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For me, personally, the final evidence of the guilt of British criminal Hanratty, of anarchist Nicola Sacco. and of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg - however different the circumstances - have been a personal shock. They are the undeniable proof that people can lie even in the face of death and eternity, that claims of innocence from the scaffold are no more reliable than from any other point. The case of Sacco's fellow-accused Bartolomeo Vanzetti seems even darker: he was probably himself innocent, but he knew that Sacco was guilty as Hell, and he deliberately died with a lie on his lips, for the sake of his imagined revolution. (And to add a further taste of futility to his false sacrifice, the historical fact is that the only party who benefited from his and Sacco's executions were the Communists, who had organized all the protests against their executions, and who were sworn enemies of Vanzetti's Anarchists and would have murdered him a good deal more nastily if he had ever fallen into their hands.) But perhaps the most significant of these is the lie of Hanratty, because that had nothing of the ideological justifications of Vanzetti and the Rosenbergs. Hanratty was not fighting for any "cause", however bad: he was a rapist and murderer with no ulterior motives. And he declared his innocence right to the point of death with a passionate intensity that deceived generations of activists including myself.
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The people who say that history is on their side are the people who look back to the recent past and see a direction in it. That is why they are bound to lose: because the future is practically never like the past. It changes, and changes exactly at the point when a tendency has reached its peak and seems established as a law of history - because when a tendency has reached its peak, it has peaked. Example: Hitler grew up in a world where Germany was growing economically and politically stronger and stronger, till by 1914 she was effectively the strongest power in the world, strong enough to launch that bid for world domination that became known as World War One. (Very simplified version of what happened - but that is what happened.) Hitler could not imagine a world where German power would not go on growing above all others, as he had seen it in his childhood and adolescence, and so he went into another World War, without being able to get his head around the fact that in the intervening years America and Russia had grown way beyond Germany's potential. Come the war, America and Russia ate Germany and burped. Likewise, Lenin grew in a period when the Socialist movement was growing riotously all over Europe, from about 1890 to about 1910, when most European countires had a Socialist plurality among their electorates and in their parliaments. Convinced that socialism was the wave of the future because it was the wave of his own recent past, Lenin brutally imposed his own tyrannical version of it on Russia - but Socialism was in fact peaking across the West. It would never achieve more than a plurality in any election, and never, in spite of its claim to represent "the people", represent more than an important section of it. And on this partial and mistaken claim Lenin and his followers built their demand for absolute power. Indeed, by introducing into the unstable Socialist movement the acidic element of his own centralized and aggressive movement, and by associating it with tyranny and unreason, Lenin may actually have sped up its decline. People can't see the future, only the recent past, and the very fact that they declare that history is on their side proves it beyond any doubt - for history is the record of the past.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
The people who say that history is on their side are the people who look back to the recent past and see a direction in it. That is why they are bound to lose: because the future is practically never like the past. It changes, and changes exactly at the point when a tendency has reached its peak and seems established as a law of history - because when a tendency has reached its peak, it has peaked. Example: Hitler grew up in a world where Germany was growing economically and politically stronger and stronger, till by 1914 she was effectively the strongest power in the world, strong enough to launch that bid for world domination that became known as World War One. (Very simplified version of what happened - but that is what happened.) Hitler could not imagine a world where German power would not go on growing above all others, as he had seen it in his childhood and adolescence, and so he went into another World War, without being able to get his head around the fact that in the intervening years America and Russia had grown way beyond Germany's potential. Come the war, America and Russia ate Germany and burped. Likewise, Lenin grew in a period when the Socialist movement was growing riotously all over Europe, from about 1890 to about 1910, when most European countires had a Socialist plurality among their electorates and in their parliaments. Convinced that socialism was the wave of the future because it was the wave of his own recent past, Lenin brutally imposed his own tyrannical version of it on Russia - but Socialism was in fact peaking across the West. It would never achieve more than a plurality in any election, and never, in spite of its claim to represent "the people", represent more than an important section of it. And on this partial and mistaken claim Lenin and his followers built their demand for absolute power. Indeed, by introducing into the unstable Socialist movement the acidic element of his own centralized and aggressive movement, and by associating it with tyranny and unreason, Lenin may actually have sped up its decline. People can't see the future, only the recent past, and the very fact that they declare that history is on their side proves it beyond any doubt - for history is the record of the past.
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I just had an insight, from the New York Times' disgraceful attack upon the Little Sisters of the Poor. It is this: Freud was right in pointing to transference as a mechanism, but wrong in believing that it is principally a defence mechanism. Here, for instance, we have a classic case of transference: the New York Times claims that the Little Sisters’ suit “boils down to an unjustified attempt by an employer to impose its religious views on workers.” We know perfectly well that that is transference, that the so-called newspaper of record is the place where unshared religious opinions would not long survive. But the point is that there is nothing defensive about it. The Times, even in its current parlous financial state, has nothing to fear from the Little Sisters, any more than Obama has. The fact is that they are simply transfering the company's own standard behaviour on to the nuns because that is what they would do in their place, or in anybody's place. The oppression of conscience and the silencing of religious independence is their way to be. And when you look at cases of transference, you will always find it clear: the person who ascribes to others his or her own standard behaviour does so because it finds it natural. It also explains a streak of paranoia that made Freud see this as a defensive reaction. There may be nothing to defend oneself against, but there would be if the modus operandi that the person sees as natural were actually present. If others behaved to the NYT executives as the NYT executives behave to their employees and to anyone under their influence, they NYT executives would have reason to fear. And the same goes for anyone whose similarly low expectations of human nature are really based upon their own low standards.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
I just had an insight, from the New York Times' disgraceful attack upon the Little Sisters of the Poor. It is this: Freud was right in pointing to transference as a mechanism, but wrong in believing that it is principally a defence mechanism. Here, for instance, we have a classic case of transference: the New York Times claims that the Little Sisters’ suit “boils down to an unjustified attempt by an employer to impose its religious views on workers.” We know perfectly well that that is transference, that the so-called newspaper of record is the place where unshared religious opinions would not long survive. But the point is that there is nothing defensive about it. The Times, even in its current parlous financial state, has nothing to fear from the Little Sisters, any more than Obama has. The fact is that they are simply transfering the company's own standard behaviour on to the nuns because that is what they would do in their place, or in anybody's place. The oppression of conscience and the silencing of religious independence is their way to be. And when you look at cases of transference, you will always find it clear: the person who ascribes to others his or her own standard behaviour does so because it finds it natural. It also explains a streak of paranoia that made Freud see this as a defensive reaction. There may be nothing to defend oneself against, but there would be if the modus operandi that the person sees as natural were actually present. If others behaved to the NYT executives as the NYT executives behave to their employees and to anyone under their influence, they NYT executives would have reason to fear. And the same goes for anyone whose similarly low expectations of human nature are really based upon their own low standards.
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One possible result of “gay marriage” that has not been considered seems to me worth considering, though it may sound paradoxical. It may need not to a less but to a more inhibited and prurient attitude to sex.

