Partly because the EU has slammed the door in Turkey’s face, Erdogan’s government has been looking elsewhere for friends. This has helped draw Turkey away from half a century of subservience to Western foreign policy. Its first act of defiance came in 2003, when Parliament voted against allowing American troops to invade Iraq from Turkish soil. Since then Turkey has broken ranks with the West on two important issues. It favors negotiation with Iran and stronger pressure on Israel to change its policies in Gaza and the West Bank.
This newfound independence was reflected in last year’s effort by the Turkish freighter Mavi Marmara to break the Gaza blockade, which led Israel to send commandos to attack the ship: nine Turkish civilians were killed. In 2010 Turkey made a failed effort, along with Brazil, to broker a nuclear deal with Iran. These steps made Erdogan immensely popular in the Muslim Middle East. They also set off a burst of anger in Washington – not from the Obama administration, which still considers Turkey a valuable partner, but from anti-Obama and pro-Israel politicians and groups who believe that Turkey is abandoning its secular heritage and Western-oriented foreign policy.
Some scholars share this fear. Banu Eligur… believes that Erdogan’s government has “mobilized against the secular-democratic state” by naming pious Muslims to be “high-ranking civil servants in public administration” and by bullying the press, judiciary, and universities. (Stephen Kinzer in the NYRB, 18/08/2011)
We have interests. They have ideology (even worse – they have religion). It is impossible for Turkey simply pursue its own policies based on its own concerns. No! That would be too rational for our opponents; for only we can think critically and reasonably; and within the bounds of legitimate national interest. On the contrary, they must have darker motives, which only we can fathom; for our leaders act from the best of intentions, and those that block them must be bad or misguided men. To suggest otherwise is to imply there is little difference between us; all governments acting only with varying degrees of power; our own as self-interested and limited as the rest.
Although this passage is an excellent example of that shift between analysis and comment, between neutral description and ideology, Kinzer does quietly criticize this view; writing that Erdogan’s actions are popular amongst the population; and quoting another scholar with a very different, more positive, perspective:
Erdogan’s government has surpassed the old secular establishment “both in recognizing the value of a religiously neutral government as a guarantee of pluralism and in espousing the reforms required to advance Turkey’s EU candidacy” – even if that candidacy is now a long-term project at best.
Nevertheless we can see some ideological kinks amongst Kinzer’s own paragraphs; revealing the writer’s uncritical bias. The reference to the Marvi Marmara is ambiguous – it was owned by a Turkish NGO, and was part of an international flotilla. While the relaxing of the political culture almost certainly enabled it to take part in the Gaza protest, it is also independent from the government; so to discuss it within the context of state policies seems odd (note how the piece seamlessly shifts from Turkey to the Turkish government – the quote from Banu Eligur used to sum up the preceding paragraphs). There is also the dichotomy Kinzer sets up between Obama and his “pro-Israel” opponents; with the implication that the current president is somehow anti-Israel. An absurdity as the evidence shows: he is following the same policies as every American president since at least 1967. The difference between the current administration and the last is simply that George W. Bush’s was more extreme; “more Likud than Likud”, as a US government official put it.[i] For a more realistic assessment compare Avi Shlaim’s diagnosis of the problem and what he suggests Obama could do with his words since then; the latter demonstrating that what is taken for a major departure is actually policy as usual; even the rhetoric is the same. The one exception to this general rule is Bush Senior, and his Secretary of State James Baker, who resented the boorish intransigence of Yitzhak Shamir, the then Israeli prime minister; and refused loan guarantees and outfaced the lobby. However, the relationship resumed its normal course once Rabin was elected.[ii]
Kinzer has interesting things to say about Turkey; but reading them one wonders how much he realises they could apply to his own country.
Regional differences are still stark in Turkey. Kurdish towns like Hakkari, where there has been little public or private investment, remain poor. Schools churn out students drilled in rote memorization and unaccustomed to critical thinking. The unemployment rate has climbed to a troubling 11 percent. Chauvinistic nationalism remains strong. Many newspapers serve political causes and private interests rather than reporting news.
