December 22, 2006

Seven Successes of the Year

James Higham has merrily tagged me for Christmas with his latest meme- the seven best things I've done this year- and he wants me both to complete said meme and tag seven others so here goes.

My seven acheivements are

1 Like James to start blogging- its been great fun and great to meet so many excellent folk through talking to them via an internet connection and a combative interchange of ideas.

2 To have made many cups of tea and to have got others to make me many cups of tea- one must always realise that its the small things of life that matter, tea may be small but there are many who would agree with me, its a key part of life as are all the other essentials, books, movies etc.

3 To have seen some fantastic films- one night this year will never leave me when unable to sleep I gave up and decided to go downstairs and watch a DVD on the TV in my shared student house, I watched Wild Strawberries and its the kind of film that like a good book has never left me, if you don't see another movie this year, go rent or buy Wild Strawberries directed by Ingmar Bergman and watch it. I can't describe all the feelings that this film evokes for me in a part of a post- I will post about it some time later in more detail.

4. Likewise another acheivement of the year has been to discover Ismail Kadare's novels. One of my best friends from my time at Oxford got me into Orhan Pamuk and Chinua Achebe last year, the best thing that can be said about Kadare is that he is at their level- a fantastic novelist who really involves you in and gets you entangled in the worlds he creates.

5. If Kadare is the novelist I feel proudest of discovering this year, then perhaps reading Muzzafar Allam on Early Modern India is the work of scholarship that's intrigued me most. Its amazing to discover more about somethign you knew nothing about before. Allam's work for me fell definitely into this category of illumination.

6. I haven't been to that many art exhibitions but I have to say the exhibition of manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam at Cambridge was fantastic, its beauty amazed me and stunned me in different ways. I really enjoyed it.

7. And as for music- my discovery of the year has to be the Lucksmiths, who have a nice grasp of both lyrics and tune. Their song fiction in particular is one that stays with me.

8. Well I had more than ten on the last ten things meme I did, so I'm going to have more than seven here, and the eighth is that my greatest acheivement is to have some of the best friends, family and blogfriends anyone could want- that's enough acheiving now I'm going to justify my eigth by deciding which ones are going to suffer by composing their own lists...

This list of blogfriends to whom I'm passing this is not an exclusive list but it is a list of resourceful good bloggers, who will I hope come up with interesting stuff- there are good souls out there on the blogosphere- many in my blogroll, many in Blog Power, many who I have never heard of- but here are some of them...

1. First of my blogging friends, a resolute redoubt of good sense and sound thought- here enters the list that Dickie Bird of bloggers, the Political Umpire

2. Well if we have an umpire, we have to give him someone to umpire- how about a contrary radical- the most contrary and interesting radical I know is found on the pages of La Femme Contraire where Liz can always be relied upon to question assumptions and come up with interesting ideas about neglected topics.

3. Another blogger with the eye for a good topic and the determination to think soundly about all such things, is a determined denizen of Cambridge, step forward Ellee Seymour- as she is taking a break from blogging for Christmas no doubt we'll hear from her on this in the New Year- but seriously her blog is one of the best around.

4. From a Tory stalwart to a Labour stalwart, El Dave's blog may be called unoriginal but hey he's never beleived in the trade descriptions act, he's one of the most inciteful and original commenter and commentators around, head over to Unoriginal Name 38 for original thoughts.

5. I have a constituency who won't be happy now- El Dave's roots lie in the LSE Labour party, what about the LSE Tories. Well they have their own great blogger, Matt Sinclair is out of the country at the moment, but I trust he is still musing and can muse enough to put seven things he's acheived down on his list of musings

6. Radical, Tory, Labour, Tory- time to get away from Britain- well what better blogger to do that than the great Granite Studio. He is fascinating, writes about China and knows his stuff. His blog is indispensible to anyone seriously interested in politics and not merely in partisan hackery- but then none of the people on this list is merely a partisan hacks- they are all interesting.

