Is the cost-benefit society’s justice harsher than the ancient political justice.

English: The French economist Jules Dupuit (18...

English: The French economist Jules Dupuit (1804-1866), credited with the creation of cost-benefit analysis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We often hear of deciding an issue by considering the costs versus the benefits. In many cases, this offers a good basic system for deciding an issue. However, when it comes to making a decision about a person, the term starts to take on a different meaning and a different intent. In the UK Supreme Court judgment: R (MacDonald) v Kensington & Chelsea (2011), we see the brutal consequences of a cost benefit approach to justice and society. In this case, a local council made the cost benefit decision that an elderly woman would have to sleep in her faeces, as it was too costly to provide night-time assistance. They offered the less expensive option of incontinence pads. The justices supported the council’s decision except for Lady Hale. She argued that the logic used by the council, and the court, to reach this decision was flawed. A good analysis of the legal issues can be found on Carl Gardner’s Head of Legal post here. The Supreme Court ruling can be found at this link.

Is our life now reduced to a cost benefit calculus?

The case reveals the consequences of a cost benefit approach to politics and life. If our decisions, our very existence, are reduced to a cost-benefit analysis, what does it mean to be human? Are we to die or suffer because we “cost” too much? Who decides that someone “costs” too much relative to the “benefit” they provide? Whom are they providing the benefit to? Is it society, the person who applies the decision, or the person subject to the decision? These are not idle or speculative questions. They are literally life and death questions. They are also the question between human dignity and its alternative.

How do we distribute scarce resource without raising taxes?

Many people accept the cost-benefit model to distribute scarce resources. If we consider the trade-offs, we can decide between competing demands on the same budget. The implicit logic is that the decision is zero sum. If one gains, another has to lose, as the budget remains unchanged. The service budget may be affected, but the service budget exists within a larger organisational budget. What the decision did not explore is how the care budget is decided within the organisation’s budget. The implicit question is how the organisation has decided the budget for that service before the cost benefit decision had to be applied. What we find, though, is that organisations rarely apply a cost benefit analysis to themselves. They apply it to the service users. The organisation uses other criteria than cost-benefit. At the level of society, the cost benefit approach does not appear to be used as taxes that provide for the common good can be changed. They usually focus on the strong, those able to pay, and delivered so the weak and the vulnerable may live with the remaining shreds of dignity that their weakness and vulnerability deny them.

Does cost benefit analysis let us avoid political decisions?

The “cost benefit” approach to decisions is an analytical model to justify decisions.[1] As an analytical tool, it serves a purpose. The issue here is what its use tells us about the way society employs it. The cost benefit analysis is crude, but very subtle way, of demonstrating that selfishness is what we want. We do not want to pay more if the costs of such programmes outweigh the benefits. We believe that the resource envelope’s limits determine where and how the money should be spent. We do not want more taxes, where the strong help the weak; instead, we want to retain our taxes for our purposes. In that scenario, the weak and vulnerable are left to their devices. We do not want to make the envelope larger nor do we want to change its shape if it requires us to pay taxes. We defend the shape of the envelope by arguing that it reflects the best “cost-benefit” trade-off. Yet, we want to comfort ourselves in the notion that we pay our taxes and we already “do so much”. In that belief and that choice, we do not privilege the weak and the vulnerable. The powerful and the protected make the decisions, who will be a cost and who will be a benefit, which we accept it claims to deliver the greatest benefits at the lowest cost. The cost benefit analysis thus creates an artificial necessity, we have no more money and we do not want to pay any more taxes, that justify the decisions.

To raise taxes is to make a political decision.

We could raise taxes; we could choose to spend differently on different programmes. Those choices reflect the society we want. The programmes are the bureaucratic expression of our political wishes. They are not an economic or financial decision; it is a political decision. It is a political decision by the community to have the choice framed in this way. What is particularly troubling is how this is applied to the individual. The argument within the Supreme Court is that the community cannot privilege the individual at the expense of the community. We have to make choices and some individuals will be worse off. The goal is to make the number of people hurt by the change as small as possible. Yet, that argument raises a disturbing question about the limits of our rights as an individual.

Does an individual have any value if society decides they “cost” too much?

As Lady Hale explained, the issue is whether the individual has a right within the context to have her views considered. How does such a system take into account the individual in such a scenario? Contrary to what the Court argued, the question was not simply about an absolute entitlement. Instead, it is about the rationality of the decision by the council that is being challenged. Is their reliance on a cost benefit justification rational? What this suggests is a deeper problem within Western political systems.

Natural scarcity required justice for decent politics, what does artificial scarcity require?

The modern era, the rise of the modern nation state and modern natural science, is one where natural scarcity is no longer a threat. The state by providing a stable and prosperous society and a market can ensure that modern natural science will deliver the food to keep people from starving. By contrast, the ancient world was marked natural scarcity. Yet, we see that scarcity has returned. We have localized scarcity, where the organisation decides. Alternatively, we have macro scarcity where states make decisions based what they perceive as global scarcity. Without acknowledging it, we seem to be shaped by an ancient worldview. In that sense, cost benefit analysis shows illiberalism that reminds us of ancient world’s brutality.

Has justice been replaced by expediency? At what cost?

The applicant has been given justice. It has revealed an ugliness that haunts our society. We have reduced the human person to an economic cost. Is our claim to have a just society and one that respects the individual an empty one? Our justice appears to depend on an artificial necessity stricter than the natural necessity found in the ancient world.*** Perhaps what makes it stricter is that our politics, despite its claims to champion the individual and the rights of man, delivers an outcome, which relies more on what is expedient rather than just.


[1] For more on cost benefit analysis and welfare economics, see for example,


These are useful tools within a certain context. However, they are now used in place of political judgement and as an artificial necessity to force a political choice. We have not more money so programme x must go. The reality is that more money can be found, raise taxes for example, charge for services, or reduce other programmes. Thus, a strict reliance on cost benefit analysis to make the political decision subsumes an economic logic for a political decision.

*** “Modern philosophical thought has all too often weakened the effectiveness of this sense, thereby permitting mere technological considerations and the economic and other so-called practical considerations closely allied to technology to dominate communal developments.”


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Response to Corey Robin on Eichmann: funny man

Adolf Eichmann

Adolf Eichmann (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(This post is a response to Corey Robbin’s blog[1])

One must always remember that ridicule is not a refutation. The most direct way to put this is that victims of the Final Solution did not laugh their way to the gas chambers or the firing squads. Even if they did, what would it prove? They were dead and the Nazis were alive.

We laugh because we are safe?

Arendt can find Eichmann funny because she is in a protected position. The court can find him funny and guilty because they have power over him. What is less clear from her book is whether Arendt refuted Eichmann. Moreover, his intellectual inspiration Heidegger is Eichmann’s shadow throughout the trial.

Why Eichmann and not Heidegger?

Arendt’s project founders on Heidegger. She can deal with Eichmann the bumbling, unthinking, bureaucrat who never thought for himself or even began to think. What does she do with Heidegger? If knowledge is virtue, then how does she explain Heidegger? If she disassociates his politics from his thinking, what does that say about Eichmann? She rightly condemned Eichmann for his unthinking behaviour yet, where his failure to think explains his behaviour. What does she have to say about Heidegger, the paramount thinker of the 20th century, who embraced and justified National Socialism and the Fuhrer’s will? He did not simply go to the tyrant’s court. He promoted and embraced the tyrant’s cause.[2] He was not seeking to change or direct the Fuhrer to the good; he was propagating, in his own way, the Fuhrer’s will.[3] Moreover, he never recanted, revised, or retracted his views.

Was Eichmann a way to avoid dealing with Heidegger’s Nazism?

Heidegger rather than Eichmann should have been in the glass box in Jerusalem. Arendt never condemned or confronted Heidegger. Her failure to confront him or judge him suggests a hollowness to her public statements on Eichmann. Does the banality of evil have any validity beyond a polemical device? Were her comments for popular effect and consumption? Moreover, we have to wonder about her public statements on Heidegger when considered against Leo Strauss’ well-known reticence to make public statement on or about Heidegger.[4] Arendt undermines her philosophical project and her belief in Eichmann’s guilt because she cannot bring Heidegger to justice. She remained publicly and privately friendly with Heidegger.[5] She engaged with him without condemning him. One can condemn a person and recognize their errors and crimes without endorsing them. However, what remains problematic is that Arendt never refuted Eichmann. She condemned him, ridiculed him, and judged him, but she never refuted him. She was only in the position to condemn, ridicule, and judge him because the Allies had won the war. Therein we see the political problem for her philosophical stance.

That which we condemn in others is the sin we hold secretly.

She condemned Eichmann for his unthinking behaviour. On the surface, it would appear she was similarly unthinking regarding Heidegger. If Arendt thought about Heidegger and continued to engage him and write about him publicly in exculpatory terms, what does this say about Arendt? Heidegger was not unthinking when he accepted the Fuhrer’s will and promoted National Socialism.[6] Does that mean she accepted the outcome of his thought was virtuous? In light of this question, her attack on Eichmann loses its lustre and its moral content. Perhaps, we can offer an alternative view that mitigates her problem. It may be that she accepts that there are different standards for different men. Yet, if we accept that argument, then we begin to accept that Heidegger can be above or beyond the law or the common morality, which condemns Eichmann and the other Nazis. If Heidegger is above or beyond the law, what is it that exempts him? He remained unrepentant over his support for Hitler and National Socialism. To that extent, we have to ask whether Arendt implicitly accepts Heidegger’s argument given her decision to condemn Eichmann for being unthinking.

