Category Archives: Book Reviews

JS Mill’s Cauldron Of Ideas

I’m reading a great Dorling Kindersley illustrated book on politics called…. The Politics Book

It’s an introduction to politics aimed at 16-18 year olds and is beautifully illustrated by James Graham. It is also got me thinking.

The section on John Stuart Mill says this:

“Even when societies received wisdoms were true, Mill argued that it was important to maintain a profusion of ideas – for a true idea to keep it’s vitality and power, it needs to be challenged and probed. This was particularly the case with ideas about society and politics , which can never attain the certainty of mathematical truths. Testing ideas is best done by hearing the views of those who hold conflicting opinions. If there are no dissenters, their views must be imagined. Without this discussion and argument, people will not appreciate the basis of even true ideas, which then become dead dogmas, parroted without any real understanding. Even correct principles of behaviour and morality, when they have been converted into barren slogans, can no longer motivate authentic action.”

In other words, No Dissent; No Democracy.

The section is introduced by this quote from Mill:

“That so few dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of our time.”

I would perhaps rephrase the quote to add that this in fact the chief danger of our species. As social animals being part of the group is far more important to most people than being an individual. Combine this with a pathological bourgeoisie fear of conflict and disagreement and we end up with the type of oppressive liberal consensus I posted about the other week, whereby those who dare to say things at odds with the current orthodoxy find themselves demonised, excluded and silenced. History is full of this sort of stuff of course and the social tyranny of the majority can be just as much a tyranny as that of a tyrannical state or capitalist corporation – especially when the outrage of the orthodox can be manipulated by state and corporate power to suppress those who resist that power.

Yet this phenomenon of social tyranny does provide a contradiction for people like myself to contend with. Indeed, this blog is explicitly framed to address this problem – how to reconcile our individuality and diversity with our natures as social animals?

My answer to this is that the only way I can be free is if we are all free, and that to be free does not mean simply to be free from constraint, it also means having equal access to the means of fulfilling our potential. i.e. I am arguing that freedom necessarily implies equal opportunity. I would also say that freedom does not just mean freedom from an oppressive state, it also means freedom from the exploitative and oppressive power of private capital.

Thus just like classic liberals I believe in the primacy of individual freedom but I believe my freedom can only be guaranteed as part of some form of an egalitarian society and I don’t see capitalism or entrepreneurial business as anything to do with freedom but rather as just another form of triumph-of-the-fittest tyranny, not really structurally different from the brutal aristocratic warlords and state Empire builders of previous eras.

In any society those who think and act in new ways (across science, culture, politics and social relations) provide a benefit to everyone (including conformists) because by being willing to take risks they ‘test’ new ways of thinking and doing and the resulting innovations in technology, thought and behaviour that prove to be useful and desirable can be adopted by everyone.

Thus for a healthy society, individuals should be free to think and act according to their own conscience (as long as they don’t harm others). Often this doesn’t happen because of the tyranny of the majority. Which leads to conformity and hampers the testing out of new ideas and ways of life.

Innovation and progress comes about through the thinking and actions of odd-balls, weirdo’s, rebels, radicals, nonconformists, malcontents, bohemians, punks, hippies, geeks, dissenters, nutters, outsiders, loners, mavericks and eccentrics – not conforming, middle class, middle-of-the-road, corporate ‘professionals’.

TRUE CRIME STORIES: SOME NEW LABOUR MEMOIRS

This is a review of the autobiographies of New Labour supremos, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and John Prescott, written by my UCU colleague and eminent radical historian, John Newsinger. It is an excoriating analysis of the self-serving texts that exposes the Thatcherite principles underlying New Labour.

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With David Cameron in power and a full-scale Thatcherite assault underway on the welfare state, working class living standards and the public sector unions, it is easy to forget just how rightwing New Labour was. Well, fortunately, two of the architects of New Labour, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, together with the man who served as their ‘Judas goat’, John Prescott, have rushed into print to remind us. The three memoirs are very different in tone. Prescott is pathetic, someone who has abandoned every principle he ever believed in. This was a small price to pay to become Deputy Prime Minister. And his career has culminated with this proudly working class man joining the ermine vermin and becoming a Baron. Prescott is not sure whether to be pleased with or ashamed of himself. Mandelson, another Baron, leaves the reader knowing as little about who he is, what be believes in and what he has been up to than he or she did before they opened the book. And then with Blair, one confronts full-blown megalomania. No House of Lords for him, he is one of the Masters of the Universe, an honorary member of the American ruling class. Continue reading

Excerpts from The Corporation by Joel Bakan

Here’s some extracts from Joel Bakan’s great book, The Corporation, The Pathological Pursuit Of Profit & Power (2004). The book accompanies the documentary film that covers the same territory. More analytical than Michael Moore’s stuff (which I also admire) it exposes the institutional nature of corporations and their reliance on the state. Continue reading

On The Meaning Of Class

I have been reading, The Meaning Of Socialism, by Michael Luntley. I was led to this because his brother, John Luntley, has been a dear friend of mine for over 40 years.

Michael is a professional academic philosopher currently teaching at Warwick University and specialising in Wittgenstein – so from my perspective it did not augur well!

But this book is a bit of a find. It’s very readable and accessible and makes some fascinating distinctions. It could also have been written yesterday as the Luntley’s vision of socialism is as fresh and relevant today as it was when the book was written in 1989. Continue reading

Culture And Class By John Holden – Book Review

I have just read Culture And Class, by John Holden, a pamphlet he has written for the British Council’s Counterpoint initiative.

I don’t want to ruin it for readers by hyping it too much but I’m afraid I can’t resist – this is without doubt the best analysis of the role of culture in British society I have ever read. Continue reading

On Capitalism And Freedom By Milton Friedman – Book Review

I have just read the anniversary edition of Milton Friedman’s, Capitalism & Freedom. I thought it was about time I delved into the theoretical source of the Free-marketeers self-serving ideology. To be honest I was quite nervous – what if Friedman is right? What if after all these years, this book was to reverse my political views through the logical and moral power of its argument? Continue reading

23 Things they don’t Tell You About Capitalism – Book Review

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, (Chang 2011) is written by Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang, who claims not to be an enemy of capitalism only the particular form of free-market hyper-capitalism that developed in the Anglo-American world since 1979. For a man who claims to be a supporter of capitalism he does a damn fine job of exposing the systemic weaknesses and logical inconsistencies that underpin the ideology. Continue reading