980s.

The data suggests that Britain’s wealthiest aristocrats have more than weathered the economic problems caused by the 2008 financial crisis, apparently using existing assets to take advantage of low interest rates to buy up stocks and shares and other investments which have rocketed in value. In the decade to 2007, the average wealth of the nobility stood at £8.9m – suggesting it has nearly doubled in the decade since. (pp. 12-13).

The article also looked at the educational background of the ten richest toffs. And what a surprise! They nearly all went to Eton and Harrow, before going on to Oxbridge.

Of the ten largest probates between 2008 and 2018, seven of the deceased attended Eton or Harrow, with the remaining three also attending major public schools. Six of the 10 went to either Oxford or Cambridge universities. (p. 13).

The newspaper also asked the Labour MP, Chris Bryant for his views about this. Bryant was the author of A Critical History of the British Aristocracy, published two years ago in 2017. He responded

“For more than a century the landed aristocracy have been moaning about their terrible impoverishment. Ostentatiously sitting in dilapidated drawing rooms with buckets and pails catching drips from the beautiful but bowed stucco ceiling, they have extended the begging bowl.

“Yet the last century has seen many do remarkably well. The end result is that eh great old landed, crested and hallmarked families of the UK are still in possession of most of the land and a large part of the wealth of the nation.” (p. 13).

The I was at pains to state that the study itself takes no view on the social role of the aristocracy, whose fans argue that it plays a valuable role supporting rural communities through fishing and farming. It quoted Morton as saying

“It may well be that having a rich and vital aristocracy is good for the country. We are interested in understanding this group as objectively as possible.”

Well, that might be the case, but they’ve also been severely bad for the rest of us. The I doesn’t mention it, but one of the ways the aristocracy has almost certainly increased their wealth is through the massive tax cuts the Tories have given high earners. They’ve been enriched through the Thatcherite doctrine that taxes and government spending have to be cut, the welfare state destroyed and everything, including the NHS privatised, in order to benefit the upper classes. Their wealth will then magically trickle down to the rest of us, as they open new businesses, pay higher wages and so forth. Except they don’t. They simply take the money and put it in their bank accounts, where it stays. And far from opening new businesses, business proprietors simply carry on as before, laying off staff in order to enrich themselves and their shareholders. The Young Turks and a number of other left-wing American internet news shows, like the Jimmy Dore Show, have put up videos about various companies that have made thousands unemployed after they were given tax cuts by Trump.

As for the British aristocracy, way back in 1988 Private Eye published a very critical review, ‘Nob Value’, of Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd’s The Field Book of Country Houses and their Owners: Family Seats of the British Isles, as well as the-then emerging ‘heritage’ sector. Massingberd, who wrote a ‘heritage’ column in the Torygraph, was a massive fan of the aristocracy to which he belonged, and, of course, Maggie Thatcher. In this book he loudly praised her policies, and looked forward to a ‘social restoration’ that would see the blue-bloods return to power. The Eye wrote

The ‘heritage’ mania has softened us up for a return to inherited wealth. Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd may be a richly Wodehousian figure, but his book, lauding the privately owned, is symptomatic. It is the correlative to Peregrine Worsthorne’s recent articles about the desirability of large inheritances and the return of a rentier class: the desirability in short of ‘a social restoration’. Come the day, of course, Massivesnob knows where he will be – in his seat again. But the fans of his snufflings seem curiously unaware of where that leaves them: which is sat upon. 

In Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994), 320-2 (322).

Quite. It’s as true now as it was then, after Downton Abbey on the Beeb and now with the Tory party dominated by two toffs, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, coming after another Eton educated aristo, David Cameron, all of whom very much represent the interests of their class against the poor.

The only chance for the rest of us to shake them off, and go back to having a society where ordinary people have a decent standard of living, can enjoy good wages, proper welfare support and a truly national, and nationalised health service, is by voting for Corbyn.

Call for Papers: From Economic Rationalism to Global Neoliberalism?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/05/2016 - 3:49pm in

From Economic Rationalism to Global Neoliberalism?

A Workshop for Early-Career and Postgraduate Researchers

RMIT, Melbourne, Fri 2nd December, 2016

Hosted by The Australian Sociological Association’s (TASA) Sociology of Economic Life thematic group and Centre for Applied Social Research, RMIT


Pusey bookThis year marks the 25th anniversary of Michael Pusey’s seminal text of economic sociology, Economic Rationalism in Canberra. Pusey’s book helped instigate a national conversation and publicised the concept of ‘economic rationalism’. It was ranked by TASA as one of the 10 most influential books in four decades of Australian sociology and described by The Age as a ‘celebrated analysis of how economic rationalism came to dominate policy making in Canberra’.

