We Need Frank

by Daniel on September 6, 2004

Andrew Smith has just resigned as the pensions minister. I’m not particularly interested in the political backstory to this; I’m much more interested in the opportunity it offers to undo one of the Original Sins of New Labour.

It was an appalling mistake to sack Frank Field and it is time to undo it.

[click to continue…]

Trahison des clercs

by Henry on September 6, 2004

“Brad DeLong”:http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2004-2_archives/000131.html asks for one of us to explain this rather opaque “Perry Anderson piece”:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n17/ande01_.html in the LRB about the reasons for France’s political and cultural decline – I’ll bite. Anderson’s prose is tangled and dense, but there is a thesis lurking there amid the thickets and thorns. His claim is that France is scuppered because the wrong set of intellectuals won. Anderson argues that the prospect of unity between the Socialist and Communist parties in the early 1970s provoked an intellectual backlash – the _Noveaux Philosophes_ and other partisan thinkers did a bang-up job in isolating Communism from the mainstream. This, together with conjunctural choices made by the Communists, meant that the Left had no real ideas left when Mitterand came to power. An “anti-totalitarian” front, in which the centre-left was a distinctly junior partner to the centre-right, came to dominate the intellectual landscape. The French Revolution – primal source of the cleavages in French politics – was rewritten by Furet and others so that its radical implications disappeared. It became a bourgeois liberal revolution that had failed. Thus the mess that France is in – the liberals have triumphed, but in so doing have robbed France of the deeper political arguments that used to drive its politics and intellectual life.

I’m only an amateur of French politics, so I’m not going to comment on the empirical plausibility of this thesis. I will note that it’s a rather _idealistic_ account of the driving forces of French history for a purported Marxist to be coming out with. Anderson seems to be claiming, if I understand him rightly, that the most important conflicts in French politics of the last two decades were fought out in the academy and in the journals of opinion. It’s not an entirely ridiculous argument in itself – intellectuals do play a role in France that they don’t elsewhere – but it’s still very strange coming from the mouth of a historical materialist.

Friends fall out

by Chris Bertram on September 6, 2004

Those who have been following the decline and fall of the Conrad Black empire (a group which surely _must_ include those bloggers fond of quoting the ravings of his wife, Barbara Amiel ) will be amused to learn that “his friend Richard Perle has now deserted him”:http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/06/business/media/06perle.html?pagewanted=1&hp.

bq. … last week, Mr. Perle’s view of Lord Black changed. Issuing his first public statements since being heavily criticized in an internal report for rubber-stamping transactions that company investigators say led to the plundering of the company, Mr. Perle now says he was duped by his friend and business colleague.

Read the whole thing, as someone-or-other once said.

Clever Pet Tricks

by Henry on September 6, 2004

Just came across a reference in a discussion board to one of my favourite bits from one of my favourite books – Robert Irwin’s “Arabian Nights Companion”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1860649831/henryfarrell-20 – and thought it was worth quoting.[1]

bq. Other [thieves] used to make use of a tortoise with a lighted candle on its back. They sent this creature ahead of them into the house they proposed to burgle. If the house was currently occupied, then the owner would surely exclaim in surprise on seeing the tortoise (‘Oh look! There’s a tortoise with a candle on its back. I wonder what it’s doing in my house’) and the thieves would be warned off. If, however, the house was unoccupied, then the candle would help to guide the thieves as they went about their work.

fn1. I blogged last year about Irwin’s related, and wonderfully tricky novel, “The Arabian Nightmare”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1585672173/henryfarrell-20 .