Archive for the ‘French Revolution’ Category

“How Catholic Fillon will remain during his campaign remains to be seen”

12/12/2016

A piece notes how Catholics in France are backing the presidential contender, “François Fillon will carry the standard for Les Républicains in France’s presidential election next spring. Competitors and commentators — indeed, many voters — were surprised by this outcome. Surprised because Fillon had long trailed in the polls; surprised because Fillon, a former prime minister, was long dismissed as the “eternal No. 2”; surprised because Fillon has promised, if elected, to starve the beast that the French fondly call l’état providence — the welfare state — a move that in France has not typically been a winning campaign strategy. But surprised, too, because, as the rest of the country is now discovering, Fillon is Catholic. Very Catholic. So Catholic, at least to the secular left, that a headline in the newspaper Libération screamed: “Help, Jesus has returned!” Fillon has never made any secret of his beliefs. He hails from the Vendée, the western region that was the site of a long and bloody resistance to the secular values, laws, and, ultimately, soldiers of revolutionary Paris. A lieu de mémoire, or site of memory, for French Catholics, the Vendée is famed for the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, where Fillon goes every year on retreat”.

It mentions that “In his campaign book Faire (“To Make”), Fillon, known for his reticence, nevertheless recalls with deep emotion his Catholic schooling, explains how it has shaped his worldview, and affirms: “I was raised in this tradition, and I have kept this faith.” And, as it turns out, legions of Frenchmen and women who have not kept their faith will nonetheless turn out in droves for a politician who has. These men and women are, in the controversial term coined three years ago by the sociologists Emmanuel Todd and Hervé Le Bras, les zombies catholiques of France. In their book Le mystère français, Todd and Le Bras tried to explain why, in a country where barely five citizens in 100 attend church, the weight of Catholicism is still evident. From the millions of parents who took to the streets in the mid-1980s to protest the Socialist government’s effort to merge private (and overwhelmingly Catholic) schools with public schools to the millions who, 30 years later, took to the same streets to protest the new (but hardly different) Socialist government’s effort to legalize gay marriage, these armies of French “zombies” would have overwhelmed the likes of Brad Pitt, let alone government ministers”.

The report notes that “But this is less World War Z than the newest chapter in the guerres franco-françaises — France’s long series of civil wars fought over the legacy of the French Revolution, which pit a secularist left against a traditionalist right. Todd and Le Bras marvel over the persistence of Catholic habits and values in regions where Catholicism has more or less vanished as an institution. “The most astonishing paradox,” they note, “is the rise of social movements shaped by a religion that has disappeared as a metaphysical belief.” Unable to resist the French weakness for paradox, Todd and Le Bras conclude: “Catholicism seems to have attained a kind of life after death. But since it is a question of a this-worldly life, we will define it as ‘zombie Catholicism.’” Zombie Catholics share certain symptoms: Not only do they hail from regions where resistance was greatest to the French Revolution, but they also have taken advantage of the benefits that flowed from that seismic event. Highly educated and meritocratic, they also privilege a traditional ordering of professional and domestic duties between husbands and wives; strong attachment to social, community, and family activities; and a general wariness over the role of the state in private and community affairs, including “free schools” (Catholic private schools)”.

Crucially the writer notes how “Fillon can check all of these boxes. His economic liberalism, in particular, has led critics to label him a French Margaret Thatcher. But Fillon’s genius was his recognition that France’s zombie Catholicism isn’t just a cultural identity but also a latent political one. Indeed, the zombies came out to vote for him in greater numbers than anyone had anticipated: In the second round of the primary, more than 4.3 million individuals went to the polls. For a party that had never before chosen a presidential candidate by primary, this was a stunning success. (It is important to note that the primary was partly open: Anyone who paid 2 euros and declared they held to right-wing or centrist values was allowed to cast a vote. Although estimates vary of the percentage of those from the left and center who voted, pollsters attribute the second swell of voters to those mobilized by Fillon’s candidacy.) Equally stunning is how the electoral map dovetails with the sociological map traced by Todd and Le Bras. For example, the Vendée and Brittany, the western regions that formed Fillon, are among what the authors call the most “anthropologically hardened” zombie Catholic enclaves — places where the church has vanished but its practices and values persist. Voters from these parts of France also rallied in greater numbers than elsewhere to Fillon, while in those regions identified by Todd and Le Bras as “anthropologically hardened” liberal enclaves — especially in the south, much of Paris (and the former “red belt” that surrounds it), and other large cities — voter turnout was significantly smaller. According to Jérôme Fourquet, the director of opinion and business strategies for French pollster IFOP, the takeaway was clear: Catholic, or at least zombie Catholic, voters played a “disproportionate” role in the primary”.

It goes on to mention how “Just how Catholic Fillon will remain during his campaign remains to be seen, but all signs point to his beliefs being both sincere and deeply held. When the French political scene was upended in 2012 by the monumental clash over the legalisation of same-sex marriage, Fillon never hid his opposition. Once the legislation was passed, Fillon acknowledged that the law must be respected, but he has also repeatedly voiced his opposition to the law’s so-called “excesses,” by which he means the right of same-sex couples to either adopt or use a surrogate mother. His hostility to the law attracted the support of Sens Commun (“Common Sense”), a deeply conservative Catholic organization tied to La Manif Pour Tous (“Protest for Everyone”), the political movement that led the massive protests against the same-sex marriage law. Frigide Barjot, the former leader of La Manif Pour Tous and a controversial figure, appeared at Fillon’s headquarters Sunday night to celebrate his victory. Fillon’s personal opposition to abortion — “Given my own faith, I cannot approve of abortion,” he said in early October — has also sent ripples of concern across the political spectrum”.

The piece contends “Equally unsettling have been Fillon’s remarks on Islam. Though not as provocative as Nicolas Sarkozy, who relentlessly played the “identity card” during his campaign, Fillon has nevertheless underscored what he considers to be the unprecedented challenge Islam poses for France. He insists on France’s “Christian roots,” a statement critics denounce as an implicit warning to French Muslims that they are not chez soi in France. He has claimed that there is a “concrete problem with radical Islam,” immediately adding, afterward, that “Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, and Sikhs do not threaten our national unity.” Not surprisingly, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France issued a warning about Fillon’s candidacy, declaring that anti-Islamic remarks made by Fillon spokeswoman Valerie Boyer — most notably, that only Muslim extremists wear headscarves — represented “a small taste of what to expect” from a Fillon presidency”.

Naturally “the centre and left, the takeaway from all this has been panic: It is as if real zombies have invaded France. Some of the headlines in French media following Fillon’s primary win were nearly as apocalyptic as those in the United States following Donald Trump’s victory. When not stammering over the large cross Boyer wore during a press conference, the co-owner of the left-leaning Le Monde newspaper, Pierre Bergé, tweeted that Fillon’s supporters were no better than the Pétainists of Vichy France. As for Le Monde itself, an editorialist observed, simply, that Fillon’s victory revealed “the emergence of a Catholic and patrimonial right.” And yet, given the lamentable state of the Socialists, bled white by infighting and tied to the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic, Fillon seems likely to be the only thing standing between France and a National Front presidency in next spring’s election. The question now is whether he will be able to convince voters from the center and left to overcome their worries about his religion and his austere economic plans”.

It ends “It’s also an open question whether French Catholics — zombie and non-zombie alike — will maintain their own resistance to the National Front’s anti-Europe, anti-Muslim, and anti-liberal siren call. Fillon does seem to have harnessed what the religion specialist Henri Tincq calls “identity Catholicism.” Those Frenchmen and women, he said, “uneasy with a modernity that has largely erased Christian values from issues like education, family, work, and sexuality,” and increasingly ill at ease with transnational institutions like the EU and the transnational flow of peoples — especially when they are Muslim and hail from the Middle East — have increasingly been retreating to the ostensible safety of traditionally national institutions like the Catholic Church. Fillon is now offering them what seems to be a compelling political alternative to the sclerotic secularism of the left and unsavory heritage of the extreme right. But if this activation of Catholic identity already marks a shift in French politics, its ultimate significance is not yet clear. Much depends on the long-term direction taken by the newly awakened horde of zombie Catholics. Will they retreat further to the right and into the arms of the National Front? The late and great historian of French politics René Rémond always insisted that the more observant French Catholics are, the less likely they are to vote for the National Front. But this truism has, with time, frayed dramatically; moreover, it never applied to the zombies to start with. An IFOP poll taken after last year’s regional elections revealed that 32 percent of practicing Catholics voted for the National Front. Not only was this higher than the national average — 28 percent — of National Front voters, but it was also more than double the percentage of Catholic votes tallied for the party in 2014. As a headline in the Catholic magazine Pélerin announced, the “Catholic dam is collapsing.”

It concludes “The same poll revealed, however, that western France, Fillon’s homeland, continued to resist the National Front’s rise. Many Catholics, regardless of their religious practice, continue to feel repugnance in voting for a party whose founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, thrived on values they consider antithetical to their worldview. But it bears noting that his daughter, Marine Le Pen, continues to reinvent the National Front, also known by its French name Front National or FN. It was no accident that when Le Pen the younger recently replaced the traditional logo of the blue-white-and-red flame of the National Front with a blue rose, she also removed the very names “Le Pen” and “Front National” from the party’s graphics. Now, her public appearances are framed by “Marine” and “Au nom du peuple.” (“In the name of the people.”) As one of her advisors remarked, “Marine Le Pen is not the candidate of the FN but of all Frenchmen and women.” Fillon may have ridden a wave of the undead to victory in the primary. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Catholics — dead and undead alike — will stick by his side this spring.

Searching for an Islamic Luther

14/06/2015

Following on from the article in Foreign Affairs about Islam, a contraty piece in Foreign Policy, Nick Danforth writes that Islam will not have a reformation.

