Politics, Philosophy, Polemics

Posts Tagged ‘Michael Ezra’

The Vietnam War and Communist Aggression

In Book Review, History, Vietnam War on July 3, 2015 at 5:03 PM

This is a cross post. It was originally published on Harry’s Place on April 30th 2015, 4:34 pm

Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War and the day that South Vietnam came under tyrannical Communist rule. That event precipitated hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese to flee the country, often on rickety boats. According to United Nations estimates (Associated Press: June 23, 1979 and July 6, 1979), between 200,000 and 400,000 boat people died at sea. It is not true that those who left did so purely for economic reasons. Many were expelled from the country as undesirables or encouraged to leave as they were deemed to belong to the wrong social group. Others fled fearing for their lives as a result of communist massacres as reprisals for the Vietnam War. “Revolutionary violence” was used by the Communists to unify the country.

When it comes to the war itself, it is also not true that it was America’s responsibility. In a detailed study, with the use of Vietnamese archival sources now available, Pierre Asselin (Hanoi’s Road to the Vietnam War, 1954–1965, [University of California Press, 2013]) has demonstrated that culpability for the war rests with the North Vietnamese Communists. Below I copy a small section from his introduction (p.3).:

Whether of moderate or militant inclination, DRVN [Communist North Vietnamese] leaders never wanted military confrontation with the United States. It is therefore paradoxical that the eventual conflict between Hanoi and Washington—the Vietnam War—was precipitated by the outcome of a Central Committee meeting that convened in late 1963. Until then, Hanoi’s cautiousness had precluded the introduction of American combat forces and a wider war, which seemed avertable for the immediate future. However, the final resolution adopted at the conclusion of the meeting, which called for unrestricted military struggle in the South and comprehensive commitment of the North to that struggle, proved to be a seminal development in the coming of the Vietnam War, producing as it did a drastic escalation of the ongoing insurgency below the seventeenth parallel [Dividing line between North and South Vietnam] in 1964. In light of that development, it is not unreasonable to consider the deployment of American combat forces to South Vietnam in massive numbers the following year as a response to— and not the source of—the onset of ‘big war’ on the Indochinese peninsula.

Déjà vu. Goldsmiths 2015, University of Michigan 1992

In Feminism, Freedom of Expression, From the Vaults, History, Students on February 7, 2015 at 6:24 PM

 This is a cross post. It was originally published on Harry’s Place on February 3rd 2015, 9:00 am

I was struck by a sense of déjà vu when reading Sarah’s post about the cancelling of Kate Smurthwaite’s comedy show at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her post should be read before what I copy below, an extract from a 1992 edition of the New York Times. When will we progress?

New York Times, November 13, 1992, p.B16

Furor on Exhibit at Law School Splits Feminists

Are pornography and prostitution more dangerous than censorship?

By TAMAR LEWIN

The closing of an art exhibit on prostitution two weeks ago has plunged the University of Michigan law school in Ann Arbor into an angry debate about free speech, feminism, pornography and censorship.

Legally, the issue is whether students at the school violated the First Amendment guarantee of free speech by removing from the exhibit a two-hour videotape featuring works about prostitution by five artists, including two former prostitutes.

But politically, the fracas is the latest and most virulent outbreak of tensions between two camps of feminists: those who seek to suppress pornography and prostitution, arguing that they incite sexual violence and violate women’s civil rights, and those who say the anti-pornography, anti-prostitution movement is a form of censorship that limits women’s sexuality and free-speech rights.

…the furor occurred at the University of Michigan, whose law faculty includes Catharine A. MacKinnon, a leader in the fight against pornography…. Carol Jacobsen, the Detroit artist who put together the art exhibit at the request of [Michigan Journal of Gender & Law] staff, has been an outspoken critic of Ms. MacKinnon’s anti-pornography efforts…. Her exhibit… included her own video interviews with Detroit prostitutes, who are referred to as “sex workers” by conference organisers.

When the conference began, she also installed a two-hour videotape featuring five works, including one by Veronica Vera, a former prostitute. Ms. Vera’s work included footage from sex films and a brief clip of her testifying against an anti-pornography measure before a United States Senate committee.

