Trump is only a symptom; he is not the problem.

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are outraged at Donald Trump’s private remarks. He spoke of his attempt to seduce a married woman. In his crude language, he said he tried to fornicate with her or at least make clear his intention to do so by grabbing her genitals. They want us to believe he is the problem. What we must avoid is the thought that he is only a symptom.

The public are outraged and people cannot believe that he would talk that way in public. They want to believe that other public figures do not behave that way, or if they did, their private behaviour would be made public. In particular, the public cannot understand how various public figures, such as Lyndon Johnson, John F Kennedy, Roger Ailes, or Rudy Giuliani could make such comments, behave this way, and get away with it for so long.

What Trump talked about previous president did.

The America public want to believe or are encouraged to believe that Trump is a singularity, he is beyond the pale. What they are discouraged from believing or considering is that he is normal in the sense that his behaviour is common and therefore unsurprising. In America, the powerful have long been indulged in their desires legal or otherwise. We only note the many sex scandals within Hollywood or the wider entertainment culture to see how those with status, wealth, or celebrity believe that they can act with near impunity. More widely, American culture now encourages, if not embraces, wider translegal desires that strike at the heart of America’s civil religion.

In the past, one would expect that public leaders would display personal fidelity and behave moderately in the public domain. Where private behaviours did not correspond to such public demands, they would be restrained and kept from public sight to avoid inflaming public disapproval. The public life required a certain private moderation. Alas, that era is gone and has been gone for decades before Trump emerged as a candidate.

What Trump expresses and gets away with is a disordered eros, a tyrannical longing, to indulge his sexual appetites with any women, whether she is married or not. He can indulge his appetites, his translegal desires, because of his powers and that is why others want to be powerful. America’s culture nurtures the belief, especially through entertainment, that if you are successful, and most of all power ful, your desires will be fulfilled because you deserve it, you are worth it. Thus, the public are habituated to pursue power, wealth, and success for the translegal desires that can be indulged.

The powerful have private lives that are well protected by law or threats.

We know that public officials often have private lives that appear to escape scrutiny. We also know that politicians will be protected by loyal aides and staff who have invested much in their patron’s success. They will display a loyalty to their employer or patron at the law’s expense. One can only imagine the level of fear that politically powerful figures, ones connected to the political establishment, could generate such as Johnson or Kennedy or even a governor in a small state.

Even if you raise it, who will believe you?

If you did raise a concern, who would believe you? Would anyone care? In a political campaign, the culture is one where supporters will look the other way to ensure their candidate gets elected. In many cases, we know that such people looked the other way and just dismissed the possibility of abuse. Some did not even investigate. Others simply excused it almost like an entitlement. Powerful men like LBJ and JFK are to be indulged for their status. What would be the attitude in the professions that wield the state’s coercive power? A lowly employee is going to think twice if they think of reporting the incident. The lowly political person will know how vindictive politically powerful figures are. Without exception, the political powerful are also vindictive people who always seek to punish their enemies often seeking revenge for slights from decades earlier. The nature of politics is that you seek to help your friends and hurt your enemies.

Caught in a shower having sex with a child and still ignored

Even without the fear, are they likely to be believed? We are surprised at Trump’s statements but when Jerry Sandusky was caught in the shower with a child, he escaped punishment for 10 years.[1] Even now people defend Penn State and the failures to bring Sandusky to justice.  Excuses and rationalizes just roll off the tongue. Anyone can and does rationalize any and all behaviour that they see or display. We only need to glance at Fox News, which shapes the public domain, where Roger Ailes engaged in behaviour that humiliated women. Horrific acts can and have been excused or overlooked when it suited the powerful. America is no different.

Trump’s behaviour is common in politics, business, and our entertainment culture

What Trumps comments reveal is what has been implicit in American culture. His behaviour is revealed only when it serves a political purpose not for being intrinsically wrong. If his behaviour was considered intrinsically wrong, it would not have waited for an election to bring it to the surface. However, the problem is deeper than Trump, his comments, or even Fox News. America has indulged its disordered eros in direct proportion to its imperial ethos. America’s foreign policy behaviour is now being expressed domestically. Trump expresses the age old belief that the strong do as they want; the weak do as they must. In the domestic realm, Trump has revealed America’s disordered soul, the tyrant’s life, which Americans are willing to excuse so long as they benefit from it whether it is a politician, a businessman, or an entertainer.

Trump reveals what we want to hide: the translegal desires that drive our culture

America needs to look around and see that Trump’s behaviour is not new and it is not shocking; it is American culture. America has embraced a disordered eros; for it is what drives America. The disordered eros will not stop if Trump loses the election. He is only a symptom; he is not the problem. America will not address this deeper problem and that is the truth that hysterical faux outrage over Trump’s comments hides.

[1] Jerry Sandusky was eventually arrested, tried, and convicted for sexually abusing children. However, the incident in the shower did not immediately trigger his suspension or arrest. (It occurred in 2001, he was not arrested until 2011.) His status within the Penn State football programme and the standing of the Penn State football programme within the University and within the community protected him. Surely, an ex-PM would garner the same, if not more, deference and protection.  For an overview of the case consider:

Posted in Government, philosophy, privacy, public opinion, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , , ,

When facts don’t matter, democracy dies.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

– Daniel Patrick Moynihan

The reason people think facts are subjective is that facts are not self-evident, they require context to be understood. We could say that Belgium invaded Germany in World War One. Unless someone knew about Belgium, Germany, and how the war started, they could not disprove that claim. To prove the fact is true requires other facts such as evidence of Germany’s invasion plans, Belgium neutrality, or eyewitness accounts. What a fact usually requires is a factual context, either other facts, or eye witnesses or other testimony that can be verified. On the surface, when facts and opinions clash the dispute is usually settled by what the majority agree. What makes facts even more unreliable is that witnesses can be encourage to bear false witness. If you persuade a group of people to bear false witness about a fact or facts, then a majority can create a truth that contradicts the facts.[1]

When facts don’t matter the loudest voice wins.

Hannah Arendt in her famous essay Truth and Politics, described how totalitarian regimes twisted facts to suit their “truth”. She had seen how the Nazi tyranny and the Soviet tyranny had succeeded because facts were replaced with opinions. In those regimes, the loudest voice, the most violent faction, was able to impose itself as facts were seen to be opinions, or relative to what could be imposed with force. When facts got in their way they discredited the facts, the speaker, or both. In a normal democracy, a citizen, armed with facts, can hold power to account. To overcome such citizens, a tyranny has to use force which reveals the regime’s true nature. If they do not want to use force, they will use the next best thing. They will replace the facts with opinions so that the loudest voices or the most voices will decide what is right. When opinions replace facts, then the loudest voice, or the most persuasive voice, or the voice with the most supporters will win. In the contest between opinions and facts, the facts are at a disadvantage for facts can only succeed when they are embedded in the truth or in political knowledge. Yet, opinions about political things is easier to display and is often confused with political knowledge, which is knowledge of political things.

Political knowledge is always hidden by opinions

Citizens will have opinions about the political things such as elections, laws, political parties, public records. These political opinions are their prejudices or guesses about political things. From these opinions, we can create political knowledge through discovery and reasoned debate. When people compare and discuss their opinions about the facts they can create political knowledge. However, political knowledge is confused with opinion so truth based in the nature of political things remains elusive. However, as long as we can discover the nature of political things, by discovering and debating political facts based within the nature of political things, then political truths are possible. As the nature of political things cannot be changed by an act of will in the way an opinion can be changed, we have an agreed foundation within which to build decent politics. In turn, political knowledge is sustained by a web of facts that anchors it in reality. As Arendt explained, facts are embedded in the fabric of history. A fact torn from its context is easily spotted as a falsehood. If someone were to claim that President Abraham Lincoln died in 1965, we could see that as an obvious falsehood. Yet, political knowledge is often hidden by, or confused with, political opinions. It is these opinions about the nature of political things that governments will want to control. Any government knows that it is easier to shape public opinion than to change facts.

To destroy facts one has to destroy the trust needed to sustain a political community.

A regime’s resistance to facts, though, is not limited to totalitarian politics, it occurs in any regime. A regime finds it easier to control the public domain when they can rely on an opinion instead of working to facts that might contradict them. When facts don’t matter, then any “fact” can be shaped to fit the “truth” the speaker wants to claim. When Donald Trump expresses his political opinion that Barack Obama is not an American citizen, he wants his opinion that the President’s birth certificate is fraudulent to replace the fact that it is genuine. He asserts his opinion to create a doubt about the facts. His opinion, is only the problem’s surface. What makes his behaviour insidious and destructive is that he wants to pull apart the historical fabric within which the fact exists and makes the birth certificate valid. To achieve this outcome, Trump and his “truthers” attacked the common good. They tried to unravel the web of trust our democracy requires. They tried to sever the birth registration process within the government bureaucratic process from the system of public records. To do this, they sought to destroy the integrity of all the people in that web of trust. When such a practice of tearing apart the historical fabric is accepted as normal within a democracy, it destroys the common good. In effect, Trump’s claim means that any fact he disagrees with must be false and his opinions are true. His claim of doubt about any topic, be it Obama’s birth certificate or the Clintons’ marriage, is true. When facts don’t matter, democracy dies for there is no political knowledge and no political truths that can hold the society together or hold the majority to account. When facts don’t matter only the loudest voice matters and a community based on that belief soon decays into demagoguery and mob rule.

When you can have your opinions considered the truth, there is no limit to what you can do

Like all demagogues “truthers” wants to discredit political facts as a common standard for behaviour within the public domain so their opinions can take root. Without a common standard of truth, based on political facts, the common good that binds the country together decays. When the common good decays, then factions can rule. The faction which can promote its opinion most strongly wins. Yet, that does not allow for us to judge the opinions since a demagogue like Trump can shape his “facts” to fit what his audience expects since his facts are simply his opinion. We saw this in the UK during the recent EU referendum. Nigel Farage made claims about £350 million a week being sent to the EU which would be returned to the NHS.[2] He was challenged on it and claimed it was true and those who doubted it were trying to scare the public. After the referendum, won in part on claims such as that and other claims, he and others recanted on that statement. They said it would not happen. Yet, their opinions passed as political truths had succeeded.

Farage and Trump succeed because they present their opinions as truths.

Farage and Trump’s facts are not based in a verifiable context. They, like sophists of old, can present whatever the audience wants to hear. As they only need to present what they believe will persuade the audience, they will always sound more persuasive than those who have political knowledge or political facts. When those with political facts and political knowledge try to explain these truths, the sophists, such as Boris Johnson and Dom Cummings, can escape by saying “I don’t do details”. Even though the facts are unalterable, Johnson and Cummings can tout their opinions as truths since what matters to them is that they convince their audience. If they have convinced their audience, and made it funny, then they have succeeded. Through the faux humour or faux arrogance, they sound more persuasive since they can make their opinions match to the audience’s preferred beliefs. They have no desire to engage the truth teller in a search for the truth of the matter. Instead, they can say; “The EU is wasteful; the UK is being ripped off” and the audience will find it easier to believe the seductive, because they are comforting, opinions. The truth tellers, by contrast, will sound dour since they can only point to an arduous path needed to understand the political knowledge about political things. When truth Teller like Andrew Tyrie meets these men he has two disadvantages.[3] In such a domain, a truth teller, someone who has political knowledge and knows political truths will be unpersuasive since their facts will appear unbelievable to someone who understands reality as simply an opinion. As there will be many people who will share that opinion, it becomes exponentially difficult for the truth teller to succeed. Second, he has to remain true to the truth as he seeks to counter someone who is completely unmoored from the facts. He can only repeat the facts even as his opponent creates an opinion without any basis in such facts since his opponent does not share his starting premise—that the truth matters.

When you can discredit the truth tellers, who will stop you?