He opens “in his annual Christmas address, Pope Francis prayed for victims of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. His prayers for both Christian and Muslim victims of the jihadis’ violence were a fitting tribute to one of the most dismal aspects of 2014. But the pope’s words also offered a striking contrast between the manifest humility of the Vatican — back on the good side of what seems like a decades-long good-pope/bad-pope routine — and the savagery of a newly declared caliphate. This contrast led some observers (like, say, Bill Maher) to declare we should stop being so politically correct and state the obvious: Islam remains stuck in the Middle Ages. And even those who found this particular formulation too crude were still struck trying to explain why it seems that so many western countries have figured out how to separate church and state, while Muslim countries from Saudi Arabia to Egypt to Turkey continue to struggle”.

Danforth goes on to argue “One of the most enduring explanations is that the Islamic world really needs its own Reformation — a Muslim Martin Luther to bring the religion of Mohammed into modernity. It’s an argument that Thomas Friedman and various others have been making for over a decade. In the last year alone Fetullah Gulen and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi were added to the short list of potential Martin Luthers. Many analysts and critics of Islam seem committed to the idea that, be it a reclusive Turkish preacher or an authoritarian Egyptian general, there must be someone out there who can straighten out the confusion over church and state in in the Muslim world, and finally help Islam make the jump from totalitarian fundamentalism to enlightened, liberal religion, from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to Pope Francis.” 

Danforth warns westerners not to apply the lessons of Europe to the Middle East, let alone the Muslim world “Wasn’t the Reformation an attack on the Catholic Church? Didn’t Martin Luther, the man who began it, once write a book called Against the Roman Papacy: An Institution of the Devil? Indeed, every time a western writer identifies an Islamic Martin Luther, it highlights an unresolved question about western society itself: Is today’s modern Christian world a triumph of Protestantism over the pope? Or is it a reflection of Christianity’s more secular essence, inherent in Protestantism and Catholicism alike? Neither. The different political cultures in Christian and Muslim countries we debate today resulted from a convoluted history, a twisting path that offers few simple or satisfying lessons”.

He argues that “For most of American history, it would have been self-evident to the majority of American Protestants that the celebrated separation of church and state in the United States only became possible because the Protestant Reformation tamed the Vatican in the 16th century. Most viewed Catholicism as a medieval religion at odds with the Anglo-American tradition of secular democracy”.

Rightly he notes that “most Protestants would likely agree that Pope Francis seems like a pretty nice guy, and certainly no threat to democracy. The pope — this one especially — is on board with progress. And maybe even with evolution now. So what happened? For most of Europe’s past, the only thing church leaders and their monarchical counterparts agreed on was that church and state should be united. They just disagreed over who should be holding the reins. In fact, if anything kept church and state separate, it was the power struggle between the two camps”.

He makes the argument that “The pope’s earthly power frequently brought him into conflict with Europe’s kings. When these rulers tried to seize church land or appoint bishops, the Catholic Church called on its considerable allies and resources to resist. This conflict would pit some of Europe’s most powerful rulers — Charlemagne, several Holy Roman Emperors, and King Philip IV of France — against the pope over the question of whether kings should choose popes or popes should choose kings. Both sides wanted to play the “caliph,” with the joint spiritual and temporal authority that role entailed. But while both church and state relied on the other for legitimacy, neither could permanently gain the upper hand for centuries. The Protestant Reformation finally gave European monarchs like Henry VIII the theological justification to unite church and state under their authority instead of the Vatican’s. Indeed, Protestants only favoured the separation of church and state so long as the church in question was the Catholic one”.

What Danforth does not point out however is that the supposed separation of church and state in the times of Henry VIII really meant the State controlling the Church. This is the case, to a greater or lesser extent in the UK and Denmark. It was the case in Sweden until 2000. In all of these cases the State had control, either explicit or implicit over the religion. This is exactly what President Sisi is trying to do in Egypt at the moment, have the State control Islam.

Danforth goes on to write “Uniting church and state under protestant kings like Henry only helped facilitate modern secularism because these rulers were more serious about their new-found power than their theology. They wanted their countries to become rich and powerful. In their new roles as religious authorities, they could bend or warp religious rules for earthly end goals. As European states became richer, more stable, and more powerful over the ensuing centuries, their political cultures became more liberal and democratic. And religion in the hands of protestant monarchs kept pace. Queen Elizabeth, weighed down by an elected parliament and generations of English common law, could no longer use her authority as Anglican potentate to, say, endorse enslaving prisoners of war as the Islamic State recently did. In short, she isn’t the kind of caliph anyone in the Islamic State wants”.

He adds “The church-state relationship developed differently in countries that remained Catholic, like France or Italy. Rather than become leaders of new churches, subsequent revolutionary leaders like Robespierre in France or Garibaldi in Italy sought to abolish Catholic institutions entirely. The French Revolution, for example, confiscated church land, banned monastic orders, and forced priests to swear an oath to the civil constitution (of course, all this involved many more beheadings). The pope and his faithful were, understandably, horrified. The Vatican spent the better part of the 19th century on the political sidelines, refusing to engage with Europe’s secular regimes”.

Crucially he notes “The history of how secularism developed in Protestant and Catholic countries serves as a reminder that politics and circumstance shape religion, and its application to society, far more than abstract theology does. And these forces can change a faith dramatically even while scripture remains the same”.

Danforth asks if that if separation of church and state is about politics rather than theology will there be a Muslim Robespierre, he argues “Unlikely. The real answer is that there’s no single, obvious, historically proven path to modern secularism. Take just one example: The French revolutionary approach to dealing with the church served as the example for one of the most famous secularisers in the Islamic world, Turkey’s Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk saw the Islamic religious establishment as an enemy force — just like French revolutionaries saw the Vatican — that had to be defeated. He expropriated the property of religious foundations and banned religious orders. And he was so committed to teaching an anti-Catholic view of European history — inspired by both protestant prejudice and French revolutionary secularism — that even today a surprising number of Turkish high school graduates have told me they believe Protestants are the modern Christians and Catholics the backwards ones. But anyone who’s been following the news from Turkey over the past decade or so knows that a century on, Ataturk’s approach did not work perfectly. Turkish politics remain bitterly divided between those who think the country is too secular and those who complain it is no longer secular enough”.

He concludes “So if even Ataturk couldn’t do it, is there any hope for creating a consensus on the role of religion in public life sufficient to facilitate liberal democracy in Muslim-majority countries? Or at least sufficient to forestall some of the violence we saw in 2014? Looking optimistically toward the new year, one lesson from several millennia of church-state conflict in Europe is that even without following any particular model, Muslim countries might just succeed in blazing their own paths, much like the Vatican managed to do, even without a Catholic Martin Luther of its own”.

221 years ago

21/01/2014

On this day, Louis XVI was murdered. Let us not forget the violence that swept France and Europe and the effects that still haunt the world to this day.

“We have created new idols”

06/12/2013
“One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf.Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings”

“A crude and naive trust”

01/12/2013

Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting”.

“A harsh critique”

27/11/2013

Pope Francis launched a harsh critique against “trickle-down” economics and an unrestricted free market Tuesday, as he lamented the growing issue of income inequality. In a new writing, the leader of the Catholic Church identified current economic conditions as a major challenge facing the globe. In particular, he argued that the “idolatry of money” in society has created a class of people who are basically disposable”.

220 years on

21/01/2013

Today marks the 220th anniversary of the murder of Louis XVI of France. The individualism and continued disruption of the common good live on.

“Throw up difficulties”

09/01/2013

After the succession has been altered in a number of European monarchies to allow the first born child regardless of gender take the throne, the plan was announced in the United Kingdom amid much fanfare and talk of modernity and fairness. Now however, after being silent for so long, the traditional rules have been defended by HRH Prince Charles, Prince of Wales who is heir to the current monarch.

An article notes that “Lord Carey shares the worries of Prince Charles, who is thought to believe that changing the rules which give male heir priority could throw up difficulties. He, along with other leading members of the clergy, believe the Prime Minister’s plan to remove a ban on an heir to the throne marrying a Roman Catholic could upset a ‘delicate constitutional balance’. If the planned changes go ahead, it raises the prospect of a future heir being brought up as a Catholic. This would result in the difficult scenario of the next heir, due to inherit the title of Supreme Governor of the Church of England, being a Catholic and therefore barred from the throne. They fear the changes will lead to confusion and have been in talks with ministers over the issue, officials at Lambeth Palace said”.

The piece goes on to say “Officials at Lambeth Palace also pointed to comments made by Dr Rowan Williams, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury until he stepped down last month, about the necessity of any heir to the throne being raised in the Church of England rather than as a Catholic. Dr Williams said: ‘If we’re quite clear that, so long as the monarch is Supreme Governor of the Church of England, there needs to be a clear understanding that the heir is brought up in that environment.’ Prince Charles is said to back the principle of changing the law so that if the child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is a girl she would become Queen, if it commands popular support”.

This is especially noteworthy as Rowan Williams, now archbishop emeritus of Canterbury and an academic at the University of Cambridge was almost without thinking on the Left, both doctrinally and politically. He recently compared the birth of Jesus to a tweet and seemed to think things that were new and modern were automatically good and should be embraced. Therefore, to have him voice serious concerns, hinting that if equal succession was to proceed, then there should be little point in retaining the Church of England as the established church shows just how seriously Williams takes the issue.

The article ends, mentionig that Prince Charles, “reportedly raised concerns in a private meeting with Richard Heaton, permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, about what would happen if his grandchild were to be allowed to marry a Roman Catholic, as the Government has proposed. The prince’s concerns could deal a blow to plans to change the royal succession law, after David Cameron struck a deal with the 15 other countries where the Queen is head of state that the rules must be overhauled”.

The relentless march of “modernity” has taken a hit. Either Cameron must now withdraw the plan or disestablish the Church of England entirely, a decision which even he would not contemplate.

Deaf on both sides

21/09/2012

As  the protests spread across the Middle East and beyond, an excellent piece discusses the underlying causes of the strife from those protesting, and those being protested against.