Today, the idea of ‘neoliberalism’ has entered into widespread use in the academy, society and social movements, evoking many of the free market, anti-statist notions critiqued in Pusey’s work. Despite short-lived claims that the 2008 global recession would bury neoliberalism, the politics of free markets and austerity seems as dominant as ever, in Australia and globally. Moreover, scholarship and debate about neoliberalism has exploded in the last quarter of a century.

In this context, this workshop offers a chance for emerging scholars undertaking studies of neoliberalism and economic rationalism, as it manifests in Australia and globally, to present their research at a day-long event in Melbourne. Held the day after TASA’s annual conference in Melbourne, this workshop will offer Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students and Early-Career Researchers (i.e., within five years of their PhD award) the chance to present their research in a supportive environment of peer-to-peer discussion and mentorship from leading scholars, including Michael Pusey who will read papers and provide extensive feedback.

We invite abstracts of 100-150 words and a brief (i.e., 50 words or less) biographical note, which should include reference to your HDR/ECR status. Authors of accepted abstracts will be asked to submit full papers of between 4000-7000 words (double-spaced) including tables, notes and references. We welcome research that focuses on any aspect of neoliberalism or economic rationalism within sociology as well as cognizant disciplines such as political science, political economy, geography, etc. Accepted papers will receive critical feedback by a senior scholar (who will also act as discussant) and at least one ECR/HDR peer at the workshop. Authors of accepted papers are expected to make a brief presentation of their paper at the workshop.

We plan to submit selected papers as a special section for the Journal of Sociology or a similar journal in the field (where they would be subject to the normal refereeing process). Please note that, as we cannot offer financial subsidies for participants, we particularly encourage those presenting papers at the 2016 TASA conference to submit papers for this workshop. (Note that TASA conference abstracts are due by 17th June, 2016 – for details, visit

Authors of accepted papers will be expected to be available for the full day of the workshop. We welcome papers exploring the following, and other, topics and questions related to the theme of the workshop:

  • What is the nature of economic rationalism and neoliberalism today, in Australia or elsewhere?
  • Are economic rationalism and neoliberalism the same thing?
  • Should we understand contemporary economic policy making as a form of zombie economics?
  • Is the term ‘neoliberalism’ useful?
  • Is there a distinctively Australian variety of neoliberalism?
  • How has the nature of the market, individuals, and society changed since the late 1970s?
  • What are the implications of relying on markets and money to measure values? What happens to values when they are translated into a form that is legible to markets?
  • Have economic rationalism and neoliberalism been successful? In what ways?
  • Is it correct to argue that neoliberal economic reform represents a political project that shifts income and power to corporations and elites?

Please submit abstracts, following the specifications above, to or (co-conveners of Sociology of Economic Life thematic group, TASA) no later than Mon 27th June, 2016. (Authors of accepted abstracts will be asked to submit full papers for peer review within approx. 2-3 months of notified acceptance.) If you have questions, feel free to contact us.

The post Call for Papers: From Economic Rationalism to Global Neoliberalism? appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

#TASA2015 and the Case for Political Economy in Our Sociological Imagination

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 08/02/2016 - 8:30am in

In 1959, C. Wright Mills coined the term ‘sociological imagination’ to illustrate how sociologists can provide unique insight via a broad analysis of the social. Via this critical process, we can remove ourselves from everyday life, seeing the social in the personal. The 2015 TASA (The Australian Sociological Association) conference focused on neoliberalism and how it has affected the Asia-Pacific. Through stepping back and thinking “ourselves away” from the milieu, we approached this problem via many sociological frameworks that addressed a variety of structural, agential, empirical and theoretical topics. However, over the course of the conference, I could not help but notice a succinct trend within each of the presentations. Despite the diversity of the lenses being used to view the issues at hand, we were mostly discussing the systemic problems of a late modernity that overly favoured elite interests and economic rationalities.

Let me explain this via some examples. First, Professor Eva Cox opened the conference powerfully with her message of hope and rebellion, arguing we need to underscore the social in the social sciences in Australia and calling sociologists to participate in a more critical role in this time of curtailing choices and truncated meaning. To address worsening social inequality and fracturing futures, she suggests a return to big picture sociology that dares to visit what Jurgen Habermas calls utopian thinking (in a time where utopian thinking has been exhausted). We as sociologists have been robbed of utopia as an ideal – in other words, the dominance of neoliberal rationalism has seen us accept caveats and half-measures which represent the desires of Economic Human more than the needs of a civil society.

Second, in a session for the Cultural Sociology thematic group, several diverse topics were approached; however, it was the contemporary cultural framing of work that underscored how neoliberalist ideals have infiltrated career narratives. Dr Sarah James examined the popular idea that work needs to be ‘meaningful’ more than necessarily lucrative; and furthering this, Fabian Cannizzo studied how academics describe their work as being driven by ‘passion’ and their relationship with university management’s neoliberal imperatives.

