The Coming of the Tony Blair Messiah

We knew that the Messiah would one day return, would come back to deliver us from evil (nearing Easter)

But like Kafka said in his parable The Comong of the Messiah: “The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary”.

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What did the Chilcot Inquiry achieve?

An item on the news reminded me that no opinion on the invasion of Iraq will change as a result of the Chilcot Inquiry. Well, how presumptuous I thought, but then no of course no opinions will be changed – which might be the problem. For those who feel that not having a Saddam Hussein in the world is better can not be convinced otherwise, for those who feel that the war a bloody mistake will only be too happy by Blair’s constant admission “I only did what I thought was right” (as this, like the former reason, is only a feeling, it is safeguarded from conviction and hubris, and thus much criticism, other than the charge, laid out to Blair by many stood outside the QEII conference building, that he was simply an actor).

Anyone who was looking for Blair’s “grilling” for answers will come up to two possible conclusions; either that it was a well-meaning accident or that everything was fine. As the news item explained everyone had made their minds up, so no worries, but the question that came into my mind was – does Blair believe himself?

My mind was not changed, but the inquiry did add another element to the question – if all that Blair had said was true, about the reasons for being urgent, then yes, lawful or not concern is increased, but a lot of the findings were made haphhazardly, and is not Blair himself cryptically admitting this, with his belief (by which I mean the belief in this being the right thing to do, not his spiritual belief – however I wonder how far they are interrelated?)?

Belief doesn’t always stand up to scrutiny, but insofar as it is our existential lot, we often can’t denigrate outright, for the grounds for falsifying this claim is not directly within us, scientifically – our claim to the contrary would be just as unscientific, and to suggest that what one believes is not objectively true would be arrogant. But then this becomes a question of conviction – do we really believe he belives (an odd qualia arrangement).

For my money, Blair is not crazy, and by doing what he felt was right is nothing to pour scorn on indefinitely, a lot of renegades operate this in highly complex moments – especially in war – but I also think there was, and is, enough evidence to show that Iraq had no arsenal of mass destructive weaponary, and so Blair’s belief claim is therefore predicated upon a series of weaknesses. Should we be asking, not the 2003 question, but the 2010 question? Only now that the 2003 question has been proved wrong.

I think the war was wrong, I think the urgency was lies, and I think the constant appeals to belief (in the case of Blair) and the emergence of the 2010 question (see the film Minority Report for more information – one can not operate solely on the do first ask later, particularly in the cases where the urgency is fiction) all testify to a leader who had it wrong. The inquiry, for that reason, did one thing: it let his ideas ties their own rope.

Is Nick Cohen a Neoconservative?

Nick Cohen is now very much in the business of criticising leftists who, according to him are in ‘bad faith’ about a number of issues, namely our opinions on Muslims, the Middle Eastern far-right and the war on terror. Sunder Katwala, who applied the term bad faith to the way Cohen viewed the left, had his lion’s share of the attack, when Cohen accused the Fabian Society of never having, or planning to promote the work of Muslim liberals who criticise fundamentalists. Responses back and forth ensued as Katwala pointed out that Cohen had shared the stage with one such Muslim at a ‘Future of Britishness’ conference held by the Fabian society in 2006.

Katwala picked out another important detail in his retaliatory attack, that ‘We also have here the well-known phenomenon of the zeal of the convert. That is why several of the keenest neo-cons and Thatcherites had been Marxists’. There is a lot of weight in this comment, much of which has been dealt with by political philosopher John Gray (there is some minor convergence here that might as well be pointed out, that though Gray and Katwala are very different politically, Gray is formerly of the LSE, the school founded in 1895 by Beatrice and Sydney Webb, early members of the Fabian society).

In the twentieth century, according to John Gray, most notably in his book Black Mass, owing to a kind of spiritual vacuum, whether rightly or wrongly as a by-product of an age of scientific rationalism, faith-based utopian cults were the preserve of certain political projects. The two most obvious examples are Soviet Communism and Nazism. Gray points out that inherent to these projects is a disavowed desire for what is known as Abrahamic End-Time – a common theme in all three monotheistic religions that sees all who give themselves to God be purified and strengthened by persecution, a short period of time before the return of the Messiah – in Communism this is structured around the Hegelian influenced end-of-history – the end point of socioeconomic evolution – and in Nazism it is the subsequent dominance of the white race, and destruction of the Jews.