In the US the current unemployment rate is 9.0%, but with clear ethnic divisions: whites 8.1%; Hispanics 11.3% and Blacks 15.9%. I assume these figures do not cover the prison population, the American way of removing the surplus population from side streets and street corners. Britain is more civilised:
The employment rate was 70.7 per cent and there were 29.27 million employed people. The unemployment rate was 7.9 per cent and there were 2.49 million unemployed people. The inactivity rate was 23.2 per cent and there were 9.30 million inactive people aged from 16 to 64. (Office for National Statistics. My emphasis. The later percentage, as Andrew Gamble notes in the TLS (19&26/8/2011), covers a number of schemes to camouflage the actual number of people unemployed; and which since the 1980s as had cross party support. Another way has been to extend education, heavily reducing the numbers of young adults who will be covered by these stats.)
Democracy Now! has a fascinating interview with Brian Jones and Diane Ravitch which suggests that America is also not interested in quality education for the majority of its children: training to test is its new dogma, perfect for reducing costs, and increasing profits for private education companies, who provide the tests, and all the course work and workbooks on which they depend. The future for these corporate giants, which includes Rupert Murdoch who recently bought one of them, is dozens of classrooms run on online, with one teacher monitoring them in some large warehouse in the Mid West. There are so many interesting things in this piece, not least Brian Jones’ comment on how part of an elementary school pupil’s education is to learn about the culture of testing. No longer are pupils learning about the world; only the mechanics of how to operate a process – how to pass a test. In other words they are learning how to use a machine. Perfect for children who are to be turned into operatives, and low-grade functionaries; and who do not need, or so it is believed, “proper” education - knowledge in its purest form.
Apart from the ideologically blind few doubt the nationalist fervour of the US:
In the United States the flag has the status of a religious icon, a totem. It cannot be carried horizontally or flat, but must always be ‘aloft and free’. There is a protocol for folding it, it can’t touch the ground, it can’t be burned except when it is worn out or irreparably damaged and then only as part of a special ritual. Military men and women salute it, civilians hold their right hands over their left breasts when singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, and schoolchildren pledge allegiance to it. It is also a ubiquitous presence in the American landscape. The Red, White and Blue waves from people’s porches, flies over car dealerships and gas stations and adorns flower-pots; cars are festooned with it in the form of bumper stickers, window decals and antenna pennants. The flag decorates the altars of churches of every denomination except those of a few dissenting sects. And it has become a necessary accessory for political candidates. (Thomas Sugrue, in the LRB)
Of course Murdoch doesn’t push his politics through the Wall Street Journal or the New York Post; and the New York Times is free from any kind of bias at all, just like our own Guardian: Value free, objective reporting at its very best, if you believe the propaganda.
Can Kinzer see the similarities? One suspects he does, especially if pressed. But how easy to ignore them; concentrating instead on the differences; seeing only the evil in our enemies. And how quickly facts can be turned into values; and cool description into a hot ideology. Accounts written by people with access to Blair and his team illustrate just how quickly this process can happen: it doesn’t take three or four paragraphs before analysis falls into theology, but occurs in the first few words of the first sentence - rarely did they exhibit value free scrutiny; these people were believers from the get-go. This was particularly the case in the run up to the Iraq War, where faith, because the reality was so intractable, had to be stronger and more certain. So the fact that no WMDs could be found in Iraq proved they had to exist; a belief that was, according to John Kampfner, ubiquitous in Blair’s circle and much of Whitehall; and continued even after the David Kay report, which demonstrated they’d been destroyed, probably by 1991:
‘The ISG [Iraq Survey Group] are a bunch of incompetents,’ said one key aide to Blair. ‘There weren’t enough of them on the ground. They spent much of their time worrying about their own security.’ Blair could not, would not, believe it and willed himself and others to keep the faith…
[Later] Blair preferred an alternative question: did Saddam move the weapons out of the country shortly before the war? (Blair’s Wars)
Their religion told them so; it convinced them that they had to be right. Interestingly Kampfner contrasts this with the Bush regime – as soon as the WMD issue was undermined they implied they knew the reality. Bush, for all his profusions of Christian belief, is, it seems, less of a fundamentalist than the British prime minister.
