tag: On This Deity



7
Feb 2013

The Anglo Promissory Notes

Still busy busy busy with work, but I’ve got just enough time to post a few thoughts here.

Today, over at On This Deity, my article on The Maastricht Treaty has come around again. I’m not sure whether it’s appropriate or entirely inappropriate that, on the anniversary of the treaty that probably did more for European political and economic integration than any other single act, the Irish government have passed the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Bill 2013 (PDF).

supplicationThis Act of Parliament is being hailed by the government as a great success. And they expect it to lead to a deal with the ECB on the issue of the Promissory Notes. All of which probably sounds like gibberish if you’re not familiar with the Irish situation. So here’s a brief crash course:

In 2007 the Irish banking system began to creak. But everyone involved – bankers, regulators and the government – all insisted that nothing was wrong.

In 2008, the Irish banking system collapsed. The only thing that surprised me about this was the fact that lots of other people seemed surprised by it. The response of the Irish government was to issue a blanket Bank Guarantee. This was a massive mistake and I still believe the people responsible should be in prison. They’re not.

At the time Ireland had several banks, all of which were in serious trouble. The two main retail banks – Bank of Ireland and the Allied Irish Bank – were taken, in large part, into public ownership and the government is still propping them up. These are costing the Irish people quite a lot of money, but I can just about understand the argument in favour of the government’s course of action with these two banks, even if I think it’s wrong.

There was another bank, however, called Anglo-Irish Bank. This bank was responsible for massive loans to Irish property developers and – although we’re unlikely to ever get to the bottom of how this bank was mismanaged – the whiff of naked corruption coming from its direction is overpowering. Together with another failed financial institution (Irish Nationwide Bank) Anglo was renamed Irish Bank Resolution Corporation and effectively moth-balled. It ceased trading as a bank, but remained a trading corporation (or “zombie bank”, as it came to be known).

The reason for this was that the corporation owed upwards of €34 billion euros to European banks and investors who had pumped money – via Anglo-Irish Bank – into the Irish property market. Just so we’re clear; private investors and private financial institutions speculated on the Irish property bubble and when the bubble inevitably burst (as anyone with an IQ higher than that of a brain-damaged bumblebee knew it would), they demanded they suffer no losses as a result of their speculation. Instead, they exerted a huge amount of pressure on the Irish government to cover their losses. And – spineless gombeens, every last one of them – the Irish government acquiesced… transferring those gambling losses onto the shoulders of the Irish people.

This transfer was done using a mechanism called “Promissory notes”. In essence, our government promised to pay more than €3 billion to the zombie bank, on March 31st every year until 2023. The observant among you will note that €3.1 billion per year, every year between 2009 and 2023 comes to quite a bit more than the €34.7 billion owed by Anglo-Irish Bank. This is because the gamblers whose losses being covered by the Irish people are also demanding that we pay interest on their losses. You could make it up, but people would think you were high.

Anyway, this €3.1 billion per year is just for the Anglo mess. The Irish government is in all sorts of other financial and economic trouble without that particular millstone hanging around their neck. So ministers have been appearing on our screens for the past couple of years insisting that “a deal on the promissory notes” is just around the corner. It’s a hell of a big corner.

Because rushed, late-night decisions always turn out well

Last night, during a last-minute, rushed sitting of The Dáil (the Irish parliament) – in a move that eerily echoes the night of the blanket Bank Guarantee back in September 2008 – the zombie bank was finally wound up. Part of it was transferred to NAMA (the National Asset Management Agency), which was a structure set up to handle the bad debts of the banking industry after the collapse of 2008. And the promissory notes have disappeared for good.

CapitalismExcept they haven’t of course. The plan is to replace them with government-issued bonds. Perhaps 15 year bonds… perhaps 20 years… perhaps 30 years… who knows? Our government is awaiting instruction from the European Central Bank. Because heaven forbid the Irish people be permitted to have a say in the repayment terms for private debts they shouldered at the behest of the ECB.