He writes that during a conversation between President Obama and President Morsi of Egypt, “Morsi offered his condolences over the Libya killings, but White House officials report that he also seized his chance to protest directly to Mr Obama about the amateur YouTube video, apparently made in California, that defames the Prophet Mohammed”.

Vitally, the author, writes that “In so doing, Mr Morsi betrayed the yawning gulf between the two sides. The West’s failure to understand the Muslim world has been analysed to the point of exhaustion – and no doubt many criticisms have been justified”, yet being quite fair, he adds that Morsi, “When he told Mr Obama how angry he was over the YouTube film, did he not realise that he was rebuking the wrong target? Mr Obama had already made clear his revulsion over the video. No one has seriously suggested that the US government had anything to do with this absurd production. The President of the United States cannot be held responsible for the thoughts, opinions and actions of 300 million Americans. Nor, in a free society, can he ban his citizens from expressing themselves, even if they sometimes do so in crass and offensive ways”.

He adds “Egypt’s government still chose to ask Mr Obama – and every other Western leader – for something they could not possibly deliver. Hisham Qandil, the country’s prime minister, told the BBC that Western nations should revise their domestic laws to ‘ensure that insulting 1.5 billion people, their belief in their Prophet, should not happen and if it happens, then people should pay for what they do’. In other words, Egypt not only wants to ban its own citizens from expressing views that Muslims deem insulting, but its government thinks this prohibition should go global”.

This is just the kind of misunderstanding of culture that leads to violence against the West and is used by terrorists for their own ends. Morsi’s ignorance is typical of many in the Muslim world, though there are exceptions, who have no comprehension of the impact of the French Revolution and “the Enlightenment” and the ensuing individualism that has shaped Europe and North America. Until these events are explained to them then this deafness will only grow and lead to further intolerance and violence. This is no way condones the excesses of modern individualism or its roots, but without knoweledge of these events there will be no dialogue.

Blair goes on to write about this month being the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Satanic Verses, “One possible conclusion is that nothing has changed since the appearance of The Satanic Verses: the visceral reaction to the YouTube video shows that Muslim nerves are as raw as ever and the opposition to genuine freedom of expression just as deeply felt. But this would be too sweeping. Despite everything, there are some reasons to believe that the gulf of understanding might eventually close”.

He concludes that the “protests might be taking place outside US embassies, but many have little to do with America, still less the principle of freedom of expression. All Muslim leaders quickly learn how to direct the anger of their people away from themselves and towards Washington. In Sudan, for example, President Omar al-Bashir is so unpopular that massive protests against his regime have taken place in Khartoum. The situation is reaching a point where he risks becoming the next victim of the Arab Spring. So no surprise that Sudanese mobs have attacked the German, British and US missions. Mr Bashir is conveniently allowing the crowds to vent their fury on these targets, instead of on him”.

He ends the piece “So the battles being fought outside Western embassies are also signals of a wider struggle within Islam itself”. In the last 11 years much has happened to confront Muslims into sincerely thinking about their peaceful religion and its relationship with the modern world. It should be hoped that out of great violence comes wisdom.

To the right

28/04/2012

A piece in the Economist notes that the economic policies of Romney are facing justifiable criticism.

It notes that Romney greeted Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget which shockingly “proposed to slash income-tax rates, especially for the rich and businesses, and replace traditional Medicare with vouchers for the elderly to buy health insurance” the first time around caution, but as he got closer to winning the nomination, the article notes that Romney “steadily warmed to Mr Ryan’s plan as he faced a series of rivals from his political right. By December he was attacking Mr Gingrich for criticising it, and this past February he released a new tax plan of his own that slashed all personal tax rates by 20%. And when Mr Ryan produced a new, very similar, version of his budget on March 20th for next fiscal year, Mr Romney was effusive. ‘It`s a bold and exciting effort,'”.

The article goes on to mention how “His 2010 book, ‘No Apology’, reads more like a McKinsey report than a memoir” with “It ranges from the business practices of Japanese doctors to how much profit Comcast, a cable company, invests. Leaf through it and last September’s policy platform with its 59 specific proposals, and you will encounter sober discussion of ways to deal with greenhouse gases, international trade and retraining”.

It goes onto examine his policy advisers who “are Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia University’s business school, and Greg Mankiw, a Harvard economist and author of bestselling textbooks. Both served as chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers; neither is a fire-breathing conservative, having advocated policies anathema to the right such as cheap government-backed mortgage refinancing (Mr Hubbard) and higher petrol taxes to counter global warming (Mr Mankiw)”.

It adds that “Less than two months after the election, Mr Bush’s tax cuts and Mr Obama’s temporary payroll-tax cut will expire, while savage cuts to defence and other domestic spending will automatically kick in, thanks to the deal that raised the debt ceiling last August and the failure of a congressional committee to come up with an alternative. The combined fiscal effect would be worth 3.5%-5% of GDP, enough to tip the economy back into recession”.

It notes that Romney’s own economic proposals consist of “cut the corporate income-tax rate from 35% to 25%, end taxes on companies’ foreign earnings, and eliminate taxes on capital gains and dividends for those earning less than $200,000 a year. On personal taxes he promised only to preserve Mr Bush’s tax cuts (which would keep the top rate at 35% rather than returning it to 39.6%), while murmuring that one day broader reform, involving lower rates and a broader base, might follow. But those proposals increasingly looked timid next to the heftier, and more irresponsible, tax cuts his rivals rushed to embrace”.

Yet there is no room to tax cuts of any description, and they are exactly want is not needed at this time. Taxes on the wealthiest must raised and cutting capital gains taxes and Romney and Ryan propose are ludicrous and reckless.

Not only that but as the article mentions, “Romney claims that this plan would be neutral in terms of both revenue and distribution, meaning it would not change the level of tax take or the relative position of rich and poor”, this claim is of course ridiculous.

The faster this outdated neoliberalism is ditched the better society will be with a far greater chance of the common good becoming reality.

In the right company

24/04/2012

Julian Assange begins his TV show by interviewing a terrorist. They must have so much in common.

A new French revolution

15/03/2012

There are signs that something is changing in France. While the streets might not flow with blood and regicide might not take place any more there is a feeling that the French attitudie to the European Union is changing as well.

In a piece Ambrose Evans Pritchard writes somewhat exaggeredly that there is a “revolt” but certainly a quiet revolution is underway. He writes that “Carolingian union is all that anybody in French public life can really remember. It worked marvellously for two generations, levering French power on the global stage, and the euro was of course their own creation, intended to tie down a reunited Germany with ‘silken cords'”.

He notes that “While German unemployment has fallen to a post-Reunification low of 5.5pc, France’s jobless rate has crept up to a post-EMU high of 9.9pc and is certain to rise further as recession bites again”, in the same vein he go on noting, “While both countries had the same sorts of export surplus in the early 1990s, they have diverged massively since the D-Mark and franc were fixed in perpetuity. Germany has a current account surplus of 5pc of GDP: France has a deficit of 2.7pc, anathema for Colbertistes. You can see from IMF data that the silent coup took place in the fat years of the global boom when Germany forced down unit labour costs; -1.7pc in 2003, -4.0pc in 2004, -3.3pc in 2005, -1.8pc in 2006. France lost ground year after year due to wage creep and weaker productivity”.

Such is the increasing disparity that Sarkozy “has clung to the fig leaf of Franco-German parity, staking all on ties to Chancellor Angela Merkel, rather than seizing leadership of the Latin bloc to force a radical change of policy. His gamble on the status quo has failed. Mrs Merkel has not yielded an inch, and has now forced him to swallow a fiscal treaty that erodes French sovereignty without offering any remedy to the crisis at hand. Her contradictory medicine for half of Europe has itself cost France its AAA rating”.

He mentions that “it has fallen to the Socialists – less compromised lately – to start the rebellion. ‘We cannot let the Germans alone appoint themselves experts and judges,’ said party leader François Hollande. He called for ‘substantial modifications’ to the fiscal compact if elected president”. While Hollande leads in the polls currently, there is uncertainty as to whether it will translate into real resistance to German actions should he be elected, much of the evidence suggests that he too will tow the German line.

He concludes noting that “Germany has overplayed its hand badly and will face a whirlwind diplomatic retribution. Its narrative of the EMU crisis – virtuous Northerners rescuing profligate Greco-Latins – was oppressively dominant for two years but has at last been discredited”, he goes on to mention that the “Soros-Roubini narrative has replaced it – a tale of self-feeding contraction as austerity cuts into the muscle and the bone itself, a ‘German taskmaster’ bent on deranged policies that will destroy the EU itself. As Portugal’s elder statesman Mario Soares put it, the strategy is leading nowhere and everybody knows it”.

As others have written the Merkozy jibe is really only an illusion with Merkel as the leader, “Almost all the elements of a solution—resolving the Greek crisis, creating a firewall round solvent sovereigns, recapitalising wobbly banks and redesigning the euro zone’s rules—have run into French obstacles. In the end, though, France has usually had to yield to Germany”.

Should Hollande be elected and fail to stand up to Germany, there will be uproar, with the extreme parties lead a rise in nationalism, and a backlash against the EU and gaining ground. From this the very benefits of French EU membership called into question. If this occurs Germany will only have itself to blame.

Time to remember

21/01/2012

On this day 219 years ago, Louis XVI was murdered. Let us never forget the violence that swept France and Europe and the effects that still haunt the world.

Refusing to die

24/11/2011

Feminism just won’t go away, even though there is no basis to it anymore. Like the “trickle down” theory it refuses to die. Even worse, it is being kept alive by spineless politicians who, in this modern society must relentlessly pander to every ridiculous interest group, in order to stay in power.

The latest example of this is when UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been accused of attacking women in his policies.  Apparently a “20-strong coalition of charities, academics, women’s groups and unions say that women are facing the ‘greatest risk to their financial security in living memory.’ It comes as the Prime Minister faces growing accusations that women are deserting him and the Tory party in their millions over the way he has handled the cuts”.