In the later 17th and early 18th centuries the political and cultural establishments were scared of “enthusiasm”, which they associated with Puritan Dissent and the breakdown of society at the time of the English Civil War. Authority and prosperity required order and hierarchy, and civilised restraint. Emerging out of this belief came the idea of the gentleman, a new type of ruling man, suitable for a slightly more mobile society.[iii] It was a concept nicely suited to a time of stability, as the Whigs secured the Hanoverian succession and entrenched their own political ascendancy. How things have changed! Today “moral fervour” is welcomed as political courage; and so the praise of Blair by many mainstream commentators; including that of that most diplomatic of creatures – the British Ambassador to Washington.
But what precisely is the nature of this fervour? It is another form of religious enthusiasm, but with a contemporary twist: an individual’s blind faith in the belief that they alone are right. The content of the thought is irrelevant; as the accounts show Blair was not interested in the details, and he worked almost in a continual present; each new event or crisis an opportunity for a new moral crusade; and all refracted through a media world, which dominated the thinking of the New Labour team – presentation their overriding priority.[iv] Because he believed something to be true it had to be… no matter what. Blair’s religion is a personal one: the belief that he himself is right in whatever he does at any given time. It is an expression of desire, “enthusiasm” was the eighteen century term, and is perhaps an inevitable product of a political system where the prime minister acts more like a king than a state official, he even has his own court of advisors who are dependent upon him, and a society where the individual (should I say the consumer?) is lauded as the supreme achievement of social progress. In the realm of high politics it is a return to the Roman Empire; where emperors could believe themselves gods, and create a world of pure fantasy – today’s self-creations fashioned by and for the corporate media.
Liberalism, communism, jihadism, humanitarian interventionism… The content of each of these beliefs is less important than the shared mentality of the extremists who espouse them. A moderate communist has more in common with a moderate liberal than the latter with a Milton Friedman. The moderates usually have a width of reference and a level of doubt that allows them to be rational. Not so Tony Blair. His obsessive fascination with a clutch of very simple thoughts and images, which are mistaken for reality, are the signs of a fanatic; someone who projects themselves into their ideas; which they then try to impose on the society around them. Blind Faith. Evangelicalism. The fundamentalism of humanitarian intervention. These are all forms of power, for these beliefs are also expressions of a personality and are a means by which it is inflicted onto other people; and the world if possible. In academia, where the fighting rarely gets beyond words, these power urges are not important. In politics they can be fatal.
Real morality is much harder, for it is an attempt to both understand the world and act on that understanding, trying to inflict the least pain in the available circumstances; which are always compromised by contingency. In this Blair was not interested:
“You have the impression some of the time that he is not listening. He is given reams of briefing notes. He hardly reads them. His interventions at European councils are often banal and platitudinous. He often gets frustrated, wondering why things don’t happen the way he wants them to. He likes to tickle. His genius is as a presenter, articulator or evangelist….” (A British ambassador quoted in Blair’s Wars)
After leafing through his briefing papers he walks to the back of his plane to give the press details of the horrors and threats of Saddam Hussein’s regime…. None of this has been much thought about or analysed. He is just looking for a fact that will prove his case; and which he wants to show to the journalists to convince them of his belief. He knows he is right, and therefore he doesn’t have to find out about Iraq; or listen to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the experts on the ground.[v] Instead he surrounds himself with disciples who are employed to confirm these innate truths. It is the reason why he is puzzled when things go wrong – there doesn’t seem to be an explanation outside other’s, particularly Jacques Chirac’s, perfidy.[vi] Earlier in the book Kampfner notes how before his election Blair had no interest in foreign policy, and believed that he had to be internationally tough and pro-war to win the general election. This is not really explored in the rest of the book. Christopher Meyer, in his memoir, hardly mentions it. However, it sits very strangely with all the praise for Blair’s courage and morality. For if Kampfner is right, and I suspect he is, before he took office Blair treated war as simply a political strategy. A domestic realpolitik. Once inside 10 Downing Street it became a faith; like everything else he did.[vii]
