Posts Tagged ‘Lateran Accords’

Andrew Marr Praises Steven Pinker’s Book on Science, Rationality and Free Markets

February 28, 2018

Mike has posted a number of pieces on his blog commenting on the right-wing bias displayed by Andrew Marr on his Sunday morning show. One recent example of this was his comment to a Tory guest, who came on immediately after he had given a hard interview to someone from the Labour Party. His interview of the Tory was softer, and at the end of it he leaned over to tell her that she had done ‘very well’. Or something like it.

I’m not surprised by this bias. Marr is a fan of the free market, the sacred ideology at the heart of Thatcherism, against which no-one is allowed to blaspheme or question. He was in the I newspaper a few weeks ago praising Steven Pinker’s new book, which argues that the world has got immensely better due to science, reason and markets. Pinker’s a neuroscientist and atheist polemicist. The book’s a successor to his previous work, The Better Angels of Our Nature. This was written to refute the claim that the 20th century was the bloodiest period in human history. This argument has been made in defence of religion, as much atheist polemic is based on the violence and bloodshed that has been generated by religion. But the 20th century is a problem, as the massacres and genocides there took place within an increasingly secular world, and in the case of the horrors committed by Communist regimes, were perpetrated by aggressively atheist regimes. And in the case of the Fascist regimes, it’s questionable how religious they were. General Franco in Spain believed that he was defending Christianity from secularism and materialism when he launched his attack on the Republican government, and horrifically many Christians did support the Fascist regimes against the supposed threats of Communism and Socialism. I’m well aware that Hitler claimed that he was doing ‘the Lord’s work’ in persecuting the Jews in Mein Kampf, but in his Table Talk he has nothing but contempt for Christianity, and wants astronomical observatories set up near schools as part of a scientific campaign against the religion. Hitler’s own religious beliefs seem to have been a kind of monistic pantheism, possibly not that far removed from those of the Monist League, who also sported the swastika as their symbol. As for Mussolini, the Italian dictated signed the Lateran Accords with the papacy, in which the Pope finally recognised Italy’s existence as a state in return for Roman Catholic religious education in schools. But il Duce had started out as a radical socialist, and many members of the Fascist party still were vehemently atheist. Much depended on the religious opinions of the local Fascist ras whether Roman Catholic religious education was taught in the schools in his area. I don’t wish to go into this argument now, whether these regimes were really atheist or not, or if the 20th century really was the bloodiest period in human history. I just wish to make the point that this was the issue at the heart of Pinker’s previous book.

Pinker’s new book apparently tells us that everything’s getting better, including the environment, and Pinker marshals an impressive arrays of facts. But all this said to me was that people and governments have become more ecologically conscious. It does not mean that we aren’t facing the devastating loss of an extraordinary number of this planet’s animal and plant species, or that we face catastrophic global warming which may make the Middle East uninhabitable.

But even more questionable is Pinker’s and Marr’s assertion that modern, post-Enlightenment society has been immensely improved thanks to the science, reason and markets. In the case of science and reason, at one level the statement is obviously true. Human life has benefited immensely from scientific advance, particularly in medicine. But the view that science and reason didn’t exist before then is one that many Medieval scholars would strenuously reject. In contrast to the stereotypes, the Middle Ages actually wasn’t anti-science. There are poems from the 12th-13th centuries celebrating it, and the new knowledge that was flooding into Europe from the Islamic world. The 15th century English poem, The Court of Sapience, lists the various branches of knowledge known to the medieval world, and celebrates them as the area of ‘Dame Sapience’, an idealised personification of wisdom. As for superstition and the occult, historians have also pointed out that the Middle Ages were also an age of scepticism as well as faith. Medieval theologians wrote texts arguing that visions of demons were more likely caused by a full stomach interfering with the correct functioning of the nerves, and so causing bad dreams. Others doubted whether the seers, who claimed to be able to identify thieves through peering in bowls of water or other reflecting surfaces, had any such powers, and were simply using common knowledge to put the blame on notorious thieves. And in contrast to what Marr apparently thinks, free market capitalism did not suddenly emerge in the 18th century with the French Physiocrats and then Adam Smith. In fact, some Christian theologians were arguing for free trade as far back as the thirteenth century.

As for free market capitalism benefiting humanity, the evidence today is that it really doesn’t. The neoliberalism ushered in by Thatcher and Reagan has done nothing but make the lives of the poor much poorer across the world, and in so doing has increased international tension and political violence. The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, shows how the strong economies of the world’s developed nations were all created, not by free trade, but by protectionism.

This is very clearly not something any true-blue Thatcherite wants to hear. But it also shows the strange, cult-like nature of the ideology of free trade capitalism. A number of writers have pointed out the apparently illogical, absolute belief its supporters have, even when they are shown the plentiful evidence to the contrary. They still go on believing and demanding free market solutions, even when it is abundantly clear to everyone else that not only do they not work, they are even causing immense harm. And Marr is clearly one of these true believers. He also seems to have uncritically accepted the view that science, reason and free market capitalism were all products of the Enlightenment, when academic historians have been pushing the origins of science and capitalism further back to the Middle Ages, and demonstrated that the Age of Faith was also one of Reason, however irrational it now seems to us.