Unable to operate without religiously inspired ideas, secularism, according to Gray, is doomed to forever be consumed by Christian eschatology, or the view that society and the economy will eventually converge. John Gray identifies this notion not just in political projects of old, but in concurrent projects also, namely the neoconservative attempts to install democracy in the Middle East. Even if you ignore for the moment George Bush’s pursuit for evil – and the seriously questionable tones of the voice of God telling him to go to war – the war effort in Iraq had as its intellectual infrastructure ideas grounded in utopianism and convergence of social values, two things that were never on the cards any time soon in Iraq. The appeals to Christian End-Time were never more apparent than when Lt Col Brandl alarmingly stated that ‘The enemy has got a face – he’s called Satan, he’s in Falluja, and we’re going to destroy him’.

As John Gray himself has said:

Invading and occupying Iraq was never justified by any clear national interest. Since the end of the first Gulf War, Saddam has posed no serious threat to the US or to Britain. No evidence has ever existed of a connection between him and al-Qa’ida – though in the chaos of post-war Iraq the remnants of the regime may be linking up with radical Islamists to attack US forces.

Saddam was a tyrant, but the coordinates for the liberal intervention were predicated on the fact that it was of national interest, which, of course it was not.

Neoconservatism is a utopian-based political project much like the terror of Robespierre or the murderous regimes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Hitler. Forces were sent to deliver “freedom” without any evidence of Iraq ever taking kindly to an installed liberal democratic programme and without any substantial evidence that attack was in ‘national interest. Despite what Cohen would have you believe, this opinion is not informed by cultural relativism or denial that evil doing had taken place under Saddam’s watch, but it is a question of the motives of the war, and whether the effort could viably safeguard against the mobilisation of fundamentalism in the aftermath, which I’m tempted to say it can not.

For those who say Nick Cohen has moved to the right I say hold back. Cohen has actually operated a utopianism common to neoconservatism and elements of left wing thinking that has unfortunately taken End-Time out of its Christian context and applied it to an existing version of secularism that can only be identified as doomed to failure. As Geoffrey Wheatcroft has alluded to about Cohen, via the Euston Manifesto signatories, why doesn’t he just come out as imperialist, after all he’d be in familiar company, ‘Mill, Macaulay and even Marx made approving noises about British rule in India’?

Do we want God back?

A simple message was uttered by Tony Blair this year in the staggers, we must do God. There is an element to which this is already true, and so embedded it is, that to suggest doing is pointless. But is how Blair meant it so true?

For Blair, doing God is more about globalisation than it is theology. The marketplace, a global landscape, must promote and understand different religious pratices and peculiarities, so as not to jeopardise trading with countries where religion and economics are not separated.

When we see it this way, Blair, in saying do God, did not actually mean do God in any way shape or form. He meant be sensitive to faith in order to avoid getting your fingers burnt in the economy.

But doing God generally is dificult not to do, though many have tried. John Gray for example, in his great book Black Mass argues that the bouts of militant atheism and secularism are features of the western christian tradition. Calvinism in the sixteenth century actually foregrounded the view that while theology was ‘an echo of the biblical text‘ it was not, stricto sensu, so much a commentary of the text, but an interpretive framework by which the text may be understood. As such, Calvin saw the stories of the creation and the fall as simple renditions, certainly not to be taken literally, so rather than being an obstacle to science, he was actually an obstacle to biblical literalism.

Todays new atheists tend to draw their guns at biblical literalists, though suggest that through reason all believers can be dismantled. It’s hardly observant of fact that they produce a caricature of people of faith, then attempt only to critique one portion of the religious body. Calvin didn’t see himself as part of the traditional institution, was a radical as such, and his theology is now widely regarded as a most popular strand of christianity. In fact, according to Alister McGrath, a biographer of Calvin, if Calvin’s ideas were even more popular, the structure of the religion vs. science debate would take a far different form, since for Calvin the story of creation was an illustration rather than a literal truth, room is apparent for evolution science, seen of late as the sole domain of post-religious enlightenment.