My reasoning is as follows. Start from the obvious: the demand for “gay marriage” only makes sense if marriage is conceived as a legal permission to have sex. Marriage, of course, is not and has never been that. But if you take sex within marriage to be legal and permitted, validated and right, in itself (that is, independently of the attitude or potential for procreation), then you correspondingly devalue sex outside “marriage”. I am not saying that we may see a decrease in “hooking up” and casual sex, but if sex outside “marriage” loses the sense of validation, permission and correctness in favour of sex in “marriage”, then that will make the commonplace view of sex outside marriage not just cheap but much nastier than it has been. We may be seeing some advance warning of that even now, for instance in the universal rage of contempt visited on Paula Broadwell (even granting she deserved it). But the worst result would be on the homosexual community itself. Everyone knows that most practising homosexuals do not restrict themselves to one partner. Everyone knows that the whole “gay community” rotates around constant exchange of partners. Everyone knows that when we speak of gay bars or clubs, we don’t speak of chaste establishments; but if homosexual relationships become formally divided between the inevitably small group of permanent, formalized “married” couples and the inevitably much larger pool of players, that will make the “community” of players and swappers even more dirty, even more dodgy, and even more dangerous than it already is.

I think, however, that this effect may not even be restricted to gay sex alone. The loose morals of the present are very unlikely to be changed merely by a change of mood; but we may be heading towards a direction where sex outside marriage becomes joyless and destructive. This is not an unfamiliar trajectory. There was a brief period in the late sixties when free sex and "mind-opening" drugs seemed to be the twin tracks of an ongoing revolution. Then drugs, while continuing to be widely used, fell off into a joyless, despised, lonely twilight world, haunted by freaks and stalked by mental illness and early death. Something like that might well be going to happen to what is left of the once sexual revolution.
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One possible result of “gay marriage” that has not been considered seems to me worth considering, though it may sound paradoxical. It may need not to a less but to a more inhibited and prurient attitude to sex.