With truth tellers discredited, the “truthers” can impose their opinions as the “truth” without concern for verifiable political facts. The “truther” will insist that any facts they disagree with are simply opinions. (It is your opinion that Obama’s birth certificate is valid. It is your opinion that I said immigration was good. It is your opinion that I said the NHS would receive 350 million per week that goes to the EU.) The political opinion is defended as a constitutional right. In such a demand, the “truther” wants the right to replace facts with opinions. Moreover, they will insist that facts are subjective and their opinions have to be respected as equal to or superior to any facts. If you disagree, they will insist that they have a constitutional right to free speech to speak their opinion that facts are simply opinions. He will assert that he has a right to be wrong, yet no one has a right to be wrong about facts:

Germany did invade Belgium. Belgium did not invade Germany.

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. The Declaration of Independence was not signed in 1976.

Trump did lose in Iowa. Trump did not win in Iowa.


Without the insistence on facts and the truth derived from them, decent politics begins to wither. When opinions replace facts, a shared understanding of political things begins to decay. In time, the allegiance to an arbitrary opinion is what holds the community together. In that situation, loyalty to the opinion becomes the standard of truth. The common good is defined by that loyalty. In turn, the faction that rules or is the loudest gets to determine the ruling opinion. We move beyond majority rule to a totalitarian rule since the community lacks a standard, truth based on facts, that holds the majority to account. Those opposed to the dominant opinion have no basis upon which to debate or reason since the opinion, unmoored from facts, or the historical context, determines the “truth”. In that moment, liberal democracy dies for it relies upon self-evident truths that sustain the opinion that facts matter.


[1] “[F]actual truth is no more self-evident than opinion, and this may be among the reasons that opinion-holders find it relatively easy to discredit factual truth as just another opinion. Factual evidence, moreover, is established through testimony by eyewitnesses – notoriously unreliable – and by records, documents, and monuments, all of which can be suspected as forgeries. In the event of a dispute, only other witnesses but no third and higher instance can be invoked, and settlement is usually arrived at by way of a majority; that is, in the same way as the settlement of opinion disputes – a wholly unsatisfactory procedure, since there is nothing to prevent a majority of witnesses from being false witnesses.”

TRUTH AND POLITICS by Hannah Arendt Originally published in The New Yorker, February 25, 1967, and reprinted with minor changes in Between Past and Future (1968) and The Portable Hannah Arendt edited by Peter Baier (2000) and Truth: Engagements Across Philosophical Traditions edited by Medina and Wood (2005) p. 304


[3] see also

Here is an indicative passage.

11.09 – Johnson now being questioned by Wes Streeting, an up-and-coming Labour MP, who predicted that Boris would flounder today (see below). Streeting asks Boris to agree that there would be “an economic shock” to exit. Boris disagrees then Streeting points out this is what Boris’s own economic adviser Gerard Lyons said previously (see below again). “You don’t agree with your own adviser?” Boris (falsely) denies that Lyons said this and insists there will be no economic downsides. “British democracy [and economy] would be galvanised,” he insists.

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Incest and tyranny, Trump fits a pattern

The creepy Dr. Tower (Claude Rains) commits in...

The creepy Dr. Tower (Claude Rains) commits incest with his daughter Cassandra in the novel. Censors forbade that in the film. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Incest is an abuse of power. The incest, though, is more than physical abuse as it can include emotional or psychological elements. From ancient times, incest was shunned for its effect on the family and more widely on society. For the ancient Athenians, incest had political consequences as they saw the polis as an extended family.[1]. In political terms, incest would be a way to describe tyranny. The tyrant, acting as the city’s patriarch, had a disordered eros as the city served his interests and the normal relationship between ruler and ruled was corrupted. In the medieval era, incest by the father was described as a domestic tyrant.[2]. The father corrupted the family by his incestuous relationship with his daughter. The father, unable to control his disordered eros, corrupted the family structure as the daughter replaced his wife as a sexual partner.

From the physical to the psychological, incest takes many forms.

The modern view of incest moves beyond the physical to the psychological. The physical abuse can be replaced by a form of psychological abuse. Judith Warner cites Judith Lewis Herman on that issue.

Incest, she says, is “an abuse of patriarchal power,” a criminal perversion of fatherly control and influence. It is perpetrated, in many cases, by men who present themselves as the guardians of the moral order. And it isn’t always physical; in her 1981 book (with Lisa Hirschman), “Father-Daughter Incest,” she writes that the violation can be emotional, too, as when a “seductive father” oversteps his boundaries and goes places he never should in his daughter’s head.[3] [Emphasis added]

When we consider the emotional or psychological incest, we see how the seductive father oversteps the normal boundaries between a father and a daughter. When a divorced father boasts about his daughter, in her presence, that she has a hot body and that if he was not her father, he would date her, he crosses the boundary.[4] He gets into her head. The comment puts the daughter in an invidious position. The father erases the normal parental role as he indicates that she is now eligible to be a potential sexual partner. He gives her his highest approval. She wants to be approved but not in that way. She cannot correct her father for that risks his displeasure. The father forces the daughter to consider him as a potential sexual partner. She has to consider the idea if only to reject it.  In that moment, the father publicly asserts his psychological power over his daughter. He reminds that her physical and sexual potential meet his approval. He asserts his sexual prowess, by his statement, and he abuses the psychological and emotional relationship. She is no longer his daughter; she is a viable sexual partner.

When the family is the microcosm of the state, incest has political consequences

If a father will inflict that emotional abuse on his daughter, what is he capable on a larger scale? Thankfully, most father-daughter incestuous relationships have no consequences beyond the family. Yet, the ancient Greeks viewed the family as a model for the state.[5] Aristotle argued that the family was the building block of the city/polis.[6] The Ancient Greeks understood that individual abuse, driven by a disordered eros, could scale to the city level if the father was able to gain control of the polis. The problem was the disordered eros that drove the father to the incestuous comments would have political consequences. On a larger scale, the disordered eros would have even greater consequences. What the seductive father does to his daughter within the family, the tyrant can do to a community within a nation. He will abuse it so that it will serve his disordered erotic political vision. He will seduce the state that he is supposed to protect and serve so that it is corrupted to serve his interests.

[1] [1] Wohl, V. 2002. Love Among the Ruins: The Erotics of Democracy in Classical Athens, Princeton and London: Princeton University Press. p 221. Quoted in Larivee, Annie. Eros Tyrannos: Alcibiades as the Model of the Tyrant in Book IX of the Republic. The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 6 (2012) p.9.

[2] Archibald, Elizabeth. Incest and the Medieval Imagination. Oxford, Claredon Press, 2003 p.190

[3] Warner, Judith. Pure Tyranny ,New York Times, The Opinion Pages, 13 June 2008  (accessed 24 September 2016)


Trump repeated his remarks on other occasions and has never retracted his views nor has he apologised publicly to his daughter.


[6] Aristotle. Politics. 1.1252a

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Mike Cernovich, propaganda and the Truth

Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton stopped...

Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton stopped by Little Rock to get the endorsement of Governor Mike Beebe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an interesting film, Mike Cernovich (hereafter MC) says that he is tired of mainstream media propaganda.[1] He does not believe that the media covered the conventions correctly. He sets out to the tell the truth about the conventions, the protests, and the media’s failure to cover either appropriately. For MC, the media’s failure indicates they engage in propaganda.[2] To counter this propaganda, he will broadcast the truth, at least the truth as he understands it or can capture with Periscope.[3]

At a technical level, the film shows the relative ease with which one can use the Periscope application to capture live events and broadcast them. Periscope appears to make video as easy to broadcast as social media platforms like WordPress and Blogger make documents easy to publish. The short comings, though, are not from technology but from the content, in particular, the way the issues are framed.

What are the issues with content or intent?

First, MC believes he acts in the spirit of a truth teller, a Parrhesiastes.[4] I admire his desire to act thusly even though he falls short. The truth teller, to succeed, has to hold the Truth, not simply an opinion about how he understands the Truth or even an opinion about the Truth. The truth teller is someone who is compelled to tell the Truth in the face of danger. The truth teller must confront the prevailing opinion. The prevailing opinion may, or may not be, the orthodoxy. In most cases, though, what has to be challenged is the accepted public opinion about something or the opinion that the media has reported. In this case, MC contests the prevailing opinion about the media’s reports on the political party conventions.

The truth is opposed to opinion, therein the film’s major flaw

Second, we have to clear up a common misunderstanding about Truth, lies, and opinions. The prevailing opinion is that a lie is the opposite of the truth. The dichotomy is between truth and lie. Yet, this prevailing opinion limits debate and discussion. Instead, we need to consider that the opposite of the truth is opinion. When we start with this understanding, as informed by Hannah Arendt’s work, we see how MC’s approach will suffer a near fatal flaw.[5] MC approaches the media’s reporting as if he has the truth about the conventions and the coverage based on what he has seen and recorded through Periscope. As he believes he has the truth, he will see the media’s reporting as at worst a lie and at best propaganda. His position is unsurprising since it is what most people believe in the public domain when they engage in politics. Like others, MC thinks he has the truth, not simply an opinion about the truth, or even an understanding of an opinion about the truth. He has the Truth. From this premise, we come to an immediate problem. We cannot see that two people can consider the same event and come away with different opinions. Instead, one must be wrong and the other right. One must be telling the truth and therefore the other must be lying. Yet, once we consider that they both might have an opinion about the convention and the coverage, we then begin to see that we need for a public dialogue to discern the truth.

What is often missed in such reporting, MC acts as a type of reporter in his approach, is the need to discern, through a reasoned discussion, the differences within the opinions as well as how they overlap. When citizens discuss an issue, to diacern its meaning, they begin to exercise public reasoning. Yet, when the public reasoning is reduced to an “either/or” case and not “both and” we cannot reconcile the opinions or begin to consider which opinion comes closer to uncovering the reality of the situation.[6] In that sense, we cannot build a shared understanding, we limit debate and we stay in our echo chamber.  We find what we are looking for, a type of confirmation bias, because we only look for what we want to find. At any given time, the truth, based on reconciled opinions, is a constructed truth, which sustains the common good. It is a truth constructed on the facts of reality as seen, understood, and expressed by the parties. This does not mean that all truth is relative or constructed. Instead, it is to say that when we use public reasoning to discern the political truth as presented by the reality we describe and compare, we are constructing pokitocal truth as we live it.

Superficial, without meaningful content, but that isn’t the point is it?

Third, MC’s approach, while well intentioned, is superficial. The superficiality of the analysis comes from the failure to discuss the levels of analysis problem.[7] The levels of analysis problem refers to what anyone who wants to study a political phenomenon must answer so that their analysis remains consistent. In general, there are three levels to consider

  • the individual, 
  • the organisation
  • the system.

However, the level that is used (individual, organisational, or system) will determine what one finds. In this case MC wants to say that his individual view, the view on the ground, is the correct or better view than one at the organisational level or the national or system level. He believes that the media either misses the individual level or that it prioritizes the national level to the point is distorts or ignores what happens on the ground. Yet, his view on the ground is limited. What is needed is to recognize the problem so that he can put his individual level view into either an organisational or a national context. Had he looked at the party level, he would have seen the conventions differently. Just as if he had seen it from a national perspective, how the conventions reflect the national trends and audiences, it would have been understood differently.

What did MC miss with his level of analysis?

Here is an example of what he missed. He does not consider the nature of the protests. He equates the protests at the RNC with the DNC. Had he reflected on the protests, their nature, and their intent, he would have seen an important difference. The RNC protestors were external to the party while the DNC protests were from within the party. The difference becomes greater when we look within the conventions as the protests continued in a different form. Even though the RNC had relatively mild external protestors, the RNC itself contained deep divisions, conflicts, and outright animosity.[8] In a word, the RNC was not a unified convention. By contrast, the DNC had unity.[9] Bernie Sanders supported Hillary Clinton. Yet, MC’s focus on the protests on the ground misses this point. In effect, he assumes that the protests outside the convention are more important and should be covered with greater interests than the protests within the convention. Since he does not explain why this should be the case, we are left with what appears to be his personal preference. In much the same way that a baseball fan might like there to be more focus on the right fielder, the focus will always be the pitcher or the batter for that is where the majority of the determinative acts occur.

In the end, a lot about MC and perhaps that is the only point.