Christianity is a very tough religion… It is judgemental. There is right and wrong. There is good and bad. We all know this, of course, but it has become fashionable to be uncomfortable about such language. But when we look at our world today and how much needs to be done, we should not hesitate to make such judgements. And then follow them with determined action. (Blair quoted in Blair’s Wars)
Kampfner goes on to write, “This was before he even begun to think about foreign policy. He made up for lack of detail with evangelical fervour.” The two are related. The less you know about a topic the more certain you are about it.[viii] Faith is a form of ignorance, and has nothing to do with being a good person. It can be the sign of a megalomaniac: thus Blair’s frustration with both governments and institutions that disagreed with him, or blocked his schemes; and which he then tried to remove or circumvent. He is the classic authoritarian populist; so common in the 20th century. A modern phoenix created by the rise of democracy and the expansion of bureaucratic centralisation; two powerful but contradictory forces. Politics is usually the management of the former in favour of the latter; although not always; particularly in times of crisis, and a change in the hegemonic culture, such as Britain from the 1960s with the rise of a new kind of financial capitalism, charismatic politicians will use populist rhetoric to undermine and destroy part of the existing establishment; and the bureaucracy on which it rests.[ix] In normal politics this authoritarian populism is the expression of the messianic hope of direct action, a cleaving through the jungles of inertia and social complexity to reach the clearings of a new freedom; a belief that has destroyed the lives of so many people as abstractions are turned into reality; and men and women are sacrificed to ideas.[x] The rhetoric is mostly fake, however much the preacher believes his message – because populism has generally to submit to the power of the institutions, large enough now to run the world economy. What is strange about Blair is that he acted on the populist rhetoric to his own detriment; in large part because of his religious fanaticism, but also because of his cowardice and power worship: in his case he wanted to be liked by America. This is clearly brought out in Meyer’s book, which gives a number of incidences of Blair’s infatuation with the office of president and his addiction to the adulation he received from the American public for his support of their government’s policies.
Officials close to him say that Blair was a poor negotiator; and they give as the reason his lack of interest in the details. There is more to it than that. If you know you are right, there is no need to negotiate. You just have to persuade people to see the light that has been revealed to you. This is nicely brought out by Meyer, who writes of Blair’s self-belief that he could change anyone’s position so long as they could meet face-to-face. He converts people. He is Jesus in a Concorde. That is why he doesn’t read so much or listen to other points of view. He doesn’t need to. He knows the truth. He has his own revealed religion.
Blair’s comments on Christian Socialism are interesting for what they reveal about himself. As an argument they are poor and confused. Let us start with the most obvious difficulty. How to determine the right action in any given circumstance, and which requires asking ourselves that most difficult of moral questions: can we be certain that we are not acting out of self-interest. This is a mode of thought of which Blair, indeed the whole policy establishment, seems incapable. Christopher Meyer’s memoirs is probably the best example of this (systemic) deficiency. He also provides some insight as to why this is the case.
The political elite constantly interact with each other. They are colleagues and friends; they have endless meetings, conduct numerous telephone calls, and are forever attending parties and private dinners and joining exclusive clubs: like the Alfalfa and Bohemian Grove. They are like employees in a corporation or members of the Socialist Worker’s Party. And through these institutional rituals they come to share the same assumptions about the world; their differences often reduced merely to small details and personalities. It is a very human place where the most important decisions are based on the relationships between its members; whose behaviour is in large part conditioned by their country’s history and its contemporary interests; and its susceptibility to American power. However, these structural constraints are hardly ever mentioned; instead they are personified into particular people – Clinton, Saddam, George W. Bush etc. One consequence is that the intractable causes of events are often overlooked or dismissed as irrelevant; so that if one leader radically disagrees with another’s position they are deemed corrupt or weak – there can be no other explanation. Thus you can have the bizarre occurrence of Blair attacking a Schröder or Chirac for pandering to the electorate (for their refusal to sanction the Iraq war), even though he had built his entire career up to that point on doing just that. Replace religion with democracy in the following passage and you will see that little has changed in three hundred years.
