November 04, 2006

Anglican Anachronism

Far be it for me to contradict Professor Martin Percy, an academic Anglican, when he writes in the Guardian today but Professor Percy makes errors which are illustrative of problems that we all face in looking to the past. Professor Percy wants to cast the debate over the election of Bishop Gene Robinson in the United States as a debate between on the one side those who beleive in Church democracy ie the election of Bishop Robinson by the synod and those who beleive rather in royalism. He further ties this to an imagined history of the church which stretches back to its beginings. He is wrong- the Anglican Church has been split about many things but democracy has never been a crucial one.

A Blog doesn't give the space to rehearse many of the neccessary arguments to show that the statements above are true. A cursory thought about splits within the Church will have to do- to take the era from which Percy dates his split: the English Civil War saw a battle within Anglicanism- as far as we know both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell were baptised Anglicans. This battle was about many things: amongst them the governance of the Church. Charles beleived that the Church owed him obedience as the successor to the Roman Emperors, Cromwell beleived that the duty of the magistrate was to protect the Church as an association of those united in Christ, warding off atheists and heretics. Any argument about governance saw Charles pit central episcopacy against Cromwellian church autonomy- within the bounds of traditional Christian values.

Other eras in history also had concerns about the governance of the Church. If we turn to Agnes Grey, a novel by Anne Bronte that partly deals with the Church. We find two clergymen- one who is too tied to contemporary fashion and upper class society- Mr Hatfield and another Mr Weston who takes his faith seriously and remains immune to the blandishments of 'modernity'. Mr Hatfield stands upon ceremony, dressing in fine vestments. Mr Weston's faith springs from the heart. The contrast is obvious but its not about democracy but about the faith of the heart versus the formality of the church.

Professor Percy thus has projected his own concerns back onto the past- we must be wary of that. When we read Cromwell ask the Scottish clergy for toleration, or see Bronte attack rich parishioners, we must neither see a liberal nor a Marxist. These people had their own views of the world- they may be wrong but they should be respected and not reinterpreted to fit our teleologies. Professor Percy has got it wrong and his error should be our lesson- to hear the voices of the past as far as possible pronounced in the accents of their times and not to transalate them into supports for our preoccupations.

November 03, 2006

Carnival of Cinema

The Carnival of Cinema is up here there are plenty of good reviews over there to check out including one from this blog- some on Groundhog Day (well you couldn't have one review of Groundhog Day on its own) a good one of Death of a President the new C4 offering and plenty more so go get to it guys and read some movie manuscripts.

November 02, 2006

The Pity of War: Jean-Yves Le Naour The Living Unknown Soldier

Anthelme Mangin was found in France in 1918, a veteran of the first World War, amnesiac and sufferer from what was then called daementia praecox. Mangin over the next twenty four years until his death in 1942 stayed within various mental asylums, being battled over by various groups of people who claimed to be his relatives. Le Naour's biography of Mangin is an incredibly interesting book which sums up a life filled with sadness and pathos- a life that in many ways stands for so many lives within that generation. Lives that were blighted not merely by the obvious effects of the war, deaths, injuries and scars, but by the psychological effects of war- by the hatred felt by men formerly soldiers for their families who had demanded that they serve for the sake of respectability, by the shreiks of men wakening to dreams of nightmare and perhaps more insidious by those who could not remember or became mad. In France many in that case later died when in 1940-4 the asylums were understaffed and undersupplied with food and neccessaries.

Le Naour understands this and as very little can be said about Mangin himself- he ceased to speak much in the 1920s or recognise people, fiddling with the buttons of people who came to see him but registering very little of the outside world. Getting inside the mind of a man who has lost the ability or wish to signify it to the outside world is beyond the capacity of most who meet him- let alone those who meet him through the fragments of the source record- records which only arose when the case reached particular noteriety, some of which even then have been lost in the administrative confusion of World War Two.

So Le Naour portrays not Mangin- but the way that society reacted to Mangin and particularly the way that those who beleived that he was their relative beleived sometimes to the exclusion of any rational thought that this was their father, brother, husband or son. Le Naour's portrait is designed to show us the desperation of the generation that fought in the first world war- his drawing is acute- Mangin once identified faded away but whilst he was anonymous he became a kind of monument to every man. Just as French men and women gathered at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier saying this could be your son, this could be your husband- so families gathered around the unknown lunatic exclaiming the same thing.

