Posts Tagged ‘The Church’

Democratic Socialist on Liberalism, Classical Liberalism and Fascism

November 6, 2017

I’ve blogged several times about the connections between the Libertarianism of Von Mises and Von Hayek and Fascism, and the 1970s Fascist coup in Chile led by General Pinochet, which overthrew the democratically elected Communist president, Salvador Allende. I reblogged a video the other day by Democratic Socialist, in which he showed that Pinochet, contrary to the claims made by the Von Mises Institute, was indeed a brutal dictator, and that his rescue of Chilean capitalism, threatened by Allende’s entirely democratic regime, was very similar to Hitler’s seizure of power in Nazi Germany.

In the video below, Democratic Socialist explains the difference between the Liberalism of the Enlightenment, and the ‘Classical Liberalism’ of Von Mises and Von Hayek, both of whom supported Fascist regimes against Socialism and Democracy. In Von Mises case, he served in Dollfuss’ ‘Austro-Fascist’ government, while his pupil, Von Hayek, bitterly denounced democracy, supporting the regimes of the Portuguese Fascist dictator Salazar and then Pinochet’s grotty dictatorship in Chile. Von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, claimed that a planned socialist economy was also a threat to freedom, and influenced both Winston Churchill and Maggie Thatcher. And the latter was a good friend and admirer of Pinochet.

The video begins with Democratic Socialist drawing a distinction between Enlightenment Liberalism, and ‘Classical Liberalism’. Enlightenment Liberalism was a revolutionary force which challenged the power of the feudal aristocracy and the clergy. It championed freedom of belief, the right to free speech and assembly, freedom of the press and the right to a fair trial. It also stated that people had a right to private property.

Von Mises, the founder of ‘Austrian economics’ and ‘Classical Liberalism’, declared that the essence of his political and economic system was private property, and was hostile towards both democracy and socialism because both appeared to him to challenge the rights of the owners of the means of production. Thus he supported Dollfuss during the Austrian Civil War, when Dollfuss suppressed the socialists and Communists with army. The video includes a clip from a British newsreel showing Austrian soldiers shooting at the houses in the working class suburb of Vienna, into which the Schutzbund – the ‘Protection League’ formed by the Socialists and Communists – had retreated following Dollfuss’ attempt to suppress them by force. The voiceover describes Dollfuss as ‘diminutive’, and a still from the footage shows an extremely short man in uniform surrounded by various uniformed officers. Which seems to add him to the list of other dictators of shorter than average height – Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Franco. The Nazis themselves were profoundly hostile to the Enlightenment. After the 1933 seizure of power, Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazis’ chief ideologist, declared that the legacy of 1789 – the year of the French Revolution – had been ended by the Nazi coup.

After the War, Von Hayek’s attacks on socialist planning in The Road to Serfdom led Churchill to make a scaremongering speech about Labour in the 1945 election. Socialist planning, the great war leader declared, was abhorrent to the British people, and could only be imposed through a ‘Gestapo’, which he had no doubt, would be very humanely carried out. The video shows two senior members of the Labour party, one of which was the former Chancellor of the Exchequer under Callaghan, Denis Healey, describing how horrified they were by this slur against people Churchill had worked so closely with during the War.

In fact, Churchill’s lurid rhetoric had the opposite effect, and encouraged more people to vote for the Labour party so that they won with a landslide.

The video goes on to cite the texts, which document how Von Hayek declared his support for Salazar in Portugal, stating that he would preserve private property against the abuses of democracy, and how he claimed that the only totalitarian state in Latin America was that of Salvador Allende. Who was elected entirely democratically, and did not close any opposition newspapers or radio stations. Democratic Socialist also shows that Thatcher herself was a profound admirer of Pinochet, putting up a quote from her raving about his dictatorship. He also states that Thatcher, like Pinochet, also used the power of the state to suppress working class opposition. In this case, it was using the police to break up the miner’s strike.