7. Blogging isn't merely a serious occupation- well it is- but there are some blogs which are very serious, incredibly serious conservative blogs say in the states which make their conservatism very clear- take for example Jon Swift who considers the news so biased he takes his news from Rush Limbaugh!

Anyway I hope these guys respond- and I hope everyone reading this goes and bullies them to respond- they are seven fantastic bloggers, as is Mr Higham and as indeed are all of the lads and lasses on my blogroll, so go get round them!

Now off to find some tea....

Interesting light on Gay Marriage and Children

I merely flag this up as providing some interesting evidence that there is almost no distinction between a heterosexual couple and a gay couple for bringing up kids. The research looks impressive and the final words must go to the American Psychological Association which said that

Not a single study has found children to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents

As I say this is not an area of expertise for me so I'm unwilling to make much comment upon it but it is at least an interesting statement and it ties in with what I have to say my own prejudice tells me with regard to the idea that two parents of the same sex would be as capable as two parents of different sexes to bring up kids.

The Public Interest and the Press

It is fascinating how language can lead to political confusion- its been perfectly clear this week that such a confusion about the murder of the prostitutes in Ipswich has resulted in press coverage might lead to parlous consequences- press coverage that has been justified upon the basis of the public interest, maybe its just worth pondering for a moment what those two words mean- because there are two ways of interpreting those two words and it seems to me that whilst the explanation of the press behaviour rests upon one definition of those two words, the justification of their behaviour rests upon a second interpretation of those words.

Its worth turning in this context to the definition of those words provided within the Press Complaint's Commission Code of Practice

The public interest

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
i) Detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety.
ii) Protecting public health and safety.
iii) Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

3. Whenever the public interest is invoked, the PCC will require editors to demonstrate fully how the public interest was served.

4. The PCC will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so.

5. In cases involving children under 16, editors must demonstrate an exceptional public interest to over-ride the normally paramount interest of the child.

I have quoted this in full to demonstrate some of the problems inherent in the defence. The Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice obviously in using the term public interest, as a way of defining what it is in the public's interest to know. So we have the cases of crime, safety and the much more difficult one of detecting lies (to which I'll move onto later). The Press Complaints' Commission therefore defines the wording in the way that I would say its my interest to have a job and a girlfriend.

There is a second definition of the word interest though and it becomes interestingly clear that the meaning of the words in the law and justifications of the law have become unclear- take this response to a BBC viewer's question by Ian Christie a media lawyer about the Catherine Zeta Jones wedding

Well the law applies equally to everybody, of course, but what it does recognise is that there is a greater interest in the private lives of public figures and that's precisely why cases like the Douglas's case come to court and why they reach such a high public profile.

A greater interest here cannot mean the public interest. There is no public good at stake in Miss Zeta Jones and Mr Douglas's marriage- nothing will collapse and noone will die if one magazine has an exclusive contract for the pictures and another does not. But Mr Christie is using the word interest differently here- whereas in the code quoted above it meant the public good, here it means what the public are interested in. The public interest might be transalated in this context not as the public good but as the public fascination.

I am no lawyer and couldn't speak about the law and whether there is a confusion. But it does seem to me that the justifications for the present arrangements draw upon the difficulties with interpreting that phrase public interest because it can mean two things. The first thing, the public good, is self evidently something in a democracy that we should all know about and be concerned with. The second thing what the public might be interested in, is a different matter. Our fascinations with the private lives of those caught in the spotlight are not defensible ethically in the same way and they can't be defended by recourse to the same kinds of argument. It is a separate and totally different case that we ought to know what we are fascinated by, as opposed to the (in my view quite rational case) that we ought to know that which it is neccessary for us to know for the survival of ourselves, the state and the good of government.