Le Naour points both to the pathos and the self righteousness of a grief which seeks an object to greive over, pointing to a particular situation and particular time he illuminates the tragedy of war- the tragedy of lives ripped apart not by the obvious wounds made by gunshot, sword or bomb, but the hidden wounds made psychologically on the frame of both the soldiers and those linked to them- in short upon us all.

War whether now or a thousand years ago echoes through the minds of those effected for years and years- as Le Naour comments even now one family continues to plead that Mangin was misidentified and wants his corpse exhumed for genetic testing- despite the fact that the evidence from administrative records indicate that the Anthelme clearly wasn't who they think he is.

November 01, 2006

Catilina: All the King's Men 1949

Given the fact that a remake has just been made- it seems like its time to turn back to the original 1949 version of All the King's Men. All the King's Men is a film of many sides and many views- concerning the rise and fall of a southern governor, Willie Stark (modelled on Huey Long governor of Lousiana- the film was adapted from a book of the same name). We see the film through the eyes of a journalist- Stark's amanuensis and later political sleaze merchant, Jack Burden. Through Jack's eyes we understand Stark's peculiar appeal- a man without guile, very much Mr Smith, a man with resentment at being out-manouervred and a man with good intentions who rises to become governor of his state through campaigning sometimes roughly against the old established political machines. Stark's career is divided into two parts: his first two campaigns against corruption in which he appears to be a Don Quixote of American politics- honourable but inefficient- and then after his honourable tilt for the governorship he becomes a second Stark who wins the governorship and is gradually destroyed by power.

This film therefore falls into the category of tragedy, a great man is destroyed by a fatal flaw. Its worth though analysing what his greatness and what his flaw consist of. The film portrays Willie as a successful governor, his greatness is his creation of a state which can fulfill its citizens' wants, which can educate them, can care for them when they are sick and which has their good at its heart. His fall though is that the methods he uses to create such a state and to maintain it through his own government (we get no hint he has a successor or a party behind him) are methods which are dubious- he develops appetites for power which consume those around him either sexually or morally. Willie falls not because he makes a political mistake or a policy error but because he turns into a bad man. Echoing through this film is a conversation in which Willie states that so long as he helps the people of the state he can make up the rules as he goes along- he can be as evil as he likes personally so long as he is benificent- the conclusion of the film is that the opposite is true.

Inside the film lurk the ideals of republicanism- the parallels to Mr Smith goes to Washington a film of the 1930s are striking and will be analysed in a later post- but key to this is that the magistrate must be an ethical man himself in order to legislate. The opposing idea of Tacitean policy is rebutted by the example of Stark and the other characters almost universal condemnation of him. Their idea is predominately classical. Through their insipid mouths, we can hear the voices of Cicero condemning Catilina, Milton condemning Cromwell. What is unusual is that this film presents the other side- we don't in Cicero's account of Catilina see Catilina's charisma or his dynamism. Judge Stanton and his friends condemn Stark but offer no solutions. Stark offers solutions and his own corruption.

Many critics of the new film that has just come out have said that this story is the oldest in the book, that its hackneyed. The New film may have lost the old one's complexity but the 1949 version gives us an old story of rise and fall, of demagogues flouting the law, but it does that in a context of political ideas stretching back to the classical world. Willie Stark is a metaphor for the threat to the Republic that the people constitute- your attitude to him depends on your attitude to that threat and whether you are willing to accept dictatorial government so long as its good over democratic government by process if its bad.

The difficulties of politics in democracy haven't changed and this film serves as a warning to the modern world of that- I can only hope the remake will when I see it do the same efficient job.

October 30, 2006

Family Breakdown: the Historical Perspective

The History and Policy website is a valuable effort to bring a longer perspective to the problems of our day. I would quibble that often the articles are too short and seem to rush to policy implications but then again their audience, civil servants and politicians, need short and concise thought not long and over elaborate musings. The offerings this week concentrate very much upon the field of child support. Both Thomas Nutt and Tanya Evans have produced interesting papers which tend towards similar conclusions- both see child care in a long perspective Nutt focusing on the simularities between the new arrangements in the UK and the poor law drafted in the sixteenth century and Evans upon the failure to implement successive proposals from the 1970s on.

