Category: Politics

Review: The Importance of Being Civil

In his stimulating book The Importance of Being Civil, John A. Hall tears a leaf from the street-fighter’s handbook and gets his retaliation in first. To those who will say that concepts such as decency have no place in a work of sociology, he insists that ‘civility is not sugary froth but an ideal of visceral importance’ and that ‘the […]

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On the side of the Angels: A. C. Grayling

Of all the shady turns of phrase to have lodged themselves in the popular consciousness since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the term ‘Enlightenment fundamentalist’ is surely one of the shadiest. A version of the logical fallacy known as ‘the appeal to hypocrisy’, this ingenious bit of rhetorical jujitsu suggests that the enemies of religious obscurantism are no less intolerant […]

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Review: Two Cheers for Anarchism and How to Run a Country

‘Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice,’ declared Mikhail Bakunin in 1867, ‘[but] socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.’ This ideological double-bind is no less relevant to party politics as it is practised in contemporary Canberra as it was to what Eric Hobsbawm termed, in his book of the same name, ‘the age of extremes’. For notwithstanding the occasional […]

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Prophet of gloom

That the British philosopher John Gray shares his name with a US author of popular books on sex and relationships has always struck me as an unfortunate coincidence. Imagine a man who walks into his local bookstore looking for the latest offering from the author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (1992) and walks out with a […]

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On Jeremy Waldron and Martha C. Nussbaum

Whenever there is a discussion about free speech, two things are almost certain to be said. The first is (roughly) ‘I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.’ And the second is (equally roughly) ‘Freedom of speech should not extend to falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.’ While the first […]

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On Michael Rosen and Susan Cain

On 25 October 1991, the Mayor of Morsang-sur-Orge, Paris, issued an order banning a dwarf-tossing competition due to take place at a local discotheque. Invoking his police powers for the maintenance of public order, the Mayor took the view that the practice of dwarf-tossing was an affront to human dignity. Certainly the proposed event – which was to feature one […]

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On Thomas Frank and Arthur Goldwag

Say what you like about the Treasurer Wayne Swan – his timing is impeccable. As I was sitting down to plan this review, he was standing up at the National Press Club to attack the ‘tiny handful of people … who mobilise their considerable wealth against policies designed to benefit the majority’. Taking aim at the mining billionaires who’d campaigned […]

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Lamenting the lost spirit of ’68

‘We want structures that serve people, not people that serve structures!’ ‘The revolution doesn’t belong to the committees. It’s yours!’ ‘The boss needs you. You don’t need him!’ ‘This concerns everyone!’ No, not the slogans of the Occupy movement – the self-styled 99% – but those of a previous uprising: France 1968, when students and workers took to the streets […]

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Them’s not fighting words

I hesitate to begin a book review by referring to the publisher’s blurb, still less to the puff-quote on the book’s front cover, but in the case of Public Enemies, a volume of correspondence between the novelist Michel Houellebecq and the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, the temptation proves irresistible. First the puff-quote: ‘Brilliantly done’ (Ian Buruma, New York Times). Now, we […]

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7/22: a review of On Utoya

Either Guy Rundle has an odd sense of humour or his proofreading skills are not what they should be. In the first of his three contributions to On Utøya, an e-book dealing with Anders Breivik and the massacre in Norway last July, he permits himself a moment of meteorological wistfulness: ‘The penultimate weekend of July 2011 was a warm one […]

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