April 7, 2013 § 1 Comment
I am away for a week, so I thought I would unearth some more old material from the vaults, this time debates in which I have been involved. This first is an exchange of letters with the human rights activist Tanuka Loha, currently the Human Right to Housing Program Director at America’s National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, on questions of race, identity and political representation. It is a debate that touches on many of the themes in the contemporary discussion of multiculturalism, as well as obliquely addressing some of the issues raised in the current debate about immigration. It was first published in Catalyst magazine in November-December 2006.
Liberation movements throughout the world have long argued that without the meaningful participation of those who are facing systematic discrimination, society cannot become more equal. Whether we look at suffrage movements or anti-colonial struggles, the right to have one’s own voice, and that of one’s community, heard and represented is an emotive and complex issue but also a necessary precursor to the eradication of inequality. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 27, 2013 § 3 Comments
This is the last extract from my book in progress on the history of moral thought. The book is now, in fact, no longer in progress, as I have completed it. This might be the final extract, but it is not from the final chapter, but the penultimate one, Chapter 19 (I have already run an extract from chapter 20). Chapter 19 explores moral debate in modern China, particularly after the fall of the dynastic system, and the creation, first of a republic in 1911, and subsequently, after four decades of conflict and chaos, of Mao Zedong’s communist regime in 1949. This extract is about the problems of moral thinking in post-1949 China, and the fraught relationship between communism and Confucianism.
For more than two millennia, the identity of China, and the character of its social order, was defined primarily in ethical terms, and given philosophical shape largely by Confucianism. When that tradition, and the social order and dynastic structure it sustained, broke in the twentieth century, inevitably there was chaos, a chaos made more turbulent by the distinctive role of ethics in Chinese society.
In Western Europe, Christianity had provided, for more than a millennium, a shared identity for peoples otherwise divided by language, nation or tribe, and a crucible within which all philosophical, political and moral discussion took place. The Church was the continent’s common voice and its moral guardian. Religion, certainly as it was understood in Europe, barely developed in China. The state, in the form of imperial bureaucracy, performed many of the roles and duties historically taken by the European Church, providing moral instruction, constructing a collective identity, and creating a sense of shared values. Not only was the social role of the state different in China, so was its relationship to the ruling class. In Europe, different sections of the elite – nobles, clerics, merchants, the landed aristocracy, the urban bourgeoisie – had vied with each other for the reins of power, and had fought to control and constrain the authority of the state. Through these struggles the space was cleared for what we now know as civil society, a space that became central to the development of moral debate. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 3, 2013 § 4 Comments
If 2011 brought the promise of democracy to the Arab world, in 2012 democratic change appeared to founder on political reality. In Egypt, democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi has tried to gather into his own hands powers far greater that that held previously by Hosni Mubarak, and is railroading through a constitution that many fear will undermine the gains of the revolution. In Libya and Tunisia Islamist-influenced governments are promoting laws restricting rights, constraining speech, and maintaining social inequality. In Bahrain a movement for democratic change has been brutally suppressed by the government. In Syria, the struggle for democracy has degenerated into a bloodbath, and one to which there appears to be no end.
From the beginnings of the so-called Arab Spring many people worried that democratic change would bring about the ‘wrong’ kind of governments to power, and would create social instability and entrench political reaction, fears that in many ways have materialized. So, how do those who advocate democracy respond?
November 21, 2012 § 2 Comments
Jacques Berlinerblau has responded to my review of his book How to Be Secular. He thinks that, unlike his conservative Christian critics, I have not ‘take[n] the time to understand what [his] arguments actually are’ and have made instead a series of ‘misleading claims’ about them. I disagree with most of Berlinerblau’s list of what he regards as my misleading claims. I don’t want to go line by line through that list refuting each and every claim. I do, however, want to take up two issues, which I regard as the most important in the debate that we are having: the question of democracy and that of how to build a constituency for secularism.
There are, in How to be Secular, two parts to Berlinerblau’s argument about democracy. The first is a political claim about how to build a coalition to promote secularism. The second is a more fundamental claim about the relationship between secularism and the democratic will. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 29, 2012 § 2 Comments
Jacques Berlinerblau, whoses book How to be Secular I reviewed in my last post, took umbrage on Twitter at my characterisation of his argument as anti-democratic. Twitter is not the best medium to have nuanced debate on these kinds of issues, but it was an interesting discussion (the heart of which was a debate not so much about secularism as about democracy) so I have curated the tweets via Storify (slightly reordered to make better sense of the discussion), with some comments thrown in. I hope, however that Jacques Berlinerblau takes up my offer to publish on Pandaemonium any lengthy response he wishes to write. In the meantime here is the Storified Twitter exchange.
May 1, 2012 § 2 Comments
The incumbent candidate falters badly. His main opponent fares barely any better. The candidates from so-called ‘fringe’ parties garner more votes than either of the mainstream ones. The far right gains its biggest success. The only thing striking about the first round of the French elections was that there was nothing striking about it. It followed the pattern of almost every election across Europe over the past few years.
This Sunday Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande will slug it out in the second round. Missing, however, will be the politician who delivered probably the most significant result in the first round will, and who arguably will wield the greatest influence upon the French politics in the months to come, whatever the result of the second round: the Front National’s Marine Le Pen. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 8, 2012 § 4 Comments
In the series of extracts that I am running from my almost-finished book on the history of moral thought, I have reached Chapter 13, which looks at the moral ideas of Hegel, Rousseau and Marx, and at the historicisation of ideas of human nature and morality. This extract is taken from the section on Hegel, Rousseau and the debate about freedom and ‘self-realization’.