This is one largely for political antiquarians but it has its moments. Wilhelm Reich should need no introduction. These works, from 1929 to 1934, repr This is one largely for political antiquarians but it has its moments. Wilhelm Reich should need no introduction. These works, from 1929 to 1934, represent the culmination of his socialist experiment in exploring working class sexuality as a means to class liberation.
Reich was a Freudian and a Communist but found his views incompatible with closed and increasingly sclerotic systems of thought. His criticisms of both struck home and he was thrown out of both Party and profession in 1933/34.
The National Socialists had embedded themselves in Germany - the Freudians seeking a fruitless accommodation with Hitler and the Communists in denial about the reasons for their crushing defeat. Reich's critique were to the point but too inconvenient.
Reich had tried to do the impossible in those five years - to merge the scientific materialism of Marxism with the attempt at a scientific psychology by the psychoanalysts. The futility, of course, lay in the fact that neither was open-minded and so truly scientific.
Rather than explain one of the most fertile, unusual and ultimately influential minds in twentieth century thought, I must refer you to the full Wikipedia entry - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm... - and allow you to put what follows into its full context.
The book is certainly not an entertainment. The pamphlets, essays, provocations and the book that takes up the bulk of the text [The Imposition of Sexual Morality] are out-of-date intellectually and filled with jargon and theory from worlds long since discredited.
It is hard-going at times - especially in the 1932 book where the central section is an extensive review of anthropological research long since superseded in the academy and so unreliable as to both analysis and findings.
Having said that, there are insights into the gathering storm inside the Communist Party as it bureaucratised under Stalin and as the free thought of the 1920s began to collapse. Party discipline became enforced under the twin threats of economic breakdown and Hitler.
This aspect alone would not be worth the reading but in the final three pamphlets we have inklings of what would be Reich's more profound contribution to human liberation and its link to politics.
In 1932, he is still fighting his corner but by 1934 he can do little but burn his bridges with a coruscating and accurate critique of the failure of socialism in the face of fascism - a critique as pertinent today of left-liberalism in the face of national populism.
There are powerful insights to be derived from his practical work about what really matters to working class people and why, given the weight of history, they 'rationally' will walk away from socialism and choose fascism unless socialists change their tune.
It is the weight of history that matters - personal and private life, 'patriarchalism' (in its correct sense rather than the propagandistic light weight nonsense of modern post-Marxists) and sexual repression combine to push people to the devil they think they know.
His psychoanalysis is an investigation of the primal drives that express themselves as political choices - expressed more fully in his 1933 master work The Mass Psychology of Fascism. The Marxism is just the liberatory framework in which he wants to frame the findings.
His insights are, in fact, much 'bigger' than either of the two closed systems of the day. They survive formal abandonment of Freudianism and Marxism. What he has found are important correlations between sexuality and social and political attitudes.
His programme of liberation, started as the Sex-Pol movement in Berlin in 1927, was aborted by fascism, Stalinist bureaucratism, the paradoxical sexual conservatism of the Left (a quality in it to be found as much today as then) and war.
Nevertheless we should not forget that in the end it was liberal Americans, over-reacting to his late mental problems, who jailed him and burned his books. He was uncomfortable not just to conservative psychotherapists and sexually repressed Communists ...
Reich himself must be counted a failure of sorts - much like Leary - one who possibly did the cause of responsible sexual liberation no long term service (any more than did Leary responsible psychedelic use) but, without him, we might not even be discussing the subject.
A strange man, he was also intellectually brave and (I suggest) was limited only by his need to try and justify within sets of ideology (Science, Marxism, Freudianism) what, in fact, needs no such justification and which many of us now see as simply intuitively true.
Beyond the sexual aspects of the case, the final essays have other and often staggeringly to-the-point insights into political mobilisation - even if one can quibble with this or that suggestion or conclusion.
If the soi-disant Left ever came close to understanding some of what Reich, in his sometimes clumsy way, tries to tell them (and us) about engaging with the masses, with full respect for their own perspective, then it would not be in the mess it is in today.
Just as Communists' and Social Democrats' high seriousness, bureaucratism and talking-down to the masses were trounced by more emotionally canny Nazis with some real flair, so the same mistakes are being repeated today by left-liberal intellectuals and civil society.
As I write, the liberal-left is probably congratulating itself on the 'win' against liberal governments in getting migrants accepted into Europe. It appears to control the media agenda. But the larger mass has not yet spoken and come election time, it will.
Reich would have seen the potential for disaster here because the liberal-left has picked and chosen the identities that we are to privilege and yet has neglected to respect the identity (objective condition) of the indigenous working and lower middle classes.
There has been no strategy of engagement and political education, just an attitude of patronising self-righteousness about theoretically self-evident moral propositions. The liberal-left witters on about empathy but fails to enter into a dialogue on values with the masses.
Although 'rationally' the interests of the masses might be one with those of the migrants against the neo-liberal system, left-liberals have actually not explained why this should be so. The resentments of the masses may be primal and, if so, will out at some stage.
Reich's Politicising the Sexual Problem of Youth (1932), his long pamphlet What is Class Consciousness of 1934 and his short paper Reforming the Labour Movement all deserve careful study as relevant to current conditions.
There is also (in this edition) a rather worthy but inconsequential 1972 Introduction by Bertell Ollman which reminds one that the Marxists of the early 1970s, like the Bourbons, had learned nothing and forgotten nothing. ...more
Weale's micro-history of British treachery in Second World War Germany is a valuable contribution to the story. It is largely a monograph on the tiny Weale's micro-history of British treachery in Second World War Germany is a valuable contribution to the story. It is largely a monograph on the tiny British Free Corps within the Waffen SS, made up of chancers, petty criminals and inadequate lower middle class fascists.
The propaganda operations of the Nazis were so inept as to offer very little danger after the worst of 1940, the intelligence systems of the British outclassed the Abwehr and the tiny British Waffen SS unit probably diverted more Nazi resources than was useful to them.
On this basis, he tells something of the story of the Englishmen (including the American William Joyce re-classed as English when it suited him and the authorities) who broadcast radio propaganda, of the highest ranking traitor John Amery and a number of eccentrics.
Weale also gives us some good basic grounding on the history of the SS and the PoW system in Germany and insights into the ramshackle German bureaucracy and the chaos of the last days of the Nazi Empire which Ian Kershaw has recently covered brilliantly in 'The End'.
Three things strike one immediately about this story. The most obvious is just how few British (compared to those who flocked to the Nazi banner from occupied Northern Europe in the war on 'Bolshevism') made the journey to active treachery in a war of ideologies.
This was not for lack of Britons on German soil because the PoW camps were full of poorly fed, bored and beaten men yet these men stayed solid and the attempt to recruit from them was largely a disaster, partly but only partly due to German lack of imagination.
The complement of the BFC was always well under 30 men, fluctuating and virtually useless for combat until the last days of the Russian assault on the German heartland when a few men (though not many) acquitted themselves well enough.
The solidity of British resistance to inclusion within the Nazi game was a sign of many things - the fascists were never important in pre-war Britain and soldiers felt they were defending both a homeland and an empire against a traditional and presumptous enemy.
Weale does not mention this but many of those same soldiers would go on to vote in a Labour Government in 1945 while the code of honour of the officer class extended down the ranks to all but the criminal and the extreme oddball. Yet few of the razor gang boys joined up.
In the end, the Germans only got the chancers, the desperate, the seriously odd oddballs and individual criminals (one or two of them particularly unpleasant characters) and acquired no-one equivalent to (say) the tragic General Vlasov.
Then there is the chaos more than terror of Nazi rule. One may be surprised at just how relaxed the Germans were (probably because of the need to protect the propaganda asset of the BFC) about the indiscipline, incompetence and unreliability of the unit.
The book tends to confirm my own theory that war is chaos far more than order and it is the chaos that allows the classic sociopath the free rein that he (or she) cannot have in the ordered society of peace time.
Finally, there is the insight into British justice which seemed to have a typically class-based edge. The higher the ranking person, the more likely they were to be executed 'pour encourager les autres', regardless of the actual nature of their crimes.
A degree of injustice was done in the case of Joyce who was the target of a media-driven witch-hunt to bring down the one person the public could identify as a traitor because of his broadcasts but I doubt whether there will be many campaigns for his posthumous pardon.
Amery, an unstable but not unintelligent fascist, was also executed as the most prominent and potentially important future quisling. To his credit, he (and Joyce) died with considerable dignity. Amery even managed a witty quip to the executioner Albert Pierrepoint.
The rest - one or two of whom were seriously murderous criminal characters - got off with life sentences that were not life sentences (another classically English judicial trick) and were quietly buried in disgrace, no doubt watched by MI5.
The mildest judiciary was the South African which, given that the few South African traitors had strong racialist views underpinning their pro-Nazi stance, may not surprise.
A worthwhile book, more a footnote to history with insights than offering any major shift in interpretation, enhanced somewhat by the fact that the author has worked in military intelligence and understands its ways and compromises.
Like any good soldier, Weale is humane. He makes the point that the death penalty (now no longer applicable in the UK but applicable in extremity when the book was published) is far too blunt an instrument for dealing with the sort of person who commits treason.
What is interesting is how easy-going the authorities could be unless they saw a clear or present danger or the mob was baying for action and Parliament might have to be assuaged. There is an eighteenth century feel to the use of treason as weapon against feared disorder.
It is certainly disappointing to see the Labour Attorney-General Hartley Shawcross pandering to that mob in the Joyce case but a sacrificial hanging is what the people wanted and that is what they got. ...more
We recently reviewed a book from the left of the trades union movement, written twelve years ago, to see what insights it might give us into the curre We recently reviewed a book from the left of the trades union movement, written twelve years ago, to see what insights it might give us into the current (2015) UK General Election - https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
This is a similar exercise but the review takes place after an 'unexpected' (to the sort of pundit who writes these sorts of book) Conservative victory and amidst a renewal of ideological infighting inside the Labour Party that lost power in 2010.
This is a lesser book than Andrew Murray's account of trades unionism but still useful. Written in 2001, this edition is a 2002 'update' although the final part merely shows a rushed attempt to ensure decent paperback sales.
Fortunately, James Naughtie has contained his tendency to develop rhetorical 'cadences' after the introduction so you get broadly straight reporting of the political history of the relationship betwen Blair and Brown through to the beginning of their second term.
Naturally, this book will tell you nothing about the central event of the second term, the divisive Iraq War, nor the bulk of that term, nor the third term and Brown's succession and brief rule in which his plans were thrown into the air by the damaging Crash of 2008.
The period of rule from 1997 to 2010 was remarkable by any standards. Its 'true historie' has yet to be written but this book gives us insights into the political phenomenon of New Labour through observing the twin leadership just beyond the point of reaffirmed power in 2001.
One does suspect that, writing contemporaneously as a journalist relying on interviews rather than as a historian with access to papers, Naughtie is giving us a convenient narrative to create meaning rather than giving us the absolute truth of the matter.
Sometimes the story seems a little to pat, too much like the morality tale much beloved of newspapermen that fails to take into account the messiness of life and the complexity of people. I would not take the story over-seriously and there are occasional errors.
For example, no one expected the massive landside in 1997 - I was there, in the Labour Party system, and the general expectation was of a majority of around or up to 50. This expectation is important because if you do not understand it, you do not understand the politics.
The point was that, in 1997, New Labour was not quite a done deal. The majority made it a done deal - for the moment. Before 1997, Blair was anticipating have to draw in the 'soft' Left (about 50 active MPs) to counter the 'hard' Left (about the same).
Note the numbers - which was why MPs like Fatchett and Hain were suddenly seen on platforms in the last days of the election and why Hain was fast-tracked into the higher ranks of the Government where he was to stay.
If you know this, then the talks with the Liberals become less some ideological obsession of Blair's and more a case of practical politics for him that, a politics that would be intrinsically less attractive to Prescott (whose power increased with the power of the soft Left) or even Brown.
The Liberals were simply no longer necessary as it became clear that New Labour had established itself within the Party and that, though reduced, decent majorities could be had from that point on and, more to the point, by then, the Hard Left was practically defunct.
The real story of the national politics of this period is the systematic destruction of the old Left (which wholly failed to take advantage of public concern at the warrior mentality of the Prime Minister) and the eventual containment of the trades unions.
By 2003 (after this book ends), New Labour was paramount so that, in 2010, when a new Leader had to be elected only the heirs of the two founders of it could realistically contest its leadership - and they happened to be brothers!
Where the book is far more useful and well worth reading today is in the Scottish origins of the power struggles within the Party and what we begin to see is just how dependent and how related to Scottish politics was New Labour.
Think about this - after another Celt [Kinnock] departed, the next Leader was Scottish [Smith], his successor was educated in Scotland [Blair], the dominant economic figure [Brown] was Scottish and the leader of the Soft Left was Scottish [Cook].
Naughtie, a Scot himself, gives us a picture of a Party always looking sideways at its dominance of the sister nation to a complacent England and he tells us much about the debates over the Union and devolution that led to the victory of the proponents of the latter.
These debates have proved central to the plight of the Party today. Elsewhere - http://positionreserved.blogspot.co.u... - we have argued that, as a coalitional party, the loss of Scotland is highly dangerous to it.
That loss, made manifest a few days ago, was written into a script that Naughtie outlines for us but which, perfectly reasonably, he could not follow through to a predictive conclusion.
Cook argued that Labour should stick by the Union. Brown argued for devolution as a concession that would stop the SNP in its tracks and preserve Labour hegemony. Brown won but ended up arguing for Union against a near-run Independence Referendum over a decade later.
While the 2014 Brown won his battle within devolution, his Party lost the war and, in losing Scotland, they lost the motor for the social justice modernisers that he represented.
With Balls losing his seat, Miliband having to resign as Leader and the 2008 Crash looming over Brown's prudential redistributive strategy, the Brown vision of the Labour Party as responsible governors of the Union is all but dead.
Meanwhile, the Blairites are still standing and ready to demand a return to the Radical Centrism of the Blair era, perhaps not understanding that Cameron has already stolen that territory and is ready to expand on it with five years to do it in.
The last fully English leader of the Labour Party before Milliband and the temporary incumbencies of Harriet Harman (metropolitan intellectuals) was Michael Foot and he also was a Hampstead intellectual. We do not count the temporary incumbency of the capable Margaret Beckett.
If you look at the history of the Party, its leaders were almost entirely Scottish from 1908 to 1932 (with one brief year under the forgotten Clynes). From 1932 to 1983, they were exclusively English.
Scottish socialism ideologically drove the Labour Party disproportionate to the population but proportionate to its role as 'work shop' of the Empire but a national Party was strong when it was seen to be British, meaning in reality able to appeal to the English working class.
The strategy of dumping the English worker in favour of identity groups of which the biggest is women (who refuse to be corralled in this way) but which also includes ethnic minorities and LGBT is not unconnected to this withdrawal from 'England'.
The more recent return to Scottish dominance suggests that Labour was indeed losing its base in the south while simultaneously, as New Labour, appealing to its prejudices.
But the appeal was always form and not substance. It thus strikes this reader that 2015 was an accident waiting to happen and Naughtie's earlier chapters provide valuable background here.
So what of the main subjects of the book - Blair and Brown and their rivalry? We have already intimated that the journalistic narrative demands that the rivalry be talked up.
I have to say that I find this over-done - this partnership lasted many decades and, though no doubt it had its frustrations and serious squabbles, the core of it was sustained, albeit as rival and often childish courts.
The secret to New Labour power was compartmentalisation and containment. Blair's political genius lay in containing centres of power (such as trades unions or the political Left in Parliament) in order to give himself total freedom where it interested him to be free.
It just so happened that he really was immensely bored by economics once he had laid down the general rules of 'aspiration and inclusion' (in David Miliband's phraseology) and happy to have Brown sort out boring interdepartmental squabbles over resourcing.
In return, when he decided to strut on the world stage or offer us 'aspiration and inclusion' homilies, the alternative centres of power in Parliament and the Party had nothing to say because they were so busy protecting the feudal estates granted them by his Majesty.
The secret to New Labour is that it moved from being a truly federal Party with competing centres of power creating policy through struggle (but making itself increasingly unelectable) to a feudal Party, headed by a Sun King and his Court, only interested in the sinews of war.
The fact that the succession was disputed by two brothers only makes the feudal analogy more appropriate. The Kingdom is now, accordingly, riven by rebellions (Scotland) and no doubt 'assassinations' and 'plots and counter plots'.
The character of Brown is well drawn in this book, possibly because Naughtie as a Scot, has a better feel for his origins and culture than many others.
He comes across, I think truthfully, as a serious and moral if difficult man with a genuine concern for poverty and social justice. He is also a pragmatist (a curse word on the Left) who sees, rightly, that poverty alleviation must depend on sustainable resources.
Blair is another kettle of fish and my attitude changed to him as I read the book. He really is the cuckoo in the Labour nest and it is staggering that even the desperate post-Kinnock Party allowed this man to rule it in a deal with the devil.
At one level, there is something of the likeable rogue about him with a refreshing lack of seriousness about politics as understood by most activists, who wears his undoubted intelligence lightly and just wants to enjoy himself in office.
Where one starts to worry is where one should worry - his stealthy introduction of communitarian religiosity into a party of the secular Left that always had plenty of room for Catholics and Methodists alike but which, while respecting them, did not let them dictate the terms of policy.
Naughtie does not cover the later stages of this proces domestically - the earnest entry of faith-based interests into higher councils, the careful attempt to cover up faith in the Leader himself except when it suited, the link with American religiosity, multiculturalism as cover for excessive tolerance of illiberal communitarian practices.
He is also not good on the link between the messianic visionary stance of New Labour concerned with extending values globally (Brown has a similar distracting focus on global debt when he should perhaps have been concentrating on his own people) and war.
Both men took the internationalism that was always part of the socialist message, removed the core 'national' socialist element, and turned it into two very different 'crusades' for values - social justice in the case of Brown and liberal politics in the case of Blair.
Brown was more justifiably socialist, this is true, but both became part of something bigger, an expansion of values by an entirely different sort of hegemon, the global hegemon in Washington.
Although fully backed domestically by considerable constituencies that Cameron has had to court - the liberal internationalists in the NGOs and churches and authoritarian national militarists - both men looked not to native but to Atlantic traditions.
Naughtie brings this out but perhaps fails to inquire more deeply into how this came about and what it meant in terms of the pre-2008 drive towards Western hegemony that seems to be collapsing around us as we write.
Brown's politics seem to have been based on a life-long love for the progressive Democrat tradition (which, of course, was never a socialist tradition but one of moderated state-managed capitalism), forgetting that the UK and the US are entirely different societies.
Blair's values of freedom extension as markets, rights and democracy (and to be fair to him, he really does hold to the rights of people previously second-class in Western politics like gay people, minorities and women) soon became identical with neo-conservative ideology.
This Atlanticisation of the Labour Party which started in earnest under Kinnock in the general fascination with Clinton's victory in 1992 alongside the Europeanisation that started with Delors Speech to the TUC in 1988 re-orientated the Party back from 'national' social democracy to 'international' social liberalism.
This is not to say that the US State Department and NATO-driven Atlanticism have not had a powerful influence over the Labour Right since the 1940s but only that this was the first time that the link was out in the open and dominant, proud of its Presidential links whether Democrat or Republican.
Under Blair, it would be almost unthinkable that a British Labour Prime Minister would decline to support the US in an operation overseas as Harold Wilson did over Vietnam.
This is the importance of the Syrian vote in Parliament when the Labour Party and the nationalist Tory Right combined to call a halt to a similar adventure but only because a relatively weak leader actually bothered to listen to public opinion and his own Party.
As a 'sotto voce' aspect of the recent Labour failure, alongside the growing resistance to metropolitan liberalism and multiculturalism, we may add a growing sense that it is time for British politicians to attend to British (perhaps English in some quarters) interests.
Otherwise, the book is a useful reminder of the events of the first five years of New Labour rule. As the years pass, its lustre fades. It appears to be more show than substance but it leaves one big question unaddressed by Naughtie and his class - a fundamental question.
How is it that we still have a system (and this could apply to much of the Western world) in the Twenty First Century in which the destiny of some 64 million human beings are in the hands of what amount to coup-mongers within one or two organisations (political parties).
The Labour Party contains 190,000 members (the other parties less) but these members have little say over policy. Incredibly small groups of people conspire and collaborate to acquire power and hold on to it.
That two men in a restaurant can carve up a candidacy or two brothers be the only persons deemed fit to lead a 'great party of state' strikes me as a sign of decadence.
The decadence of New Labour is unspoken in this book because Naughtie is part of the elite group that loves the narrative, loves the soap opera and is not paid to question deeply what is presented before him.
As with all such books, enjoy the story if you are of that type but try to go behind what is being said and start asking some questions for yourself about whether this system is any longer fit to rule a country of such size and (still) world importance.
Still, we now have five years of a relatively strong Government (good) without a massive majority (good) based on 51% of the House of Commons (331 seats) but 36.9% of the vote in which only two thirds of the eligible voting population participated.
Labour meanwhile got 36% of the seats on 30.4% of the vote so it might be in a tail spin but it has not crashed yet. Yet, in 1945, the national turnout was 72.4% and Labour got 393 seats and 47.7% of the vote.
The New Labour experiment clearly failed to sustain the triumph of 1997 and it might be interesting to ask why. Simply blaming Ed Miliband is always going to be an evasion. ...more
The idea is a good one - to get 50 sets of political scientist and 'expert' to produce short four-page summaries of their research as a reference poin The idea is a good one - to get 50 sets of political scientist and 'expert' to produce short four-page summaries of their research as a reference point for those interested in how democracy works.
However, we are probably told more about contemporary late capitalist democracy by the fact that a trite 51st contribution has been added on sex and politics to help with the title and the sales.
In fact, the whole is not going to be particularly enlightening except for political nerds and perhaps for professional manipulators without the time or energy to go and search out the relevant papers.
It confirms, of course, that British democracy is a pretty ramshackle business in which a huge class of parasites seeks to manipulate their favoured ones into power but we knew that anyway.
The contributions strike this reader as academically sound if uninspiring. Once or twice we find normative positions creeping in, as they do, by the academic back door - mostly liberal-left.
What more is there to say. We are expected to accept this political system as the 'least worst' option on offer. Clearly large numbers of people can get just as excited about it as trainspotters can about their hobby.
Personally, I don't think this is good enough. The total system, at the end of the day, is a huge circus designed merely to give gloss and guide to a bureaucratic State that still holds all the reserve power.
In that context, there are few insights in the book that really matter although the discussion on reducing the voting age to 16 made me think again about the complexities and fairness to the kids.
Similarly, the 'bourgeois' nature of ethnic candidates in British Elections should (but won't) raise questions about class and the con-trick perpetrated on the masses by left-wing identity politics.
Yes, the book is informative but in a confirmatory way to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear the political process as we see and hear it every day. Maybe that, in itself, is useful.
I wil be giving my copy to a political activist friend of mine and leaving it to him to do the dirty work from now on. Activists will, I am sure, find useful nuggets in the book.
Meanwhile, the format could be used to good effect in covering more substantive issues - class, gender, ethnicity, media conduct, the nature of the State and then latest research in 'real' science.
I will not lie awake at night expecting a publisher to deliver what is really needed - political education on substantive issues related to actual policy rather than the fluff involved in fooling large numbers of people into participating in a spectacle that does very little for them. ...more
This book takes the story of the House of Saud and of Saudi Arabia only up to 1979 and Juhaiman bin Muhammed Utaibi's crazed attempt to seize the shri This book takes the story of the House of Saud and of Saudi Arabia only up to 1979 and Juhaiman bin Muhammed Utaibi's crazed attempt to seize the shrine at Mecca but it remains valuable.
The authors seemed to think in 1980 that the 'regime' had little chance of long term survival, yet here we are, thirty five years later, with the Kingdom still an arbiter, if not the arbiter, of much Middle Eastern politics despite intensifying liberal distaste for its system.
The book falls into two natural parts - an exciting narrative history that takes us from the origins of the Saudi State to the removal of King Saud and then a much more plodding story of the 1960s and 1970s that, at times, is like reading Keesing's Contemporary Archives.
The early narrative history (and perhaps the story of the attempted seizure of the shrine towards the end) now seem more relevant than the tortuous business of becoming an oil power and finding some way to solve the Palestiniam problem (a failure) without destroying the global economy and inviting US military intervention (a success).
