Callaghan dead

by Chris Bertram on March 26, 2005

Jim Callaghan, the Labour Prime Minister defeated by Thatcher in 1979 and, amazingly the oldest living former British PM in history, has died at 92. I’m struggling to think of anything nice to say about his tenure as Home Secretary, Chancellor, Foreign Secretary or PM. He was a machine politician rather than someone animated by a sense of social justice, and it is noteworthy that “the BBC obituary”: can’t find a single policy achievement worth listing to his credit. His government collapsed in chaos and recrimination and was followed by bitter civil war with Labour. Thanks to him and his ilk we suffered 18 years of Tory misrule. Still, RIP and all that.

Two Varieties of Absolutism

by John Holbo on March 26, 2005

Matthew Yglesias has a pair of interesting posts up (1, 2), responding to David Brooks’ latest. Basically I agree, but let me make one critical point about where Matt ends up.

I described the liberal as having a two-stage view about end of life issues. First, comes something like the "life as continuum" view Brooks attributes to us. Second, comes a principle of free choice – I think that I should make my own decision on this, but that my view should not control others, though I may try to persuade others that my view is correct (non-relativism). The problem here is that I think a lot of liberals don’t recognize that the second principle really does depend on something akin to the first. If you hold views about the sanctity of life and the doing/allowing distinction that lead you to the conclusion that failing to keep alive someone who could be kept alive is the equivalent to murder, then adopting a principle of free choice at the second level makes no sense. An absolutist view on the first question requires an absolutist view on the second question.

I think the last sentence is not actually true, due to ambiguity in ‘absolutist’. It can mean either: cleaving to a black-white view of a matter (that other folks say they see in shades of grey.) Or it can mean: insisting that views besides one’s own are beyond the pale of moral reasonableness and tolerability. Let’s thumbnail the first absolutism: denying the continuum; the second: denying pluralism. These may sound as though they come to the same, and they probably have a tendency to run together; but in fact they are distinct. [click to continue…]

Talking Turkey

by Chris Bertram on March 26, 2005

I don’t share Mark Kaplan’s philosophical predilections, but he is a sharp observer of blogospheric rhetoric. At “Charlotte Street he announces”: that his perceptive “Notes on Rhetoric” “now have their own site”: . I particularly enjoyed his latest reflections on the “Turkey” ruse:

bq. Turkey – If your opponent is criticising the policies of some state you favour, demand that he talks about Turkey instead. This may sound a feeble ploy, equivalent to saying ‘please talk about something else’ but can be effective if you use language like ‘if you’re being consistent’ ‘disproportionate and selective attention’. (You may if you wish substitute some other country for Turkey – obviously so if, by chance, your opponent is talking about Turkey.)….

bq. The reductio ad absurdum of this position is that one should busy oneself with impotent cursing and condemnations of foreign regimes over which one has zero influence, while exempting your own government and its allies from criticism. In other words: ethical bombast on the one hand, and ethical abdication on the other.

bq. At worst, the ‘Turkey’ tactic can also short-circuit moral universality – the belief that we should apply to ourselves the same principles we apply to others. So, for example, moral condemnation of torture by American and British soldiers (in accordance with moral universality) meets with ‘but why are you silent about much more horrific things elsewhere..’; patient criticisms of the ‘democratic deficit’ in our own societies meets only with our attention rerouted to utterly undemocratic regimes. So it goes on, diversionary and insidious.

The March of Freedom

by Henry Farrell on March 26, 2005

The FT has a good article on Kyrgyzstan today, suggesting that the recent upheavals in Russia’s ‘Near Abroad’ doesn’t actually have all that much to do with George W. Bush.

There is certainly a domino effect at work. Supporters of the US’s democracy campaign have been quick to cast Kyrgyzstan as the latest state to join “the global march of freedom led by President Bush”, as the conservative Wall Street Journal said on Friday, praising Washington’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, of more relevance to Kyrgyzstan have been the peaceful revolts against authoritarian leaders in the former Soviet Union, in Georgia and Ukraine. Television and the internet has spread the message. The common element has been a drive to get rid of self-serving corrupt cliques which have often been in power, as in Kyrgyzstan, since Soviet times. These cliques have generally been supported by Moscow, but the revolts against them have not been principally anti-Russian or pro-western. Domestic issues have mattered most.

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