A pressure group “is urging Mr Cameron and George Osborne to consider their ‘life raft’ measures ahead of next year’s Budget to try and alleviate the pain to women of a number of Coalition policies. Among their recommendations they want childcare costs for low income families restored and a re-think on plans to cut child benefit”.

It may not have occurred to these people that most levels of society have to endure suffering in this time of global financial crisis. Admittedly, the poorest do tend to suffer most, however to say that the cuts are aimed at women is outrageous and should be ignored.

Cameron’s MPs have “set up an informal group to act as a ‘sounding board’ for the Prime Minister to help put a female slant on the Government’s policies”. Laughably the news article goes on to say that “Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who is in charge of equality policy, will today announce plans for 5,000 new women business ‘mentors’. Mrs May will give a speech in which she will make clear how ‘women can play a central role in the recovery and a much bigger part in the economy in the future’. She will announce plans to train relevant volunteers over the next three years to provide a variety of advice in a way best suited to women”.

Worse still Cameron seems to be doing something to fix the problem. When feminism dies society will be better off.

Utter folly

24/10/2011

In yet another bow to the intolerance of modernity by David Cameron who plans to change the succession laws to the throne of the United Kingdom and therefore the 15 other kingdoms known as the Commonwealth.

Cameron “wants to scrap the ban on spouses of Roman Catholics ascending to the throne and give girls the same right of succession as boys.But he needs the 15 other Commonwealth nations to agree to the changes.They would apply to any children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – even if they were born before a law change”.

The report notes that “Cameron said: ‘We espouse gender equality in all other aspects of life and it is an anomaly that in the rules relating to the highest public office we continue to enshrine male superiority.'” The report goes on to say that “Cameron also said the ban on any monarch married to a Roman Catholic was an ‘historical anomaly’ and could not ‘continue to be justified’. But he did not propose changing the ban on monarchs themselves being Roman Catholic because the British monarch is also supreme governor of the Church of England”.

The same article reports that “he did not propose changing the ban on monarchs themselves being Roman Catholic because the British monarch is also supreme governor of the Church of England.”

What Cameron has effectively said is that he wants radical constitutional change, just not radical enough to tug at the threads of the established Church. In effect he is not brave enough to contemplate such a change, but he is willing to bring an institution that has its roots in the Bible, if not before, and is thus several thousand years old, into the “modern world”.

What folly.

“We don’t succeed on our own”

20/10/2011

We rely on each other other.

“Won’t somebody please think of the children”

16/10/2011

So said Helen Lovejoy in The Simpsons as yet another attack on gender has been carried out, going unnoticed and uncritiqued, as usual. The attack is as a result of a survey of nine year olds carried out in Ireland.  

The newsarticle covering the survey, opens saying, “Traditional stereotypes of boys playing football and girls wearing princess dresses are as ingrained as ever”. It should hardly come as a surprise to anyone with a modicum of common sense that stereotypes, while broad and sometimes unfair, wouldn’t be stereotypes if they were not usually true.

The reporter goes on to write amazingly that “gender stereotyping is rife among Irish children. The finding came as a surprise to the co-director of the study, Sheila Greene, who is professor of childhood research at Trinity College Dublin”. Unless there has been a massive discovery that has gone unnoticed recently, there are two types of gender, male and female. Each have different biological features and strangely act different accordingly.

Greene’s report was entitled Growing Up In Ireland: The National Longitudinal Study of Children. The news report says that it “revealed a group of 120 nine-year-olds who defined themselves sharply by gender. In general, the boys who were interviewed explained how other boys ‘played football and rugby’ while girls ‘did ballet'”. The fact that this was even reported at all reveals the hatred that those on the hard left view gender itself. As has been said here before they wish nothing less than to re-write our genetic code.

The report goes on to say that “The study indicates that girls and boys have well-established ideas about what is suitable behaviour for their sex, and that this starts well before the age of nine, ‘probably in the cradle'”. Amazingly, and with the usual good grace, the report acknowledges that, “Biology is part of the picture, with boys being physically stronger than girls, but ‘biology does not explain a disposition to like pink and to be able to manage a Hoover. It doesn’t explain why boys see school as more for girls and why all boys seem to feel obliged to be fanatical about football”.

The news reporter adds that “there is a certain inevitability to children defining themselves and each other through their gender, there are people in other countries determined to avoid this, including the controversial couples in Canada and Sweden who refused to reveal the gender of their children”.

The writer notes that “A less extreme example is Egalia, a radical preschool set up in Sweden last year. At Egalia, teachers avoid using the words ‘his’ or ‘hers’, the students are known as friends rather than boys and girls, and every book, toy and educational tool has been carefully chosen to avoid gender stereotyping. Genderless ’emotion dolls’ are even used to navigate conflicts between the children. ‘Society expects girls to be girlie, nice and pretty, and boys to be manly, rough and outgoing,’ Jenny Johnsson, a teacher at the school, has said. ‘Egalia gives them a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be.'”

The words “radical preschool” are not often used together, if ever, and for good reason. To “teach” children through genderless dolls is to firstly ignore biology itself, and secondly assume that when they get older they are incapable of discerning what is basically common sense, i.e. that there are two genders and that these cannot be wished away.

The newswriter ends on a predictably radical antisocietal note by quoting the “academic’s” report, “‘When stereotypes are given full rein, children’s choices and their freedom to be the person they want to be can be curtailed.'”

There is no escaping gender, in the same way there is no escaping gravity. Society must accept the genders are different, each with their own unique role to play in society. To tamper with this is to alter what it means to be human itself. The consequences of teaching children with genderless dolls will haunt society for decades to come unless it is halted urgently.

Not so brave

10/08/2011

As more reaction to the Cloyne report and the Irish prime minister’s not so brave speech on the actions of the Church seeps out it is clear there needs to be change. The best way of going about it is another matter.

It has been reported that “Kenny accused the Vatican of undermining the work of an official inquiry into clerics’ sexual abuse of children in a Catholic diocese, Cloyne”. The article notes that “quite recently, any attack on the Vatican would have been political suicide. Yet his outspoken remarks won strong support both in parliament and from the public”.

Others in the public square have been more thoughtful in their commentary about what was said and what should have been said. John Waters writes that the speech Kenny gave “might have been brave 30 or 40 years ago, when the swishing soutanes and swinging thuribles did indeed rule the roost”. Indeed Waters is right, to attack the Church when it is at its lowest ebb is anything but heroic. He notes that this is not the case anymore “when the rulers are the secular-atheists and pseudo-rationalists who foist their nihilistic formulas on our children, while pretending that John Charles McQuaid is still breathing down their necks”. In fact the “secular” atheists have distorted secularism itself and become beacons of intolerance towards any who disavow their rigid dogmas.

Waters adds that they purport “to confront some immense power in the present while challenging only phantoms. Anyone with the slightest grasp of reality knows the Irish Catholic hierarchy is a sorry sight, terrified of standing up to the new ascendancy, and that the Vatican is all but irrelevant to the running of the Irish church”. Waters describes as “reprehensible” the “the attack on Pope Benedict, which indicated gross ignorance, perhaps even malice. It is a sad day when the Taoiseach seems to have been trawling the internet for quotes – any quotes, regardless of context – to undermine the spiritual leader of the vast majority of his own people”. He writes that when it comes to these “secularists”, he notes that “the truth is irrelevant”.

Waters notes that Kenny is now “is now ad idem with the atheist ayatollahs of the Labour Party, preparing not merely to remove the right of Irish Catholic children to a Catholic education, but, in proposing laws to override the confessional seal, to attack the confidentiality which is at the core of pastoral relationships”. He adds that “Sticking it to the Catholic Church is guaranteed to meet with the regime’s approval.” Waters cleverly knows that the same “secularists” who supoorted the speech will be aghast at the cuts Kenny will have to impose in an attempt to undo the Fianna Fail destruction and please the holders of Irish government bonds in German and French banks.

Finally Waters attacks the current malise in society and says that “there are many ways of abusing children. You can sit them in desks and subject them to the knowing nonsense of cynics who steal their hope and joy so as to demonstrate repugnance of some derelict or decomposed authority. You can sell them false versions of freedom to make yourself rich. You can fill their heads with nihilism and wonder why they attempt to obliterate themselves with chemicals”.

Regretabbly however Waters words will go unheeded and the “secularists” in Ireland will never be happy until the Catholic Church is banned and all its “evils” banished to history. So much for liberal tolerance.

As easy as 1,2,3, regrettably

26/07/2011

U.S. style divorce getting easier to acquire in the UK. The societal rot continues unabated and unchecked.

Blame the feminists

20/06/2011

A not unreasonable article with flawless logic, even worse they’ve been blamed for keeping the poor poor.

Not worth the paper it’s written on

09/06/2011

A report on the causes of abuse by the US Catholic Church has been published. The document rightly states that there is no single cause for the abuse crisis that has destroyed the power of the Church in much of the United States and Europe, being especially bad in Ireland.

Controversially the report argues that abuse was part of a “Social and cultural changes in the 1960s and 1970s manifested in increased levels of deviant behavior in the general society and also among priests of the Catholic Church in the United States”. The report states that “Organizational, psychological, and situational factors contributed to the vulnerability of individual priests in this period of normative change” and to support this the authors write that there was a “sharp decline” from 1985 on.

It states that “priests who engaged in abuse of minors were not found, on the basis of their developmental histories or their psychological characteristics, to be statistically distinguishable from other priests who did not have allegations of sexual abuse against minors”, leading to questions about seminary formation that the report simply does not address.

The report then reaffirms its belief that the “increase in abusive behavior is consistent with the rise in other types of “deviant” behavior, such as drug use and crime, as well as changes in social behavior, such as an increase in premarital sexual behavior and divorce”.

This so called “blame the hippies” defence has itself been examined by the Washington Post which makes the vaild point that “While it is true that sex among hippies was freer and more pervasive than among their young counterparts of the 1960s establishment, equally true is that it was not so much about reckless abandon and hedonism for its own sake, but rather about liberation from what was seen as dogmatic and repressive restrictions placed on perfectly natural functions”.