John Gray, this time in his book Straw Dogs, noted that strains of thought seen to be of the legacy of the enlightenment – the liberal philosophers for example, A.C. Grayling – tend to be progressive, and therefore, for Gray, doomed for failure since the realm of progressivism, either borrows heavily from preceding philosophies, rendering it non-progressive, or else nihilistic and destined for bankruptcy. It was because of this that Gray earned himself the reputation as a pessimist, which may be evidently true, but it cannot be forgotten his indebtedness to Isiaah Berlin and elements of Eastern philosophy – he’s not simply pessimistic, but partly unrecognisable by traditional western standards.

The so-called secular, progressive projects, according to Gray, have their own eschatology and are therefore either forever inseperable with demythologised christianity, or else inseperable to failed projects such as Nazism or Communism, which for Gray, have a religious, totemistic quality about them anyway.

This is something that atheists like A.C. Grayling would agree on, that, in his words, “Nazism and Stalinism … emulate … religions in being monolithic ideologies demanding absolute subserviance to a supposed ideal”. But this is true only insofar as religion is idolatry. Stalin of course was an atheist, Hitler in the thirties disuaded the religious from appealing to his ideology until he realised the amount of Catholic money he could get his hands on, and Eichmann even up until his death rejected the presence of a priest visit to his cell for his anti-religious sentiments were so strong.

There is the notion that Calvin works in both the Blair reference to God (Calvin and Calvinism was a product of Genevan society, an early hub of capitalism and profit) and also the way in which Gray understands it, that the secular projects of today are simply rejuvenated versions of the christian legacy. Whatever the case, and whatever your beliefs, God is still done today, both demythologised and capitalised, to change the world one must change God in these forms, not get rid of God.

What of David Miliband’s Moral Philosophising?

It might be remembered by some an article written by staunch atheist A.C. Grayling, the philosopher at Birkbeck college, who during the first time a Labour party leadership challenge against Gordon Brown was on the cards in 2008, spoke enthusiastically about the prospect of David Miliband becoming the new PM for his atheist beliefs.

The many reasons, written almost like a list of guidelines, that Grayling figured an atheist PM would be beneficial included scepticism towards publicly funded sectarian faith schools, belief in the disestablishment of the Church of England, a down-to-earth approach that dissuades the belief that paradise will be better for the poor, and the likelihood that the “Atheist leaders will not be tempted to think they are the messenger”.

Of course the 345 comments made below the article were mostly covered by criticisms of this very flawed and idealistic approach. And rightly so, for it would not be unheard of that a person of faith can feel uncomfortable with some of the peculiarities of faith schools or the notion of paradise used to justify poverty, nor is it inconceivable that a person of faith can support secularism and not think they are the messenger.

On the flipside, it is also not a given that an atheist be immune from the criticisms that are usually reserved for the religious. For example, Grayling states rather specifically;

Atheist leaders are not going to think they are getting messages from Beyond telling them to go to war. They will not cloak themselves in supernaturalistic justifications, as Blair came perilously close to doing when interviewed about the decision to invade Iraq.

Now of course Miliband is a supporter of both wars the UK is currently engaged in, and whether we like him or not Tony Blair did not use anywhere near the same level of spiel as Bush for the war, in fact in any public address regarding Iraq Blair seemed to me rather more apologetic, and less hubristic than his US counterpart (even if his private convictions tell a different story).

But recently Miliband went one further in actively (though not consciously) proving Grayling’s opinions wrong that a leading atheist politician is any better than one who believes: by justifying the use of terror in certain exceptional cases. Contrary to the opinion that Miliband is acting on a series of rational atheistic principles, structured by the enlightenment period, as no doubt Grayling assumes, his sentiment is actually the heir to some very specific Christian codes, namely that of Thomas Aquinas, the Roman Catholic scholar and father of Thomistic theology, who first posited the doctrine of double effect, or DDE, which provide specific guidelines for determining when it is morally permissible to perform an action in pursuit of a good end in full knowledge that the action will also bring about bad results.

