A vicious little merchant banker

by Chris Bertram on May 7, 2008

The merchant banker Oliver Kamm has a “vicious little post”:http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2008/05/miliband-pre-et.html today attacking the memory of the late Ralph Miliband for a paper he published in 1980. Miliband, the father of the current British foreign secretary, was, of course, a Marxist theoretician and a member of the British new left for much of his life. As a member of that left, he authored many papers for journals like the _New Left Review_ and _Socialist Register_. And again, as a member of that new left, he had an ambivalent relationship to the Soviet bloc. On the one hand he lamented the lack of democracy in those countries; on the other he thought they had achieved various social gains. Well he was (largely) wrong about the latter, but 1980 is a long time ago, and, back then he wasn’t alone in that false belief. In fact, he shared it with people for whom Kamm now declares his admiration and support and who then wrote for those same journals. The difference is, of course, that they are alive and he is dead. Miliband cannot reconsider.

Kamm’s post attacks Miliband’s paper “Military Intervention and Socialist Internationalism” (“Socialist Register, 1980”:http://socialistregister.com/node/22 ) on the grounds that he doesn’t think the crimes of Pol Pot were sufficient to justify the Vietnamese invasion. Reading the paper today, it has an odd and stilted feel: Miliband is wrestling with a set of issues and problems that seem deeply alien today. I think Miliband was wrong about that case, and badly so. But I presume (and hope) that he didn’t appreciate how horrific the Pol Pot regime had been, or didn’t believe all the reports. What the casual reader wouldn’t glean from reading Kamm’s nasty little post, though, is that the substance of Miliband’s article was an attack on the idea that the socialist ideal should be advanced by “socialist” states invading other countries. In other words, it was principally _an attack on the idea_ that socialists should support the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. Miliband argues, correctly, that all that resulted from such interventions was alienation from the socialist cause, and the installation of weak puppet regimes without popular legitimacy. You’d never gather that from reading Kamm’s blog, though. He presents Miliband’s attack on Soviet tankism as an apologia for massacre. That wasn’t how it would have been read at the time. In fact, it isn’t how a fair-minded person would read it now.

The Republican War on Science, yet again

by John Quiggin on May 7, 2008

Kevin Drum points to this piece by Michael Gerson, denying the existence of a Republican War on Science. As Drum points out, Gerson doesn’t even mention the major battlegrounds like global warming denialism, creationism and intelligent design, and the Gingrich-era shutdown of the Office of Technology Assessment, focusing on a much narrower set of issues including stem cell research and abortion.

Moreover far from refuting the claim of a war between Republicanism and science, Gerson spends most of the article fighting on the Republican side. Most obviously the obligatory, and in this case, lengthy discussion of eugenics, tied in Jonah Goldberg fashion to contemporary liberalism.

There’s an even more fundamental problem here. Gerson is so focused on the political/cultural/ethical war he is fighting that he doesn’t even consider the question of whether there are any scientific facts that might be relevant to the question.

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Dina has kindly posted a draft of a chapter that I wrote that is forthcoming in a volume on Philosophy in Schools. I wrote most of it a long time ago, when I was working at the Institute of Education, and involved in developing the Citizenship Education program there. Conversations with teachers, teacher educators, and researchers confirmed that a lot of teachers who would be leaned on to teach Citizenship Education lack the necessary confidence and resources to teach about controversial moral issues in a non-dogmatic way. This is not a criticism — it is what I heard from them, directly. It seemed to me that the experience of college-level philosophy teachers especially of service courses (such as my Contemporary Moral Issues course) might be useful for teachers to reflect on. What especially struck me at the time was that teachers did not have a lot of written material to read, either to prompt discussion in class or to help them prepare for managing such discussion. So the chapter linked to basically outlines the way that I tend to introduce my CMI course, and outlines a way of thinking about the values at stake in various debates, but then, at the end, gives very short (1500 words or so) accounts of some of the moral debates around two issues in bioethics — abortion, and designing children. I’ve copied the “designing children” section below the fold, but encourage teachers to read the whole thing.

A comment Dina made to me in an email — that she was preparing to use a thought experiment from my book Justice in class — prompted me to think it might be useful to collect a bunch of such precis in a single place, readily available on the web for any teacher who wanted to use them. I don’t mean to be prescriptive (though the chapter probably sounds that way) — I realise that the way I go about teaching these issues will work for some people, not for others — but it seems to me that if a teacher has an analytic turn of mind resources like these might be helpful. If I make any headway on developing such a resource I’ll let you know. Anyway, here’s the bit on designing children:

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