I approve of cricket in South Africa, which seems always to start around 8.30 in the morning, which is a very good time to have cricket on the telly. And the last hour’s been great fun: five wickets, two chances that really shouldn’t have been missed (Jones dropped catch, Vaughan missed run-out) as South Africa have gone from an overnight score of 184-3 to 222-8 dec. This hour of incompetence shouldn’t stop them winning the match quite comfortably, unless something very surprising happens, but, as I say, it’s been fun to watch.

Right: time to go to the library.


Tim Fiskin’s blog’s a quite fun place to visit this January. He posted his thoughts about the difference between Girls Aloud and Carrie Bradshaw the other day (which prompted something of a spat with his co-blogger Rachel), and now he’s got some interesting things to say about the oft-drawn comparison between Tony Blair and the Grand Old Man:

Tony Blair invites (sometimes explicitly, all the bloody time implicitly) comparisons with Gladstone; but these comparisons only show what a bloody failure Blair and New Labour more generally are. What made Gladstonian Radicalism a success was his political modernism. He looked to the future for his political validation in the sense that his appeal was to a political subject to come; he rode the wave of social change that would later bring the Labour party into being and see off both Whigs and Radicals. New Labour is the precise opposite of this project. In the face of the exhaustion (and out-and-out destruction) of the traditional working-class political subject, New Labour has no idea what to do. It cannot see anything other than the precise details of the prevailing political constellation, and so can do nothing other than chase after whatever seems to be the most organised political block of the moment. Tony Blair’s repetition of Gladstone is an examplary piece of post-modernism, where “modernisation” means a subjectively directionless reorganisation, which, of course, ends up being objectively a reorganisation in capital’s interests. Unfortunately, for this reason, New Labour’s lack of a future may ensure that they remain the natural party of power for some time to come.

All of which reminds me of another debunking-of-a-comparison I rather enjoyed once upon a time, which was Ross McKibbin’s takedown of Mr Blair in the LRB, back in the days when he (TB, not RMcK) went around comparing himself to Asquith:

The Prime Minister is alleged to admire the old Liberal Party and to regret its demise. One wonders whether he knows anything about it, for its whole history was one of making enemies among the country’s élites, often deliberately. The Asquith Government, not normally deemed to be a failure, won the enmity of the House of Lords, the Army, the Protestant Irish, landowners, protectionists, the City, much of the Church of England and King George V. No Labour Government, not even Attlee’s, faced such a coalition. There was, of course, an unintended element to this; but it was the inevitable outcome of a strategy which originated with Gladstone and was continued by his successors: that you won elections by mobilising voters around pieces of large-scale legislation which benefited many, but which were also partisan and contentious. What was good for Mr Gladstone is good for Mr Blair – as I am sure he would be the first to admit. The Prime Minister is also said to admire Lady Thatcher, and Gladstone’s was exactly the same strategy as the one she followed. Followed, indeed, to the point of recklessness. But she did win three successive elections.

And despite the fact that all three of the main political parties are in a pisspoor state at the moment, so might he.

My Goodness

Here’s a snippet from Michael Howard’s speech on this, that and the other (see also here [pdf], and thanks to Matthew Turner for the links):

Third, we have to restore order to Britain. The decline of responsibility and the proliferation of so-called “human rights” have left us in a moral quagmire, unable to get a grip on rising crime and disorder.

Setting aside the fascist overtones to this kind of remark, and setting aside the question of whether crime and disorder are rising or not, my question’s this one: is this the first time a supposedly leading politician in this country has used a phrase as nasty as “so-called human rights” in what’s being billed as a major speech?UPDATE [5 minutes later]: Ah, I see that, in the manner of “political correctness gone mad”, this is a phrase Mr Howard is running with: he used it back in August, too, when I wasn’t paying attention, repeated it in November, and other Tories picked up on the direction that Tory rhetoric was going and dropped the phrase into their conference speeches. So I expect we can expect to hear quite a bit more of it. Yuck.

Negating Powdered Wigs

As Immanuel Kant had done before him, though not on a blog, Norm’s been worrying about what earthquakes (of which more later) and theology might have to do with one another (see here, here and here), and he’s just posted a few remarks on Marx’s famous remark that religion is the opium of the poeple. Now a part of the point of these remarks is to draw attention to the context in which Marx says this about religion, at the start of the (marvellously named) Introduction to the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, but Norm doesn’t draw attention to the most puzzling aspect of that context, which is Marx’s claim a little further on down the same page that “If I negate powdered wigs, I am still left with unpowdered wigs…”

Holiday Viewing

I finally got around to seeing Clint Eastwood’s film, The Outlaw Josey Wales the other evening, and wasn’t terribly impressed. Partly, I think, I didn’t much like it because it was so heavily indebted to another film I don’t much like, John Ford’s The Searchers, as it piles on reference after reference and parallel after parallel, saving the most blatant for last, when the distinctive shapes of Monument Valley make an appearance in the background of one of the final shots. But I was interested enough to see if the internetweb had much to say about this kind of thing, and dug up this (solid but ungripping) 2003 essay on the subject by Robert C. Sickels, which kicks off with the remarkable claim that “what virtually every critic has failed to recognize is its [= TOJW‘s] undeniable relationship to John Ford’s The Searchers…” That can’t be true, can it? Film writers surely haven’t been that blinkered? Or is Sickels just exaggerating a bit to get his own essay off the ground? I know there are (i) film buffs and (ii) Western enthusiasts who read this page, so any information posted in the Comments will be cheerily digested.

Hobbes on the Web

In the 24 September 2001 edition of the New Statesman, John Gray wrote that “The Enlightenment thinking that found expression int he era of globalisation will not be much use in its dangerous aftermath. Even Hobbes cannot tell us how to deal with fundamentalist warriors who choose certain death in order to humble their enemies” (p.27).

Now this always struck me as a weird verdict, as of all the classic works of political philosophy, Leviathan seems to be obviously the one most concerned with the dangers to peace and security posed by religious fanatics, both to themselves and to other people. Throughout the book, therefore, Hobbes develops various strategies both for undermining the characteristic arguments that religious extremists make (e.g., the chapter on martyrs) and for making them appear ridiculous (e.g., the opinion that those who claim they have their own conversations with God are possessed of a “vile and unmanly disposition”). (Leviathan is also, of course, the funniest classic of political philosophy, by quite a long way, and we make a mistake when, as with the game theorists’ interpretations of Hobbes, we choose to ignore the rhetoric and the wit of the text in order to make our way through to what we might think is the meat of the analytical arguments.)

Someone else clearly shares a version of my opinion, anyway, as one of the few good political theory websites out there is American Leviathan, whose highlight is the gallery of soundclips from Hobbes experts around the world (including John Gray!, also Noel Malcolm, Quentin Skinner, Michael Hardt, Richard Tuck, etc.).

(Thanks to JMcD for drawing this to my attention.)