I have never liked the primitive demonisation of the Kingdom which tends to come from rather thick ideological fanatics whose hysteria is carefully fanned by the Israeli lobby but it is clear that the Dynasty has had to learn by doing in an amazingly short period of time and that this has inevitably meant errors of judgment.
The charge of Saudi Arabia being a wahhabi fanatic regime has never really stood up. It is a Government that took modernisation rather for granted up until 1979 and then found that it had to row back towards traditionalism in the subsequent decades precisely because of the shock of the attack on the Holy Places.
What the book does not tell us is what happened next as the US and the Saudis found common cause against Communism in the Reagan era and both jointly made dreadful mistakes that were still being compounded as late as last year (2014).
It is not Saudi Arabia that stands as 'villain' here but a somewhat disturbing dialectic between a US that has morphed into its own form of ideological fanaticism under the fateful gaze of the players in its increasingly plutocratic domestic politics and a Kingdom trying to manage traditionalism and consistently failing because it is not dealing with its central core.
This central core is not what it appears to be - that is, some religious revelation - but a sustained revolt by traditionalists whose essential ideology is anti-imperialist and anti-Western and which is now fuelled by hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised and poor young men (and women). The female commitment to radical traditionalism was there in Mecca in 1979 and it is still clearly present in the story of Islamic State - a very inconvenient truth to liberatory liberal feminists. Nothing is ever simple in the Middle East.
To read the early narrative in this book is to understand better the roots of the current crisis - the betrayals of Arab aspirations by an arrogant British imperialism, the shift of a people who could know serious hunger as late as the 1940s into the super-wealthy without the time to prepare and the failure of the US to maintain its own anti-imperialist stance after 1945 and become a tail wagged by a Congressional dog on a tight Zionist lead.
In this context, the achievement of the House of Saud in managing to survive, modernise the Arabian Peninsula (albeit inefficiently) and avoid destabilising the Western economy in which it has its own portfolio investment stake is more remarkable than the failures.
Western liberal fanaticism, directed at pushing this elite, whose alleged corruption is not always what it appears to be when one sees how funds are disbursed to feudal followers in order to maintain stability, deeper into a hole dug by modernisers and traditionalist loons alike, may be a major own goal for the West.
The time when a democratic revolution would have handed over the Kingdom to secular modernisers whether socialist or Baathist is over. A bungled military coup in the 1960s simply showed just how under-developed the country was at that time. This coup might not have been pro-Western but it would have been 'manageable' as most revolutionary regimes became manageable in the subsequent decades.
What might erupt now with a standard issue colour revolution, not just as Sunni traditionalism but Shia rage at their historic oppression (a major error of judgment by the dynasty for half a century), would simply turn this country into another blood-soaked Syria and then probably spread to the other Gulf States. The effect on our economies would be interesting to say the least.
The Yemen has already got to the point where US Embassy personnel are having to scuttle ignominiously and the apparent victors are no friends of the Kingdom or the West. So many opportunities have been lost in a confluence of incompetencies and malignities but the Saudis themselves are only one part of the problem and not the worst of it by any means. Look to our own elected and career officials before throwing stones at Saudi windows.
In a sense, we Western liberals (the ones with brains instead of hearts on sleeves) really have nowhere to go now except to hope that the Dynasty remains strong enough to reform in the general direction of a Muslim rule of law and that it has finally learned its lesson about the sort of people it throws money at.
One model for understanding what has happened is that of the barbarian and the empire. The radical traditionalists are steppe barbarians (not far from the reality insofar as their extremism comes from a nomadic Iron Age base) and Riyadh is Rome or Chang'an under the Tang.
There are only three strategies in such cases - buy the bad guys off, crush the bad guys with punitive expeditions or duck and dive between the two and suck the barbarians into civilisation. The first is what the Saudis have had to do, more than they should, because of their limited population resources and administrative capacity. The third is what they should have done or perhaps are trying to do even now but it takes time and time is not what the dim-wits in Congress or the liberal media are going to give them.
The second option would require the massive intervention of the West as not much more than Saudi Arabia's political mercenaries (more so than was tried in Afghanistan, arming Saudi fanatics using Saudi money). The political risks of this for Western Governments can be seen in the hysteria of its populations at a few European shooting incidents. The killers genuinely believe they are merely taking the war home but that is another story.
There is not much more to say other than that armchair whiners about wahhabis should start reading books like this and try to understand the history of and constraints within the Saudi polity. By all means encourage liberal reform but accept that this is the devil we have come to know and that our economies and security require the Kingdom's survival.
A Saudi anti-traditionalist middle class is already emerging and it is increasingly managing to develop an incipient Saudi nationalism alongside a desire for liberal change. In time, this class will be the decider of fates and this is where it will get interesting.
Either the House of Saud will follow the path of the British Monarchy which it so admires and transfer authority to the population in a series of calculated steps or some split in the ruling order at some stage in the future will trigger the classic stages of a bloody revolution - the nice liberals soon being eaten up by the less nice radicals.
We'll see but now is not the time to destabilise the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - not unless you are a radical liberal with the mental capacity of a bath sponge. ...more
[This review is dedicated to the anarchist and occasional friend Steve Ash who sadly died last year. This book meant a great deal to him.]
Wrongly sold [This review is dedicated to the anarchist and occasional friend Steve Ash who sadly died last year. This book meant a great deal to him.]
Wrongly sold as science fiction, this is an anarcho-libertarian bit of mischief mashing up some serious indirect philosophy and psychology with popular cultural memes, conspiracy theory, erotica, the occult and a lot of dated political satire.
It is so deliberately occult in places as to become occasionally (and ironically) a bit pompous, much like its 'hero' Hagbard Celine, the Captain Nemo of the story. The satire is somewhat jaded and the three novels taken together are too long and sometimes over-written.
But, having said this, the book is mostly a great deal of fun and, once you get used to the technique of having apparently disconnected tales flow into each other without any clear sign that the narrator has changed, easy enough to get through.
It is a classic text because it introduced into popular culture an entire alternative way of thinking about the world which, though sometimes as absurd as the 'morning of the magicians', is genuinely liberatory and, ultimately, 'true' or 'as true' as anything else.
We have to remember the time when it was written - the depressingly reactionary period in early 1970s America that emerged in response to the counter-cultural liberatory aspects of the 1960s.
Yes, the 1960s were an era of unorganised narcissism whose final result was Hillary Clinton but, in that specific context, Shea and Anton Wilson provide us with a cogent popular explanation of why anarchic narcissism may be the only appropriate response to authority.
The themes in these book - Lovecraftian, erotic, science fiction, conspiracy, new age - have, for better or worse, embedded themselves in the minds of those who will not accept that state authority is anything other than oppressive.
In this respect, the seeds laid by Shea and Anton Wilson in the 1970s act as counterpoint to those laid by Saul Alinsky, as alternative democratic sub-socialist and anarchic sub-libertarian responses to Leviathan, the State - or rather to Man's determination to submit.
The dominant model of political organisation in relation to the American State on the American Left is a sort of 'femininised' or beta male baring of the arse in order to be buggered in the hope that eventually the old beast will die and the buggered beast will inherit.
The anarcho-libertarian model seems to abandon all notions of Right or Left (which confuses the traditionalists of the Left) and laud the trickster, freethinker, pirate and even criminal against the very notion of order.
It is a view of human nature as good in the very end - or at least as less bad than when it is in under orders. The politics may be questionable but the psychological and philosophical insights are less so, even if presented in quasi-Zen parables and obfuscatory occultism.
The Trilogy (and the 'serious' Appendices, with no more 'truth' in them than any other part of the books) offers us versions of a number of theories questioning the reality that we create out of our sense perceptions and, in particular, social reality.
This questioning of social reality will last far longer than the political satire and the book's somewhat stock appropriation of cultural memes, such as Lovecraftian monsters and Nazis waiting to rise to make blood sacrifices to 'immanentize the eschaton'.
The book is justified by its bringing these thoughts about social reality subliminally to thousands of young people in every generation although, sadly, for every one who gets it, ten or a hundred will not and cease to be as functional in their own interest as they might.
Many observers have not noted that, as a book of constant paradox, the Trilogy, with its twists and turns has inherent fascistic aspects too - the elite eroticism, the leadership principle underpinning Hagbard, the cyclical views of history, the appropriation of traditionalism.
There is also implicit in the vision a disturbing sense of history as elites manipulating masses but without any real outrage being expressed - the Discordians seem simply to wish to play in the game on equal terms, disrupting the forces of order to restore 'balance'.
In this world view, there is still a hierarchical view of humanity. The masses could have their eyes open, and the Discordians devoutly wish that this would happen, yet a deep conservative pessimism in the game players leads them to accept that it will not.
The clever trick played in the book is that the naive reader who thinks he has 'got it' is really being manipulated into the false belief that, because he has 'got it', he is now part of the same elite that gave 'it' to him. He is not. The authors warn but not directly.
Look hard and there is a paragraph in the Appendices where an argument for human sacrifice of a most primitive type is made too plausible to be ironical, a nod perhaps to Evola, yet contrasted with horror at the mass immolations of war and that 1970s preoccupation, the Holocaust.
This is where the 1960s Generation can be seen to be bifurcating into an authoritarian and ideological optimism on the one side and a tendency to inverted rage and pessimism. The slave now adopts guerrilla tactics to undermine what cannot be destroyed frontally.
Magick and the occult in particular are the tools of the frustrated and the outsider and this book is heavily imbued with magical thinking.
Contemporary anarchism, Goth culture, popular horror, fantasy and the occult are now very much combined as a model for libertarian resistance to Leviathan - and the fantastic aspects do not stop police raids even today on those who withdraw from the system and wear black.
Culturally this is an important book, a tour de force in terms of its organisation of literary references and even plot. Its weaknesses are those of its time and we can only understand it by referring back to that time.
Beyond the politics, the book must be marked out as a text that introduced radically new ways of thinking to a mass audience - even if its subtleties have bypassed and will bypass those who read the New York Times and the Guardian and think they represent reality.
Reading this book could not have come at a more interesting time - as I write, the British are stunned and appalled by the sustained abuse of 1,400 yo Reading this book could not have come at a more interesting time - as I write, the British are stunned and appalled by the sustained abuse of 1,400 young children in Rotherham by mostly Asian criminals over an extended period of time.
Although the sexual shenanigans of a Minister of War, a Soviet attache, a naive osteopath, a couple of easy-living women and assorted walk-on rascals may seem a world away, there are grim similarities in the politics of these cases.
Sex is the marker of culture and politics is a struggle about identity and meaning as much as it is about resources and interests.
Davenport-Hines, an accomplished historian of British sexuality and culture, takes the Profumo affair as his cue for a more general inquiry into the cultural politics of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The book is in two parts. The first two thirds are an exquisitely argued dissection of the hypocrisies and miseries of the separate sub-cultures that came together in this sad case.
He looks first at Harold Macmillan, the tired and distracted but basically decent Tory Prime Minister, John Profumo, his fly Harrovian Minister of War and the faux-aristocratic world of the Astors at Cliveden.
This is high end of the game - an establishment whose ankles were constantly being bitten at by the middle class opportunists of Labour and who were recovering from what was, economically, a bad war.
Davenport-Hines then looks at the low end of the game - the self-made osteopath Stephen Ward, hapless victim in the story, the 'good-time girls', the Jewish landlords, the reptiles of the media and the security apparat.
In each case, though perhaps he tends occasionally to an edgy polemic, Davenport-Hines show a fairness and sympathy where he can and a coruscating critique where he must.
Although history is supposed to be non-judgmental, this is judgmental history that is good history because the facts dictate our sympathies.
The last third is less accomplished because there is something of an anti-climax in telling the story of the affair itself.
These are diminished, tired, hypocritical and weak people and that is just the political lot. One ends up feeling sympathy for some and disgust for others. Above all, one asks the question - what really is the point of it all.
On the simpatico side, there is, above all, Stephen Ward himself - Davenport-Hines broadly makes the case that this man was the victim of a deliberately arranged show trial based on 'fixed' evidence.
His desperate suicide at the tail end of the trial was nothing more than state-inspired manslaughter by corrupt cops, frightened politicians and a judicial system of consummate evil.
One also feels (this is quite surprising) a degree of sympathy for the better part of the establishment - no worse or better than the incoming hypocrites of Labour, a crew of equally consummate ambition and sheer nastiness.
Brown and Wigg are the worst of a rough bunch of damned near psychopaths, matched by the moral hysteria and viciousness of social conservatives like Hailsham. But what cautious decency there was seems to have been Tory.
The author is even-handed about the Rachman types and the good time girls, pointing out that their bad behaviours were not unconnected to the horrors of the holocaust and (in the case of some of the girls) appalling poverty.
It is not said in the book but an alignment of Jewish and other spivs and the good time girls - some of whom became rich and some dead - may be the mutual comfort of those who have seen the worst and are determined on survival.
But now to the villains - and these are men of what I would call evil, pure evil, ideological manipulation and destructive misuse of high intelligence to destroy others and ensure their own power.
Perhaps Davenport-Hines' angle is too obvious here - he loathes the prurient British media with its ugly intrusions into private life, all in the spurious claim that what the public is interested in is in the public interest.
Well, he is absolutely right and, though the worst excesses of the Beaverbrook and Cudlipp Press are long since passed, not much has changed - it is not just the 'hacking' but the determined propensity to lie and make and break people.
But more evil than the British media at its most narcissitically depraved is the corrupt cop and the political judiciary and we have these to thank for the destruction of Mr. Ward and the wrongful claims about Keeler and Rice-Davies.
On this score, I will not do a spoiler. The last third does have the aspect of whodunnit or rather 'whodidoverothers' about it. There are many unpleasant people but the worst is not Rachman or Keeler or even petty criminals like 'Lucky' Gordon but, ultimately, Alfred Denning, Law Lord.
This is not the conventional view of the noble Lord Denning but Davenport-Hines is persuasive and I leave you to read his account and make your own judgment. I would fear the Noble Lord returning to earth and destroying me as he destroyed the reputation of Ward if I went much further.
So, why is this relevant today? On two separate grounds.
The first is that struggles over sexuality continue to have resonance in the struggle over power at the heart of the State. The second is that, in many ways nothing has changed.
Taking the second first, we can look at this superficially. We have progress in that we have a Cabinet of Old Etonians rather than one of Old Etonians and Wykehamists running the country so perhaps we should be grateful.
We still have a reptilian media creating chaos and limiting opportunities for good governance, destroying lives, failing to investigate wrongs on the evidence and manufacturing outrage.
We still have an ambitious and cynical opposition whose silences and evasions over the Rotherham Abuse leave one with the most unpleasant of tastes in the mouth.
We still have a hidden establishment prepared to use the resources of the State and to create and manage law to preserve their power and cover up for their many incompetencies.
And we still have a political leadership utterly neglectful of the condition of Britain and more interested in cavorting ineffectually on the world's stage as if governance was a boy's own adventure.
Above all, we still have an underclass from which the wide boys and good time girls make their way only to face the hypocritical sexual controls and prejudice of a conservative centre of pseudo-liberals.
The Profumo affair is widely marked as the end of an era of establishment authority but I am not sure that Davenport-Hines is right to take the surface for the reality.
Politics is not only a history of circulating elites but of circulating ideologies and just as the new elite is no more kind and competent than the previous one so the succeeding ideology is no more compassionate.
The Rotherham Abuse scandal has all the signs of exposing one set of elites and an ideology in precisely the way that the Profumo Affair appeared to expose another.
Perhaps there is a cycle and the scandal had to happen to meet its needs but the Rotherham Abuse case is, like the Profumo case, essentially about power, incompetence, sexuality, ambition and national security.
In both cases,there is a rising elite (now national populism, then democratic socialism) waiting in the wings to throw out an establishment (now the liberal bien-pensants, then the propertied).
There are issues of competence - about national security in a class-based apparat (the Right's claim to rule) and the ability of the new managerialism to protect the vulnerable (the Left's claim to rule).
Then, the Minister's lying was the mere trigger for an outpouring of sexual neurosis and conservatism that backfired with the liberal reforms of the following Labour Government under an essentially Liberal Home Secretary.
Now, local council and police incompetence is the trigger for an outpouring of identity neurosis about immigration and wider government failures (regardless of party) which leads we know not where.
We may take the ambition as given.
And what of national security? Then it was about the Cold War and the threat from the boorish Khruschev. Today, it is about Islamism and organised crime and the enemy within.
So, this book is not just old history of antiquarian interest. It is about the dynamics of crisis when the elite starts to split and become nasty and new culturally revolutionary forces start to seep through the gap.
These revolutionary forces in the 1960s were not political but cultural - a decade and a half of half-baked social democracy was succeeded by nearly two decades of rule by the propertied, after all.
What did happen though was the 'sticking' of Roy Jenkins' liberal reforms so that Tories now happily compete for the gay vote and compromise with the diversity and cultural studies ethos of what were left-wing loons only thirty years before.
What is going on in Britain today looks set to be equally revolutionary and in ways we cannot yet predict. We suspect libertarian not liberal and national not internationalist.
It is not just Rotherham just as the change in the 1960s was not just Profumo. It is the Syrian vote in Parliament, UKIP's development as a national populist movement in Labour areas, the sheer scale of child and elderly abuse (we ain't seen nothing yet cumulatively) and the compromises on core identity values.
Davenport-Hines' book won't tell you how things will pan out but it will be a partial guide to the dynamics of what happens when elites become more interested in destroying each other than in building a common weal.
Red Shambhala adds useful information about esotericism during the early Soviet experiment, the Great Game in Central Asia in the 1920s and the theoso Red Shambhala adds useful information about esotericism during the early Soviet experiment, the Great Game in Central Asia in the 1920s and the theosophical egoism of Nicholas Roerich.
What it is less good at it, though scholarly and well written, is tying these threads together into some sort of analysis of what was going on in all these theatres - and how they relate.
There are fuller stories to be told of the high point of theosophical political influence in the West and the survival of esoteric silver age esotericism in the early Soviet Union.
The Great Game, of course, is a well told story and recent interest in the fairly marginal figure of the 'Bloody White Baron - 'https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... - adds to the relatively easily available works of Peter Hopkirk.
As so often, we are talking of a surprisingly short period in human history covering a huge geographical canvas. Closure comes with Stalin's bloody purge of every standing 'esoteric' Communist.
Here, I think a trick is lost. The purges were a widespread phenomenon and the esoteric dead might simply have been caught up in the bloodiness but I suspect there is more to it than that.
It was not just a case of eliminating old Bolsheviks as rivals but of eliminating all traces of their ideas.
There is no doubt that Stalin was intelligent and very aware of the dialectic between communism and nationalism. He had played a leading role in formulating policy at the beginning of the regime.
There is a line that could be drawn from Stalin's very early policies on the national question which were highly sophisticated through to today's tensions in the Ukraine. They remain relevant for study.
It is also clear that esoteric communism was a very 'bourgeois', even post-aristocratic, phenomenon, that dabbled with ideas that were close to those underpinning volkisch nationalism to the West by the 1930s.
Eliminating rivals also seems to have combined here with the elimination of ideas about expending national energy in Eastern empire-building while threats were building to the West.
There are potential insights here into the edginess with which Stalin regarded the Japanese and why he could not feel comfortable declaring war on them until after the US had dropped its atomic bombs.
Exaggerated or not, the possibility of a fanatical Buddhist or Mongol rising to seize Siberia helps to explain much that might otherwise be obscure - including the hurried forceful repression of the lamas.
In a sense, the story is also very modern in being about what amounts to a struggle between arguments about hard power (realism) and soft power that still resonate.
Stalin was a hard power man - a realist - whereas the Comintern policy, much like modern Western liberal internationalism, was thoroughly muddled, using rhetoric and bluff to try to achieve the unachievable.
The Great Game was really a game for realists like the Dalai Lama of the period and the British Empire which was well served by its canny political agent for Tibet.
The theory that you could mobilise a region with a quasi-communised esoteric Buddhism ignored the inherent internal contradiction between international communism and faith-based nationalism.
Again, we see the same today where soft power advocates continue to believe that they can contain and then control 'moderate' versions of similar obscurantist faith-based movements in faraway cultures.
Stalin, faced by a highly developed neo-faith-based national socialism and ideologically antipathetic to religion, was not going to tolerate these Comintern fantasies. Their proponents got rolled into the purges.
There is also a bigger story to tell about Roerich, a highly ambiguous character who is possibly the epitome of the spiritual adventurer, but, to be fair, this is not Znamenski's job here.
Even today, Roerich remains hard to assess both in pragmatic terms of who he was actually working for and why but also what he means to history ... Znamenski adds new suggestive detail to consider.
There is no Roerich without theosophy and no understanding of Roerich without entering into the spirit of the decadent auto-didacticism of the silver age gentry and their aspirant hangers on.
Theosophy now strikes us to be as nonsensical in practical terms as alchemy although an open mind would see both as psychotherapeutic analogical modes of thinking useful for personal development.
Across the West, new forms of imaginative thinking emerged disconnected from reality that were creative in the arts and destructive in politics though this latter took some time to become clear.
The Communists in the Soviet Union (though not in Europe) were not immune from the infection despite Marx's strictures against utopianism, a major intellectual struggle in the mid-nineteenth century.
Theosophical thinking could be highly progressive (Annie Besant springs to mind) but also a home for half-educated upper class minds confused by modernity and projecting a desire for stability into the future.
These are analogous to trans-humanists today, declasse individuals seeking a new way to cohere against history and deal with anxiety through a new eschatology, a pattern that repeats through history.
Evasive intellectually innovative movements based on redirected class pain generally turn into quasi-religious movements and these movements soon start to dabble in political solutions to the crisis of the time.
From Madame Blavatsky to Nicholas Roerich is about half a century and half a century is ample time for an irrational movement to peak. And peak it did against the brute realism of the interwar period.
Roerich's performance art in Central Asia is thus, like Baron Ungern's, more of a footnote amidst the chaos than something of great significance to Central Asian history.
These outliers are dabbling in a vacuum with opportunities for otherwise marginal figures who would remain marginal or end up in jail in their heartlands. These are the adventurers of etidorhpa ...
The opportunities for eccentricity are provided by the margins of empire but the conditions in the heartlands that create such outliers and the mentalities that lead to their adventures remain interesting.
Roerich is also interesting because he represents another ambiguity within the esoteric ... what often starts as progressive change becomes a form of traditionalist primordialism of the right under pressure.
If you look at the works of two 'spiritually'-inspired artists, Roerich and Kandinsky, you get a sense of this ambiguity where romantic traditionalism can either become abstraction or primordialism.
We think of Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' as modernist but it could equally (especially in the light of Roerich's designs for the stage performance) be seen as a purification of tradition.
I have argued elsewhere that even contemporary trans-humanism has these throw-back golden age aspects and represents its own search for purity. It shares a form of occult magical thinking with theosophy.
In this context, a communism that was materialist and looked to Marx and the West as a dynamic form of social change seems to have magically incorporated silver age magical thinking in an underdeveloped society.
Stalin was a brute but in terms of the progressive and materialist agenda based on radical social transformation, he was probably right to 'deal with' this highly conservative trend within the movement.
Still, the book is highly readable (if you can remember to connect the names as they appear) and it should stimulate a desire to know much more about the many worlds it touches on.
Authored in 1979, this remains a fascinating account of the negotiations that took place in Switzerland between the OSS and Karl Wolff, a senior SS Of Authored in 1979, this remains a fascinating account of the negotiations that took place in Switzerland between the OSS and Karl Wolff, a senior SS Officer, aimed at the capitulation of German forces in Italy in 1945.
At one level, this is just a well researched piece of micro-history which, in itself, as the authors agree, made little difference to the outcome of the war. In that respect, it reads like a period thriller.
At another level, however, it provides insights into the conduct of that mega-struggle and suggests that, though only a symptom of something, that something was the disease we would later call the Cold War.
We should start by praising this book for the clarity of its writing and its exceptionally helpful explanation of the conditions under which the negotiations took place.
Like so many books that give us the actual history rather than the subsequent myth (and there are many such myths!), you may be surprised by the interpretation.
For example, whatever the grand strategy of the three major players on the Allied side, the actual conduct of the war was largely driven by 'military necessity' rather than politics.
Many of the problems that started to appear in April and May 1945 arose precisely because all seemed to be agreed that military victory was the war aim and political issues could wait.
The story tends to confirm that there was not quite the necessity for the Cold War that we have been led to believe. It looks 'inevitable'. It was not. It was as much manufactured as not by special interests.