My reasoning is as follows. Start from the obvious: the demand for “gay marriage” only makes sense if marriage is conceived as a legal permission to have sex. Marriage, of course, is not and has never been that. But if you take sex within marriage to be legal and permitted, validated and right, in itself (that is, independently of the attitude or potential for procreation), then you correspondingly devalue sex outside “marriage”. I am not saying that we may see a decrease in “hooking up” and casual sex, but if sex outside “marriage” loses the sense of validation, permission and correctness in favour of sex in “marriage”, then that will make the commonplace view of sex outside marriage not just cheap but much nastier than it has been. We may be seeing some advance warning of that even now, for instance in the universal rage of contempt visited on Paula Broadwell (even granting she deserved it). But the worst result would be on the homosexual community itself. Everyone knows that most practising homosexuals do not restrict themselves to one partner. Everyone knows that the whole “gay community” rotates around constant exchange of partners. Everyone knows that when we speak of gay bars or clubs, we don’t speak of chaste establishments; but if homosexual relationships become formally divided between the inevitably small group of permanent, formalized “married” couples and the inevitably much larger pool of players, that will make the “community” of players and swappers even more dirty, even more dodgy, and even more dangerous than it already is.

I think, however, that this effect may not even be restricted to gay sex alone. The loose morals of the present are very unlikely to be changed merely by a change of mood; but we may be heading towards a direction where sex outside marriage becomes joyless and destructive. This is not an unfamiliar trajectory. There was a brief period in the late sixties when free sex and "mind-opening" drugs seemed to be the twin tracks of an ongoing revolution. Then drugs, while continuing to be widely used, fell off into a joyless, despised, lonely twilight world, haunted by freaks and stalked by mental illness and early death. Something like that might well be going to happen to what is left of the once sexual revolution.
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...There are two ways to be certain of the difference between a true and false right, a right in natural law and a right designed by some political entity to suit itself. The first is that the obverse of a right is a duty. A right is always a claim made on the rest of mankind. The obverse of the right to life is the duty not to lay violent hands on another man, however infuriating the person. (I am speaking of adults here, setting the issue of abortion aside.) The right to liberty is the obverse of the duty not to interfere with anyone except for specific and legal reason. The right to the pursuit of happiness is the obverse of the duty not to muck about in any way with the soul of another person for your own ideology or convenience. I have seen this right brutally violated in the case of a man who had fallen in with a particularly poisonous sect. The right to property is the obverse of the duty not to steal; the right to privacy, of the duty not to break into someone's private house and life without very good reason. As the wise old joke has it, the freedom of my fist's motion is limited by the position of my neighbour's nose. And when you try to define what is obverse of this supposed right to abortion, you have a problem. What is its obverse? Who owes you a duty in this respect? The doctor? Setting aside such matters the Hippocratic oath and the Ronald Thatcherite idea of the doctor as a provider of services to be paid in cash, the fact is that a doctor is not a necessary part of an abortion at all. I am not even thinking of unqualified practitioners and faiseuses d'anges; it is perfectly possible, if risky, to abort one's own child alone. The only two necessary terms to an abortion are the mother and the child; and it follows that if such a thing as a right to abortion exists, its obverse is the child's duty to die. At which point some of us can begin to see a problem.

The other way to identify a genuine right is that it will always have universally recognized exceptions. The right to life is abridged by such things as war, legitimate police activity, and individual self-defence. The right to liberty can be abridged by conscription or by conviction in a court of law. The right to pursuit of happiness, of course, falls aside in such cases, and is also curtailed if the "happiness" in question were that of a sadist or of a bandit. The right to property is limited by taxation and by any form of lawful confiscation; the right to privacy, by the public interest in investigating wrongdoing and defending persons at risk (an abusive parent loses the right to privacy, along with his/her parental rights, the moment the privacy of his/her house becomes an instrument of torment). But no such limitation can be identified in the "right" to abortion.