The formulation of the doctrine is based on four principles and are as follows, firstly that the action taken is entirely a good action, secondly that the bad result is not at all intended, thirdly that the good result is not in direct consequence to the bad effect (such as is dissuaded by Paul in the Romans 3:8 “Do evil that good may result”) and then lastly that the good result be proportionate to the bad result.

So when Miliband, in reply to Matthew Paris on whether violence is justified, said

I think I’m right in saying that one of the ways in which the ANC tried to square the circle between being a movement of political change and a movement which used violence, was to target installations rather than people … there are circumstances in which it is justifiable, and yes, there are circumstances in which it is effective – but it is never effective on its own.

he was actually using arguments that conflict with the most developed philosophy to have emerged out of the enlightenment period – utilitarianism – which looks at the overall manifestation of happiness, rather than what good can come out of the ends.

Overall, what Miliband’s recent statement means is that though a person might be an atheist, it doesn’t necessarily mean to say that they are any less predisposed to the tenets of the Christian legacy, so perhaps this isn’t a good reason to support Miliband as leader after all (It is also an interesting point of note here that Grayling in his article was using Blair, who had recently converted to Roman Catholicism, in parallel with Miliband. In a philosophical paradox, can Miliband’s words imply that in a way he is just as Roman Catholic in his actions as Blair is, although perhaps not consciously acknowledged?).

Recently Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham, warned those on the left wing of what he called the “liberal drift” in the financial sector, encouraged by Ramsay MacDonald and Tony Blair who were both, as Cruddas tells us, “fatally attracted to wealth and power.” But the liberal drift does not stop here. Utilitarianism as an ethical model has dominated British left wing politics to the point that liberalism and socialism in Britain have almost become synonymous (to whom does Nick Cohen refer to as the liberal-left in his book What’s Left?? Everyone on the left, by his own admission). So why, I ask, is it disturbing that a politician should start observing moral philosophy, as it has so disturbed Chekov? I don’t think it could have arrived at a better time.

 

This entry is in response to Three Thousand Versts article Miliband’s terror comments were irresponsible as part of the Bloggers Circle experiment

Tony Blair and European Council Presidency

Europe and the United Kingdom has a relationship much like with the opposition in any democratic parliament; we cannot live without them, nor can we really live with them.

But in spite of this, the UK may well have produced the first permanent president for the European Council. Certainly Tony Blair is leading the race hands down, even if other representatives of European council are not entirely happy. He has strong support at home, not least from Lady Kinnock who declared that “he is our man”.

Hadleigh Roberts pointed out that “[i]t is undeniable that Tony Blair is a remarkable man with great qualities, including flexibility, rapidity and a feeling for how to communicate” but noted that “the role of EU president could conflict with the portfolio of advisory roles Blair seems keen to take up”.

If there is any concern about Blair’s ability to do the job owing to his busy schedule, these myths should be uncovered. The role of president of the European council is to liaise with the existing representatives of each council members, this is composed of chancellors, presidents or prime ministers of each country with EU membership. As head of this council Blair will reiterate agenda’s decided by this board and promote European integration. And for his efforts be paid £200,000 a year. It would hardly be taxing to juggle a position teaching faith to undergraduates in an American university on the side – at worst it would encourage sniggering at the back of his class wondering whether Blair’s loyalties lie with Anglo-Americanism rather than Anglo-Europeanism (you can decide who is doing the sniggering) and whether these two positions are in conflict.

But perhaps this sniggering would be unfounded? After all, hasn’t the Obama presidency shifted the plates on European-American relations?

As Roberts points out ‘[i]n his article, Balladur argued against Blair [for president], claiming that he fails to meet two criteria; “First, to come from a country that is completely in step with the EU’s forward march and that participates in all its different forms of co-operation; and, secondly, to be determined to build the independence of Europe, notably in the diplomatic and military fields.”’ His second point reminds us of that special Anglo-American relationship that will continue to tar his chances to win over Europe. The scorn with which European leaders have bestowed upon Blair is much to do with his allegiance to American foreign policy, and for many people the Blair legacy will never free itself of the shackles of Iraq invasion, and the WMD’s that never were, not to mention the unwinnable disaster in Afghanistan.