Democratic Socialist is right in general about Enlightenment Liberalism being a revolutionary force, but many of its leaders were by no means democrats. The French Revolutionary was also keen to preserve private property, and the suffrage was based on property qualifications. Citizens were divided into ‘active’ and ‘passive’ – that is, those who possessed enough money to qualify for voting, and those who did not. This was also true of the American Founding Fathers, who were also keen to preserve the wealth and privileges of the moneyed elite against the poor masses. The fight to extend the franchise so that everyone had the vote, including women, was a long one. Britain only became a truly democratic country in the 1920s, after women had gained the vote and the property qualification for the franchise had been repealed. This last meant that all working class men had the vote, whereas previously only the wealthiest section of the working class – the aristocracy of labour – had enjoyed the franchise following Disraeli’s reforms of 1872.

The British historian of Fascism, Martin Pugh, in his book on British Fascism Between the Wars makes this point to show that, rather than having a long tradition of democracy, it was in fact only a recent political innovation, against which sections of the traditional social hierarchy were strongly opposed. This was the aristocracy and the business elites. He states that in Britain the right to vote was connected to how much tax a man paid, and that the principle that everyone had an innate right to vote was rejected as too abstract and French. This distrust of democracy, and hatred of the forces of organised labour, that now possessed it, was shown most clearly in the upper classes’ reaction to the General Strike.

As for the other constitutional liberties, such as a free press, right to a fair trial and freedom of assembly, Pugh also states that the 19th and early 20th century British ‘Liberal’ state was quite prepared to suppress these when it suited them, and could be extremely ruthless, such as when it dealt with the Suffragettes. Hence he argues that the Fascists’ own claim to represent the true nature of traditional British government and values needs to be taken seriously by historians when explaining the rise of Mosley and similar Fascist movements in the ’20s and ’30s.

Democratic Socialist is right when he states that the Classical Liberalism of Von Mises and Von Hayek is Conservative, and supports the traditional feudal hierarchy of the aristocracy and church as opposed to the revolutionary Liberalism of the new middle classes as they arose in the late 18th and 19th centuries. But I don’t think there was a clear division between the two. British political historians have pointed out that during the 19th century, the Liberal middle classes slowly joined forces with the aristocracy as the working class emerged to challenge them in turn. The modern Conservative party, with its ideology of free trade, has also been influenced by one aspect of 19th century Liberalism, just as the Labour party has been influenced by other aspects, such as popular working class activism and a concern for democracy. Von Mises’ and Von Hayek’s ‘Classical Liberalism’ can be seen as an extreme form of this process, whereby the free enterprise component of Enlightenment Liberalism is emphasised to the exclusion of any concern with personal freedom and democracy.


Radio Programme Tonight on Bishop Grosseteste’s Medieval Big Bang Theory

June 14, 2017

Science Stories on Radio 4 tonight, `14th June 2017, at 9.00 pm is on ‘The Medieval Bishop’s Big Bang Theory’. According to the short description about it in the Radio Times, the programme’s presenter, ‘Philip Ball tells the tale of a medieval Big Bang Theory forged by Bishop Robert Grosseteste in the 12th century’.

Grosseteste was the 12th century bishop of Lincoln, and was one of the leading figures of the 12th century renaissance. As well as leading English churchman, Grosseteste was a pioneering natural philosopher. In his Hexaemeron, a theological and philosophical meditation on the first six days of creation, according to the story in Genesis, he worked out a theory that is surprisingly close to that of the modern ‘Big Bang’. In Genesis, the creation of the world begins when God separates the light from the darkness. Grosseteste believed that God had created the world beginning with a tiny point of light, which exploded outwards. Its expansion created ‘extension’, or space, and the material from which God subsequently created the material universe over the next five days.