As I say, this is being portrayed as a victory by our government. In reality it’s nothing more than the final step in the transformation of the private debt into sovereign debt. Up until now the mechanism of the promissory notes provided a barrier of sorts (albeit a very weak, almost invisible one) between the Anglo-Irish Bank losses and Irish sovereign debt. The Irish government – if it actually had any principles – could have cancelled those notes without triggering a sovereign default (though in all likelihood the markets would have reacted in much the same way as they would have done in the case of such a default). There would have been a short-term crisis, certainly, but this time next year the Irish people would have weathered that crisis and we’d have shrugged off €32 billion of debts we never incurred.

Of course, we’d still have billions of private debt on our books thanks to NAMA and the other banks, but that particular weight would have been lifted.

Instead, our government has basically mixed all that Anglo debt in with our other debt. It is ours now, and refusal to pay it would constitute a national default. Our finance minister, Michael Noonan, has managed to summon the awesome power of all twelve of his brain cells and sunk us even further into debt than we already were. As he did so, our glorious leader (Enda “The Irish People Went Mad Borrowing” Kenny) insisted that extending the terms of repayment represents some kind of triumph. I’m expecting to see a photo of him stepping off a plane waving an ECB document in the air. “Growth in our time” he’ll exclaim. And then trip down the stairs.

It strikes me that portraying a repayment extension as a victory is about as insidious as it gets. Ireland is like a man being forced to pay off someone else’s mortgage. “Look”, say the ECB, “we realise you’re having some problems paying this debt as fast as we’d like you to. So we’ve decided to let your kids help you pay it off once they’re old enough to work. Can’t say fairer than that!”

Except you can. Pretty much anything else you say would be fairer than that.

[The issuing of long-term bonds] is using posterity with the utmost cruelty; because it is leaving them the great work to do, and a debt upon their backs, from which they derive no advantage. Such a thought is unworthy a man of honor, and is the true characteristic of a narrow heart and a peddling politician.

Thomas Paine | Common Sense

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28
Jan 2013

Just checking in

Hey folks. Just a quick post to let you know that I’ve not become fed up with blogging so soon into the new year. It’s just the fact that almost as soon as I pledged to post more frequently, I suddenly secured a work contract that has me snowed under. Which is a good thing from my perspective, even if it does mean I’m neglecting you, dear reader. Not to worry though, it’s a relatively short-term contract, so I’ll be back before too long. In the meantime I’ll try to add some short posts. Mostly links to interesting stuff elsewhere, I suspect.

Today, for example, my article on WB Yeats has come round again over at On This Deity (the relentless march of time keeps the calendar spinning). If you’ve not read it before, you can check it out now.

Meanwhile, both here in Ireland and across the sea in Britain, the hyping of shale gas continues apace. “Shale gas could be worth billions!” says a man with a vested interest in over-estimating the worth of shale gas. Let’s not mince words, the exploitation of shale gas could end up being one of the most environmentally damaging processes seen on these islands since the clear-cutting of the old forests between 2500 and 500BC. And the notion that it’s a case of “shale gas or coal” is just a nonsense. Yes, renewable energy systems may be slightly more expensive from a financial standpoint, but measuring environmental degradation in terms of an arbitrary monetary system is literally psychotic. As Kurt Vonnegut pointed out, “we could have saved it, but we were too damned cheap.”

A quick “congratulations” to Novak Djokovic, world number one tennis player and the first man to win three Australian Open championships in a row in the professional era. Sorry British / Scottish pals, but Djokovic thoroughly deserved his victory and there’s no shame in coming second to such an incredible player. Now, let’s look forward to the French Open.

Finally I’ll leave you with a video. It’s been uploaded by SWP Ireland (but don’t let that put you off). Feel free to watch the whole thing on YouTube, but it’s the short speech by Vincent Browne (Ireland’s sanest political commentator) which starts about 18 and a half minutes in that I’m linking to. Most of it will be familiar to those of you who have read Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, but it’s a worthwhile listen all the same.