A thought

May. 16th, 2012 04:15 am
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Always tell the truth. If not out of principle, then at least out of precaution. The day might come when being believed on your word might make the difference between success and failure, or between life and death.
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To know your enemy is not as easy as people think. To try to understand how he thinks you need to get rid of your prejudices. What got Obama in trouble with the Catholic Church is that he and his people really do believe the propaganda lie that 96% of Catholic women use contraception, and above all the propaganda implication that therefore Catholic beliefs should not be taken seriously. In the same way, the Bourbon troops at Calatafimi had been told that they would meet a gang of ragged brigands. When they met Garibaldi's men, they were astonished to find a uniformed and well-trained army that met them bayonet in hand instead of running for the hills. In the end, it is your own propaganda that kills you. And my conservative friends need to understand that as well as anyone else. Time and time again I have seen townhall.com and American Thinker articles about why liberals think as they do, that bear not the slightest resemblance to what actual liberals actually think. And then you are surprised when they win elections.
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To me, the existence of great geniuses - great artists - who are also wholly despicable human beings is a real problem. Ernest Hemingway, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Berthold Brecht, Richard Wagner, Benvenuto Cellini - despicable, exploitative, self-satisfied creatures, each of them, born to bring ruin to those who were wrong-headed enough to trust them, born to use and abandon - people any one of us would cross the road to avoid. I am not speaking merely of doubtful or damaged people, or people who occasionally did something wrong, but people who were consistently, unacceptably wrong. Shelley's monstrous selfishness caused at least one suicide, and would probably have cost more lives had he not been lost at sea. Reading Hemingway's life leaves one somewhat queasy - what with the deliberate drunkenness, the constant nastiness even towards people who were supposed to be friends and allies, and the chain of wives, there is a sense of being blown along a wind of mingled contempt and inebriation, and in the end there is nothing surprising about the sentence he himself passed on his life with a shotgun. The odiousness of Berthold Brecht is by now so well known that one has to remind oneself that he is remembered not for being a monster, but for being a truly great poet and playwright. Benvenuto Cellini, the author of some of the finest statuary and gold and silver-smithing in the Renaissance, wrote a book of memoirs that might well be subtitled: "The self-invention of a vicious, mendacious, woman-beating braggart." Richard Wagner managed to find a woman who sublimated her own cruelty and power-thirst into a masochistic abasement before his genius, and left his first wife for her; which is why he did not leave quite such a path of ruined lives as Hemingway or Shelley. The only problem with this is that, as in the other cases I mentioned, his genius was real. Even those who hate Wagner will admit that we are not the poorer for the Prelude to the Master Singers, the Entrance of the Gods into Walhalla, or Wotan's farewell to Bruenhilde. And we would not be without Shelley's verses, Satanistic though they are; or without "Mother Courage and her Children"; or without "The Old Man and the Sea". Even Cellini's memoirs, whose attitude and truthfulness I described above, are nonetheless a classic of the Italian language; as for his proper work, even Florence, beautiful though she is, is improved by the presence of his Perseus.

This is a problem for me because in my view great art cannot exist without imaginative generosity, without a real understanding and liking for people. Where does one find these things in the lives of the men I mentioned?
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How can you possibly have failed to notice that the indoctrination of teen-agers with the mantra of "question authority" has produced nothing but the most appalling conformity? It would be Umbridge who would encourage everyone to "question authority" - since the person who does so automatically places herself in a position of unrecognized authority, and her authority is always the last to be questioned, if it is questioned at all. What "Question authority" means in practice is: "Never take MY ideological opponents seriously. Always assume that their motives are other than what they say, and that they are bad. And always listen to those little suggestions I have placed in your mind". Anti-authoritarian? Yeah, right
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...is that you can get rid of the people who really poison the atmosphere. I can't imagine how some of the big-name bloggers at the Torygraph or the Spectator put up with the dreadful crew that tends to attach itself to their comments pages.
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If I come across as irritable, and if I have a temper, it is to some extent - not largely, but at least to some extent - because I have spent all my life, literally from childhood, bashing my head against a soft, crushing, unconquerable obsession of the modern West, which poisons Italy and has all but murdered Britain: I mean the heresy of dialogue. That is, the general idea that there is no problem on earth that cannot be solved, and no distance that cannot be filled, and no difference that cannot be reconciled, by sitting down and talking about it. That, of course, is nonsense; but all my life - and while not ancient, I am well into my middle age - the vast majority of the people I met clung to it as though it were their mother's breast, feeding them their mother's milk.

