Politics, Philosophy, Polemics

Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

Boris Johnson: Enemy of Freedom

In Freedom of Expression on February 28, 2013 at 11:39 PM

The story is reported by Sky News:

A Christian group has launched a battle “for free speech” against London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, after he banned its adverts claiming gay people can be “cured” from buses.

Mr Johnson said the ads by the Core Issues Trust could offend gay people and spark retaliation against the wider Christian community.

The advert in question reads:


I concur with the sentiment that the advert could be perceived as offensive by the gay community. What I disagree with is that offense, in itself, is reason for banning the advert. Who says that people have a right not to be offended or that someone has no right to offend?

The consistent logical position of someone who wishes these adverts banned because they offend gay people is that Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses should be banned because many Muslims are offended. The floodgates will be open for any minority or even majority group to express horror at something and claim they are offended and demand it banned. One can ask Boris Johnson how he would react to a concerted campaign by church groups to pressure him to use his position to ban Gay Pride, a march through London celebrating gay culture, because Christians are offended. In order to ban the Core Issues Trust advert because of offence caused but not gay pride for a similar reason, the Mayor would have to tie himself up in knots trying to justify his position.

Nick Cohen comments in his latest book, You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom, [(Fourth Estate, 2012), p.229], that J.S. Mill’s principle from his 1859 essay “On Liberty,” one whereby people have the right not to be harmed, has gradually been replaced with what the philosopher Joel Feinberg called the “offence principle,” whereby societies can punish people just because they are offended.

In the case of the bus advert, nobody is physically harmed by an advert that suggests gay people can be cured. They are just offended and offence should not be a crime or reason for censorship. If the advert was an incitement to violence then that is a different matter, but it does not seem to me that the words on the advert can be interpreted, even loosely, as inciting violence.

A separate argument can be made that the Core Issues Trust does have freedom of speech but that right does not extend to insisting that Transport for London carries its adverts. I would accept this argument if buses run by Transport for London acted in a competitive world with other bus companies, but it doesn’t. Because of its unique position as the bus operating company in London and because of subsidies that Transport for London receives, it loses the right to act solely at the whims of those in charge of the organisation and must consider its role in society. It should treat people fairly. It accepted an advert from the gay rights pressure group, Stonewall, that stated, “SOME PEOPLE ARE GAY. GET OVER IT!” It should therefore accept the advert from Core Issues Trust.

Hat Tip: RG


A Problem with Democracy

In Anarchism, Philosophy, Thought Experiments on February 23, 2013 at 7:03 PM

I have previously commented on my interest in thought experiments. Michael Huemer has posed a compelling one in his recent book, The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p.59. The term “tyranny of the majority” was popularized by Alexis de Tocqueville as he used it in his important 1835 book, Democracy in America. Michael Huemer provides a neat example:

Imagine the following scenario, which I shall call the Bar Tab example. You have gone out for drinks with a few of your colleagues and graduate students. You are all busy talking about philosophy, when someone raises the question of who is going to pay the bill. A number of options are discussed. A colleague suggests dividing the bill evenly among everyone at the table. You suggest that everyone pay for his own drinks. A graduate student then suggests that you pay for everybody’s drinks. Reluctant to spend so much money you decline. But the student persists: ‘Let’s take a vote.’ To your consternation they proceed to take the vote, which reveals that everyone at the table except you wants you to pay for everybody’s drinks. ‘Well, that settles it’, declares the student. ‘Pay up.’

Lenny’s Lexicon

In Hitchens, Trotskyism, U.K. Left on February 23, 2013 at 6:30 PM

This is a cross post. It was originally posted on Harry’s Place on February 21st 2013, 7:22 pm

On his own blog Richard Seymour uses the nom de plume, “Lenin.” Because I do not think he would have the guts to murder as many people as his hero, I prefer the nickname “Lenny.”

I have previously mentioned that his recent book, The Trial of Christopher Hitchens, is not worth reviewing. It has been reviewed elsewhere. What is noticeable, and not surprising to anyone who has read it, is that Seymour’s prose is often commented upon, and not in a  positive way. “Awkwardly freighted with four-dollar words,” was how Colin Woodard,  the reviewer for the Washington Post put it. The prose was “tediously inflated” according to George Eaton in the New Statesman. Stephen Robinson, in the Sunday Times, thought Seymour’s writing style “embarrassing.” He rhetorically asked, “Would anyone with English as a first language suggest [one of Hitchens’s books] should be classed as ‘a somewhat opuscular component of the Hitchensian oeuvre?’”I am sure there are further examples.

To save you reading the book, and I can assure you it is not worthwhile reading, if you want to know some of the words that he uses that leads people to ridicule him, below I provide a lexicon of “four-dollar words” from The Trial of Christopher Hitchens, together with a page reference.

