Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Politics - is it all in the genes?

Following my other posts on the limitations of the human mind.....
I often think it's comical
How Nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
That's born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal,
Or else a little Conservative!
So sang Gilbert and Sullivan's sentry in Iolanthe.  Was he right?  Are liberals and conservatives born rather than made?

Marriage in English law

To provide some context to the current debate about extending marriage to same-sex couples, it might be useful to look at what marriage has traditionally meant in English law.

Waiting for the Etonians, Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen is one of the most interesting and readable journalists working in Britain today, and this is a collection of his old columns.  It consists mostly of material first published in the Observer, the New Statesman and elsewhere.

Monday, 21 May 2012

More limitations of the human mind

1.  We believe what we want to believe

This is the big one.  Psychologists have argued convincingly what many of us might already suspect intuitively: "People are more likely to arrive at those conclusions that they want to arrive at."[1]  There is, of course, a circularity here - the very fact that many of us already intuitively suspect that this is the case predisposes us to find the psychological evidence for it persuasive - but that doesn't mean that it's not true.  The phenomenon is sometimes called "motivated reasoning".  Its intellectual pedigree goes back at least to Freud, and arguably to David Hume.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Hitler, Ian Kershaw (Part 2)


Once Hitler was safely installed in the Reich Chancellor's office, the SA unleashed a reign of terror on Germany's streets, while the Nazis in the Reichstag tore up what was left of the Weimar constitution.  The DNVP, far from being the tail that wagged the dog, was bullied into dissolving itself as early as June 1933.  The last remaining independent political party, the Catholic Zentrumspartei, clung on a little longer, until July.  The church decided to abandon the Zentrum and put its trust in a new Concordat with history's most famous lapsed Catholic (which turned out not to be worth the paper it was written on).

Hitler and the banality of evil

As Godwin's Law demonstrates, Hitler is the modern world's archetype of evil.  Mao Zedong killed more people, and his henchman Ernst Roehm was a more violently depraved individual, but the Fuehrer has a unique iconic status as the closest that humanity has produced to an embodiment of malignity.  Norman Mailer thought that he was literally a minion of Satan.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Hitler, Ian Kershaw (Part 1)

This is a review of the first volume of Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler ("Hubris"), which covers the period up to 1936.  I don't intend to review the second volume ("Nemesis"), which deals largely with Hitler's career in World War II.
From the early (and for its time very creditable) biography by Alan Bullock through the stylish, but overblown and overpraised study by Joachim Fest, to the hopelessly inaccurate life by John Toland, biographies of Hitler have been more notable for their number than for their quality. Only with the new biography by Ian Kershaw do we have a study of Hitler's life that is both based on a thorough knowledge of the archival material and scrupulously careful and balanced in its judgments.
Such was the verdict of Richard J. Evans, the doyen of English-speaking scholars of Nazism, on this definitive biography of Adolf Hitler.  It is a judgement that seems well deserved.