Confusing these two 'public interests' allows the press to pretend that they are arguing for the public good when all they are doing is commercially feeding public fascination. The case can be made in Ipswich for instance that the press feeding public fascination with the suspects is actually attacking the public interest which lies in the guilty party being found and found guilty in a court. Anything that makes that more difficult is a direct attack upon the public interest- and yet the confusions of the language allow editors to argue that it is in the public interest because the public are interested. The language is so slippery here that we possibly need to avoid the term public interest at all- we need to press journalists to define are they talking about a public good or a public fascination. Is the lie they are detecting a lie that we need to know about to understand how to vote or is it just a lie about someone's private life? What kind of public interest are they really talking about?

Perhaps, as a closing thought, the real public interest lies in getting editors to define what they mean and what is going on when they use the phrase 'public interest'!

December 21, 2006

Littlejohn exposed

Richard Littlejohn is one of those hacks that gives hackery a bad name. His journalism is empty of subtlety or thought, like a British Bill O'Reilly he blethers through the tabloids a scummy version of self satisfied hatred. Littlejohn's most recent column on the Ipswich murders is brilliantly destroyed here (hat tip to the ever informative Umpire for providing the link) but there is one thing that our fisker misses which I think is integral to Littlejohn's whole view of the world and that is an absense of any kind of compassion.

For Littlejohn the women murdered in Ipswich are whores who deserve what they got, they are girls who rejected the chance to be missionaries in Darfur in order to adopt another kind of missionary position. The fisk above shows how inadequate that is as an explanation of why these women ended on the street. But it also fails to even attempt to reach inside their psyches. What is it like to stand upon a street corner waiting for hours, to have sex with a man who may be twice your age maybe who is rude and violent? What is it like standing in all weathers exhibiting your body to allcomers and waiting for a car to drive up beside you? Has Littlejohn ever looked at the statistics about how much sex workers are assaulted and raped, has he ever wondered what its like to know that your co-workers have been assaulted or raped?

Furthermore how can Littlejohn from a study at the Daily Mail reach into the souls of these women and tell us that was what defined them as human beings- we don't know they may have been excellent friends, daughters even mothers. Has he even tried to work out what they may have been like, what they were as people? There is no empathy, no attempt to get into another person's skin in his columns- all they do is invite his readers to feel a smug self satisfaction that they aren't like that. Its difficult to say but there are some kinds of reading that lead to a closing of the mind- reading Littlejohn is one of those kinds of reading.


Mike Ion is right to post over at his blog about the Guardian's undercover operation inside the BNP which revealed that the BNP is increasingly targetting Middle Class areas within London and hopes to get a seat or two in the London Assembly. Some of what the report portrays- codes for accessing emails, secret names, people hiding their proffessions is very interesting- for a supposedly democratic party, the BNP seem very hesitant to confirm either who they are or what they really think.

Mike proposes a grand alliance to sweep away the BNP between the democratic parties and anti-racist groups. He wants the BNP isolated and exposed for the incompetent nutcases that they are. BNP councillers have been singularly inefficient wherever they've got into power: being accused of committing benefit fraud, a council candidate has been arrested for explosives offences, five councillers have been accused of electoral fraud and at least one of assault. In Barking and Dagenham, Dan Kelley a BNP counciller resigned admitting that

There’s meetings that go right over my head and there’s little point in me being there

The BNP quite clearly are incompetent when elected and do not serve the communities they aspire to serve. It isn't difficult to work out that this is a party of morons and fools- who will never serve the whole community and barely disguise an ugly fascist and racist past.

But is Mike right about the way to deal with the BNP? The BNP's main strength seems to come out of a vague xenophobia, the kind of anti-immigrant feeling the Tories occasionally play to and a sense that foreigners or "ethnics" get the best resources. BNP members also have a sense of anti-establishment feeling, that everyone is out to get them, that the mainstream condemns their point of view and that the establishment is hiding some nefarious and illusory plot to destroy Britain. Their online newspaper for instance is called "The Voice of Freedom" and their website at present calls upon readers to send a card to "political prisoner" Kevin Hughes (arrested for a racist attack in a pub on a Kurdish asylum seeker).If we are looking for a means to weaken the BNP we are looking really at a means to weaken their support, to diminish their attraction.