A.C. Crombie, in his Science in the Middle Ages, Vol. 1: Augustine to Galileo (London: Mercury Books 1952) writes

The first important medieval writer to take up the study of optics was Grosseteste, and he set the direction for future developments. Grossetest gave particular importance to the study of optics because of his belief that light was the first ‘corporeal form’ of material things and was not only responsible for their dimensions in space but also was the first principle of motion and efficient causation. According to Grosseteste, all changes in the universe could be attributed ultimately to the activity of this fundamental corporeal form, and the action at a distance of one thing on another was brought about by the propagation of rays of force or, as he called it, the ‘multiplication of species’ or ‘virtue’. By this he meant the transmission of any form of efficient causality through a medium, the influence emanating from the source of the causality corresponding to a quality of the source, as, for instance, light emanated from a luminous body as a ‘species’ which multiplied itself from point to point through the medium in a movement that went in straight lines. All forms of efficient causality, as for instance, heat, astrological influence and mechanical action, Grosseteste held to be due to this propagation of ‘species’, though the most convenient form in which to study it5 was through visible light. (99-100).

This makes it sound very close to the modern theory that all the forces – gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces – were united at the Big Bang, and subsequently separated out from this primal Superforce.

Grosseteste was also one of the medieval writers, who first posited the Moon as the causes of the tides. The association between the Moon and the tides had first been made by the Stoic philosopher, Posidonius, who was born c. 135 BC. Crombie writes

Grossetest in the next century [following Giraldus Cambrensus in the 12th] attributed the tides to attraction by the moon’s ‘virtue’, which went in straight lines with its light. He said that the ebb and flow of the tides was caused by the moon drawing up from the sea floor mist, which pushed up the water when the moon was rising and was not yet strong enough to pull the mist through the water. When the moon had reached its highest point the mist was pulled through and the tide fell. The second, smaller monthly tide he attributed to lunar rays reflected from the crystalline sphere back to the opposite side of the earth, these being weaker than the direct rays. (126-7). It’s not quite right. The tides are simply caused by the Moon’s gravity acting on the oceans as a whole. Mist isn’t involved. Nevertheless, he was right in pointing to the Moon as the cause of the tides.

Which is more than can be said of Bill O’Reilly. Until recently, O’Reilly was the lead anchor on Fox News, Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing news network over in America. The host of the ‘O’Reilly Factor’, he specialised in right-wing harangues which occasionally ended with him insulting and screaming at his guests if they dared to disagree with him. He did this to the son of one of the firefighters, who lost his life in 9/11. The lad committed the unpardonable offence of saying that his father would not have blamed all Muslims for the attack, and would not have wanted America to go to war over it. This was too much for the veteran newsman, who screamed at the lad that he was a disgrace to his father, and then had him thrown off the show.

He also showed himself massively ignorant scientifically in an interview with the head of American Atheists, the atheist movement, which I think was set up and headed for years by Madalain Murray O’Hair. Trying to refute whatever point the man was making, O’Reilly seized on the notion of the tides as something that was scientifically inexplicable. There are clips on Kyle Kulinski’s Secular Talk and other left-wing news programmes of O’Reilly repeating, ‘Tides go in, tides go out, you can’t explain it’. All the while the lad looks at O’Reilly with a bemused expression on his face, and simply comments, ‘Perhaps its the mighty Thor’. O’Reilly, however, didn’t get the hint that he was being justifiably mocked, and so simply carried on with his daft refrain.

O’Reilly’s comments and use of the tides shows that O’Reilly knew precious little science, and that Grosseteste had a better idea of what caused it 900 or so years ago, in an age when books had to be copied out by hand and western science was beginning the recovery of ancient Greek and Latin scientific and mathematical texts and learning from the great natural scientists and mathematicians of the Muslim world.

Given O’Reilly’s massive ignorance on something I can remember being discussed in some of the text books we had at school, it’s no wonder that American scientists, educationalists and the general public are seriously worried by Trump’s attack on science education in America, and particular in his attempts to cover up climate change.

As for O’Reilly, he was sacked from Fox News a few months ago after his sordid and vile attitude towards women finally caught up with him. Like the head of the network, Roger Ailes, O’Reilly used his position to try to exploit women sexually. In the early part of this century he was forced to settle a case brought against him by a female colleague to whom O’Reilly had made an uninvited and very unwelcome sexually explicit phone call. This was followed by a series of allegations by other female journalists at Fox News of sexual harassment. This got to the point where the advertisers on the network got fed up, and started taking their custom elsewhere, at which point the veteran reporter lost his job.