“Common sense” in the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.- Albert Einstein

Have a good day y’all.

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15
Feb 2012

On This Deity: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan

This time last year I published a piece over at Dorian’s site, On This Deity. It commemorated the final withdrawal – on this day in 1989 – of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and the end of that disastrous, bloody and futile invasion.

Afghanistan is BurningIn my piece I draw the obvious parallels between the ill-fated Soviet occupation of that central Asian country and the modern US-led Western occupation. In both cases the stated reason for the invasion was to combat terrorism. In both cases the invaders believed they were liberating the people of Afghanistan from the clutches of an aggressive religious fundamentalism. In both cases the occupying forces went about trying to install relatively progressive policies: the insistence on a national legal system that would supersede tribal and Sharia laws; the promotion of greater equality for women (just as, if not more, aggressively pursued by the Soviet puppet regime than by the US puppet regime it should be noted); the establishment of secular health and education facilities; the de-politicisation and secularisation of the police force and civil administration.

All of these policies were pursued vigorously by the Soviet occupiers. Just as they have been by the western forces. And – I would suggest – with roughly the same level of success. Perhaps the current occupation has it slightly easier thanks to the relative lack of external support for the Afghan militants. Whatever aid being supplied to the Taliban opposition by dissident Saudis, sympathetic elements within the Pakistani security forces and Iranian smugglers is as nothing compared to the huge resources made available to the mujahideen by the CIA during the 1980s. Indeed, it was fairly obvious to the world that the United States was fighting a proxy war against the USSR in Afghanistan. They pumped money, weapons and military training personnel into Afghanistan on a massive scale and in so doing, they strengthened the ultra-reactionary Islamist elements within Afghan society. Those very same elements who are now killing US and other western troops today.

Rarely has the old adage about being careful what you wish for been so dramatically demonstrated in the arena of world affairs. The United States wished to turn the fundamentalist elements of Afghan society into a force capable of resisting a superpower. I suspect they no longer find Charlie Wilson’s War quite so clever.

Just as with the fall of the Soviet Union – an empire that was militarily over-extended and consumed from within by an economic system that was unfit for purpose – the United States must surely now face up to its own slow collapse. They are mired in debt that nobody sane believes will ever be repaid, and which is being aggressively ignored by both debtor and creditors alike in the mistaken belief that the elephant in the room can be trusted not to break the furniture so long as nobody talks about it. They are rapidly reaching the limits of their ability to intimidate the world with military power (how long before China decides to repossess the US 5th fleet in lieu of the money they are owed?) And while there is currently little sign of a wane in their cultural influence, that too can hardly be far away. On top of that, the rifts in US society – between their own religious fundamentalists and the besieged bastions of liberal secularism – threaten to rip the nation to pieces from within.

Just as the collapse of the Soviet Union cannot be blamed on their invasion of Afghanistan – the invasion functioned both as a symptom of that collapse and one contributing factor; so the US involvement in that nation will not, historically, be viewed as the reason for the decline of America. However, it will be heralded as an obvious symptom of western self-delusion and over-extension. And I suspect it will also be considered a contributing factor – albeit a relatively minor one, compared to our psychotic financial system and the inability of consumer capitalism to cope with resource depletion.

So today we pause to recall the final humiliation of the once proud Red Army. And we take a moment to look a few years into the future at that humiliation being mirrored on the other side of that old Cold War divide.

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11
Feb 2012

On This Deity: The Death of René Descartes

Hey folks, I’ve got a new piece over at On This Deity.

11th February 1650: The Death of René Descartes.

Today, on the anniversary of his death in 1650, we remember the life and work of French philosopher and mathematician, René Descartes. Although not overtly political, the work of Descartes succeeded in redefining much of philosophical thought, to the extent that it would be more than fair to describe him as a revolutionary thinker. And while many of his ideas have antecedents in ancient Greece, Descartes can stake as firm a claim as anyone to the epithet, “father of modern philosophy”.

read the rest…

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7
Feb 2012

On This Deity: The Maastricht Treaty

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. Oddly enough, there don’t appear to be any high-profile celebrations of this milestone. No fireworks, no street parties, no parades through streets lined with flag-waving children. Instead there’s an almost embarrassed silence. Certainly the Greeks are in no mood to party. Even if they were; what with sky-rocketing unemployment and an unprecedented increase in urban poverty; it’s unlikely they’d be in a position to spend much on bunting and streamers.