Any strategy of military necessity with direct lines of command to war leaders (applicable until May 1945) cuts out diplomats, political interests and political warfare operatives.
The negotiations of 'Operation Sunrise' tended to bypass (on both sides) this line of command and opened up an opportunity for a certain type of German thinking to 'infect' the West, like a virus.
Bear in mind that the European Right at this time was divided between those who could see the collapse coming and those who would fight on from stupidity (or loyalty which amounts to the same thing) or despair.
'Operation Sunrise' was not the only point where Soviet distrust of the West seemed reasonable but it was wholly unhelpful in reducing the space for the sort of discussion that was had at Yalta.
Smith and Agarossi persuasively argue that Allen Dulles in Switzerland developed a 'blind spot'. To him, these talks were the last opportunity for political warfare operations to make a difference.
In opening up a sensible opportunity for capitulation by Germany, he mishandled and misinterpreted what was happening (where many career soldiers did not) with perhaps grim consequences.
First, he allowed a war criminal, a leading SS Officer, to become a co-conspirator in the salvaging of two sets of careers. And, in doing so, he persuaded himself and others of Wolff's argument.
Second, in undertaking a project which muddied the water on 'unconditional surrender', Dulles helped to initiate the distrust that allowed the 'German virus' to mutate into a Western one.
What should disgust us about Wolff, as we should perhaps be disgusted by Gehlen and Operation Paperclip, is that this was the man who was Himmler's liaison at Hitler's HQ.
Whatever his post war claims (he got 15 years in the end), he knew who was being transported to Treblinka and certainly had innocent Italian blood on his hands. The Soviets would rightly have just shot him.
But this highly intelligent and undoubtedly physically brave SS officer on first name terms with Himmler and Kaltenbrunner managed to 'sell' himself, like Gehlen and Von Braun, as an asset.
Most of the allies had no illusions about him but the conduct of Dulles looks increasingly naive as the story is told and the seeds of the malign vision we have today of the 'West' were planted.
It is not that the Soviets were not a problem nor that they were not going to fill what vacuums of power they could but this was a State that had been nearly overturned by the West once.
Not only that but millions of its people had been brutalised and murdered and it was its massed ranks that had driven national socialism - murderous in intent not just as means - to the wall.
Wolff and those like him were engaged in a late project to split the allies and incorporate German national socialism into the Western model. He and others half succeeded.
They succeeded primarily (once the officials of the State Department, the politicians and the OSS, later the CIA, had recovered their power over the Truman administration) in creating a shared view of communism.
Think of these two reactions to events by two leading Nazis in the last days. First, Hitler stating to Wolff that the allies would split and he did not care which side he then dealt with.
Hitler was living in fantasy land but it helps us to understand the importance of 'unconditional surrender'. Wolff was horrified (as most Germans would have been) because 'Jewish' communism was the enemy.
Now look at this quotation from Himmler (not in this book):
We have made serious mistakes. If I could have a fresh start, I would do many things differently now. But it is too late. We wanted greatness and security for Germany, and we are leaving behind us a pile of ruins, a fallen world."
Er, yes, well. This was on April 21st, 1945, and we see that as one world of Hitlerist fanaticism was dying, another one of 'starting again' was already opening up.
What was going on in Bern in the April 1945 was the seduction of intellectual amateurs, Wall Street lawyers and political fixers, by this second vision relying on a shared terror of 'communism'.
Dulles was not a fool and sometimes the authors are, I believe, too hard on him - this was a real time crisis - but, isolated in Switzerland, he undoubtedly came to fall for Wolff's implicit pitch.
This becomes the more significant when we realise that the political amateurism of the OSS becomes the dangerously powerful thuggery and malignity of the CIA.
The circle of American players in Italy in these last days become the basis not only of a hard-line Cold War but sponsors of the single major reason the US has lost its positive image - its security apparat.
Regardless of the villainy of the Soviets and the fact that unresolved political issues would have caused problems after the capitulation by the very nature of things, things could have been handled differently.
From the perspective of the time, before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet Union would have been an essential resource for the defeat of Japan and Stalin played more than fair in this respect.
The period from May to August 1945 might have been used more effectively to settle post war conditions and develop collaborative relations between the three dominant empires.
However, amongst the factors that helped unravel this possibility, we must include the OSS' adventuring and the effect of anti-communist German arguments about the threat of communism.
Instead of calculating responses to communism and a fundamentally defensive Stalin, political paranoia emerged, rushing into negative responses and developing a peacetime alliance with the real villains.
The atrocities were forgotten, the death camps were forgotten, the invasions were forgotten and the Soviet Union cast as an expansionist villain when its prime purpose was reconstruction.
The shift of power from war leaders and military men, with practical ends, to a curious clique of lawyers, cronies, politicians and military theorists transformed the situation.
Although we should not exaggerate the significance of 'Operation Sunrise', it marks one of a number of points where we can trace the transfer of power to a new cold war elite, paranoid and closed.
Perhaps the high point of the lunacy, which encompassed nuclear weaponry and the Rand Corporation, would be James Jesus Angleton. All the powers fell into the same trap. Gehlen ran rings round the US.
But, despite the reforms after the Church Committee, what we have now is not the rational Great Power diplomacy and hard power of the period before 1945 but the mentally unbalanced world of 'security'.
The blunders of the West in recent years can be traced to the mentality that emerged in Bern, the loss of focus on hard power and the elaboration of ever more oozalum-like political narratives.
Yes, of course, eventually, this mentality may have resulted in its prime aim - the destruction of the Soviet Union - but this presupposes that this was the right aim all along.
This is where we may part as reader and reviewer. The Soviet Union was either equivalent to national socialism, and Dulles implicitly and Wolff explicitly were right all along, or it was not.
My doubt lies in the fashion for equivalence between the two ideologies - one imperialistically seeking to expand on a radical racial premise and the other seeking development against intervention.
The crimes and oppressions of the latter are not in doubt (and unanswerable in most cases) but the British Empire was not exactly unsoiled by horrors nor industrialisation anywhere in the world.
This is no defence of Sovietism but we should doubt whether a mentality that could contemplate mutual nuclear extinction, acceptance of the security state and collaboration with Nazis is tolerable.
We should think on this when being seduced into our various positions in relation to the Ukraine or China. ...more
Professor Bayly and Dr. Harper have produced a superb history of an important corner of the Second World War. It provides important insights into the Professor Bayly and Dr. Harper have produced a superb history of an important corner of the Second World War. It provides important insights into the South East Asian present.
War changes everything. We see first a decadent British Empire run, in Burma and what would later be called Malaysia, by self-satisfied prigs whose failures would be all-to-evident in an early crushing defeat.
Then, we have the new nationalisms of the region (though only these two countries and more tangentially, India, are covered) ready to fight imperialism alongside and against the new ideology of communism.
The war was transitional at so many levels. It showed how surprisingly easy it was to drive out the undoubtedly racist British through the sheer will power and brutal energy of the Japanese lust for power.
But it also showed that the same machinery of empire may have been ruled by fools at the margins but it was also equally ruled by brutally pragmatic men of great energy and resource at the centre.
Though stretched to the limit and on the point of being overtaken by American wealth and superior management, Mountbatten's British-led SEAC halted the Japanese advance and drove it back beyond Rangoon.
The truth is that the Atomic Bomb against civilians in Japan probably did stop the deaths of hundreds of thousands (or more) if brutalised Westerners really did have to crush brutal Easterners in the field.
This front was as deeply monstrous as the European Eastern Front. The behaviours similar - only the deliberate machinery of the extermination camp was missing.
There are so many levels to this story that it is quite an achievement for the two authors to hold it together as a single narrative - even if this falters a little in one area.
The authors are at pains to tell us all they can about resistance movements and 'forgotten armies' - radical anti-imperialists who fought with Japan much as Vlasov fought with Hitler.
Some flipped sides at just the right time. Others (the Communists, the Chinese and most of the hill peoples) backed the British on the basis that my enemies' enemy is my friend.
The problem is that these forces were, like Vlasov's, historically important for the future but much less so in that particular present and the sections on some of these can read like abridged monographs.
Yet some of the detail is absolutely necessary for a full understanding of what will be the second half of the story - imperial European recapture and then negotiated loss of its Eastern hegemony.
Indeed, Bayly and Harper have produced that very sequel ('Forgotten Wars') so these detailed longueurs must be accepted as a necessary prologue to the meat of the next act in the drama.
But the truth is that the Indian National Army, the Burma Defence Army and the much lauded behind-the-lines guerrillas and special operations may have been disruptive but were not central to the imperial struggle.
In fact, these units were about as important as the resistance in much of Europe - making life difficult for the invader or causing additional pain to SEAC but not decisive.
Such units were aspects of the political - the real story was of Japan reproducing the methods and atrocities of their German allies but doomed to lose bloodily once it had blundered over Pearl Harbour.
Much as we have seen in Edgerton's work, the ultimate triumph of the West was not going to be in doubt but these chancers in Tokyo might still have come out of it well if they had caused an Indian revolt.
It is India that matters. The book is not about India but India looms over the story nevertheless and its story has to be told to make sense of what goes on between Chittagong and Singapore.
The British military were so unnerved by the speedy fall of their South East Asian Empire and troubled by dissent in the Raj that they considered shifting the base of the fight to Australia.
The question is not answered - how on earth did the British hold on to a whole sub-continent for so long? And the answer is that its hold was no more certain than this consideration suggests.
The same question arises in relation to Western domination of every non-Western polity - China springs to mind but so does Burma itself and the Malay States. And the answer is uncomfortable.
It really comes down to the old saying that 'in the land of the blind, the one eyed man was king'. These second and third rate products of minor public schools were just a bit cleverer than their charges.
The British ruled because they ruled over more politically primitive peoples so the political, social and military education of Indians, Burmans and Malays in war was sufficient death knell for empire.
The book, like all intelligent histories of the Second World War, is riddled with atrocity - with an added element of the most appalling racism, sexual exploitation and arrogance on both imperial sides.
The tension between 'modern' Britain and its furthest colonies was simply the tension of the former realising just how much its own civil service and local military had 'gone native'.
Mountbatten and Slim would be recognisable in today's British military - highly intelligent men with the ability to inspire - whereas types like Dorman-Smith were little more than arrogant local potentates.
The unjustified self regard of the British locals (satirised by Maugham and others from the metropolis) continued after the war in the detemination to treat its own suffering as somehow unique.
Yes, some 14,000 European men died horribly on the Burma-Thailand Railway but this was perhaps 5-10% of the total deaths caused by the panicking Japanese on this project. The rest were 'natives'.
The story of the comfort women is also well told now but the scale of it will help explain why Japanese failure to 'atone' (unlike democratic Germany) makes it so deeply unpopular even today.
For all its claims of Asian for the Asians, the Japanese militarist onslaught was like the German - a grab for power that misused local nationalists and left its naive or corrupt quislings high and dry.
We have the civilian deaths from the bombings of Singapore and Rangoon (twice), the terrible fate of refugees, the avoidable famine in Bengal in 1942/1943, inter-ethnic pogroms and evil collective punishments.
Bayly and Harper's account of the mass exodus from Burma as the Japanese advanced should be read by every Briton who thinks the values of our ancestors were based on some code of honour.
The conduct of the British community was more than self-preservative, it was totally dismissive of the lives of even those of mixed race descent who had given exceptional service. One is ashamed.
The Japanese often reached dizzy heights of evil but then, alongside the treatment of British prisoners, we have the mistreatment of Japanese in India and the British 'no prisoners' policy in 1944.
The sheer scale of dislocation and death, the sheer malice and brutality of the Japanese invaders and the sheer incompetence of the old imperial elite makes this a depressing read at times.
There are some heroes - Major Seagrim surerendered himself to certain death rather than see Karen villages destroyed in reprisals - but most of the story is just of men and women driven to hell and back by fate.
And at the end - the Japanese rightly beaten and humiliated but the British and other colonial empires now unsustainable. Oh, the scale of suffering needed to oust a bunch of minor public schoolboys!
Another solid thriller from Alan Furst, a cut above the average. The characterisation is one stage improved on 'Spies of the Balkans' and the sexual r Another solid thriller from Alan Furst, a cut above the average. The characterisation is one stage improved on 'Spies of the Balkans' and the sexual relationships vastly so.
Furst is good at creating believable heroes - not so much likeable as manly and with existential integrity. His Austrian-turned-Hollywood star Frederic Stahl is in that mould. His woman are also well drawn.
The book is not subtle politically. Furst's history is accurately researched even if the Nazis are all straight out of New York cultural demonology but this is a thriller and to be judged as such.
A hidden pleasure is being taken through the making of a film of that era without really noticing it. And there is the usual - perhaps less necessary this time - map. Recommended. ...more
Every time I walk past the statue 'honouring' the aircrews of Bomber Command in Green Park, I taste something unpleasant in my mouth.
I can imagine a d Every time I walk past the statue 'honouring' the aircrews of Bomber Command in Green Park, I taste something unpleasant in my mouth.
I can imagine a decent German feeling much the same if Berlin had a major monument to the Eastern Front war dead of the Wehrmacht.
Yes, both sets of men were courageous and died for the sins of their leaders but both sets of men were complicit in appalling atrocities under orders that specifically targeted civilians.
This remarkable, well evidenced and well written book is about the use of bombing and its effects in Europe during the Second World War - at least that is its primary purpose. It is, in fact, a book about evil.
Half a million Europeans were murdered from the air either indirectly as part of the prosecution of war or directly as a deliberate strategy of area or political bombing by air power advocates.
The book is dense in places. Overy does not put statistics into foot-notes but makes sure you have them to hand when you read of this raid or that campaign - whether deaths or tonnage of bombs.
He does not go into too much detail of effects - just enough for us to be clear what bombing involves - because his interests (and ours) are the policies that led to these horrors.
This is one of those books where the complexity of issues requires that we do not try an easy summary. Overy is fair-minded. He seeks to understand and not condemn. There is no emotion here.
The final conclusions are measured and pointed. He also provides a useful coda that suggested that nothing was fundamentally learned from the experience.
He rightly points out that the area bombing of Bomber Harris - who must be the very epitome of the banality of evil if you have a soul - was of its time and could not be repeated.
He then stops any sigh of relief at this point by pointing out that these maniacs (my opinion, not his) did not need to repeat it because they soon had nuclear weaponry. We have been lucky so far.
Half a million dead over five years could now become 80million Russians in a few hours. The strategy of total war would dictate first strike in the forlorn hope of limiting the effect at home.
One should continue to think on this as a bunch of war loons try to convert crises in the Middle East or over local self-determination in the Ukraine into confrontations with well armed nuclear powers.
The point is that the area strategy was not a general one amongst the combatants but a specifically Anglo-American - indeed British one - based on the thinking of an Italian proto-fascist, Douhet.
The irony of this is not lost on Overy who points out that Allied bombing of Italians (while their Government was an ally) cost more lives than the Blitz.
One gets a shock to the system when one discovers just how evil the British as a war state had become in what was clearly an existential struggle of constant escalation with no quarter given.
Let us start by noting something uncomfortable. Although air power advocates promoted independent bombing strategies, the general view in the 1930s was that civilian bombing was a horror.
Neither the Soviets nor the Americans adopted civilian bombing as a policy directive and (surprise!) it was Hitler who attempted to outlaw it and chemical and gas weapons at the beginning of the conflict.
Of course, this does not gainsay Hitler's villainy against first the Jews and the mentally disabled and then anything that got in his way of a civilian nature in the East or in terms of reprisals.
But facts are facts. And probably because he still had a residual notion that the West Europeans were a basically civilised people, Hitler seems to have thought it uncivilised to bomb people in war.
There is, as well, multiple room for misunderstandings, sometimes wilful, in international relations with deeply unpleasant political warfare operatives muddying the truth at every opportunity.
Overy, somewhat embarrassingly, places Guernica, Warsaw and Rotterdam in their military context and draws the critical line between what we call 'collateral damage' and deliberate terror.
This is central because we need to understand that the British not only had a strategy of terror (the only nation to do so) but, with the Americans, banked up gas bombs in Italy ready to use in the last days.
Biological weapons may have been in their infancy but it seems (from Overy's coda) that the next total war contemplated by the air power loons included advocacy of bacteriological warfare to retain assets.
So what is going on here? Certainly Churchill was troubled by the strategy of terror though unafraid to use any resource to meet political ends. As we will note, we can still see his point.
Similarly, not only the Germans and the Soviets but also the Americans may have been ruthless though happily held to the notion of tactical use of air power where civilians were unfortunate collateral damage.
The secret of evil seems to lie in its true source - the corporate mentality. The RAF was a new arm of state force and competed for budgets and resources. It positioned itself as the future.
Its chief, Bomber Harris, somewhere ceased to be a human being and became the pure will of his force. He had done a common thing, lost himself in the task and ceased to be more than the task.
Edgerton has written persuasively that last century air power was associated with the technological right and he has pointed out the ideology underpinning Liberal Militarism.
Overy does not go down this route but we should remind ourselves that the driver for techno-war was the protection of one's own people by mustering massive power targeted at the population of the other.
This reversion to a Mesopotamian attitude to the cities of your enemy also held a sub-text of fear that democracy (actually the hold of the liberal elite) could not survive another general call-up.
The solution - tanks on the front and planes in the sky - neatly converged with the institutional aspirations of the RAF to an equal or dominant role in war strategy.
Since fighters and fighter-bombers by definition were always going to be ancillary to armies fighting blow by blow across country and naval forces defending trade routes, this meant bombing.
The justification of bombing however was not easy. Aiming was poor, air crew losses were high and the equipment was very expensive. To be more than ancillary required a 'result'.
What these callous men offered was one or both of two possibilities, one taken up more reasonably by the Americans and the other - fanatically - by Bomber Harris.
The first was to claim that bombing raids directed at aeroengine works, transportation and oil facilities (and so on) could degrade the economy of the other side so that his war capacity would fail.
Naturally, given the weakness of bomb aiming equipment and the constant pressure on air crews of fear, this meant serious collateral damage to the civilian population.
Needless to say, this is what happened not only in the Blitz (which was always military in purpose in terms of economic warfare) but also in many of the major raids on Germany and all those in allied states.
Overy plausibly demonstrates that this sort of airpower was far less effective than the bombers claimed but he (and we) can give the men of the time the benefit of the doubt here.
The bombers in these cases seem to have killed a lot of people, including allied citizens to the increasing frustration of the resistance, but there was at least a theoretical case for action.
It could be reasonable in an escalating existential crisis to accept this massive collateral damage if it brought the hell to a faster end - this is the dark justification, of course, for Hiroshima.
This sort of bombing is just - just - on the right side of morality for most people: we say again, that which reasonably might be considered to be the lesser evil in an existential struggle.
Strategic area bombing of civilians to inspire terror in the dubious and unevidenced belief that this might cause panic and bring down a regime is another kettle of fish however.
There are cases where regimes were brought down by terror bombing - Italy seems to be an example - but nearly all countries appear to have adapted and even seem to have seen the regime strengthened.
The fact of bombing and disruption exposed weak and poor regimes like Mussolini's but it enabled a narrative of resistance and a politically-led popular organisation to emerge elsewhere.
Just as general tactical asset bombing oddly tended to increase production through reorganisation, substitution and determination so area bombing tended to strengthen political legitimacy.
In the first case, it might be very reasonable for strategists not to have understood that this would be the case but in the second we are faced by two new factors.
The Blitz itself should have provided sufficient evidence that regimes strengthened on existential threat while what we have here is something different - the deliberate targeting of workers.
Ah, I seem to have slipped into the unforgivable here - the values-driven business of morality!
The point is that Bomber Harris was no different from Himmler in this - the destruction of persons deliberately because of their nature, in this case as German workers, in Himmler's as Jews.
The argument that the Jews were 'innocent' and the German workers were 'guilty' is specious. To Nazis, the Jews were as 'guilty as hell' as origins of the war (yes, absurd but believed culturally).
German workers, many of whom voted social democratically in the 1932 and previous elections and who were led no less than workers anywhere by malign elites, were suffering here from collective punishment.
The deliberate firestorming of Hamburg and other cities was a war crime that the Allies knew to be so when they decided not to prosecute the Nazis at Nuremburg for their bombing atrocities.
The most notorious case, Dresden, ironically probably falls into the milder category of tactical warfare bombing in support of the Soviet push to the East. Overy is good at revising our preconceptions.
The lessons of all this are largely academic, on the old mafia saying that 'that was then and this is now'. The conditions were peculiar and unrepeatable - new atrocities entirely are for our time.
However, we can draw some lessons about the human condition, about the blind and unaccountable nature of institutional forms operating in unevidenced ways and doing bad things under unrestrained leaders.
To be fair, Churchill was a man under severe pressure to whom bombing remained a tool-at-hand and a sideshow and, though committed absolutely to success, he was neither stupid nor psychopathic.
What is worrying is that, under conditions of existential crisis, power to do great evil can be delegated so easily. This story raises very uncomfortable thoughts about other war leaders.
And not just Stalin and Hitler but Cameron and Obama. The post-war Presidents, for example, appear to have had some reasonable grip over their forces through acceptance of their authority. Are we so sure now?
One question is what happens when the 'fuhrerprinzip' sends down the line vague generalities alongside instructions that can be interpreted brutally because they were stated brutally (the Hitler/Stalin model).
But another question is what happens when a Leader is not working on full information and makes false or 'bad' judgements on the claims of the institutional pressure groups who claim to serve him.
There are signs on several occasions in this story that Bomber Command lost the ability to do two things under Bomber Harris: think beyond the interests of itself; and have reasonable moral boundaries.
The British were far from alone - the Soviets were restrained only because they were fighting a different sort of war - and the Americans soon descended into hell themselves with the Tokyo firebombing.
But bombing itself was over-egged as tool - strategic bombing in the battlefield could lead to the 'friendly fire' errors that we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan as well and often did more harm than good.
It may - given existential struggle and acceptance of the 'just war' (ho, hum!) - have had some important function in degrading the flow of materiel to the enemy front and redirecting production.
What strikes me as unconscionable, especially with political motives of pure populist revenge, is to continue with a campaign of total war against civilians long after it is clear that it is just murder.
Almost every civilian death could be justified by some rational explanation based on the struggle for existence by the end but, by that time, everyone has lost the moral plot.
The great lesson of all this is that war has its own remorseless logic in which (as Overy wisely notes) political conditions eventually block the chance to do the right thing.
However, you can make up your own mind. Overy is detached and clinical. The facts are all there in his book. I urge you to read it and ask where you think the boundaries of death-dealing should lie.
Pasi took some two decades to write this relatively short work. What started off as a dissertation in an area of maximal obscurity (the politics of es Pasi took some two decades to write this relatively short work. What started off as a dissertation in an area of maximal obscurity (the politics of esoterism) has become important in post-recession Europe.
In fact, Pasi is writing a corrective. Crowley's involvement and interest in politics (except as means to ends related to his religious ambitions) was actually very small and intermittent - and unstable.
This has not stopped Crowley being adopted by elements in the neo-fascist European Right, almost certainly through the different magical interest of Evola and the flummery of Rightist occultism.
This New New Right (since the New Right tends to neo-conservative extreme radical individualism) goes beyond even populism to revive the 'political soldier' model of the 1970s and seeks revolution.
Regardless of the extremities of Russian propaganda, it is to be found in the Ukraine and lurking in competition with more obvious traditionalist excesses and nostalgia for a Nazi-led Europe.
Paganism, occultism, esotericism - all the mish-mash of thought found in a rootless bourgeoisie who know, as we all do, that something is wrong but who are incapable of thinking through what is to be done!
Pasi does us the service of going back to the man, asking what he was in his own time and what his purposes were, and then placing any politics to be found there in that context.
The answer is not good for latter day extremist acolytes. First of all, Crowley was either a conventional man of his time or (in his second phase) a pragmatist and an opportunist.
His conventionalities were the Tory attitudes of his generation and his class alongside periodic rebellions that had him dabbling in romantic political games that attracted many well-fed esotericists.
If anything, though never a materialist, his anti-traditionalism and commitment to religion being justified in scientific terms by results pushes him into the progressive camp, if kicking and screaming.
Alleged flirtations with Mussolini, Hitler and Sovietism were nothing more than naive attempts to get his religion in front of the masses by whatever was to hand in the conditions of the time.