The next morning, that videotape was removed by a group of law students from the journal staff…..“We really didn’t think of it as a censorship issue, but as a safety issue, because two of our speakers said that based on their experience at other events, the tape would be a threat to their safety,” said Bryan Wells, one of the students. “….Seven of us from the journal made the decision to remove the tape, and while I regret that it made people unhappy, I don’t regret the decision.”

Ms. MacKinnon, who stressed that she was not involved in the decision to pull the video, said she supported the students’ action….she said… “If these materials are pornography – and I haven’t seen them so I can’t say – it is not a question of their offensiveness, but of safety and equality for women. Showing pornography sets women up for harassment and rape.” ….

Ms. MacKinnon sees the furor as an attempt to smear her and another speaker at the conference, Andrea Dworkin, a New York writer who has been her ally in years of efforts against pornography.

“My real view, so far as this pertains to me, is that this is a witchhunt by First Amendment fundamentalists who are persecuting and blacklisting dissidents like Andrea Dworkin and myself as arts censors,” said Ms. MacKinnon. “I don’t see it as a fight within feminism but a fight between those who wish to end male supremacy and those who wish to do better under it.”

Civil libertarians say the events illustrate the extremism of Ms. MacKinnon’s views, and how easily they can be used to censor women’s free expression.

“It’s hard to articulate how damaging the femino-censors can be, but this is a perfect example of how the MacKinnon crusade hurts women,” said Marjorie Heins, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Arts Censorship Project. Censorship of sexually explicit material is not in women’s interest. It’s also unconstitutional. Michigan is a state school, and when any government institution removes an art exhibit or book because it expresses ideas some people find offensive, there’s a First Amendment problem.” ….

Several of the students who organized the conference said it has been impossible to get both viewpoints.

“We had a problem as soon as we invited speakers, because some of the key anti-prostitution people accepted on the condition that they wouldn’t speak if there were people from the other side there,” said Lisa Lodin, one of the students who organised the conference. “…Part of the reason we wanted Carol Jacobsen’s exhibit so much was to show the other side, without confrontation.”

Ms. Lodin and several other students said they were so discouraged by the turn of events that they had begun to reexamine their attitude toward feminism.

“This is not women uniting to solve problems,” Ms. Lodin said. “This is just women fighting against each other.”

Free Speech on Campus: Winning the Debate

In Freedom of Expression, Philosophy, Students on February 2, 2015 at 9:20 AM

This is a cross post. It was originally published at Harry’s Place on January 28th 2015, 9:16 am

In order to win the hearts and minds of the campus censors, their sympathisers, and the waverers, it is not going to be enough to win the political debate: the philosophical debate also has to be won. Appropriating a term used in a different context by Sophal Ear, the Standard Total Academic View (STAV) on free speech has to be defeated on its own terms. And that STAV is against free speech.

Philosophy courses, women’s studies courses, gender studies courses, and other courses are recommending academic books, many of which are well argued, that promote either legislative restrictions on free speech or civil remedies by allowing those deemed “harmed” by racist speech or pornography to be able to sue for damages.

To mention a few important STAV writers, the late Joel Feinberg wanted offence to others to be restricted by the law. He formulated his “offense principle” as follows:

It is always a good reason in support of a proposed criminal prohibition that it would probably be an effective way of preventing serious offense (as opposed to injury of harm) to persons other than the actor, and that it is probably a necessary means to that end.

Feinberg summed up his own formulation more succinctly: “the prevention of offensive conduct is properly the state’s business.”

Jeremy Waldron is another STAV writer. He makes an appeal to political liberals by invoking the highly regarded twentieth century liberal philosopher,John Rawls. Rawls imagined a “well-ordered” society “in which everyone accepts, and knows that everyone else accepts, the very same principles of justice.” He declared that in such a society “the coercive powers of government are to some degree necessary for the stability of social cooperation.” Waldron accepts that Rawls would have opposed laws that restrict free speech. Nevertheless, he uses what he calls a Rawlsian framework and asks “What does a well-ordered society look like?” He believes it is one where the “public good” that people have their dignity assured exists.

Contra Feinberg, Waldron does not think that offence to others should be legally proscribed. In what he accepts is a difference with a “fine line” he believes that laws that restrict attacks on dignity can be justified. He states:

…not dignity in the sense of any particular level of honor or esteem (or self-esteem), but dignity in the sense of a person’s basic entitlement to be regarded as a member of society in good standing, as someone whose membership of a minority group does not disqualify him or her from social interaction. That is what hate speech attacks, and that is what laws suppressing hate speech laws aim to protect.