Fractured EU FlagHere in Ireland the mood is similarly sombre. It seems like every week the news brings us a fresh story about poverty becoming more widespread, companies shedding jobs, or another public service becoming even less fit for purpose. And as bad as these stories tend to be, they are made even worse by the accompanying tales of bondholders syphoning yet more money from the pockets of those who never owed them anything. Or new government plans to inflict further suffering upon the vulnerable while trotting out insultingly transparent nonsense about why the wealthy are being coddled.

It would be entirely wrong to blame the disaster on Europe. The original goal of European integration was – as I wrote when I discussed the Maastricht Treaty over at On This Deity last year – a noble one. It was a well-conceived and entirely sensible response to half a century of conflict which had seen some of the worst atrocities in history perpetrated on European soil. After two world wars which had visited horrors upon the continent… the horrors of the trenches, the targeting of civilian populations in massive aerial bombing campaigns, and the concentration camps… after all that, Europe wanted peace. And they wanted to make sure it lasted.

Which is why, within a few short years of the end of second world war, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed a treaty that essentially marked the beginning of what was to become the European Union. It was a remarkable decision and even as the EU strains under the weight of morbidly obese financial institutions determined to bleed the continent dry while externalising their every mistake; and even as our political classes permit this obscene injustice – nay, encourage it; even now, despite all of these things, we should applaud that decision back in 1950 to set aside the enmities of the recent past and work towards a shared future.

And it’s fair to say that while mistakes were made in the decades that followed, the closer integration of the European economies was a positive development. There was a stability and a strength in the union. Resources were redistributed from wealthy areas to those suffering poverty. Human Rights were placed at the centre of the political agenda, and as internal borders began to dissolve, so did much of the distrust and suspicion that had festered in Europe for so many years. It didn’t disappear completely of course, and like so much of the gains made during those early decades, we seem determined to undo that particular achievement. Nonetheless, the original spirit of European Unity was a profoundly positive one, and we should work hard to salvage what we can of it, even as it is undermined by those who hijacked the European project for their own personal gain.

Which is the problem we face today. I’m not claiming that a united Europe was ever an explicitly socialist project, but it had at its heart a yearning for justice, for greater equality and for a kind of collective progress… a road that led away from poverty and war. That yearning is still there, but it has been sidelined by an unregulated rampant capitalism that threatens to destroy any good that emerged from half a century of work. Our political leaders – perhaps deliberately, perhaps through incompetence – have allowed a financial elite to infiltrate the corridors of European power and redirect the entire project. The European Union now works in their interests and explicitly against the interests of the majority of European citizens.

Instead of leading us away from poverty, we watch as wealth is drained from the general populace into the hands of reckless gamblers who lost their own money and then somehow convinced our representatives to give them ours. Instead of leading us away from conflict, we are forced to watch the rise of the Far Right in a number of European nations, to watch as suspicion of The Other sees a resurgence in our society, and to watch as the Irish and Greeks blame the crisis on an undemocratic French and German economic assault on their citizens, while Germans and French blame the crisis on the profligate spending of the peripheral nations. And all the while the real culprits continue to gather the spoils.

I have a quick word of advice for the German, Dutch and French populations… be very very careful how you handle this situation. Once the financial markets have bled Ireland, Greece and Portugal dry; once they have stripped our assets and plunged us even deeper into poverty; they will move on to fresh fields. There is no limit to the greed that has seen them subvert the political institutions of Europe. Out here on the periphery… we were just the softest targets; easy meat. Once they’ve picked our bones dry, they’ll move on to Spain and Italy. And then… then it’s your turn.

