All posts tagged: Politics

The Impressive Record of Theresa May

It’s usually difficult to describe the lasting legacy of a British Prime Minister in one word. For many, Theresa May (2016­­–19) seems to be the exception: failure. She inherited a small Conservative Party majority in the House of Commons and was under no political or constitutional pressure to hold a general election until 2020, but she called one nevertheless in 2017 and ended up losing that majority, forcing her to govern in coalition with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party for the remaining two years of her premiership. Her first attempt to get the House of Commons to approve the Withdrawal Agreement her Government had negotiated with the European Union was rejected by 432 MPs, the largest defeat of any British government in history. She attempted twice more to get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill passed and failed on both occasions, thus making her the self-styled “Brexit Prime Minister” who failed to deliver Brexit. Notwithstanding all this, she was a Prime Minister who presided over several successes which shouldn’t be overlooked. The Economy Just a month …

The Conservative Manifesto Buried in ‘Avengers: Endgame’

For the last decade or so, American cinema has exhibited a paradox: Though Hollywood has become more and more liberal, especially on issues of race and gender, Hollywood blockbusters have become more conservative—not just by recycling old plot points, as Star Wars has done, but also, in the case of superhero movies, by indulging a politics of reaction. What might be called “Nolan’s enigma” began in earnest with The Dark Knight, which involved a tough-on-crime WASP using torture, intimidation, and surveillance to bring down a media-savvy terrorist. The Dark Knight Rises took things one step further with Bane, a menacing mix of Robespierre and Ruthenberg, whose pseudo-Marxist coup unleashes all manner of mayhem upon Gotham: banishments and public hangings, street brawls and show trials, and—in a scene lifted straight out of the French revolution—the storming of Blackgate (Bastille) prison. Not to be outdone, Marvel soon embraced its own brand of post-9/11 conservatism. In every Avengers film, Joshua Tait notes, “it really is 1938….The threats are real and the Avengers’ unilateral actions are necessary” to protect …

Why We Should Read Machiavelli

In the mid-1990s, film critic David Denby wrote Great Books, in which he recounted a year spent at Columbia University taking two core courses in the humanities that focused on “Western classics” written by so-called “Dead White European Males.” It was “thirty years after [Denby entered] Columbia University for the first time,” when “[n]o one…could possibly have imagined that in the following decades the courses would be alternatively reviled as an iniquitous oppression and adored as a bulwark of the West.” Indeed, a prevalent critique was (and still is) that the classics were written by white men relevant primarily in connection to a regime of power that exerted cultural and political hegemony over large parts of the world. “Dead white males” had had their time in the sun. One of the most recognizable “dead white males” was Niccolo Machiavelli. Famous for having written the how-to book on power politics, Machiavelli might seem to have deserved special censure for writing about power at the dawn of the age of exploration which preceded European imperialism. Fortunately, however, …

Why Don’t Women Vote For Feminist Parties?

From the beginning, Britain’s only feminist political party shared an odd sort of fellowship with UKIP, which was, until recently, Britain’s leading anti-EU party. Both purported to represent roughly half of the population: women, in the case of the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), and those who wanted to leave the EU in the case of UKIP. Both were orientated toward a single issue. And both were plucky outsiders in an electoral system that is notoriously hostile towards new parties. Although their policy positions could hardly have been more different, founding members of the WEP looked to UKIP as a model of what a small party could achieve. But in terms of electoral success, the two parties diverged some time ago. When UKIP was founded in 1991, it was little more than a talking shop for a fringe group of Eurosceptic academics. Under the leadership of Nigel Farage, however, the party was transformed into a populist juggernaut. At the EU elections in 2014, UKIP topped the poll, getting 27.5 percent of the votes cast and securing …

How Progressivism Enabled the Rise of the Populist Right

Right-wing populists have won an unprecedented 57 seats in elections to the European Union’s Parliament, up from 30 in 2014. In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz won a majority of 52 percent. In Italy, Matteo Salvini’s Lega topped the poll at 30 percent, in Britain, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party won, while in France, Marine Le Pen pipped Emmanuel Macron 23 percent to 22 percent. While not quite the populist surge some feared, right-populist momentum continues. Meanwhile, the mainstream Social Democrats and Christian Democrats saw their combined total drop below a majority for the first time, from 56 percent in 2014 to 44 percent as Green and Liberal alternatives gained.  What few have noticed is that these results, especially in Western Europe, reflect a continuing blowback against the excesses of the post-1960s liberal-left. They also reveal how the mainstream has adapted to the populist challenge by tightening immigration, which has reduced the appeal of national populism in many northern and western European countries since its 2015-16 peak. This adjustment by the main parties has alienated some left-liberals, …

