Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dull? Possibly. Inconsistent? Never

My responses for Normblog's profile have been judged by Road Sassy as being dull. He states "what struck me about his answers was the earnestness of the exercise, no creativity and no sense of fun". Perhaps he is correct, or we just have different senses of fun and of priorities.

But I make no similar concessions to the argument by Freedom John (then repeated and elaborated upon by The Wardman Wire and The Thunder Dragon) to the effect that some of my answers to Norm's questions were inconsistent with each other.

Amongst themselves this trio claim that two of my answers are inconsistent with my commitment to democratic socialism and my opposition to totalitarianism. Namely, the claims that (if only I had the influence) I would seek to (1) replace most private transport with public transport and (2) would restructure the United Nations to allow it to run world-wide military and financial controls.

Freedom John et al are free to argue against such propositions, but they are wrong to accuse me of inconsistency. For (if I had the influence provided in Norm's questions), I would naturally pursue and then sustain my objectives by entirely democratic and anti-totalitarian methods.

Even if I am thought of as being foolish and wrongheaded, at least I have been entirely consistent. Consistently wrong possibly, but never ever inconsistent.

Apologies to Road Sassy if he or she finds my defence of my logic to be deadly dull. But that is logic for you.

I need to point out, however, that I haven't recently been receiving wall-to-wall criticism from bloggers. Curly's Corner Shop, the blog! has a thread entitled "What I like about Harry Barnes". Its not my politics (he is "right of centre") nor my logic, it is my love of footy and the fact that we are both Sunderland supporters. All Sunderland fans (at least) should link to Curly's blog.


Peter Risdon said...

Thanks for responding.

It depends what you understand totalitarianism to be. Here are three mainstream definitions:

Wikipedia: "Totalitarianism is a term employed by some political scientists, especially those in the field of comparative politics, to describe modern regimes in which the state regulates nearly every aspect of public and private behavior."

Webster's: " 1 : centralized control by an autocratic authority 2 : the political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to an absolute state authority "

Encarta: "Totalitarianism, in political science, system of government and ideology in which all social, political, economic, intellectual, cultural, and spiritual activities are subordinated to the purposes of the rulers of a state."

Your first two proposals fit these definitions, I'm afraid. You lay claim to control of the totality of my being, especially with respect to the transport proposal. It makes no difference that you say you want to achieve totalitarianism by democratic means.

I've noticed in discussions with some on the left that they associate totalitarianism with violence. That association has happened but it's not intrinsic to totalitarianism - it's more that totalitarianism, democratic or not, winds up needing it to function - and repression occurs in regimes that are not totalitarian, such as authoritarian ones.

I'm sorry, you are inconsistent.

Longrider said...

Peter is correct, I'm afraid - the first two statements were totalitarian and so inconsistent with the third.

Ex LNE man, eh? GW myself.

Harry Barnes said...

The debate with Peter Risdon (above)is taking place in his comment box, which can be found here -

Longrider might like to join in on Peter's thread. My latest claim when it appears is that Peter has moved the ground of his criticism, so that we can now get on with the real debate, which is roughly "Public Transport v Private Transport".

Matt Wardman said...

Hi Harry

I'll reply over at Free Born John's site, and close comments on my post.

Debates shouldn't be *that* distributed.


Peter Risdon said...

I'd be happy to move my ground if presented with a persuasive argument, but I'm afraid that hasn't happened yet, not even in the face of an elegant attempt to, well, move the ground of the debate to transport policy.

Thanks very much for preserving the civility of the discussion, Harry. That's not universal in the blogosphere. I understand the idea you might be inconsistent is important to you. I'm afraid I have to stick to my guns if I believe them to be well sighted.

The Plump said...

First, I must congratulate Harry on his excellent choice of favourite blogs. :-)

Secondly, the definitions that Peter Risdon quotes are inadequate as definitions of totalitarianism, either as it emerged as a concept through the advocacy of the fascist Gentile or as it was elaborated on by academics in the Post War period, most notably by Friedrich and Brzezinski.

Friedrich and Brzezinski saw totalitarianism as a syndrome, a phenomenon characterised by six interlocking features. All had to be present and, whatever you think of Harry's transport proposals, it is impossible to see him as a totalitarian in any way.

I learnt my political theory from the late Soviet dissident, Holocaust survivor and Classic Liberal, Alex Shtromas and I feel constantly in his debt, though our politics are different in many respects. He too worked on totalitarian theory and he emphasised that the most important feature was an official ideology that claimed the possession of ultimate truth. Furthermore he associated it with revolutionary movements and saw it persisting in power for the adult lifespan of the generation of believers (around 70 years), hence his prediction that the Soviet Union would collapse. I certainly agreed with Alex on the centrality of ideology.

Defining totalitarianism broadly strips it of its complexity and of its highly specific and dangerous nature. It reduces a very useful and important concept to an inexact rhetorical tool with which to berate your political opponents.

Peter Risdon said...

Very well, Harry's first comments are totalitarian in the broad, generally understood and used meaning of the word and may not accord with other more contrived definitions.

His comments are particularly unlikely to accord with those definitions of totalitarianism contrived by some on the left to acquit the left of the charge of totalitarianism.

I don't see what this achieves for you, but am happy to concede it.

Harry Barnes said...

Peter Risdon : In line with Matt Wardman's comments, I will initially pursue the transport issue via your own comment box. I will put forward the empirical and evaluative backing for my case. I will also seek to do this in ways that are analytically sensitive, but I will assume that we have got past attempts to close down my arguments (before they have started) by merely resorting to definitional devices. I have a comment today on ThunderDragon's thread telling him where my efforts will be concentrated. A hint that I might have a concern about the way concepts are employed was indicated by the fact that in answer to Normblog I selected Ludwig Wittgenstein as one of my intellectual heroes.

The Plump : You confirm that in answering Normblog I was spot on with my favourite blogs.

The Plump said...

His comments are particularly unlikely to accord with those definitions of totalitarianism contrived by some on the left to acquit the left of the charge of totalitarianism.

Gentile, on the left? Friedrich and Brzezinski anti-communist liberals who invented the modern usage of the term, trying to excuse a left they opposed? My old tutor who described himself as a 'libertarian who believes in a minimal state and maximal individual freedom' is of the left?

I am sorry Peter, the extension of the term into everyday usage has blurred its original and precise meaning. Anyway, too interesting a point for comments boxes.

I will do a post on my own site once I have got rid of this bloody cold.

Harry Barnes said...

The Plump : I appreciate that your defence of my position as not being totalitarian does not commit you to the line I take on the substantive issue. I have now submitted my case to Peter Risdon for the comment box on his blog. The more I wrote the more I felt like I was becoming a GDH Cole! (I did hear him speak once.)

The Plump said...

You heard GDH Cole? My claim to ageing is having heard Fenner Brockway twice, but then he lived so long that there is nothing special about that. There is a new post at my place on this.

Harry Barnes said...

The Plump : I heard GDH Cole discuss a document entitled "How Current Trends in Capitalism influence Socialist Policies" at the foundation conference of a body called the International Society of Socialist Studies (ISSS) in September 1957 when I was 21. Fenner had been involved with in its preparatory work.
The ISSS emerged out of New Statesman (NS) articles which GDH wrote and I first read when doing my National Service in Basra. GDH's subsequent NS pamphlet is reviewed by me here -
It is now on my blog for 3 June this year, as I jazzed it up with a photo of the front of the pamphlet.