All men acknowledged the importance of religion, but all agreed that the religion of one’s opponents was merely a mask for baser motives. (J.C.D. Clark, English Society 1660-1832)
This is demonstrated very clearly in Kampfner’s book: all the most important talk is about other people, and very little about historical causes or grand strategy – that is written by speechwriters to be read out at public events. It is the politics of the school playground. Inevitably this creates a relatively cohesive elite that shares the same basic assumptions (clichés is perhaps a better word); and which are rarely if ever questioned. Moreover, this elite believe themselves to be morally impeccable – how many of your friends and work colleagues do you think are evil? Meeting together regularly they see each other as cultivated human beings. Those unlucky enough to be outside that charmed circle are not; and therefore can be easily disposed of – terrorist, rebel, old Labour, Chav…. It is the first minefield a thinking person has to cross. Most never make it. Christopher Meyer admits in his book that the moment he entered Major’s press office he stopped thinking. Thus presidents and prime ministers when elected accept the world as a given; and merely seek to manage it; unless, that is, like George W. Bush, they have a movement behind them,[xi] which shapes a particular strategy and supports its implementation. Although even ideologues usually only have limited success; and the changes to policy are often only slight. This tends to result in rhetorical absurdities, as the promises of change are subsumed under the politics of continuity, and hyperbole camouflages these failures; such as Kissinger’s public statements that the Bush Doctrine was the biggest transformation in international relations since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Having a bad memory, he’d forgotten his own interventions in Chile and East Timor in the 1970s. His actions part of a consistent pattern in post-war American foreign policy.[xii]
There are other minefields too. It may be easy to identify bad people, but far harder to know what to do about them.[xiii] The Iraq War is a classic example. What Blair has done is to confuse his own simple judgements with the complexity of the world, and to believe that if he ignored the latter and relied on the former he could save humanity. Every tyrant has believed the same. Projecting themselves onto others (or in Blair’s case “History”) these characters simply act out their own desires – creating their friends and enemies in their own image. The result is often carnage, although propaganda and media spin can hide it from the perpetrators themselves; as Kampfner’s book shows – Blair, even when Iraqi society collapsed, believed he had done the right thing. No doubt it is the inevitable consequences of making hard “judgements…[a]nd then follow[ing] them with determined action.” Although how much easier it is to make those judgements in 10 Downing Street than on the roads of Baghdad. John Locke had a more realistic assessment:
In the variety and contradiction of opinions in religion, wherein the princes of the world are as much divided as in their secular interests, the narrow way would be much straitened: one country alone would be in the right, and all the rest of the world would be put under an obligation of following their princes in the ways that lead to destruction; and that which heightens the absurdity, and very ill suits the notion of a deity, men would owe their eternal happiness or misery to the places of their nativity. (See A Letter Concerning Toleration in Political Writings, edited by David Wootton)
Locke, of course, had to suffer wars of religion, and was aware of their dangers. Blair, brought up in a comfortably secular environment, had no such feelings of restraint; the hard morality of Christian Socialism a parlour game he could play with other people’s lives. The ease and luxury of his own upbringing made him into a moral sybarite; forcing other people to live by his Puritanism. The consequences could easily be glossed. Evil men were responsible when things went wrong: Iran, Syria, Osama Bin Laden….
To act in the world is to understand it on its own terms. This is the confusion of Blair’s religious absolutism; for he wants to impose an external judgement on it; and then act on that judgement. This requires a vast ignorance, and is destined mostly to fail; because it doesn’t understand the nature of what it wants to reform, and therefore is unable to properly resolve the causes of the original problem. In the Middle East tyranny is common because of the vast oil wealth that allows for the creation of crony regimes, often based on tribal loyalties, and which are tied to a foreign power, which underwrites them (such as America and Britain in Saudi Arabia). Thus it was unlikely that a western style democracy was going to be set up in post-war Iraq; if they had been lucky a less authoritarian regime would have replaced Saddam’s. Moreover, as Kampfner notes, Blair’s moralism, because he is a politician and cannot stand completely outside the political realm and act the prophet all the time – in his case he would have lost the support of the United States -, ends up being selective: all for blowing away the Iraqi leader but accommodating to Israel’s suppression of the Palestinians. In reality his Christianity became a cover for power politics; a photo opportunity to show he had principles – to himself and others.
