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Glen Newey: Murdoch, 28 July 2011

... Has the old cane-toad lost his touch? The BSkyB takeover bid nixed. Murdoch père and fils summonsed to Parliament with the ousted Rebekah Brooks. News Corp shares in free-fall. One would need a heart of stone not to gloat. Murdoch’s initial response to the crisis in closing the News of the World was acclaimed by several commentators as ‘brilliant’ but ‘ruthless ...


Glen Newey: Life with WikiLeaks, 6 January 2011

... Freedom, in the words of the old Irish nationalist song, comes from God’s right hand. As with the gift of divine grace, it puts its recipients on the spot. Are we in a fit state to receive it? In The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates Milton observed that most subjects are slaves within doors, no wonder that they strive so much to have the public State conformably govern’d to the inward vitious rule, by which they govern themselves ...

Albino Sea-Cucumber

Glen Newey: The Long March of Cornelius Castoriadis, 5 February 1998

The Imaginary Institution of Society 
by Cornelius Castoriadis.
Polity, 418 pp., £14.95, May 1997, 0 7456 1950 9
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Les Carrefours de Labyrinthe: Fait et a faire 
by Cornelius Castoriadis.
Seuil, 281 pp., frs 139, February 1997, 2 02 029909 7
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The Castoriadis Reader 
edited by David Ames Curtis.
Blackwell, 470 pp., £50, May 1997, 1 55786 703 8
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... The first business of government, Confucius wrote in the Analects, is to ‘rectify names’. His point was that rulers should seek agreement on final ends. But reflection on the realities of power takes us from nomenclature to the nomenklatura: names, in the right, or wrong, hands are potent instruments of rule. ‘Words,’ Hobbes noted in Leviathan, ‘are wise men’s counters, they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools ...

Effing the Ineffable

Glen Newey: Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century by Jonathan Glover, 25 November 1999

Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century 
by Jonathan Glover.
Cape, 469 pp., £18.99, October 1999, 0 224 05240 3
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... Goya’s The Third of May, 1808. The scene is laid in darkness outside Madrid, where the city’s captured defenders face a firing-squad. Some already lie dead, boltered with pink gore; meanwhile, the squad ‘a faceless testudo’ takes aim again. The eye is drawn to a man, arms raised, pleading for his life. A point of suspension between life and death, he effectively sabotages the representation ...

Limits of Civility

Glen Newey: Walls, 17 March 2011

Walled States, Waning Sovereignty 
by Wendy Brown.
Zone, 167 pp., £19.95, October 2010, 978 1 935408 08 6
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... Politics begins with walls, and death. Uruk sprang from the alluvial plains of Mesopotamia in the fifth millennium BC, its walls founded, according to legend, by Gilgamesh. In the epic he leaves the city with his enantiomorph Enkidu, a wild man snared in a honey-trap by the holy harlot Shamhat and thereby civilised. The gods – who, unusually for an epic, seem to vote Democrat – created Enkidu for a political purpose, to distract Gilgamesh from tyrannising Uruk’s citizens ...

More ‘out’ than ‘on’

Glen Newey: Chris Mullin’s Diaries, 27 August 2009

A View from the Foothills: The Diaries of Chris Mullin 
by Chris Mullin.
Profile, 590 pp., £20, March 2009, 978 1 84668 223 0
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... I’m on research leave in Finland, which, like any well-ordered social democracy, but unlike the UK, maintains an air of strenuously contained bedlam. Public notices in Finnish look as if they were produced by pogoing on a typewriter. Bank staff, waitresses, children, even the drunks, have the air of Marks & Spencer management trainees. Matti Vanhanen, Finland’s cyborg-like teetotal prime minister, survived in office after ditching his mistress via text message – it’s hard to imagine Gordon Brown getting away with that ...

Utopia in Texas

Glen Newey: Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’, 19 January 2017

by Thomas More, edited by George M. Logan, translated by Robert M. Adams.
Cambridge, 141 pp., £9.99, August 2016, 978 1 107 56873 0
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by Thomas More, translated by Gilbert Burnet.
Verso, 216 pp., £8.99, November 2016, 978 1 78478 760 8
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... A New Jerusalem​ cannot be built without an effective sewage system,’ Miriam Eliav-Feldon wrote in Realistic Utopias (1982). Indeed, the old Jerusalem relied in biblical times on a municipal waste-combustion site, Gehenna, identified by Hobbes as the real-world model for hell – where the fires would keep burning for as long as there were sinners for incineration ...

Gassing and Bungling

Glen Newey, 8 May 1997

Between Facts and Norms 
by Jürgen Habermas, translated by William Rehg.
Polity, 631 pp., £45, July 1996, 0 7456 1229 6
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... Atrip to Berlin last year offered a chance to take stock of the once and future capital of Europe, and the none too stealthy ascent of the Fourth Reich. Its monuments, largely built by foreign coolies, are rising from the ashes of the Potsdamer Platz, while, down the road, Unter den Linden retains its old Prussic astringency, as if the last fifty years had been but a waking dream ...