There is literally no way to convince most of them that there are limits to dialogue. They ignore decades of total failure in crisis after crisis, and seize one minor and partial success - I mean the unreconciled "reconciliation" in Northern Ireland - to convince themselves that dialogue is always and everywhere the answer. Of course, even in Northern Ireland, there is no peace; only the absence of high-profile violence. Cops are not shot any more, but the terrorists of both sides effectively patrol and control their communities, cut off from each other by ever-growing lengths of wall. I don't want to underrate the importance of no longer having open violence; but this is, at best, a half-successful piece of "dialogue", and does not deserve its iconic status.

However, international public opinion has made a fetish of it (international public opinion, after all, does not live in Northern Ireland and doesn't have to suffer the swagger and menace of the "militants" on their streets). All right; so Irish blood no longer flows - though Irish bones are frequently broken. That's an improvement. But when this lowering of the temperature of violence is internationally promoted as a triumph of "dialogue", when Britain aggressively markets itself as specialists in conflict resolution across the world on the strength of Northern Ireland, when the figurehead of the "peace process" in NI, Tony Blair, is made the international delegate to have peace in the Middle East - then one has to wonder who can possibly imagine that what barely works in the streets of Belfast can ever be relevant to the armed millions of the East Mediterranean. But because the heresy of "dialogue" seems - by deliberately adopting a mental squint that fails to see the thousand wrong things - to have once been validated, there is no limit to the credit that can be claimed on its strength.

But the heresy of dialogue is not disastrous every now and then or at random; it is disastrous inevitably, always, and by its own nature. There is a process that has taken place again and again but from which the dialogue-addicts never learn. When a conflict arises, the dialogue-addicts inevitably tend to favour the more violent, more brutal and more unscrupulous side. So in the thirties they favoured Hitler against France, in the sixties the Soviet Union against America, and now the Muslim world against Israel.

Why? Because it is in the nature of things. It is in the nature of things that Prime Minister Bullying-Bastard will always be willing to talk. He is friendly, hospitable, will listen for hours. ON the other hand, Prime Minister Threatened-Decency cannot pretend that he can offer the moon. He has to place limits on the concessions he is willing to make. And the result of this is inevitably that the dialogue-addicts remain impressed, even enchanted, by the friendly openness of Mr.Bullying-Bastard, and increasingly sadly disappointed by the intransigence of Mr.Threatened-Decency. Hitler's antechamber positively swarmed with pacifists from every nation; even after he had conquered Poland and France, he was still talking peace, peace, peace at any cost. As for Joe Stalin, he positively took out the copyright on pacifism; every international pacifist association from the thirties onwards was a Soviet front. And our contemporary parallels! Why, how open to debate they are, how willing to talk, talk for hours at a time, any time of day and night! Nobody could possibly imagine that they have anything against dialogue. And they don't - since they expect dialogue to deliver everything they want, bit by bit. That is why "peace" must be a "process"; so that everything may be renegotiated over and over again, dead issues resurrected, impossible demands made over and over again with every appeareance of reasonableness. That is what "dialogue" is about.

What happened is quite simply this: that many Europeans, and an enormous majority of Britons, have become addicted to this opium. And because this drug only works one way, can only work one way, it always ends up allying the dialogue-addicts with the worst villains.
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When I discuss social and cultural evolution and related matters, I have a tendency to use words that mean or suggest conspiracy. This may be misleading, so I need to make it clear that I do not intend to say that there is ever a conscious agreement or secret deal among parties that work to the same purpose, let alone some sort of freemasonry driving developments. I am not a great believer in conspiracies, and even in areas which are rich in the real thing (such as Italy before 1860) history teaches that conscious conspiracies are inevitably the victims of the human capacity to be ignorant, to bungle, and to quarrel. When conspiracies are attempted, they tend to fail, from the Conspiracy of the Pisones to the Gunpowder Plot to July 20, 1944. Successful conspiracies - like the obscene, liberticidal treachery that the English still call the Glorious Revolution - always owe their success to matters well beyond themselves.