Would a Socrates in power become tyrannical?

What we have to accept is that if Arendt is unable to refute Heidegger/Eichmann it raises the question of whether knowledge is virtue or whether it is something else. If a Socrates in power leads to Heidegger’s “error”, it brings philosophy into disrepute, perhaps terminal disrepute. The gnawing question for Arendt is “Was Heidegger right?” For her to dispute that would require her to accept the political argument and propose a counter political argument. The challenge though is that such an argument has to accept the grounds of the disagreement. The problem is that Arendt and Heidegger cannot share a common ground. Arendt, in her belief in knowledge is virtue, a belief in Socrates as a political philosopher, accepts there is a good, perhaps unknowable, but something upon which the quest can begin and continue. By contrast, Heidegger does not believe such good exists or is knowable. Only a god can still save us.[7] In that statement, Heidegger shows us the problem for Arendt and philosophy.[8]

Without God we find tyranny or nihilism

We return to where we began in trying to understand Arendt’s position on Eichmann and Heidegger. Eichmann was unthinking and thus betrayed what it means to be human, to think, while Heidegger thought and betrayed what it meant to be human by his support and defence of Hitler and National Socialism. What it suggests is that Arendt’s “faith” in reason was flawed, as it appears empty as a basis by which we can condemn Eichmann/Heidegger aside from a political basis. In other words, her book on Eichmann is insufficient because it lacks what Heidegger rejected: God. One may wish to laugh in the face of evil, but one only brings evil to justice before the law and God. To do that, you need more than laughter; you need good arms and good laws.



[2] Heidegger gave speeches supporting Hitler in the fall of 1933 after becoming the rector of University of Freiburg. See also a selection of these speeches found here:

[3] Here is Heidegger’s Rectorial Address curiously it misses out the Heil Hitler at the end, which is in the original. On that point consider

[4] see also This covers the five texts that Strauss wrote that relate explicitly to Heidegger. Only a couple were printed in his lifetime.

Leo Strauss, “Existentialism” _Interpretation_ 22:3 (Spring 1995): 303-319

A lecture first given on Feb., 1956, at the Hillel Foundation (University of Chicago); a different version appeared as “An Introduction on Heideggerian Existentialism,” in _The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism: An Introduction to the Thought of Leo Strauss_ (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 27-46.

Leo Strauss, “Philosophy as Rigorous Science and Political Philosophy,” reprinted from _Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy_ 2:1 (1971) [in _Leo Strauss: Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy_ (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 29-37];

Leo Strauss, “The Problem of Socrates” _Interpretation_ 22:3 (Spring 1995): 339-337

A lecture first given on April 17, 1970 at St. John’s College at Annapolis

Leo Strauss, “German Nihilism” _Interpretation_ 26:3 (Spring 1999): 353-378

A lecture which appears to have first been given on Feb. 26, 1941 at the New School for Social Research

Leo Strauss, “Relativism,” [in Helmut Schoeck and James W. Wiggins, eds., _Relativism and the Study of Man_ (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand, 1961)], pp. 135-157

[5] In light of her adulterous relationship with Heidegger, the following passage, in her introduction to Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations is revealing.

“He went on to say that only the private, almost “secret relationships between Germans and Jews” were legitimate, while “everything about German-Jewish relations that works in public today causes harm.” There was much truth in these words. Written from the perspective of the Jewish question at that time, they supply evidence of the darkness of a period in which one could rightly say, “The light of the public darkens everything” (Heidegger).”

[6] Arendt tries to excuse Heidegger’s “dalliance” with the Nazi party as a youthful “error”. The only problem with this defence is that in 1958 he wrote in the introduction to Introduction to Metaphysics, where on p.166 he wrote about the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism, he explained that all errors had been corrected for this edition. He did not appear to see his support for the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism as an error.  . See Martin Heidegger, Eigführung in die Metaphysik, 2nd. ed. (Tubingen: Max Niemeyer, 1958), p. 152. English translation: An Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Ralph Mannheim (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961), p. 166. In the introduction, Heidegger explains all the errors have been corrected for this edition.

[7] Heidegger’s posthumous interview with Der Spiegel.

[8] Wonder is the beginning of philosophy Theaetetus 155d but the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord. Proverbs 9:10 and Proverbs 15:33 As Leo Strauss put it quid sit deus?

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Should we follow Aaron Swartz’s example on civil obedience to the laws?

English: Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event.

English: Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto, Aaron Swartz writes “There is no justice in following unjust laws.” In the context he argues that there has been a private theft of public culture. In effect, copyright enriches the few at the expense of the many. If information were made free then all would benefit. We would return to a state where knowledge was not privatized. The goal sounds laudable and well meaning, but what does it mean?

Is knowledge ever public?

On the surface, Swartz makes sense. Copyright appears to privatize knowledge. However, the copyright only applies to the documents not the ideas. The deeper issue, though, is whether knowledge has ever been public. Certainly, we can say that we want access to materials that are held in libraries. However, that has always been a challenge. One could argue that it is only in recent years, the last 100 that public libraries were built and maintained on a scale that would indicate that they were truly public. It was only in the 19th century that the modern idea of the public library, the type of institution we see today, emerged.[1] In the US, the first public library emerged in 1835.[2] Yet, the public library does not make knowledge public. It makes information available, but it does not make knowledge or wisdom public. To gain knowledge, one must study. One must become educated. Neither of these occurs in public places. They occur in private spaces far away from the public domain. The exception that proves the rule is that Socrates often met in the market place to philosophize. Most dialogues occur in a private setting. However, this takes us away from the central issue, which is obedience to the law.

What is the standard for judging the laws?

The question of access is about the legal control of such material. One can argue that the control should be lessened or even removed, however that does not make the laws surrounding the access unjust. Herein, we see the problem. Mr Swartz wants us to disobey unjust laws. However, he provides us no standard or basis by which to judge the law or laws as unjust. To the extent that he does provide a standard, it appears that it is his personal preference or what he perceives to be an injustice.

In his use of the phrase “There is no justice in following unjust laws”, and calling for civil disobedience it would appear he is echoing, either consciously or unconsciously, the work of Martin Luther King. Dr King, quoted Augustine in his Letter from Birmingham Jail “An unjust law is no law at all”, Like Dr King, Mr Swartz calls upon us to engage in civil disobedience.[3] However, unlike Dr King Mr Swartz offered no standard to judge the laws.[4] Dr King argued that unjust laws are those out of harmony with the moral law or the natural law because they degrade the human personality.

How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

If this is an acceptable standard by which to judge the laws that are unjust and thus require disobedience, then we need to consider Mr Swartz’s concern with the law of copyright. Does the law of copyright degrade the human personality? In his manifesto Mr Swartz does not address this point. He argues instead that the common good has been harmed by the “privatisation of knowledge” through copyright. Yet, there is no discussion or thought as to how the common good has been harmed or whether it has been harmed. Mr Swartz assumes or asserts that it has. He argues that the use of copyright to limit access through legal means harms the common good. However, laudable his goal, we have to consider whether his claim is worthy of civil disobedience given its potential impact on obedience to the laws.

Obedience to bad laws is not unjust when the alternative is worse.

Civil disobedience, especially when it suggests that the laws are unjust, can lead to a general disobedience of the laws or mob rule. In such a situation, people only follow the laws they like and disobey the ones they dislike or do not agree with. Lincoln warned that disobedience to the laws, particularly in the United States, can lead political institutions being destroyed. One could argue that the laws America’s most important political institution. In his Address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln argued that unjust laws were still laws and still worthy of respect and obedience. [5]

When I so pressingly urge a strict observance of all the laws, let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, or that grievances may not arise for the redress of which no legal provisions have been made. I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say that although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still, while they continue in force, for the sake of example they should be religiously observed. So also in unprovided cases. If such arise, let proper legal provisions be made for them with the least possible delay, but till then let them, if not too intolerable, be borne with.

Perhaps Mr Swartz had not read Lincoln or considered his concern. America’s most famous example of civil disobedience, Martin Luther King, had. In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, he explained the steps necessary before civil disobedience could be engaged as it contained a threat to the political institution, which is the laws and obedience to the laws.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.

In this letter it would appear there is a harmony between Lincoln and King because they see the second step, negotiation, as the way to change laws. They do not advocate direct action or conflict as a first an immediate step. Moreover, they both seem to accept that self-purification or putting up with the bad laws, until such time that they can be changed, needs to be considered before direct action. In Mr Swartz’s manifesto we do not see these steps. Instead, we are called to take direct action that breaks the laws. This is not civil disobedience, this is theft.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks.