About as Useful as a String Condom

Glen Newey: Bum Decade for the Royals, 23 January 2003

... Time’s​ whirligig, as one surly underling told another, brings in its revenges. For the Royal Family, 2002 went bad faster than an over-hung widgeon. In September the Prince of Wales emerged as a nuisance letter-writer, badgering Government ministers with green-ink missives about the Human Rights Act and the hunting ban, and moans that Cumbrian farmers got a worse deal than blacks and homosexuals ...

Sheep don’t read barcodes

Glen Newey: ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, 22 March 2012

Thinking, Fast and Slow 
by Daniel Kahneman.
Allen Lane, 499 pp., £25, November 2011, 978 1 84614 055 6
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... Habit, Samuel Beckett says in his essay on Proust, substitutes the ‘boredom of living’ for the ‘suffering of being’, and he has a point. Human existence is an acquired taste, and many of us get through it with the aid of what Vladimir in Waiting for Godot calls the ‘great deadener’. Blank simian rote – the round of feeding, grooming, ablution, slack-jawed vacancy – serves to block out tracts of time that might otherwise get colonised by anxious thought ...

Ruck in the Carpet

Glen Newey: Political Morality, 9 July 2009

Philosophy and Real Politics 
by Raymond Geuss.
Princeton, 116 pp., £11.95, October 2008, 978 0 691 13788 9
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... A lot of modern political philosophy – at least in the English-speaking world, and in its dominant version, liberalism – sets about applying morality to politics. In what future writers may come to think of as the palmy days of political moralism, theorists have tried to imagine what politics would be like if it were redesigned according to a moral prospectus ...

Bendy Rulers

Glen Newey: Amartya Sen, 28 January 2010

The Idea of Justice 
by Amartya Sen.
Allen Lane, 468 pp., £25, July 2009, 978 1 84614 147 8
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... At some time in the past the idea took hold that social justice was all about the state’s hoovering up resources and then blowing them at needy or deserving recipients. Some of these resources, money for example, were material, and others, like opportunities, were virtual. But there were various problems. One was that there had to be just one hoover, the state, sucking in goods, although other providers, being plural, threatened to disrupt the favoured distribution by shunting them around for purposes of their own ...

Is it really so wrong?

Glen Newey: Evil, 23 September 2010

On Evil 
by Terry Eagleton.
Yale, 176 pp., £18.99, May 2010, 978 0 300 15106 0
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A Philosophy of Evil 
by Lars Svendsen, translated by Kerri Pierce.
Dalkey Archive, 306 pp., £10.90, June 2010, 978 1 56478 571 8
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... English has a problem with the morally bad. Terry Eagleton reports his son’s approving reaction when told that his father was writing a book on evil: ‘Wicked!’ Words like ‘wicked’, ‘bad’, ‘nasty’, ‘filthy’, ‘naughty’ have all fallen prey to ironic subversion. The word ‘evil’ is something of an exception: the vestry romps of errant priests and MPs’ abject grubbing for baksheesh fail to do it justice ...

Mere Life or More Life?

Glen Newey: Bad Arguments, 14 July 2011

Great Books, Bad Arguments: ‘Republic’, ‘Leviathan’ and ‘The Communist Manifesto’ 
by W.G. Runciman.
Princeton, 127 pp., £13.95, March 2010, 978 0 691 14476 4
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Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy 
by Bonnie Honig.
Princeton, 197 pp., £15.95, August 2011, 978 0 691 15259 2
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... Here are the nominees for the greatest bad argument in political theory. They are: Thomas Hobbes, for Leviathan; Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, for The Communist Manifesto; and Plato, for the Republic. Why them? Each of the candidates is hallowed as a Penguin Classic. Each has been foisted on freshman generations in Pol Phil 101. And each could be thought to exemplify, after a fashion, the aristocratic style in political theory ...

A Narrow Band of Liberties

Glen Newey: Global order, 25 January 2001

Profit over People: Neo-Liberalism and Global Order 
by Noam Chomsky.
Seven Stories, 175 pp., £26, October 1998, 1 888363 82 7
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Acts of Aggression: Policing ‘Rogue’ States 
by Noam Chomsky and Ramsey Clark, edited by Edward Said.
Seven Stories, 62 pp., £4.99, May 1999, 1 58322 005 4
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The Umbrella of US Power: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Contradictions of US Policy 
by Noam Chomsky.
Seven Stories, 78 pp., £3.99, December 1998, 1 888363 85 1
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The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo 
by Noam Chomsky.
Pluto, 199 pp., £30, November 1999, 0 7453 1633 6
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... In Being and Nothingness Sartre has an admirable passage about the stubborn human tendency to ‘fill’, the fact that a good part of human life, in politics as elsewhere, is devoted to ‘plugging up holes’. Holes are vacant, and the humdrum psychopathy of political life seeks them out, in the cause of repletion – by contrast, the bore of omnipresence, as Sartre implies later when speculating about what life as the Almighty must be like, is that you just don’t get out enough ...

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