The article notes how “the same year in which Dr. [Alfred] Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was published, Hugh Hefner released the very first issue of Playboy magazine. Twelve years later, by 1965, when the hippie experience actually came into existence, the monthly circulation of Playboy was around three million copies”. It crucially states “culture of burgeoning sexuality and pornography was one into which most hippies were born, not one they created”.

It is a pathetic excuse when instead of facing up to the sins they committed they look to a obsucure fact that was going on. Even if one does accept that the culture has a part, they dismiss seminary formation, role of the bishops in the moving of priests to different parishes and clerical celibacy as well as a slew of other factors.

Waiting for Concordia

28/05/2011

With world peace still immienent, social harmony is surely not far behind, but what about quotas for cats, dogs, zebra, lions, goldfish……………

You know it’s bad when…..

20/05/2011

Baroness Ashton has come in for more, wholly justified criticism, except this time from an unexpected source.

In a recent interview given by the Belgian foreign minister,  Steven Vanackere, said that “While accepting that Lady Ashton ‘cannot be everywhere at the same time’ in response to the pace and pressure of world events, Belgium’s foreign minister nevertheless questioned her personal track record.’We can accept that some react faster than Ashton, but with the condition that she can prove that she is working for the medium-term and long-term on very important issues like energy, for example. But I have not seen this either'”.

Apparently, “A growing number of countries, including France, are angry that Lady Ashton’s political failure has meant that her newly created European External Action Service (EEAS) has not helped the EU ‘to speak with one voice,’ an objective she set herself when taking the job”, speaking with one voice however is just one of the many problems that always beset EU “foreign policy”.

It was reported that “Mr Vanackere lamented deep divisions that emerged within the 27-nation EU during the ‘great test presented by the Arab awakening'”. He continued saying that “‘We have always wanted the External Action Service to be the central axis around which member states might organise,’ he said. ‘But in the absence of a central player that reacts, makes analyses and conclusions quickly, it is the Germans today, the French tomorrow or the English who take up this role. The result is centrifugal, not centripetal.'”

Stanuchly Eurosecptic “Nigel Farage MEP, the leader of Ukip, described Lady Ashton’s ‘incompetence’ as being a major obstacle to the EU’s attempts to develop European foreign policy at the expense of national sovereignty.’Ashton is not fit for purpose. She’s so bad, it’s good,’ he said”.

Just goes to show running foreign policy on the French revolution/gender politics doesn’t work, as if it ever would.

“‘Trying to fix something that’s not broken”

01/04/2011

At a Catholic school in New Orleans recently a demonstration took place but not like one that would be expected.

Apparently, “more than 500 students, parents and other supporters of the 7th Ward institution’s use of corporal punishment marched this morning on an Archdiocese of New Orleans office to deliver a message to Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who has called on school officials to abandon the 60-year disciplinary practice”. Interestingly Archbishop Aymond is accused of “‘trying to fix something that’s not broken, and he’s going about it in the wrong way,’ Jacob Washington, student body president at St. Augustine, said”. It also shows that many in society, as has been stated here before, see less and less of a distinction and thus more of an “equality” between children and adults. This is partly casued by the worst excesses of the French Revolution which have been glorified unquestioningly in many parts of society. This can only end badly, both for children and society as a whole.

It is fascinting to see the students themselves support the use of corporal punishment in schools. It has, in many parts of the world, been taken too far and used excessively. However, used infrequently, it can be a tool that teaches pupils that bad behaviour has consequences. When so many children are  not brought up properly due to a lack of discipline the society begins to break down. The correct use of discipline and under the right circumstances can lead to this, over time, being corrected. It would then not be unreasonable to assume that this would filter out through society for the betterment of all.

This would mean that people would be much more aware of the fact that actions have consequences which must be faced up to. It should serve as a reminder to us all.

Sign of the times

14/03/2011

Pope Benedict has warned us of this in society. We are going down a dangerous path that can only end in disaster if it continues. It is however of course more complicated than that. There are two principle issues, the nature of homosexuality and the Bible generally and secondly, the nature of children and adoption.

The Johns’ objection to homosexuality makes no sense. Basing their objections of homosexuality on the Bible doesn’t stack up. These arguments have been made elsewhere persuasively, not only that, but this is also the case when Luke 10:1-12 has been read.

There is however the other issue of children where it is more complex. The couple who wish to adopt have every right to practice their faith and let others know of it. However, this particular problem could be solved by having only those children where their sexuality is not know i.e. before they become teenagers.

It does not bode well however when the judgment says that the conscience of believers should be effectively sidelined.

Sensible legislation

28/02/2011

Perfectly reasonable sentiments.

In the world’s interest

20/02/2011

The real cost of the recent disorder in the Arab world.

“Honours dishonour, titles degrade”

23/11/2010

So said Flaubert, and at the rate the UK government are going a title or honour will mean less than nothing.

Downing Street released a list of people who will be elevated to the life peerage over the coming weeks. What becomes apparent is the size of the list, over 50 names, who will join the 700 or so people already sitting in the House of Lords.

What is staggering is not only number to be ennobled, but that this happens every time a new government takes over. When the Labour party was elected in 1997, in order to get their legislation passed in the upper house they were forced to created hundreds of new peers, in what has traditionally been a Conservative party stronghold. Now that the Conservative government is back in power in order to reverse what Labour have had to do, they will create vast numbers of peers.

What is also worrying is not only the scale of the numbers being created but also who. The governing Conservatives in the latest batch nomiated Robert Edmiston, who  the “Conservatives previously attempted to ennoble Mr Edmiston, who has provided millions in funding to the party, but his nomination was retracted during the cash-for-honours scandal“. Another of the nominees, Sir Michael Bishop, “has also given the Conservatives hundreds of thousands of pounds, including a £335,000 donation shortly before the election”. Keeping with custom the opposition Labour party also get to nominate people for the peerage, and the is “expected to include Nigel Doughty, a major donor and City financier, and Sir Gulam Noon, the ‘curry millionaire’ who was also embroiled in the cash-for-honours scandal after being nominated for a peerage by Tony Blair”.

This leads to, as has been said above, a lessening of the value of the peerage and it also treats the monarch as nothing more than a signature dispenser.  It would be better for there to be a limit on the numbers created every year, in the low tens rather than the numbers that are created every year, or what would be more prefereble would be to allow the monarch the sole power to create peers. There is precedent for this, for some time the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle among others were in the gift of the incumbent prime minister. As a result the orders fell into disrupte due to the honours being awarded for party political reasons. It was agreed to return  the power to award the honour to the monarch alone.

There would be a political problem however if this power were returned to the monarch. It could be solved by giving whatever powers the Lords posessed to the monarch or make the Lords consultative. Either way the UK would become unicameral and there would be no need to create large numbers after a change in government.

Irish collapse, Franco-German alliance exposed

19/11/2010

So the inevitable has finally happened, Ireland has been turned over to recievership. After nearly all the government saying last week that there was no need for a bailout it happened as has been confirmed by the governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, Dr Patrick Honohan.

So ends whatever independence Ireland has was washed away in a sea of incompentence and denial. The “opposition parties” are getting increasingly angry at the same time, while hoping that the coming budget to be passed in December will go through, whence they can takeover after an early general election in early 2011.

The broader significance should not be missed out either. Ireland is just one of a number of countries that have the chance of destroying the entire euro currency. Portugal and Spain have also been in the news and the scale of their problems and with Ireland could tip the long feted currency into the abyss. In the unlikely event of this actually happening, it has been suggested that Ireland would be in a much better position and could simply devalue it currency while at the same time it could control its own interest rates so that it would benefit Ireland when it suited Ireland.

It should be noted that far from coming to the aid of their euro-bretheren in solidarity Germany and France have decided to shove them to the wall instead and look out for themselves when they “issued a clear warning that it [the ECB] will press ahead with plans to raise interest rates and withdraw lending support for banks despite the eurozone debt crisis, even if this risks pushing Ireland, Portugal and Spain into deeper trouble”.

So much for euro camaraderie and the end to national interest that the EU was meant to rise above, indeed end.

Feminists just won’t give up

08/11/2010

So why don’t they all just convert?

Delusions of grandeur

07/11/2010

In what is just the latest example the EU living in another world, in addition to yet another recent example when the EU decided it would increase its own budget by 6% when the governments across the world are having to introduce painful cuts.

The latest example is when for some reason Baroness Ashton and her 7,000 staff have decided they need armoured cars, despite most people – even within Europe,  let alone outside  it – not knowing who these people are. The cars “150 vehicles for four years with 30 cars being sent to missions in each of five regions around the world, including capitals where there is little or no terrorist threat”. If that wasn’t enough the “new European External Action Service (EEAS), which will have a budget of £8bn, shows that the diplomatic postings will include sending 46 officials to Barbados, 57 to Vietnam and 95 to Ukraine. Even the tiny Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, which has a population of just 230,000, will have six diplomats”.

In addition to this “as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, Lady Ashton is the best paid female politician in the Western World and earns a salary of £230,702 a year.”

This is yet another example of what Walter Russell Mead in his book, Power, Terror, Peace and War, calls EU arrogance. In other words the inability too see the relative decline of Europe as a continent as opposed to other powers. The European Union on the foregin stage as the best example of this.  It  seems to think that paying people well and having armoured cars makes the rest of the world respect, even fear, you. Dr Kagan put it best in Paradise and Power, when he said “Europeans hope to contain American power without wielding power themselves”.

 How can anyone take the EU seriously when they make their appointments based on gender balance?

Social decay contd

05/11/2010

Perhaps it has never occured to Mr Fry that he is the one that people “should feel sorry for”. Not everyone needs to “meet strangers to shag behind a bush”.

Benedict’s prescient warning

02/11/2010

How can we not listen to Pope Benedict’s warnings about the marginalisation of religion, and the dangers of that to society,  when things like this happen?

If only……..