This is not civil disobedience. This is theft. Leaving aside the possibility that Mr Swartz read and was influenced by Proudhon[6], “All property is theft”,[7] his proposal is dangerous, irresponsible with a touch of youthful naiveté. Disobedience to the laws in this manner, using civil disobedience to justify theft, encourages a spirit of lawless and it encourages a view that the government is corrupt because it enforces the law.  Lincoln saw this danger, and he lived through its consequences which he could not have foreseen, when he wrote.

By such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint but dread of punishment, they thus become absolutely unrestrained. Having ever regarded government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations, and pray for nothing so much as its total annihilation. [Emphasis added]

I cannot follow Mr Swartz’s example. I do not see his proposal as one that merits support. Instead of imitating him, we would do well to encourage others to learn from what he proposed and the consequences of what he proposed.



[3] The parallels between Mr. Swartz and Mr Snowden on this issue is noteworthy. A possible way to understand it could be found in my blog on Mr. Snowden and his political acts.  (part 1) and (part 2).





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Greenwald and the problem of legitimate political violence

Anti-Grover Cleveland political cartoon of 188...

Anti-Grover Cleveland political cartoon of 1884 (cropped from the front page of “The Judge” magazine), captioned “Another voice for Cleveland”. Reference is to the story that Cleveland had had an illegitimate child (giving rise to the infamous campaign chant “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” by Cleveland opponents, to which Cleveland supporters replied “Gone to the White House, Ha! Ha! Ha!”). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his essay for The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald comments on the terrorist attack in Canada in which two soldiers were struck by a car driven by an Islamic convert.[1] He makes a particular point about the use of the word terrorism. He argues that the term is empty of meaning, which allows commentators to use it for their own purposes. He accepts the common view of the term so that it can be discussed.

But to the extent the term has any common understanding; it includes the deliberate (or wholly reckless) targeting of civilians with violence for political ends.

Mr. Greenwald accepts that terrorism is a political act. Unlike like acts of nature, all political acts aim at some good or end. They represent a conscious human choice. The effect and the intent of that choice can be judged. If we cannot judge political acts by their effect and their intent, then decent politics is impossible. We have no way to distinguish between a government and a gang of robbers.

Terrorism is not an act of war.

In the article, Mr. Greenwald is not willing to judge the act. In the piece he cites Prof. Kapitan’s article on the term “terrorism”. Prof Kapitan is also unwilling to judge the terrorist act as readily as he wants to discuss its cause. However, we cannot separate an event’s cause from its justification. If the event is not justified, it is almost meaningless as its cause, what makes it unjustified is what will create the response. When he refuses to judge terrorism or use the term because it is open to abuse, Mr. Greenwald suggests an alternative approach to the issue. He wants attacks, such as the one in Canada, to be considered as acts of war.

The point is that targeting soldiers who are part of a military fighting an active war is completely inconsistent with the common usage of the word “terrorism,”

He argues that the attacks are focused on soldiers and the country (the West) is at war. On the surface, this seems logical. The West is at war so it is best to admit it. If we look at this closely the approach is problematic. Mr. Greenwald’s proposal is more radical than what the Canadian government (or the West) are willing to follow. If we describe these events as acts of war, rather than terrorism, it makes decent politics impossible. The state would be forced to declare war on any citizens who acted in this way. This would radicalize the domestic politics to extremes.

If we cannot judge political violence as legitimate or illegitimate decent politics is impossible

The term terrorism, with its focus on the use of violence for political ends, suggests illegitimacy. In liberal democracies, the common good is based the belief that violence for political ends is not acceptable. All liberal democracies, even those at war, have a democratic or legitimate means for political change. Political violence is considered illegitimate as it goes outside the agreed or legitimate means for political change. Political violence undermines the political mandate based on consent, which is necessary for decent politics. Mr. Greenwald’s focus on violence, rather than its legitimacy, avoids the political question. Was the act justified? What was the good it sought to achieve or avoid? For governments, and the public, this is the most important question rather than its cause. If a cause has to use violence, then it must justify it to a higher standard.

In contrast to Mr Greenwald, the Canadian government would appear to be taking a moderate approach to the problem by its use of the term terrorism. The government has used the term “terrorism” to focus on the act’s illegitimacy. The term reminds the government and its citizens, that violence for political ends that is not justified within the domestic realm is illegitimate. If violence for political ends were acceptable within the domestic realm, then decent politics would be impossible as all change would be based on coercion. In the domestic realm, the community provides a standard to decide or judge whether political violence is legitimate or illegitimate. Without that standard we would face a stark world. If the state used force or political violence and that was automatically illegitimate, it could not ensure justice or defend the public. The alternative would be that political violence would be the normal way or legitimate way for the state and community to o act. Neither is a position I would hope that Mr Greenwald nor Prof Kapitan would support.

Legitimate political violence is what we need to defend the common good and deliver justice.

What we have to understand, which Mr Greenwald ignores, is that the state is responsible for justice. The community, through its democratic consent, authorises the state to use violence to deliver justice and to defend the common good. Thus, a “terrorist” is someone who uses force to overturn the politics of consent, which everyone else has agreed to follow. By contrast, the international domain does not have an agreed political discourse so such acts are consider an act of war. The international realm is different because it does not work on consent. Sovereignty recognized by other states confers legitimacy on a state. In the modern state system, states ascribe responsibility to states, organisations or institutions, but rarely (if ever) to individuals. When someone, other than a state, uses violence it is “illegitimate” within the terms of the modern state system. When states use violence against each other it is usually consider a war as there is no sovereign above them to judge the cause. If we accept Mr Greenwald’s argument that terrorism is an act of war, then the difference between the domestic realm and the international realm is removed. This is problematic because one realm is based on consent and the other is not.

Does Mr Greenwald want to live in a world where might makes right?

If a citizen cannot distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate violence, then they are forced to live in a community where might makes right and justice is impossible. I am not sure if this is what Mr Greenwald and Prof Kapitan want to say, but it is where there argument leads.




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When we talk about poverty, we need to talk about justice

In the UK, governments have discussed poverty and anti-poverty strategies for many years. They set targets and talked about the economic and political programs to reduce poverty. When the targets are not met, the governments redefine the target or the delivery date. The debate often focuses on how to measure it. Most officials and experts agree on four methods to measure poverty: relative, absolute, material, and social mobility.

  • In relative terms – This is measured against other incomes. The measure describes the income needed to participate in activities seen to be normal by society. The measure is at 60% below average income.
  • In absolute terms – does a family’s income supply them with the means for subsistence? This is measured at 60% below the median income in a particular year, not adjusted for inflation.
  • In material terms – can and do families access the material goods and services to participate fully in society?
  • In terms of social mobility does a person or parent’s income determine their life chances or their children’s outcomes?[1]

What these have in common is that they are all based on measuring poverty in economic terms.

If it can be measured it can be managed.

Poverty is often, but not always, reduced to an economic issue. As an economic issue, it becomes a technical issue and not an ethical issue. When a target is not met, the government can claim it has improved its chances” at meeting the target. The target becomes a symbol of commitment rather than a goal. A decent government is committed to reducing or eliminating or alleviating poverty. The challenge is to turn that goal into a practical programme that will deliver it. Yet, the focus on delivery targets often comes at the price of the political question that poverty creates: the question of justice.

We will always have the poor which is why we always need politics and justice.

Poverty is a political question because its source relates to the nature of the society we want government to create and protect.  In that sense, poverty may not have a solution and remain a permanent question for all governments. As Jesus said, we will always have the poor.[2] People will always make choices that lead to consequences. As a result, in any society, there will be people of different outcomes and different talents. Christ’s statement may force us to understand that poverty reflects the nature of the society we want and have. How do we deal with the poor?

Can we create a just society with or without a revolution?

A decent society that promotes the common good is one where the poor are able to participate in the system not just live on its economic or political margins. When the poor lack access to justice it reflects the type of society we have.[3] When the poor are denied justice or an active participation in society, they cannot receive justice. Without justice, poverty cannot be addressed. Therein we see the political question that governments want to avoid. Justice, in that sense, produces a political problem that cannot be reduced to an economic target. The reason is that it requires a view of the common good, which runs contrary to the preferred approach to handling poverty. A government can focus on the symptoms of poverty, its material outcomes, to avoid the question of what type of society it creates through education and laws.[4] Unless we are prepared to discuss justice, we cannot begin to talk about poverty. Perhaps, this is the lesson we have yet to learn from the debate over austerity and its effect on poverty.


[2] Matthew 26:11

[3] An interesting approach to this issue is the Centre for Social Justice. They have pursued the idea of putting social justice at the heart of British Politics. What we find though is that despite their best intentions, they too, soon revert to an economic solution view of the issue. If we had the right policies and programmes in place we would deal with social justice. Instead, they need to look at how society understands social justice and what is needed to change that view of social justice, and justice generally, to improve social justice for dealing with poverty.

[4] Here is where we rarely see politicians or groups connecting the overall policies and procedures across education, criminal justice, welfare, and economic policies to consider the society that they want to create. One can find it only by default, by what is not being done or said, rather than what is intended. Moreover, one rarely finds it specifically mentioned except in platitudes or platforms. To put it another way, who is for poverty? Who is for ignorance? Who is for unemployment or family breakdowns?

