Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Two Great Antithetical Evils: Authoritarianism and Classical Liberalism

For some of those who are critical of the neoliberal hegemony which has existed for the last three decades, the only remedy to the current crisis of capitalism, which has exposed the injustice inherent in the free-market model, is a return to state ownership and the traditional socialism of the likes of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. However, Chavez seems an apt example of the possible results of following these policies to their logical extremes as regardless of his original mandate he appears to be steering Venezuela ever further towards authoritarianism.

I am not necessarily questioning Chavez's motives in wanting to create a more just society; free of the income inequality resultant from the excesses market fundamentalism. Although, regardless of ones intentions the usage of authoritarian means to achieve a just ends has proved elusive in the past and is likely to forever remain so. This is often cited to be the case as the means and the ends cannot be separated in the way which utilitarianists contend - the nature of the assumed means has an inevitable result upon the ends; perverting the desired outcome. Therefore the usage of the evils of authoritarianism to achieve a just society can never occur in reality; through the use of evil in seeking to establish good, the good which is sought can never be realised because it has been perverted by the means which were used to bring it to fruition. Evil means lead to evil ends.

One should not assume from the previous segment that I am in any way an exponent of free-market liberalism, or that I am even resigned to the neoliberal status quo. However, I am a believer in liberalism and that elusive freedom which it expounds. Freedom through liberal means is the ultimate good. The ostensible freedom of the free-market is not true freedom though, as it results in some individuals exploiting the freedom afforded to them to restrict the liberty of others. It is for this reason that I would argue that, just as early liberal thinkers argued that individual freedom in terms of actions must be constrained so that such actions do not infringe upon the freedoms of others, we must now revise the principles of the free-market so that freedom is equally guaranteed to all, not solely those who have the largest bank balances.

We must walk a thin line between the twin evils of authoritarianism and free-market liberalism, ensuring that as individuals engage in the market they do not restrict the freedoms of others, while being ever aware of the looming spectre of authoritarianism ready to engulf us if ever we stray too far from the liberal principles so crucial to the achievement of an equality of freedom.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Poor Old Gordon

Ah, where to start. The media frenzy surrounding Gordon Browns tears over the death of his newly born daughter shows how cynical we have become. It has reached a stage where a father cannot even publicly express, in an extremely dignified manner I must point out, the sadness he felt after the death of his new born without his integrity being called into question.

It's fair enough for journalists to engage in reasonable debate about the motives for Browns interview, especially as it approaches the election. However, it is a tad disingenuous for them to decry politicians who choose to be entirely honest about all aspects of their private lives when they are only doing so in response to media interest, which has its roots in genuine public interest about our leaders personal matters. This could be due to increased focus on the lives of celebrities of the evermore presidential nature of the role of PM (thanks to Blair for that, not to mention the impact of his idol Maggie Thatcher). Regardless of the reasons for this change it is unrealistic to presume that Brown could have continued keeping his private life and family matters out of the press in the run up to the election, when Cameron has completely destroyed what little distinction was left in British politics between the private and public spheres. The one thing which Brown does have over Cameron is that he is genuine, a fact which Labour must ruthlessly exploit if they are to have any chance of escaping annihilation.

Afghan civilian deaths continue

Why is long distance weaponry still being used in areas of close proximity to civilian populations, when such tactics have in the past inevitably led to the loss of civilian lives. It's time to get real, if this war if truly ever going to be won then it is through winning 'hearts and minds', and the only way to do this is engage the Taliban in close quarters fighting; the only way to ensure the safety of civilians. 

However, such tactics will inevitably lead to a greater loss of life among ISAF forces. The choice which leaders face is therefore either to continue to use long distance weaponry leading to inevitable civilian casualties and thus lose the war, or to engage in close quarters combat increasing the chance of ISAF fatalities but decreasing civilian fatalities winning the 'hearts and minds' of the Afghan people, and thus winning the war overall. Of course the third option is for ISAF forces to accept defeat now and withdraw, preventing any further casualties among military personnel but leaving the Afghan people drowning in the inevitable bloodbath which would follow.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Somalia: an argument for a continued presence in Afghanistan?

Recently politicians, particularly in Britain, have tended to steer their argument for maintaining the war in Afghanistan away from the need to provide Afghanis with basic human rights, and towards the notion that 'we're fighting them over there so we don't need to fight them on the streets here'. This argument does not stand up to scrutiny, if that were indeed the case then surely coalition forces would be better deployed in areas and countries where Al-Qaeda are actually present, rather than continuing tit for tat warfare with the Taliban. Although this idea is not without merits I believe it is being misapplied when used to justify the continuation of the Afghan war.

A better argument would be to be honest with people and explain that they know we're 'in the shit' but that we cannot simply withdraw. Withdrawing now would leave Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban to either return to its previous horrific state, or worse to become the new Somalia; an anarchic state where the only semblance of order is manifest in the sporadic enforcement of the strictest form of Shariah Law.