In fact, there is so little to say about his politics in the long run that Pasi effectively 'pads out' the tale with extended essays on Crowley's relationship with Pessoa and (by Hakl) on Evola.
Neither essay really tells us much about Crowley but I have no complaints. Pasi's scholarly discipline is exemplary and we learn important detail about what really matters - the culture of the era.
In that context, the book is a valuable monograph that shows just how the decaying upper middle classes interconnected on nonsensical beliefs and intellectual fads - from jacobitism to pseudo-communism.
In fact, for all his faults, Crowley comes out of this not too badly if you stick to the image of someone who stuck to his last on core anti-Christian, libertarian and elitist values.
That odd mix means that there is no way that he can be seen as part of today's traditional revival - Thelema is definitely not a primordialist religion but a revolutionary new religion.
It also means that it is intrinsically anti-totalitarian and closer to what Nietzsche might have seen as a transvaluation of values (though I doubt the philosopher would have been impressed with him).
One can see why this old roue flirted with systems like scientific socialism, national socialism and fascism as an intrinsic libertarian anti-democrat but also why each flirtation lasted for such little time.
He thought these systems could bring spiritual liberty to the masses (not to be confused with political liberty), only to find quite quickly, as Evola did, that these were practial men of brute power.
What is more interesting throughout this book is the peculiar culture of pre-war and interwar esotericism and the underground of ridiculous theory that seems to be finding fertile ground again.
My own view is that no one understood Nietzsche at that time except in simple terms because he was asking far too much in terms of free thought but Crowley probably made most progress in a half-baked way.
I am not and will never be a Thelemite - a cure as bad as the disease - but I will always admire Crowley, for all his irresponsibilities and narcissism, for asking the right questions.
The right questions were ones of liberating the individual self from the trammels of inherited forms, re-invention if you like. He came (as Pasi notes) to see this as a mission - hence his political dabbling.
The message remains liberatory even if he is as misused in the practice as was Nietzsche whose role in triggering his thought may have been under-estimated. They were both men before their time.
The book is highly recommended not only as an intelligent evaluation of the man - more measured than acolytes and critics - but as providing insights into a period of Western cultural confusion.
Pasi does not engage much with his influence after Evola (who seems not really to have been influenced!). But the notes are excellent in every respect and his judgments strike me as sound at every point.
We have had good works appearing now on traditionalism and on the esoteric cultural environment as well as on the post-war Right but it is good to see some facts laid down before further abuses take place.
This is a wise and highly intelligent, if very long, attempt to come to grips with the slippery term 'strategy' by a prominent British academic distil This is a wise and highly intelligent, if very long, attempt to come to grips with the slippery term 'strategy' by a prominent British academic distilling at least two decades of thinking on the subject.
Although a Professor of War Studies, Freedman does not restrict himself to the conduct of war but reviews revolutionary and dissident stategy on the one hand and business strategy on the other.
He is highly critical of some of the nonsense (he is too kind to call it that) from business gurus and I can only be pleased that I smelled the rat throughout the 1980s and 1990s and read few of them.
Where he gets to is a sceptical view of what we can possibly know about our own futures or control them.
He outlines, in the final section, the role of narratives and scripts in giving us the illusion of control.
This is not a counsel of despair. There is no fatalism in Freedman's approach but he does suggest that 'real life' requires a degree of detachment from scripts and narratives while making use of them as tools.
Educated readers will probably not be surprised by the general thrust of the section on war where there is a sort of master in Clausewitz (and the influence of Jomini) but it will bring you up to date.
As we write, a rather odd crisis between the 'West' (whatever that is) and Russia, after some egregious blundering by the European Union, has allowed all sorts of absurd 'narratives' free rein.
Trying to rein in historic stories about fascism and appeasement as well as more recent tales of humanitarian intervention and self determination has been part of the problem for intelligent diplomats.
The Ukraine remains unresolved as we write but the undoubted strategic skills of Putin and Lavrov on the one hand and Obama and Kerry might be enhanced by having this text at their sides.
The second section on the strategic attempts to overturn elites and systems gives due weight to the role of Marxism but is perhaps too easily seduced into a highly US-centred picture of political struggle.
This provides us with one of the few 'strategic' criticisms of the book - the elephant in the room that Freedman assiduously dances around: the State.
Military strategy is the expression of the force of the State, revolutionary strategies seek to overturn or capture the State and business strategies compete with the State ... but what of the State?
The State, emergent out of warlordism and dynasticism (or small trading communities), is the thing that should interest us most because we are most stuck inside its narratives and scripts.
Perhaps it was simply a matter of space (the book is over 600 pages long) but one senses sometimes that the broader academic community is always nervous of telling us the truth about what feeds it.
But this may be unfair. The book is mostly easy reading (though the idiocies of academic social scientists often cause one to lose patience) and the assessments are honest and fair to all parties.
Indeed, it is good to find a book that both gives due to the troubled struggle by educated revolutionaries to speak for the masses and to the games businessmen play to try to control what cannot be controlled.
A book which treats Rockefeller of Standard Oil and Karl Marx fairly, let alone Tom Hayden, has a lot going for it though maybe Freedman should throw up his hands at Sun Tzu as perpetual strategic cliche.
Will this book make you a better 'strategist'? Well, it will do a service if it makes you sceptical about books that claim to offer that particular pot of gold.
Strategists are probably born rather than made but many of the skills can be learned - or rather 'bad' unstrategic narratives might be unlearned and 'scripts' recognised.
His story of continuous failures to 'get it right' becomes a bit cheerier when rationalist progressives begin to be challenged by the behaviourial economists.
Though I remain unconvinced by this particular discipline - and consider political science to be an utterly absurd concept - cognitive psychology has helped us here.
Increasingly, we are beginning to stop whining that we are not 'rational' (or rather autistic academics are) and beginning to see our mentalities as extremely good survival machines for uncertainty.
Freedman is persuasive that we have a sort of double action mind where intuition and 'art' working in real time gets things right most of the time under most conditions (his System 1 strategic thinking).
Habit and narratives and scripts can get in our way in a crisis and the reasoning abilities of his System 2 thinking enable us analytically and critically correct our own biases and errors.
However, we can only do this in real time, constantly adjusting to realities that are, in themselves, way beyond any form of reasonable long term analysis because of so many variables and unknowns.
Perhaps the thinking started with John Boyd's simple but productive concept of OODA (observation, orientation, decision, action) but Freedman here develops a more interesting model of struggle.
In essence, the only strategy is the intuitive positioning of oneself to win each battle as it comes within a general vision of where one wants to be - and this is not a matter for mathematicians. ...more
As a 2004 biography of Gamel Abdel Nasser from a well known Arab journalist, this is worth reading for insights into events that have taken place much As a 2004 biography of Gamel Abdel Nasser from a well known Arab journalist, this is worth reading for insights into events that have taken place much more recently in Egypt and the wider region.
Aburish expresses ambivalence towards this curious character, a romantic idealist whose personal conduct as a dictator was (unless you were Muslim Brotherhood or Communist) better than most.
Aburish's Arab heart seems to appreciate that Nasser represented an emotive restoration of dignity to a people who had been denied respect over a long period of Turkish, French and British imperial control.
On the other hand, although his last years showed some ability to function effectively within the rules of the game, his story is one, fundamentally, of failure and not just because of imperial opposition.
Aburish writes of him as a man 'whose heart was in the right place but whose policies were too weak to cope with the problems he faced', an autodidact small town dreamer. He is right.
But one should not be too harsh. It is unlikely that any man could have done much better. Sadat and Mubarak clearly failed to resolve any of the problems he faced, merely intensifying thuggish dictatorship.
By the end of the book, we are, if we have a heart, faced with the same ambivalence to him as Aburish. If only, if only, we say ... and then find the 'if onlys' multiply to meaninglessness.
On the one hand, the man was just another Arab dictator in a culture that has still (today) not really got past the stage of relying on pashas, tribal leaders and autocratic dynasts.
On the other, he at least tried to reflect the will of the people and made real efforts to modernise his country (with some success) despite the traditionalist obscurantists - and was only tactically brutal.
Much of the problem here is central to the Arab condition. Autocratic leadership is accompanied by a complete lack of an institutional learning process to create administrative capability.
Such leadership is also used to surrounding itself with a court of friends that are judged on friendship and loyalty and not on competence or shared vision. The result is inherent instability.
Nasser retained power because he had one unusual skill and one new tool - he could speak to the crowd as Churchill could in another era and, like Goebbels and FDR, he had radio to spread his message.
The army too often becomes the only structure where some form of capability meets vision but, here too, Nasser was ill served by his own generosity and lack of interest in the quality of his colleagues.
He was thus a very Arab leader, with all the strengths and weakness of the culture, and it is valuable to have an experienced Arab journalist interpret him for us.
Indeed, there are times when Aburish goes a little native, not so much in his sentiments as in his style, with repetitions for emphasis and the fluctuations of heart and mind that are intrinsic to the culture.
Indeed, the book is fascinating until the end of the Suez gamble, about half way through the story, when the decline in Nasser's mission sets in and seems to be reflected in Aburish's suddenly heavier style.
To his credit. he avoids blaming everyone but the Arabs themselves for the catalogue of errors that we see in the book, also a history of the region from the Free Officers coup to the rise of the PLO.
There is sorrow rather than anger as tribal interests, ideology, egos, the superior cohesion of the Israelis, Western ambitions and corrupt and decadent elites create the unending mayhem we know so well.
But this is not to exonerate the West at all. The behaviour of the CIA is interesting not only for its despicability but for its lack of political accountability at home - still going on in the region today.
CIA involvement in drawing up death lists for the Baathist coup (that was eventually to lead to the 'regime' of Saddam Hussein) against Kassem in 1963 makes a mockery of US moral claims to leadership.
The West was involved in assassination as strategy and instrument of policy. Only fools really believe that there is much moral content to Western decision-making as we hurtle towards war in the Ukraine!
The book is also a sustained critique of Western support for Political Islam which started much earlier than most believe and which has been an own goal of no less standing than has been the Saddam one.
In assessing the successes (rhetorical) and failures (practical) of 'Nasserism' - Arab nationalism - its culturally-sensitive secularism was the baby that got thrown out with the bath water.
The relationship between an essentially conservative Nasserism, the more radical Baathism and Communism with Political Islam is a story of incommensurate ideologies manipulated by outside powers.
Perhaps only Nasser, based on the instinct of a modernising soldier recalling his small town background, saw the danger in Political Islam if it was allowed to take hold if ever Arab nationalism failed.
Ghaddafi attempted another solution, of course, which was to incorporate Islam within a revolutionary national socialist model but the Baathist model of secularism jettisoned culture altogether.
Instead of understanding that Arab Nationalism was a potentially progressive and collaborative force, the West, the British in particular, did everything they could to undermine it.
Progressive for Arabs but also progressive in order to reach some form of equitable relationship with the West - this demand for equity, respect and dignity seems to have been dismissed out of hand.
The Western tool in the war against communism (the primary driver of Western foreign policy) and Arab nationalism alike was Islamism which is not to be confused with Islam (Nasser was a sincere Muslim).
The book is worth reading just to remind ourselves of the foolish decisions made by 'our side' against secularism that ultimately led to bloody civil war in Syria and counter-revolution in Egypt.
As I write this, dimilar decision-makers seem to be teetering on the edge of yet another global war (the Ukraine) so questions have to be asked about their competence to rule over the long run of history.
This is not to exonerate Nasser himself from egregious blunders and often being all mouth and no trousers but the resistance to what he stood for was undemocratic and ignorant.
There were ample opportunities to work with rather than against those who spoke for real popular sentiment and feeling ('dignity' above all) and still draw appropriate red lines - even over Israel.
Underhand subversion by adventurers, failing to appoint and listen to seriously effective diplomats, obsession with communism and working with obscurantists in preference to secularists were crimes.
Nasser was a romantic failure, a creature of his culture, an inspiration perhaps still to many Arabs but ultimately a lesson in there being no substitute for political discipline and capacity. ...more
Colin Brown is a former senior political journalist and his book has all the hallmarks, good and bad, of a current genre - the retired news man wantin Colin Brown is a former senior political journalist and his book has all the hallmarks, good and bad, of a current genre - the retired news man wanting to top up his pension and sweat his intellectual assets.
The good parts first. Brown writes well and clearly. He has made a real effort to get behind the wheel of history, visiting the sites of central historical events and understands the importance of place.
His account of battles are very good (Azincourt and the holding of Hougoumont at Waterloo in particular). He is equally good on the myth-making around events such as Magna Carta and the Armada.
His choices are (with one exception) important markers for what it is to be English (rather than his claimed Britishness) and he is good at showing just how contingently events have turned out.
Very few of the events in this book were 'inevitable' (other than perhaps the creation of the NHS) though probability was with some (1688, women's suffrage and 1940) and chance with others.
The weather of North Western Europe plays an inordinate role on the touch-and-go nature of national survival but it is also true that the English/British commitment to military innovation is always high.
He is (again with one exception) no sentimentalist either, able to point out that many major events were largely 'fixes' by special interests in struggles high above the world of us peasants.
He is a fairly typical example of the modern progressive-Tory-Whig, a creature squaring a lot of internal contradictions to come up with the right answer - a modern variant of the 'God is an Englishman' thesis.
But, like most British journalists, he is averse to analysis. The story is told, the falsities exposed but no conclusions drawn that are not rather simplistic and often comforting despite what we have read.
And the book takes a sharp turn for the worse at the end, after excellent and enlightening accounts of the two pivotal events that shaped the modern English mind - 1940 and the NHS in 1948.
It is as if that mind is his mind and he becomes the nation for the last event because he was there and can report on it as a newsman with 'inside information' - the Falklands and sinking of the Belgrano.
But, bluntly, the Falklands has been manufactured here as a defining event when it was merely a gamble that paid off for a Government that had already set the tone for the next thirty years.
More defining events might have been 1956 (Suez) or the defeat of the coal miners or the lifting of exchange controls (my personal choice) or are yet to come (the Scottish and European Referendums).
Similarly, he prefers the Falklands to the dissolution of the monasteries, the union of 1707, the Somme and so many other 'bigger' events ... this just does not work.
And the final chapter seems to be little more than a complacent establishment manifesto for monarchism and for our increasingly shoddy parliament ... the junior ranks of the establishment speak!
All in all, a well written and informative book that makes a good read for a journey and will change your views perhaps on aspects of our 'island story' but the jewels are set in a lazy and tinny setting.
At one level, this is excellent infotainment and I applaud Brown's active engagement with place and evidence but, at another, it represents, once again, that our elite still does not 'get' it. ...more
Sometimes it is good to back in time and read an out-of-date book on a current issue to see just how much has changed since it was written - especiall Sometimes it is good to back in time and read an out-of-date book on a current issue to see just how much has changed since it was written - especially if it comes from a pioneer, as in this case.
This is a 1994 Edition (it was updated at the end of the decade) and so gives us a picture of what virtual communities implied and meant a full two decades ago - an eternity in internet history.
It remains valuable as a solid historical account of the early days of what would later become social media and of the ideology of participation that lead to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Much of the book is now just of historical interest and Rheingold's communitarian liberalism might now seem more than a little naive in the aftermath of 2008 and the failures of the Arab Spring.
But Rheingold is no simple booster. He raises the threats to freedom in his last chapter in ways that have proved prescient ... the references to the interest of the NSA most noticeably.
He paints both a nightmare scenario and a scenario of hope but, in this respect, two decades on, we are no further forward. Neither one has won the war but the balance of power is shifting towards nightmare.
Social media have blossomed into a huge multinational medium in their own right, making Usenet groups and MUDs redundant and the Well a back water. Facebook Groups now serve as our virtual communities.
We see global dominance by Facebook, Google and Twitter but sharing is now not so much a conversation as an exercise in preening narcissism (as perhaps it always was)
Broadcasting has been democratised: everyone is an anchorman rather than a participant in public life. Only local activists in patchy localities or for single issues seem to meet the original vision.
We have all got wise to the politics of the internet and it has made us cynical. We are not quite what the hyper-realist school feared (we all know it is not real and we are) but we are not liberated either.
The issue is thus not so much our lack of privacy or that government agencies and marketeers track our every move as that we now know that we are powerless spectators of a flailing elite circus.
The internet and sharing have not created effective change but merely allowed change to be used as a trick to put favoured liberals into the Presidency or help NGOs raise funds and fix legislation.
'Be the change' meant little more than 'be the sap who legitimised a softer version of the system you voted against' while Occupy has turned out to be little more than a school for future lobbyists.
The public observes our elites make mistake after mistake after mistake and then learn not only that they are powerless but that democracy actually means very little, that the Emperor has no clothes.
Activism is also exhausting, only for the few whose over-enthusiastic personality types soon alienate those who just want a quiet life. Virtual groups require very demanding levels of moderation.
One of the great hopes of Rheingold's book - the rise of a countervailing civil society to Power - has turned to dust as NGOs have become integrated into the elite and learned to lie for funds.
The Jeffersonian Democratic hopes of the idealists probably collapsed because big commercial operations filched their mass base from under them. Big capital was simply better at meeting basic desires.
Yes, local activism can still make a mark. Things are certainly much more efficient amongst activists in our small town because of the internet but not much has really changed for the better.
If anything, lack of resources, bureaucratic inertia and exhaustion have resulted in a general cynicism to the effect that governance will always be a shoddy affair by the self-interested and barely competent.
Although the tools are still in place for Rheingold's rebirth of democracy, the truth is that few want to use them and their potential is next to useless against the prevailing hard power of the State.
Civil society activism on the internet needs an organisational real world structure but the ability to organise has been lost with our isolation into small family units and decentralised office functions.
With no industrial work place to rely on and most people developing more links outside immediate localities (very much encouraged by the internet), information is exchanged more effectively but not power.
Power ultimately does come out of the barrel of a gun. It is a material business of not accepting a writ or paying a tax or of seizing a building or shooting an official. It is ultimately very real.
We have been deluded into thinking that knowledge and information in themselves are the basis of power when it is control of information and of secret knowledge that are the tools of Power.
We are not more powerful by knowing more things. People with hard power become more or less powerful to the degree that they know more things that are useful than we do. And they always do ...
It is no accident that the EFF soon concentrated on traditional lobbying in DC rather than a strategy of mobilisation of the masses - the masses simply were not only not interested but not relevant.
The purpose for the political class of the internet is simply the emotional mobilisation of the masses in the competition for power and the acquisition of aggregated information to use against the masses.
Ten radicals in a squat could once have created the illusion of a mass movement in a couple of days. Many of us, including the powerful, were fooled by this for quite some time. They have got wise to this now.
Many of us have become cynical - or at least, while the majority may be fooled by the claims of activists to speak for history, the brightest and the best know that it is no more than rhetoric.
Many causes and claims have proved organisationally shallow. Although Twitter could get millions on to the street on occasions, the masses won not on their own force but on a loss of nerve by the authorities.
Once the authorities started to treat rights activists as so much flotsam, order could be restored or at least a straight fight might be organised with the extremists and gangsters who knew how to fire a gun.
We are now experiencing the greatest test of all - an association of Western States has admitted a massive intrusion into private lives in order to acquire big data for analysis, some of it clearly 'illegal'.
Does this illegality matter? Not a great deal. The system can simply sweep around objections because big data is as essential to governance and control in the future as it is to marketing.
Not all of it is bad - epidemiology might be well served by Big Data and it may be some tiny virus that proves our greatest existential challenge - but we can suspect that a lot of it is.
The best the little man can expect is that the need to believe in the private sector's guardianship of their data will force the State to construct some safeguards for normal times for average people.
What the little man does not understand is that sufficient reserve power will still have accrued to the State that, in abnormal times, he will be as much victim of its tyranny as he was in 1916 and 1941.
The civil society model of the internet is being crushed on the indifference and cynicism of the masses, the weight of desires being fulfilled by business and the appropriation of activism by the elite.
The model of Big Government, Big (Old) Business and Big Unions has simply been replaced by one of Big Government, Big (New) Business and Big NGOs. The lies and obfuscations continue ...
The sad truth is that very few people are interested or competent enough to engineer the internet into a tool for liberation other than at the personal or individual level. And personal freedom is key.
It is quite interesting that, despite some recent attempts to reimpose 'morality' by the back door, these attempts have been half-hearted and the State has become defensive about tampering with private life.
The one area where the internet has had a major cultural impact is in permitting the affiliation and association of interest groups, especially in matters of sexuality. Private life has been secured.
It is hard to see how sex workers, polyamorists, transgender people and gays could have protected themselves so fully without the binding force of the internet. Yet most of these remain on the defensive.
States have to use the most extreme of behaviours - paedophilia - to help impose controls and mount interference on the internet because of this presumption to a private life. Privacy still rhetorically matters.
Putin is back-tracking on the gay issue because of the force of gay activism making maximum use of the sharing function on social media to embarrass him before Sochi.
People can still be mobilised to defend lifestyle choices - what they cannot be mobilised to do so effectively is make economic or political claims that relate to older values like fairness or participation.
If all is permitted on paper, the one or two things that are not permitted are quite sufficient to allow States outside the land of the First Amendment (like the UK) to seek some control of the internet.
The technique of creating fear amongst 'abnormals' of any kind that their private communications are being monitored for the greater good dampens the very instinct for freedom that created the internet.
The US is different because of the Constitution but even here Rheingold's account of the first tragi-comical dabbling of the FBI in policing the internet suggests a mentality that dislikes its freedom.
The prospect now is of a feint. On the one side, a global clash of ideologies where liberal internationalism represents little more than a rhetorical flourish designed to open up markets and remove threats.
On the other, States of all types are looking for cracks in the building in order to find an excuse to send in the inspectors and have it rebuilt as a prison.
These things are being fought over our heads. We can write and share and argue on social media but big data will merely treat this as a massive opinion poll. Most politicians have no other interest.
And the more we engage with the internet, then the more the system can manipulate us - through behavioural sciences and spin, the continued control of broadcasting and ultimate censorship in a crisis.
We never stood a chance ... this book helps us to understand how idealism and enthusiasm once made an attempt to turn the internet into the tool of the people. We should thank the activists for the effort. ...more
This is what good history should be about - an evidence-based narrative exploration offering the best working explanation of a particular problem of p This is what good history should be about - an evidence-based narrative exploration offering the best working explanation of a particular problem of possible concern to us today.
Ian Kershaw asks a simple question of why Germany continued to fight on, far beyond reason, against the overwhelming force of Russian manpower and of Anglo-American air and technical superiority.
The book takes us from the failed Operation Valkyrie (the only serious revolt by conservative nationalists against national socialism) in July 1944 to the final capitulation in May 1945.
These were ten months in which it was pretty clear after the failure of the Ardennes Offensive and then the massive punch of the Soviets to within 80km of Berlin that the 'regime' had no chance of survival.
Yet Germany fought on - not just the Nazi Party but the entire military, the bureaucracy, the increasingly discredited judiciary and a good proportion of the common people. Kershaw simply asks why?
This period saw not just the military dead but the death marches of concentration camp victims, significant refugee losses, mass aerial bombings (including Dresden) and German-on-German terror.
And yet the system did not break even as the country was split - not until Hitler was known to be dead and a more rational if still ferociously Nazi Donitz eventually sued for unconditional peace.
Can it be down to the force of Hitler's will or the blind obedience of the German people? Kershaw explores these and many other reasons and like all the best history comes up with some very complex answers.
However, the best history seeks patterns in the chaos and in the interweaving of many causes and effects. Kershaw is no exception. There was some binding force that locked Germany into its apocalypse.
Kershaw finds this force in the functional reality of the 'fuhrerprinzip' where military, bureaucracy, party and national identity were bound into one locus represented by a monomaniac.
Unlike Italy, where Mussolini could be ousted by the Fascist Grand Council and the military and state be redirected under a national identity separate from the man, Germany was bound into one figure.
Beneath this man, all the players could dispose of forces towards one end set by Hitler but under conditions where each gathered power in competition with the other.
After Valkyrie, Bormann turned the Party into a mechanism of terror directed at controlling the German people through fear. Goebbels took responsibility for the engagement of the masses in the war effort.
Speer used his power to broker a corporatist economic state directed at armaments production, binding military, industrialists, workers and, more unwillingly than most, slave labour.
Himmler imposed discipline on the army in a collaborative relationship with the Wehrmacht. Powerful pro-Nazi Generals took advantage of Valkyrie to place their honour and duty in the hands of the Fuhrer.