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Getting beyond the Rotherham Scandal Headlines

Rotherham Station in 1840

Rotherham Station in 1840 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we are to understand the Rotherham Child Sexual Exploitation scandal, we have to move beyond the headlines and the news stories. We may wish to stay on the surface of the issue and accept uncritically the journalist’s view or the politician’s view. For most of us going about our business, this is all we need. However, we need to go beyond the headlines if we are to understand the issue. Other people will have their own agenda in promoting various parts of the story and are unlikely to report the stories with the same interest or enthusiasm. If we accept their views, we become captives to what they want us to believe.

I raise this point for two reasons. First, it illustrates what went wrong in Rotherham. The scandal occurred in large part because the officers and the organisations accepted the surface view of the issue. They focused on the symptoms without understanding the problem. They did not ask critical questions and try to get to the root of the issue. They remained on the surface even when outside agencies, including journalists, tried to get them to think about it.

Find the evidence to hold public power to account.

Second, if the public hope to hold power to account over the wider institutional child abuse across the UK, they will need to go to primary sources and look at the evidence. If the public rely on the journalists or the politicians to understand the problems, they will be captive to what the establishment want them to think about the issue. The public need to look at the evidence and decide. By looking at the evidence, they can make a critical judgement about what the journalists and politicians are telling them about the child abuse inquiry.

If you follow the evidence you can understand the issue.

The Rotherham Scandal offers us an insight into what the UK child abuse scandal may look like. In that scandal, a number of stories or myths emerged that have shaped how the public understand the issue. Many people accept uncritically the twin argument that only white girls were being groomed, exploited, and abused and the victims were only girls rather than boys and young men. What we find when we read the Jay report is that ethnic minority girls were also exploited. We also find that boys and young men were abused.

Institutional abuse of power is often away from the headlines and the limelight

If we look at what is happening away from the main headlines, we see institutional abuses of power. The original reports and statement by the Home Office researcher who was ignored by the Council and the Police, we see a bleak and damning picture of how institutional power can be used to silence critics. Unless we look at her testimony and the evidence provided to the Home Office, we miss the story. We need to see the detail to understand the story. Even though journalists pursue stories, they are less interested in uncovering or creating documentary evidence for others to explore. They want people to read their stories, which they are paid for, and not for developing research sources.

Some links and sites to provide context for the Rotherham Scandal

To understand the Rotherham Scandal, I have compiled a list of sites and documents. I do not claim the list is complete or without some intrinsic bias. I have relied exclusively on official sources. However, I think these documents and these sites are important because they will help readers and researchers who hope to explore the topic.

Start with the official record to know how the story is understood by authority

The first place to start is always what the official record is saying. The Parliamentary Committee are a good starting place for written evidence and testimony by witnesses and experts. However, these are limited because they will only ask the question that interest them and are within the committee and the chair’s remit. Moreover, their work is always limited by their ability to ask questions. As I have written previously, poor questions soon turn a Committee meeting into political theatre.

What is particularly useful for the Parliamentary Committees is that the sessions are recorded. The reader can compare body language and tone of voice to the written evidence in the published transcripts. Transcripts of the hearings are posted a few days after the sessions.


Home Affairs Committee

What is useful is that the documents contain links to the Parliament TV. Here is how the transcript is introduced.

Home Affairs Committee Oral evidence: Child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming: follow-up, HC 203

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 9 September 2014.

Watch the meeting

The Communities and Local Government Committee

Rotherham Borough Council

Another site is the Rotherham Borough Council page with the list of the documents.


Here are some key documents in the Rotherham Child Sexual Exploitation Scandal.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham 1997 – 2013 (The Jay Report).

This report contains the best analysis of the problem to date showing the attempts by the Council and the Police to deal with the issue. It also catalogues the limited success of each organisation to deal with the problem for a long time. What is encouraging is that the report was commissioned and the situation appears to be improving.

The Council’s response to the Jay report.

This response is the Council’s official response. For the most part, it reiterates the positive points from the Jay Report. However, it has an interesting point on paragraph 9.9 where the Chief Executive explains that unlike the past, “Professional curiosity is encouraged and this supports staff to raise issues and know they will be taken seriously.” Perhaps this best summarizes why the Council and the Police failed to address the problem even as they dealt with symptoms.

Home Office Researcher’s written testimony to Home Affairs Committee.

The sworn testimony presents a depressing picture of how the Council and the Police behaved when they faced criticism for their handling of child sexual exploitation. As a trained and experienced solicitor working for an outside agency, the Home Office, one can see why she would have the fortitude to stick up for her research and for herself. However, even she admitted at the end, she could not sustain the fight against the institutional pressure. One wonders how a junior officer in either the police or the council would even dare to speak up especially if they lacked the same skills, job prospects, and independence of the trained solicitor. The testimony presents a sad and sobering reminder of how vicious employees can be when they abuse the power of their organisation and how reputation management can be used to justify such abuse of anyone who dares to question them let alone challenge them.

When challenged all the Executive officers expressed surprise and claimed they were unaware of such behaviour occurring in their organisation. We need to avoid the easy dichotomy that they were either out of touch with what was happening or they were complicit. Such a dichotomy does not help us understand the problem. Instead, we need to focus on the culture they were responsible for when mid-level officers can act in such a way with impunity or believe that they are serving the organisation (and the public) in acting that way.

Chapter 4 of the Pilot Report.

This is the report that the Home Office Researcher prepared and which upset the police and council officers in 2002 when it was written. When you read it, one has to wonder what they were as concerned about as it contains muted criticisms. The criticisms are based on the observable evidence, which indicates that personalities and egos were bruised rather than organisational interests being damaged. The response shows just how unwilling and unable the organisations were able to accept criticism at that time.

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The banality of institutional ignorance: Rotherham and child sexual exploitation

When people first heard the news about Rotherham Council’s child sexual exploitation scandal, they may have thought the Council and the Police were incompetent.[1] Some may have compared it to Haringey Council’s failure to protect Peter Donnelly (Baby P) and thought that as long as someone was sacked or people resigned, that should be enough. Such a surface view will keep us from understanding the problem. Why and how did Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police fail to identify the source, scale and scope of child sexual exploitation?

What is the problem that lurks beneath the scandal’s surface?

On the surface, we can say that Rotherham Council had a flawed corporate culture and focus on the personalities.[2] All this does is reward the same practices, focusing on the symptoms, without understanding the problem that created the scandal.[3] Another view on the surface is the claim by politicians that the problem was a dereliction of duty.[4] Yet, the report shows the officers were doing their duty and did, for the most part, try to act conscientiously within their understanding of the problem. Others stay on the surface by blaming someone or something in statements like “It is society’s neglect of children” or “It is class prejudices, racism, or sexism”, to explain the problem. These sound good, give a reasonable explanation and they are wrong. They forget that society does care. Society has created institutions to look after and protect children when their families cannot or will not.[5] These approaches deal with the symptoms of the problem but miss the heart of it. The problem was institutional ignorance. The organisations and the officers stopped thinking. What we find is the banality of institutional ignorance.

Institutional Ignorance a refusal to think about the problem

The banality of institutional ignorance is related to Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase “the banality of evil”.[6] She coined the term to describe Adolph Eichmann’s unthinking behaviour to implement the “Final Solution” to exterminate Jews and other enemies of the Nazi state. He was not a grand, malevolent figure. Instead, he was an unthinking bureaucrat, which explains why evil was banal. Evil is rooted in thoughtlessness, an inability to think critically, and remaining on the surface of the issue.[7] Eichmann never questioned the purpose of what he was doing or what was being done. A good person would have thought about the problem and realized it was wrong and would not have participated. Instead, he worked to improve the system. As a good bureaucrat, he acted as though the system and obeying the system was what was important. The system provided a moral framework. As a result, the institutional ignorance reinforced and encouraged unthinking behaviour.

Institutional ignorance encourages the suppression of questions.

Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police demonstrated institutional ignorance. They, and their employees, were ignorant of the scale, scope, or source of the problem. Unlike Eichmann, though, they were not evil because they did think about the symptoms. Moreover, external organisations, through inspections, did try to provoke them to think.[8] However, all the main organisations involved and many of the officers did demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to understand the problem. They stayed on the surface of the symptoms and rarely thought critically about the problem’s scope or scale. What is striking from this scandal is that officers were discouraged from asking questions and thinking. When people did ask questions, they were either dismissed or suppressed. In one case, we have a credible allegation that an officer was intimidated for questioning the approach to the problem.[9] Senior managers dismissed these claims by suggesting the evidence was exaggerated. In one case, we have testimony that indicates that questions were actively suppressed.[10] Questions would force the organisations to “think” and take responsibility to understand the problem. The system kept anyone from thinking critically about what they were doing or failing to do.[11] When officers stop thinking, they stop being moral agents. They can avoid moral responsibility for their decisions and transfer accountability to the system. In turn, the system absolved them of a responsibility to think about the problem.

If the organisation refuses to think, why should the officers?