Blair, at least in aspiration, had tried to do something which since the 17th century has been seen as dangerous and a threat to the liberal order – the fusion of politics with religion. John Locke knew the dangers and suggested not only that religion and politics should be separated but that religious practitioners should be more prudent.
It is not enough that ecclesiastical men abstain from violence and rapine, and all manner of persecution. He that pretends to be a successor of the apostles, and takes upon him the office of teaching, is obliged also to admonish his hearers of the duties of peace and good-will towards all men; as well towards the erroneous as the orthodox; towards those that agree with them therein. And he ought industrially to exhort all men, whether private persons or magistrates (if any such there be in his Church), to charity, meekness, and toleration; and diligently endeavour to allay and temper all that heat, and unreasonable averseness of mind, which either any man’s fiery zeal for his own sect, or the craft of others, has kindled against dissenters. (A Letter Concerning Toleration. My emphasis)
Tony Blair, as Blair’s Wars only too clearly demonstrates, was an evangelist, who believed in his own destiny and moral rightness; and was blind to how dangerous this could make him. He was a fanatic who was worshipped for his zeal by many in the liberal establishment. It is an old story of the strong man and his disciples; and of that urge to throw off the restraint of civilisation and culture; providing, that is, one’s own person does not suffer the consequences.
Kampfner’s book exonerates the political class. For him the five wars that Blair enacted where his wars, and not the government’s. However, no British prime minister can take his country to war unless he has the support of parliament and a majority in the establishment. What Iraq showed was the failure of that nexus of influence to stop a leader dedicated to fanaticism and war. Blair shows both the power of our ruling class, and their weakness: it has only a limited control over our elected monarchs in policy areas, such as foreign affairs, where they have overriding influence. The establishment, because it is isolated from pressures below – from party, from civil institutions, from the populace –, is exposed to domination by its own charismatic leaders. A court is too weak to control a king.
[i] Richard Hass, Colin Powell’s Head of Policy Planning in the State Department. Quoted in Christopher Meyer’s DC Confidential. He is referring to particularly to Congress, but the same description applies to Bush’s Neo-Conservatives, as John Kampfner confirms:
“Much of the Bush administration had become an outpost of the Likud party. In fact, many of them were to the right of Ariel Sharon.” (Blair’s Wars)
[ii] See in particular Colin Shindler’s The Land Beyond Promise and Noam Chomsky’s The Fateful Triangle.
Meyer argues that Bush junior’s strategy was influenced by this decision, which alienated the party’s right wing support; and so he became a super-supporter of Israel in order to appease the Republican Right; who he believed voted for Ross Perot in the following election.
A conventional opinion has developed in the media, and which Meyer’s comments reflect, that H.W. Bush lost this election because of his stance on Israel; and because of the power of the Israel lobby (although interestingly Mearsheimer and Watt do not use this argument in their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy). Meyer’s argument is more nuanced, because it suggests the Republican’s alienated their own supporters; who they had cultivated through an aggressive campaign to associate the party with religion and the culture wars generally (see Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with America? and Adam Curtis’ Who Would God Vote For?). However, even this more cautious view is questionable; indeed unlikely. George Bush senior’s defeat was caused by the precipitous decline in the economy; and a perception that the sitting incumbent was not competent to deal with it; while Ross Perot ran on an anti-tax and anti-government strategy, which targeted Republican supporters who were disgruntled at what they perceived was Bush’s inaction on their concerns – taxes, abortion, evangelical religion. According to John Mickethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, the Religious Right believed “he forgot all about them” when in office. (The Right Nation) Support for Israel may have been part of that cluster of concerns, but it was a minor issue, far offset by Bush’s patrician aloofness, that gave a liberal tinge to his image; and increased the evangelicals’ alienation from Washington (This is a theme in Frank’s book – the tension within the Republican Party between the liberalism (in social outlook) of the Republican elite and the religious fundamentalism of its base support; a tension which seems increasingly to be resolved into the latter).