Maybe Blair’s reputation at home might be the thorn in the side of the presidency opportunity. But Sarkozy may have a point when he says of Blair he is ‘the most European of all Britons’. Blair in a sense has transgressed the limitations that usually come with being ex-prime minister, he is much more than that now given the extent to which he has networked after that period, his identity is rather beyond British politician, (in spite of some views) he is a world politician. If anything, would not this presidential position be a step down for him?

Given the sad state of affairs that the Tories in Europe find themselves in, to even suggest that they might have some political clout over Blair’s possible appointment is laughable. The newly composed group of anti-federalists in Europe, which the Conservatives abandoned the European Peoples Party (EPP) to join – despite the influence of the latter grouping composed of top European conservatives – is now to be led by Polish MEP Michal Kaminski of the Law and Justice Party. William Hague making his position clear on the new European friends of his party, dismissed “out-of-date and ill-informed” criticisms that Poland’s Law and Justice party was homophobic. He went on to say “The Law and Justice party is a party committed to be against discrimination, for equality under the law.”

Hague was talking about the same party that, in the run-up to 2005 elections, “accused gay and lesbian couples “of being a cultural and even biological threat to the Polish nation, lowering the birth-rate, and imperiling (sic) what ultra-conservatives lovingly call “natural law marriage and family.”

On the face of it, not many European leaders have come out in his support, as the Guardian points out;

José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish PM who takes over the EU presidency after Reinfeldt in January, is … an opponent. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is not believed to be keen. France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, an early fan of Blair for the role, might calculate that it would be better to side with German and Spanish leaders than support the British.

And the opposition in the UK definitely do not want him there, but nobody is putting forward any alternatives, and the Tories are willingly pushing themselves further and further into the inertia of non-attached Euro-cranks and fascists. Perhaps the saving grace for Blair is that the job is little less than what he already does (networking, the overseeing of world policy, communicability). A definition of the position is charismatic individual with plenty of contacts, and to this Blair fits the bill perfectly, so who are we to argue.

This entry is in response to Hadleigh Robert’s article vive monsieur blair encore une fois as part of the Bloggers Circle experiment

Not King Midas, its Gordon Brown

Today’s events have proved Michael White’s prediction wrong that the speaker will remain until next general election when he said last week “Few Labour MPs nowadays left school at 15 and worked on the shop floor. It may be solidarity or sentimentality, bloody-mindedness or plain feebleness. But they will not give him up next week.”

They did.

In the last days of Blair, those of us on the left were sick of his statesman(sinking)ship. We (including back then Polly Toynbee with her nose peg) thought butter wouldn’t melt in Brown’s mouth. Unlike Blair, not everything Brown touched would turn to stone.

It did.

The Michael Martin resignation was one more thing that went awry and out of favour for our hollowing premier. Andrew Sparrow’s bit in the Guardian mentioned that “Gordon Brown, the prime minister, has now given up saying that he thought Martin was doing a good job.” Perhaps he has seen that the odds of him becoming next speaker are 250/1 (far better than the odds of him winning Labour a fourth term).

The man who was forced down for not doing enough about the expenses scandel today said the only thing he could have, “that MPs will no longer be allowed to “flip” second homes or claim for household goods”.

Sunny Hundal imagines that a parliament clean out of system abusers will cure the ills of the political system. But since voters want to give the big three parties a kicking, why bother getting rid of those MP’s who are otherwise effective in the house (say, Ed Balls, for example) if a rule change can reunite the voting public with (Labour) establishment politics?

I’m not blind to the reasons why people feel all “abusers” should be kicked to the curb, and mine is not a justification of MP’s wrongs, anything but. However its the system that must be amended, and those politicians that have done the abusing need to work twice, (clear throat), three times as hard to appease the voters (provided they are not unwanted baggage), rather than be part of a wholesale reshuffle.

But enough about the outgoing speaker for one night, carrying on the subject of premier’s who were unpopular towards the end, but only paved the way for a lot worse, I’ve just heard that “The United Nations [have] named former President Bill Clinton … as its special envoy to Haiti, with a mission to help the impoverished nation achieve some measure of stability after devastating floods and other crises.”