In the Rotherham scandal, we see what Arendt saw in Eichmann except on a smaller scale. The system worked. The organisations had processes and procedures in place to help deal with child sexual exploitation. The police could point to their commitment to deliver the community’s priorities, which were vehicle crimes and burglary. If the community was not interested in child sexual exploitation, why should the police be curious about it? They did not have to think, they had to follow. We must remember they were not idle men.[12] What they lacked was curiosity. The senior officers had higher priorities and they made sure the frontline staff understood and followed those priorities. In turn, the frontline officers could justify their approach to the issue. They shared the same belief as social workers that it was acceptable for a teenager to be in a promiscuous consensual sexual relationship with an adult. The social workers and their managers could justify their work. Their professional judgement indicated that a child could make a “lifestyle choice”[13] to engage in a promiscuous consensual sexual relationship with an adult male. As Sonia Sharp, a former head of Children’s Services, explained, it was normal for the social workers and the police to believe that a vulnerable child could consent to sex with an adult.[14] In all cases, officers and their managers could point to a system, procedures, policies, and partnerships to deal with the issue.

Why question something when your superiors tell you what to think about it?

Why should officers question the system or what they were doing when the system does not encourage it and senior managers are willing to “put it in context”?[15] What junior officer is going to challenge a corporate director on that view? The senior officers and Members had an agreed institutional reputation to defend. Why should they challenge it or encourage anyone, in particular junior officers, to question it? The senior officers modelled the unthinking behaviour as they did not question evidence, challenge assumptions, or try to understand the problem. We see a senior officer testify that she never questioned why no one listened to her reports. She simply passed her reports up the chain of command and for her the system worked. It was not for her to question the system. She provided her reports to the Lead Member for children’s issues.[16] In turn, he testified that he endorsed the officer’s professional recommendations.[17] In one case, he doubled the budget. He never challenged their arguments, evidence, or assumptions of the problem. He lacked curiosity about the problem and followed or amplified what the officers recommended. The Scrutiny Committee never challenged the organisation or the officer’s assumptions on these issues. They seemed to accept almost uncritically, what the officers were doing.[18] Officers and Members did their duty, they made the system work, they just never thought about it.

When you stop thinking, you stop acting morally.

The institutional ignorance also explains why whistle blowers never emerged.[19] A whistle blower would require someone to know the scale or scope of the problem. As the council and the police clearly lacked a candid culture where challenging questions were encouraged, why would someone try to find out enough to blow the whistle? Whom would they tell?[20] From the report, we can see that the cultures discouraged challenging questions or curiosity. We can see this in the way senior police officers reacted to Parliamentary questions. If a senior officer is willing to respond aggressively to an MP in a public forum, how are they going to behave with a junior officer inside the force?[21] Would they encourage challenging question in the force? As they were at pains to explain, they tell their officers their priorities and officers will follow those priorities.[22] We have no evidence that senior officers asked frontline officers how they understood those priorities. Obedience rather than thinking appears to be what matters.

Professional curiosity should be mandatory, not recommended.

The Chief Executive’s response to the Jay Report shows us clearly that institutional ignorance existed. He made the apparently unremarkable statement that “The council now encourages professional curiosity”.[23] How many organisations have to reassure the public that officers are allowed to ask questions? What we see in all bureaucracies is a focus on secrecy that limits information on a need to know basis. These characteristics inhibit questions. When the Chief Executive has to say publicly that staff are now encouraged to think, you know you have a problem. However, we have to remember that throughout the scandal, the system and actors did what was asked of them. They remained institutionally ignorant of the problem and thus could not be responsible for it. If no one was responsible, then no one can be guilty.[24]

What needs to change to encourage ethical thinking?

For Rotherham Council to change, it has to look at the whole organisation. If it focuses on Children’s services or Safeguarding, it will miss the forest for the trees. A curiosity culture across the council is needed. Officers have to be encouraged to think and act ethically across the organisation to change it. Senior officers and Members will model the desired behaviour. The following are some steps to create a curiosity culture.

First, they need to demonstrate a culture where bad news can be discussed and acted upon by the organisation collectively. Bad news is not left to a service or a senior management team to manage. The organisation has to demonstrate how it has engaged in the problem.

Second, they need to create a candid culture. The culture will encourage critical upwards communication so bad news is welcomed and addressed with publicly accountable outcomes.[25]

Third, they need to train staff in ethical practices. They need to use scenarios to raise awareness of how institutional factors can discourage critical ethical thinking.

Fourth, they need to publish standards of behaviour. The senior officers and political leaders have to model the standards

Fifth, and most importantly, the organisation officers will be required to explain how they understand a problem’s scale, scope and source. The officers will report that understanding to Members. The Members, in particular, will need to demonstrate how they have challenged the assumptions and evidence.

[1]“Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997 – 2013) (Hereafter the Jay Report) p. 25 paragraph 3.44 (accessed 7 September 2014).

[2] The Jay Report deals specifically with culture in chapter 13 paragraphs 13.61-13.69. The problem with looking for personalities or persons to blame is that it misses the point that the organisation was the problem and it requires an organisational response and not a focus on a few officers or a few members. The whole organisation needs to be scrutinized and not simply for its culture.

[3] It would be easy to say that Rotherham Council failed because it pursued single loop learning and not double loop learning. Single loop is focused on dealing with the symptoms and not with causes. See the HBR classic article by Chris Argyris. The view is correct, but it does not explain why the council lacked the curiosity or courage to pursue double loop learning.

[4] Theresa May has made this claim and others have repeated it or echoed it. (accessed 7 September 2014)

[5] The LSE blog makes a related argument. Institutions and the banality of evil: Learning from Rotherham and Savile (Dave Richards and Martin Smith) (Accessed 12 September 2014) They appear to misunderstand Arendt’s book as the believe that impersonal forces, sexism or classism explain the scandal. Arendt rejected impersonal forces as an explanatory device because they do not provide a solid basis for justice because the revert back to determinism. Instead, as the Jay report that explains that minority girls were also being groomed and targeted for sexual exploitation. (See chapter 11 paragraph 11.14) Boys and young men were also targeted. (See Jay report paragraphs 4. 16-4.19 and 7.15, 7.18 and 10..22) Finally, while class may have played a role, it is not clear that it determined the response as people still tried to help them. If class was a factor, it was not a determinative one and more a sufficient one rather than a necessary one. What they appear to miss is Arendt’s focus on “thoughtlessness” and the failure to think. What they focus on is normality without understanding that the failure to think is what makes Eichmann and Rotherham appear so normal.

[6] I am relying heavily on, but not exclusively on, Judith Butler’s excellent article Hannah Arendt’s challenge to Adolf Eichmann (Guardian Online 29 August 2011) last accessed 7 September 2014 and Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s The capacity for evil can spread like an epidemic (Guardian Online 19 August 2011) last accessed 7 September 2014. I have referred to Arendt’s work Eichmann in Jerusalem: the banality of Evil (2nd Edition)

[7] See Bethania Assy Eichmann, the Banality of Evil, and Thinking in Arendt’s Thought  The problem raised by Eichmann and Rotherham exists within all bureaucracies and societies. The individual is caught between being too thoughtful, to the exclusion of humanity (see Martin Heidegger as an example), or thoughtless to the point of evil (Eichmann). Bureaucracies favour thoughtlessness because they thrive on routine and procedures rather than curiosity and critical thinking.

[8] The Council had inspections nearly every year from 2003 onward. (Se Jay Report Chapter 3)

[9] Reference to statement to Parliament from former Home Office Researcher.

[10] The Council and the Police failed to act on the reports despite being widely circulated to middle and senior managers. p. 83 (accessed 7 September 2014)

[11] We can see in the Jay Report very little reference to lessons learned or clear lines of accountability. See Chapter 7 paragraphs 7.51-58 for lessons learned. Problems of shared accountability see paragraph 7.24.

[12] See Q252 Meredydd Hughes testimony to Parliament Select Committee (Accessed 20 September 2014)


[14]Nine years ago, our greatest challenge was to change the predominant view that these young people were ‘promiscuous teenagers in consensual relationships’, rather than victims of child abuse.

“I regret every case of exploitation of vulnerable girls that was not prevented, but feel strongly that our collective efforts led to gradual but essential improvements in the situation for many young people.” (Accessed 3 September 2014)

[15] Consider that in 2014, while the report in the scale of the abuse was being documented and after years of attention, with criminal convictions for the exploitation, a senior manager at Rotherham can say that the agencies need to maintain a sense of proportionality about child sexual exploitation.

“One manager was reported in a recent minute of the Child Sexual Exploitation sub-group as saying that ‘agencies need to retain a sense of proportionality with regard to child sexual exploitation, as it only actually accounts for 2.3% of the Council’s safeguarding work in Rotherham. Although it is a very important issue, child neglect is a much more significant problem’. This is not an appropriate message for senior managers to give.” P. 30 paragraph 4.8 (Jay Report)

[16] See Joyce Thacker’s testimony Q417-424

[17] See Sean Wright Testimony on doubling the money q550 on endorsing the officer’s professional judgement see q546 and q547

[18] The report, in chapter 7 points out that on some of the committees the work lacked scrutiny and challenge were lacking. See paragraph 7.35 and more specifically chapter 13 paragraphs 13.54-13.56 where it suggests that the Scrutiny was simply ineffective in challenging officer evidence or holding the Executive to account on this issue.