EU flagWhich is why, in the end, there is a need for European Union now more than ever. Where once it was the horrors of the past we sought to escape; now we must unite to ward off the horrors of the future. This rampant capitalist beast cannot be tamed by Ireland. Or by Greece. Or by Portugal. Even together, the catastrophically weakened economies of the “bailed-out” nations simply can’t do anything about it. It’s not within our control. Sure, we could simply turn our backs on Europe altogether, and while I fear it may yet come to that; would it not be better to face down this destructive enemy rather than allow it to run roughshod over that original European ideal?

I’m not proposing some sort of radical pan-European anarcho-syndicalist revolution (as much as I’d like to see it happen, I’m realistic about the chances). Instead I’m simply proposing that Europe glance back 20 years to Maastricht. Even though the capitalist infiltration of our project began before that treaty, there’s a sense in which we were never more united than when we met in that Dutch town and pledged ourselves to a greater union. Hell, we even managed to drag the British tories along with us, which was no mean feat. So let’s try and recapture that sense of solidarity. Let’s realise that swallowing the lies of gangster capitalism will only impoverish us all in the longterm. And let’s unite once more to assert our togetherness in the face of an enemy that seeks to divide and conquer.

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2
Feb 2012

On This Deity: The Death of Bertrand Russell

This time last year, on the anniversary of Bertrand Russell’s death, I published a piece celebrating his life and work over at On This Deity. Russell is rightly remembered for his work – in collaboration with Alfred North Whitehead – on the three volumes of Principia Mathematica (the book has since passed into the public domain and can be downloaded as a very chunky PDF file if you so wish… it’s currently available on rapidshare, or alternatively do a search for “Principia Mathematica PDF”).

Bertrand RussellHowever, while Principia Mathematica doubtlessly secured his place in the ranks of the Great Philosophers, it’s a highly technical and specialised book about the relationship between mathematics and formal logic. I recall flicking through it when I was a philosophy undergraduate and instantly deciding that unless I spent the majority of my three year degree immersed entirely in Principia Mathematica, I wouldn’t do it justice. And given that I was, at the time, more interested in gaining a broad overview of philosophy, rather than focussing on a single narrow aspect of the subject, I read a few bits and pieces about Principia Mathematica in Hospers (and other similar volumes) and pretty much left it at that.

However, it wasn’t long before I encountered the name Bertrand Russell once more. This time it was while I was eagerly devouring books on political philosophy… in particular left wing and anarchist political philosophy. So while to this day I’ve still not gotten around to reading Principia Mathematica, Russell’s Proposed Roads To Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism was one of the more influential books on my intellectual development. The full text of Proposed Roads… can be read over at the University of Virginia Library website and is worth your while checking out.

Sadly, as I suggested when I was talking about the work of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon recently, the hopes and dreams of Russell in that near-century-old text have been comprehensively ignored by a society which has dedicated itself to the attempted gratification of individual desire through over-consumption. Russell called upon us to overcome these baser instincts and push ourselves onwards, towards a more just and free world. But as he said in Proposed Roads… (echoing the views of Proudhon, half a century earlier) the use of violence to achieve supposedly enlightened ends is almost always self-defeating. The achievement of a better world “requires a breadth of outlook and a comprehensiveness of understanding which are not easy to preserve amid a desperate contest”.

Which is why, as well as being the author of one of the seminal works in logical philosophy, Russell is also remembered for being a dedicated peace campaigner. As a founder-member and the organisation’s first President, he gave the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) the intellectual legitimacy it needed to gain a critical mass. And even into his nineties he was active in the movement (as well as organising international opposition to America’s war in Vietnam). Russell firmly believed that humanity held within itself the ability to move past our aggressive selfishness. He saw clearly that violent competition in nature can be – and often is – tempered with a drive towards cooperation. And he felt that we have reached a point – thanks to technology and our global interconnectedness – where it has become imperative that this cooperative drive should now supersede our competitive instinct. Otherwise we risk destroying all we have achieved.