There are arguments that condemnation works. The BNP is attempting to get into posh London council boroughs- the Guardian mentions Chelsea and Kensington amongst others- and those are just the kind of places where social stigma really matters. Where the tactic of making BNP support unthinkable has a real effect upon people. Where politics is partly a matter of fashion, isolating the BNP has an impact in pulling people towards the Tories and away from that kind of logic. It also makes the arguments that the BNP espouse unsayable in certain circles and again that makes the arguments less strong- one of the things about politics is that as soon as you express an argument you become anchored to it and you have to think it through and provide it with cohesion. Making supporting the BNP something you can't do in company actually weakens the political resolve of those who might think about supporting it.

On the other hand social stigma means that the minority who do support the BNP become even more fervent. There is a case for the Tories and major parties keeping up their attacks on the BNP (and incidentally moderating their attacks on each other, when Tony Benn labels the Tories racist he diminishes the shock value of that accusation when played against the BNP) but there is also a case for the rest of us concentrating on calmly exposing what the BNP say and what the press often report about say asylum seekers which buttress the BNP's claims. If members and supporters of the BNP beleive that they are oppressed, then shouting at them and coalescing against them won't neccessarily persuade them of anything. But demonstrating that the general climate of fear about immigration is exaggerated, that Islam is a religion containing both peaceful and violent factions and that most Muslims in the UK are of the first not the second persuasion, destroying some of the historical illusions- the ideas of unique Western civilisation, those are the ways forward. Sometimes a reasoned discussion can obtain more success than a denounciation- lets see people like Blair and Cameron with their legendary charm get out and do some public speaking, do some debating against Griffin and his cohorts of hate.

There is plenty of fantastic work being done to expose the BNP and its faulty ideology. But we are faced with a situation where the BNP seems to be gaining votes and support. I've reflected on some of the more sociological reasons before here but there are real actions that we can take. Condemnation can work but it must be accompanied by reasoned explanation. If we just condemn we feed into the fantasy that there is an establishment hiding a truth about Britain, we must take on and expose the ideas and the fallacies. Particularly we must defend the idea that there are many Muslims, a vast majority, who are non-violent and perfectly ordinary- indeed just like Christians or atheists who care much more about their children's school than the state of the world and who have political views that they attempt to acheive with peaceful means. We should also make more of the links between the British and American far right and terrorist groups, Daniel Pipes, a blogger with whom I often disagree has documented some cases here.

The BNP can be defeated- they lie far more than they tell the truth and are incompetent when they get in. But they won't be defeated if all we do is yell insults at them- we must expose and persuade- show that they are wrong about the facts, inadequate when in power, have no answers to the problems that Britain and the world face and fail at the base to understand the fundemental equality of all human beings. We must expose their attempts to become respectable and show they are still racist, we must also show why racism is a self defeating and obnoxious outlook upon the world.

December 20, 2006

American Weakness?

Both Mario Loyola in the National Review Blog and Sidney Blumenthal in Salon reflect upon an interesting new reality in foreign politics. Loyola argues that there is no way out of Iraq that isn't political, that increased troop levels won't make any difference and that only by negotiation and public diplomacy can the US extricate itself from Iraq. Blumenthal from a very different perspective argues a very similar case- suggesting that the Neo-Conservatives and their (in his view) puppet President are at the moment mistaking the way that American power can be projected: they think that force can acheive their own goals and they are wrong.

To me this highlights one of the main foreign policy debates of our era. It isn't so much the analysis of how we ought to proceed in foreign politics, whether ethically as Robin Cook and Bill Kristol would reccomend or realistically, the more Kissinger, Baker or Hurd view, that is the issue but our analysis of our own position in the world.