No: what really succeeds, and what I always try to identify, is the convergence of interests, notions, needs, and moods, that leads large numbers of individuals to act, whether separately or together, in ways that drive culture and society in certain directions. When I say that various features of modern society, and especially modern American society, conspired to weaken traditional sexual mores, I don't mean that there is a secret meeting of sworn brothers in the interest of immorality; I mean that there is a climate, there are interests, there are social groups, that tend to promote a certain way of thinking. Or think of the secession of the South in 1860. Nothing could more clearly be the product of deep-rooted popular forces, reinforcing each other with barely the need of conscious management. Yet the impression left at the time was of such coordination, of things falling into place with stunning regularity, that a northern leader such as General Logan felt entitled, after the war, to talk of a Great Conspiracy. There was no conspiracy: only millions of southern whites who thought and acted in the same way. And as a matter of fact, that was what made it dangerous. In the same way, Catholic writers have never quite got over the sense that the tidal wave of events that created a united Italy out of almost nothing and by apparently irresistible force between 1859 and 1860 were the fruit of deep-laid conspiracies. The armies of Victor Emmanuel II or of Garibaldi had barely to appear over the horizon, for national committees to appear out of nowhere, volunteers to step forward, weapons to be distributed, existing administration to be expelled and replaced by revolutionary mayors wearing three-coloured sashes. Surely, say clerical writers to this day, this is evidence of far-reaching, deep-laid conspiracies? No: it is evidence that no politically conscious Italian outside the Church (and several inside it) was willing to tolerate current conditions a minute longer than they had too. As soon as anything that even vaguely looked like overthrowing them heaved into sight, there was an earthquake.

When times are right, facts develop on the ground, with a terrifying swiftness that seems to work out a plan. But human plans never work so well as a development whose time is come.
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The worst and most damaging heresy - still largely unconscious and unchallenged - in modern thoughtRead more... )
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The idea of nationality is pretty much universal. Every human being is conscious of the difference between people who do things "our way" - which is widely taken to be the proper way - and people who do not. That "our way" is also and by definition "the right way" is not necessarily the case. In many traditional geographies, there feature peoples of fabulous righteousness and moral perfection, such as Homer's "righteous Solymi" and the Hyperboreans among whom Apollo himself would be pleased to dwell. Sometimes, real but distant nations are invested with this sort of chrism: the Han geographers called the Roman Empire "Da Qin", which, I am told, means "Greater China", and cast it as a kind of super-China with righteous inhabitants and a just Emperor. This happens more frequently for nations that are distant in time - the classic instance being the fantastic unconscious misrepresentation that the Renaissance cast on the whole story of the Roman Empire.

What is however the case is that neighbouring nations are NEVER cast for this super-righteous role; the truly good nations are always distant either in time or in space. The simple truth is that they are too well known. Everyone knows that neighbours tend to dislike each other, but one should also remember that, within limits, that dislike tends to be based on facts. To know the worst about England, go to a Scotsman. To avoid unpleasant surprises when visiting the USA, listen to a Mexican. And vice versa. Of course, you may get ignorant prejudice. But you are also more likely to find out unpleasant truths about the nation in question that even the locals barely notice, or to which they are too used to regard them as unpleasant.

At the back of this lies an important fact: that every human community, and especially every state, regards itself - and indeed, it is - as an attempt to realize on earth the rule of decency and good government. An attempt, I insist; everyone knows that the actual state and community fall well short of that rule. But there is a clear sense that certain virtues, certain ideals, are more closely understood, striven for, and to some extent realized, there, than anywhere else. And that means that the dislike between neighbours is often founded on genuine differences in what is commonly found good, useful, decent, valid and important. The disorder and inefficiency of Italy offends the innate German sense of purpose and cleanliness (which have a hidden yet intimate connection with German romanticism and idealism). The stiff-necked arrogance and inflexibility still perceived underneath the polite surface of Germany offends Italian modesty and love of things for their own sake. And both nations are quite right. Italy is chaotic; I say so, and every Italian who does not think lying is patriotic will agree with me. Germans are people "with whom you cannot argue, but to whom you can give orders": I heard that from an Italian, but it was a Swabian - the most comparatively modest, down-to-earth, unpretentious of Germans - who laughed and confirmed it was true.