Why We Should Embrace Our Age of Nuclear

The age of humans may soon be known as the age of nuclear. For two decades, scientists have debated whether we are living in a new geological epoch. They appear to have decided that we are and that the invention of nuclear energy should mark its beginning. Twenty-nine of the 34 members of the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) voted this week to declare the invention and testing of nuclear weapons as the beginning of the Anthropocene or geological age of humans. The two other main contenders for demarcating the start of the epoch were the rise of agriculture, which radically altered landscapes, and the birth of the industrial revolution, which has accelerated climate change. The 1945 explosion of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the radioactive fallout from outdoor nuclear weapons testing, which continued until 1963, is physically embedded in glacial ice and earth sedimentation. Advocates for the invention of nuclear as the best way to mark the beginning of the human age note that, unlike anything done by hunter-gatherers, agriculturalists, or industrialists, nuclear …

The Iraq War Was Not About Oil

Why did the U.S.-led coalition attack Iraq in 2003? Sixteen years after George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech, the answer seems obvious to some: oil of course! When war was waged, this was the widespread view in Jordan (71 percent), Morocco (63 percent), Pakistan (54 percent), Turkey (64 percent), Germany (60 percent) and France (58 percent). After all, the U.S. was the largest oil-consuming nation and Iraq had the second-largest oil reserves in the world. These suspicions are strengthened when we consider how the White House was being run by retired oil executives—Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Bush himself. However, closer examination suggests these factors were a coincidence rather than a conspiracy. The Iraq War was not fought for oil. Big Oil, Sanctions and Saddam American oil companies didn’t want to topple Saddam Hussein; they wanted to trade with him. They were prevented from doing so, not by the regime but by the U.S.’s full support for the U.N.’s oil embargo that was imposed on Iraq when it invaded Kuwait in 1990. In 1997, Conoco’s CEO …

Timely Return to Battle for a Veteran of the Culture Wars

A review of The Case For Trump by Victor Davis Hanson. Basic Books, Hard Cover (March 2019). “I too grew up, and still live, outside a small town in California’s Central Valley,” Victor Davis Hanson writes, in his new book The Case For Trump. “For a century (1880–1980) it was a prosperous multiethnic and multiracial community of working- and middle-class families. By 2010, high unemployment was chronic, drug addiction was endemic, crime commonplace. In 1970, we did not have keys for our outside doors; in 2018, I have six guard dogs.” Hanson remains one of the rare prominent writers and theorists to throw his intellectual weight behind the new conservatism that is taking shape across the Anglosphere and broader West since the twin victories of Brexit and Trump in 2016. While there have been recent attempts from both conservative (Legutko, Hazony, Mearsheimer) and liberal(ish) perspectives (Deneen, Goodwin and Eatwell, Walt) to explain what went wrong, Hanson’s latest refers more specifically to the social conditions in the United States. It is also very different from the works of …

Milan Kundera Warned Us About Historical Amnesia. Now It’s Happening Again

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. —Milan Kundera Milan Kundera is 90-years old on April 1, 2019 and his central subject—The Power of Forgetting, or historical amnesia—could not be more relevant. Kundera’s great theme emerged from his experience of the annexation of his former homeland Czechoslovakia by the Soviets in 1948 and the process of deliberate historical erasure imposed by the communist regime on the Czechs. As Kundera said: The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster. I first read Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979) back in 1987, when I was a member of the British Communist Party. The book shook my beliefs and Kundera’s writing became a part of a process of truth-speaking that shook the USSR …

What If Ayn Rand Was Right About Entrepreneurs and Inequality?

Few public figures have managed to consistently attract both sheer adoration and abject disgust quite like Russian-American author Ayn Rand. Fewer still have created an intellectual legacy with as much endurance as her radically individualistic philosophy of Objectivism. Atlas Shrugged remains a cherished favorite of venture capitalists and libertarian-leaning politicians all over the planet, with a notable stronghold in Washington D.C., perhaps even within the Oval Office itself. Rand’s literary influence is often derided as a mere reflection of the tractability and moral certitude afforded by her novels, her economic principles disregarded as patently ridiculous. Galt’s Gulch has attracted so much scorn as to become something of a joke, a way to easily scoff at the naive utopianism of laissez-faire capitalism. Rand and her largely philosophical economic views have been consigned to history as an interesting relic of sorts—a compelling, well-articulated fantasy that has no basis in reality. How then should we interpret new research from the Nation Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) that suggests her controversial description of the income inequality dynamic might have …