Marr’s praise of the book and its promotion of the free market also gives more than an indication of his own political beliefs, and why he is much less sympathetic to left-wing guests on his show than those from the right. He’s another member of the cult of neoliberal market capitalism, and this has to be protected at all costs from unbelievers. Even when he and the Beeb swear impartiality.

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Libertarian Socialist Rants on ‘Why America Must Be Strong’

April 30, 2016

This is another excellent video by Libertarian Socialist Rants. In this piece, he takes apart a video made by the British Conservative historian, Andrew Roberts, for the Right-wing Prager University. Roberts tries to argue that American military power has been a force protecting and advancing freedom around the globe. American military intervention has been crucially important in defending freedom and democracy against the threat of Fascism, Communism and now militant Islam. Roberts further tries to argue that American intervention in the First World War was part of this campaign against Fascism, as the German Empire was a Fascist state. He then goes on to describe Communism as ‘Red Fascism’, and militant Islam as Fascism’s ‘fourth incarnation’. Libertarian Socialist Rants takes these arguments apart one by one.

He starts off by pointing out that in very many cases, America has not advanced the cause of freedom at all by installing in power brutally repressive, Fascist regimes on behalf of American corporations. As for Roberts’ subtly-worded association of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ with the American constitution, LSR shows that at the time it was written, the Founding Fathers were rich, White, slave-owners, and the Constitution included a clause stating that it should protect the opulent minority against the majority.

Roberts argues that Woodrow Wilson entered the First World War thanks to the Zimmerman telegram, which showed that Germany was going to extend the War to America by encouraging Mexico to annex Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The Libertarian Socialist argues that, to the contrary, America only entered the War when Germany proved to be a threat to American commercial interests. For example, much of Haiti was owned by German Corporations. It was only when the Haitians refused to pass a law allowing American corporations to buy up Haitian property, that America invaded and had the law passed at gunpoint. The Americans occupied the country for the next 19 years, during which tens of thousands of Haitians were killed.

Next LSR tackles Roberts’ contention that America stood up for freedom in joining the Second World War against the Nazis. He shows instead that the American elite and big business were pro-German right up to the Second World War, because Hitler was anti-Communist. He also makes the point that America is quite capable of supporting Fascist regimes when it suits them. He quotes the Spanish Anarchist Durutti, who said that when the bourgeoisie feel their power slipping away, they abandon democracy and support Fascism.

The Libertarian Socialist Rants doesn’t defend the USSR and Soviet Communism, because, as he says, he’s not a Leninist. However, Marxist Communism is not the only form of Communism. By this he means Anarchist Communism, such as that advocated by Peter Kropotkin. He also says that while the Soviet bloc was a threat, this was exaggerated by the country’s military-industrial complex.

He then goes on to tackle Roberts’ statement that America is busy defending the world against militant jihadi Islam. Roberts states that radical Islam hates democracy and Christianity, just as Fascism does. Here LSR states that while Mussolini hated Christianity, Hitler was brought up a Roman Catholic, and claimed Nazism was a Christian movement. In fact, the truth here is rather more complicated. Mussolini did hate Christianity, but signed the Lateran Accords with the Vatican, which gave the state of Italy official recognition by the Church in return for Roman Catholic religious education in schools. Hitler was indeed brought up a Roman Catholic, but hated Christianity and said in his Table Talk that he’d wanted to blow up the Mass with dynamite since the age of twelve. He did indeed tried to present Nazism as a Christian movement but Christians had the right to resign from the civil service if they thought their faith was incompatible with the Nazi regime. He also wanted Nazi atheists to infiltrate the seminars to bring down Christianity from within. Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi ideologue, was shifted away from power by Hitler because he was viciously anti-Christian. And in the eastern districts of the Reich the Nazis persecuted Christianity. However, it is also true that far too many Christians have supported Fascism because they saw it as a threat against Communism, materialism and atheism.

The Libertarian Socialist also points out that in many ways, America has vigorously promoted radical Islam. They supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviets, are close allies of the Saudis, who are hard-line Islamic fundamentalists, and in Pakistan they supported General Zia ul-Haqq. Zia pursued a policy of radical Islamisation, that has turned the country into a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. LSR also points out that America has actually increased support for Islamist regimes through supporting corrupt dictators like Saddam Hussein, and by bombing and invading Muslim countries. In the absence of secular forms of opposition, their rage finds expression in militant Islam.

He ends the video by arguing that war, corruption and exploitation are intrinsic functions of the state, and that only Anarchist movements by the workers, such as those in Spain during the Civil War, can truly be described as standing for freedom. This is the basic Anarchist view of the state. I don’t agree with it, but as the Libertarian Socialist shows, unfortunately there is no shortage of evidence to support it.

As well as being a serious, intelligent deconstruction of Robert’s lecture, the video is at time very funny. There’s particularly hilarious footage of a chinchilla or some other rodent, standing up on its hind legs and looking alarmed when the term ‘Communism’ is mentioned, which goes with the ‘bells and whistles’ the American system makes whenever Communism is mentioned.

I’ve reblogged it because it’s such an excellent demolition of Roberts’ arguments. Roberts is one of Britain’s leading historians, but after watching this, you start wondering why he believes this rubbish. As the Libertarian Socialist himself says, ‘Does anyone else feel they’re being brainwashed watching this?’ Yes, I think they do. Very much.