25/10/2010

What an excellent idea. Apparently “The town’s council also wants to ban men and women from wearing low-slung jeans as part of a list of 41 new rules that ‘every good citizen must respect'”, the article goes on to say “The centre-Right mayor, Luigi Bobbio, said it was all part of an effort to ‘restore urban decorum and improve coexistence’ by targeting people who were ‘rowdy, unruly or simply badly behaved'”.

Decline of the West?

24/10/2010

The West as we know it seems to be collapsing in on its own greed, individualism and immorality.

This is being witnessed most dramatically in France currently with most of the major cities seeing riots and destruction on a vast scale all beacuse President Sarkozy wants to raise that retirement age from 60 to……….62. The protests were “accompanied by job stoppages and a growing number of service stations running out of gasoline as a strike at France’s 12 oil refineries went into a seventh day”. Part of these strikes and protests is the French doing what the French do best, strike, but the measure has all but passed the French legislature. 

Now however the government must crack down hard on these protesters who seem to be living in a different universe, totally detached from reality, and restore order and end the destruction of public and private property such as the “middle school in the city of Le Mans [that] burned down overnight following a student protest during which the gates to the school were blocked”, not only that “youths threw petrol bombs at police outside a school in another Paris suburb, Combes-la-Ville, police said. In Lyon, hooded youngsters burned at least three cars they had overturned during clashes with riot police”.

In addition to the French protests, people in Athens “Dozens of workers had shut down the Acropolis on Wednesday morning, demanding two years of back pay.They had barricaded themselves inside, padlocked the entrance gates and refused to allow in tourists.The protesters said they intended to blockade the Acropolis, Greece’s most famous tourist attraction, until 31 October. They have vowed to return to the site on Friday.Greece has seen waves of strikes and protests over austerity measures agreed by the government to in order to secure a huge bail-out from eurozone countries”. While the workers in Greece should be owned what is due to them, it must not come at the expense of the common good.

What is interesting to note however is that such demonstrations would not be tolerated in China where the state is extremely centralised with a role in much of what people do as well as the economic life of what is fast becoming an increasingly powerful country. There is great stablilty, for now, in China with a new leader expected to take power in 2012. How long this powerful and highly cetralised state will last into the future is unknown, but what is clear is that it is a model that the Chinese are exporting with great success to countries like Russia and Cuba.

The trouble with capitalism, again

12/10/2010

Profit before morality.

Credit where credit’s due

06/10/2010

The EU, no friend of these pages, has done something quite remarkable. It seems to have had a sudden dose of common sense.

The great premise of the French Revolution, believed unquestioningly throughout the halls of power in much of Europe and beyond, is that everyone is equal. Taken to its logical conclusion “the widely-held practice of setting different [insurance] rates for men and women based on their sex violates EU anti-discrimination laws”.  The final ruling will be made by the end of the year.

It seems as though “the move has been attacked as ‘madness’ by politicians and ‘potentially damaging’ by the insurance industry, who said it would mean higher premiums for women and the loss of many jobs. Should the ECJ agree with Ms Kokott [EU Advocate-General], the ruling would also stop firms using gender to set premiums on other products such as life and medical insurance. It could also stop pensions providers offering different annuity rates to men and women”.

The notion that women should get cheaper car insurance is nonsense simply because they supposedly drive better than men and cause fewer accidents. However what people fail to realise is that they cause not no accidents but only fewer accidents, it is of course the kind of accidents that they cause that makes the supposedly safer.

The ECJ will now have to choose which it values more, feminism or equality, both of which it holds dear but when they come into conflict it’s anyone’s guess which will get the upper hand.

Maybe people aren’t so equal after all?

Checks and balances?

28/09/2010

When “checks and balances” go too far, the common good suffers.

Western “morality”

21/09/2010

In a group of surveys carried out over the last number of days in Ireland, it would seem that the excesses of the French Revolution are alive and well and at the same time Pope Benedict still has much work to do in challenging the rabid individualism that pervades all Western capitalist nations. As with most things in capitalist societies, if there is a large enough market for it, then it will be provided, irrespective of the consequences to the common good of society.

In one of the questions asked there is a large number of people that support gay marriage. As has been stated here the before, the state must provide gay couples with civil partnerships, and if some religious communities such as the Religious Society of Friends, wish to have a religious cermonony around this, all the better. The poll found that “67 per cent of people believe gay couples should be allowed to marry, while 60 per cent do not believe that civil partnerships will undermine the institution of marriage”. Marriage is between a man and a women with the hope that they will have children. Gay marriage is an oxymoron but gay couples must have the ability to create wills and have visitation rights as well as tax status within civil law. What is suprising is that so many people think having civil partnerships will affect marriage. It is not on the same basis as has been stated above and therefore poses no threat to marriage. The article quotes some who said that people are “aware that the current exclusion of lesbian and gay couples from civil marriage is deeply unfair and doesn’t make any sense in today’s Ireland”. This is incorrect as gay couples are not the same as hetrosexual couples and should not be treated the same in law. However, what is less suprising is the attempt to paint modernity/rationality as the best, indeed, the only way forward. Such thoughts on thier own can be very dangerous and lead to further down the path that the West is going.  

On a more general point, the survey reveals that in Ireland “The legal age of consent for sex is of course 17, and the great majority of Irish people clearly feel this is, if anything, too young an age at which to make such a decision”. The danger is that permissiveness begets permissiveness due to our inability to correct others behaviour for fear of being seen as “judgemental”. Others see such attempts to even begin a dialogue on people’s behaviour as an attack on the primacy of the rational individual. Two concepts that do not always go hand in hand.

Thankfully however, “90 per cent of people reject outright the notion that they might think less of a person if he/she revealed to them that they were gay or lesbian”.  

Closing out the series is the usual inaccurate and dangerous dichotomy about past attitudes being consigned to history with people now stepping into the light of modernity and progress that is is meant to inevitably bring. The author notes how, “what was once the most powerful institution in the land, the Catholic Church, the poll results must be deeply disturbing. If the Catholic Church were a political party running for election, and if these survey results were the actual vote, then this could be described as a rout”. Maybe it needs to be stated that the Catholic Church is oddly enough, not a political party and has no interest in pandering to the masses (no pun intended) to save a few seats at the next election.

The inevitable liberal sneering thus follows, “In fact, we don’t find the church’s position on anything to do with sexuality or women credible. The sexual revolution, the development of effective contraception, the growth of the women’s and gay rights movements – all these historical shifts have left the church stranded with an archaic psychology of sexuality”. While some of the these developments are indeed beneficial, to say that the Church is “stranded” for supporting committing life long, loving relationships is patently false.

The author goes on to say, “how have we fared morally without the church’s moral guidance? Remarkably well it seems”, for now perhaps, for now.

Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks in Westminster Hall

18/09/2010

It was is the most important political speech of his ongoing visit to the UK, Pope Benedict yesterday gave a talk that defined the very essence of what he thinks. Thanks again to Rocco, as speech text via Whispers:

Mr Speaker,
Thank you for your words of welcome on behalf of this distinguished gathering. As I address you, I am conscious of the privilege afforded me to speak to the British people and their representatives in Westminster Hall, a building of unique significance in the civil and political history of the people of these islands. Allow me also to express my esteem for the Parliament which has existed on this site for centuries and which has had such a profound influence on the development of participative government among the nations, especially in the Commonwealth and the English-speaking world at large. Your common law tradition serves as the basis of legal systems in many parts of the world, and your particular vision of the respective rights and duties of the state and the individual, and of the separation of powers, remains an inspiration to many across the globe.

As I speak to you in this historic setting, I think of the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides. In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose “good servant” he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.

This country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation’s political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good.

And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as “every economic decision has a moral consequence” (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore. A positive illustration of this is found in one of the British Parliament’s particularly notable achievements – the abolition of the slave trade. The campaign that led to this landmark legislation was built upon firm ethical principles, rooted in the natural law, and it has made a contribution to civilization of which this nation may be justly proud.

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.

Your readiness to do so is already implied in the unprecedented invitation extended to me today. And it finds expression in the fields of concern in which your Government has been engaged with the Holy See. In the area of peace, there have been exchanges regarding the elaboration of an international arms trade treaty; regarding human rights, the Holy See and the United Kingdom have welcomed the spread of democracy, especially in the last sixty-five years; in the field of development, there has been collaboration on debt relief, fair trade and financing for development, particularly through the International Finance Facility, the International Immunization Bond, and the Advanced Market Commitment. The Holy See also looks forward to exploring with the United Kingdom new ways to promote environmental responsibility, to the benefit of all.

I also note that the present Government has committed the United Kingdom to devoting 0.7% of national income to development aid by 2013. In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare. Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed “too big to fail”. Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly “too big to fail”.

This overview of recent cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Holy See illustrates well how much progress has been made, in the years that have passed since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations, in promoting throughout the world the many core values that we share. I hope and pray that this relationship will continue to bear fruit, and that it will be mirrored in a growing acceptance of the need for dialogue and respect at every level of society between the world of reason and the world of faith. I am convinced that, within this country too, there are many areas in which the Church and the public authorities can work together for the good of citizens, in harmony with Britain’s long-standing tradition. For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed. The angels looking down on us from the magnificent ceiling of this ancient Hall remind us of the long tradition from which British Parliamentary democracy has evolved. They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation.

Mr Speaker, I thank you once again for this opportunity briefly to address this distinguished audience. Let me assure you and the Lord Speaker of my continued good wishes and prayers for you and for the fruitful work of both Houses of this ancient Parliament. Thank you and God bless you all!

Pope Benedict’s mission in the UK

15/09/2010

On this, the eve of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK, as usual, controversy is never far behind. In a thoughtful piece, Dr Eamon Duffy, lays out the importance of Benedict in the UK.

Duffy says that “John Paul II was manifestly a giant on the world stage, his life story one of titanic struggle against 20th century Europe’s two great tyrannies, he himself a key player in the collapse of the Soviet empire. His social and moral views elicited no more enthusiasm from the secular world than those of Joseph Ratzinger, but his craggy integrity, mesmeric personal presence and mastery of crowds made him formidable even to those who rejected his religion. By contrast, Pope Benedict is an altogether smaller figure, a man of the sacristy and the lecture room.”