One of the most prominent STAV writers in favour of restricting speech, whose arguments need defeating, is Cambridge University’s Rae Langton. In 2013 Langton was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Last year readers of Prospect magazine voted her the eighteenth most important thinker in the world. And this year she will deliver the prestigious John Locke lectures at Oxford University.  In one of her own books, in numerous articles, in online recorded conversations, in various colloquia, and in her submission to the Leveson Inquiry, Langton has banged her drum against pornography and hate speech.

Langton has drawn on the work of Catharine MacKinnon, a law professor and anti-pornography campaigner, and fused it with an argument used in a different context by the late J.L. Austin, the Oxford philosopher noted for his work onspeech acts. By doing so she argues that “certain speech acts can subordinate certain social groups, when they unjustly rank a group as inferior, deprive them of powers and rights, and legitimate discrimination against them.” In herargument, pornography both subordinates and silences women. By subordinating women it “presents a conflict between pornographers’ right to liberty and women’s right to equality.” By silencing women a conflict is created “within liberty itself, between pornographers’ right to speak and women’s.” It is a convoluted argument but she has a number of acolytes marching to her beat.

It is not enough to simply cite the American First Amendment or harp on about the importance of free speech. Winning the debate against those that use the STAV mantra requires more than that because doing so does not effectively respond to someone referring to perlocutionary and illocutionary speech acts. To properly win the debate, one has to demolish the arguments of the would be censors. The debate has to be won on their terms.

@MichaelEzra

Free Speech – From the Vaults – Bernard Levin

In Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, Freedom of Expression, From the Vaults on January 23, 2015 at 10:28 AM

This is a cross post. It was originally published at Harry’s Place on January 17th 2015, 12:31 pm

In early 1987 the UK Jewish community was in uproar about the play, Perdition, which was due to be shown at the Royal Court Theatre in London. The play was written by Jim Allen, who had been associated with an extremist Marxist group. The controversy is obvious when one considers the author’s own words about the play: “it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to bring about a Zionist state, Israel.” (Time Out, January 21-28, 1987). While the play was cancelled because the Artistic Director lost confidence in it, a debate raged in the press about the historical aspects of the play, whether the play was antisemitic, artistic freedom and free speech.

Of all the articles written about the controversy, one of the most eloquently and passionately argued was that by the late Bernard Levin for The Times. (“Waking the dead to revile the living,” February  2, 1987, p.16). He accused the play of a “peculiar vileness” from which antisemitism “oozes.” He said the author had unashamedly reproduced “Stalinist disinformation,” to write a play “littered throughout with inexcusable errors and horrible lies.” Despite these views Levin was a passionate defender of free speech. He concluded his article as follows:

…free speech is for swine and liars as well as upright and honest men. I have insisted that any legally permissable view, however repugnant, is less dangerous promulgated than banned, and I would defend its promulgation even if the opposite were true. I have glorified in the central paradox of democracy, which is that it tolerates, and must continue to tolerate, the activities of those who wish to destroy it.

In all the beliefs I have lived, and I am minded to die in them; how then can I defend the suppression of this play? I cannot, which is not to say that if it had never been written it now should be. But it exists, and ‘He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still.’ With a heavy heart, I yet must say it: Let them have their play.

It is a shame he is no longer with us.

Thought Control Would Be Nice

In Philosophy on January 13, 2015 at 6:23 PM

Gabriel Bonnot de Mably (The Abbé de Mably) was an 18th Century French philosopher and friend of the better known Rousseau. He detested private property and his view of liberty make many modern day authoritarian types seem positively liberal. Below is a paragraph extracted from a lecture that Benjamin Constant gave to the Athénée Royal of Paris in 1819 entitled, The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns

The abbe de Mably, like Rousseau and many others, had mistaken, just as the ancients did, the authority of the social body for liberty; and to him any means seemed good if it extended his area of authority over that recalcitrant part of human existence whose independence he deplored. The regret he expresses everywhere in his works is that the law can only cover actions. He would have liked it to cover the most fleeting thoughts and impressions; to pursue man relentlessly, leaving him no refuge in which he might escape from its power. No sooner did he learn, among no matter what people, of some oppressive measure, than he thought he had made a discovery and proposed it as a model. He detested individual liberty like a personal enemy; and whenever in history he came across a nation totally deprived of it, even if it had no political liberty, he could not help admiring it. He went into ecstasies over the Egyptians, because, as he said, among them everything was prescribed by the law, down to relaxations and needs: everything was subjected to the empire of the legislator. Every moment of the day was filled by some duty; love itself was the object of this respected intervention, and it was the law that in turn opened and closed the curtains of the nuptial bed.