Such failed states are tolerated by the international community in Africa, but to have one in the heart of the Middle East would simply not be acceptable. Thus, if following a withdrawal from Afghanistan the country descended into further anarchy some sort of coalition force would have no option but to return, and attempt to restore order. Unlike in Somalia failure and retreat would not be an option for this force, no matter what the cost, as strategically the stakes in Afghanistan would be so much higher.

Essentially what I think I'm trying to say is that politicians should stop talking nonsense about Afghanistan being some hub of international terrorism, and admit that they have no option but to follow the war through to its conclusion; a stable Afghanistan whose government is completely sovereign. Withdrawal now would only be postponing 'the fight' for another day, which while it would perhaps be politically astute would not help either the Afghan people, or global stability.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

What does it mean to be [insert nationality here]?

After Nick Griffins appearance on Question Time a few weeks ago I started thinking about the whole idea of identity and what it means to be British, or indeed any other nationality. People often assert certain 'common values' such an ostensibly British sense of fair play. Does this mean that those without a sense of fair play, but whom nevertheless were born in Britain, are to some extent not British? Does it mean that the British are the only people with a notion of fair play?

Surely the whole idea of national identity is complete nonsense. Of course those people who share a similar environment are more likely have certain things in common, but trying to assert the limitation of this environment to the boundaries of nationality has no basis in reality.

However, the main point of national identity remains as it has always been. Such a concept is not based upon fact, but rather constructed by politicians in a completely transparent manner in attempt to promote cohesion amongst the populous in rallying support for certain policies. Whether these policies are blatantly racist like those of the BNP, or mistakenly contrived like Gordon Browns mantra 'British jobs for British workers', the result is the same; ignorance, introversion and ultimately bigotry.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Labour conference: Can Brown at last achieve a successful relaunch?

As the Labour Party conference begins in Brighton tomorrow, for many the question is not whether the party can turn around the Tories 14 point lead, but whether the it can successfully avoid its most devastating defeat ever. As such it is unlikely that, even if conference goes relatively well for Labour, it will have accomplished a sufficient relaunch. The only way the party can achieve this is by dramatically changing its policy, and returning to the principles on which it was founded; Freedom, Equality, Community and Democracy.

This sort of policy shift would mark a progressive change away from the mistakes of NuLabour, and would be dramatic enough to gain the attention of a currently tory obsessed media. This would ensure that voters are made aware of the oxymoronic nature of 'progressive conservatism', and the true progressive ideals which the Labour, at its heart, embodies. To make this change a reality Labour would have to ensure; Freedom by moving away from their enchroachment upon civil liberties, Equality by outlining plans for a progressive redistributive tax policy, Community by altering their predilection for big government-allowing local people a greater say in the running of their own communities, and Democracy by outlining plans for an elected second chamber, a more representative voting system, and banning Scottish MPs from voting on matters which concern only England.

As a progressive myself I can only pray that Labour and Gordon Brown succeed in this latest attempt at a relaunch, if only so that the Tories predicted majority after next years election is sufficiently diminished, that it prevents them from causing the damage which their  regressive policies would inflict.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Obama Speech to UN

President Obama's speech to the UN General Assembly today had none of the pizzaz of his previous performances. However, it was an essentially practical outline of the main issues relating to international relations today; the economy, Iran, the middle east, and nuclear proliferation. Although the one subject which did inspire some optimism in me was the manner in which he spoke of the role of the UN.  Obama's own optimism regarding the UN's ability to change from a place of intergovernmental bickering, to a true forum for global unity is inspiring, if a little misplaced.

I was pleasantly surprised that Obama touched upon several points which, as a realist, I did not think he would mention. The most predictable of these was his continued recognition of the failures of past American foreign policy, which if repeated could prove counterproductive domestically. Personally, I found the few references he made to FDR, and his idealistic outlook regarding the international will for cooperation for mutual benefit, extremely positive. Although this would require the kind of globalism which America has previously spurned.

The two elements of the speech which most surprised me were his apparent condemnation of Israel for refusing to freeze its settlements, and a quick remark he made about people focusing on his Muslim descent; ostensibly alluding to the petty partisanship of many republicans. The treatment of Israel within the speech shows that this is a president who is extremely serious about once and for all bringing peaceful conclusion to the middle east peace process, which makes is especially sad that his approval ratings within Israel have already hit single figures. Obama's brief allusion to his treatment by an element of the American right could perhaps show a welcome change in stategy from his administration, where the president will actively seek out and expose the triviality of their argument and their reluctance to unite for benefit of the American people.

Overall, although the speech lacked any of the va va voom which we have come to expect from Obama, it made up for this in terms of serious propositions on how to deal with the crucial issues which the world must overcome.