Thus it is fairly obvious that Benedict is “an academic to the toes of his red papal slippers, he has poor antennae for the likely public perception of his actions and utterances. That was made clear by the hostile reaction to his Regensburg remarks on Islam, and, more recently, by his disastrous though doubtless well-intentioned conciliatory gestures to the holocaust-denying Lefebvrist rebel Bishop Richard Williamson.”

This is perhaps one of the biggest problems facing Benedict personally as well as sadly, this. Benedict’s whole papacy, indeed much of his life, has been to fight against both relativism and the aggressive secularism that like the soon to be Blessed “[John Henry Cardinal] Newman believed that British society was in danger of cutting itself adrift from the Christian values that had given Europe and the West their distinctive religious, moral and aesthetic character. But he [Newman] also believed the slide into relativism would not be halted by mere denunciation. If Christian values were to survive and prevail, they must commend themselves by their intrinsic power and attractiveness. Modern materialism, he wrote, must be met ‘not by refutation so much as by a powerful counter-argument . . . overcoming error not by refutation so much as by an antagonist truth’.”

Benedict like Newman will try to bring Europe back to Christianity, for its own good, as much for the Church’s. As has been mentioned before, Benedict sees Europe as the heart that will beat again should religion be at least respected and ackkowledged by society. However, it is doubtful that groups like this will be going out of business any time soon.   

If Benedict is successful in the long term than all the PR disasters, media sniping, and abuse crisies that have never been far behind will, be if not forgotten, there impact will be lessened and the significance of Benedict’s message will be understood. Tolerence itself is at stake and it is hoped that these short term gaffes and ignorant and dangerous comments will not dull or impede Benedict’s historic mission.

Living in an alternate universe

10/09/2010

These protesters aren’t living in the real world and flies in the face of all evidence and the common good. The authorities must not be bullied by such mobs.

EU slides further into irrelevance

02/09/2010

The EU and its “foreign policy” will talk itself into irrelevance with this nonsense. Countries like America and China did not get where they are today by worrying about gender balance in their diplomatic corps.

The transatlantic rift continues

17/08/2010

A Foreign Policy article has noted how President Obama speaking in France, said that Americans have “shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” of Europe.  The article quotes Jose Manual Barroso, president of the European Commission, as saying “The transatlantic relationship is not living up to its potential.”

Charles Krauthammer said of Obama’s remarks that “Obama says, ‘In America there is a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world.’ Well, maybe that’s because when there was a civil war on Europe’s doorstep in the Balkans, and genocide, it didn’t lift a finger until America led. Maybe it’s because when there was an invasion of Kuwait it didn’t lift a finger until America led. Maybe it’s because with America spending over half a trillion a year, keeping open the sea lanes in defending the world, Europe is spending pennies on defense. It’s hard to appreciate an entity’s leading role in the world when it’s been sucking on your tit for 60 years”. All of this is true, it is however not the most diplomatic language. This does not take away from the fact that Europe has time and again been unable to act in its own backyard, as  Krauthammer says, Europe failed to stop the genocide in the Balkans of Muslims by the Serbian armed forces.

The writer then notes how “it is one thing to disagree with a president and his policy. It is quite another to be so bitterly and scathingly contemptuous of an entire continent and its people, especially one that, for better or worse, is a historical ally and a close political, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic relation”.  He tends to overstate the integration of Europe. Only two countries speak English as a first language after all and as has been excellently argued,Europe and America may have had cultural similarities, but since the end of the Cold War, differences that always existed have come to the fore.

There is the usual Euro sneering, especially from someone from the Guardian, he notes, “While covering the siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, in 1993, a European reporter was asked in all sincerity: ‘Is Sweden a country or a city?’ In Richmond, Virginia, a cab driver congratulated a visiting Briton on not having to bother about voting or elections ‘because you’ve got the Queen'”. As if there are not people all over Europe who are as insulated as these Americans.

He does say that “there is the widely shared view that Europe does not pull its weight in a world that Washington would like”. When exactly did Europe pull its weight since 1989? Was it when Serbs were slaughtering Muslims in 1995 and Europe did everything it could to help, or when NATO willingly in Afghanistan by sending in troops to help America, no that was America.

Even the author reluctantly admits that “ever since the European Union dropped the ball in the Balkans in the mid-1990s, a potent mix of influential American thinkers, policymakers, and commentators have given anti-Europeanism a new respectability that cannot be dismissed out of hand”. He mischaracterises American disagreement with how to view the world we live in as anti-Europeanism. American tourists are addicted to visiting European cities, European history and culture.

He moans about Dr Kagan’s Paradise and Power when he says that “Kagan’s summary was ultimately too blithe to sustain serious scrutiny. Can Kagan account for how exactly the two irreconcilable ‘sides’ he sketches managed to swap roles over the past hundred years?” The writer has obviously never read the book, Kagan explains that from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries Europe lived in the anarchic and power politics obsessed world that America still inhabits, with constant wars over religion and power.

He says that European soft power has not helped it in recent months while similarly “The American ‘hard power’ model has been undermined by the U.S. military’s inability to ‘win’ two major wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by the global financial crisis, a capitalist heart attack from which the patient has yet to recover”. He fails to, or doesn’t wish to realise that America has won in Iraq in a broad sense. My own personal reservations about Iraq aside, ignoring the current disagreement over who is to be prime minister, Iraq is reasonably peaceful and still needs much work but it is much better than it was. While US forces in Afghanistan are doing a difficult job, NATO barely pulling its weight hardly helps either.

The author then moves bizarrely to say that “Rising secularism and spreading, ultraliberal social attitudes in Europe contrast ever more sharply with a perceived new American Puritanism.”, yet in many ways America is ahead of EU ultraliberal value, wasn’t Massachusetts among the first to legalise gay “marriage”, long before Portugal or the UK or Spain. So while some parts of the US are understandably more conservative than Europe, many states believe it or not more liberal.

Then he says that “given the way absolute U.S. power is retreating as the unipolar moment fades, and given the way China and other rising 21st-century powers are challenging the current balance of power and the values and beliefs that underpin it, Europe and America will inevitably need each other more and more”. How exaclty is the unipolar moment fading, some countries are certainly becoming more powerful but none, not even China is stupid enough to challange American power. However, he gives no examples of who is balancing against America, as every good realist wishes.         

Who ever said the end of transatlantic rift occur on 20 January 2009 couldn’t have been more wrong.

The drawn out death of feminism

10/08/2010

Following on from the last post, many who claim women are underrepresented in parliaments are also exactly the kind of people who claim men do none of the household chores.

A study reveals that men do more work than women both in the office and at the home. It says that “men do slightly more work than the women they live with when employment and domestic work are measured together”. The report justly revels in the fact that “an authoritative study on a key issue of so-called gender politics has come out with a self-evident truth that runs directly contrary to orthodox feminist ideology. The fact that it has been written and published by a woman makes it even more delightful”.

He notes that “Might a respectable study soon reveal that, contrary to what we are always told, one in four men does not batter the woman he lives with? Or that not all men are rapists? Might the entire edifice of lies that comprises modern feminism now be about to tumble? Hasten the day.”

Somehow I fear feminism isn’t based on reality and that the “right on sisters” will still spout this nonsense and worse still people will listen.

We can only live in hope that feminsim dies very soon.

Some people never learn

08/08/2010

Why do people still believe this nonsense. There are so many arguments against this that it is almost impossible as to know where to start.

Quotas are a ludicrous way of creating illusionary equality so wolly liberals can have a little less guilt so they can sleep better. The premise is that women should be better represented in politics because they make up half the population.

Firstly, there are women in politics, just not the correct number according to the equality maniacs. What does it matter if there are two women in the parliament or twenty? Surely, by their “logic” all women represent other women, never mind ideology or anything else. All women care about in politics is other women in politics, supposedly.

Secondly even if they weren’t directly involved, society would regrettably be hearing endlessly about women’s views on how all men are evil and these groups would, like the rest of civil society make its voice heard. He complains that parties don’t field enough women candidates, not that it matters but political parties want to get into office irrespective of which gender takes the most seats. He implies that political parties are getting every man that comes through the door to stand for office but refusing any women who wishes to stand. Maybe there aren’t the same number of women that come through the door as men?

The faster these people are ignored the better for all of us.

Future of Christianity

07/08/2010

In a very delayed post on the newly established Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evanglisation of Pope Benedict the important question should be asked, will it work?

Of course it’s far too soon to tell, one thing is certain however, Europe as a continent desperately needs to reconnect to its Christian roots, to move away from the dangerous individualism and greed that is hanging over much of the West as we know it. Christianity is not the only way for this to happen but it is perhaps the one of the best.

One of Benedict’s main themes, justly, is to lead North American and especially Europe back to God. The number of Catholics around the world is growing, however, the growth is particularly prelevant in Africa and parts of Asia. Statistics show that for “countries like France and Germany, church attendance has dropped below 20 percent. In the cathedrals of Paris, tourists now regularly outnumber churchgoers. And in Ireland, where just 30 years ago 91 percent of the population went to mass regularly, local dioceses are suddenly bereft of laity and leadership”.

The article notes that says that the first new curial department established in a quarter century, headed by Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella has the sole job of restoring Christianity to Europe and to a lesser extent North America. Such a mamouth task placed in the hands of one individual will surely not produce results, irrespective of the rank they hold in the Church. The article says that Archbishop Fisichella and his officials will be “tasked with finding and implementing methods, both pastoral and political, to convince Europeans to put Christ back at the center of their lives”. On a minor note, the fact that no secretary or undersecretary have been named to the pontifical council is something to note. However, this could just be Rome moving at its traditional sedentary pace.