That is because there is no absolute certainty of what good government is. There is a widespread, one would say universal, understanding of what bad government and lack of decency in public life are; and nearly everyone would point to certain African and Asiatic governments - though by no means all - as indubitable paradigms of that. But to a considerable extent, each country tends to form its own ideal of what a good community is. This ideal can even be unconscious; it can certainly be buried. Italy adopted an inappropriate, French-imitated state structure in 1860, for very good reason; but ever since then we have been struggling, half-blindly, angrily, towards a model more suited to our own experiences and the way we live. But each existing nation has what might be called an inborn idea, an Aristotelian or Hegelian individual idea, of what it would be like if it were perfect; and civic virtue, in each country, is largely to do with the conscious or unconscious struggle to approximate this ideal.
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I think I have seen a good part of all the animation and live action superhero films and TV series ever made, from the beautiful old Superman cartoons of forties to some Smallville and all of Buffy. And with due respect to all the others, I do not think that anyone will ever do anything better than Tim Burton's first Batman movie. Already by the second they had lost the plot, but the first is the perfect superhero film. The reasons are manifold. First, the soundtrack is not only among the musically finest ever composed for any film, but one that evokes from beginning to end all the imaginative content of the superhero genre - the passion, the pursuit and fight, the drama and the darkness. Second, the costume designs - both the Joker's and Batman's. The designers understood that for live action, superhero costumes need to be redesigned from top to bottom, since what looks good in four-colour comics most often looks tacky and pointless in live-action (a bad flaw in all the Superman movies and TV serials, and even worse in the old Wonder Woman serial). They had, however, the sense of keeping the Joker pretty much as he is in the comics; in his case, tackiness actually adds to the sinister hilarity of the character. And there is the heart-stopping moment when Jack Nicholson's face paint slips off and we realize that he is no longer even the thug - a thug, but still human - that he had been so far. The build-up in the Nicholson Joker character is an amazing piece of work: already as Jack Palance's treacherous and half-mad enforcer he is sufficiently scary, but we are progressively shown worse and worse insanity, till he becomes a thing of genuine horror - a conception, to my mind, more subtle and effective than Heath Ledger's. And this leads us to the actors. Nicholson is magnificent in a surprisingly demanding role, developing further and further layers of insanity with a sense of timing and artistic insight that make this one of his best performances ever. Kim Basinger is simply radiant; in a sense, it is not very important whether she can act or not (although her acting is not at all bad, in my view) because her luminous beauty keeps our eyes on the screen in and of itself. Michael Keaton and Robert Wuhl are quite good as two different - and yet oddly similar - kinds of good guy character, and all the minor figures (with the exception of an oddly elderly and lumbering Commissioner Gordon) are beautifully cast and rendered. Anton Furst's urban gothic designs have been universally praised. But at the heart of it, in my view, lies the vision. It is what holds everything else together. Realistically speaking, the story makes no sense; but Tim Burton has allowed the archetypal power of the images to control the narrative, and the result is not only exciting but profoundly convincing. No wonder that the music plays such a large part. This is a story that appeals more to our unconscious, indeed to our collective imaginative heritage, than to our commonsense reason. If you insist on keeping things sensible, or if you have a defensive reaction against the experience of being swept away, you will never get this movie.
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You can never convince the people - except perhaps for a small minority - that giving one's life for a really high and noble cause is not the noblest thing in life. You can only blacken the name of the cause to which they gave their lives; and then watch as they flock with the same enthusiasm and commitment to give their lives to infinitely less worthy causes.
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...You see, I am not Barrack Obama. I do not believe that unity or agreement are either a value or even a desirable goal. I believe that nobody has a right to demand or even to hope that someone else change their views, and that the primary purpose of debate is not to change the mind of the opponent. Anyone who thinks that has a positively fantastic notion of the power of persuasion - let alone THEIR persuasion. It also means a profound contempt for the opponent; whether or not his/her opinions are contemptible, s/he has taken just as much to reach them as you have, and when you treat them as silly notions that your clever persuasion can overcome, you insult, not just his intellect, but his character. No: you should start any debate you get into with the idea that you are not going to change your opponent's mind.

So why do it? Because if you always keep your opinions to yourself, if you never place them in the air to be properly contemplated and commented by others, you will never know what they are worth. Debate is about YOU risking YOUR certainties, not about the other guy risking his; and it is only from the other guy's point of view that the opposite is the case. Each person places his wares in the marketplace of ideas for any customer to look at, and hopes for the best. The primary point of debate is to expose your own viewpoints to criticism and to use it, if you can, to sharpen them. I also believe that debate is not necessary - and I will try not to force it on anyone who does not want it - but that once you enter it, you enter a fighting game, and if people seek a fight, they should not complain of the wounds.

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