Bishop Grosseteste, however, remains one of great figures in the history of western science. While many scientists would not share his religious beliefs, and would question the grounding of his scientific views in them, he is nevertheless important as one of the leading medieval scientists, who contributed to the foundation of modern science through his study of optics, mathematics and the natural world.

Chip Shops and Pubs Offering Meals to the Homeless at Christmas

December 24, 2016

Yesterday, Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece commenting on the decision by two brothers in Brum, Hamid and Asef Faqiri, who own the Classic Fish Bar, to open on Christmas Day between 13.00 and 16.00 to give free turkey dinners to the elderly and the homeless. They state that they want to help those in need and make the community happy. One of the brothers, Asef, remarked that he had seen a lot of homeless people, and always wanted to help.

While Mike welcomed the twos generosity, he also pointed out the obvious danger. That by doing something to help the poor, this would be used by the Tories to justify the government doing nothing. They’d try to argue that this is David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ at work, where private charity picks up the slack from government.

Mike makes the argument instead that we pay our taxes on the understanding that the government does everything in its power to make sure that citizens aren’t homeless and starving.

He concludes:

We don’t make that argument often enough and, in the Season of Goodwill, it might be more appropriate than ever to point out that very little goodwill is coming from Westminster.


I think there are a number of places doing this up and down the country. I heard that some of the Asian restaurants and take-aways in Cheltenham will also be doing the same, as will the Market Inn pub in Glastonbury, according to today’s Western Daily Press.

I completely share Mike’s views on this issue. What these places and the people who run them are doing is very commendable, but it runs into the trap of appearing to validate the Tories’ cuts and dismantlement of the welfare state. Maggie Thatcher began her attack on it back in the 1980s with the deliberate goal of reducing the tax burden and forcing people back on to private charity to support them. She believed it would strengthen religion, and particularly the churches, if people had to come to them for aid, rather than the state. Hence the eagerness of the Salvation Army to acquire government contracts for dealing with poverty, as well as the desire of so many of the corporate management types now running very many charities likewise to do so, while at the same time demanding that the government enact even more stringent policies against the poor, the unemployed and the homeless. For the grim details, go to Johnny Void’s blog and look up his entries on these issues.

It’s a nasty, cynical attitude to bringing people back to religion, and it many Christians believe it runs contrary to the teachings of the Bible and the Gospels. In the last of the series of Advent talks held at our local church on Thursday, the minister made precisely this point. Not that this would have had any effect on Maggie. When she gave a talk to the ruling body of the Church of Scotland back in the 1980s, expounding her view that people who didn’t work, shouldn’t get something for nothing, the guid ministers and layfolk greeted what she said with frowns and silence. It was obvious that they were very unimpressed. But it didn’t stop Maggie cutting welfare provision left and right.

So I heartily endorse Mike’s point. It needs to be repeated over and again, until someone in Westminster either gets the point, or is unable to drown it out and stop others from hearing it. If you want to see the drawbacks of this attitude, look at America. Americans are extremely generous in charitable giving. But there is a massive problem with extreme poverty in America, and one that is growing thanks to Reagan and corporatist Democrats like Obama and Killary. Private charity cannot adequately tackle poverty, no matter what Thatcher, Cameron, May and Iain Duncan Smith and Damian Green want us to believe. And this message needs to be hammered home, until the public very obviously turns away from the Tories and their lies.

Black Civil Rights Organisation Wants Moratorium on Academy Schools in America

August 18, 2016

The Black civil rights organisation, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) has attacked charter schools and demanded a moratorium on them. In this video from the Real News, the anchor, Jaisal Noor, talks to Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, a teacher, educationalist and blogger, who’s the head of the leadership in education programme at one of the American universities about the NAACP’s call for a ban. The charter schools are the American equivalent of our academy schools. They were introduced in 2001, and began to expand massively after Obama’s election in 2008 as part of his ‘Race to the Top’ education programme. The NAACP object to these schools on the grounds that they remove public control, enforce segregation and have punitive educational regimes. They also draw a comparison between the proliferation of these schools and the predatory sub-prime mortgage market which was partly responsible for the near collapse of the banking system in 2008.