Russell was convinced that the overthrow of capitalism was necessary for us to achieve this evolution. But he was also convinced this could not be done with violence. At least, not if we wanted to replace it with something better. Of course, it’s difficult to see how it can be achieved non-violently, given how entrenched the power of the capitalists has become. However, as he was fond of saying… “we are obliged to give the matter some thought”.

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28
Jan 2012

The Death of W.B. Yeats

As the year wears on, we arrive at another anniversary. This time last year I published a piece over at On This Deity celebrating the life and remembering the death of William Butler Yeats, truly one of Ireland’s most cherished sons.

William Butler YeatsYeats was first and foremost a poet of genuine greatness. Possibly the finest ever to hail from these shores. Though he has plenty of competition… and in the final analysis, claiming one poet is better than another is always a dubious activity. Let’s just say that there are few poets – from anywhere – whose work affects me so deeply.

Yeats, of course, was not only a wonderful poet. He was also a dedicated archivist who – along with Lady Gregory – compiled the collection of ancient tales and sagas that we now know as Irish Mythology. In so doing, he is as responsible for the form and shape of traditional Gaelic culture as any individual. And tradition was something he felt very strongly about. A friend and fellow-traveller of many of the leading lights of the modernist movement, WB Yeats strode an uneasy line between past and future. He wanted to embrace the modern world, yet despised it for its tendency to tread heavily on the best parts of the past. He saw the creative potential of industry, but despaired at the lack of wisdom guiding it. Why did we not have the discernment to welcome the advantages of the new while preserving the advantages of the old? Progress was inevitable, he understood that, but did it have to be at any cost?

And Yeats was also a political man. He spent a decade in the newly independent Irish government as a senator. One of the leading intellectuals of those early, heady days he was at the forefront of the movement to resist the influence of the catholic church on Irish politics. It was, lamentably, a battle he was to lose. How different would Ireland have been if those early progressive liberals had overcome the social conservatives! Unlike in much of Europe, the Irish revolutionary socialist movement was tightly bound to the church. There are very understandable reasons why this was the case, and in truth it’s hard to see how it could have been otherwise given the unique situation in Ireland at the time. All the same, it’s difficult to avoid a certain wistfulness when imagining an alternative history where Yeats was on the winning side of that early social struggle.

Of course, one thing the progressives, the catholics, the traditionalists, the modernists and the revolutionary socialists of early 20th century Ireland would all have agreed on would be that the present predicament in which we find ourselves is intolerable. Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins, William Cosgrave and WB Yeats would have been united in their condemnation of the present government and the capitalist attacks on the people of Ireland they facilitate. On that at least, they would have voted together, and fought side by side. The selling of our sovereignty in return for tax-breaks for the wealthy would be anathema to the men who struggled so long and sacrificed so much to win that sovereignty in the first place.

But I guess we couldn’t have the greatness of those heroes past without also taking on their flaws. And they had many. So it behoves us to reach for a brighter future rather than wallow in nostalgia for a rose-tinted past. All the same, we can – as Yeats himself always stressed – avail ourselves of the distilled wisdom of days gone by. We may not always have the strength to choose which parts of our history we are influenced by, but we are obliged to at least try to give voice to our better angels and to silence the demons. And so, with that in mind, I shall finish this piece as I finished the piece over at On This Deity a year ago today, with the words of Yeats in the poem that – above all others – lives within my heart and mind.

The Second Coming
by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


19
Jan 2012

Sorry Mr Proudhon, I’m afraid we learnt nothing

As the year moves on, another anniversary comes around. This time we pause to remember the death of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Last year at this time I published a piece about Proudhon over at Dorian Cope’s wonderful site, On This Deity, and reading it back today I’m reminded of the sense of regret I felt as I wrote it.