[19] One has to note that the current Chief Executive has stated in his 3 September 2014 response to the Jay report that a whistle blower policy has been created. See paragraph 9.3

[20] See reference to HBR

[21] See the testimony of Meredydd Hughes in particular his response to q277.   It is important to see the body language of the speaker the testimony can be seen on Parliament TV.

[22] See how the Chief Constable explained that “there will not be a single person in the force who is not convinced that this is top priority” see response to q259

[23] One must note that in the Chief Executive’s response to the Jay report, paragraph 9.9 he claims that the organisation now encourages professional curiosity. “Professional curiosity is encouraged and this supports staff to raise issues and know they will be taken seriously.”

[24] The report makes this point directly and in doing so reiterates the same problem that Arendt saw at work with Eichmann. “An issue or responsibility that belongs to everybody effectively belongs to nobody” (Jay Report paragraph 13.57 and Arendt Eichmann “And one can debate long and profitably on the rule of Nobody, which is what the political form known as bureau-cracy truly is.” p.289.

[25] See the work of Denis Tourish for critical upwards communication Denis Tourish Critical Upward Communication:: Ten Commandments for Improving Strategy and Decision Making Long Range Planning Volume 38, Issue 5, October 2005, Pages 485-503 doi:10.1016/j.lrp.2005.05.001  and work of HBR on candid culture.

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Ferguson and the death of the American idea



At the heart of the American idea is that belief that self-government is possible. Self-government is one in which there is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can flourish. The laws are made democratically, by the people, and most importantly the people obey the laws they have made as they serve the common good not the good of a group or an individual. In essence, this is the idea of self-government. We obey the laws we have made because they apply to everyone equally. This idea based on a belief is fading. Obedience to the laws is no longer the dominant civil religion within America. The belief that underpins the American idea is dying and we can see this in what Ferguson has revealed about America.

To distrust the government is to distrust ourselves

The seductive desire to disobey the law has been growing over generations. The distrust of the government growing since 1968 has started to become an outright hatred for the government.  Could a government dedicated to the proposition of self-government be possible?  In 1863, Lincoln explained that America was fighting a bloody and vicious civil war to answer this question in the affirmative. He fought the war to save the Union, a Union that was based on the Constitution. Without the Constitution, a set of laws made by the people and obey by them, self government was not possible. Yet, the government that no longer serves the common good, but serves a group, cannot be considered one that allows for self-government.

Each generation must answer the call to renew America

Lincoln understood that the civil war did not settle the matter. He knew before the war that America’s political institutions had to be renewed and strengthened by each generation. What would destroy America would never be a foreign emperor leading a conquering army. Instead, he warned in his Lyceum address (1838) America would be destroyed from within its borders. He feared lawlessness and a disregard for the laws by American citizens would be the cause of America’s defeat. What began as lawless in spirit would become the lawless in deed. For those who were lawless in spirit, the government would represent their greatest constraint to their “freedom”. They would destroy the government to be “free”.

“the lawless in spirit are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint but dread of punishment, they become absolutely unrestrained. Having ever regarded government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations, and pray for nothing so much as its total annihilation”

We can see those prophetic words coming to life in Ferguson. The police used arbitrary power to enforce the law. Then the public encouraged to be lawless in spirit from the lack of justice within their community, attacked the symbols of the law. In turn, outsiders travelled to Ferguson to fan the flames of violence, disorder, and destruction. These strangers were not interested in justice, or the common good, they were interested in destruction, the lawlessness in deed. Yet, that lawlessness in spirit is not limited to the street, it occurs in the corporate suite and city hall. In those places, the American idea becomes something to be used to further the corporate or political interest. What Ferguson revealed is that America is in danger of becoming a country that is for one group, by one group, and of one group. When that occurs, then the common good has disappeared.

Without a common or shared vision of justice, we are but a gang of robbers

For America to survive its people have to remain attached to the government as the common expression of the law, and in turn, justice. The people have to be faithful to the idea that it was a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Yet, when the people lose faith in the government, they lose faith in themselves. If Americas did not reaffirm their faith in the American idea, that self-government is possible, then ruin was certain.

“I know the American People are much attached to their Government;–I know they would suffer much for its sake;–I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.” [1]

Is America no longer a country that can show reverence for the law either in the street or in the city hall? If we cannot sustain the democratic experiment, who will? Citizens seek their own good and pay no heed to the common good. The logic is “As long as I am ok, it doesn’t matter what happens to you. You had your chance and made the wrong choice.” Such a view expresses the corrupted idea of what self-government now means in America.

Our individual lawlessness devours the common good

We are not talking about a political debate over the size of the government. We are not talking about whether government spending should be reformed. We are not talking about how regulations stifle capitalistic freedom. We are talking about a dislike, distrust, and even an outright hatred of the government. Let us not confuse this with an esoteric debate that seeks to parse the nuances of a government as an agent separate from the people. The government at all levels has becomes a legitimate target of hatred and destruction. The hatred has as its target an idea. The idea is that the individual has to accept that their self-government is bound up with obedience to the laws.

Without obedience to the laws, self-government is not possible. .

Self-government is not a right, it is a not a certainty, it is not permanent. It is a proposition that must be answered every day by each citizen. If Americans are to live together as one people, they have to understand that it is as one people, united and expressed in the common good. The government express our common belief, our common good that we can live together under the law. Instead, it has become the idea that we can only live by own rules and the government is a tyranny.  We can only be “free” if we are rid of it. What is forgotten in that belief is that self-government was our last best hope to avoid a government of arbitrary violence.

Ferguson has shown us what it means when the government no longer serves communities with equal justice. The American experiment begins to fade for these communities because the law is something imposed on them. When the government no longer serves all communities equally, does America have justice? Even without the death of Michael Brown, we can see a similar injustice in Chicago where it is alleged that the Police Department, under political pressure to improve the murder statistics, reclassified homicides as non criminal deaths.[2] The reclassified murders are nearly all black men and women. In Chicago, the communities with the highest murder rates are the black communities. When the police reclassify the murders, the government stops working for these people as they are excluded from the common good that the government is for the people. It does not work for their community. They are left with lawlessness. The  other Chicagoans enjoy the “common” good.

The lawlessness has grown over the past two generations.

America’s disbelief in the principle of self-government has not occurred overnight, but over generations. Over generations, the people have lost their understanding of what is good for the country. As citizens have lost that understanding, the country has suffered. The illness does have a cure. It is to reawaken our belief in the common good and the responsibility to hold ourselves to account for we have done for the common good. What Ferguson has done is show us that the common good is tenuous. The black community live with injustice and violence unknown to the rest of America.

Can America still claim to know its common good?

The law is founded on a belief in the common good, something larger than the individual and something more than a cynical transaction between the citizen and the state. The only way we can reignite the hunger for self-government is if we educate our young to be citizens, to obey the law because it is good and it serves the common good. In turn, we have to ensure that the law serves the common good that no one person, no institution, is above the law. Either we return to the idea of self-government that is based on an idea of the common good or we prepare ourselves for its alternatives:  anarchy or tyranny. In Ferguson, we have seen what happens when the common good is neglected and the law appears as an oppressor rather than as something that reflects the community.




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Beyond Contempt: Does Money Buy Justice?

English: First issue of News of the World, Oct...

English: First issue of News of the World, October 1, 1843 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peter Jukes has written an important book. The book is important because of what it reveals about UK politics, media, and justice. The case connects these areas. Too often people hear “important book” and immediately think that it is boring. This book is exciting, well written and scary. It is important because of what it reveals about the UK justice system. In the book Mr. Jukes quotes Justice Saunders at the start of the trial that British justice is on trial. While many may not accept the verdicts; many will understand after reading the book that the prosecution was lucky to get the few convictions it did.

Three books within one

There are three books in this book and each is worthy of a sequel. They cover the trial, journalism, the corporate culture. The first book is about the trial that Mr. Jukes live tweeted. The book is based on the tweets he sent while he attended the trial. In itself, this makes the book an interesting read. Although he is quick to admit, there is nothing new in this approach. What is new is the way that he combined the live tweeting, with the fund raising (crowd sourced) and the way the work was collected and maintained by Gabrielle Laine Peters, J Claire Pollard and Jon Lippitt. The effort to create the book suggests a possible future for journalism and open justice. The process to get to the book is worthy a book in itself if only as an instruction manual or a how to guide. As Mr. Jukes notes, there are some parallels to other open source investigation sites like Bellingcat.

Money may not buy justice, but it helps you stay out of jail.

