Herbert Marcuse’s Revenge

MarcuseHerbert Marcuse, a man who managed somehow to reconcile revolutionary romanticism and opposition to all that exists with the cushy lifestyle of the high-profile academic, once enthused the spoiled brats of the whole Western world with his turgid prose, Teutonic pedantry, vacuous utopian abstractions, and destructive paradoxes. All that endures of his work, I suspect, is a familiar two-word phrase: repressive tolerance.

Read More

Bitten by Socialism

No doubt marketing is an exact science but I doubt that it can fully account for the choices made by people in second hand bookshops. Purchases there depend much on chance and whim; for example, I was in a bookshop in Dublin recently and I found myself irresistibly drawn to a book with a photographic plate of some children, sitting on fences in a wilderness, looking very happy, with the caption ‘Under Socialism the barefooted children ran terrible risks from venemous snakes.’

Read More

Kim Jong-Il in Photographs

Kim Jong-ILNo tourist, I think, ever said ‘If it’s Tuesday, this must be North Korea;’ for whatever else might be said about that country, it is certainly distinctive. Whoever has been there, as I have, is unlikely ever to forget it; indeed he is also likely, from a combination of continued horror and fascination, to buy books about it whenever they appear. Fortunately this is not a great call on anyone’s income.

Recently in Paris I came across a volume entitled (in English, though the book was published in France) Kim Jong Il Looking at Things. It consists of a series of photographs, taken from the official North Korean news agency, of the late Dear Leader on his tours of inspection of his country, examining close-up its agricultural produce and its industrial products. The pictures come with lapidary captions, always in the form of ‘Kim Jong Il looking at x’ or ‘Kim Jong Il looking at y.’

The idea to put these photographs together was that of an art director of a Portuguese advertising company, João Rocha. He put them first on a website that is said in the book, in that inelegant but expressive phrase, to have ‘gone viral.’ It was a clever and original idea, and well worth consecration in book form.

Read More

Finding Liberty among the Despots

Previously I looked at Bertrand de Jouvenel’s theory of political entrepreneurship.  Now I’m going to explore it further by looking at what he says about the relationship between liberty and authority.

In The Pure Theory of Politics, Jouvenel quotes David Hume’s “Of the First Principles of Government” and comments that Hume’s statement below is “perhaps the most important of all political science”:

As FORCE is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion.  ‘Tis therefore on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and military governments, as all as the most free and popular.  The soldan of Egypt, or the emperor of Rome, might drive his harmless subjects like brute beasts, against their sentiments and inclination: but he must at least have led his mamalukes or praetorian bands like men, by their opinion.

For many lovers of liberty, authority tends to take on a negative connotation; it is seen as something which chafes me and against which my liberty must strain.  But what Hume and Jouvenel recognize is that authority is not mere force and can never be mere force.  The greatest human authority, if it ceases to obtain what Jouvenel calls “response,” goes out like a candle.  What is required for lasting rule, according to Hume and Jouvenel, is not coercion but rather the opinion of right.

Read More