There are two issues here- the first is our position visa vis other powers and the second our position with regard to remaking or resetting the world order to benefit us. In both regards, the conventional position has been that America is a hyperpower and that the central problem of global politics concerns American power and how to use it- this for instance is Charles Krauthammer's position in a recent perceptive essay about America's position in the world over the 90s and 2000s. It was also Hubert Vedrine's position when as French Foreign Secretary he argued for a multipolar world and against American hyperpower.

But it might not be true, indeed it might be far more relevant to think not of American and Western strength as our ultimate foreign policy challenge, but Western and American weakness- Iraq and North Korea demonstrate in different ways how difficult it is for the West to cajol and influence great powers who resent our economic and cultural preeminence, like Russia, great powers like China that consider themselves our heirs, medium powers like Iran opposed to us, even allies like Israel and of course events on the ground in Iraq and events in a very weak nation like North Korea. Maybe we need to adjust our thinking to our own weakness- I wonder what abandoning the word hyperpower might do to all our visions of foreign policy.

5000 Years of Middle Eastern History in 90 Seconds

Here is quite a fun website where you can download a map which shows how the fortunes of Middle Eastern Empires over the last five thousand years changed and who was the predominate empire in the region in various periods. Its too simplistic- there were Sumerians around alongside the first Egyptian Empire, the Parthians contested the region with the Romans, the Byzantines held on to Anatolia, despite Chosroes II reaching Constantinople in the early seventh century, right up until 1453. As Byzantine diplomats continuously proved the Middle East was the region in reality where great power politics such as Henry Kissinger or Richard Nixon would have understood began thousands of years before say it began in Europe, as states like the Greek city states proved there is also the danger of assuming that all states down the history of the region were states as we understand them today- this map neccessarily makes light of 5,000 years of Middle Eastern History, not seeing how much these empires differed from our states today. I'd for example dispute quite how in most ancient empires there was an actual border and not an area where the authority of the ancient empire ebbed out into influence and then into ignorance. The Sahara was never the Egyptian frontier- it was more, in my understanding, of a zone into which Egyptian influence extended a long way. Having said all that- its definitely fun, and its great to see with your own eyes the extent of something like the Mongol empire.

Their map of the history of religion is also interesting, (again not sure about their strict boundaries- the boundaries of ideologies are always more fuzzy than lines on maps can show- there were Christians left in the heart of Islam and Jews lived throughout Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages, renaissance, enlightenment and right up until now) if only to remind one of how unusual monotheistic religion was right up until the age of colonisation throughout the world. Most of the world outside Eurasia until that point was polytheistic and beleived in various kinds of spirits or pagan gods- monotheism's dominance in the American continent or in Africa, not to mention in Australasia is a recent phenomenon- it is always worth remembering how recent most of our ideas about the shape of the world and the way it is organised are.

December 19, 2006

New Media

Prompted by Time Magazine's declaration that we are the people of the year, a lot of analysis has recently been done of what the internet has actually done for the production of new information and its dissemination. Is this in short a revolution as great as the printing Presz in the fourteenth century, allowing some poor Phd student the ability to talk to the thousands (here's hoping) or more realistically tens of you who read this website, is that a media revolution and if so what is it really about.

Coming swiftly on the heels of James's recent Blogpower initiative (go down the page for a link to the Blogpower blog) the Time magazine article shows no awareness of the difficulties that James so sensibly is hoping to help with. A blog like this or even a much more established and thoroughly praiseworthy blog like Stumbling and Mumbling is almost unknown to most of those outside the blogging fraternity. Blogging is very much an in crowd affair- there are commenters for instance on this blog whose comments I instantly recognise and can fit into a template of previous comments- the Umpire, Dreadnought, James Higham, Ellee, Liz, Edmund and many other regulars are people who force me to clarify my thoughts and work out what I mean to say in a much more thorough way than I would otherwise. And obviously anyone just coming to this blog is free to join them- by just clicking on the comment link and writing a piece. The general point I'm making though is that this blog doesn't really influence the world, and unless my traffic jumps by a factor of around a thousand I'm not going to have influence. What it is doing is opening up a new social space- its opening up a discussion between various people on the site and me- a discussion that's carried on in other blogs and on other fora, and in many ways that's the point.