Pierre-Joseph ProudhonBecause like so many of the great thinkers of yesteryear, the ideas of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon seem more relevant now than perhaps they ever were. I hesitate to suggest that his ideas are “timeless”, for doing so would hint at a fatalism to which I do not wish to give voice. Instead I’d prefer to imagine a future where Proudhon’s revolutionary philosophy is no longer required; a future in which the tyranny he sought to overthrow can no longer flourish.

The ideas of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon could only have been born in a time of oppression. And it is for that reason they feel so relevant today. It was Proudhon, the French revolutionary philosopher, who coined the word “anarchism” in the modern sense. And it was he who first self-applied that label insisting that political tyranny and economic tyranny went hand-in-hand… that one could not be overthrown without also confronting the other.

Proudhon’s most memorable line, “Property is theft”, cuts right to the heart of his philosophy. His greatest ideas were of a radical reconfiguration of the banking system as part of a peaceful overthrow of capitalism; ideas which surely came of age a long time ago. Yet still we struggle under the terrible weight of an inherently unjust system, seemingly willing to remain beholden to banks and other financial institutions whose interests do not coincide with our own. In a supposedly democratic society we allow unaccountable corporations trample us down, all the while assuming that it has to be this way. We seem unaware that we can cast off the yoke and try something new, if only we make that choice. Or if not something new, then perhaps something a century and a half old…

Manning the barricades and being involved in the fighting, Proudhon soon developed deep misgivings about the use of force to achieve political ends. “Whoever lays his hand on me to govern me,” he would write in 1849, “is a usurper and tyrant, and I declare him my enemy.” And he applied that maxim to revolutionary organisations just as he did to the forces of the establishment. He sincerely believed that economic revolution without bloodshed was possible through the self-organisation of workers into local co-operatives along with the establishment of a revolutionary not-for-profit banking system which would provide interest-free credit and levy only such charges as were required to cover administration costs. He believed that capitalism would wither and die without the need for violence should such a banking system, in tandem with a widespread co-operative movement, become established.

As we fall further towards indentured servitude and watch – with mild frustration but little active resistance – our rights being increasingly sidelined, should we not consider the ideas of Proudhon? Or at the very least, consider some alternative to the madness being perpetrated in the modern corridors of political and economic power?

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10
Jan 2012

Thomas Paine publishes ‘Common Sense’ (10 Jan 1776)

It’s a year old now (where has the time gone?) but one of my pieces has come around again over at On This Deity.

At the beginning of 1776 the American Revolution was well underway and growing in intensity with each passing week. The Battle of Bunker Hill in June ’75 had shaken the British army so badly they’d been on the back foot ever since. And by March of 1776 Washington’s advance on Boston would drive the bulk of that army into Canada. Of course, King George would respond with a lengthy military campaign and the War of Independence would continue for some years. In truth though, it was back between Bunker Hill and Boston that American independence became inevitable. Because it was on this day, January 10th back in 1776 that Thomas Paine published Common Sense.

With a US election later this year that looks like it will be a run off between an incumbent corporatist and a religious challenger, the tensions that divide American society, and which can be found even within the pages of Paine’s book (despite his overt call for religious pluralism) will once again bubble to the surface.

For those who have not read it and who are interested in one of the most culturally influential texts in American history, the entire thing (and it’s pretty short) can be read on this page. It’s definitely worth a read.

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22
Oct 2011

22nd October 1941: The Execution of Guy Môquet

Check out my new piece up at On This Deity.

22nd October 1941: The Execution of Guy Môquet.

It happened in a quarry behind a prison camp on the outskirts of Châteaubriand. In three groups of nine, twenty-seven men were lined up. Behind them a pit to fall into. Before them a row of German guns. It was the 22nd of October 1941 and terrible scenes such as this were happening throughout Europe. For one reason or another, some of those events have echoed louder in the pages of history than others. And the brutal slayings that took place in that quarry near Nantes have echoed as loudly as any. For it was there that Guy Môquet’s short life was ended. He stood defiantly with his 26 comrades and faced the guns, refusing a blindfold so he could look his killers in the eye. He cried out Vive la France! as the fascists opened fire.

read the rest…

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