This isn’t the first time the NAACP has criticised charter schools. In 2010 they made a statement that rather than promoting the expansion of these schools, more money should be given to improving existing public (state) schools in urban America serving Black communities. In 2014 the NAACP further condemned charter schools as part of the privatisation of education of education, and the wider privatisation movement. The demand for the moratorium on these schools was passed this year by a meeting of more than 2200 of the organisation’s delegates. Heilig states that this is a very reasonable position as when they were first introduced, charter schools promised more freedom and more accountability. They have instead gained more freedom and less accountability.

Noor responds by stating that for many Black parents in cities like New York and Baltimore, charter schools represent some hope of improving their children’s education over the dire state schools in their areas, but there are long queues of people trying to get in. He quotes a Black Democrat politician, Shivar Jefferies of Democrats for Education Reform as stating that they should be concentrating on fixing what is broken, and expanding what works. Heilig states that he has offered to debate Jefferies about charter schools in California or New York. Jefferies first accepted, and then declined. Heilig states that when you examine the statistics, the supposed advantages of charter schools melt away. He does agree with Jefferies, however, on the wider point that society has failed Black, Latino, Native American and other poor students deliberately. He states that American society has decided that ‘inequality is OK’. Where Heilig and Jefferies differ is in the way this is to be tackled. He points out that there are big corporations, like Wall Street, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation and many more behind the private control of education. Heilig says that this is where he differs with Jefferies. He and the others in NAACP would like community schools, and community-based charters, district charters and intergovernmental charters. He points out that people are upset with the creation of charter schools, because the free market system they are trying to use to improve schools – he gives the example of the ‘better house you buy, the better the school’, is the very system that has damaged the educational system in the first place.

He states that the key to change and improvement is offering more democratic control for parents in their local schools through community-based programmes. Heilig makes the point that if you look at the polls of what people want, they want less testing, higher quality teachers, and better courses. Those require resources. But the Supreme Court in Texas, however, decided that the $25,000 differences between classes for rich and poor is acceptable at school. This means millions of dollars in difference at the district level.

Noor also asks him about the statistics showing that children at charter schools perform extremely well, and so therefore charter schools are an educational improvement that should be further implemented. Heilig points out that there are some state schools that are also doing a great job. He also makes the point that the 2009 Credo study showed that 89 per cent of students at public schools performed exactly the same as those in state schools. Shivar Jefferies and the others in favour of charters schools don’t like that study, and prefer to quote another Credo study from 2015. This study, however, showed that in charter schools Latinos do 0.008 per cent better in reading, and Black 0.05 per cent. He states that the difference in performance is almost negligible. Furthermore, there are other methods in improving performance that are far more effective. These methods, which include reducing class size, can improve educational performance by between 1000 to 4000 per cent. He states that there’s no secret to what works, and you don’t need to go to countries with high standards in education, like Finland and Singapore to see that. You only have to go ‘across the tracks’ to rich neighbourhoods to see what resources are given to their schools, to see the kind of improvements that have to be made to the schools in poor neighbourhoods.

I’ve reblogged this because this debate is clearly very relevant to what’s happening over here with the academies Blair set up and which Thicky Nicky Morgan wanted to make universal. The system’s critics over here have pointed out that they are a part privatisation of education. The backers in Britain, however, tend to be second-rate businessmen. The leading businesses don’t want to touch them because they’re divisive. They are also very highly selective. A much larger proportion of students are expelled, or effectively expelled, from these schools, often for very trivial reasons. These frequently tend to be the poorer, or less intelligent students, the children the school would have problems with getting them through the exams. So they try to get rid of them by expelling them for supposed infractions of school rules. And discipline is also extremely strict. A few years ago a television documentary on the Vardy schools, set up by an evangelical Christian businessman, had humiliated pupils by refusing them to go to the toilet, even when they were in desperate need, and not allowing the girls to leave to change their sanitary towels. And there are also concerns that they’re socially divisive, especially as many of them are now under the control of the church or religious organisations.