Tim Footman in the Guardian approaches this from another point of view, that increasingly big corporations- like Google for this blog are dominating even the new media. Its interesting that a very famous and successful blogger like Andrew Sullivan has now moved across to Time. I don't think that will have many consequences for blogging- just look down the list of posts on this page and you'll find very little that Google would be interested in. Furthermore I think the effect is much more likely to be less dramatic than Footman imagines- just as we aren't going to change the world, so Google or Wordpress won't change us- they have no interest in upsetting their client base and largely no interest in regulating what we can publish- afterall we'd all just move and because blogging is a social network, the reputation of a provider which did that would swiftly end in them losing customers.

One influence I do think is being underrated though and that is the effect that blogging will have on journalism. Old fashioned pad and pen journalism, where a reporter sticks aroudn and asks some questions has been out of fashion for years but in reality it and name recognition are the things which make reading a newspaper essential for even the most dedicated blogger. The New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, BBC and many others provide bloggers with a set of "facts" upon which we hang our stories. Our threat, and I think it is a partial threat, is not to the media organisations but rather to some of their employees- to the opinion journalists. They are the ones ultimately who are going to be most changed and confronted by the new developments in the blogosphere- because I sense that many of them are going to have to become more irregular in their posting, more responsive to comments and more accepting of a wider range of other opinion journalists. Its they that are facing competition- and you can see it on Comment is Free. Having said that- the Toynbees and Kaletskies have the advantage which we bloggers don't have which is name recognition. The other consequence of this maybe that opinion journalism gets more partisan- one of the distressing things about blogging is the popularity of your Malkins, your partisans and I wonder whether the kind of open debate symbolised by Fox News might stifle the kind of open debate symbolised by In Our Time.

These are just musings- personally I don't think blogging is as epoch making a change as it seems- we are gifted with a new publishing format that enables anyone to write an article but that doesn't mean that anyone's going to read it or even to be honest that the article will be any good.

December 18, 2006

Thucydides, epochal wars and the Twentieth Century

Phillip Bobbitt in the Daily Times makes an interesting but ultimately highly unsatisfying argument. He argues based upon a reading of Thucydides that there are such things as epochal wars- he gives other examples of such wars, the Hundred Years War between Britain and France, the Thirty Years War in Germany, and suggests that what makes them epochal is the way that a historian or historians unite them together in a construct, showing that all the wars depend upon the same reason. For Thucydides for example, Bobbit argues the Peloponesian war was a unity because it resulted from the unhealthy rivalry between the city states of Greece in the fifth century BC.

Bobbitt is right to point out to us that wars and periodisation within history are artifacts created by historians. They flow not from the essential nature of things but from the historian's ability to classify them- so that for example the Hundred Years war describes a period of alternating war and peace between England and France not a continuous war. The thirty years war though it does describe continuing warfare for thirty years, still includes wars between various states in which the actors came in and out of the minuet of conflict like dancers at a ball, everyone changing partners but the dance continuing. The same might be said to a degree of the First and Second world wars, there were discontinuities within the makeup of the coalitions on either side.

Essenses though are things that historians fly away from. Much of the historiography of our own time has been about the breaking up of large conflicts into pieces or the unification of previously disparate conflicts and periods. One can through understanding the Dutch position in the Thirty Years War, as Jonathan Scott has, elucidate the under currents of British civil war politics. John Morrill and Conrad Russell have forced us to see that the English Civil War was a war of three Kingdoms, not just a war confined to England. Other historians focus in and draw out the unique features say of the Somme to British culture. Historians continually move their microscope in and out, attempting to capture the place of a detail within a larger period. Periods are fluid, so Jonathan Israel moves the enlightenment's origins back to the 1650s even as Jonathan Clarke moves the end of the ancien regime in England forward to the 1850s.