In Israel, however, it is almost certain that Bush/Baker’s intervention was the cause of Shamir’s fall: the general consensus was that the country could not afford to alienate the United States, seen as its protector in the region:
“No doubt Baker used the loans issue, in fact, to influence Shamir’s electoral downfall.
“…many questioned the wisdom of antagonizing the remaining superpower – historically Israel’s supreme ally. [Shamir’s refusal to compromise with James Baker] destroyed the last vestiges of American confidence in the workings of the Likud government. This duly catalysed a feel-bad factor in the Israeli electorate…. ”(Colin Shindler. William Quandt’s Peace Process also argues that Baker and Bush used the loan guarantees to remove Shamir from office. He doesn’t relate Bush’s later defeat to this decision; but to the poor economy and the president’s perceived inability to cope with it).
[iii] “Commentators were as much intrigued by the impact of affluence on manners, as by its material consequences. In a word, they charted the progress of politeness. This was an ambiguous term. It was naturally associated with the possession of those goods which marked off the moderately wealthy from the poor, the trappings of propertied life. It also included the intellectual and aesthetic tastes which displayed the continuing advance of fashion in its broadest sense. But most of all it affected the everyday routine and rules of social life, from matters as trivial as the time at which one dined, and the way one ate one’s dinner, to matters as important as the expectations and arrangements of partners in marriage. There was no shortage of manuals and advice on all such questions.” (Paul Langford, A Polite and Commercial People, England 1727-1783)
For John Locke the religious violence of the civil war arose from the intrusion of religion into politics. He argued for toleration for all Protestant sects providing they accepted the civil authority of the magistrate; who, ruling under the law, would act as a restraint on the inherent sectarianism of religious disputation, which, if given political power, seeks to extirpate its competitors. (See A Letter Concerning Toleration in Political Writings, edited by David Wootton)
[iv] The atmosphere inside 10 Downing Street is well captured by Meyer during the time he was the press officer for John Major: working in a bunker its walls covered by mirrors. There is no time for thought just reflexive responses to current events. Thus assumptions are not questioned and clichés become received wisdom. This is one of the explanations for the continuity in government policy – there simply isn’t the time to make radical changes; unless given the opportunity by extraordinary events.
“At a Downing Street meeting in November 2002 attended by Tony Blair, Jack Straw and six academics familiar with Iraq and the Middle East, two things became clear. The first was that Straw thought post-Saddam Iraq would be much like post-Soviet Russia and could thus be easily pigeonholed as that strange creature, a ‘transitional society’. Either he had been persuaded of this by the recycled Cold Warriors clustering round the Bush administration, or they had failed to inform their ‘key ally’ of their determination to dismantle Iraq’s state and security structures. More ominously, Blair seemed wholly uninterested in Iraq as a complex and puzzling political society, wanting confirmation merely that deposing Saddam Hussein would remove ‘evil’ from the country.
“Quite apart from some of the inappropriate and frankly bizarre ideas that were driving the war train, the lack of interest in Iraq and its social order were symptomatic of the attitude of the US and its allies towards the country over the two previous decades.” (My emphasis)
[vi] Compare with the main character in Joseph Roth’s Confession of a Murderer, analysed in my Born Differently. As with all other religious extremists there is something of the conspiracy theorist about them; and thus the curious similarities between some of the rhetoric of Bush and Blair and that of the 9-11 Truthers. They are mirror images of each other, and for the same reasons.
[vii] This is why the arguments about Blair’s sincerity are almost irrelevant. He believed in whatever he did. Each policy move was an acting out, a manifestation, of himself.
The problem is a different one: should people with this kind of messianic psychology be allowed to be prime minister? Of course, nothing can stop them, so this leads to another, more important, question: how can institutions be created that restrict the influence of such characters? It is something the Labour Party, for example, has ceased to worry about – in its case it allowed Blair to acquire even power and secure his independence from it. It suggests the party has become too comfortable with power politics and needs to be replaced.
[xi] The Neo-Conservatives. Although, as Thomas Frank argues, this movement is far wider than a bunch of intellectuals. It is a significant part of the corporate sector that funds pressure groups, lobbyists, thinks tanks and foundations (The Wrecking Crew). For Further comment see footnote x in my Looking in the Mirror (Part One).