Third, in a session for the vibrant Family, Relationships and Gender thematic group, Michelle Dyer discussed how international development discourse is strongly underpinned by neoliberal economic rationalisations. She studied how women’s empowerment in developing countries is presented as salvation for the entire nation – and how women are dually represented as victims and saviours. It is worthwhile looking at Nike’s as this campaign is an exemplar of Michelle’s argument. This mythos ignores the reality of gender relations in developing countries and also avoids any critical reflection how such campaigns are smokescreens for the wider structural issues such as the effects of unethical corporate practices.

What these presentations and topics have in common are the permeation of market ideals and rationality into the discourse of everyday life. Some of the papers, such as Michelle’s, examined the localised effects of neoliberalism in places such as the Solomon Islands; but also considered the wider international political economy of the problem. In this paradigm, tribal peoples grieve the loss of land, the loss of their cultural heritage and self as business buys what they see as valuable real estate for future profits and growth. Using our sociological imagination, we must consider the two very different worldviews and realise that the two ‘ways of seeing’ are incongruous. Furthermore, using political economy, we may also think of how current global power relations, economics and dominant norms feed into this problem. The perspective of subaltern peoples is drowned out by the drone of bulldozers logging their sacred forests. The profit motive is hegemonic and for now, it prevails. What is a sociologist to do?

The Sociology of Economic Life roundtable on the Thursday afternoon generated some practical answers and critical reflection upon some of these problems. Dr Tom Barnes addressed some dominant myths of neoliberalism and then, adding to this, Elizabeth Humphrys discussed how neoliberalism unfolded in Australia. Rather than being a product of the Right, in Australian contexts, neoliberalism emerged from the 1980s Labor government and the Unions with their Prices and Incomes Accord agreements, which gradually saw the introduction of economically rational ideals and a whittling down of labour. At the conclusion of the session, Dr. Dina Bowman provided an important perspective that we need to make ourselves available: to NGOs, to business, wherever sociology is needed.

I took a lot away from #TASA2015. I felt inspired and revitalised. My economic sociological Ph.D. work looks at how luxury consumption and economic inequality may interact. I lean towards critical theories and I unashamedly indulge in utopian thinking. I love William Morris’ ‘News from Nowhere’ and my copy of Marcuse’s ‘One Dimensional Man’ has been read more than a few times. I agree with Eva. We need to reconsider grand theory and sociology as activism. We need to think about political economy in our sociological analysis – because the neoliberal economic rationality is everywhere. As Fabian Cannizzo argues, it even saturates academic governance and the very work we do. In order for us to address the snowballing issue of neoliberalism encompassing and enlarging, we must see these problems as an urgent call-to-arms – to use our positions to make ourselves useful to society and to not shy away from challenging the status quo.

Thursday, 18 June 2015 - 2:12pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Thu, 18/06/2015 - 2:12pm in

On a whim, I decided to read C. Wright Mills' The Sociological Imagination, and am very glad I did. I had aquired - rightly or wrongly - an impression from textbooks that this was a pretty dry staking out of academic turf, bit it's actually quite a jolly table-thumping call-to-arms against bad academic practices and (for want of a better word) thinking. This exerpt is from a chapter taking the work of Talcott Parsons as its example, but it's not hard to think of many more examples one could point to since the book was published in 1959(!):

The basic cause of grand theory is the initial choice of a level of thinking so general that its practitioners cannot logically get down to observation. They never, as grand theorists, get down from the higher generalities to problems in their historical and structural contexts. This absence of a firm sense of genuine problems, in turn, makes for the unreality so noticeable in their pages. One resulting characteristic is a seemingly arbitrary and certainly endless elaboration of distinctions, which neither enlarge our understanding nor make our experience more sensible. This in turn is revealed as a partially organized abdication of the effort to describe and explain human conduct and society plainly.

When we consider what a word stands for, we are dealing with its semantic aspects; we we consider it in relation to other words, we are dealing with its syntactic features. I introduce these shorthand terms because they provide an economical and precise way to make this point: Grand theory is drunk on syntax, blind to semantics. Its practitioners do not truly understand that when we define a word we are merely inviting others to use it as we would like it to be used; that the purpose of the definition is to focus argument upon fact, and that the proper result of a good definition is to transform argument over terms into disagreements about fact, and thus open arguments to further inquiry.

The grand theorists are so preoccupied by syntactic meanings and so unimaginitive about semantic references, they are so rigidly confined to such high levels of abstraction that the 'typologies' they make up - and the work they do to make them up - seem more often an arid game of Concepts than an effort to define systematically - which is to say, in a clear and orderly way - the problems at hand, and to guide our efforts to solve them.

What he said.