Not Voting – In Defence of Russell Brand

In Anarchism, Libertarianism, voting on December 22, 2014 at 4:24 PM

This post originally appeared at Harry’s Place on December 19th 2014, 10:28 am

Democracy has been described as two wolves and a lamb deciding what to eat for lunch. In this analogy, and given a choice, a rational lamb would not agree to a majority vote. If majority rule was imposed on it from above, the lamb might justly feel aggrieved. “Democracy isn’t fair,” the lamb might protest; “I don’t agree with your voting system and I want no part in it.” And who could seriously blame the lamb for refusing to vote? A challenge to the lamb that she could try and convince the wolves to have a vegetarian lunch is likely to be derided.

Last year, the comedian Russell Brand appeared on BBC’s Newsnight. He declared that he didn’t believe democracy was working very well and said that there was a “disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent, underclass” that were not represented by the political system. In his view, this underclass become the lambs in a country full of wolves.

There are many reasons for not voting. The simple one of “I can’t be bothered” is as valid as any other. Other valid reasons include not liking either the candidates from whom you can choose or the political parties that they represent. There could be a single issue that is of dominant importance to the non-voter. A standard example would be someone with a deeply held religious conviction that abortion is murder who cannot with good conscience vote for any candidate who holds a pro-choice position regarding abortion. If all candidates are pro-choice, then, if they are consistent, the citizen will stay away from the ballot box.

In his book, Revolution, Brand responds to his critics who argue that “People died so you’d have the right to vote.” His response is “No they did not, they died for freedom.” What people value is being treated justly – not the ability to vote in elections. It is laughable to suggest that people were prepared to die solely for the right to put a cross on a ballot ticket.  Brand states, “I don’t feel irresponsible for telling kids not to vote, I feel like I deserve a Blue Peter badge for telling them not to riot.”  Voter turn outs in many elections are quite low. It is difficult to know the exact reasons why this is so. Two further options on the ballot slip might assist matters. Firstly, there could be a box for “reopen nominations” for those who do not like the available candidates but do not reject the system. Secondly, there could be a box “Against the system” for those who think like Russell Brand or are opposed to “the system” for other reasons.

There will be a general election in the UK in a few months. There is a gulf of difference between Russell Brand’s political views and my own, but on one point I suspect we can agree. When the details of the rabble of assorted candidates are dropped through our respective letter boxes with associated campaign material, we will both shake our heads and ask, why bother. Really, why bother?

The Cult of Ayn Rand

In Ayn Rand, Free Market, From the Vaults, Libertarianism on December 3, 2014 at 6:02 PM

An extract from a letter published in a newspaper

Ayn Rand

A thousand years from today…one 20th Century name will stand out as being unique in the most startling and positive way – the name, that is, of the only original thinker of this century: Ayn Rand.

When all the government-manipulating looters of our time, in company with all the left-wing, state-worshipping reactionaries – the blind followers of the ever-running gospel of Plato, Augustine, Ambrose, Aquinas, Luther, Kant, Hegel, Saint Simon, Proudhon, Marx and Marcuse – who have turned so much of the world into a collectivist cesspool, are rotten and forgotten in their graves, one name will still be as bright as the brightest star: Ayn Rand.

NICHOLAS CARTER

Palm Desert

Source:

Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1982, p.C6.

On Trolleys, Bazookas, and Faulty Reasoning

In Jewish Matters, Philosophy, Thought Experiments on November 30, 2014 at 8:59 PM

The so-called trolley problem, which single handedly appears to have kept a generation of moral philosophers in a job, is now well known. The problem, simply put, is why the intuitions of many as to the correct course of action differ between the following two cases which I have paraphrased from Judith Jarvis Thomson’s 1985 paper, “The Trolley Problem”:

Bystander at the switch

An out of control train is headed down a track and is on course to kill five people. You are an innocent bystander standing at a switching point.  If you flick the switch, the train is diverted to a spur track. The five people will be saved but unfortunately, there is one person tied to the spur track and he will die. Should you flick the switch?