Britain tends to look across the Atlantic to try to see what the Americans are doing in certain issues. This demand by the NAACP for a moratorium on charters/ academies, so that society can take stock of their impact, might have an effect in encouraging Black educationalists over here to follow and further demand a halt to their expansion in Britain. This would not only improve conditions for Blacks, but also for the poor White students that are also falling behind.

19th Century Liberals Not Democrats

April 13, 2014

Libertarians claim that they returning to the real Liberalism of the 19th century, while also claiming that they stand for true, individual freedom against the encroachments of the state. Yet historians have pointed out that in the 19th century, while Liberals fought for individual freedoms against aristocratic privilege and feudal oppression, they were not Democrats and feared the working classes. Peter Jones in the book The 1848 Revolutions (Harlow: Longman 1981) states

Liberalism in the nineteenth century was the belief that government should be carried on by means involving consent among the various sections of society or the nation. Liberalism’s intellectual justification was derived from eighteenth-century rationalism, which had attacked all forms of arbitrary power, particularly the power of kings. Liberals believed that the power of traditional institutions, such as the Church and the monarchy, should be restrained by institutions presenting the interests of society more generally and the aristocracy and the more wealthy sections of the middle class in particular. The liberal programme – government by parliament or representative assembly, freedom of the press and individual freedom – was most popular among the emerging classes of manufacturers, merchants and professionals, who saw the privileges of the Church and the most wealthy sections of the aristocracy as obstacles to their own economic and social betterment. Liberals, as distinct from those who preached democracy, believed in the sovereignty of parliament rather than the sovereignty of the people. Middle-class liberals regarded democracy with suspicion, since it was associated in their minds with the excesses of the First French Republic . Consequently middle-class liberals in both Britain and France advocated broadening the property franchise: ‘Vox populi, vox dei, which gives to the majority the infallibility of God … is the most dangerous and most despotic absurdity that has ever emerged from the human brain. If you want to ruin a state give it universal suffrage’, so claimed Odilon Barot, leader of the Dynastic Opposition in the 1840s.

This concern for the interests of the middle classes and the fear of democracy and the working class explains why von Hayek and Mises, the founders of modern Libertarian, were prepared to serve and give their approval to extreme Right-wing regimes – Dollfuss’ Austrofascist dictatorship in Austria, and General Pinochet in Chile. It also explains why sections of the Italian Liberal party actively co-operated with Mussolini and appointed him as a coalition partner. In this milieu, Pareto’s elitism, which stemmed from his belief in free trade, was merely part of a general distrust of the masses taken to its logical conclusion. And Fascism did gain support from the Italian middle classes for its support of liberismo – sound money, a balanced budget, free trade and private enterprise against the threat of Socialism and organised Labour. The same authoritarian mindset also explains why the Tory Democrats have supported highly authoritarian and illiberal initiatives by the Tories, like secret courts and the Gagging Law.

This fundamental authoritarianism is disguised, but nevertheless extremely strong in other areas of Right-wing ideology. The Neo-Conservatives of Bush’s administration considered themselves to be ‘Democratic revolutionaries’. Nevertheless, they believed strongly in limited the power of the state in favour of extreme laissez-faire economic policies. One Neo-Con politician interviewed on Adam Curtis’ series How We Lost Our Dreams Of Freedom, stated that the democracy they wanted to introduced was ordered to exclude state economic intervention. The NeoCons have even written their policies into the Iraqi constitution to make them unalterable. This policy no doubt influenced David Cameron in his statements that he would try to force subsequent governments to follow his policies even if the Tories lost next year’s elections.

For all their claims to represent individual freedom, Libertarians, as the self-professed heirs of 19th century Liberalism, share the same distrust of democracy and fear and despise the working class and organised labour. The freedom they espouse are those only for a very restricted class of the wealthy and privileged.