Adamantine p.25
Alarums p.54
Asseverations p.60
Augury p.43
Comity p.47
Concupiscence p.25
Confraternity p.xii, p.37
Cynosures p.xviii
Diapason p.86
Eristic p.57
Fealties p.3
Filiations p.33
Hermeneutical p.36
Idiolect p.xxiii
Integument p.103
Isomorphic p.54
Mugwump p.x
Opuscular p.xxiiii
Ouvrieriste italicised p.xii not italicised p.xxii, p.22
Paladins p.3
Puissance p.68
Recusant p.4
Segued p.55
Serried p.22
Sodality p.xix
Suppuration p.29
Tomecide p.56
Yawped p.73

Akiva Orr 1931-2013: An Obituary

In Anti-Zionism, Israel on February 13, 2013 at 9:42 PM

This is a cross post. It was originally published at Harry’s Place on February 13th 2013, 12:29 pm

There are two types of anti-Zionist: those who can do little more than regurgitate stock phrases: “racist,” “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansers,” “colonial settlers,” “Nazis,” etc., or plagiarise the work of others and those who have something interesting to say. It is because Akiva Orr fell into the latter camp, together with the fact that I had some familiarity with his background and output, and combined with my own interests in Marxism and anti-Zionism, that I was interested in developing a cordial relationship with him.

I began corresponding with Aki in 2006. As well as email, there were some telephone conversations that could go on very long into the night. He invited me to stay with him in his house near the Israeli town of Netanya. While I never took him up on that kind offer, I did, on a trip to Israel in the summer of 2009, arrange to visit him with my friend Paul Bogdanor. This meeting was ostensibly to discuss the Kasztner case and his involvement in the notorious anti-Zionist play, Perdition, one which caused a storm of controversy in the UK in 1987. The meeting ended up going on much longer than anticipated and included our taking him out to dinner to hear more of what he had to say.

He was born in Germany, immigrated to Palestine in 1934, and did not become politicised until a seaman’s strike in 1951. He joined the Communist Party but became disillusioned with it due to its slavish following of the Soviet line. The Communist Party expelled him in 1962, but if it hadn’t, he would have left. Aki was not lacking in opinions. When we asked him about Trotsky, he dismissed him as someone who “would have been worse than Stalin” had he obtained power. Together with Moshe Machover and others, Aki formed the Socialist Organisation in Israel known as Matzpen.  The aim of Matzpen was for a “de-Zionised” Israel. The organisation’s solution to the Middle East conflict (The Times, June 8, 1967) was a “revolutionary transformation.”

The Zionist power structure and all elements of Jewish supremacy must be abolished totally. This must be achieved only through internal joint struggle of all non-Zionists inside Israel who wish to integrate this state in the Middle East…

This federal state will participate in the process of political and economic unification of the entire Middle East.

Readers might not be surprised to find out that Matzpen never had more than a few dozen members.

Orr came to London for post graduate studies in 1964. He continued his activity with Matzpen and became, again with Machover and others, a co-founder of the Israeli Revolutionary Action Committee (Abroad), known as ISRAC(A). They published a magazine ISRAC which promoted their anti-Zionist views.  They integrated themselves in what became known as the New Left and had articles published by Tariq Ali’s International Marxist Group, and also in Socialist Worker.

Orr returned to Israel in 1990 because, as he told me, his mother, who lived in the country, was getting very old and he wanted to spend time with her and also because he preferred the climate.

When we met him, as well as discussing the Kasztner case and Perdition, we were able to ask him about Matzpen and the backing of the terrorist activities including plane hijackings by Marxist PLO groupings. Orr’s response was that while he personally did not agree with such tactics, he did not feel that it was his place to tell the Palestinians how they should resist Israel.

Aki was very keen to tell us about his LSD trips that he experienced in London. He was highly enthusiastic about the drug and promoted its use. Another area that he was keen to discuss was his own political trajectory beyond Marxism and anarchism to something he labelled autonarchy, a form of direct democracy.

I was never going to agree with his political outlook, but when I heard that he died over the weekend, I felt sad. The truth is, despite our political disagreements, I liked him.

The inscription page of one of Akiva Orr’s books that kindly he gave to me.

A film portraying a sympathetic account of Matzpen featuring Akiva Orr.


In Book Review, Hitchens, Trotskyism, U.K. Left on February 3, 2013 at 11:07 PM

This is a cross post. It was originally published at Harry’s Place on February 3rd 2013, 6:17 pm

I was thinking of writing a review of Richard Seymour’s book, Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens.  However, I read (p14) that Seymour believes that Hitchens made himself an ally of David Irving. I also read (p71) that Hitchens must be judged an Islamophobe. Moreover, I read (p66) that in order for there to be a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, the State of Israel must be wiped off the map.

As a result of these and other views expressed by Seymour, I have come to the conclusion that the author of the book is unhinged. Carrying out a review of the book would suggest that it is worthy of a review. It isn’t and hence I won’t.