Above all, the whole 'fuhrerprinzip' was underpinned by a dreadful combination of German nationalist duty and honour and national socialist fanaticism against both communism and the 'Jewish threat'.
If most soldiers may not have cared that much about the Jews, they were prepared to sacrifice them and other race-hate targets in the primary war against the Bolsheviks.
It was this hatred of the East which bound military and Hitler together and the hatred was fully returned. Soviet vengeance became a genuine fear factor in the continuation of the war.
Any deal with the West that did not allow Germany to release its troops to fight the Soviets was seen as a cultural and possibly real death sentence for half of the country.
Anti-communist fanaticism and fear were so strong that senior figures often could not comprehend that the Western Empires would prefer to fight alongside Stalin to the end rather than save Germany.
If I have not mentioned the opinions of the ordinary German (though Kershaw is very enlightening here) it is only because they had very little to say that mattered. They were not permitted much agency.
By the last months of the war, Germans, including ordinary German soldiers in some zones, were placed under a brutal terror regime of arbitrary executions that meant revolt was a death sentence.
And this is what strikes us about the story - the extreme lack of agency offered by the 'regime' where, although paid the weekly or monthly cheque to the end, a German was the slave of his Government.
Kershaw is also good on the fundamental attitudinal split between military and civilians in the East (fearful of Soviet atrocities) and in the West (almost desperate in some places for the Allies to arrive).
He also reminds us of the human cost, with atrocities in which no player in the game was not guilty. Nazi atrocities in the East were simply compounded at home under what amounted to a gangster regime.
Soviet atrocities were real enough (it took some time for control to be re-asserted by the authorities over their own occupying troops) and led to a tragic refugee exodus in icy conditions.
The French destroyed a whole village under circumstances still not clear today and the mass aerial bombing of German civilians by the British, notably the fire storm at Dresden, still leaves a bad taste.
This was a maelstrom of horror in which the men at the top (and their wives) reveled in their own fanaticism, desperation, 'heroism', brutality and power. But can we learn from this?
The puzzlement of Kershaw was that it was so rare, possibly unique, in history for a state to go so far and so willingly down the road to potential annihilation and at such cost to itself.
It is unlikely that it will ever be repeated as a case since now we know that even communist regimes can fall without a fight - their internal complexity perhaps helps to explain why.
Perhaps Stalin's Russia came closest and perhaps it was an intelligent analysis of his own situation - a lesson that Saddam Hussein attempted to copy, not reckoning on the sheer firepower of the US.
The story tells us something about our species and power that, on reflection, is rather grim - it is that the state's strength is in opposition to individual agency on terms very favourable to the former.
Even in our lovely cuddly liberal democracies, the state has immense reserve powers - as Americans saw under Woodrow Wilson and Britons saw under Lloyd George and Churchill. These are truly formidable.
We think our agency is a human right in that magical thinking about contracts and rights of which liberals are so fond. It is true that political culture in the West usually restrains the worst of the State.
But be under no illusions that the restraint exists only because those who control the State do not have a monomaniac will to use the State for some mad cap ideal. It is convenient for them to separate powers.
If a State is so disrupted that a monomaniac can systematically unravel pluralism and centre the bureaucracy, the military and the police on him then you and I do not stand a chance.
We are then simply not in a position to organise anything but the most futile of resistance (basically, we die or are imprisoned). We should remember this when think of the powers now accruing to the NSA.
This leaves us with an interesting dilemma in our dealings with the modern state. Do we trust it to be restrained and hope it is never disrupted so that some extremist loon can seize power?
Or do we begin to consider how we can make sure that the State is always actually rather than theoretically beholden us. In short, what checks can we the people make against a loss of checks and balances.
Certainly, in 1933, the elite handed power to a genius in political manipulation and turned itself into his willing creature. Within a little over a decade, the population ended up in a hell on earth.
Even today, the British and American military have ideologies of duty and honour towards single sovereigns that are scarcely different from that of the Wehrmacht in functional terms.
It is, of course, extremely unlikely that we, in the West, would be ruled by a monomaniac able to terrorise us into total compliance but, even today, the state's weapon of choice remains fear and half truths.
Outside the West, the idea of monomania is less ridiculous when there are religious and nationalist parties which offer path ways not dissimilar to that of the Nazis in the drive to control the State.
Perhaps this is why Sisi's coup in Egypt may not be pleasant but should be heartening in a way. The military turned away from obscurantist magical thinking in favour of rational administration.
The book should thus be read not as something distant from us but as a lesson in our lack of agency even in more benign conditions and in the ridiculous power that we give to institutions and belief systems
It should also be read as an essay in the consequences of particular modes of thinking - duty and honour in the military, duty and 'public service' in the bureaucracy and belief in the party and the nation.
We think of heroism, duty, honour, ideals and often faith (though less so with maturity and education) as positives but they are not if there is no serious questioning of why the heroic act and to whom the duty.
In Silesia, the Soviet advance isolated a town. The local Gauleiter became a Nazi hero for his defence to the end against the 'Asiatic horde' but the citizens would have done better to have surrendered.
This is not an argument for pacifism or 'cowardice' but for reason. Continuing a fight against overwhelming odds for gangsters is simply stupid, worse, it is criminal where lives are concerned.
It is time to look duty, obedience, honour, authority, custom, claims of heroism, idealism and leadership in the eye and call them out by asking them why and for whom people hold to these magical beliefs.
The Nazi regime was a merger of an aristocratic presumption on its last legs and the resentments at the uglier end of the masses in a malign war on modernity and progress.
Such people were not and never could be heroes. They were simply, so it was proved, not bright enough to understand their own condition and they dragged a lot of innocent people down with them.
Let them now be cursed again. In the end, these were only dim thugs who denied humanity its greatest evolutionary prize - personal agency and freedom. ...more
This is a useful but flawed account of an important theatre of war in the struggle of liberal internationalism (Western imperialism) and socialism aga This is a useful but flawed account of an important theatre of war in the struggle of liberal internationalism (Western imperialism) and socialism against the attempted imperialisms of rising powers.
The story has two contemporary sets of resonance - the obvious one is the tricky current state of Sino-Japanese relations that has Westerners rushing to books like this. The less obvious is the attempt by the West to answer the question, 'what to do with rising powers?'
On the surface it is traditional narrative history. It starts at the beginning (what led up to the Marco Polo Bridge incident, the 'Sarajevo' of eight years of slaughter) through to the surprise ending - the 'deus ex machina' of the Atom Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
With the usual unconscious racism of the Western armchair liberal, the debates on the use of the Bomb usually wonder about the dreadful morality of wiping out 100,000 persons in a few days in terms of saved men and materiel for the West.
A more open view would throw into the pot the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of Chinese and Japanese lives saved from not going down the Nazi route of a year or two of mayhem as Japan fought to the end despite its prospect of certain defeat.
Between 8 million and 20 million, variously estimated, died in those eight years with perhaps three to four million the victims of first the deliberate flooding of Henan and then its appalling famine (Mitter also notes the estimated 3m who died in a similar Indian wartime famine).
The whole business is another story of 'things getting out of control' with millions being disrupted, starved, conscripted, terrorised and murdered as a few 'big men' squabble for advantage and for 'values' that are often noble enough but equally as often hypocritical.
It is a story played out almost continuously even today - Africa being the current playground for 'big men' and psychopaths of all 'moral' persuasions. We should be pleased the rising thuggery of new empires was suppressed but it was not a simple tale of good and evil.
The flaws in the book, however, detract from its usefulness as analytical tool although the 'further reading' at the back is useful for anyone wanting to delve deeper.
Above all, the book often reads like an unjustifiable apologia for Chiang Kai-Shek, warlord leader of the Nationalist Chinese with most claim to legitimacy as ruler of China. It certainly spends more time on the squabble with General Stilwell than a straight narrative deserves.
What is going on here? The reality is that, legitimate though he was, Chiang Kai-Shek was soon run out of town (the core of China in the East) and was not much more than a superior warlord from an earlier era.
He could speak for China and for millions of men but he had proved an unimaginative and narcissistic leader before the Marco Polo Bridge incident and was not much better after it. Mitter justifiably contextualises his decisions but they were more often than not poor.
Most of the non-Communist warlords in the south marked time under his leadership but his control was limited, while the Communists under Mao cannily created a state within a state in North West China that treated the peasantry as if they mattered instead of as fodder.
By the time the Americans arrived (and the Communists are almost exclusively seen through American eyes by 1942/3 as Mittar swerves off into analyses of thinking in Washington), Chiang's China was virtually being re-colonised by the US by stealth without benefit to the people.
The blunders of Stilwell and the Americans can be charitably put down to them 'learning on the job' as they slowly displaced the British Empire as global arbiter. US foreign policy does not really settle down into full competence until after the McCarthy blood-letting.
Mitter's attempt to recover Chiang's reputation by pointing out the new status given to China in the 'UN' holds little water. Yes, this was a fact on the ground and it portended great things, a benefit that India failed to achieve, but China was always a tool under Chiang.
In essence, China held down some 600,000 Japanese troops and that was important for the Allied war effort but it presupposes that this was always in the interests of the Chinese who died in huge numbers holding together a ramshackle strategy of mere survival.
It is noticeable that in the struggle against the last Japanese offensive - like the last push of the Germans in 1918 - Nationalist troops were attacked by Henan peasants who had suffered deliberate flooding and then famine, fertile ground for communism later.
The second flaw is associated with the first. Mittel devotes about the right amount of space to the Communists in Yan'an but his coverage is still cursory and lacking in analysis. His great lack is any serious investigation of Japanese thinking and Japanese motives.
This is highly problematic. The book is about the Japanese war on China. That means it is about both main participants and the whole war zone yet we hear virtually nothing of East China other than Nanking and little of Japanese-collaborationist dealings.
He devotes a great deal of attention to the Petain of China - Wang JIngwei and his circle - but always in the light of them being implicitly honourable Nationalists who got it wrong.
This misses the point - they were naive and 'useful idiots' but there were important ideological and practical Japanese reasons for creating 'Vichy' regimes across Asia and for nationalists to choose what they thought might be the lesser evil. We get little sense of this.
Right or wrong, what was actually happening in the huge area of East China under Japanese rule needs to be explained in terms of Japanese conduct on the ground after the Rape of Nanking and of the motivations for Chinese collaborationism and resistance.
By the second half of the war, just as the National Socialists could put 'national' SS divisions into the field against the Soviets so there were substantial collaborationist Chinese troops fighting against the nationalists alongside the Japanese in the final offensive.
This has to be explained. It cannot be explained by giving excessive coverage to the superior warlord's dealings with Washington and almost completely neglecting the dynamic between Tokyo and Nanking except in terms of the factional struggles of a few failed politicians.
The net effect is that we have a book that does not take the detached and cold view of the struggle that we need to have in order to assist with the analysis of the twin issues noted at the beginning of this review - Sino-Japanese relations and the rise of new powers.
Instead, what we have is another easy read for liberal internationalists that seems intended to guide them through the group think politics of their own side rather than assist in understanding complexity and think about the unthinkable.
It is a morale-booster that seems to say that the 'real' China was only accidentally corrupt and incompetent and that if we (the West) had behaved in diferent ways and taken a flawed great man at face value, things would have been better. It is like a polemic for the past!
However, there is lot to learn from this book - about Mao's genius for making inaction look like action, about the cynicism of the Allies, about the delusions of the Japanese elite, about the resilience and humanity of the Chinese people and about the chaos of war.
One lesson is fascinating and well taught. Under conditions of war and threat, all three regimes in China turned to terror to try and hold power - Mao's reined in his intellectuals and mobilised the peasantry with the help of the Yezhov-trained Kang Sheng but he was not alone.
Chiang used the dedicated monster Dai Li (with the close co-operation of the Americans) to eliminate opposition to a regime that was really not much different from those targeted in Libya and Syria more recently. Chiang was not a democrat but an authoritarian militarist.
Wang Jingwei hired politicised gangsters to do much the same in Nanking from a class which, in Shanghai, had helped Chiang himself on his road to power. Even today, it is clear that, after seventy years of Communist 'totalitarianism', South China's gangster culture thrives.
Although the victor Mao adopted techniques later that taught Pol Pot and the extremists in North Korea their techniques of terror and power, thuggery arose on all sides out of warfare and whatever state might have emerged, none would have had much truck with 'human rights'.
This makes any attempt to make the 'less worse' seem good rather futile - Chiang murdered 800,000 Chinese in a somewhat poorly thought-out tactical attempt to slow down the Japanese by breaching the dams on the Yellow River. No wonder the Henanese peasants were obstructive!
At the end of the day, the whole debacle came down to an incident where a rising power thought that it had rights, demonstrated by its imperial enemies in the Opium Wars and subsequently, to use force to extract concessions on spurious grounds against a weak target.
That the target was weak was definitely not the fault of Chiang Kai-Shek. He was dealt an appalling set of cards but, given the realities of the situation, his decisions tended to make things worse, starting with his initial 'Night of the Long Knives' against the Reds.
Still, the book remains a valuable narrative introduction to one of the nastiest wars in an era of nasty wars. It left this reader with an abiding sense of solidarity with the Chinese people if not their leaderships.
Above all, I have come to admire the achievement of China in not merely holding itself together but appearing to cohere into a Great Power that has managed, through the construction of its own creation myth, to bind together the East, the Party and the nationalist impulse into one.
The nervousness of the West - and the margin states of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and perhaps Vietnam and the Philippines as well - is understandable but it may be that the US in particular is still not learning the lessons of the 1940s.
The book reminds us of the fragility of the Communist 'achievement'. The European Union is now seeing old interwar attitudes re-emerge in troubled economies - notably Spain and Eastern Europe - and there is no reason why something similar might not happen in China.
In its hour of greatest need, 'Free China' needed unconditional love like the battered child it was but instead it got used as a tool and was patronised by its equals - no wonder its successors are disinclined to trust anyone but their own instinct for tough love. ...more
This 1991 well argued polemic has been reissued by Penguin, perhaps to set the context for Edgerton's latest book 'Britain's War Machine' but with twoThis 1991 well argued polemic has been reissued by Penguin, perhaps to set the context for Edgerton's latest book 'Britain's War Machine' but with two useful additions - a new introduction and a superbly informative historiography bringing the story right up to date.
Despite his own 2012 caveats, this book is well worth reading and Edgerton's calling it a 'polemic' does it a disservice - it is solid and well argued history. Perhaps his use of the term simply gave him space to be a bit more assertive early in his career.
The book is set in the context of a historical debate about 'decline' that has been the standard psychological currency for anyone educated before the mid-1990s - whether from the Right or the Left. This means policy-makers who are now over 40 and who do not 'keep up with things'.
Edgerton's politics are not worn on his sleeve but one guesses he is an industrial progressive that would have felt at home (as, with caveats, this reviewer would) in the old Labour Party before it got turned into a liberal internationalist simulacrum of the Left. Perhaps not.
Edgerton's thesis is very important. He is saying - as De Jouvenal might have done from a Republican Right tradition - that the UK as advanced liberal democracy was not a welfare state at heart but a warfare state with an ideology of liberal internationalism at its core.
Far from the UK being the first industrial nation in decline, he presents it as technocratic and modernising with immense reserves of organisational and state-directed power that out-competed all its competitors, bar, in the end, the 'American colossus'.
This is dealt with in greater detail in relation to the Second World War in his latest book which we hope to review later in the year but the point he is making is important for a reason he does not give - how our perceptions are formed by group consensus rather than the facts.
This lays us open to confusion but also to manipulation. He describes, through the medium of aviation history, how early aviation strategies were strongly lnked to the political imperial Right - as readers of Nevile Shute's novels will quickly recognise.
Although this might often shift under pressure into pro-fascist and anti-democratic tendences (there is a hint of aviation industry links to those Hess expected to meet on his ill-fated trip), the best description is of it being a liberal-democratic internationalism.
This liberal internationalism is not as lovely and cuddly it seems. This reviewer sees considerable continuities between the maintenance of empire over subject peoples, the brutality of air power strategies and the trajectory that would put the Trident-loving Blair into power.
The history of aviation is only one facet of British political history but, taken as the history of air power, it is a definer of foreign policy imperatives alongside the search for oil. Its neglect until Edgerton synthesised the work of many others has made us ignorant.
We are (as British) profoundly ignorant of the nature of our State which has learned a certain rhetoric of freedom, rights and democracy but is still the creature of the few and of its own urgent desire to survive at all costs - and I mean, at all costs.
We have reviewed some of the issues arising from this in relation to the Cold War at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... [Peter Hennessy's 'The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War'] but Edgerton's book supplies us with more evidence for the prosecution.
There is so much meat in this short book about the interplay of the technology of aviation with economics, culture and politics that we should not lose contact with Edgerton's primary thesis - that the UK did not decline, it appeared to decline only because others rose.
Apart from the massive mobilisation of an empire in order to participate in a struggle to the death at mid-century, the continued mobilisation of resources directed at subsidising the military aviation (and then missiles) sector was remarkable.
The scale of the military-industrial state constructed out of the 'reforms' of 1916 (equivalent to the allegedly progressive quasi-fascism of Woodrow Wilson and the real thing produced by Mussolini) and through the Cold War saw only one serious attempted check.
Whereas Eisenhower and Reagan brilliantly used military-industrial expenditure to develop the civilian infrastructure of the US - industrialisation of the West, road systems, civil aviation, satellite technology and the internet - the traditional elite in the UK did not.
There was a moment when elite insiders (Harold Wilson and Tony Benn) made a material effort to shift expenditures from the production of nonsensical attempts to keep ahead of a military game that could not be won into civil applications but the project fell apart on politics.
The experience appears to have radicalised Tony Benn into becoming an easily discreditable target of that same elite, while Wilson developed a partially justifiable paranoia about the right's determination to destroy him.
Even in the 1990s when I was involved in Labour Party politics, the military-industrial nationalist Labour Right plotted in my hearing to restore Trident to the top of the agenda and Amicus played a critical role in putting the Brown-Blair 'team' into power.
Much of the argument was around industrial decline, maintaining skills and full employment but what it was really all about was the military-industrial interests in the State ensuring that it would be 'business as usual' as Communism collapsed.
As the Left collapsed into a ridiculous sub-Marxism that gave cause for the Right to appeal direct to the people, New Labour eventually emerged as the synthetic merger of State resistance to fundamental change and the 'useful idiocy' of ambitious former Marxists on the make.
A similar failure took place in the Soviet Union where attempts to turn war expenditure into civilian expenditure crumbled on vested interests and sclerosis until the internal contradictions of bureaucratic paranoia resulted in the collapse of Russia into populist nationalism.
Russian populist nationalism is merely the Russian version of the British solution - the power of the State allied to a rhetoric that seduces an ill-educated population whose politics are those of slogans, prejudices and hand-me-down analyses endorsed by the media.
Edgerton does not deal with any of this grand theory but he does provide another fruitful source of data on the true nature of the state and the degree to which all is not what it appears to be in quasi-democratic states - like the UK and Russia.
His work starts to strip away our myths without in the least being 'ideological' or anything other than descriptive. The facts simply speak for themselves - the class basis within the RAF, the cruel calculations behind the use of air power, the interconnections.
If the book has a message for me, it may not be one intended by Edgerton. I am sold on the idea that the UK was not subject to decline in the twentieth century or indeed in the twenty first century. The Labour Party may indeed be electorally stuffed by robust recovery.
I am also sold on the idea that an advanced technology like aviation is transformative of political and economic structures and, another Edgerton proposal, that technological progress and modernity are very much at home, possibly more at home, on the Right than on the Left.
No, the lessons for me are several. First that the British ruling elite, as a closed-in caste that ably incorporate threats and assimilates them like an amoeba ingests food, is as powerful as it has ever been but has never been truly competent in its decision-making.
Second, that the public remains a prey to the elite's command of the terms of debate about important political issues under conditions where its 'Left' and 'Right' are merely struggling to rise to the head of something that exacts its own high price for the welfare it offers.
Third, that Right and Left are meaningless because both have been captured by the State and can only become meaningful when the Right means Republican Virtue (in the manner of De Jouvenel) and the Left means the Commonweal (in the manner of the English revolutionaries).
We have a very old story here - the struggle between Crown and People which the Crown won in 1660. It has brilliantly adapted its form to exist at the expense of the people - even today.
This book is, above all, a study of the relationship between a new and advanced technology (aviation) and its adaptation to the interests of the state and its eventual reformulation as a doctrine of mass murder in the mass bombing campaigns of the 1930s and 1940s.
It is this aspect of tolerance for mass murder as instrument of policy that took the 'regimes' of 1916 (Woodrow Wilson and Lloyd George) from the more efficient use of conscripted labour to sustain the machine in the direction of two further dark ends.
The first dark end was preparedness to slaughter civilians overseas to avoid slaughtering young men at home, forgetting that the capability was mutual - and the second (see our Hennessy review) was acceptance that the nation itself could be obliterated to save the 'Crown'.
None of this was spoken of. None of this was analysed. Everything was accepted as most Germans accepted radical nationalism in the 1930s and most Russians accepted Marxism-Leninism in the 1970s. But it was no less totalitarian - simply the totalitarianism of consensual ignorance.
History may show that the conquest of the air was one of our darkest moments - darker in actual lives lost than the discovery of nuclear power (so far). This has to raise questions about a more recent invention, the internet.
Aviation was 'invented' by two brothers who had an eye to military applications from the very beginning. The internet was created by a military-industrial complex under a democratic system that saw civilian applications as a reasonable pay off for taxation.
Aviation gave us globalisation but it also gave us Dresden. The internet is currently seen as giving us 'empowerment' but also 'child porn'. 'Child porn' is the excuse for controlling action much as 'insurgency' was an excuse to drop bombs under the British Empire.
The complexities suggest a 'game' in which the State will want to command and use this tool - as Edward Snowden has apparently exposed - while getting the economic benefits for the population that supplies it with the taxes to dole out death and welfare to taste.
The question arising from the history of aviation is this - have we, the people, actually analysed correctly what is going on here and who is actually benefiting or are we taking on a narrative written by special interests for special interests?
Above all, the myth of 'decline' owed a great deal to liberal intellectuals with minimal experience of the world asserting truths without evidence because it felt right. Has much changed? A daily read of the nonsense in the Guardian's 'Comment is Free' would suggest not.
How much of the current story of the internet and its purpose and use as well as its relationship to freedom and power is truly understood by these commentators. And, if they do not understand the crude nature of power and history, why are we listening to them? ...more
The wartime 'pin up' is usually associated with the United States but there is a British tradition best represented by the glamorous, lean and languidThe wartime 'pin up' is usually associated with the United States but there is a British tradition best represented by the glamorous, lean and languid women of Derek Wright.
This book, mostly pictures but with a useful biographical introduction by Tery Parker, tells a simple story of how commercial illustration techniques were applied to the problem of morale in war.
The women are models for sexual aspiration - nubile, beautiful, erotic, feminine and strong - that suited something embedded in English class. This is upper class totty made available by grant to the ranks.
David Wright himself is not what the image suggests - a family man who used his own attractive wife as model. She seems to have been happily 'game' in this respect and the family to be sound and happy.
The high point of the work is wartime - a sort of low art equivalent to Dame Laura Knight - and then there is decline into pulp and advertising before hints of a British rival to McGinnis emerging in the 1960s.
Sadly David Wright died in 1967 but he leaves a body (no pun intended) of work that cannot be dismissed - amidst the fast work of a competent illustrator under pressure are one or two masterpieces.
His erotically charged young woman - stylish and fashionable with nipples pert through transparent material - in Men Only (pre-Raymond) of September 1953 is precursor to modern fashion photography.
She is beautiful and self-assured, equal to any man whether as fashion model, courtesan, wife or mistress. This is a lost world of transient beauty made permanent far from today's growling harridans.
'Anglo-Saxon' from The Sketch of June 1944 could be a defiant spit-in-the-eye from the liberal English to Nazi Nordic purity claims and the erotic in-jokes for the troops ('kit inspection') are delicious.
It is not often appreciated that most men did not fight for democracy and human rights but for truth and duty, comrades, family and beautiful women ... it is why we will now cynically let the modern liberal hang. ...more
I was considering putting this book into my 'horror' list but it is no fiction, no attempt to assuage real anxieties with fantasy. This is the real th I was considering putting this book into my 'horror' list but it is no fiction, no attempt to assuage real anxieties with fantasy. This is the real thing and if I could give the book six stars, I would.
