Category Archives: Rule of Law

Neonihilism and the Failure of Liberalism

Do the disaffected know what they want? Agency is one thing: leadership and direction is another.

Do the disaffected know what they want? Agency is one thing: leadership and direction is another.

Ross Douthat in today’s New York Times declares our time a crisis for liberalism, the left having ‘lost its way’, in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump. It’s been a popular theme. In 1969, Ted Lowi declared the end of liberalism, in favour of interest group liberalism, in part a kind of elaboration on Eisenhower’s theme of the military-industrial complex. The liberalism of which we speak has long been defined in terms of economics and economic goods, how the distribution of resources and the freedom that comes with fair access to those resources, can allow mankind to flourish. Friedman’s classic Capitalism and Freedom from 1962 defined the concept, which was ultimately routed in eighteenth century enlightenment thinking, and in particular the French Revolution. Its progression through International Law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the twentieth century brought at its end an essential global consensus: Liberal Democracy was it. This was the end of history. Continue reading

Trump/Brexit: Popular Legitimacy and the Rule of Law

Morten Morland's cartoon from The Times, November 4th.

Morten Morland‘s cartoon from The Times, November 4th.

The New York Times ran an editorial yesterday on what it called ‘a coup’ against the Supreme Court. The death of Antonin Scalia earlier this year, and the Republican Party’s refusal to entertain a replacement has rendered the previously nine, now eight judge court unable to resolve some important cases, split evenly as they are between four generally liberal and four generally conservative justices. The GOP Presidential Nominee, Donald Trump, has recklessly attacked other institutions in his scorched earth strategy that followed his poor showing at the debates, including the Military, the FBI, the President, the Federal Reserve, and the Media. Early on in the campaign, he attacked a judge who ruled against him, claiming the judge was biased because he was Mexican-American. He has threatened to jail his opponent if he wins, he has consistently attacked and undermined the electoral process itself, and encouraged voter suppression.  Every pillar of democracy in America has been weakened by Mr Trump’s candidacy whether he wins or not, and people love him for it.

Continue reading

The Political Philosophy of The Blockchain

blockchain-image

The blockchain is a computerised public ledger that assures contracts and other transactions. It could save us all!

Property, and – as philosophers might refer to it – the claim to possession and ownership of externalities, has long been a source of some disquiet. Jean Jacques Rousseau in the Second Discourse (The Discourse on Inequality) begins the second part with the dramatic opening line ‘[t]he first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society.’ Plato before him and Marx later both advocated collectivisation, but Rousseau was no communist. The reality of what man had become made such reconstruction impractical. Yet the concept of property has led to inequalities that threaten capitalist society. Slavoj Zizek suggested that ‘…today’s global capitalism [may] contain antagonisms which are sufficiently strong to prevent its indefinite reproduction…’ including what he called ‘…the inappropriateness of private property…‘ especially intellectual property. Rousseau’s prescription was The Social Contract, and the abstraction of the General Will, an investiture of political legitimacy in the sovereign.

Continue reading

The Idea of France

Delacroix's <i>Liberty Leading the People</i>

Delacroix’ Liberty Leading the People. She – Liberty – is so much more than the country: she is the ideal and the aspiration, the unadulterated guiding principle. Her path remains clear; but have the people stopped following her?

As Francois Hollande transitions from the bureaucratic administrator of the Fifth French Republic to a wartime leader in the latest instalment of the rolling war on terror, decisions are being made about France. The latest pronouncements – from overbearing surveillance measures introduced in the Summer in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings, to the most recent introduction of a three month state of emergency in order to deal with the Paris attacks – diminish democratic governance and accountability, in the short-sighted interests of expediency and national security. But this disaffected progression is not new; perhaps the January and November attacks were more overtly offensive than before, and appear more obvious inflection points, but we must go back ten years to the riots of 2005 to try and understand what is happening. Furthermore, the decisions being made today are not merely reflective of missteps taken in the past, but instructive as to the kind of France that is emerging for the future. And for France, we can read Europe, and Western Liberalism.

Continue reading

The Data Commodity: Fetish or Fiction?

Shoshana Zuboff

Shoshana Zuboff, Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School

Shoshana Zuboff’s ‘Big Other’ and ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ as Future Economic Models

Shoshana Zuboff’s recently published article on what she has termed Information Civilization is a compact and helpful analysis of the kind of internet economies that are emerging in the early twenty-first century. This blog post is a commentary on that text. She takes Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian as her foil, referencing his two articles Computer Mediated Transactions (2010) and Beyond Big Data (2013).