Overall, the movie shows us what can be done with Periscope. It also shows us that what passes for political commentary or analysis is more often than not a loud voice, light on reason, with a broadcast platform. Unless his output improves, I’ll give his work a pass. As the movie lacked context and content, it provides no meaningful insight into politics, media, protests or their relationship. Perhaps that superficiality is intended for what the movie does tell us is a lot about MC and it just might be that was the point.

[1] The film was produced by Loren Feldman who has real talent for this work. His social commentary, unlike his political commentary, is insightful, biting, and funny. A rare combination and worth a watch.

[2] What is curious is that he does not define propaganda so much as practice it.



[5] “To the citizens’ ever-changing opinions about human affairs, which themselves were in a state of constant flux, the philosopher opposed the truth about those things which in their very nature were everlasting and from which, therefore, principles could be derived to stabilize human affairs. Hence the opposite to truth was mere opinion, which was equated with illusion, and it was this degrading of opinion that gave the conflict its political poignancy; for opinion, and not truth, belongs among the indispensable prerequisites of all power. “All governments rest on opinion,” James Madison said, and not even the most autocratic ruler or tyrant could ever rise to power, let alone keep it, without the support of those who are like-minded.” (p.4)

TRUTH AND POLITICS by Hannah Arendt Originally published in The New Yorker, February 25, 1967, and reprinted with minor changes in Between Past and Future (1968) and The Portable Hannah Arendt edited by Peter Baier (2000) and Truth: Engagements Across Philosophical Traditions edited by Medina and Wood (2005)


[7] The Level-of-Analysis Problem in International Relations, J. David Singer, World Politics , Vol. 14, No. 1, The International System: Theoretical Essays (Oct., 1961), pp. 77-92  A general description is provided here:



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Why QCs like cross examination: they can destroy witnesses.

Caricature of Sir Charles Russell QC MP. Capti...

Caricature of Sir Charles Russell QC MP. Caption read “Cross Examination”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the recent case of Lord Janner, we are told that those who make the allegations must face cross examination. We are told that this is necessary for justice. We are told that this is what the UK legal system requires. Yet, there is a deeper, darker, element to this request-the ability to destroy the witness.

Court is a brutal place of legal combat

When someone is cross-examined in court, they face a brutal environment. They are at the QC’s mercy. The contest is neither fair nor balanced. It is combat. The UK system is based on adversarial justice. The QC is a master of their art. Their goal is to win. If the witness is destroyed, that is of no consequence. Their job is to win by testing the evidence; nothing more, nothing less. As long as they stay in the code of conduct they can do what they want.

Only doing our job, we must “test the evidence”.

As we are reminded, if the QC did not test the evidence then they will have failed their client.

Indeed, not to test the evidence properly would itself be a breach of the Code of Conduct, which requires that barristers, “must at all times promote and protect fearlessly and by all proper and lawful means his lay client’s best interests” (Written Standards for the Conduct of Professional Work, para 5.2).[1]

The victim is there answer questions. The QC is not interested in the truth for this is not a philosophical inquiry. It is a battle, through a test of the evidence, to determine guilt or innocence. Anyone who believes that the legal process is a quest for truth understand neither the law nor philosophy. Even though both rely on cross examination one has a goal to understand, to discover the Truth, the other is focused on persuading the court of someone’s guilt or innocence by “testing the evidence.”

Attack the character as Aristotle recommended.

As Aristotle explained in his treatise Rhetoric, one technique to persuade an audience is to attack the witness’s character.

For if we have no evidence of fact supporting our own case or telling against that of our opponent, at least we can always find evidence to prove our own worth or our opponent’s worthlessness. Other arguments about a witness-that he is a friend or an enemy or neutral, or has a good, bad, or indifferent reputation, and any other such distinctions-we must construct upon the same general lines as we use for the regular rhetorical proofs.[2]

Beyond the character, a QC’s will attack their psychological state. The QC may even do it sympathetically for they cannot have the jury hate them too much. They will be sure to make the witness relive the experiences they have alleged. They will walk them through each humiliating detail. They will repeat back to them what they said. All of this is to test the witness’s psychological endurance under the cover of a test of the evidence. Whether they intend it or not, they punish the witness.

The adversarial system allows this approach.

Immediately, one may protest and say “Surely, this is not so. The judge would intervene.” Yet, this is the case. The judge cannot set the limits to the number of lawyers questioning a vulnerable witness nor can they limit how long the question lasts.

As it stands, judges have no real power to limit the duration of questioning or the number of lawyers who can cross-examine a highly vulnerable witness in court. Practice directions encourage judges to set limits, but despite this judicial practice remains very uneven.[3]

If a witness requests, and the court grants it, they may be treated as a vulnerable witness. They can

“[H]ave had the option of benefitting from a variety of different measures that are enshrined in the (Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999). These measures include giving evidence with screens in order to prevent the victim from seeing the defendant (s 23), or giving evidence via videolink, thus allowing the victim to be in another room altogether whilst giving their evidence (s 24). Section 17(4) automatically classes sexual offence complainants as being intimidated and therefore eligible for special measures. They must still request them, but they are assumed as fulfilling the criteria to be eligible for them.”

Let’s consider how barristers acted with Abby who was questioned aggressively by seven solicitors[4] every day for three weeks.[5] In Abby’s case, the Bar Council was concerned enough to raise it at their meeting.[6] Her case is hardly the exception. It is depressingly common.[7] More to the point, her treatment is after the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. Before that Act, vulnerable witnesses had no such protection.

If you think it is bad today, imagine what it was like 50 years ago!

One can only shudder at what it would have been like to testify in the 1950s, 60s, or 70s. For someone to bring a case to court, they will have had to struggle against the institution where they were abused. They would have had to convince a sceptical police. They may have even faced a police force that wanted to favour their accuser so that their claims were dismissed out of hand. If they are able to overcome their institution, the police, they face the final challenge–the court. The court experience, even in the last five years is a brutal experience. As one victim said, they would not go through it again.[8]

Test the evidence or punish the witness?

With this knowledge, we can see why QCs want to “test the evidence”. They know what they can do. The witnesses will be at their mercy. Even if the witnesses are right, the QCs will have done their work. They will give the witness a thorough, if legal, beating. For some defendants, this is enough for they will inflict pain to balance the scales. At the end, the public will be told “they were just doing their job”. The broken witnesses will have been taught a brutal lesson about the law.

The law teaches a brutal truth

We know that Lord Janner will not be cross examined. His alleged victims will.[9] This about sums up UK justice for CSE survivors. The strong rule the weak and the weak suffer what they must.



[3] See at

[4] One wonders why after the 3rd barrister making the same points did not succeed the remaining four thought they would succeed?


[6] The Bar Council was suitably concerned about the case and others to raise it at one of their meetings. see also

[7] The case is not isolated it is one of many. It is hard to believe but the UK criminal justice system has improved in recent years with some guidance for treating vulnerable witnesses. One can only imagine how brutal the QCs could have been in the past assuming a victim could convince the police to investigate and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring a prosecution.  See for example, and

[8] One victim who suffered such an ordeal when they gave evidence said they would never give evidence again as it was worse than had their abuser gone free.

[9] One wonders if, as a QC, Greville Jenner avoided cross examination as he knew what it entailed?

Posted in corruption, justice, philosophy | Tagged , , , , , ,

Tyrants, Incest and the Trumps (revised)

English: Donald Trump at a press conference an...

English: Donald Trump at a press conference announcing David Blaine’s latest feat in New York City at the Trump Tower. The photographer dedicates this portrait of Donald Trump to Tony Santiago, Wikipedia editor Marine 69-71, perhaps the most officially recognized and accomplished content contributor to Wikipedia, for his outstanding contributions to improving articles related to his Puerto Rican heritage. He is also a close friend. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We know from history, that tyrants display a disordered eros, an erotic longing, to rule others. The tyrant’s desire to rule others is often accompanied by other appetites for food, drink, drugs, and sex. In particular, their sexuality and its perversions define them.

“[I]t is impossible to segregate the tyrant’s sexuality from his political power: each symbolizes the other. His notorious perversions (adultery, bigamy, rape, incest, sadism, necrophilia…) are the sexual manifestation of his extraordinary relation to the laws and norms of the polis.”[1]

The tyrant wants more; their disordered desire means they are seen as eros incarnate[2]. No matter how much a tyrant has, he wants more. As a result, they are usually undone by their desires when they start to threaten the community’s unwritten norms. As they are not satisfied with what they have, they begin to push against any constraints. They see constraints as a threat to their rule, or as a personal affront. “Who are you to say no to me?”. Their initial success emboldens them. They see their rule as a basis to demand and receive more. In time, their success emboldens them so that their desires transcend legal and moral boundaries. Their “translegal desires”, that violate the community’s norms either formal or informal.[3] One such trans-legal desire was incest.

Is it healthy for a father to talk of having sex with his daughter?

In ancient Athens, the tyrant’s life was condemned in the play, Oedipus Rex, where a son unknowingly killed his father to become king. Oedipus had been abandoned as a child for fear of a prophecy that the son would kill the father. The prophecy came true. As a consequence, Oedipus became king and he slept with the Queen who happened to be, unknowingly, his mother. The story of incest and tyranny scandalized the audience. The play explored the deepest taboo within a family for incest destroyed a family’s integrity, which would unravel the community’s fabric. Tyranny was a threat to the political community in the same way that incest was a threat to the family.

Incest destroys a family, tyranny destroys a community

Tyranny is like incest for it destroys what allows the community to survive, the fellow feeling of citizens that sustains decent political life. In practical terms, incest destroys the family and what it produces, children, which are necessary for the community’s survival.[4] In political terms the tyrant’s immoderate thought and behaviour undermined the community.[5] Incest is a deviant sexual excess and the tyrant was identified by sexual excess and extreme sexual appetites both of which the people feared would be used to obtain any sexual partner such as their wives, brothers sisters, daughters or sons.[6] The same holds true today.

Trump embodies the tyrant’s life; he only lacks political power.

Trump’s approach, revealed by his comment about his daughter, brings the tyrant’s life to the American voters and his supporters love him for it. Trump appeals because he offers the hottest girls[7], the fastest cars, the biggest deals, the best of everything. His current wife is a MILF embodied. He lives the dream of his followers. For them, Trump embodies everything they cannot have and they blame those who tell them they can’t indulge their desires. Be it a big house, a fast car, a hot wife, the availability of a wide pool of sexual partners, vast wealth, or the ability to speak his mind without fear or favor, all of these are available for the taking. Trump succeeds to the extent he makes his followers believe he can deliver these outcomes. His followers want what he offers because they have been habituated to believe what he offers defines a complete life. He appeals to the average person’s desire to live the tyrant’s life—except for the incest.

Donald Trump’s disordered eros.

Donald Trump is a man who has everything and now wants to be president. To be president requires someone who believes that they can win and deserves to win. In this, Trump meets both criteria. A successful candidate has to have a message. What is Trump’s message and is it democratic or tyrannical? Trump’s message appears on the surface to be democratic since he boasts of his personal success and how he achieved success by his own hard work. He likes to claim he embodies the American dream. At the same time, he entices his followers with boasts of his appetites for his brand is one of luxury and indulgence. His brand also includes his children. In particular, he promoted Ivanka’s career and she introduced him at the Republican National Convention. Over the years, he has talked openly of her body that would make her a lot of money.[8] [insert reference] On other occasions he has spoken of how she was the type of woman he would date.[9] At other times he has made comments about having sex with her. His behavior does not appear normal or healthy father-daughter relationship. Does it appear politically healthy?

Trump’s political behaviour is it tyrannical?

Trump’s behaviour towards his daughter suggests his political behaviour might be no different. For Trump, like a tyrant, it is acceptable to comment publicly on her desirability as a sexual partner.[10] He often comments on people’s partners telling them that they are not good looking and that they could do better.[11]

Trump has been accused of sexual harassment.[12] Trump’s excesses suggest how might rule. How he behaves privately with power reveals his public persona. He squeezes the little guy and drives a hard bargain with the weak and is deferential to the powerful. He seeks adulation without intimacy. He harasses women. All of this suggests his personal life he is more a tyrant than a democrat. Do we want to give him the chance to prove himself a political tyrant when his disordered relationship with his daughter suggests how he will act to the community? As Andrew Sullivan warned, Trump appears a tyrant. If his behavior with his family is any guide, then we could find Oedipus in the White House, which would suggest that America is as polluted as Thebes.

(This is a revised post as the previous one was based on an earlier draft.)

[1] Wohl, V. 2002. Love Among the Ruins: The Erotics of Democracy in Classical Athens, Princeton

and London: Princeton University Press. Love Among the ruins Wohl (2002), 221. quoted in Annie Larivee the International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 6 (2012) 1-26

The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition

Eros Tyrannos: Alcibiades as the Model of the Tyrant in Book IX of the Republic

Annie Larivée p.9

[2] See Republic 573b-579d

[3] Seth Bernadete Plato’s Second Sailing 1989 p. 205

[4] In the Symposium, the discussion about eros shows the threat to the family and the need to dismantle the family since it acts as a constraint. The family is supported by the law to sustain the political stability and the community’s continued prospects for survival. When Steven Berg describes Pausanias’ proposal in the Symposium, we can see the issue for America.

“Pausanias’ proposal, then, to replace the distinction between the just and the unjust with that between the beautiful and the ugly as the primary distinction of the law, is a proposal to turn the city on its head in regard to erotic maters: heterosexual conjugal union will no longer receive the law’s stamp of approval, but will be rendered “unlawful” in the weak sense—that is, shameful (181b)—and pederasty, which, in Athens, currently exists in a legal no-man’s-land somewhere between outright prohibition and grudging acceptance (182d-183d), will be held up as the model of lawful conduct (184d-e).” p.29

[5]  “We learn from Herodotus that the tyrant is the one who “moves ancestral laws [patria nomia] and forces himself on women and kills men who have not been tried” (3.80.5 [1927]). From Thucydides we learn that Alcibiades was considered the potential tyrant: “Most men, fearing the greatness of his lawless-ness paranoiai] with regard to his body, his daily habits, and the intelligence he showed in whatever he did, set him down as desiring a tyranny” (6.15 [1900]) The Tyranny of Reason in the World of the Polis Arlene W. Saxonhouse The American Political Science Review, Vol. 82, No. 4 (Dec., 1988), pp. 1261-1275 (p.1263)

[7] Robert Crumb’s cartoon captures Trump’s behaviour.

[8] “In 2003, he told Howard Stern, “You know who’s one of the great beauties of the world, according to everybody? And I helped create her? Ivanka. My daughter, Ivanka. She’s six feet tall, she’s got the best body. She made a lot of money as a model—a tremendous amount.””

[9] What is curious is why people assume he is joking. Even if it was a “joke” it demonstrates the thought necessary to draw attention to his desires. What parent jokes about “dating” their children? In this case if we follow Freud, the “joke” appears to be an unconscious desire.

The term “date” in Trump’s world is best understood as “fxxx” since he has not displayed anything resembling chaste behaviour.

[10] Or fondle her if you are a celebrity or politically powerful. Consider the case of Vice President Joe Biden who enjoys fondling women while their husbands or parents are nearby.




Posted in corruption, philosophy, public opinion | Tagged , ,

A response to Matthew Scott on the Goddard Inquiry

Jimmy Savile presenting "Top of The Pops&...

Jimmy Savile presenting “Top of The Pops” in 1964. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matthew Scott, hereafter Mr Scott, has written a blog on Justice Lowell Goddard’s resignation as the Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). [1]He explains in his opening paragraphs that the resignation is unsurprising. The Inquiry has been beset with problems, crisis, and setbacks.

What is curious, in a blog about a resignation, is that he spends several paragraphs parsing the terms of address. Should Justice Goddard be referred to as a QC as a sign that the resignation was drafted by a civil servant? He then explores the correct etiquette for the correct form of address. Although it appears curious, the logic returns, perhaps unintentionally, later in the piece. However, before we can discuss that logic, we have to consider the text.

Mr Scott continues his blog to tell us why Justice Goddard was right to resign since she appears, at least to what is presented, to be incompetent for the task. By way of faint praise, he does suggest that the Inquiry’s terms of reference may make it difficult for anyone to manage it. He suggests that the inquiry is open ended and impossible to complete for the sheer breadth of the problem.

Is the England institutionally incapable of investigating the child sexual abuse?

What he does not explore is how or why a country cannot manage such an inquiry or inquiries. It would appear the problem is so endemic, so entrenched, and so intrinsic to the political system and society as to be beyond reform. When the problem is intrinsic to a regime, how can it be addressed? As the NSPCC evidence suggests, 1 in 14 adults are victims of child abuse.[2] The number will have been higher for adults who were children in care. As we know from the evidence that has emerged already many predator paedophiles used children’s homes as hunting grounds. We know the same approach used by the Rotherham sex gangs,  to target children homes, was used by Jimmy Savile.  We know from the Lambeth case that paedophiles ran care homes and maintained a ring of homes as they covered for each other.

So if the Inquiry cannot address the problem, what can? What will? Perhaps it is a series of separate, yet linked, inquiries that will take years. The question is whether the public and the regime have the stomach for the effort required. What we may have to consider if the inquiry’s overly broad scope and scale is intended to fail. The danger is that the Inquiry becomes unmanageable so that it cannot be accomplished and collapses into recriminations never to be resurrected. We have seen this cycle with the Home Office where there have been countless investigations into police corruption that simply collapse into recriminations after a few resignations and trials have satisfied the public appetite that initiated the inquiry. Such a question is one for Theresa May.

The problem was mainly about including Lord Janner. Why?

Mr Scott moves to the challenge of finding another chair. He explains that it is now a poisoned chalice that no one would take willingly. He touches on the problem that no one can be found who is not tainted by the topic, or at least lacks a suitable distance from it. However, there is a procedural problem with continuing the Inquiry since the new Chair will have to deal with the Janner problem. Lord Janner was included in the Inquiry. He is not an institution so he cannot be guilty by default in the way that all the institutions are. His guilt or innocence is, as he says, “hotly contested.” Former police officers claim there was a case to be answered. Lord Janner’s supporters, in particular his son Daniel Janner QC, argue that there is no case to answer. As Mr Scott argues that to include an individual, even a contested one, is to suggest a “recipe for muddle and unfairness”.

What is not clear is how that is the case. Most of the figures that will emerge in the review are long dead. One imagines that Cyril Smith, the deceased MP, will emerge at some point in the Inquiry, if it continues, under one of the institutions that were mentioned. Yet, his guilt is not proven in a court of law just as Lord Janner’s is not proven in a court of law. Perhaps what Mr Scott refers to as unfairness will be to the living, the accused’s survivors. They would be the ones who are unfairly associated with the allegations. There is precedence for this as defendants have defended the reputation of deceased relatives.

Why claim the Inquiry started with false allegations?

Mr Scott continues by bringing us back to how the inquiry began. He wants us to understand something from this return. What is curious is that he wants to link the Inquiry, which ranges across nearly all UK institutions, to Leon Brittan. Why?  He wants his readers to infer that what happened to Leon Brittan instigated the IICSA

It is worth remembering how the inquiry came about in the first place. It was announced the day after Leon Brittan was interviewed by the police on suspicion of rape (the fact of the police interview was publicised).[3]

Except this is not why the inquiry was needed or why it commenced. It is well established that institutional abuse had been rife across the UK for decades. Moreover, we know that Scotland, through its devolved powers, had initiated as one of its very first acts was to launch “An independent review of the systems in place to protect children and keep them safe in residential care between 1950-1995”. (2009) The Shaw Report was damning in its finding and far reaching in its effect.[4] In particular it has transformed records management in Scotland so that such abuse cannot be concealed by poor or non-existent records management. Moreover, Northern Ireland[5] initiated its own review (2012) as did Australia(2013).[6] The only one who had stoutly and determinedly resisted was England. Parliament stood firm and intransigent in accepting let alone reviewing the horrific scale, scope, and severity of the abuse looked after children, and others, suffered in institutional care or in any institution. Despite articles and evidence over the years, no review had been launched by Parliament.[7]

Why avoid the context unless it serves an intent.

Why Mr Scott would elide such a history is a question he alone can answer. It serves a purpose to make the IISCA appear to have been created after the charges about Leon Brittan. If he chooses, he can explain that purpose. He makes it clear he has a target with his history.

That allegation went nowhere, although the police decided not to tell Lord Brittan that before he died. Allegations were also swirling around about other MPs, some of which may have been true but many of which have since been shown to be false or at least highly dubious. Even Tom Watson, one of Brittan’s main tormentors, has apologised to his widow for describing him, disgracefully, as “as close to evil as any human being could get.”

Except that Tom Watson did not describe Lord Brittan that way. Mr Watson, as the historical record shows, was quoting someone else; the woman who brought the original complaint to which the Police investigated.[8] Why Mr Scott seeks to make this false inference is something only he can answer. It is often the case that an audience mistakes the views of a character for the speaker. However, he has a point to make.

It turned out he wasn’t actually very close to evil at all; and nor for that matter was Harvey Proctor, or Ted Heath or Lord Bramall, although all three have had either their lives or their reputations blighted, whilst their accusers have turned out to be deranged, deluded or deceitful.

We can all agree that false allegations are a horrible experience to suffer. What he omits is that various investigations remain open for Ted Heath.[9] As for Mr Proctor and Lord Bramall, we are aware that the claims were sufficient to warrant attention. Does this mean that they were or are guilty? No. As the charges have been dropped, we know the cases raise questions about how the police manage such allegations, how the CPS pursues them, and how the press reports them. However, that does not mean that all allegations against powerful people are false. We know that there was strong evidence to indicate Clement Freud, another MP, abused children.[10] Moreover, it overlooks a salient point about UK political culture.

The UK has a political culture that thrives on political blackmail.

What we know is that such information and allegations are the currency of politics. We know from Tim Fortescue that Whips would use such information for their political purposes.[11] We know that the government refused to investigate claims around child abuse, 30 years ago, for the potential damage to the government’s reputation. We know that such information is used when honours are being considered. Jimmy Savile was euphemistically described by the civil servants dealing with honours as “strange and complex”.[12] It would appear that the IICSA is allowing the public to see what has been done privately by politicians, QCs, police, civil servants, and royal retainers. All have trafficked in this information, allegations, and innuendo. Moreover, no one within any of these groups spoke up about it or sought to change it. They simply played the game as they found it.

Was it really a misguided belief in a VIP paedophile ring that started the IICSA?

Mr Scott wants us to believe that the only reason the IICSA was set up was some misguided belief in a VIP paedophile ring.

Now that the allegations against Brittan, Heath, Proctor and Bramall have been exhaustively investigated and found wanting, an inquiry that was set up largely on the basis that there had been some sort of “VIP paedophile ring”

Why Mr Scott makes this allegation, when the historical record indicates other causes will be a question he alone can answer. However, he wants his readers to be clear that the IICSA must acknowledge an important truth as he sees it.

needs at least to acknowledge the possibility that politicians and others in public life are not – as conspiracists were telling us – part of an “elite” protected by a code of omerta, but are in fact just as vulnerable to false accusations as anyone else, and in some ways more so.

What is strange about this claim is the view that no one believes in false claims. Indeed, people are sensitive to this issue. Yet, victims spent decades with no one willing to listen to them, no one to believe their claims, and few powerful people to champion their claims.  Instead, for the past 60 years, the great and the good, the ones who must be addressed by the correct title or form of address, were above reproach for they never would commit these crimes. They, like judges and QCs, were beyond reproach. They gave their word that the child is a fantasist. Or, as one judge complained, the 13 year old girl was a sexual predator.[13]

The great and good were beyond reproach as a culture of deference demanded it.

What the record has shown though is any claim to be beyond reproach is simply a way to quiet victims and claims. When England finally reaches a point where victims have an institutional voice, we are told that any such claims must be taken with a grain of salt for they are surely fantasists, conspiracists. In particular, if they dare to make a claim about a powerful person, if they have the temerity to make such a claim, they must be considered to be unreliable or at least potentially unreliable. Why?