Peter Hennessy has carved out a niche as the historian who is a 'safe pair of hands' for the quasi-official history of the near-contemporary British State.
However, this is the United Kingdom and not yet a third world dictatorship so 'safe pair of hands' merely means that he will respect continued security concerns. Otherwise he is rigorous, curious, independent-minded and, at the end of the day, humane in his assessments.
The best way forward is to draw some conclusions of our own, bearing in mind that this edition was published a decade ago and much material remained 'under wraps'. You are recommended to go straight to the book for the full and an accurate picture.
The book was published at that key point after the security apparat had begun to wonder what its purpose was now that the Soviet threat had evaporated and before the 'construction' of the part-real and part-invented terrorist threat that now threatens to recreate some of the horrors in this book but in new forms (see below).
Part of the pleasure of the book (if pleasure at its grim story is the right word) lies in the facility of Hennessy's writing and in the element of detective work as he plausibly reconstructs past policy even where documentation remains classified.
Indeed, the reconstruction based on known declassified documentation is so (bluntly) 'scary' that the mind boggles at what was being left behind closed doors (possibly literally in the case of the West Country Command Bunker) and still could not be seen by the people who pay the salaries of these officials, the enemy having long since departed.
There is black humour as well. Many of these highly intelligent officials had no illusions that their constant and expensive war planning was little more than 'pissing in the wind'.
I am left with the image of Her Majesty bobbing away on HMS Britannia in the North Atlantic while her Government sits hours away from extermination, having murdered 8 million Soviet men, women and children in retaliation for the Soviets doing in 12 million of ours.
The idea that 210 (probably less than 150 after traffic hold-ups) officials could command a country of around 30-40million ('surviving'), most of whom would be starving, rootless, irradiated, dying and bitter through regional centres of much the same numbers - let's say 1,500 men and a very few women - is patently ridiculous.
Desperately trying to direct their armed forces into public order control as a de facto military dictatorship with draconian rights to the death penalty (the safeguards would have collapsed on the first regional revolt), the question arises how these people ever contemplated this scenario as a rational possibility.
The only good news today (and probably the reason our Government is so in favour of 'nudge') is that we simply no longer have enough soldiers to hold down the population.
Our police are also unlikely to accept orders to do the sorts of bad things necessity might seem to require - but then we are no longer under the threat of a wave of nuclear bombs that could physically wipe out our industrial capacity within minutes.
And that brings us to another absurdity. The only reason that those bombs were targeted on us was because of our unique role as the Western Alliance's island supply base for the protection of the Continent from the Red hordes.
In other words, think about this, we were targeted because we were the premier supply base and yet the first few minutes of a nuclear exchange would ensure that we could never ever be used as such an asset. Our island would be an irradiated ashen ruin, the symbolic hub of an empire (before we lost it) which would merely remember us on 'Irradiation Day' each year.
Our nuclear capability was created in a series of steps of logic from false assumptions (which we will return to later) as a 'deterrent' but a deterrent related to what? - because the answer is not as simple as it first appears.
Let is pause here to say at once that this monstrous war never took place (self-evidently) so deterrence 'worked' But this deterrence was explicit not only against the Red Hordes (effectively, "attack us tactically and we'll take out 8 million of your people") but against another fact of the Cold War - American lunacy.
That is not too strong a phrase for the really serious worry of the British authorities in the immediate wake of the defeat of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire. There was once a critical gap in nuclear capability between the US and the Soviet Union and a genuine fear (attested from multiple evidence) that 'hawks' in America would engage in a pre-emptive war against Moscow.
This was a fear that never went away because American assesments and psychology were always different from British, its interests were global in a more fundamental way and the fear was of brinkmanship by either side in which the first victim would be the United Kingdom as forward supply base.
Naturally, this oversimplifies a situation which changed from year to year (read the book for the detail) but fear of American behaviour at the beginning, when the United Kingdom was still under some great power illusions (held by Ernie Bevin as much as by any Tory), led the country into a deep entanglement with its ally.
That entanglement required our own expensive weaponry with its own consequences - for example, while small European countries built at least some degree of protection for their citizenry, the British population was left wholly exposed because all the money had to go on a massive programme of bomb and delivery development. Contingency planning for anything beyond the survival of the State as military dictatorship was simply not possible.
The situation moves inexorably into nightmare - the determination to try to control the US within a Western alliance which made the UK little more than a target, the need to buy a place at the table with an independent nuclear deterrent that was merely a provocation to destruction in a crisis and which was beyond the country's means, and the fact that a weakening economy and scientific-industrial base meant that this self-destructive white elephant was mostly dependent for its functioning on the US in any case.
At a certain point, the ridiculous position is reached where four nuclear submarines are made available to commit mass murder because the United Kingdom no longer exists.
But there is a second aspect to the story that emerges. This is about the relationship between the Crown and its People which is a story of degradation that has not ended with the end of the Cold War.
This is not to say that the high officials and politicians of the Cold War were not men of the highest intelligence, integrity and goodwill who genuinely placed what they saw as the interests of the nation at the centre of their thinking. If the outcome was absurd, it followed logically from first assumptions and it is the lack of questioning of those assumptions that now looks so tragically startling.
There might be an analogy drawn with the logic of the German war machine in which so many men of 'intelligence, integrity and good will' were engaged to the point of the worst sort of mass murder. There really is, in the end, only the moral difference (admittedly an important one) that the German war machine committed mass murder as part of a war of aggression whereas the British would have committed mass murder only in retaliation for a similar assault - or an accident.
Oh dear! Because an accident of information was always possible and our external security apparat was built up mostly on the need to avoid accidental failures of interpretation and to get good warning - if only to manage the cowboy responses of their main ally.
But the British and German States had this in common - whether for Crown or Kaiser, both had a reified concept of the nation that could contemplate rationally that its population could be thrown on to the poker table as part of the gamble.
The continuity of the State, the safety of the Queen, the preservation of what remained of the Empire, all these were vastly more important than the particular lives, properties and aspirations of the 'subjects' (mark that word) of the Crown. It drove the concept of the State/Empire as something to be preserved by alliance against an offensive ideology but, above all, it drove the construction of the secret state which was secret not only against the enemy but against its own population because of the Communist 'enemy within'.
Again, we should not be too hysterical about this. What Hennessy's researches make clear is that (sometimes for practical reasons) the genuinely civilised high officials of the State alwaysd started by trying to minimise intrusions into private life (only, of course, to see bureaucratic logic extend the machine further by degrees).
The American approach to Communism - a brutal unjust purge of citizens who simply thought differently - was pure politics and such methods were vigorously resisted at the highest political level in the UK. It was understood that real espionage against the British would remain undiscovered except through break-throughs in counter-espionage that no vetting procedure or bugging of King Street would contribute towards.
The discovery of the Cambridge Communist spies came in just that way and I offer the unfashionable view that, given the fact that not knowing what the other side is up to represents the greatest risk of error and accident of interpretation, Philby's supply of 20,000 pages of security material to the Soviets may actually have helped avoid apocalypse, with the only regret that we did not have our own Philbys in Washington and Moscow.
However, as in the logic of the acquisition of armament through to Trident (via the V-Bombers and Polaris) and the huge gamble involved in deterrence for an unprotected population, so the British wartime state that was first constructed by the 'war socialisms' of Lloyd George and then, after a gap, by the Churchill-Attlee Government found itself increasingly paranoid about an 'enemy within'.
The most interesting moment is not the decision to engage in 'positive vetting' which strikes me as reasonable, if appallingly handled in individual cases such as that of Turing (not mentioned in this book), nor the cat-and-mouse with the Communist Party which would have been rounded up and interned long before the bombs started landing.
[Personally, I would have driven straight to the internment camp zone since there is an above-average chance that the Russians might decide not to plant a bomb in the vicinity].
The most interesting moment is when a non-communist part of the population starts to get wind of the scale of the threat to its own existence and to the arrangements made by the elite to hunker down and sit out the bombings. This is the foundation of CND and the distribution of leaflets that pinpointed the 'safe bunkers' making them suddenly useless. The leaflets would have resulted in the Soviet targeting being adjusted accordingly - poetic justice, I say.
There was a rather desperate attempt to keep a lid on public awareness of what was going on and to some extent this was successful, if only because the Soviet threat was, even for socialists, possibly for them more than anyone, a very real concern and fear.
Peter Watkins' disturbing TV film of the aftermath of an attack on Sheffield was kept off the BBC for some years until it could be held back no longer. A strain of doubt set in about the good will of the Government from the mid-1960s though it never attracted a majority.
The handling of student revolts of the 1960s and 1970s and labour action have to be seen in this Cold War context because the difference between the 1950s and the 1980s was the State's belief that it might not, in fact, be able to hold the country in the run-up to a war, let alone in the aftermath.
In short, the Cold War strategy of defiance, secrecy and deterrence was being quietly undermined by the arrival of a different sort of 'enemy within' - not foreign-backed and partially-directed Communists but imperfectly educated (and whose fault was that?) and angry indigenous people.
Fortunately for the Government, the histrionics of the Left and of direct action and genuine fears of Sovietism on the centre-right kept the majority solid if wary but (and we move well beyond the book now) precedents had been set for investigation into the secret state (which are still under way) and for popular resistance to authority.
The book is, therefore, vital reading not only as contemporary history and as an insight into what happens when a delusion of power affects a whole institutional elite but also in helping us to critique what is happening to the State mechanism today and why we should continue to be wary of its claims and its internal logic.
We noted above an important difference between the German and British war machine which may be summarised as a desire for empire compared with a determination to preserve what was left of empire but this no longer applied under the most dangerous man ever to be given control over the State machine - Tony Blair.
The Cold War over by a few years by the time of his arrival in office, adventurism could now be an option. Blair synthesised the German and British models by replacing the desire for empire with a determination to spread 'values', simply replacing the US as collaborative ally for the preservation of empire with a model of inveigling a sympathetic American political class into a forward policy of extending those values and (yet again) 'ensuring Britain's place in the world'.
This aspiration to be a global player is like a drug that affects the British Left more than it does the old British Right which is generally less interested in the world and more interested in simple profit (a much more healthy attitude). The Tory Party has since been 'Blairified'-lite under Cameron and Hague.
Macmillan expressed this well - as referenced by Hennessy - when he mused on whether it might be best just to flog off the family assets (so to speak) and retire on one's wealth but, like all the others, he was trapped into the same path of redirecting massive resources to weapons that could only be used genocidally.
Blair reintroduced an ideology of Great Power status far beyond the capability of the British economy and so reinvigorated the famous 'poodle status' with the US.
This is not electorally daft. A good proportion of the British population are highly delusory about our ability to sustain a global presence and are still locked into militarist imperial imagery from the past. There are also a fair number of jobs involved in various aspects of the so-called military-industrial complex.
Perhaps one might say - "why not, if you can get away with it". But, apart from moral considerations and the sheer absurdity of the cant involved, there are two more fundamental issues that take us back to Hennessy's book.
The first is that the British economy is desperately in need of sustainable investment according to a national plan that takes account of its true destiny - as a solid trading power in the second rank globally but first rank at what it does well. It has a huge population of nearly 80 million for a small island but one that is under-educated, expectant of welfare standards that are not sustainable and increasingly non-competitive.
The 'Great Power' fiction and the excessively close relationship with the US has benefits but it also has costs and the costs of policy are a recurrent theme in Hennessy's book. Back in the day, strategic choices were made solely for cost - a massive wasteful intelligence system and deterrent with no lasting value, say, in preference to a massive house-building programme with full civil defence capability and the sort of industrial investment seen in Germany and Japan.
As we write, the Cameron Government is trying to hang on to Trident despite a desperate lack of funds for investment in innovation. What funds are available are being poured into an electorally important welfare system for an increasingly old and unskilled population.
The other legacy is the 'secret state' itself which has not merely been reinvented for the age of 'terrorism' but has the sinister aspect that it is almost entirely directed (barring 'Al-Qaeda' in collaboration with the Americans) at an 'enemy within' who is not easily identifiable.
The original positive vetting procedures of the 1940s extended themselves into significant MI5 investigations and surveillance of individuals who simply made it known that they did not agree with national policy and were prepared to say so. Within a relatively short period, threats, none of which are foreign-financed, came to include a whole range of direct action activism as well as terrorism arising out of Northern Irish and Islamic issues.
Some of this interest is justified where breaches of the law are involved and certainly where the breaches offer public danger, but we should be aware of the risk of mission creep involving not merely increasingly widespread surveillance and file-keeping but other more sinister developments, all of which have Cold War precedents.
There is also the 'co-operation' with allies where the survival of the collaborating network of regulatory states is placed ahead of the real interests of the inhabitants of those states. The argument that these are democracies stand up less well when, after reading Hennessy, one realises the degree to which the political and bureaucratic elites are in close cahoots on the need to preserve the state and impose order on the population.
As we noted, the Cold War model successively involved internment camps and ultimately military dictatorship (albeit under Cabinet Control which must make the other 79.99m of us feel immensely better) with death penalties.
What Hennessy reveals and which is easily missed is that part of the war plans involved a pre-drafted Emergency Power (Defence) Bill which would have been whipped through the House of Commons and which would effectively have ended all civil rights.
The planning was reminiscent of Hitler's move after the Reichstag Fire. The Bill was recognised not to be passable in peace time so the plan was to deliver it to parliament only when the threat of war was imminent - requiring some fine timing. The document remained secret until it appeared in an MOD file at the PRO in the late 1990s. One wonders what other 'emergency measures' are being readied for a crisis.
We should not be too paranoid. State officials are generally decent men and women and the growing 'whistleblower phenomenon', the reduced number of military and police in the hands of the State, the changing international situation, the emergence of the internet (which clearly worries the Cabinet Office) and a slight increase in political education and awareness all militate against action.
But we should never forget that the State defines the terms of a crisis and that it is now proven to place its own existence ahead of the lives of its subjects for whatever carefully thought out and logical reasons. There is potential for harm.
The Government has a command centre, much more effective than the old West Country bunker, has access to internment camps, and can rely on a relatively uneducated, atomised and easily led majority in the population and on a supine and self-selecting political party of third rate minds where a consensus can be constructed over the heads of the population through Privy Council. You have been warned!...more
The death of Nicholas Goodrick-Clark last year (2012) deprived us of an important historian of political irrationalism.
Unlike many others in the fieldThe death of Nicholas Goodrick-Clark last year (2012) deprived us of an important historian of political irrationalism.
Unlike many others in the field, he neither accepted irrational claims as anything other than fictions nor allowed himself the luxury of huffing and puffing about their presumed evil in a liberal society.
He simply told the story and expressed, with discretion (pages 303-304) legitimate concerns about the course of events if these cruel and stupid irrationalisms had their ground watered for them by our own cultural stubbornness.
He was evidence-based and measured. This got him direct access to some of the key figures who espoused the ideologies covered in this remarkably useful book - political racism, esoteric national socialism and white identity politics. What he writes rings true as a result.
The book was written in 2002 and published in 2003 so his death holds the additional tragedy for us that he was never able to bring matters up to date in a Second Edition. His judgments are cautious and wise but he may have revised opinions about a moving political feast.
Each chapter is a fact-based essay in a different aspect of Far Right politics within the West (with only passing reference to other theatres). He begins by covering national socialism (essentially radical extremist conservatism) in the US and the shifting sands of the British Far Right in the face of immigration and multiculturalism.
He then moves on to review the influence of particular Far Right 'intellectuals' - Julius Evola, Francis Parker Yockey and Savitri Devi (on whom he had already written a book) - before moving on to the post-war construction of an association between the Nazis and the occult.
The next set of sections look at the myth of the esoteric SS, those surrounding Nazi UFOs and other extraterrestrial links and the very peculiar figure of Miguel Serrano who was not alone in merging South Asian ideas with the Nazi mythos.
Goodrick-Clark then reviews the two cultural phenomena of black metal and racist rock music and Nazi satanism and transgressional spirituality before coming full circle and returning to politics.
The book closes with reviews of Christian Identity and its 'allied opposite' racial paganism. The final chapter looks at a cultural phenomenon of considerable importance in the 1990s - the overlap of conspiracy theory, new age cultural pessimism and far right ideology.
What do we learn from all this and how might Goodrick-Clark have adapted his analysis in the wake of the 2008 crisis. Naturally, I cannot speak for him so these are just some lines of thought for others to follow and accept or reject.
The first thing we learn is the startling absurdity of much Far Right thought. We can leave you to read his extended accounts of extremist theory in the book for the evidence of that statement.
Where it is logical, Radical Rightist theory is always based on 'essentialist' philosophical assumptions that bear little scrutiny although they may be no more absurd (just 'nastier' and more anti-social) than other 'spiritual' traditions.
Too often, radical right ideology is simply auto-didactically stupid. Even the most cogent analyses are based on a clear misreading of Nietzsche to the extent that almost every claim to the mantle of Nietszche is, in fact, merely a variation on the 'ressentiment' that the great philosopher excoriated in the desert religions.
Perhaps the only thinker capable of getting beyond absurdity to the first rank was Evola and even he sunk into the sort of mythologising that may have worked in the age of Jung and Spengler but scarcely cuts the mustard today.
But the second thing we learn is that these theories are perhaps intellectually absurd but they represent a genuine political problem that the liberal community has swept under the carpet for far too long.
Even in 2002, there was a growing resentment, which I think had more justification to it than liberals are prepared to admit, that the white working class in general and white males in particular were somehow personally guilty for the crimes of the past.
It would seem that it was convenient for imperialism and capitalism to be expiated by the profiting middle classes through an offering to the gods of political correctness of their own underlings.
Like the Aztecs with bodies, the Western high bourgeoisie has offered a hecatombs of souls in order to rewrite cultural norms in a way that will sustain their power. Of course, the souls they offer are never their own. One class of poor has simply been brought in to replace another as favoured grunts of the system.
We have a combination of invented history, a surge of immigration tolerated by the middle classes to drive down wages and solve the 'servant problem', and active cultural engineering behind affirmative action and multiculturalism.
The result is the growth of a cynical and aggressive political class, an alliance of liberals (social and economic) and block minority votes that has created the atomised and unorganised opposition outlined in this book, waiting for its time in the sun.
American culture knows it has a problem. Compare the world of the X-Files - mass suspicion of Government - with new popular TV series like the Walking Dead, Revolution, Defiance and Falling Skies.
Whether produced by Spielberg or JJ Abrams, the tone is one of liberal fear at complete social breakdown and each series questions how far the liberal is going to have to work with some rough-hewn Okie with a heart of gold if he is going to survive.
It is all subliminal, of course, but it is there. The most intelligent of the liberal elite knows that things have gone too far, wants to step back and include the new excluded but doesn't know how.
Meanwhile, the cult of San Muerte appears in the American prison system and hispanic, black and aryan brotherhoods may find they have more in common with each other than they do with the federal government that posits itself as last line of defence between the 'nice' middle class and brutal chaos. If divide and conquer ends, that class is stuffed.
From being a majority in society in the US, the white working class has felt itself under enormous economic and cultural pressure. The Far Right emerged as the element that said what it was not permitted to say within what amounted, ironically, to a liberal totalitarian culture dominated by the educated.
The educated, of course, are now under their own pressure from the internet. The steady pauperisation of the privileged knowledge worker will be the grand factor underpinning the politics of the first half of this century
The situation is not quite the same in the UK and Europe where the perceived 'threat' is feared rather than actual. It centres perhaps more on the denial of particular national and tribal feeling and the 'unfair' tolerance of alien tribes in the cause of universalism and equality.
But the scale of the potential for the active politics of resentment is probably hidden by the incompetence of the Far Right itself. Its language of national socialism, its thuggery and its intellectual stupidity have all alienated the population at large (which is basically tolerant and decent). It has allowed 'liberal' middle class hegemony a length of life that it probably does not deserve.
Indeed, in the UK, the 'Sun' has probably done more for the survival of liberal democracy in the UK than any single force simply because it articulates national feeling and diffuses the anger. If you want a Rightist revolution in the UK, all you have to do is force the removal of 'Page 3' from the paper and please the tiny minority of religious loons and feministas.
Certainly, the BNP's electoral results were derisory. However, a cynical or inspired person could work through this book, sweep away the nonsense, come up with an inspired radical conservatism that did not mention Hitler, flying saucers or race once (as truly irrelevant) and cause serious problems to the complacent hegemony of the political elite.
Fortunately for liberal democracy, there is not a thinker in this book that 'gets' what is happening. A change is beginning to happen in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis - but not the predicted one.
Career fascists like Griffin are being shunted aside in favour of radical populisms like the Tea Party in the US, UKIP in the UK and Marie Le Pen's second wave National Front in France.
Even Die Linke in Germany is developing a 'German workers first' strategy while the Italian Right and East European populist parties teeter between interwar fascism and bloody-minded populism.
The Far Right has failed simply because it is stupid. The populist Right which treats race as irrelevant but takes culture seriously and emphasises the rights of the individual over the rights of the collective is not.
This shift is recent. The global economic crisis was not something that Goodrick-Clarke was in a position to analyse a decade ago. The conspiracy theory obsessions of the 1990s staggered along through the 2000s but merely made Occupy a laughing stock amongst serious radicals of the Left and Right. A new game is afoot.
The New Age generation of irrational thinkers are moving inexorably towards the grave. Their successors are pragmatists whose prime concern is not maniacal amoral hysterical violence but a cultural resistance that is sustainable and that does not need the nightmare of a strong state.
History has also taught us that Hitler was far less demonic, far less interesting and far more incompetent than the 'romantics' of the second half of the twentieth century had liked to think. He was not the 'avatar' but simply a source of memes for political culture.
The final degeneration of the Nazi cult of Serrano lies in the disappointing Euro-comedy 'Iron Sky' and the far from disappointing use of the meme in films like Hollywood's 'Hell Boy'. Now we can all say with Indiana Jones "Gee, I hate those Nazis" without having someone whisper in our ear that the film was made by the 'Juice'.
The Nazis are now just a blip in history, another cruel and incompetent collectivism. They were in power about the same length of time as Tony Blair, another blip in history. But, and this is the rub, not only were the Nazis cruel and incompetent collectivists, it would seem that liberal democracies have proven to be as well.
States (we refer back to De Jouvenel) have taken to themselves the right to conscript labour (enslave) in peacetime on dubious arguments about citizenship or duty since the time of the Jacobins.
This is what the Nazis did and the liberal democracies also accrued that right to themselves. Even today, when most have given up or suspended that right, the Norwegians now temporarily enslave women on the dubious grounds of 'gender equality'. Hmmmmmmmm!
In other words, much of Goodrick-Clark's book refers to the slow unwinding of a total culture of authoritarian statism of which the ideology Far Right was merely a part. This is not to be complacent. The author refers to Golden Dawn, simply as a journal, once in passing, yet, a decade later, this same organisation received global news coverage as a contender for power in a collapsing Greece.
Only a day or so ago, I noticed the National Anarchists proudly posting on Facebook pictures of their lamp post stickers on the streets of Britain and, only months ago, liberal transhumanists were rightly getting exercised about the infiltration of their cultural movement by new wave fascists.
But in other respects, things are getting better. The correct analysis of the Far Right about the rise of liberal totalitarianism (merely a mirror image of their own aspirations to absolute power) has not resulted in a wider appreciation of various national socialisms but quite the opposite.
The rebellions in the Turkish and Brazilian street are cultural but anti-traditionalist. Military and bureaucratic elites are being asked to intervene to protect private life and individual freedom from authoritarians and communitarians. This would be unthinkable in the West where military and bureaucracy are locked into political correctness on their own account.
Similarly, as noted above, the new populist right is far more ambiguous than earlier versions of the right and, in some respects, it represents a libertarian reaction to the Big State with its public sector and positive discrimination welfarist clientage. Right and Left have partly switched places in a process that started with the Reagan Republicans.
The modern libertarian rightist is more likely to be sex-positive and secularist now - more so than the totalitarian liberal who will crush desire under radical feminist ideology and make contingent alliances with religious groups in order to hold on to an urban power base.
Things are, in short, confused but Far Right essentialism has driven itself into a corner of absurd ideas and its violence and culture of cruelty alienates its own potential base. Nordic Social Democracy was strengthened and not weakened by the insane slaughter of kids in Norway by Breivik. The American security state has been strengthened and not weakened by McVeigh's angry terrorist reaction to the atrocity at Waco.
It is a strong recommendation that you should read this book as contemporary history. In 2002, Goodrick-Clark raised his concerns that the cultural war on one part of the community by another would result in the rise of the Far Right and a form of reaction would set in.