Fat Man

An out of control train is headed down a track and is on course to kill five people. You are an innocent bystander standing on a footbridge over the track. Next to you, standing precariously on the edge of the footbridge, is a fat man. If you give the fat man a little push he will fall onto the track and his weight will stop the train and hence prevent the five from being killed. Unfortunately, the fat man dies. An act of self-sacrifice such as jumping off the bridge yourself would not work as your own weight is not sufficient to stop the train.  Should you push the fat man?

Much on the literature on this problem is to try and explain and justify the authors’ views, in line with the intuition of many, why it is acceptable to kill one to save five in Bystander at the switch but not acceptable to kill one to save the five in Fat Man.

However, Judith Jarvis Thomson had a paper published in 2008 entitled “Turning the Trolley” where she admitted that she had changed her view. She now thought it wrong to flick the switch in Bystander at the switch. She constructed a new thought experiment that I paraphrase below:

Bystander’s Three Options

An out of control train is headed down a track and is due to kill five people. You are a bystander standing on a left hand spur. There is also a workman on right handed spur track. Your three options are (i) do nothing in which case five people die, (ii) flick the switch to the right in which case the only person who dies is the workman on the spur, or (iii) flick the switch to the left killing yourself and no one else.

Thomson reasons: “I hope you will agree that choosing (ii) would be unacceptable on the bystander’s part. If he can throw the switch to the left and turn the trolley onto himself, how dare he throw the switch to the right and turn the trolley onto the one workman?” She goes on to explain that self-sacrifice is not required: “[A man] may let five die if the only permissible means he has of saving them is killing himself.”

It is this version of one of the many trolley problem thought experiments that is taken up by Howard Nye in his paper: “On the Equivalence of Trolleys and Transplants: The Lack of Intrinsic Difference between ‘Collateral Damage’ and Intended Harm,” just published in the December 2014 issue of Utilitas. (Sadly, the link requires a subscription. It is not free to access.) Nye explains that he was convinced that Thomson’s Bystander’s Three Options was equivalent to his own thought experiment below:

Bazooka Holder’s Three Options.

You, Bugsy and the five are tied to three parallel trolley tracks, and empty trolleys are heading down each track. You have a bazooka with only two rounds, giving you three options: (1) blow up the trolleys heading towards the five and Bugsy, in which case only you will die; (2) blow up the trolleys heading towards the five and you, in which case only Bugsy will die; or (3) blow up the trolleys heading towards Bugsy and you, in which case only the five will die.

The problem is that these examples are not similar enough. There is a key moral difference and it has to do with the acts and omissions doctrine. This should not be elided without reasoning. These differences can be noted:

  1. Doing nothing in Bystander’s Three Options mean five people die, whereas doing nothing in Bazooka Holder’s Three Options means seven people die. This option of doing nothing is not noted by Nye as one of the bazooka holder’s three options. Doing nothing is noted as an option by Thomson in Bystander’s Three Options.
  2. Five people dying and no one else dying in Bystander’s Three Options results from doing nothing. The five people dying and no one else dying in Bazooka Holder’s Three Options results from the bazooka holder doing something: choosing to save himself and save Bugsy.
  3. Only one person (not the bystander) dying in Bystander’s Three Options results from doing something that kills the man on the spur. Only one person (not the bazooka holder) dying in Bazooka Holder’s Three Options results from the bazooka holder doing something to save the five and save himself. The Bazooka holder lets Bugsy die, he does not kill him.
  4. Only the bystander dying in Bystander’s Three Options results from the bystander committing suicide. Only the bazooka holder dying in Bazooka Holder’s Three Options arises from the bazooka holder choosing to saving six other people and letting himself die.

These differences are important. It is a well established relevant moral fact that there is a difference between killing a man and letting him die. It is crucial in many areas, notably the debate on euthanasia. It is also important in law: the difference between killing a man (drowning him in a river) and not saving his life (a bystander with no special duty of care not throwing a lifebelt to a drowning man) is the difference in countries such as England and America between going to prison for many years for murder or manslaughter and getting off scot-free.