As for the code of Omerta, Mr Scott makes an emotive point that exaggerates what he already knows to be true.[14] He knows as a barrister that non-disclosure agreements are common technique used by insurance companies to silence victims. and hinder investigations.[15] They either sign or there is no settlement. The NDA keeps victims from talking to each other or from others to connect the dots about historical patterns of behaviour. Institutions agreed to these, and in some case demanded them, so that they could limit their reputational damage. The institutions would put their reputation before any victims or stopping a predator.

Omerta or the way Arcana Imperii and Tacenda work within an imperial society?

The term Omerta also evokes the Mafia. The idea that there is some criminal enterprise behind all of this behaviour. As such it is a useful device to diminish what we know about the UK society. We know that information is hidden from the public and that information is covered up by the state organs.[16] If a fish rots from the head down, we need to start with the Royal Household and the guilds. These institutions keep their records secret. Their disciplinary procedures are secret. They maintain a silence about such matters. For some, this is considered good manners. For others, it is a way to keep outsiders in the dark. Even though those within the accepted group will discuss these matters quite openly and frankly. In Ancient Rome such information was called tacenda, that which would not be discussed publicly. However, it was discussed privately as Norman Tebbit explained.[17] He heard rumours as well as Edwina Currie’s claim that Peter Morrison was a well-known as a paedophile.[18] His status was known throughout Westminster but not publicly.

The public were not aware that Whips used private information against politicians

We know from the Whips that they know of the scandals, indiscretions, and deviant behaviour which they help to cover up and protect. In exchange, they have a claim on that politician’s loyalties forever. Such behaviour is to use information to manipulate the politicians, whom the public think act in their interests, to do the whips’ bidding. Such information is never known. There is a code of silence within the whips office and amongst politicians. To deny this is to deny the reality of tacenda and arcana imperii.[19] The powerful are protected for they serve a purpose. Perhaps Mr Scott can explain why he does not believe that this happens despite the published evidence.

Why assert the IICSA is set up on false pretenses or appears to set up that way?

Mr Scott now gets to the heart of his post just before the end. He makes the claim that the inquiry was set up *partly* on false innuendos. He is a good lawyer. He plants the seed of doubt. He wants people to believe that there is something wrong with the inquiry, something rotten in its core that will only grow with each year.

It would be strange if an inquiry set up partly on the basis of false innuendoes were to continue merrily on its way under a new Chair without any real recognition of the fact that some of those claiming to be the victims of VIP abuse were in fact nothing of the sort.

Here is the question for Mr Scott. Is the Inquiry only valid and free of taint if it does not include powerful individuals? We know from Scotland that the scale of institutional abuse over decades. None of this was in doubt. The same occurred in England[20] yet this is now in doubt simply because Greville Janner has been included. What is it about Greville Janner that makes it imperative for Mr Scott to suggest that the whole inquiry, its basis, its scope, scale, and severity are worthless?

Would the IICSA be ok if Lord Janner had not been included?

Does Mr Scott believe that England is immune to the institutional behaviour demonstrated in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Australia? If he does, is it simply because some powerful people suffered from allegations that have not been substantiated? Allegations that they faced in private from whips, political enemies, and journalists only become problematic when the public know. Why?




[3] The claim seeks to link two events that happened near to each other. Yet, how could they be linked unless there was a belief that they were linked. We do know at that time the failure to deal with Jimmy Savile were being debated. We know that there were many investigations that had emerged from Tom Watson’s October 2012 claim of a paedophile ring in Westminster. The overriding issue was Jimmy Savile and less Leon Brittan as various findings were emerging from the investigations launched in October 2012.  On 26 June 2014 Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust publishes their independent inquiry into scale and scope of Jimmy Savile’s abuse. . Moreover, Cyril Smith was also in the news with specific and credible claims that his crimes were known and covered up with the police failing to investigate properly. (See timeline here: Simon Danczuk published his Cyril Smith book in April 2014 alleging another paedophile ring and Westminster protection. Moreover, the Wanless-Whittam QC report was published in November 2014 that looked at the poor records management of allegations around child abuse.  However, Mr Scott ignores this context to make the issue solely about Leon Britttan allegations. Why?

[4] This was in 2009.  Mr Scott does not mention this context.

[5] this was in 2012. Mr Scott does not mention this context.


[7] See See also and

[8] “Last week Watson declined to apologise to Brittan’s widow in parliament, but in his appearance before the select committee on Wednesday he expressed regret for repeating a claim by an alleged sex abuse survivor who described Brittan as “as close to evil as any human being could get””. [emphasis added]



[11] See also the Wanless-Whittam QC report

[12] Such warnings were over ruled as Thatcher ensured was knighted.


[14] The case of Lord Armstrong is indicative. Even the Wanless-Whittam QC report indicated the problems with the historical record especially the material around the Dickens dossier.

[15] See this story from 1996 about the practice. See also this story from 2015 See also this blog post. Mr Scott avoids this context. Why?

[16] See for example the case of the former editor Don Hale who was told by Special Branch to hand over the dossier on paedophiles compiled by Barbara Castle. We know that police officers were threatened with the Official Secrets Act As the article pointed out the libel laws were much stricter then in the 1970s, 1980s, when these allegations might have surfaced, than they were now. Moreover, there is now a greater awareness of the crimes as well as more institutions to protect children and pursue perpetrators.


[18] “Mr Richard’s intervention follows claims last week by former Tory Minister Edwina Currie that Morrison had sex with 16-year-old boys when the age of consent was 21 and that he had been protected by a ‘culture of sniggering’. In her diaries, she called him ‘a noted pederast’, with a liking for young boys.” [emphasis added]–Hague-known.html#ixzz4H3fitEje


[20] See this Nick Davies story from 1998 on the sheer scale of the abuse.

Posted in corruption, Government, justice, public opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The UK constitutional crisis: the death of liberal democracy

The United Kingdom faces a constitutional crisis created by the vote to leave the EU. The referendum outcome had many causes. For some, a quasi-Marxist view explains the outcome as caused by the recent financial crisis and the austerity that followed. Yet, other liberal democracies faced the same without a constitutional crisis. For many, the EU’s policy on the free movement of people created an “immigration crisis”. Even though areas with the highest immigration voted to Remain and those with the lowest voted to Leave, the popular view was that it was due to immigration levels. Commentators who looked deeper saw the cause in the public’s deep seated fear of being left behind by global economy. In communities where jobs were scarce, the global economy’s opportunities were hard to reach as low skilled jobs seemed to move away. In this view, the EU represented the global economy that took their opportunities and left them unable to compete with the lower wage rivals. The public believed the EU and the effort to sustain EU membership forced the government to accept these changes which had a direct impact on local community social stability. The people were no longer in control. In response to the view that the government was unable to resist the EU, the UK media waged a broad, deep, and virulent propaganda campaign to convince the public that they needed to “take back control” with a vote to leave. Despite these varied claims by myriad commentators, what has not been considered as a cause is the crisis of liberal democracy within the United Kingdom.

Since 1688, the United Kingdom has struggled with liberalism. The liberal democracy built on that liberalism struggled to find purchase on the UK’s imperial regime. The two were in tension. The imperial regime, a constitutional monarchy, and liberal democracy, in which all are equal before the law, were a mismatch that remained implicit for centuries. After the UK joined the European Community in 1973, the tension started to come to the surface. When the European Union was formed in 1993, the tension became an implicit crisis. A fault line emerged between the regime and the EU over the Human Rights Act. The gap between the UK’s founding on the hereditary rights of a monarchy and the universal rights that animates the European Union began to grow. Those who demanded British Rights, derived from the Crown, and those who embraced European rights, based on the universalism derived from the French Revolution in 1789 was irreconcilable. The former is bound to, or derived from, the Crown’s sovereignty while the latter is universal and draws its essence from human nature’s intrinsic dignity. It is beyond the Crown’s control. The referendum was a reminder of the UK’s response to the French Revolution of 1789. The central figure for this debate is Edmund Burke. In his polemics attacking the revolution and defending the Monarchical regime, he argued against the universal rights. He saw them as a direct attack on the customs, practices, and culture that animates the UK. If they succeeded the UK would cease to be what it is.

In 2016, the UK could be described as a liberal democracy. It was this liberal democracy, which expressed the desire to remain in the EU. This liberal democracy depended on Europe, and above all on Germany. The liberal democracy was marked by a corresponding embrace of everything foreign. By linking itself to Remain campaign, the UK liberal democracy was caught between two extremes. It tried to maintain the uneasy balance between the implicit principles of 1789, as expressed through the EU, and the dedication to the highest British tradition. The balance already difficult to maintain was made impossible by the UK media. The UK media was unstintingly hostile. With virulent, vicious, and dishonest attacks, it became a propaganda machine with one goal, leave the EU. The attacks, sustained over decades, had habituated the people to fear the EU and liberal democracy. They privileged foreigners, minorities, and immigrants at the expense of citizens, the majority, and British. The UK media reflected and encouraged the deepest longings of the old England, the imperial England. An England that remained unrepentantly opposed to Europe. The England founded in direct opposition to the principles of the 1789 revolution.

The Remain campaign was weak. It only displayed its potential strength, if not greatness, when it reacted to the murder of the MP Jo Cox in June 2016. The murder was a turning point not for what many expected, for a Remain vote, but for the public perception of the Remain campaign’s resolve. The murder showed what the Right could achieve if they were willing to dare it. The murder showed, to those with the eyes to see that the UK liberal democracy was in terminal decline: the old England (Leave) was stronger in will than the new UK (Remain). One only need to note the unabashed talk of “traitors” which the Leave campaign never disavowed.

The campaign showed that Remain, led by David Cameron, lacked the will and resolve to win. They believed that what mattered was common decency or the decent regard for public opinion. Their belief in common decency left them vulnerable. The right had been able to kill an outspoken advocate for Remain without consequence. Liberal democracy revealed its naïve faith in due process and decency. We saw that those who had the strongest will, daring and resolve would win for they understood the various forces in play. They could, and did win, because they dared. They dared to lie, they dared to bait their opponents with racist propaganda, they dared to foment hatred without concern for safety as they only had one goal—to win. Nigel Farage’s Breaking Point poster showed what was possible and what was needed to win. If you wanted to win, neither decency nor honesty would stop you.

What still needs to be investigated is why liberal democracy is so weak. Liberal democracy’s weakness should have been apparent earlier. At each previous crisis, it had found a way to limp past it. Often the vague invocation of Locke and Hobbes would be enough to salve the collective soul that liberal democracy was only reshaping itself. For many commentators, they will be surprised to learn liberal democracy’s roots are so shallow and unhealthy.

The liberal democratic regime pursued neo-liberal policies. Despite their success, they faced strong resistance. Those opposed to the economic effect and those who opposed its societal effects found common cause. They would resist the global economic and immigration movements. These policies and their effects legitimated the resolve of those who wanted to return to the old England. Even if they had no common ground with those opposed to neo-liberalism, they found a common enemy in liberal democracy. The contest returned to its previous champions Rousseau and Burke. Rousseau inspired the Remain campaign for they pursued neo-liberalism especially through the EU project. In their belief that the public would accept the liberal democratic benefits, they forgot what animated the Leave campaign. Burke was the founder of the Leave campaign. He championed British Rights against the universal rights proclaimed by the revolution of 1789. He would defend the customs, practices, and culture that were under threat.

The Remain campaign forget that beneath the democratic veneer exists cultures and customs created by the Monarchical or imperial regime. Burke’s conservatism provided a legitimate and principled defence of England’s traditions and its imperial system. For the Leave campaign, though, he was too timid. They were not Burkean conservatives. They had imbibed the Enlightenment’s disdain for tradition, custom, and continuity. Instead they appealed to something deeper than Burke had imagined. The Leave campaign under the respectable banner of conservatism had tapped deeper patterns of dissent. They had tapped into an irrational core with the focus on immigrants, refugees and foreigners. The Leave campaign, taking a lead from the demonic propaganda developed by Goebbels relied on the big lies, the fear, the hatred, but above all residual imperial ethos that pulsates beneath the public domain’s surface. Beneath the UK’s liberal democracy, which believed that reason, fair play, and due process would ensure justice, lurked something that had not changed. There is a hard sediment of a supremacist ideology which Leave has awakened. It is that residual imperial or supremacist ethos which animates the UK political system that the Leave campaign revealed. The fear of immigration made the public aware of how much it had lost and how much more it had to lose unless they “took back control”.