I think he was right about the overall trend but he may have failed to see (simply because a decade is a long time in generational politics) precisely what would happen under the twin pressures of changes in political technology and sustained exposure of the moral turpitude and incompetences of our elites since 2008.
The ability of the mass not to be a 'herd' (as in the ideology of many of the frustrated activists in the book) but a wise crowd of individuals empowered by technology and interest is simply not in the mental tool box of resentful working class and declasse petit bourgeois authoritarians.
The paradox is that the hegemony of the liberal elite is coming to an end. This is why they are intensifying their attack with a range of tools such as porn filters and mass surveillance. But this is not to the benefit of either the authoritarian Right or the loons of Occupy.
Something new is stirring - a revolutionary moment perhaps where flawed 'saints' like Julian Assange and Bradley Manning sit alongside cheeky chappies like Nigel Farage and Berlusconi and doctors and market traders in Tunis, Cairo and Istanbul.
Above all, the age of identity politics is coming to an end - we are complex persons with private lives and not merely things defined by our race, our gender, our jobs or our sexual orientation.
This book is, therefore, a vital introduction to an insane but oddly legitimate protest on its own terms to liberal totalitarianism. It is a profoundly wrong and ignorant revolt but its right to revolt must be recognised. This will be uncomfortable to left-liberals but they are creating their own nemesis if they continue along their current path.
Fascist identity politics is simply the shadow side of the identity politics that has infected Western civilisation since the 1960s from the Left. Remove the identity politics of the hegemonic post-Marxist Left and fascist identity politics will die with it. Remove the clinical managerialism and 'federal bureaucratism' of liberal totalitarian thought and esoteric Nazi cults and New Age cultural pessimism will also disappear.
The Nazis are not the problem - they are noisy, nasty but tiny - we are the problem. ...more
This a book with insights but, I am afraid, too few insights to recommend it to the casual rather than the specialist reader who may be unable to seeThis a book with insights but, I am afraid, too few insights to recommend it to the casual rather than the specialist reader who may be unable to see through the speculation and the implicit ideological positioning.
However, when we reach 1938, there is a subtle shift in the book from a narrative well told to yet another strike in the never-ending war betwen revisionist conservatives and the mainstream over the conduct of events after Munich.
Interestingly, given the bias, the story has the odd effect of giving some credence to the old Marxist theory of national socialism as the last refuge of a late imperial military-industrialism faced by the Bolshevik threat.
Canaris was not an aristocrat but he was part of a bourgeois class that had imbibed aristocratic values of war and duty (values that, of course, would have been completely alien to actual aristocrats at any time before the rise of the middle classes).
What we see here is an old story revisited almost by accident - one of classes who are perfectly prepared to go to war with one another as competing nation states for advantage but who rapidly collaborate internationally when a threat to their hegemony appears from 'below'.
Our current condition is not too dissimilar from this although the ruling elite is more likely to be represented by a graduate euro-socialist or bureaucrat in an international agency or NGO than an officer in the imperial navy or a landed gentleman running a ministry.
The evidence for this class interpretation lies everywhere in the first third of the book and beyond, pehaps most poignantly in the strange appearance of at least three Jews at different times as agents of German and national socialist espionage!
There is Canaris' undoubted involvement in protecting the cold blooded murder of Luxembourg and Liebknecht and there is his personal network of alliances with arms manufacturers and bankers that played a critical role in Nazi support for General Franco.
Indeed, one might reverse the usual claim that Hitler supported Franco in an ideological drive to expand international fascism into a far more realistic model where conservative nationalists inveigled the Nazi into supporting one of their own.
Whoever Canaris was by 1938, he was a ruthless player who may have pragmatically felt (like many German conservative nationalists) that the nasty little oik running the country was dragging the country to disaster but who was, equally, no stranger to criminal acts.
The revisionism that fuels the book from this point on seems to be one of the recurrent 'problems' of history where inconvenient truths have to be explained to salvage an interpretation necessary for the self image of a particular element in society.
I am confidently expecting Labour memoirs and historiography to give thoroughly revisionist perspectives in due course on the alleged unwilling complicity of senior Labour left-wingers in the Blair 'regime' and to claim their 'secret resistance'. Ho, hum!
It is true (I think Bassett demonstrates this) that Canaris was horrified by the turn of events within Germany after Kristallnacht. Canaris was not particularly anti-semitic and also understood better than his bosses that the early easy victories of Nazi aggression were not sustainable without some sort of peace with either the Reds or the Empires.
Strategically, Germany can look to the West against the East or look to the East and security and both visions have played their part in German history since Bismarck - as they do 'sotto voce' even today.
Canaris was firmly (remember the violence against the Spartakists) against the East because it was Bolshevik but he may well have had a different view had Russia been Tsarist.
Ideology infected strategy here as elsewhere. Once Germany had bitten off more than it could chew, there was a relatively short period when flexible cynics might have tried to 'do a deal' with one set of enemies in order to crush collaboratively the other.
Bassett concentrates on this 'window of opportunity' but too easily confuses the facts of the matter (the 'is' of the story) with an implied 'ought' - oh how much happier we would all have been if the generals had overthrown Hitler and a strong Germany resisted and beaten Stalin back. Ho, hum again!
Canaris was drawn to circles with a similar conservative anti-Bolshevik view in the West and this undoubtedly drew him into dialogues that any reasonable Nazi (indeed, any reasonable German in a state of war) might reasonably have called treacherous.
It is this treachery that Bassett seems at pains to justify and it is true that all spies are 'treacherous' to a degree in that part of their job is to maintain lines of communication with the enemy - whether IRA or Taliban or 'C' in London - so that deals may be struck later.
Unfortunately, this truth is spun here into something that the evidence simply does not support. Bassett speculates so that we see information that could be interpreted more reasonably in one way being interpreted in another in order to praise the man for the ideological reasons that we will come to.
It is the nature of espionage that we have very little evidence that is reliable and what evidence that we have may derive from a deliberate intent to tell a particular narrative.
Similarly, any dealings with the enemy (the separate peace feelers with London) are part of an elaborate game of maintaining options and advantage in which we simply cannot KNOW what precisely was intended.
Contacts with London could be interpreted in many ways and not all of them treacherous. The treacherous aspects do seem to have been there but it would also seem that senior Nazi figures were well aware of them and even (almost certainly in the case of Himmler) happy to take later advantage if they could.
Moreover, none of the acts that were designed to suggest the back door to London for conservative nationalists need be interpreted in quite so noble terms as Bassett implies. After all, to conservative nationalists sacrificing some of their own hoi polloi might be regarded as a perfectly reasonable price to pay for political advantage,
Similarly, like good philosophers, spies can think two or more apparently inconsistent things at the same time and can over-reach themselves in doing so.
We must remember that this was a man who not merely collaborated with Heydrich, albeit as a bureaucratic rival, but who knew him well before he became a Party figure and who lived next door to the man and spent musical evenings with him.
Canaris' knowledge of the man may have helped to create seriously defensive moral principles in his more conventional Abwehr but it might easily be interpreted that Heydrich's SD was there to 'do the dirty work' so that the old guard could keep its hands cleans.
What I cannot believe is that Canaris was so horrified by what Heydrich represented that he began to 'plot against the regime'. It really is not that simple. And whatever Canaris was, he was a highly intelligent and rational player who loved his career and being at the centre of things.
It is equally probable that, like Gehlen later, he saw the way things were going a bit earlier than most and simply wanted to hedge his bets so that he had a job later. In the end, he miscalculated. It has to be said that he accepted his fate (as far as we can understand) with enormous dignity.
In other words, the 'distance' of complicity and mentality between Canaris and Heydrich is simply not proven but is merely suggested by testimonies that owe a lot to the later need of his officer colleagues in the New Germany to distance themselves from the thugs with whom they had shared power.They are not liars but they are not telling the total truth.
I would have been more inclined to give Bassett, and so Canaris, the benefit of the doubt if there had not been the implicit ideological agenda in the Introduction to the book (and in the closing comments) and which begins to emerge in force in the account of matters after 1938.
Again, we must not go too far. My own view is that Bassett demonstrates sufficiently that Canaris did retain certain standards, did refuse to get down into the mud with his Nazi colleagues, was part of the German nationalist readiness to overthrow Hitler and did undertake a number of highly creditable acts in defiance of Nazi ideology and hegemony.
Where we seem to differ is that all this is not enough to exonerate him or his class because there is enough evidence even in this book that the conservative nationalists only started to take a serious interest in countering national socialism when it looked like defeat might bring crimes to account.
It is true that Canaris wisely saw Hitler's forward foreign policy as potentially disastrous but we should not make too much of this. After all, many loyal Party men (I have been there!) know that their party is heading for a disaster on the logic of the situation but continue to serve the party regardless.
Yes, we have evidence of private horror at Nazi behaviour but much of this is cast in almost aesthetic and cultural terms rather than in terms of the sort of 'outrage' that affects (or infects) contemporary international relations discourse.
The picture that Bassett seeks to paint is one where a noble class of conservative nationalists, implicitly transnational in their acceptance of chivalric values but proudly patriotic, are outmanouevred by a bunch of rabid gangsters and then nobly risk their lives to recover their country from the fiends' coming apocalypse.
This ideology is part of a wider European revisionism that is deeply conservative in mentality. It implies that if only the Catholic Church (Bassett is characteristically kind to the Pope), conservative gentlemen and public servants, especially the military and allied services, had retained power, then all would have been well.
The conservatism comes through even in the rather pointed (and actually true) references of the debasement of the gentlemanly breed of spies by Tony Blair and his 'dodgy dossier'.
One of Bassett's items of evidence for the defence is that Canaris, faced with a similar demand (to that demanded by New Labour) from Nazi officials (to assist the invasion of the Netherlands) simply refused. I am afraid this does not make Canaris 'good' but merely reminds us just how dreadful Blair was!
Canaris is put into the same bracket of honour as 'C' - men of 'service who stood up to politicians and served their country with as much ethical consideration as the unethical trade of espionage permits.
This is, of course, romantic tosh but very much part of the self image of a particular element in the ruling order that will talk of the Christian West around High Table and at conservative European dinner parties much as they did in the age of the Kaiser and Edward.
Now let's put away this propaganda of a revival of a Christian-aristocratic vision of Europe with the politicians firmly under the control of the subtle counsellors in the bureaucracy who rely on the Vatican for moral succour and on an 'ethic of service' to give the masses the administrative rule they require.
In fact, the German conservative nationalists of the interwar period were wholly complicit in the rise of national socialism but were simply incompetent at managing it or in understanding its true nature. Far from effective, they were serially incompetent - no less than their imperial equivalents in the British Conservative Party before 1940.
To this day, Chamberlain's naive and stupid guarantee to Poland in 1939 must rank as one of the most stupid acts in British history - it cost millions of British and imperial lives and lost Britain its already weakening global hegemony.
To have allowed war elsewhere and national feeling (which was strong) to buy time for a major national rearmament programme designed to contain Germany and then ally with the Soviet Union at the 'right time' seems not to have occurred to the confused buffoon surrounded by incompetent 'service professionals'. One thanks someone for Churchill!
As for mainland Europe, the catholics, the aristocracy and the bureaucracy were so blinded by terror of Bolshevism that they gave carte blanche to populist gangsters who would kill their own as much as their enemies and they gave this carte blanche willingly in fear of worse.
Nor were they alone. Mussolini suggested a 'way forward' with his Papal Concordat that horrified his own radical pagan supporters such as Evola. The old revolutionary socialist marched on Rome and then made himself head of the biggest protection racket in history.
Franco was treated as the 'coming man' (and was clever enough not to concede ground to the Nazis) and the Church backed vicious dictators across Eastern Europe and 'quislings' in the West as the Wehrmacht moved towards Moscow.
In one of the silliest analytical tricks of the conservative revisionists, any crime is moderated because conservative nationalists were less anti-semitic than the Nazis - basically, they simply had none of the lust for extermination of their radical cousins.
This is like the justification of the old man bonking a fifteen year old school girl that he is not to be compared with a member of a ring that abuses five year olds - true but it rather misses the point.
Even Hitler compromised with the old guard once he had shown what he was capable of in hitting out at both conservative nationalists and his own 'Left' in the Night of the Long Knives.
Though historians love to suggest that the SS slaughter in 1934 created a sense of terror amongst conservative nationalists, we must not forget that the main purpose of the event was to create an understanding with the new Wehrmacht.
Von Papen himself was held back from the slaughter as a chess piece in case of need. He did not defect and (on the evidence of Bassett) even considered it possible that he might be reappointed Prime Minister by Hitler in order (we presume) to help broker a peace deal with the West against Stalin.
In other words, the conservative nationalists were cowed perhaps in 1934 and came to understand their role as junior partners with the radical nationalist state but they never gave up hope of being senior partners again.
They were still well in play within the system and they never truly revolted except in their own class interest (beautifully recast by the identification of that class and cultural interest with that of their own nation). The self-delusion here is almost magnificent.
Only at the end, to save their own skins for the consequences, not merely of aggression but of gross atrocities unmatched in war since the seventeenth century, did they seek any means possible to counter the decisive statement from FDR that German surrender had to be 'unconditional'.
Bassett seems to dislike this commitment to 'unconditionality' because he continues to have faith in this class and to share their view that the division of Europe between Anglo-Americans and Soviets was an unalloyed disaster.
I do not - not because I like sovietism (on the contrary) but because the true disaster for Europe would have been anything less than a decisive defeat for the undemocratic instincts of the old feudal classes and an opportunity to create new parties and new constitutions for the defeated 'ab initio' and regardless of their much vaunted 'tradition'.
In the end, though much later, Eastern Europe was enabled to join this new model with its own aristocratic and religious machinery collapsed and with traditionalism only able to return as a petit-bourgeois pale simulacrum of its previous claims to power. Even the fascistic Golden Dawn is no Iron Guard.
The real danger for Europe is of a Vatican resurgent (which it has been since its effective claim to have won the Cold War in Europe for the West) backed by a sentimental 'service ethos', to which a certain sort of conservative bourgeois is attracted, in order to control the masses.
This book acts as both a flawed history of an interesting figure in twentieth century history but also as an unintended warning of the new political romanticism that might suggest that a failed ruling order still has something to offer Europe. It does not. ...more
A blockbuster of a book that, on and off, took me about eighteen months to get through. It comprises nearly 1,000 pages of art works, with useful refeA blockbuster of a book that, on and off, took me about eighteen months to get through. It comprises nearly 1,000 pages of art works, with useful references at the back, on a large pictorial scale. This means that you get a better sense of the scale of a work than you would from most art books.
My edition lost a star because of a gripe. Perhaps the publishers were keen to get the book out for Christmas 2011 but there are persistent problems with inaccurate cross references in some sections. However, it is an achievement of great educational value, covering all periods and regions from the stone age to contemporary work.
I tend to have a jaundiced view of much recent art which strikes me as simply reflecting the same bubble that burst with the crash of the financial engineers in 2008 - cynics servicing fools.
Despite that, there are signs of recovery. Relational art takes conceptual art out of the hands of the alleged creative genius and makes the artist a potential educator and facilitator of liberation.
In addition, there are individual geniuses for our age - the late Cy Twombly speaks to the great tradition and Eliasson tries to make us think again while installations are there to create wonder.
Even the neo-pop of Murakami and Koons is, at the least, fun and sculptural techniques continue to subvert materials. Perhaps we can now move on from the constant hommages to Duchamp.
This book is a great table top item - albeit very heavy to carry around. It is highly recommended although I hope a second edition corrects the referencing. Such sloppy editing, for whatever reason, is not good enough from the House of Phaidon - and certainly not at the relatively high price....more
Anyone writing a book about the Middle East with any element of long term analysis within it may soon be doomed to disappointing his or her readers - Anyone writing a book about the Middle East with any element of long term analysis within it may soon be doomed to disappointing his or her readers - things are moving fast.
Two or so years ago, pontificators were predicting the 'inevitable' fall of Assad and the desirable rise of moderate political Islam as a stabilising force in the region, citing Turkey as model.
Within the last few weeks, Assad has not merely survived but he has mobilised a major power to protect his diplomatic rear while the experienced troops of Hezbollah are delivering victories on the ground.
In the last week, we have also seen a major rising in the cities of Turkey against what amounts to a conservative populist regime whose 'moderate Islamism' rather looks as if it is too obscurantist and authoritarian for the tastes of many urban and educated Turks.
This updated book by Alison Pargeter, a highly experienced observer of the Muslim Brotherhood, a key but not the only player in Arab Islamist politics, is probably going to be the best that you are going to get in mid-2013.
What we see here, however, for all the risk of being overtaken by events, is a solid account of an ideologically based and strategic movement for whom any form of politics is mere tool.
She takes us (without any evident bias) through the history of the movement and its progress in Egypt, Syria and Europe and in Egypt and North Africa during the 'Arab Spring' (in this updated second edition).
She leaves us to make our own conclusions. Mine are confirmed (with one caveat) from her facts - the Muslim Brotherhood represents the worst sort of obscurantist authoritarian populism.
Those in the West who have sought to control or manage it are, ultimately, as naive as the fellow travelers of Mussolini. Its regimes will be inherently unstable and either dangerous or sclerotic.
We are seeing something of this already in Egypt where Pargeter has a solid and useful account of the Muslim seizure of power in which considerable tactical skill gained it the Presidency.
The fruits of this are a populist regime speaking in forked tongue, trying to persuade Washington and the World Bank to part with billions while sabre-rattling for the nationalist vote over the Nile.
What these movements actually are remains a bit of a mystery even after this book. My own conclusions are grim. The fundamentals of the movement and political reality have created confused creatures with unstable internal structures based on quite small ideological cliques.
The typical Muslim Brotherhood operation is now made up of a very conservative mass base filled with resentment, led by an opportunistic group of tacticians putting on a democratic face that is skin deep.
Yes, there are genuine reformers. The caveat is that these 'liberals' have a strong base in Europe, in exile and in Libya and Tunisia for different reasons but these are also areas where their base is relatively weak.
If we look at where their base is strong - in Egypt and in Syria and, by analogy, in Turkey in the AKP which has different roots - then the ressentiment of the uneducated masses creates a very different dynamic.
The West's own internal contradiction lies in its attempt to square an accommodation with the MB, on the basis of the MB's very conservative version of democracy, with the fact that the sorts of freedom that we take for granted are inimical to the ideology of our potential 'allies'.
Westerners themselves, as we have also seen in recent weeks with the half-truths and vacillations over surveillance, have many freedoms under threat in the cause of 'protecting democracy'.
We must fear that the concern to protect a particular and rather manipulative democratic constitutionalism is now in direct opposition to hard-won secular, sexual and cultural freedoms - to all intents and purposes.
The freedom agenda in the West remains reasonably robust but this new vision of a stability through democratic order under conditions where freedom is to be regarded as contingent or as a second order concern appears in its most aggressive form in the Middle East.
This brings us back to events in Turkey (and, indeed, in Egypt and Iran) where quasi-democratic forms can mobilise the disadvantaged and poorly educated rural and artisanal masses against freedom.
This reminds one of the mobilisation of conservative masses not only between the wars but by the US in defeated Europe against Communism. But, this time around, the Islamists are the Soviets 'de nos jours'.
The West's policy agenda seems to be confused about who is our enemy - a mess of misjudgments that seems to be continuing day on day - but its most dangerous misjudgment is to place democracy in poor uneducated countries ahead of freedom.
To be blunt, while all have a right to their beliefs and culture and to a private family life (and the old Arab nationalist dictatorships were sclerotic and past their sell-by date), the imposition of traditionalist values on modernising societies and economies is a serious error in the making.
It is an error because, in the long run, it will not work unless the economic conditions that permit ressentiment continues creating yet another internal contradiction - regimes that depend on their own failure for survival.
Traditionalism requires societies that are frightened by change and yet long term economic security only comes from modernisation.
Even if they are well established in power (and one guesses that military determination on stability will secure Egypt and possibly Turkey for Islamism in the end), the temptation to exclude reformers from power and drive an increasingly obscurantist agenda to maintain the voting base will be overwhelming.
The evidence in only a very few years suggests that this is so. The BBC in particular talked up the liberal young Islamists in Egypt and Syria with depressing naivete without noting that most were either excluded from power or ignored by the real power brokers.
Similarly, the actual conduct in office of Erdogan and Morsi also suggests an ability to use necessary rhetoric to comfort the naive while determining nevertheless on the absolute eventual primacy of shari'a law, in principle, over democracy.
Let us be clear about this. Shari'a law is theogenic - it derives from Iron Age texts that claim the sanction of God and tradition.
Although sophisticated and often humane in the most fundamental way (do not accept the extreme cases of cruelty as typical), it is about controlling individual aspiration and desire for the collective good. It can be demeaning to many women and to those of a different sexuality.
Some in the West may appreciate this ultimate communitarian intent but this collective good is not a democratic one but one wholly dictated by the interpreted will of a God whose existence is actually a matter of faith, where many if not most in the population do not have that faith, and which is interpreted by accultured elites speaking unto uneducated masses from above.
From our Western perspective, this has to be considered an authoritarian reversion to medieval mental maps. It is tragic that, 250 years after the Enlightenment, we have native conservative forces clearly sympathetic to it.
It is also a betrayal of Arabs themselves who have known a time when they were far more advanced than Europeans and could do so again.
Even if conditions change again in the region (and they may do so at any time), this book will provide a solid grounding on the basic facts of this powerful new kid on the block with useful sources in the notes....more
The first half of this book is a superb introduction to the current crisis in Syria. It would be hard not to recommend it to anyone with limited knowlThe first half of this book is a superb introduction to the current crisis in Syria. It would be hard not to recommend it to anyone with limited knowledge of how this monstrous civil war came to be and who feels that they may need to understand it better before coming to a view.
Unfortunately, about half way through, the book seems to change tone and become something else: half history and, then increasingly as the book proceeds, half an implicit attempt to rehabilitate the Muslim Brotherhood in a way that simply does not quite stand up to scrutiny.
It would seem that no book in English on the Syrian situation can now detach itself from a position on one side or the other, at least by strong implication.
This mimics the intellectual world surrounding the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s where statements about the combatants were always absolute and placed in terms of good and evil. George Orwell's critical stance on the communist/anarchist conflict was the exception.
We badly need Orwell today because, in a parody of the Leftist position on Spain, there is a neo-Arabist perspective on the Middle East that, in justifiably seeking democracy, human rights and the reform of sclerotic governments, has abandoned support for some fundamental enlightenment values.
Lefevre is very definitely not a propagandist but he is also not an Orwell. He describes in an evidence-based way but sometimes, perhaps, he just cannot bring himself to ask the right questions as if that would betray his interviewees.
Critical questioning of beliefs and of such matters as the treatment of women are not to be found in this book and the result is a skewed and over-sympathetic portrayal of the Brotherhood as well as one that rightfully ends much negative stereotyping.
One of Lefevre's achievements is to demonstrate the breadth and complexity of 'Political Islam' but, then, this should be common sense - socialism and liberalism are similarly complex. However. it is hard to claim plausibly that the late discovery of reform and democracy within the movement is anything more than tactical at this stage.
We cannot rely on conservative democratic claims to mastery over the movement while these elements are busy competing for Western patronage and Gulf geld.
The thought that kindness and encouragement are enough to split Political Islam in general from the jihadi loons in Syria and turn it into another pale blue AKP misses a fundamental point - the model, the AKP, is censorious and partially obscurantist with a very troubling view of sexuality and women.
Some Western liberal internationalist policy wonks, analysts and security advisers (many of whom are still half-looking over their shoulder at the 'Russian Empire') seem to be aiming at a liberal-faith based alliance of democratic interests.
This is sometimes explicit on both the neo-conservative Republican Right and in the Blairite model of the universe which 'does not do God' overtly but clearly has an orientation towards inclusion of faith-based perspectives in public policy in a way fraught with danger for the Western tradition.
We see here a repeat of an old Cold War strategy (that of linking right-wing Italian and German democrats to the obscurantism of the Vatican and the order of the Lutheran Church in order to defeat communism) but, in this case, the policy is in danger of selling large numbers of Arabs for whom 'traditional values' are oppressive down the river.
The condition of the Northern Levant in the 21st century and of the Southern Mediterranean in the mid-twentieth century are very different. The Allies were able to impose a liberal order everywhere except Spain, one that permitted individual freedom to co-exist with Vatican power, but these conditions do not apply in 'Greater Syria'.