The book covers the trial well and despite being present for nearly every day of the trial, it does not bog down into burdensome detail. Mr Jukes keeps the narrative flowing with the specific set pieces that mark the high and low points for the prosecution and the defence. As Justice Saunders pointed out British Justice was on trial. At one level, this is always true. Any trial puts British justice on display, but this trial was different. The power ranged against the state was awesome. In this book, we can see where justice is served and how the trial unfolds. Mr. Jukes is a talented writer with an eye and ear for personality and performance. His writing skills shine through as he captures set pieces as well as emotions. He describes well a fundamental problem of UK justice. In this case, the defence outgunned the prosecution. In a democracy, this is worrying as an individual (or a corporation) could mount a defence against the state, the will of the people, and render it incapable of pursuing justice. However, people have always been of the view that the average individual and even the well off individual could not muster this level of resources. However, the justice system is not well prepared to deal with corporations. As Mr. Jukes writes, there were 6 QCs working against the prosecution’s one QC. The imbalance of resources had a direct outcome on the trial. The imbalance of power has parallels in the OJ Simpson case in the United States where his legal “dream team” took apart the prosecution’s case point by point.[1]  However, the issue is not money or “buying” justice.

Can corporations be brought to justice?

The trial was fair within the constraints set by democracy. It was a display of corporate power to protect its own. The difference for the corporation and the Crown is that the Crown can do this indefinitely, so long as the public interest remains, while corporations will eventually run out of money. With that knowledge, justice is often served as most settle rather than continue the cost.  This trial shows the weakness and strength of UK justice in particular circumstances. If you have enough connections and enough resources you can argue the state to standstill, which is what News Corp did on behalf of its officers. The issue is something beyond the court’s control and reflects the UK political culture and the way democracy expects or understands justice. The Courts have no say over the resources a corporation can bring to the table. Can corporations be brought to justice?

Is a tabloid newspaper an extension of the entertainment industry?

The second book is about journalism. In this Mr. Jukes makes interesting points about journalism’s culture and business. Journalism, especially investigative journalism, and investigative journalism in a tabloid, is a rough business. There is no way to hide that fact. The competition for stories and sources is fierce. The journalists were not secretive simply because they were doing something illegal, they were secretive because rival papers, or rival journalists, even journalists from their own paper would steal their story. The problem, though, is the web and social media are changing journalism. The web opens up information faster and more effectively than the phone hacking can provide. The idea of celebrity is also different as the web creates different sources for promotion and publicity which would have made the News of the World vulnerable. In the trial, we see some of the ways in which phone hacking corrupted journalism and undermined the journalists, especially investigative journalists’ best instincts.

The book also reveals the way tabloid newspapers has become an extension of the entertainment industry. The symbiotic relationship is successful even if it is dysfunctional, as the fall of Max Clifford indicates. Curiously, Rebecca Brooks was sent early in her career to negotiate with Max Clifford and later negotiated a secret deal to avoid unwanted publicity through litigation. How entertainment and celebrity fuelled the NoTW needs to be understood to put the competition and the phone hacking into context. The phone hacking started for celebrity stories and began to drift into other areas such as politicians and the Royals which led to the downfall. The relationship of entertainment and journalism within this murky world is worth a separate book.

Corporate culture reflected how they conducted their business

The third book is about the corporate culture. In this book there are insights we can draw from the relationships Mr. Jukes describes. Here I found his skills as a dramatist gave the book something beyond court reporting. He did not try to make these insights like a soap opera. Instead, he showed how the company’s culture was like a soap opera. The corporate culture of News of the World and News International was toxic. The competition within the newsroom and the boardroom did not make this a nice or happy place to work. One can see this in the way that Mr. Coulson had to say, despite the evidence being presented, “I am not a bully”. You know you have a problem when you have to reassure people you are honest, friendly or not a bully. Though never present, Rupert Murdoch haunted the case. As News International is a family firm one has to consider the corporate culture as an extension of the family culture. In this view, Rupert Murdoch sits like an aged King looking at a crumbling, yet still effective, empire.

Rebekah Brooks is that skilled, which is why she was acquitted

As a back story to the trial, we can see Mr. Murdoch like King Lear pining after his Cordelia (Rebekah Brooks). After the trial and related revelations, Mrs Brooks is too toxic to return to News Corp and the other Murdochs would not allow her to interlope. They and others underestimated Rebekah Brooks’ ability to find her way into the inner circle because they do not possess her uncanny ability to find power and seduce it. Access is what works at the corporate level and Mrs Brooks’ talent was to understand power so as to obtain access. Her skills remind me of President Lyndon Johnson who also has an uncanny ability to find power, pursue, and ingratiate himself with it to bend it to his will. Unlike Johnson who often did with a scowl, Rebekah Brooks seems to do with a smile. Their methods may have been as different as their goals, but both understand power. This is why many people underestimate Mrs Brooks. They believe that she is either directed or protected by someone, like Mr. Murdoch, or that she only succeeds because of her female charms. Neither holds true, but for many it is hard to accept. Her success in Murdoch’s kingdom was due to her skills. Although Mr. Murdoch is only a shadow over the trial, we can see why Mrs Brooks was considered so valuable in her ability to survive the cross examination from Mr. Edis and to emerge unscathed from the trial. I think that Mr. Murdoch understood her value and why she was his priority in the case. In many ways, her downfall is worse than the alleged betrayal by his wife. He can get another wife; he cannot create another heir to his empire.

A book that needs to be read in context to appreciate its value

Despite my praise, I have to say that this is not a perfect book. It is not a definitive guide. As it mainly covers the trial, it needs to be read with two other books Hack Attack by Nick Davies and Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman. Beyond Contempt does suffer slightly from the speed at which it was written and put together. There are places where the narrative is not smooth and the logic seems to have gaps. However, these are only minor distractions and the overall tone, pace, and skill of the writing is excellent. A second edition that expands on the context would provide more details for some examples that are only mentioned rather than explored and fill the minor gaps.

On the whole, I recommend this book to those who followed the Leveson Inquiry or who follow the ongoing saga of Murdoch News Corp. The book will also be of interest and use to general readers on media, journalism, and UK justice.

[1] News Corp paid the defendants legal expenses.

Posted in censorship, corruption, good writing, Government, justice, privacy, transparency | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Israel’s strategy in Gaza; creating liberal democratic tendencies.

English: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin,...

English: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. president Bill Clinton, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Česky: Izraelský premiér Jicchak Rabin, americký prezident Bill Clinton a předseda Organizace pro osvobození Palestiny (OOP) Jásir Arafat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many observers argue that Israel lacks a strategy in Gaza. If it has a strategy, it is bankrupt because any success does not stop the attacks. A related view argues Israel’s tactical advantage cannot be turned into strategic victory. By contrast, critics argue that Israel’s strategy is genocide, ethnic cleansing, or both. They make this argument either simplistically or with a complex nuance. The simple view is that Israel settlements to push out Palestinians. In the nuanced view, Israel foments state of crisis to destroy Palestinian society.

I believe both are wrong. We need an analytical device to understand Israel’s strategy. Without it, the debate and the conflict remain sterile. The analytical device is Liberalism. Liberalism reveals that Israel’s strategy in Gaza is familiar to the Western approach to similar issues. Israel’s strategy is similar to England’s strategy in Ireland, Scotland and Wales[1]. It is similar to the United States of America’s strategy in North America.[2] Liberalism explains why Western protestors recoil from Israel’s activity in Gaza. They have forgotten what was required to create their peace, stability, and prosperity.[3] The non-Western states resent Liberalism and resist it because it threatens their identity. They see it antithetical to what they want to achieve.

Israel is trying through violence and political engagement to encourage the Palestinian Government (PG) to become a moderate. If the PG becomes moderate, they become an acceptable political partner. They demonstrate that liberalism is the mechanism for change when they ask the classic liberal questions. Will you recognize our right to exist? Will you renounce violence? These questions are at the heart of liberalism. As Frances Fukuyama’s book End of History[4] argued they are the questions that when answered in the affirmative demonstrate the end of history. However, to the extent that Hamas answers no to these questions, they remain firmly within the Concept of the Political. Carl Schmitt’s critique of this liberalism in Concept of the Political explains why the conflict continues.

Fukuyama or Schmitt: The choice that animates Gaza’s future

Israel’s strategy is immediately problematic for the Palestinians and any Palestinian government (PG). The Palestinians will see this as an attempt to dilute or destroy their identity. Their identity is bound up with being immoderate, and thus unacceptable, actor. In the Israeli strategy, they face an existential threat. Do they want to be Western and accept liberalism? The other path is to remain immoderate and reject liberalism.[5] Yet, they cannot create a state without assimilating the liberal tendencies of the state system. If they accept liberal tendencies (renounce violence and recognize Israel) what is their identity.[6] If they do not change, then the fighting has to continue. All truces are simply a time to reload and resupply. The fighting will continue until one of two outcomes occurs. The first is that Palestinians reject Hamas with ballots. The second is that Hamas bankrupts itself with the bodies of Palestinians.[7] How long can the Palestinians accept a government that will fight to the last Palestinian for a goal that they could achieve without the violence and sacrifice?