Liberalism is defined by the divide between state and society which requires a recognized private sphere, that is protected by the law yet is not subject to the law. The private sphere can escape the law where it becomes a realm of freedom. In return, the private sphere accepts that for the public domain to remain peaceful, it will accept that public behaviour that matches the public orthodoxy is sustained. The liberal state, though, promises to end discrimination. To overcome that private space, which is often the source for discrimination and private beliefs that flout the liberal ideas of tolerance, the liberal state has criminalized private behaviours such as hate speech or defamation. Yet, that promise to prevent discrimination requires the state to penetrate further into the private domain, thus limiting freedom and constraining that supremacist ethos. For to recognize or accept a private sphere means that some private “discrimination,” has to be accepted and protected. Yet, to prohibit such private discrimination would require the liberal state to destroy what it was create to protect the private sphere. Even as the UK liberal democracy was saying it wold tolerate foreign customs and beliefs, especially those which arrived because of UK imperialism, it was suppressing and criminalizing native customs, beliefs, and practices, like fox-hunting, on the basis of an alien idea—liberalism. Thus, the pursuit of the liberal state to end all discriminations leads to the destruction of the liberal state’s premise which is a private sphere.

Even though the EU and liberalism are blamed for the loss of control, the Crown is the more invasive. The liberal state reaches its apotheosis with the surveillance state. The state’s increases surveillance powers to look into the lives of its citizens. There is no private activity that escape the law. The liberal state is concerned with your private activity. How you raise your children, how you practice your faith, what you say about your neighbour, how you behave in your bedroom, are all subject to the law or the state. How the Leave campaign described this, though, was that the EU, not the UK liberal democracy, nor the Crown, was meddling in the private domain. The Leave campaign was dishonest for it knew that it could not show that it was fundamentally opposed to UK’s liberal democracy for that would cause the public to realize the EU was only a proxy for what Leave meant when they said they wanted to take back control.[1] Indeed, they want to return to an England before liberal democracy.

Unless liberal democracy understands this threat, it will not survive. The constitutional crisis will have unleashed forces that will consume those who fomented the Leave campaign. The campaign revealed that the Crown is concerned with self-preservation more than it is concerned with the democratic will. It will not sacrifice itself for the people or an abstract idea. The Crown has accepted liberal democratic principles to the extent they enable it to survive. They provide the necessary democratic veneer. As liberal democracy fades, we can expect the Crown’s implicit authoritarianism to emerge. However, it will cover its increased coercive power, its ability to tyrannize thought, by judicious gifts that return what liberal democracy suppressed. The desire to overturn fox-hunting ban, grammar schools, show the desire to revive cultures, practices, and customs that liberal democracy had displaced. Under the guise of reform, we will find that less individual freedoms and an increased demand for public behaviour to conform to the new orthodoxy, an orthodoxy that favours the strong at the expense of the weak for that is the imperial or supremacist ethos reborn for a post-modern age.

[1] The desire to take back control was never a claim to bring about popular sovereignty. The public would only be in control to the extent they would endorse a choice between alternatives manufactured by their rulers. Moreover, control meant that the people could no longer appeal beyond the UK to the EU. Even now as Article 50 remains unengaged the public seem barely aware that their votes did not matter for the PM will decide regardless of the vote’s outcome. Yet, each day the Article 50 is unengaged it also shows that the public have no say in what the government does. The government is resisting the public will, as expressed in the EU referendum, which further erodes the idea of liberal democracy that existed.

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Strauss, Weimar and the Crisis of the UK liberal democracy

Benedict de Spinoza: moral problems and our em...

Benedict de Spinoza: moral problems and our emotional responses to them should be reasoned from the perspective of eternity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I sat down with Strauss’s Liberalism Ancient and Modern to read the chapter on Spinoza (Preface to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion).[1] I did this to improve my understanding of Strauss’s approach to the tension between reason and revelation for some research on ISIS/ISIL challenges the West and its idea of liberalism.

As the UK had voted on 23 June 2016 to leave the EU, the vote and its outcome had been on my mind. I live in the UK on a EU passport. With that vote, my immigration status became radically uncertain. There was a larger problem though as in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the referendum, the far right extremist groups had become more active. The far right political parties, those that have registered to be legal parties, had been particularly active and vociferous on social media about immigrants, foreigners and traitors.

The far right animus appeared to crest with the murder of Jo Cox MP an outspoken supporter of the Remain campaign and champion for immigrants. Her attacker was a far right activist. Although he was quickly announced as being mentally ill, he was also arraigned under the Terrorism Protocols, which suggest that this was not being treated as a random event. In any case, the case was quickly overshadowed by the vote, which followed a few days, and the outcome.

In the days after the election, the anti-immigrant views which included EU nationals, intensified. People have been racially abused, far right posters have increased, and people have been attacked for appearing or acting “foreign”. Although the police and the government have taken steps to reassure the public by investigating reported incidents, a general fear has developed within immigrant communities and within families of foreign nationals. Even though one high profile case was quickly addressed where the culprits were arrested shortly after a video of their racial abuse was posted online, the attacks have continued and in some cases intensified. While the UK remains uncertain as to whether and how it will implement the Article 50 decision, the immigrants and foreigners remain caught in the fear generated by uncertainty.

What is apparent as many commentators have noted is the UK is in the midst of a serious constitutional crisis. Both of the main political parties are in the midst of leadership crisis. The Conservative party appears to be choosing between a future PM who will leave the EU quickly and one who will leave it slowly, if at all. Whoever is the next PM, they will have to harvest the bitter crop sown by the referendum since neither side will be satisfied with the outcome. For the Remain supporters, the old order will have been lost in an uncertain political landscape fraught with severe economic consequences. For the Leave campaign, the benefits do not yet, if they ever will, outweigh the costs for their goal was to unshackle themselves from the European political rights regime. Neither campaign will be fully satisfied for what has been promised to this point cannot be delivered. In that dissatisfaction, fear becomes hatred, and hatred becomes violence as the more extreme elements on the right are embolden to act against foreigners. Even as the crisis intensifies, the candidates for the leader of the Conservative Party are being purposefully vague about whether EU nationals, even those married to UK citizens, will be allowed to stay.

With that prelude, I was struck by Strauss’s description of Weimar. As I read the first several paragraphs, I replaced Germany with the UK and the text came alive to the situation I saw unfolding around me. The UK is not a liberal democracy. It has the veneer of a liberal democracy, but it is a constitutional monarchy with an imperial core that resents liberalism. Many of the Conservatives campaigned to repeal the Human Rights Act, which is a direct and clear descendent of the Rights of Man as brought forth by the French Revolution of 1789. One can understand that the UK Crown remains firmly opposed to such a radical idea since it means its extinction for it cannot exist as an imperial entity, where the Monarch rules by hereditary right, and accede to the idea of universal human rights which invalidate the inequality of a hereditary ruler. The Conservatives resent Liberalism’s intrusion into UK society and all that it brings for it attacks their customs, culture, and conservatism. The EU exit is seen by some as a first step to restoring the British rights and values opposed to European rights. As read through Strauss’s work, the UK is experiencing a crisis of its claims to be a liberal democracy.

In his work, Preface to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, Strauss describes the crisis of the Weimar Republic. In the first two pages, he describes the philosophical beliefs and historical events that contributed to the Weimar Republic’s collapse. He describes the details by which Germany’s liberal democracy’s internal contradiction, liberalism inherent inability to solve the Jewish problem[2], showed its limit when faced with extremist political groups bent on destroying it.

Even though the UK is not the Weimar Republic, what Strauss describes offers a powerful insight into the crisis of the UK’s liberal democracy. If we change the Jewish problem to the immigrant problem and modify some of the words within the first two pages, one could almost believe that Strauss was writing about the UK in 2016 instead of Weimar in 1933.

The following, taken from the first two pages of the article, are a paraphrase of key passages. pp224-225. I have italicized the words that were changed.

At the time, the United Kingdom was a liberal democracy. The regime was known as the Remain campaign.

In the eyes of Leave, Remain stood for the leanings to the EU, if not for the inner dependence of the English on the French and above all on the Germans, and a corresponding aversion to everything foreign.

By linking itself to Remain the United Kingdom liberal democracy proclaimed its moderate, non-radical character: its resolve to keep a balance between the dedication to the principles of 1789 and the dedication to the highest British tradition.

Remain was weak. It had a single moment of strength, if not of greatness: its strong reaction to the murder of the MP Jo Cox in June 2016.

The vote for Leave showed everyone who had eyes to see that the Liberal Democracy only had a sort time to live: the old England (Leave) was stronger in will than the new UK (Remain).

The victory of Leave became necessary in the UK for the same reason for which the victory of Communism had become necessary in Russia: the man who had by far the strongest will or single-mindedness, the greatest ruthlessness, daring, and power over his following, and the best judgement about the strength of the various forces in the immediately relevant political field was the leader of the revolution.

Half-Marxists trace the weakness of the Remain campaign to the power of monopoly capitalism and the economic crisis of 2008, but there were other liberal democracies which were and remained strong although they had to contend with the same difficulties.

It would be more reasonable to refer to the fact that the Remain campaign had come into being through the defeat of the No campaign in 1972, although this answer merely leads to the further question as to why England had not succeeded in becoming a liberal democracy under more auspicious circumstances (for instance 1688, 1789), that is why liberal democracy had always been weak in England.

Above all, the radicalization and deepening of neo-liberalism by Western economists culminated in the thought of the Leave campaign which legitimated a kind of constitutional monarchy which is based on the recognition of the rights of man and in which government is in the hands of highly educated civil servants appointed by a hereditary monarch… But Burke prepared not only the response to the French Revolution and English Philosophy but also that extreme reaction to the French Revolution which is English romanticism.





[1] Leo Strauss, Liberalism Ancient and Modern (University of Chicago Press, 1995)

[2] Here is how Strauss describes the Jewish Problem.

“To realize that the Jewish problem is insoluble means never to forget the truth proclaimed by Zionism regarding the limitations of liberalism. Liberalism stands and falls by the distinction between state and society or by the recognition of a private sphere, protected by the law but impervious to the law, with the understand that, above all, religion as particular religion belongs to the private sphere. As certainly as the liberal state will not “discriminate” against its Jewish citizens, as certainly is it constitutionally unable or unwilling to prevent “discrimination” against Jews on the part of individual and groups. To recognize a private sphere in the sense indicated means to permit private “discrimination,” to protect it, and thus in fact to foster it. The liberal state cannot provide a solution to the Jewish problem, for such a problem would require the legal prohibition against every kind of “discrimination,” that is, the abolition of the private sphere, the denial of the difference between state and society, the destruction of the liberal state.” P.230

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A commentary on Zizek: either stop talking or stop thinking

In the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, Slavoj Zizek wrote a column for the Guardian.[1] Hs purported goal was to help us, the West, think about or even think through the shootings. One imagines that he wanted us to better understand the shooting and by giving it meaning allow us to respond to it in an effective way, or even respond effectively, or at least respond in a meaningful way. However, Zizek, as he is wont to do, leads us on a, at least for the reader, tortured path to his desired destination in which we, after thinking about the killing, must arrive. In his inimitable style, he leads us to where we begin and we see ourselves for the first time. To get there, though, we have to follow his path from where he starts.

Now, when we are all in a state of shock after the killing spree in the Charlie Hebdo offices, it is the right moment to gather the courage to think.

Zizek suggests that we only begin thinking after an act. Even this though is not true. We can only gather the courage to think. In an echo of Heidegger, Zizek claims we are not yet thinking. Yet, this is not true. We can only gather the courage to think. We are not thinking and we appear frightened to think, which is why we have to gather our courage to think. If we are to think, what are we to think once we have the courage to think?

We should, of course, unambiguously condemn the killings as an attack on the very substance our freedoms, and condemn them without any hidden caveats (in the style of “Charlie Hebdo was nonetheless provoking and humiliating the Muslims too much”).