Continue reading

Drones and American Identity

Foreign Affairs Death from AboveDan Byman’s defence of drones in Foreign Affairs (July / August 2013) sets out the case for drones, a highly effective, low risk method of taking out terrorists.  The changed nature of terrorism, with its globalised, stateless, and highly distributed character certainly presents significant challenges to the defence of the realm.  There are advantages over conventional military options – air strikes, ‘boots on the ground’, covert operations – and, in particular, the speed with which weaponised drones can be deployed makes them far more flexible tools for the military.  The politics, Byman adds, can be tricky, but most governments within drone strike domains are tacitly acquiescent.

If the objective of the exercise is to defeat terrorism, or, rather, the immediate threat of terrorism, then Byman is right – drones are extremely effective.  However, he is wrong in not addressing whether they advance the long term strategic interests of the United States. He limits his discussion on this to the prospect that drones create more terrorists in people whose families are killed or injured, perpetuating the hatred that turns people against America.  The problems are deeper than that – and impact the core of who and what America is.

Continue reading

The Informal State

logo-undpI posted just yesterday about the Informal Economy described by Robert Neuwirth as System D, where it is projected that by 2020 two thirds of the world’s workers will operate.  That’s an economy almost entirely independent of the state, and the nation state structure.  It all harks back to the Industrial Revolution, which spawned Marxism and the labour movement, a movement that brought communism and great intellectual struggle.  We have to believe that within those workers there will be able leaders; English as a language is increasingly unifying peoples.  It could be an interesting century yet!

I mentioned in passing yesterday that ‘In Africa, many tribes operate … with their own systems of justice’, though I did not have a reference.  This morning, my attention was brought to a recent UN Development Program (UNDP) report entitled Informal Justice Systems.  In it, the report states that ‘…80% of disputes are resolved through informal justice systems in some countries’. The claim is based on research by Ewa Wojkowska .  The combination of the Informal Economy and Informal Justice is of course mesmerising.  If those two beasts can find some resonance with an Informal Security apparatus, then hey presto, you have a de facto State, but not one in the conventional family of nations, rather is it more like some globalised feudalism, a million miles from Manhattan.

Continue reading

The Assault on British Legitimacy

Passport_to_Pimlico_film

Scotland, Northern Ireland, maybe Wales? What about Pimlico?

The United Kingdom is under tremendous strain of late.  It may not appear to be at first glance, but considering the following points.

First, there is the long struggle as retrenchment from Empire finally reaches its apotheosis, and the multicultural misfit that has wracked both The Netherlands and France.  Legitimacy amounts to different things for each cultural grouping, whether that is the legitimacy of the police service (amidst allegations of institutional racism), or the problem with British Muslim representation.

Continue reading

Blurred Lines: Defining Terrorism

terrorist-watch-list

Careful now! (image credit News With Attitude)

Glenn Greenwald’s most excellent series on Security and Liberty in The Guardian addresses most recently the definition of terrorism, and in particular the case of a gangland shooting where a man called Morales shot and killed an innocent 10-year-old girl by mistake.  The State of New York convicted him of being a terrorist, defined by state laws as acting with ‘intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.’  The interpretation of the court was that Morales actions were designed to coerce the entire Mexican-American community, and were therefore terrorist.  On appeal, the court not only rejected the terrorism conviction, but also sent the entire case for retrial, as the standards by which terrorist trials were conducted were different to those of non-terrorist offences.

Continue reading

Tagged ,

Will The Legitimate Syrian Government Please Stand Up?

Bashar-al-Assad-310x233

Bashar Al-Assad: Time’s Up

A draft declaration from talks in Marrakech on the situation in Syria from the Friends of Syria has recognised the opposition as ‘the legitimate representative of the Syrian people’.  Which is nice for them, I guess.  Not so nice, one would presume, for the president of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad and his friends.  Syria has generally been on the wrong side of US foreign policy, and even when the US has needed its support, for example in the lead up to the Invasion of Iraq in 2003, the extent to which it was willing to court Syrian support was arms length and defensive.  President Obama’s declaration of support for the opposition coalition yesterday was not unexpected, and is likely to hasten the demise of the ruling family in Syria, which has been in place for over forty years.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: