May 16, 2013 § 1 Comment
I have been in Brussels to attend a conference on the Radical Enlightenment, and to interview Jonathan Israel, the keynote speaker, for an essay I am writing about his work and argument. Israel has transformed our understanding of the Enlightenment with his superlative trilogy published over the past decade: Radical Enlightenment, Enlightenment Contested, and Democratic Enlightenment. At the heart of his argument is his insistence that there were two Enlightenments. The mainstream Enlightenment of Kant, Locke, Voltaire and Hume is the one of which we know and which provides the public face of the Enlightenment. But it was the Radical Enlightenment, shaped by lesser-known figures such as d’Holbach, Diderot, Condorcet and, in particular, Spinoza that provided the Enlightenment’s heart and soul.
The two Enlightenments, Israel suggests, divided on the question of whether reason reigned supreme in human affairs, as the radicals insisted, or whether reason had to be limited by faith and tradition – the view of the mainstream. The mainstream, Israel writes, ‘aspired to conquer ignorance and superstition, establish ideas and revolutionise ideas, education and attitudes by means of philosophy but in such a way as to preserve and safeguard what were judged as essential elements of the older structures, offering a viable synthesis of old and new, of reason and faith.’ By contrast, the Radical Enlightenment ‘rejected all compromise with the past and sought to sweep away existing structures entirely’.
The argument, as can be imagined, has created considerable controversy. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 12, 2013 § 1 Comment
In completing my book on the history of moral thought I had to reduce the original manuscript by some 30,000 words to get it to a reasonable size. Much of what has been lost is better off left on the cutting room floor. There are, however, some sections coherent enough to be worth reading. So, I am running an occasional series publishing some of the more cogent ‘lost pages’ from the book. The first was on Machiavelli. This extract is on Descrates and his influence (it has not been entirely cut from the book, but is considerably condensed). The book itself, which is called The Quest for a Moral Compass, will be published early next year.
Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, painted around 1657, reveals wonderfully the new eyes through which painters now viewed their subject. It shows a woman, ensconced in her own world, absorbed totally in reading the private words of another. There is a startling stillness about the room. Its physical features, the walls, the drapery, seem to define the boundaries of her mental world. She is alone in the room. There is an open window to the world beyond but she has eyes only for the letter in her hand. Reflected in the window is not the world beyond but her own face. The window is both a portal to the world outside and an opening to her thoughts inside, an expression both of her yearning to break the constraints of her domesticity and her total absorption in her own little world. There is an intimacy about the scene that is truly breathtaking. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 9, 2013 § 3 Comments
A week on from the local elections, and there seems to be no end to the debate about UKIP’s success. Explanations fall into two broad categories. Some insist that UKIP garnered merely a temporary midterm protest vote. Others see Nigel Farage’s outfit as a lasting threat to which the main parties must respond by adopting more hardline policies, especially on Europe, immigration and welfare.
Both views are right. And both are wrong. UKIP does draw the protest vote. But the very character of the protest vote is changing.
The traditional party of protest in Britain was, of course, the Liberal Democrats (or the Liberals as they were before they got hitched to the SDP). Once a party of government, the failure of the Liberals to win power for most of the twentieth century made it an ideal vehicle for the protest vote – a safe, mainstream party to which to turn at relatively irrelevant elections as a means of temporarily expressing dissatisfaction with one of the main parties before returning to the fold; a way sending a message but not of upsetting the system.
Once the Liberal Democrats became part of the Coalition government after the 2010 election, they could no longer play this role. But something more fundamental has also changed. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 6, 2013 § 1 Comment
David Goodhart, in his response to my review of his book The British Dream, raised three major issues. First, he suggested, mass immigration undermines stability and continuity. Second, he claimed that I ignored the fact that immigrants come not as individuals but as members of communities and cultures. And third, he challenged me to set out my concept of integration. I dealt with the question of stability and change in a pervious post. I will write about the meaning of integration in a future post. Here, I want to take up the question of community and culture.
In defending mass immigration, Goodhart suggested, I am forced ‘to adopt a sort of methodological individualism’, to imagine that ‘there are only individuals, floating free of culture, tradition, language, ways of life, who can just slot into modern Britain without changing anything’. This, he added, ‘is the left’s equivalent of “there is no such thing as society”’.
I have, in fact, long been critical of liberal views of individualism. I have many times made the point that humans are not individuals who become social but social beings whose individuality emerges through the bonds they create with each other. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 2, 2013 § 11 Comments
Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, has stirred up controversy with his claim, on Iran’s Press TV, that behind the Boston bombings lay anger about Western foreign policy and its attitudes to Islam:
There was such ignorance in the Bush White House about Islam and about the history of so many disputes that exist in the Middle East. People get angry. They lash out. It’s the whole squalid intervention that has disfigured the record of the Western democracies. I think this fuels the anger of the young men, who as we saw in Boston went out, and, out of anger and demand for revenge, claimed lives in the West.
Livingstone may have expressed his argument in a particularly crass fashion, but it is the kind of explanation that many have proffered over the past few weeks. Ever since Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot dead and his brother Dzhokar captured, there has been a frantic search through their back history to discover the motivations of the alleged bombers and the reasons for their homicidal act. Their Chechen family origins, their attraction to Islam, their radicalization through jihadist sites – all have become part of the narrative of why the brothers could commit such horror. « Read the rest of this entry »
April 28, 2013 § Leave a Comment
…lies a cityscape that’s built for black and white:
April 26, 2013 § 8 Comments
On Saturday I reviewed David Goodhart’s book The British Dream which explores, in the words of its subtitle, the ‘successes and failures of post-war immigration’. Goodhart, I suggested, ‘touches on some of the critical issues that we face today’. But ‘his insistence on seeing contemporary problems primarily through the lens of immigration only obscures those issues and makes it more difficult to formulate adequate responses’.
Goodhart responded to that review, suggesting that my attempt to marry a critique of multiculturalism to a defence of mass immigration was ‘plain eccentric’. There were three key points to his argument. First, he suggested, ‘decent societies with high levels of trust between citizens require a degree of stability and continuity’. Too much immigration undermines such stability and continuity. Hence ‘the government’s goal of net immigration of “tens of thousands”’ was ‘a necessary but not sufficient part of an integration strategy’. « Read the rest of this entry »