Recall that Thomson argues that a man “may let five die if the only permissible means he has of saving them is killing himself.”  In response, Nye states:

It is indeed plausible that it is wrong to force a cost on someone if she isn’t morally obligated to assume it. There are, however, cases in which we do seem permitted to do things that result in someone’s bearing a cost that she would not be obligated to assume herself. We seem permitted, in cases like Bazooka Holder’s Three Options, to save ourselves rather than Bugsy even though Bugsy would not be required to save us rather than himself.

This is problematic because Nye has not made a comparable argument. In Bazooka Holder’s Three Options, if the Bazooka holder chooses to save the five and himself it is not what the Bazooka holder has done that results in Bugsy “bearing a cost” (dying). Bugsy dies because without any action on the Bazooka holder’s behalf he would die anyway.  Bugsy has no positive right that the Bazooka holder should save him.

While the five in Bazooka Holder’s Three Options also have no positive right to be saved, let us assume out of the goodness of your heart, you, the Bazooka Holder, used one of your bazooka rounds to save the five. If so, we are now left with the following problem.

Bazooka Holder’s Three Options (Revised)

You and Bugsy are tied to parallel trolley tracks, and empty trolleys are heading down each track. You have a bazooka with one round.  You have three options: (i) do nothing in which case you will both die, (ii) blow up the trolley heading towards yourself, saving yourself and letting Bugsy die, (iii) blow up the trolley heading towards Bugsy saving Bugsy and letting yourself die.

This revised problem is morally equivalent to the following:

Jug of Water

You and Bugsy are journeying through the desert and you have a single jug of water. You have three options (i) Share the water with Bugsy in which case you will both die as there is an insufficient amount to keep you both alive, (ii) give the jug of water to Bugsy such that he survives and you die, (iii) drink the water yourself such that you survive and Bugsy dies.

Some readers may be familiar with this version. It predates Judith Jarvis Thomson’s trolley problem by nearly two millennia. It arises in a dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Ben Petura on Leviticus 25:36. The answer to Jug of Water, according to Rabbi Akiva and Jewish law, is that you are not required to give up your own life so another might live. “Your life becomes before the life of your fellow man.” This is contrasted with a different Talmudic problem: Can a man threatened with death kill another man to save his own life?  The answer, according to the Jewish tradition, is no: “who shall say your blood is redder than his? Perhaps his blood is redder than yours.”

The point of me providing these last examples is not to promote Jewish ethical values, but to demonstrate that even in ancient times it was recognised that there is a moral difference between killing and letting die. This difference explains a crucial differential between Bystander’s Three Options and Bazooka Holder’s Three Options.

Machiavelli on Necessity, Fighting, and Fear: Comment by Leo Strauss

In Just War, Philosophy on November 2, 2014 at 2:32 PM

In his Discourses on Livy (Book III, Chapter 12) published in 1531, Niccolò Machiavelli argues that a prudent military commander must impose on his troops an absolute necessity to fight. He quotes Livy who refers to fighting through necessity as the “ultimate and most powerful weapon of all.”  The late German-American political philosopher, Leo Strauss, commented on this very eloquently in his book, Thoughts on Machiavelli, (The University of Chicago Press, 1958). I found his argument so well made that I thought I would copy it below. (From pages 247-8).

[Machiavelli] gives some indications of what he understands by “such necessity” as make soldiers operate perfectly. To speak here only of Machiavelli’s primary examples, soldiers fighting against a superior enemy operate perfectly if they have no choice except to die or fight; they cease to operate perfectly if they can achieve safety by flight or surrender. To be driven by necessity means here to have no choice except to die or fight; for to have this choice means to have no choice at all since men are compelled by nature to try to avoid death; fighting is chosen because it is the only way in which in the circumstances certain and imminent death could possibly be avoided: the choice of fighting is imposed by necessity. If the soldiers can save their lives by flight or surrender, they choose flight or surrender as offering a greater prospect of avoiding death and as requiring a much smaller effort or as being easier. Fighting as well as flight or surrender aim at the same end, namely, the preservation of one’s life; this end is imposed, as we may tentatively say, by an absolute and natural necessity. If the enemy makes impossible flight or surrender, fighting is imposed on the soldiers in question as the only possible means to achieve the end mentioned. On the other hand, if the enemy gives them the opportunity to flee or surrender, flight or surrender is imposed on them as the better or easier means to achieve that end. Yet in the latter case, we do not speak of necessity prompting them because flight or surrender are easier than fighting, i.e., because they go less against the soldiers’ natural inclination. We shall then say that the necessity which makes soldiers fighting against a superior enemy operate well is the necessity, rooted in fear of death, to act against their natural inclination but within their ability. Generalizing from this, we may say that it is fear, the fundamental fear, which makes men operate well.

