Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell

The Spanish Civil War was the making of Orwell - both by showing him what he thought was the real possibility of a functioning workers' regime and by showing him what happened when the Communists got into a position where they could persecute their fellow leftists.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Bloody Nasty People, Daniel Trilling

This is a short history of Britain's extreme political right, told by Daniel Trilling, an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Rage Against God, Peter Hitchens

I am, as I keep insisting, very uninterested in theology.  My religion can easily be summed up, understood and either rejected or accepted, by anybody who listens to Handel’s ‘Messiah’, who reads the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and who has seen the great English cathedrals. 
So wrote Peter Hitchens recently on his Mail on Sunday blog.  It is as good a summary as any of his attitude towards religion, an attitude which is explored at greater length in this book.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Blogging the Odyssey - General Summary

My project of blogging the Odyssey has now finished, and it's time to draw the threads together.

The Odyssey may be the third oldest text of Western civilisation, after the Iliad and the works of Hesiod.  It grew out of a long tradition of bardic songs about the deeds of gods and heroes.  It may or may not have been put together by a single individual, and it may or may not have reached substantially final form in the seventh century BC (most scholars used to think the eighth century more likely - some would prefer a dating in the sixth).

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The War We Never Fought, Peter Hitchens

I like Peter Hitchens' books and journalism.  His work is part good sense, part wrong-but-thought-provoking, and part cranky nonsense.  This book is his latest shot in his ongoing war against the modern world.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Bloody Sunday, Douglas Murray

On 30 January 1972, the British Army carried out the worst massacre of British citizens since Peterloo in 1819.  The half hour beginning just before 4pm on that afternoon must have been picked over at greater length and in greater detail than any other similar time period in human history - with the possible exception of the JFK assassination.

This book is a study of Bloody Sunday and the Saville Inquiry that was set up by the Blair government to investigate what happened on that afternoon.  Its author, Douglas Murray, is a well-known neoconservative opponent of Islamist terrorism.  However, Murray succeeds in giving us a mostly dispassionate and judicious account of the events of 30 January 1972 and the protracted attempts that were made to elucidate them.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Mein Kampf: Part I, Adolf Hitler

This is not a book that needs much introduction.  It comes in two parts.  I have only read the first.  I doubt that the second is much better.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Good Old Days, Ernst Klee and others

Following on from my post on "Hitler and the banality of evil".....

Understandably enough, Holocaust literature tends to be written from the perspective of the victims - think Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel.  This book, however, tells the story of the Shoah from the point of view of the perpetrators.  It is an anthology of painstakingly collected letters, reports, diaries, interviews and photographs created by the men of the SS, military and police who carried out the genocide.  Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote the foreword: "This is a horrible book to read, and yet one that should be read".

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Third Reich in Power, Richard Evans

This is the second book of Richard J. Evans' seminal trilogy on the Third Reich.  It examines politics, society and culture in Germany during the high days of the Third Reich, from Hitler's accession to power in 1933 to the outbreak of the Second World War.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Politics - is it all in the genes?

Following my other posts on the limitations of the human mind.....
I often think it's comical
How Nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
That's born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal,
Or else a little Conservative!
So sang Gilbert and Sullivan's sentry in Iolanthe.  Was he right?  Are liberals and conservatives born rather than made?

Marriage in English law

To provide some context to the current debate about extending marriage to same-sex couples, it might be useful to look at what marriage has traditionally meant in English law.

Waiting for the Etonians, Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen is one of the most interesting and readable journalists working in Britain today, and this is a collection of his old columns.  It consists mostly of material first published in the Observer, the New Statesman and elsewhere.

Monday, 21 May 2012

More limitations of the human mind

1.  We believe what we want to believe

This is the big one.  Psychologists have argued convincingly what many of us might already suspect intuitively: "People are more likely to arrive at those conclusions that they want to arrive at."[1]  There is, of course, a circularity here - the very fact that many of us already intuitively suspect that this is the case predisposes us to find the psychological evidence for it persuasive - but that doesn't mean that it's not true.  The phenomenon is sometimes called "motivated reasoning".  Its intellectual pedigree goes back at least to Freud, and arguably to David Hume.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Hitler, Ian Kershaw (Part 2)

IV

Once Hitler was safely installed in the Reich Chancellor's office, the SA unleashed a reign of terror on Germany's streets, while the Nazis in the Reichstag tore up what was left of the Weimar constitution.  The DNVP, far from being the tail that wagged the dog, was bullied into dissolving itself as early as June 1933.  The last remaining independent political party, the Catholic Zentrumspartei, clung on a little longer, until July.  The church decided to abandon the Zentrum and put its trust in a new Concordat with history's most famous lapsed Catholic (which turned out not to be worth the paper it was written on).