Immediately we no longer have to think. The answer is provided by Zizek. We must condemn the killings. He does not offer a reason. There is no need to think of a reason, the killings are clearly wrong. If it is clearly wrong, why do we have to think about it or even gather our courage to think about it? Curiously Zizek does not condemn the killings. He only says we would condemn them. He avoids the moral judgement. He does not say “I condemn the killings.” He only suggests or indicates that what we should do, not what we do, or must do, or will do. He leaves it conditional. He does not want to judge. Perhaps he is too much of a philosophical coward to condemn, even as he encourages others to condemn.

But such pathos of universal solidarity is not enough – we should think further.

Here Zizek claims that if we decide to condemn the attack and the attackers we have been thinking. Even there he suggests a lower form of thinking, if it is thinking at all, by referring to the pathos of solidarity. He claims this pathos is not enough instead we have to think further. He does not call us to act, he only call us to think. For Zizek it might be that thinking is the highest act. If it is, that is fine for the philosopher but it leaves the political community without a guide. In this claim, Zizek abandons the community and escapes into thought as a way to avoid responsibility, a cowardly decision that saves himself and leaves the community vulnerable to further attack.

Such thinking has nothing whatsoever to do with the cheap relativisation of the crime (the mantra of “who are we in the West, perpetrators of terrible massacres in the Third World, to condemn such acts”).

Zizek seeks to defend his call to thought by defending it against the public prejudice that such thinking would lead us to relativize the crime. Yet, why would that claim exist since he has already commanded that we should condemn the killings? Even to call it a crime seems to indicate a judgement. He wants us to look beyond such relativism that we are as guilty of crimes and therefore cannot condemn the attack. One could almost excuse Zizek for assuming Christ’s mantle to counter the claim that the West cannot cast a stone for it is not without sin. Have we begun to think? Zizek will provide an understanding of what is to be done beyond the moral equivalent or relativism.

It has even less to do with the pathological fear of many Western liberal Leftists to be guilty of Islamophobia. For these false Leftists, any critique of Islam is denounced as an expression of Western Islamophobia; Salman Rushdie was denounced for unnecessarily provoking Muslims and thus (partially, at least) responsible for the fatwa condemning him to death, etc.

Zizek also warns us against fear, the fear that we might be labelled with the mental disease (Islamophobia). The fear is that we would have an irrational fear of Islam, which has somehow excused the attacks or at least inhibits or limits our response to them if not our ability to think about them. As a side note, it is useful to remember that philosophy begins in wonder while faith begins in fear of the Lord. Whatever the fears or the issue, Zizek wants us to know that these are not true Leftists as they are false Leftist, which implies that there is a standard by which we can judge Leftist thought and behaviour. We are assured that Zizek knows this standard so as to render judgement on Leftists even as he has rendered judgement on the Islamic attackers or those who would respond to them.

The Muslim does not act out of fear or fragile beliefs

Another thinker tried to save the West from fear, the fear of violent death, and in forgetting his success we have become vulnerable. He seems an unpalatable option as his solution, which had worked previously, is not one that is conducive to Zizek’s intended outcome. Perhaps intellectual probity is no longer important when we need to make an ideological point. The desire to make ideological points at the expense of intellectual probity betrays the truth. If one does not believe in truth, beyond the truth of one’s ideology, then this is not a problem. However, Zizek is not finished with the psychological analysis.

The result of such stance is what one can expect in such cases: the more the Western liberal Leftists probe into their guilt, the more they are accused by Muslim fundamentalists of being hypocrites who try to conceal their hatred of Islam. This constellation perfectly reproduces the paradox of the superego: the more you obey what the Other demands of you, the guiltier you are. It is as if the more you tolerate Islam, the stronger its pressure on you will be . . .

One can almost imagine Leftists going to Zizek’s couch to understand their guilt. He will absolve them of their guilt with Freud by warning them against the power of the superego. The false Leftist ideology, of which Zizek is the judge, will force you to obey and the more you go along with what everybody else wants, you will feel more guilt. You will be caught out by the fundamentalists who ridicule you for secretly hating them even as you try to stop Islamophobia. The more you tolerate it, the more pressure to renounce that tolerance as a hypocrite. Why the Leftist liberal fears the words of the Muslim fundamentalist more than their machine gun bullets remains a mystery. If you can avoid hating Islam you will be spared the machine gun bullets but you will still have to face their words that accuse you of hypocrisy. Perhaps Zizek, the philosophical court jester to Western democracy, is being ironic in claiming that words will hurt you more than sticks or stones or in this case machine gun bullets. What is clear, though, is Zizek rejects moderation. He wants action, extreme action, even if he will not do it nor will he judge such action. Perhaps for him thinking is his extremism.

This is why I also find insufficient calls for moderation along the lines of Simon Jenkins’s claim (in The Guardian on January 7) that our task is “not to overreact, not to over-publicise the aftermath. It is to treat each event as a passing accident of horror” – the attack on Charlie Hebdo was not a mere “passing accident of horror”. it followed a precise religious and political agenda and was as such clearly part of a much larger pattern. Of course we should not overreact, if by this is meant succumbing to blind Islamophobia – but we should ruthlessly analyse this pattern.

Zizek wants to condemn moderation in the face of such acts. He seems to think that moderate reactions, a proportionate counter attack, is wrong. Yet, he also cautions against overreacting. It appears he wants us to have an extreme moderation or a moderate extremism. The basis for wisdom, though, is moderation. Wisdom is revealed in the proportionate course of action that statesmen take in response to these issues. Although Zizek modifies his immoderate criticism of moderation, by indicating that an immoderate behaviour would be to succumb to blind Islamophobia, a psychological condition. The psychological condition returns as if one can choose to go mad, one can rationally choose a mental illness. A moderate response cannot be understood as a leap into Islamophobia unless one is suggesting that Islamophobia is now assumed to be the moderate position. Strangely, for his previous criticism of false Leftists who feared being called Islamaphobes, he wants us to avoid choosing Islamophobia as our moderate response for it might be the right response according to Zizek but only after we have analysed the pattern.

We must think through the pattern of the attack, which Zizek assures us exists for it cannot be an accident of a larger movement. The attack is part of the pattern of history and the logic of that history is known, it would appear, to Zizek if no one else. Even as he calls for us to avoid moderation that falls into Islamophobia he suggests we must be ruthless, extreme, in our thinking our analysis of the pattern of these attacks and the agenda they follow. We are not told the pattern or the agenda although to claim there is a pattern and an agenda requires that Zizek knows it.

The pattern and the agenda Zizek find is created, as we see below, was set by Friedrich Nietzsche. He will help us to break down the myth that turns the suicide attackers into heroes by demonising them.

What is much more needed than the demonisation of the terrorists into heroic suicidal fanatics is a debunking of this demonic myth.

We are not told where this myth originates or why the myth exists. What Zizek suggests, again strangely since he condemns the false Leftists for such beliefs, is that it is created by the West.

Long ago Friedrich Nietzsche perceived how Western civilisation was moving in the direction of the Last Man, an apathetic creature with no great passion or commitment. Unable to dream, tired of life, he takes no risks, seeking only comfort and security, an expression of tolerance with one another: “A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end, for a pleasant death. They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health. ‘We have discovered happiness,’ – say the Last Men, and they blink.”

Zizek suggests that the myth is born of a desire by the West to see the attackers as heroes and in doing so go give meaning to their own lives. He knows we are in the age of the Last Man, but how he knows this is not clear. What he does know is that in the age of the Last Man, the West must create the heroic suicidal bomber to keep itself alive to the danger of life. Only in the myth can we avoid our own emptiness.

It effectively may appear that the split between the permissive First World and the fundamentalist reaction to it runs more and more along the lines of the opposition between leading a long satisfying life full of material and cultural wealth, and dedicating one’s life to some transcendent Cause. Is this antagonism not the one between what Nietzsche called “passive” and “active” nihilism? We in the West are the Nietzschean Last Men, immersed in stupid daily pleasures, while the Muslim radicals are ready to risk everything, engaged in the struggle up to their self-destruction.

We in the West are the permissive empty Last Men content in our nihilism while the Muslims, who are also nihilists but do not know it, become extremists pursuing death for some belief that gives their lives meaning. The duality is actually a monality as both reduce to nihilism. However, we have to remember this is only what it appears to Zizek. This too is only a possible view and not what Zizek believes.

William Butler Yeats’ “Second Coming” seems perfectly to render our present predicament: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” This is an excellent description of the current split between anemic liberals and impassioned fundamentalists. “The best” are no longer able fully to engage, while “the worst” engage in racist, religious, sexist fanaticism.

The choice is clear: a disengaged nihilist or a fanatic nihilist. What is important, though, is neither of these apply to Zizek. He thinks. He acts. He is beyond Good and Evil. He will provide the values by which we can judge even as he refuses to pass judgement on the attack. He will help us to think through the pattern and the agenda. The reality is that the radical fundamentalists are not fundamentalists at all.

However, do the terrorist fundamentalists really fit this description? What they obviously lack is a feature that is easy to discern in all authentic fundamentalists, from Tibetan Buddhists to the Amish in the US: the absence of resentment and envy, the deep indifference towards the non-believers’ way of life. If today’s so-called fundamentalists really believe they have found their way to Truth, why should they feel threatened by non-believers, why should they envy them? When a Buddhist encounters a Western hedonist, he hardly condemns. He just benevolently notes that the hedonist’s search for happiness is self-defeating. In contrast to true fundamentalists, the terrorist pseudo-fundamentalists are deeply bothered, intrigued, fascinated, by the sinful life of the non-believers. One can feel that, in fighting the sinful other, they are fighting their own temptation.

If this were true, it would suggest that the fundamentalists possess the truth. As they possess a truth, they leave others alone. The argument raises the question of why Zizek is commenting on the situation. If he does possess a truth, his understanding of the pattern and the agenda, and he thinks, why is he concerned with how the West reacts to these killers, their pattern of these and their agenda?

It is here that Yeats’ diagnosis falls short of the present predicament: the passionate intensity of the terrorists bears witness to a lack of true conviction. How fragile the belief of a Muslim must be if he feels threatened by a stupid caricature in a weekly satirical newspaper?

In a curious and well played inversion, perhaps echoing Nietzsche’s transvaluation of values, Zizek turns passionate belief into fragility and emptiness. The Muslim is stupid if they are threatened. They fear words more than reality. He criticizes them for their fears in the way that false Leftists fear words in being labelled Islamaphobic. Zizek would have us forget fear as if it is only fear that holds us back. We have not thing to fear but fear itself. He will be brave for us and look into the abyss. Yet, he does not appear to understand the Muslims as they understand themselves. He understands them as he wants to understand them, which limits his advice.

The Muslim does not act out of fear or fragile beliefs. He acts out of love and belief. He loves Allah and believes in his teaching so much that he willing to live, kill, add die for those beliefs. The West is barely able to muster such beliefs. Socrates believed in philosophy enough to sacrifice his life for it. Would Zizek do that? Do we have similar beliefs in the West? Christianity and to a large extent Judaism have been hollowed out by modernity and exist largely as shells of their former selves. The Catholic Church, and Israel, remain as bastions of belief but they are under sustained and intense assault to drain them of such beliefs. In large part by “philosophers” such as Zizek who cannot muster belief in anything except nihilism.

The fundamentalist Islamic terror is not grounded in the terrorists’ conviction of their superiority and in their desire to safeguard their cultural-religious identity from the onslaught of global consumerist civilization.

How does Zizek know what are the ground for the Islamic terror? He understands them as he wants to understand them not as they understand themselves. He appears to indulge in a strange cultural historicism. He dismisses a possible ground because to him it seems unbelievable that someone could believe enough to live, kill, and die for their faith. Instead, the terrorists suffer from the same psychological malady as the Leftists, they secretly hate themselves.

The problem with fundamentalists is not that we consider them inferior to us, but, rather, that they themselves secretly consider themselves inferior.

Zizek the great psychologists now reduces the Islamic terror to a simple inferiority complex. If we could only build up their self-esteem they would stop believing in Islam and stop being so violent. How he knows their secret beliefs remains a mystery but his analysis has brought him to this great insight.