The author askes the valid question, the “European continent — with its aging population and diminishing political influence — seems a curious strategic priority for a global institution like the Vatican”. He then says that Europe is the exception rather than the rule, citing America as the example of strong faith. This argument is increasingly prominent, however, in truth, no-one has any idead what role, if any, religion will play in developing societies. Benedict sees Europe as the historical heartland and because of this, thinks that it is still important in the world today. During the debates on the initially failed EU Constitution, “Europe, Ratzinger argued, was not a geographic or political concept, but a ‘cultural and historical’ one”.

Benedict said that “there was now a ‘fairly widespread’ culture in Europe ‘which relegates to the private and subjective sphere the manifestation of one’s own religious convictions.'” It is this that Benedict most fears, not being able to celebrate one’s religious convictions. He has also spoken of the dangers where this might lead if left unchecked, to only the correct secular liberal views being tolerated. While  Europe is not at this stage yet, it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility. As the writer aptly states ” In the pope’s geopolitical vision, Europe, because of its Christian heritage, is an ideal defender of human dignity on the world stage”, it is as he says “a concern with the dissolution of the social and political foundations of the continent and of the world at large”.

In God is Back, the authors, both from the Economist, take a predictably market view of the world. They argue that religions should esentially compete for believers, something that would be, rightly, anathema to Benedict. For this view “they cite numerous successful examples of this market model from around the world, not least the United States, where religious freedom and religious vitality apparently go hand in hand”.

What the Economist article in the future of the Catholic Church in Europe is that parts of the Catholic Church, the more traditionalist elements are experience something of a revival, partly as a result of Summorum Pontificum. The article notes that those on once vibrant Catholic Left of the 1960s and 1970s, have lost steam, with those younger people who hold similar views just leaving the institutional Church altogether. As the article says, “On closer inspection French Catholicism is not dead, but it is splintering to the point where the centre barely holds”. 

The Economist article notes how “The drop in active adherence to, and knowledge of, Christianity is a long-running and gentle trend; but the hollowing out of church structures—parishes, monasteries, schools, universities, charities—is more dramatic”. It adds that “all over Europe the child-abuse scandal has made secular powers keener to reassert their authority, and less willing to accept the Catholic church as a semi-autonomous power. In almost every country, therefore, the church is in decline as an institution”. However, when people are asked about their religious beliefs many will still identify as Christian, even Catholic or at the very least believing in some divine force.

“‘Rather than Catholicism, it is more accurate to talk about Catholicisms,’ says Giuseppe Giordan, a sociologist of religion”. Perhaps Catholicism is just too big and too diverse to withstand an interconnected but increasingly localised world. The article continues noting how the Catholic Church has “failed to see that since the 1960s, there has been ‘a huge anthropological change in favour of…freedom of choice. People are no longer prepared to obey instructions.'”

Crucially it notes that “most of the [child abuse] cases took place in the 1960s and 1970s; the culture of cronyism and impunity which made such horrors possible is now well in the past, and most of the institutions involved have been shut for decades. But many of today’s senior bishops were part of the world that tried to cover these things up. That is deeply embarrassing for the elderly men who now run the church, including the 83-year-old pontiff”.

It is the Church’s own sins that it must come to grips with now for its own sake, if not for Europe’s, and indeed the worlds.

Know your enemies

26/07/2010

Giving evidence to the UK Iraq war inquiry, Baroness Manningham-Buller said that UK “‘involvement in Iraq, for want of a better word, radicalised a whole generation of young people, some of them British citizens who saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam,’ she said, before immediately correcting herself by adding ‘not a whole generation, a few among a generation'”. The article says that only “a year after the invasion, she said MI5 was ‘swamped’ by leads about terrorist threats to the UK”.

While the reasons for going to war in Iraq were, on realist grounds, shall we say slim, that does not mean that we should misunderstand those that are being faced now in Afghanistan as well as in the UK and US as well as many other countries around the world.  They misrepresent Islam and distort it for their own purposes. They are determined to destroy what they see as a Western monolith. They do not see what they are doing as wrong, they are not relativists. Liberal relativist guilt and an attempt at reperations over Iraq will not appease them, they seek only to overthrow what they hate.

To say that the Iraq war heightened their hatred of the West, is only half the story. They always hated the West and it was only a matter of time before they struck at a city such as London. In some respects Iraq is irrelevant to this debate as these people who claim to follow Islam will always to their utmost to bring down what they see as evil. While the Iraq war may have spurred them on, it is not a direct cause of what they are trying to do and should not be taken for one, to do so would be extremely dangerous for us all.

Decline in parental authority

24/07/2010

In an article written some time ago the admittedly complex issue of child punishment was discussed. The writer, notes how “Most parents who smack consider that the occasional tap does no harm”. Indeed she recounts how her own children “all felt it had done them no harm, but none of them felt it was right or good”. Maybe parents should be more willing to consider the judious use of hitting when things are getting out of control.

What many don’t seem to get however is that the decline in parental authority can lead to many children getting out of control simply because we are more and more being called to respect their “boundaries”. Society is going down this road and look where it is taking us.

The future……..

18/07/2010

Stephen Walt notes five of the big(ger)  questions that will arise over the coming years and shape the future.

  1. Where is the EU project headed?
  2. Will states balance aganist China?
  3. What’s the relationship between U.S. defense spending, the deficit, and America’s economic health and well-being?
  4. If the U.S. disengaged from key areas in the Muslim world — most notably Iraq and Afghanistan — would the threat of anti-American terrorism rise or fall?
  5. Is the era of U.S. primacy over?

Walt mentions two possibilities, the EU could either come closer together, or drift apart. On a purely foreign relations lens, it is doubtful that the EU will grow any stronger. Do so it will have to engage with the nitty gritty world of hard power and sovereign states. It will have to engage with NATO, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan if it is to have any hope of influencing the US, and make no mistake, the EU will be doing the influencing of the US and not the other way around. For that to happen the EU will basically need to come up with and agree on a foreign policy, have its own army and unified command structure as well as powerful highly respected officials who everyone EU “citizen” can not only name but also cares about. Not like what’s her face. Also to be taken seriously it helps if you can stay in the job for more than four hours.  

None of this is going to happen anytime soon, give it another ten or twenty years and maybe you might find the beginnings but the rest of the world will have moved on by then and the EU will do, like the UN, what it does best, flounder.

However, Walt then says something that always seems a bit strange, he says that whatever happens in Europe will matter “because the re-emergence of genuine power politics within Europe could force the United States to devote more attention to a continent that some argue is ‘primed for peace’ and no longer of much strategic concern”. The notion that real power politics will come back to Europe anytime soon in the form that was so prevelant on the continent in centuries past is unlikely. The continent is too emerged in its uber Enlightment world of post modernity, where the word idelogy is a bad word, not to mention the fact that the French and Germans have too much fun in telling everyone else in Europe how to live, why would they give that up. Besides, their own citizens, as well as most, if not all, of the rest of Europe are perfectly happy in their world of international law and geoeconomics to even think of returning to the real world. Even if America did withdraw all its troops tomorrow, nothing would happen. The French might be very pleased but no-one would care, because it wouldn’t return the continent to the nineneeth century, as people like Dr Walt think it would. 

His second point is more interesting when he discusses China. He says that “China’s rise is already provoking alarm in many of its neighbors, who look first to the United States and possibly to each other for assistance “. He says that ” If China gets really powerful, and the United States disengages entirely, some of China’s neighbors might be tempted to bandwagon with Beijing, thereby facilitating the emergence of a Chinese “sphere of influence” in Asia. But if China’s neighbors get support from each other and from the United States, then they’ll probably prefer to balance”, I can never see America just leave South-East Asia, the region is too important stragetically for the US to just pack up shop and leave it too the Chinese.

What will probably continue to happen is that while no state will directly challenge China, many will remain firm allies with the US, especially states like South Korea and Taiwan. He says that “the United States can pass a lot of the burden to Japan, India, Vietnam”, this is basicaly true yet it is important that the US act as a moderating influence in the region.

Walt in the third issue, rightly stresses the importance of the US deficit, and how it will impact how America acts in the future, now I’m no economist but even at the hieght of the War on Terror, the US was only spending about seven or eight percent on GDP on defence. He says that the “actual relationship between defense spending and economic well-being isn’t that clear-cut”. Things are going to have to change, if not now than the near future, a nation-wide tax on purchases is needed, if that means changing the Constitution so be it, and if that means annoying the Tea Partiers and Rush Limbaugh to close the deficit for the greater good fine. It not all going to go the Democrats way, regretably Social Security needs to be examined.

In the fourth major issue that Walt covers is the issue of current Islamic-US relations. He notes that “Some scholars, such as Robert Pape of the University of Chicago, argue that anti-American terrorism (and especially suicide terrorism) would decline if the Untied States ended these military campaigns and reduced its military ‘footprint’ in these regions”, while that may indeed be true, people would do well to remember that many of the US interventions, whether you agree with them or not, and for one I don’t, in the 1990s were on behalf of Muslims. Not only that but many of the local rulers in the region use America as a scapegoat for their own countries’ failed/failing economies and other services that states should provide but many of these leaders either can’t or refuse to. Now it is dangerous to draw broad conclusions on the relationship that the United States has with each country in the Middle East, or indeed their populations real feelings toward the US but at all times caution should be used.

Walt’s final issue is how powerful will the US be, and in many regards it is related to the third question, but in the near future (ten years) it can be safely assumed that the position of the US will remain predominant, if not unchallenged. As Walt himself says, “economy will be the world’s largest until 2030 at least, and its per capita income will be much higher than that of other potential rivals”. He then goes to say that “the position of primacy that the United States enjoyed in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet collapse has already eroded significantly and is unlikely to return”, yet apart from the prominance of other states and the liklihood of a new age of multipolarity the US is still dominant, indeed for now we remain in a basically unipolar world, or at least a multipolar world with one big power. He does make the sensible point that China “will not challenge the United States around the globe, but it is likely to challenge America’s current pre-eminence in East Asia”.

We’re in for interesting times ahead!