The problem though is that both these articles are institutional and they illustrate the flaws of institutional history over the long duree. The point about the situation now and the difficulties of forcing payment from fathers is that the problem is not merely the practical one of finding payment. Whereas Evans in particular is right that in the past that problem was grave because of the stigma attached to women who gave birth to illegitimate children, she and Nutt forget that in the present climate the strongest rhetorical argument about the position of fathers rests upon the equality of the sexes- its about access and the right of fathers to have a relationship with their children rather than about the evils of mothers. Consequently the debate has shifted rhetorically and consequently some of the problems that Evans and Nutt observe have become even more complicated: we now have demands from both parents for access and for funds.

Despite this both articles are well worth reading for an understanding of the context to this issue and a brief review barely gives a flavour to either article.

Reasons for Failure in Iraq

If we fail in Iraq, the question asked in many capitols around the world, not least London and Washington will be why? Many answers will be given- but one that opponents and supporters of the war are already sketching out is inadequate execution- if so then this report from the New York Review of Books deserves a wider circulation. It is mainly about George Bush's religion- but its last couple of paragraphs relate to appointment procedures in Iraq- to summarise it quotes conclusions from a recent study in Iraq which finds that there were hundreds of Browns (reference to Michael Brown the incompetent head of reconstruction after the Katrina storm) in Iraq and particularly zones in on one appointment- the replacement of an internationally respected conflict management expert and medical proffessor by an evangelical anti-abortion activist as head of the Iraqi medical services. If this is true- and I don't know and would be willing to listen to evidence- then it is further evidence that this invasion right or wrong was handled with the minimum of competence.

Most of the comments below relate to Iran though there is a first link to things about Iraq.

October 29, 2006


The Carnival of the Godless is up here- there are a couple of really interesting posts there and quite a lot worth reading both for the godless and those with more god in their life!

I especially reccomend this which is an interesting companion piece to arguments made on this blog here- my blog focuses on the political aspects of private knowledge, Richard Chappel attacks its philosophical basis. You don't have to accept Chappel's argument to accept mine- but there is an interesting convergeance between the two.

Chicken Hawks and Virtu

Over the last three years there have been some intriguing developments in American as opposed to English politics about the Iraq War. In both countries the war provoked huge opposition on the left of the political spectrum- from figures like Russ Feingold in America and Ming Campbell in Britain. Yet the terms of the opposition were subtlely different and one of those ways that opposition has been different deserves much more highlighting than it is getting.

In America, democrat after democrat led by Markos Moulitsas and John Kerry in different ways, has claimed that they are the party of the army. Kos in particular has gone on again and again about the antithesis between what he calls Fighting Dems and Chickenhawks on the Republican Side- men like Cheney, Wolfowitz and Bush. Partly obviously this is the influence of a key strand in American politics- Vietnam and its related traumas- your poster for instance found himself sitting at a dinner in Cambridge between an eminent history proffessor from Harvard and another American academic discussing how both had been lucky enough to miss the draft to Vietnam. In Kos's case the personal effects of Desert Storm are obviously there throughout his blog and I don't think he would deny them- but even so there is something here that requires explanation.

The British mythology of the second World War for example is unabashedly civilian- despite the recent series of adverts on the tube about the sufferings of servicemen- the British tend to see the war through the eyes of the Londoners or Coventry men and women sheltering from the blitz. Unlike the first war, the second war's literature is all about evacuation and evacuees. This tendency builds upon the British civilian experience of war which America doesn't have but it also reflects an older and perhaps interesting aspect to this discussion.

For British men and women are not citizens and have no real cult of citizendry to draw upon- they are subjects to the crown and to a peculiar crown which has maintained through chance the last of the early modern composite states into the era of nationalisms. Whereas Americans are citizens, or in particular to quote Ira Rosencratz, they are 'citizen-soldiers'. When one looks at a film like Michael Moore's Farhenheit 911 Moore seeks to dramatise the inequalities of America by looking at the inequality between mostly Black servicemen and middle class civilians- the rhetorical point is fascinating as though Moore is binding together enfranchisment and claims for it with military service. This idea of Citizen-Soldiers has a long history- stretching back to Machiavelli who attacked the idea of militias because he beleived in a citizen army. It also influences other aspects of life in the US from belief in Gun Control to Rightwing militias- but it also highlights how different some in the American left are from their European counterpartners. Blair's war record is much less of an issue than Bush's and the phrase Chickenhawk has never to my knowledge been used by a leftwinger in Britain in a major publication.

There are other factors around obviously- personal and political- but this is one distinction between the way that the anti-Iraq war argument has been made that throws an interesting light on the differences between two arguably similar political cultures.