Despite this extremism, the PG is slowly becoming relatively moderate. For nearly 40 years, the Palestinians had only one leader or face–Yasser Arafat. When he died, Hamas was elected to lead the Palestinians. Although they were not less moderate than Arafat, they had a crucial advantage. They were democratically elected. The election gave them some legitimacy. However, with legitimacy comes responsibility. Hamas predictably used this irresponsibly. They continued their immoderate illiberal path to destroy Israel through violence. They rejected the moderate approach to assimilate with liberalism. Hamas built tunnels and trained fighters. They did not build hospitals and train teachers. They sought war. The violence and dead Palestinians sustains Hamas’s legitimacy as a radical or illiberal group. To build hospitals and train teachers would require them to accept liberalism and display liberal tendencies. They could not do that. However, a PG after Hamas may find that they can. They may seek a moderate path if only because it allows them to live longer and to retain their legitimacy longer.

The more moderate the PG becomes, the more a two state strategy becomes viable. However, elements within Israel do not want that two state outcome. They will create situations that reduce the PG’s ability to become moderate[8] entity. Is Israel willing to accept a moderate PG? The question cannot be ignored nor can an answer be assumed. The more Israel resists it by equating moderate liberal and immoderate illiberal Palestinians, they encourage the problem they wants to avoid. No, this does not mean that Israel has encouraged Hamas or brought the attacks on itself. Instead, it is to argue that the Israeli attacks and strategy has to be focused on a liberal democratic entity, a moderate entity. If they are not pursuing the goal of liberal democratic tendencies, then we have to consider the alternatives. Is Israel’s goal to remove Palestinians or simply to absorb them into Israel? Neither is a viable strategy. If Israel rejects a PG with liberal democratic tendencies, then it will be as illiberal as those it opposes.

The liberal democratic trajectory within Islamic states (and Israel).

At the same time, Islamic states demonstrate liberal tendencies in their intent or trajectory. For this reason, illiberals want that to stop them and any rapprochement with Israel.[9] The liberal tendencies of the relatively moderate Islamic states suggest why they do not support Hamas as they might have previously. Even though they are marginally less illiberal the extremists, they are now vulnerable to their own extremists. Even a state like Saudi Arabia (or North Korea) has liberal democratic tendencies. It wants to be recognized as a legitimate state within the state system to that it has to show liberal tendencies. In this way, Israel and the PG share a similar trajectory.[10]

Israel has faced the same questions of identity and assimilation with liberalism. They have answered them; to the extent, an answer is possible with an Israeli state. They have assimilated themselves into the liberal state system, even as they retained the faith of their fathers. However, they understand that their assimilation presents an existential challenge to their identity.[11] They may delay that challenge for a long time but they cannot avoid it.

Israel was on a long journey to statehood. It took them 2000 years to get to a state and they have had it less than 70 years. If Israel’s strategy is to succeed, they have to find a way to foster liberal tendencies in the Palestinians. So far, Israel has worked hard to suppress the illiberal tendencies. Can they demonstrate the same skill, ingenuity, perseverance to generate liberal tendencies?

If this is not Israel’s strategy, what is it?

[1] The same process, albeit on a longer time scale, can be seen in the way that England assimilated others into its control. One could say that the UK I flirting with its own “two state solution” with Scotland. The longer historical process can be seen in the reasons why Wales has so many castles and why Berwick upon Tweed, which was one of the wealthiest towns in the world in 1295, is now a relatively sleepy town. One could call Berwick’s fate self-defence, as Scotland had made an alliance with France, which was a strategic threat to England, but that misses the deeper historical process. The same historical process that animated England’s relationship with Scotland explained the process by which the Empire was transformed into a commonwealth. The evolution of that approach can be seen in the issues around the torture files from Kenya and the way that the Scotland’s proposed independence is to be settled by ballots rather than bullets. America’s assimilation strategy through liberalism has been no less robust in its own way. These are not wars of imperialism so much as wars to extend the liberal mandate and assimilate its opponents into the system or destroy them. The rise of the state system and the way it assimilates those who aspire to statehood into it reflects that historical process.

[2] The strategy is the process by which liberalism assimilates the “other”, in the Schmittian sense. Carl Schmitt, the Nazi era legal scholar and philosopher proposed the idea of the concept of the political that said the basic political issue was to distinguish friend from enemy. Schmitt argued that liberalism could not overcome the tension between the two and that its attempt to do so was undesirable.

I borrowed the idea of assimilation from sociologists in the United States who sought to explain the way immigrants are encouraged to join a society. Consider the article by Peter Skerry Do we really want immigrants to assimilate? (accessed 9 August 2014)

“More than just realism, Park affords us a sense of the tragic dimensions of immigration. William James, one of Park’s teachers, once wrote that “progress is a terrible thing” In that same spirit, Park likened migration to war in its potential for simultaneously fostering individual tragedy and societal progress.

As in war, the outcome of the immigration we are now experiencing is difficult to discern. And this is precisely what is most lacking in the continuing debate over immigration—a realistic appreciation of the powerful forces with which we are dealing.” [Emphasis added]


[3] It took England 900 years to become a unitary state with decades of brutal wars and occupation to achieve the peace, stability, and prosperity it has today. Israel by contrast has been trying to do the same in less than 70 years in a context that constrains their actions more than anything does, including Christianity, ever placed on the ruthless actions of the English monarchs.

[4] Although this essay acknowledges Fukuyama’s article and his argument from Hegel via Kojeve, his argument is flawed. To put it directly, Harry Jaffa was correct in his 1991 review of End of History, because Strauss is right and Kojeve is wrong as suggested by their debate regarding On Tyranny. To understand this point, consider the belief in modern natural science that haunts Kojeve and by extension Fukuyama’s argument. See (End of History and the Last Man (Avon Books p. 85 footnote 5.) When we work through the footnote to its originating thought, we arrive at Nietzsche-Heidegger understanding of technology and the choice between Strauss and Kojeve. See the recent essay by Mark Blitz Understanding Heidegger on Technology in The New Atlantis. (accessed 22 July 2014) In the essay Blitz reviews the recent publication of Heidegger’s other essays around his Question Concerning Technology.

[5] The choice is this blunt which is why the stakes are so high. This is not simply a struggle in which civilians are killed for a tactical or strategic military goal or even a political goal. The question is an existential one that cannot be avoided or finessed.

[6] Hamas showed a shrewd political sense when they offered in 2006 to renounce violence and recognize Israel as they courted the Palestinian vote. (Accessed 10 August) The problem for Hamas is what is their identity once they accept those liberal tendencies? Can they justify the sacrifices and martyrdom that has fuelled their support? Unlike Nixon who famously used his conservative anti-communism as a strategic device to justify the opening to China, Hamas cannot leverage the deaths of Palestinians in the same way. The question Hamas or any radical Palestinian Government has to answer and defend is “Did Palestinians have to die so you could recognise Israel?” In this regard, the Western propaganda actually works against Hamas because it raises the stakes to a point where they cannot negotiate because it undermines the Western protests and propaganda done on their behalf. Hamas might justify the sacrifice in a way that Kojeve would understand as Hamas would have to suggest something akin to Hegel’s idea “The wounds of the Spirit heal, and leave no scars behind” (Phenomenology of the Spirit p. 407 #(669) (accessed 12 August 2014)

[7] Hamas has to make sure that the Palestinian people suffer from the violence so that they have a sunk cost in Hamas’s legitimacy. If Hamas fought and they suffered then their suffering would not have meaning. They would only be dying for Hamas not for Palestinian state. To the extent that Hamas’s goals are shown to bankrupt, that is Palestinians want to become even slightly less radical than Hamas, then their sacrifices has been for Hamas’ benefit and not theirs. In other words, in that moment, the interests of Hamas diverge from those of the Palestinian people. Hamas has an overriding interest in linking Palestinian identity to Hamas’ identity and thus the Palestinian people become hostage to Hamas.

[8] The PG is not going to be a liberal democratic state overnight. Instead, the best that can be expected is a state or entity with liberal democratic tendencies. We have to accept this provisional goal. The region lacks a liberal democratic Muslim state to act as a guide. The reason, of course, is that to be liberal democratic is to reduce the role of religion to a secondary institution, which is why the UK is not a liberal democratic state, even though it makes a strong claim to that title.

[9] The liberal democratic tendencies also explain why the issue in Gaza (and the ISIS existence) is not a clash of civilizations. Despite Samuel Huntington’s arguments, the Middle East is not on the cusp of a Caliphate to create an Islamic civilisation to challenge the West.

Islam has not been a coherent civilisation for about 400 years. Moreover, the advent of the nation state system, with the benefits and constraints it brings, has fostered the liberal democratic tendencies. Although Islamic states are riven by tribal and ethnic issues, these, in themselves, do not give rise to a civilizational crisis or conflict.

[10] No, this is not a subtle moral equivalence between the Palestinian Government (Hamas) and Israel. The point is that as Palestinians search for statehood and create an entity with liberal democratic tendencies, they share a similarity in that process Israel followed to create a state to protect its interests. The state it created had to have, at a minimum, liberal democratic tendencies. To be sure, Israel has more than liberal democratic tendencies as it has a robust and vibrant liberal democracy.

[11] Baruch Spinoza is still excommunicated.

Posted in Government, justice, philosophy, statesmanship, strategy, war | Tagged , , , , , , , | 23 Comments