I think Machiavelli, as interpreted by Strauss, has made a compelling argument.

Ignorant, Erroneous, Unjustified

In Book Review on October 30, 2014 at 1:24 PM

This is a cross post. It was originally published on Harry’s Place on October 21st 2014, 2:39 pm

Book Review:

Owen Jones, The Establishment: And how they get away with it, (Allen Lane, 2014).

Owen Jones, the Oxford-educated left-wing Guardian columnist, has written a book about the establishment. For Jones, the establishment comprises anyone he does not like. Its main activity is to conspire against the working class.

Some of his claims are simply startling. For example, he accuses the current coalition government of privatising the NHS. This might be news to anyone who has recently visited a NHS GP or hospital without being handed a bill for healthcare.

Commenting on the 1992 general election, he states: “the combined political power of the British media had been unleashed against Kinnock’s Labour Party.” Perhaps Jones thinks the Daily Mirror and his own paper, The Guardian, both of which supported the Labour Party, are not part of the British media. More notably, the paper widely read by establishment figures he despises, The Financial Times, backed Kinnock’s Labour Party.

Jones attacks the charitable status of private schools, saying that this benefits the wealthy to the tune of £88 million per year as a result of tax breaks given. This figure, if true, ignores the fact that the wealthy, by sending their children to private schools, are saving the rest of the population substantially more than this as they are not utilising the state system of education to which many would be entitled.

He provides support for the Financial Transaction Tax, claiming it would be a “tiny levy on transactions” that would promote “economic stability.” The truth is that it would be a disaster for the UK. The proposed levy of 0.1 percent on securities would mean a tax on $100,000 on every $100 million bond transaction. If a bond trader working in Dubai could call someone in London to do the trade and suffer $100,000 tax or call someone in an offshore jurisdiction where the tax is not implemented and not pay any tax, it is obvious where he will call. The telephones would stop ringing in London dealing rooms and redundancy notices would be issued.

Jones comments on the percentage of British companies owned by foreign investors – but there is no corresponding figure for foreign companies owned by British investors. Similarly, he mentions British companies now in foreign hands – but he does not mention foreign companies taken over by British companies.

Jones’s scholarship is sloppy. He provides an unsourced 1970s quote fromHarold Lever. When, post-publication, he was asked for a source, he claims it came from an interview with Neil Kinnock. It is at no point clear that this quote is based on a decades-later recollection from someone else.

Of all the things that Jones despises, the City of London is at the top of the list. He cites a former City trader as saying the people who work in the City “are largely despicable, venal, greedy.”  Jones has no comment on ARK, a charity popular with City and hedge fund types, which, in one gala dinner in 2012, raised £14.5 million for children’s health and education around the world.

A central villain is Madsen Pirie of the libertarian Adam Smith Institute. Jones claims that Pirie’s ideological zeal is “shared by politicians of all parties.” But this leads him into a mass of contradictions. He refers to the bailout of the banks in the credit crisis of 2007-9 as “socialism for the rich on an epic scale.” If libertarian thinkers such as Pirie had as much influence as Jones imputes to them, then the banks would never have been bailed out in the first place. Piriespecifically argued against such state action.

Jones simply does not understand finance. The errors are embarrassing. He confuses exchange rates and exchange controls. He refers to the private-equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts as Italian, when it is headquartered in America and does not even have an office in Italy. He states: “Mortgage books that were in actual fact junk were rated as ‘triple A’.” In fact pools of subprime mortgages were securitized and sliced and diced into tranches; the most senior tranches were rated AAA and these were not junk. His claim that packages of mortgages “with very low actual chances of being repaid were rated as having a 99 percent repayment likelihood, if they were structured in a certain way” is false. Specific tranches of structured pools of mortgages were given a high chance of repayment likelihood because this was deemed to be fair.

Jones ends his book by calling for nationalisation of the utility companies, strengthening trade unions, increasing the top rate of tax to 50 percent “as a start” with an implication that 75 percent might be preferable, and by urging the people to “use their collective power to win social justice.”

Oddly, he never employs the words, “Workers of the world, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 30 other followers