This is why our condescending politically correct assurances that we feel no superiority towards them only makes them more furious and feeds their resentment.

Strangely he believes that being tolerant and feeling superior are mutually exclusive. The magnanimous man tolerates the inferior out of his magnanimity. Just as the philosopher tolerates the stupid out of his superiority. More to the point, if we in the West gave them non-politically correct assurances or less condescending assurances, they would feel better. If we openly hate them, then they will love us, respect us, and no longer feel the secret self-loathing that comes from our apparent indifference if not tolerance. Except we do not even do that correctly. They resent our inability to insult them properly and recognize their inferiority for what it was. If we would only act as Masters they would assume their expected role as Slaves. Zizek’s masterful insight returns us to Hegel, except it is more insulting. They do not want recognition as equals. They want to be recognized as an inferior and resent our refusal to act as superior as we are. In his own way Zizek provides the necessary insult for Muslims (and the West).

If we just insulted them more they would relax and accept that we hate them which would make them not want to kill us as their resentment would be sated. As we have asked them to meet our standards (derived from Nature and Nature’s God) and we judge them by those standards, they will feel relieved to avoid having to carry the internal burden of their self-loathing.

The problem is not cultural difference (their effort to preserve their identity), but the opposite fact that the fundamentalists are already like us, that, secretly, they have already internalized our standards and measure themselves by them.

Here we find a difficulty. If the fundamentalists already act like us or at least rely on our standards and measures are they different from us in a material way? It would appear that Zizek is saying there is no material difference of ends only of means. Where the liberal democratic acts moderately, the fundamentalist acts aggressively or violently; but there is no difference between them fundamentally on the ends they pursue. Are we to now understand there is only a difference in means and not ends? Even if we abstract to the most extreme level, there is a material difference between the two options. If they are the same or at least similar, is it that the fundamentalists are on the same journey but only less developed or as advanced along that journey to nihilism? However, there is a twist to his statement.

Paradoxically, what the fundamentalists really lack is precisely a dose of that true ‘racist’ conviction of their own superiority.

The fundamentalists are not yet supremacists. They are just as extreme but do not yet act as supremacists. Once they do, then they would be the same as a liberal democrat and lose their self-loathing as an inferior but obtain it as a superior unable to embrace it as the Leftists seem unwilling or unable to embrace it. The western liberal acts with an air of false superiority in his zealotry while the fundamentalist acts with an air of inferiority complex in their zealotry. Moreover, Zizek has argued that the liberals are racists and the fundamentalists have just not yet understood that they too are racist supremacists, but they do not know it yet. One almost imagines that the fundamentalists act with a false consciousness and brave Zizek is going to help them with their psychological condition (see Nietzsche’s lament about psychologists) so that they too can be open about their racism. All of this, though, is prelude to what Zizek wants to champion as his insight drawn from Walter Benjamin.

The recent vicissitudes of Muslim fundamentalism confirm Walter Benjamin’s old insight that “every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution”[2]: the rise of Fascism is the Left’s failure, but simultaneously a proof that there was a revolutionary potential, dissatisfaction, which the Left was not able to mobilize. And does the same not hold for today’s so-called “Islamo-Fascism”? Is the rise of radical Islamism not exactly correlative to the disappearance of the secular Left in Muslim countries?

Leaving aside the fact that despite extensive searches I cannot find Benjamin making that statement in his published works  (this suggests that Zizek made it up and tries to pass it off as Benjamin’s) we return to the theme that it is all about the Left. Now, we are told that the fundamentalists emerge because the Left failed. Perhaps it is that the fundamentalists emerged in response to the Leftists? Or it might be that the fundamentalists never went away and that no revolution was possible so could not fail. Instead, Islam faces liberalism’s global challenge. It cannot escape the corrosive power transmitted through technology and popular culture and it is the last attempt to resist liberalism’s totalitarian embrace. The Left never attempted to reform Islam as Islam have never had a Left beyond those hidden or esoteric philosophers. Perhaps we could suggest that some rulers were secular and they chose to import ideas and beliefs that challenged the pre-existing, if latent, fundamentalist ideas so that they could retain their power and control. Yet, that does not suggest a Leftist revolution was ever considered so it could not fail.

We also must question whether Walter Benjamin is appropriate. His insight proves superficial when we consider the wider world. Perhaps it fits for Germany’s history but it hardly reflects the religious regimes or the wider, global, tension between Left and Right however understood. We would forget that Nationalist Socialism began as a revolution on the Left. It opposed the Left and was not a revolution on the Right as it was not interested in restoring throne or altar even as it claimed as such or assumed those symbols. Leaving aside the problem with Benjamin’s analytical term, we still face another issue with Zizek’s choice of the word fascist. Zizek chooses the word Islamo-Fascism in an apparent or conscious echo of Christopher Hitchen’s term. The term appears useful. The closer we examine it, though, we see that it reflects the originator’s attempt to project his views onto Islam and what he understands as the Islamic threat. By this term he hoped to frame the debate in way that the public would understand and respond to appropriately. The term, though, keeps us from thinking. We use it as a shorthand to avoid an attempt to understand Islam, the radical movement, or what either seeks to achieve. We are reduced to the belief that Islam is bad and Islam can only manifest itself in a fascistic political system. Moreover, we are reduced to the idea that Islamic movements reduce to fascism or the current Islamists who carried out the shootings reduce to fascistic thinking. Yet, Islamic movements have not been fascistic. They are less interested in a state or a government and more interested in a regime that shapes the way of life on their religious beliefs. If a political order allowed that and enabled it, then would they resist that order? Perhaps we see that Zisek is the one caught within the state system, within fascistic thinking, as he no longer understands or considers the state’s origin is not in itself but occurs from an earlier thought that he has rejected.

When, back in the Spring of 2009, Taliban took over the Swat valley in Pakistan, New York Times reported that they engineered “a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants”. If, however, by “taking advantage” of the farmers’ plight, the Taliban are “raising alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal,” what prevents liberal democrats in Pakistan as well as the US to similarly “take advantage” of this plight and try to help the landless farmers?

Here an issue emerges clearly that reveals the paucity of Zizek’s thinking or ability to understand the world in practical terms. Zizek wants revolution in the same way that the Taliban want revolution. The difference though is that Zizek wants liberal democrats to become revolutionaries. The Taliban are already revolutionary. The problem, though, is that the liberal democrats do not believe in revolution. They want to change regimes and encourage them to become liberal democratic through non-violent means such as ballots and elections. Taliban wants to destroy them and rule. The Taliban only want to rule, they have no interest in the farmers aside from using them to overthrow the land owners so they can exploit them. The farmers would change one master for another. Strangely, Zizek does not see this. His view is that the liberal democrats need to become liberal democratic imperialist and encourage the famers to overthrow the land owners. Moreover, this would somehow help the US in its fight against the Taliban and appear to spread liberal democracy.

If the US were to follow his ruthless analysis, the United States would depose a friendly regime that was helping them fight a common enemy and replace it with an unstable regime that would be unable to fight the common enemy and suffer from subsequent instability that comes with any regime founded in a revolution. In effect, Zizek would destroy the alliance in pursuit of liberal democratic purity. Perhaps Zizek is a brilliant philosopher but he is an incompetent geopolitical strategist. His ruthless analysis would undermine the US’s ability to fight the Taliban and it would also remove its ability to encourage changes towards liberal democracy. Moreover, Zizek’s lesson does not learn from the Vietnam War in which the North Vietnamese were fighting to impose their rule on all of Vietnam and had some sympathy among the Southern population. By contrast, the Taliban are not indigenous and seek to impose their rule. They are not seeking to unify the country so much as to take it over for their own purposes that do not match the indigenous population’s purposes.

The sad implication of this fact is that the feudal forces in Pakistan are the “natural ally” of the liberal democracy…

In the specific circumstances, the answer is yes. Yet, this is the nature of politics. It is never a pure activity in which there are clear choices without consequences. Politics requires compromise where one has to work with the practical even if it is done in the ideal’s light.

So what about the core values of liberalism: freedom, equality, etc.? The paradox is that liberalism itself is not strong enough to save them against the fundamentalist onslaught.

Here Zisek appears to offer us another insight. Yet, we find he only returns us to Nietzsche with his criticism of men without chests. If this is true, why was it such flabby liberalism found a way to defeat a more virulent, focused, and vicious form of fascism in the form of the Soviet Union? Moreover, he assumes that the liberal democratic effect will never occur without revolution.

Fundamentalism is a reaction – a false, mystifying, reaction, of course – against a real flaw of liberalism, and this is why it is again and again generated by liberalism.

Zizek offers us nothing new. He wants us to follow his well established, if tired, Hegelian trope that liberalism creates fundamentalism. The insight appears fresh, even urgent in light of the context, but stale, if not empty of meaning when considered against history. Zizek appears to avoid the question of whether liberalism itself cannot be fundamentalist. Perhaps the deeper irony is that we are to accept Liberalism as a fundamentalism without knowing why or how it is or has become such a fundamentalism. Is the deeper joke that Zizek is ready to introduce us to our deeper truth, our fundamentalism, and poses himself as our guide, our Imam?

Left to itself, liberalism will slowly undermine itself – the only thing that can save its core values is a renewed Left. In order for this key legacy to survive, liberalism needs the brotherly help of the radical Left. THIS is the only way to defeat fundamentalism, to sweep the ground under its feet.

We retreat from that precipice to find that the goal is not fundamentalism so much as a resurrection of what we had believed we had rejected—the radical left. We now have a solution prepared earlier, we return to where we began. We need to reinvigorate the Left, not just any part of the left or any variety, but the radical left. We need the radical left for that will help us understand that it is time to awaken our inner Cromwell to defeat the fundamentalists. What is left unanswered, though, if this strategy is required—“What will save liberalism from itself?”

To think in response to the Paris killings means to drop the smug self-satisfaction of a permissive liberal and to accept that the conflict between liberal permissiveness and fundamentalism is ultimately a false conflict – a vicious cycle of two poles generating and presupposing each other. What Max Horkheimer had said about Fascism and capitalism already back in 1930s – those who do not want to talk critically about capitalism should also keep quiet about Fascism – should also be applied to today’s fundamentalism: those who do not want to talk critically about liberal democracy should also keep quiet about religious fundamentalism.

Here we find that Pogo was right. We have found the enemy and he is us. After all the analysis, all the bravado, we only get to where we started if we have begun to think. Unless we become fundamentalists, we cannot defeat fundamentalists. We must become like a beast to defeat a beast, but once we become that beast, how, or even why, should we return to liberal democrats? Zizek must have enjoyed himself writing this piece given the joke it tells. Liberalism must become fundamentalist, which may be true from a political perspective but it can never be true from a philosophical perspective. Moreover, it makes us believe that the one people who cannot talk about liberal democracy’s flaws are liberal democrats. If anything is clear from the history of liberal democracy, is that liberal democrats cannot *stop* talking about its flaws.

So the conflict between liberal permissiveness and fundamentalism is a false conflict since liberal democracy is a fundamentalism that is as dangerous the Islamo-Fascists. What then is the conflict, but two armies clashing in the night unaware that they serve each other? If the whole analysis reverts to Liberal fundamentalism vs Islamic fundamentalism where does that leave philosophy which has always distinguished the West? We can only see liberal democracy as an inferior way of life if one knows of a superior way of life. It may be that Zizek wants us to think this through so that we can see that the deeper conflict is between philosophy and fundamentalism without making the case for philosophy, yet there has never been a society founded upon philosophy. At best, we have a city in speech as our guide or a destination, but never one that will sustain non-philosophers. The City of God can take non-believers, but the City of Philosophers cannot accept non-philosophers. In the end, he settles for ideology, for politics over philosophy, without being able to resolve the choice of fundamentalisms except by the amount of violence they use. If Zizek’s thinking leads us to this point, perhaps it is best if hr did less of thinking or better yet, if he has to keep think if, then he just kept it to himself.


[2] I have searched in vain for this phrase within Benjamin’s work. Google searches and text searches have returned only Zizek’s quotation. This suggests that it is made up by Zizek and does not exist. If this is correct, it is a shameful, but unsurprising.

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