Bobbit's epochal wars and his reliance on a single imagination to make them ends up losing what is so instructive about history which is its variety. Not merely a variety of subject studied, but also a variety of imaginations to study it. A variety of simularities across period noticed and variety of ways of defining human experience. History is about the knowledge of the particular, but to know the particular one must appreciate the general and always in the historian's mind there is a dialogue both between the details he knows and the wider picture he infers from his own research, and also between his own research, his own picture and that of others.

We should not fossilise our own attitudes too readily- history is a pilgrimage but the point of pilgrimage isn't arrival- its travelling.

December 17, 2006

Justifying General Augusto Pinochet: The Triumph of Ends over Means

Over the last couple of days, there have been many attacks and defences mounted of General Pinochet, the dictatorial ruler of Chile in the seventies and eighties. Pinochet has in recent times been both the object of hatred and the object of laudatory notices. In Britain of course, his defenders hark both to a national moment as well as an international one- the Political Umpire in his recent post on the subject expresses my views on the matter impecably- that any alliance with a dictator is merely an alliance of temporary fortune. To put it in Palmerstonian terms- the interests of democracies are eternal, their dictatorial allies are ephemeral.

There is though a more international defence of Pinochet and his like, amongst whom Salazar, Franco and possibly now Putin or Musharref might be included. The defence which says that though they had murdered and tortured their populations, though they were tyrants that abused and withheld freedom, the outcome of their policies was good for the countries concerned. They kept the lid on unrest by dubious practices and methods of dictatorship- Pinochet stopped Allende if the price was the abolition of democracy, the deaths of thousands of Chileans and the torture of thousands more then it was a price worth paying.

There are two ways of attacking this question. The first comes in a notable argument in the Weekly Standard, which argues that the counterfactual history of disaster is simply untrue. We don't know what Chile would have looked like without Pinochet. We also to be honest should not excuse Pinochet's crimes by saying that there were other criminals around- if I murder your mother it doesn't really deal with my guilt if I tell you that she wasn't very nice really and anyway that there is a serial killer down the road. It doesn't make it any better if I tell you that you are psychologically better off for the murder- the crime remains a crime.

What this ultimately comes down to though is a second more important distinction and that is that if we are democrats, we are democrats first and partisans second. We beleive in democracy before we beleive in our own policy prescriptions. Therefore we would not wish for a coup to bring in with torture and murder, our own preferences- indeed we would count that to be worse than a democratically elected government which we opposed. People have tried to codify this in conventions of human rights, and in fundamental laws since the very early development of constitutional government- and this adherence to a process over an outcome is what is really aimed at. The process we are describing is a process of corporate decision making- democracy is about a choice made by an electorate for or against a government (in most systems that ends up being a choice of who to throw out not who to put in) and the key part, something that Francis Fukuyama in his awful book about the End of History captured, is that it involves a recognition of the autonomy of other individuals to decide things for themselves. Democracy ultimately is about, that horrendous word, respect- respect for the right of others to make their own decisions.

If you go outside the process, like some of Pinochet or Putin's spokesmen seek to do, in search of an outcome, what you actually do is deny the autonomy and the humanity of those that oppose you. (Of course you may be forced to do so if they go outside of the process themselves: but that ultimately is a justification more often abused than rightly used). Pinochet's supporters therefore in search of short term policy goals and even medium term prosperity, undervalue the right of every human being to be respected as an agent that can make its own decisions- the forcing of a society into a particular mould is not in the view of this blogger a sensible or a right way of proceeding with politics. The death of Pinochet should be greeted by all with glee that a tyrant has fallen.

A new Blogfocus

Yet again Mr Higham has found a wonderful collection of posts for his Blogfocus.