Hitler and the banality of evil

As Godwin's Law demonstrates, Hitler is the modern world's archetype of evil.  Mao Zedong killed more people, and his henchman Ernst Roehm was a more violently depraved individual, but the Fuehrer has a unique iconic status as the closest that humanity has produced to an embodiment of malignity.  Norman Mailer thought that he was literally a minion of Satan.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Hitler, Ian Kershaw (Part 1)

This is a review of the first volume of Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler ("Hubris"), which covers the period up to 1936.  I don't intend to review the second volume ("Nemesis"), which deals largely with Hitler's career in World War II.
From the early (and for its time very creditable) biography by Alan Bullock through the stylish, but overblown and overpraised study by Joachim Fest, to the hopelessly inaccurate life by John Toland, biographies of Hitler have been more notable for their number than for their quality. Only with the new biography by Ian Kershaw do we have a study of Hitler's life that is both based on a thorough knowledge of the archival material and scrupulously careful and balanced in its judgments.
Such was the verdict of Richard J. Evans, the doyen of English-speaking scholars of Nazism, on this definitive biography of Adolf Hitler.  It is a judgement that seems well deserved.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

You Can't Read This Book, Nick Cohen

Why would anyone write a book about censorship these days?  The Berlin Wall is down and the internet is up.  Liberal democracy is the "end of history", and mobs in Cairo and Tripoli have brought down decades-old dictatorships using nothing more than Blackberries and Twitter.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Authoritarians, Bob Altemeyer

This is a very interesting and informative little book about the authoritarian personality.  Its author, an American psychology professor, has made it available free on the internet.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

The fall of Robert Fisk?

So, it looks like Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent of the Independent, has some questions to answer about his journalism.  It is quite a come-down for a man who has been praised by such people as Osama bin Laden and David Irving.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Government begins consultation on gay marriage

The Government today opened its long-awaited consultation on gay marriage.  This follows the launching of a similar consultation by the Scottish Government in September last year (Scotland forms a separate jurisdiction for these purposes).  Twelve countries around the world (or jurisdictions within those countries) have already introduced gay marriage, most of them in Europe.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Holocaust denial

What is Holocaust denial?

Holocaust denial is a historical and political movement which denies the central features of the accepted historical account of the Nazi genocide against the Jews which was perpetrated between approximately 1941 and 1945.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Great Political Mistakes - Thatcher and the poll tax

This is a documentary that was first broadcast on BBC4 in 2005.

Portillo on Thatcher - The Lady's not for Spurning

This is a BBC4 documentary from 2009 presented by the former Tory minister Michael Portillo.  The programme comes across as being a little lightweight, though Portillo enjoys enviable access to a range of senior Tories, including David Cameron, Ken Clarke and Michael Howard.

Islamism - A couple of further comments

1.  Shi'a Islamism

In my earlier post on Islamism, I focused on Sunni Islamism.  I want to add a few comments on the phenomenon of Shi'a Islamism, as associated with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The debate on Britishness

One of the more unusual features of the last decade in politics was a debate on British identity and "Britishness".  Though this has to a large extent been eclipsed by the financial crisis and the recession, it is worth reflecting on how the debate arose and what emerged from it.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Thatcher - The Downing Street Years

This is a BBC series that was made in 1993 to coincide with the release of the first volume of Margaret Thatcher's memoirs, The Downing Street Years.

Friday, 27 January 2012

The Spirit Level debate

It is now three years since Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's book The Spirit Level (TSL) was published, so enough time has now passed to allow the dust to settle on the debate that it generated.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Cameron on the European Court of Human Rights

David Cameron has delivered a well publicised speech on the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Time-traveller's Guide to Medieval England, Ian Mortimer

This is an interesting book on the life and mores of 14th century England by the popular writer and historian Ian Mortimer.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Labour - The Wilderness Years

This is a series of BBC documentaries on the history of the Labour Party from 1979 to the coming of Tony Blair.  It was originally broadcast in 1995 (when I remember watching it the first time around).  Most of it consists of narrative, interspersed with numerous interviews with characters including a silver-haired Tony Benn, a younger (and considerably more coherent) John Prescott and a supporting cast of various party grandees, MPs and union leaders, from Peter Mandelson to Peter Shore and from Tony Banks to Tony Blair.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Gay rights in Parliament

In this post, I look at four parliamentary debates on key pieces of gay rights legislation that were introduced in Britain in the late 20th and early 21st century.

Monday, 16 January 2012

A View from the Foothills, Chris Mullin

This is one of the volumes of the acclaimed political diaries of Chris Mullin, the former Labour MP.  It already appears to have become one of the standard inside accounts of the Blair years.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Some notes on Islamism

See now also here.

In this post, I want to trace some aspects of the history and ideology of the Islamist movement. 

Three dangerous ideas

1.  The Theory of Everything (a.k.a. the One True Way)

A Theory of Everything is essentially a closed ideological system: an all-embracing description of human society - or the human condition, or the universe in its entirety - which denies the possibility of its own refutation.  It typically takes the form of a political ideology or a religion.