Yes, it is possible certainly that moderate Islamism could become a partner within an essentially liberal democratic Syria but there is no reliable 'deal' to be struck here because there is no reliable deal maker on the faith-based side.
At the end of the day, the corrupt old Christian Democrats of Italy and the earnest Christian Democrats of West Germany acted as firebreaks against further secularisation and not as agencies for the assertion of canon or church law on revived democracies.
The AKP in Turkey and the MB in Egypt (and Hamas in Palestine) suggest that the ambitions of Political Islam are not defensive. We seem to be allowing faith-based perspectives to slip in behind the door of our liberal cultures in a way that may have blow-back on hard-won Western freedoms.
The book thus has a perverse effect. The Baathist government ('regime' is already a loaded word you use for people you do not like) has undoubtedly been thuggish and cruel. Its behaviour has been appalling.
But the actual conduct of traditionalists has tended to provide some justification for the belief that, given what was inherited from successive empires, only authoritarian order could hold up civility.
This reviewer tended not to take that view and to hold to a reform view (and we must reveal some direct involvement in Anglo-Syrian relations between 2002 and 2005) but events since 2011 and the evidence of this book has shifted my perspective somewhat.
The question becomes whether that sufficient and temporary authoritarian order is better to be secular republican or shar'ia, whether the thugs are better Alawite peasant bootboys or fanatics who treat women as essentialist objects.
It is Hobson's Choice but a choice seems to have been made inevitable and the question is really about whether we can hope for it to be temporary if it cannot be sufficient. The threat of a revived political islam is precisely that it may become permanent as in Iran.
Any serious Syria watcher who has actually been in active politics as opposed to reading from texts knew two things from the start of the conflict.
The first was that the Assad Government would not fall on a puff of liberal rhetoric from those intellectuals who confuse what 'should be' with 'what is'. Only a matching of force with force could ever defeat this Government because it was ruthless enough to commit force itself.
If you wanted to impose democracy, then you needed an Iraq or at least a Libyan solution which means, bluntly, the manufacturing of a war where the aggressors would have to commit lives and reconstruction funds - and we all know how badly those other cases were handled.
The second was that, as the struggle continued, the complexity and inherent contradictions of post-colonial Syrian culture would tend to extremism, repeating the brutalities of the late 1970s on both sides.
The Assads, in fact, had compromised with non-political Islam in order to avoid democracy after the massacre at Hama so that a democracy movement that did not understand its own objective conditions would necessarily have created a militant Political Islam.
If Assad had adopted Islam as state religion and taken a relationship with compliant islam any further than his father had done, he would have had a coup on his hands. This is the Syrian trap - all sides want what can't be given without blood.
Order (because of sectarian, class, tribal and corrupt family needs), democracy and true religion is a game where two out of three is good going and a 'true religion democracy' was always going to be a threat and a fear to too many special interests to be viable.
If the Western strategy is to tame and neutralise sufficient of political islam to permit democracy, then it may be making the same mistake as the German General Staff in popping Lenin over to Petrograd to try and end the war in their favour.
Where Lefevre is valuable is in his fundamental honesty in telling his tale in terms of the evidence even if my instinct is that he has been bamboozled to some degree by contemporary interviews with Muslim Brotherhood activists.
The problem for anyone following the Turco-Qatari line of support for the Botherhood is that history shows the MB and Political Islam to have been provocative and brutal long before the massacre in Hama. They may try to rewrite this history but it is there in the eyes of the local public even if we do not recognise it in the West.
The experience of Islamist terrorism can be encapsulated in the story of the murder of 83 young Aleppo military graduates in a gratuitous escalation of the then-crisis in 1979. In other words, the horror of Hama did not emerge suddenly like some evil Venus from the waves.
Yes, this was the deed of the so-called Fighting Vanguard but the MB appears to have wobbled around this without condemning or seeking to calm matters and certainly not as we have seen the Muslim community do in London this month.
We have a case study now, in the UK, of what happens to a political culture when just one soldier is killed by a fanatic in the streets. We all wobble - almost ridiculously so. Syrian culture thirty four years ago was in no condition to respond mildly.
Bear in mind that at this time in history, even the advanced British were behaving like thugs in Northern Ireland because their opponents were fanatical killers and that the US was just coming out of phase of mass civilian murder in South East Asia intended to defeat a very different ideological enemy.
It was also an age of state terror of horrendous proportions in South and Central America which were condoned and supported by the US administration. We forget our own histories too easily.
This justifies nothing. Let me repeat that - this justifies nothing. Exiled Uncle Rif'at is culpable here but so are a lot of Pentagon officials. The question is what is to be done now.
The 'history' certainly does not justify the sustained torture of inmates, the arbitrary justice and the mass murder in Hama in which civilians were massacred alongside islamisty rebels but it does contextualise it better.
Although this may seem strange to us in our Western safe havens and with our simple view of good and evil, a secularist in a Syrian city, especially a woman or a member of a minority group, might come to fear some rebels more than the Baathists.
This is why this book strikes me as naive while being useful. Part of that use lies in Lefevre's scholarly honesty because he lays out, in the interstices of his narrative, all the reasons why we should be nervous of taking sides with Islamism, even of the moderate behaviour.
Why? Because, like socialism or all universalist ideologies, Islamism (as opposed to Islam) is intrinsically anti-universal and inhumane. Its core model of the universe requires that at least half humanity, the non-believers, let alone people who will believe in other things, be bent to its transcendental and traditionalist will.
The given argument is that the Arab world (or at least Greater Syria) is inherently Islamic but this is about as valid as the right-wing assertion that the West is inherently Christian. It just is not so.
It has merely been made to be so by circumstance ... and circumstances change. People change and they can choose to go backwards or forwards. The fact that liberals may be helping whole cultures go backwards is truly disturbing because it suggests that we may decide to follow them.
In complex multi-community societies, the best guarantor of safety and freedom remains secular order first and then democracy and not the other way around.
We are lucky in the West because democracy arose out of dynastic order. The Syrians are unlucky in that order has ossified into a set of corrupt special interests but it is still the order that has to be reformed first or else democracy will be a brutal chaos much as we have seen.
Even Turkish Islamic democracy follows this model with the AKP ruling on the back of a transition from secular militarism after years of creative struggle within a structure of order created by Ataturk.
But, of course, we must be fair. The Muslim Brotherhood is complex and could become much like the AKP (though the AKP remains conservative and obscurantist at heart). They are not to be confused with the jihadis. The question is really what are Western liberals doing 'in bed' with the AKP!
Some of the best material in the book comes from the interviews conducted by Lefevre but I urge you to take time to read the Appendices which are very revealing.
In the tales of Marwan Hadid, we have little more than a local version of the bandit narratives that were brought to life by Eric Hobsbawm. This is the legend of Mesrine moved from France to the Syria.
Meanwhile, we have the Brotherhood's 'liberal programmes' from this century which are models of democratic sophistication and may be persuasive to those armchair policy wonks who live by the text.
But neither sets of narrative are to be trusted as 'true' and not merely situationally useful.
The radical jihadi narratives are there to create legends. Underlying them is the sheer monstrosity of an essentialist ideology that can permits almost any crime if it can be justified by a text. The text again! Always the text! And not life lived in the world.
On the hand, all ideologues will shift the superficialities of their language in any necessary way in order to gain power. Saudi dissidents were notorious in the 1990s at having two versions of their programme - one for the West and one (often brutally anti-semitic) for the rest.
But these people are not to be classed as opportunists. They do believe not only in the divine but in the Koran as sacred text. This is very much their privilege but the political islamist (as opposed to the muslim) would be inclined to impose what they could on the wider population at the first opportunity.
What Western policymakers are doing by even contemplating being politically associated with these interests merely indicates how imperial opportunism and the triumph of tactics over stategy are perhaps one of the few constants in our international affairs.
All in all, if you retain a critical mentality as you read this book, you will emerge far better informed after than before. You may kick yourself for your naivete in ever thinking that there was a simple solution to the Syrian horror but the book is still highly recommended despite all our caveats. ...more
A solid short monograph on the origins and history of the Welsh dragon with some general dragon lore thrown in for background.
Lofmark persuades that tA solid short monograph on the origins and history of the Welsh dragon with some general dragon lore thrown in for background.
Lofmark persuades that the symbol has some authenticity as a popular representation of Welsh national feeling even if it is clear that it was not politically important before the nineteenth century.
He also cautiously suggests (and I find this persuasive) that its ultimate origin lies in the Roman use of the dragon as the sign of a cohort (as opposed to the eagle of the legion) during the late empire.
Perhaps the dragon (only much later made invariably red) represented the struggle between abandoned romanised Britons and German foederati (the Saxons had their own white dragon in at least one legend).
The fierce dragon was initially a sign of militaristic force and perhaps the suppression of the dragon and its 'barbarism' are why dragon-kiling is such a popular Christian motif unlike the East.
Be all that as it may, the red dragon is disconnected now from its 'real' history and has become re-imagined not only as a symbol of Welsh separateness but one fully endorsed by the English Monarchy.
And for those critics who say that the Welsh are not represented on the Royal Arms, the answer is that neither are the English - the Standard merely represents Anjou (France), Scotland and Ireland.
Within a few years, we may have a situation where the arms of the Windsors entirely consist of lost territories, their domain reduced to the ancient disputed lands of Celt and Saxon (and Imperial migrant)....more
A tiresome potboiler in many ways, caught between proto-fascist wartime propaganda and an attempt to convey Crowley's 'Magickal' ideas, this book is nA tiresome potboiler in many ways, caught between proto-fascist wartime propaganda and an attempt to convey Crowley's 'Magickal' ideas, this book is neither particularly exciting nor illuminating.
The bulk of it was written in 1917 allegedly to help bring America into the First World War but was only prepared for publication in 1929 very much later when Crowley's game was getting funds on his notoriety.
This is not to say that there is not merit in the writing once you get past the late Victorian Swinburnian prose poesy or in the ideas once you get past the flummery.
But, honestly, most of the ideas are now readily available elsewhere and you have to work through a lot of dross to get to the literary gold.
It may be more entertaining if you have some knowledge of the period and appreciate the satire on spiritualism, on rival 'occult' schools and on the character of the imperial post-Victorian English middle classes. But that is a lot to ask of the modern reader.
There are some moments of genuine horror - the black magick ritual certainly puts Dennis Wheatley to shame - and, perfectly in character, he is much better at portraying villains than heroes.
But the story does not flow, the psychology is unconvincing, the long stretches of didacticism dull, the obfuscations unnecessary, the 'wit' heavy-handed (he is no Oscar Wilde) and the more than occasional nastiness about women and war uninspiring.
All this book tells us is that Crowley was capable of creativity but not capable of the sustained effort and judgment to refine his literary art. This looks and feels like something cobbled together for ulterior purposes.
Perhaps it serves an insight into a man who is an important cultural figure but it also confirms the view that he was only a minor literary figure if not a wholly uninteresting one. It is, in short, hard work.
A footnote may be useful on the concept of the moonchild, which is the capture of a higher soul into a newborn child through magickal means. This is an idea of interesting potential somewhat wasted in this book. However, for those Americans who remain entranced by the experiments of Jack Parsons in this area, the book might be a useful corrective and explain why, for all his dark side, Crowley was horrified by the naive dabbling of Americans in undoubtedly serious matters. The 'high ethic' of Crowley in this effort (if you are of a Platonic mind-set) contrasts with the cynicism and cruelty displayed by him on the material plane. It is difficult to work out the point of sincerity in the author. My personal view, as an out-and-out materialist, is that, consciously or unconsciously, the experiment demonstrates the inherent cruelty of all idealisms but others will be entranced by anything that takes them out of the mire and into the imaginal realm. If you can ignore the worst of the writing and the faults enumerated above and you can lose yourself in the conceit, then you may enjoy the performance. ...more
The book tells the history of the brief insurgent response to the arrogance of both Liverpool City Council and the British Government in their dealingThe book tells the history of the brief insurgent response to the arrogance of both Liverpool City Council and the British Government in their dealings with Wales in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The internment camp, which was the bungling British Government's school for the IRA, was situated only a very short distance from what was to be the Tryweryn Reservoir, the creation of which, alongside the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales, proved the trigger for the events described in the book.
A bombing campaign was signalled in 1963 with an attack on the transformer of the construction crew for the reservoir but by the time that the insurgents were defeated, there had been significant attacks not only in every part of Wales but also on pipeline outlets in England.
The narrative here is very much from a radical Welsh Nationalist perspective and that has to be borne in mind, but it is clearly written and fair and so it offers us a rare insight into how an insurgency starts and how it is defeated in a developed country.
My position in what follows should be made clear and was outlined in the Fron Goch review. Nationalism is intellectually absurd but then so is any ideology.
However, as a binding force for resistance to the arrogance of power, it has its uses and it is elite mismanagement that tends to trigger violence rather than the inherent malice of the insurgent. This is certainly borne out by the testimony of Jenkins who founded MAC (Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru).
Here we are speaking of two wholly separate cell-like operations, the Free Wales Army (which existed as much for publicity as for action) and MAC as well as individuals whose actions proved strategically problematic.
There were also radical propaganda operations in the borderland between the insurgents and the disapproving official nationalism of Plaid Cymru.
The growth of insurgency within a few years makes this a case study in the initial success and eventual inevitable failure of the sort of 'leaderless resistance' strategies much favoured by the revolutionary radical right.
The strategy of both the FWA and MAC (though they did not connect) was similar - to use violence to raise consciousness.
The author insists, and I accept on the evidence, that both sets of operation were careful to avoid deaths and to direct their attacks on property, although the FWA was much less inherently disciplined in this respect than MAC.
The total number of casualties was small given the amount of gelignite used, even in urban areas - one RAF man (though this may not have been an insurgent action), two insurgents blowing themselves up very late in the campaign and a young boy getting his leg badly injured.
One suspects though that the insurgency was heading to a tipping point where violence might have become more widespread after the failure to stop the investiture.
The bulk of the Welsh were torn between admiration for someone standing up to the English and a traditional loyalty to the Crown, depending on their location and self-perceived 'Welshness'.
Strategists on the insurgent side would have been minded, we believe, to jolt the population with increasing extremism if they had not been removed from the scene soon after the investiture.
The Free Wales Army was a classic romantic nationalist 'petit bourgeois' operation, consciously anti-communist and operating under conditions where the dominant party of Welshness at the time was the South Wales Labour Party with its phalanx of left-wing but centralising mining constituency MPs.
You can study its founder Julian Cayo Evans and the operation at length in the book but it was surprisingly open in the field, somewhat ramshackle, but it did what it said it would do until the raids that finally broke it up at the end of the decade.
'Cayo' was partly inspired by an (unwitting) Polish romantic exile, a teacher, and all the paraphrenalia of interwar romantic small nation fascism emerged in reduced form within the FWA as it did in its non-Marxist celtic nationalist contemporaries.
There were fraternal links with exiles and other Celtic nationalists, as well as the IRA which used them for its own purposes, but these were people of limited means, if of passion, who only required a determined and brutal response by a competent security apparat to unravel.
Still, they may have become a threat if they had taken a hold on a greater proportion of Welsh sentiment.
They were representing a genuine and widespread resentment at English demands on water resources and an historic lack of respect for their culture (although Prince Charles' determination to learn Welsh proved an imaginative act of partial and symbolic restitution by the Crown).
A turning point might have been the FWA's active support for the Aberfan community (after the disaster that led to the deaths of many of their children).
The community was disgracefully, almost psychopathically, treated by the clumsy British bureaucracy and by the National Coal Board. This might have turned moderate men like me into supporters of radical responses if it had become more widely known.
MAC was a different kettle of fish. It was also the creation of one man but one with a well thought out ideology of resistance, closer to the partisan mentality of the Second World War, John Barnard Jenkins.
Jenkins was a common soldier in the Malayan insurgency. It is striking how many British-Welsh ex-soldiers found themselves, despite their emotional allegiance to the British Army, fighting against the Crown as romantic nationalists.
This is a phenomenon of 'spirit'. The current British Government may be making its own blunder in letting loose on a troubled English community a large number of well-trained but only partly educated men without a purpose in life.
That is another story but rightist insurgency in the developed world has always had a strong element of resentment from ex-military about their former or current masters.
The Freikorps in post-first world war Germany were not unique in history and the Fron Goch book showed us examples too of British-Irish soldiery turning to the IRA and romantic nationalism.
Be this as it may, Jenkins, working as a lowly NCO still within the territorial structure of the British Army, ran a small but effective 'terrorist' (that is, insurgent) cell in North Wales in the latter part of the period.
Jenkins evidently gave an extensive interview for this book and its honesty and ability to analyse self-critically is remarkable. He clearly had and has a good mind. All policy makers could learn from his frank testimony. These were not bad men but frustrated men.
Perhaps the most valuable insight is psychological because it is true. Consciousness-raising in the individual is very different from ideologicial consciousness-raising of the mass.
In the first case, an act or an experience shatters a way of seeing and forces the world to be rebuilt along new lines. The latter is simply a matter of taking a grazing herd from one field to the next.Here is Jenkins on the moment of action and its effect on him:
"My basic feeling going home in the car [after the first bombing of a pipeline] was one of great sadness because it had come to this. The thing is that the first time you deliberately break the law ... then that is the first time you snatch the blinkers away. The web that has been carefully and steadily drawn about you since the day you were born is suddenly cut through. All the taboos, such as the policeman is a nice chap, and the government is always right, and the state is there for the citizen's own good ... I was reacting violently against everything that up until then had been the whole basis of my existence. What I felt when I left that bomb on the pipeline was that since before my action I had been within the law and a respected member of the public within the law; now I was outside the law ... and I was filled with a sort of sadness, a sense of loss because I had cut myself off. I felt a totally different person. Once one has taken a bite out of the state and it succeeds, then one is totally different, totally divorced. I felt that I could then for the first time look at things with complete objectivity, because I no longer has these 'should I or shouldn't I? doubts. I could go against the state, I had gone against the state, and I was still here ... "
This is probably the best account I have ever seen of the transformative and liberating effect of transgression (including the 'sense of loss').
It helps to explain why controlling the cultural infrastructure is always going to be more important even than controlling access to weaponry as far as the defensive state is concerned.
The end of the insurgency owed itself to two causes. The first was inherent in the approach of the insurgents and the second inherent in the state machine of the day.
Things started to go wrong when the insurgents failed to win a base in the community that could sustain them. They could not expand until they no longer feared ordinary people as law-abiding informers and that point never came.
Worse, as an early example of 'leaderless resistance', excitable individuals outside the relatively disciplined structures of FWA and MAC began amateur bombing attempts that endangered life.
The FWA was also once too close to declaring war on the English rather than the British Government (a mistake MAC never made) when one bomb attempt threatened to deprive 1.5m people in Birmingham of water as early as 1967.
This sort of thing (if it had later been pursued as a strategy) or the assassination of Prince Charles (which was discussed but not pursued) might have given the FWA what it wanted - the equivalent of the black & tans in the Cambrian Mountains to alienate the population - but the Welsh People would probably have turned on them long before that.
The 'insurgents' also had minimal resources. The Official IRA's half-baked support at the margins and the odd secret wealthy donor were not sufficient to provide more than a few guns.
We leave you to read in the book the tragi-comical story of the IRA deal involving a brochure offering armoured cars and tanks when the FWA could scarcely scrape the cash together to buy a second hand motorcycle and a sidecar.
Above all, Wales in the 1960s was mostly a modern industrial nation (certainly in the South) and the ideology of the FWA was that of small people outside the mainstream of 'history'.
A genuine insurgent response to London would have required an ideology that did not look back to the 1916 Dublin Rising which in turn looked back to the 1840s but would have 'detourned' socialism in the Welsh Valleys much as Hitler 'detourned' socialism in the industrial zones of Germany.
However, all this is academic, because we must turn to the response which showed all the essential characteristics of the British State when it looks like it is going to lose a bit of its property.
The crisis started because of the utter arrogance over Trywern. The first reactions to 'extremism' were mostly outrage, huffing and puffing and posturing.
One of the biggest huffer and puffers was Plaid Cymru which had decided on a constitutional route to independence which (at that time) had achieved nothing. The drift into the Establishment of constitutional radicals is an eternal of history.
The next phase was one of somewhat desultory policing where (as far as the FWA concerned) both sides, FWA and police, engaged in a somewhat autistic rivalry where each taunted the other but no decisive evidence brought men to trial.
The reason for this is clear. Central Government saw Wales as a strategic problem that had to be dealt with strategically, until then it was a matter of local policing within the law.
The eventual strategy was to appropriate Welsh feeling to the Crown and isolate the nationalists by offering the young Prince Charles up as Prince of Wales direct to the people.
This was a risky strategy tactically - it could centre violent protest on the Prince and on the event (which it did) and it could mobilise more awareness-raising activity about the imposition of the Crown on Wales - but it proved the correct strategy if only because the working classes of Wales love an excuse for a party.
From this point on, matters escalated. The British system is centred on the Crown to a degree not always appreciated by its own population, let alone foreigners.
The Prince of Wales was being gambled against not only the FWA but possibly the IRA which was then in a highly unstable state. Needless to say, every stop was pulled out to protect the Prince and control the media.
Equally needless to say, the somewhat thuggish Special Branch (the more discreet Black & Tans of the day) went into what amounted to gang warfare mode with the FWA, supported by the magistrates.
Again, I refer you to the book on the detail but it is a truth universally acknowledged - from the Easter Rising to the London Riots - that the British State, when faced by the first signs of an existential threat, mobilises itself to crush that threat with consummate ruthlessness, without morality and only barely constrained by its own laws.
The characterisation of 'James Bond' as representative of the British Establishment in defence mode is in this respect accurate. The operations against radical Welsh nationalism, also had the full political support of even the 'official' Welsh nationalists.
Needless to say, the FWA were taken out largely by judicial means (not without back room beatings and bad faith). The amateurs were removed by the professionals.
MAC was more conventionally defeated when Jenkins, its only central co-ordinator, was removed from the scene by solid conventional policing.
The principals were jailed and the story somewhat suppressed (there is, for example, as of today, no reference to the FWA's role in the Aberfan disaster relief campaign in Wikipedia). The individuals left prison in the coming years with no machinery in place, no popular support and under permanent surveillance.
But there is a coda not in the book. Wales, forty years on, has its own autonomous Assembly within the United Kingdom and the Welsh language has equal status to English. The police are now Heddlu.
Plaid Cymru would like to claim that this was all their doing. The South Wales Labour Party would like to claim the political credit since they implemented it through the Blair Government (which, incidentally, recognised the wrong-doing at Aberfan if in a somewhat mealy-mouthed way as soon as it got into office).
In fact, the FWA and MAC gave the British Establishment a bit of a scare and Home Rule for Wales seriously entered the agenda from that point on even if it would be resisted until the 'right' way of doing it had been offered.
If a tiny group of marginalised young males could threaten water supplies, gain growing acceptance amongst others (as was happening) and offer a terrorist threat that stretched into England, then it could happen again if Welsh culture and aspirations were ignored.
Plaid Cymru and the (mostly South Wales) Labour Party were henceforth competing to claim that they were the party of Welsh aspirations and culture.
The process only awaited a new Labour Government to see that the British State could safely grant those aspirations without detaching the country from the Crown.
There were important steps along the way - the subsidised Welsh television station S4C in the early 1980s, for which Plaid Cymru should take the political credit, is one. Home Rule was not automatic but it was probable.
FWA and MAC were, thus, failures as political strategies but they are not unimportant. They helped to force autonomy on to the agenda by showing that resentments were real enough to force some ordinary people into direct action.
The Trywern reservoir campaign in which the FWA played a critical role, the skilled public relations operations of the FWA and the FWA's Aberfan activity at a very local level, showed that anger and resentment could be exploited by extremism and that simply removing the obvious extremists from the stage was not enough.
The British State wisely removed those extremists by fair means and foul but then allowed democratic competition to permit eventually a solution for Wales. If the same wise strategy had been followed in Ireland, it might have remained within the Kingdom.
So, this short and not easily available (I picked it up by chance on a visit to the Lleyn Peninsula) must be added to any library on insurgency and terrorism as testimony from 'within a movement' that was very close to home.
There is nothing in the interviews in this book that might not be said one day by resentful working people in British Columbia or Bethnal Green so one hopes lessons have been learned.