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A Serious Matter

by Rick Lewis

“Politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”
Charles de Gaulle

Our special theme in this issue is political philosophy and in planning it our intention was to take a close look at a few of the newer concepts and less familiar thinkers you might encounter. The terminology, the conflicts and the arguments in politics all change over time, and if you look away for too long it can all come to seem unfamiliar. Political philosophy at its best can bring clarity, can map out the territory and blow away some of the fog.

For our opening article we picked an intriguing short piece by Dan Corjescu asking why the world is generally a much more peaceful place now than it was in the past. Sadly, Putin apparently heard about this and decided to make a nonsense of our editorial plans by invading his neighbouring country with tanks, missiles and 150,000 soldiers, bombing maternity hospitals and theatres, and shooting civilians in the street. In a few short weeks, Putin’s mixture of dead-eyed ruthlessness and spectacular incompetence has dragged Ukraine’s citizens – men, women and terrified children – through horrors unseen on this scale in Europe since the days of Hitler.

So naturally, we then thought of dropping the article about why the world is so peaceful. But on reflection, it occurred to us that one way to understand the occurrence of war is to look at what causes peace and then to examine how the causes of peace have failed in this particular case. For this reason, I recommend Corjescu’s article, which is only slightly updated to reflect current events. He considers several theories of peace suggested by different philosophers, among them the famous idea that democracies don’t go to war with one another, a claim made by Immanuel Kant in his essay On Perpetual Peace way back in 1795. Corjescu says more recent thinkers have repeated this claim, arguing that it is supported by the historical record. Defending this claim too rigidly can lead you to commit a type of informal fallacy first identified by our former contributor Prof. Antony Flew. He named it the No True Scotsman fallacy, but in this case the dialogue might be: “Democracies never go to war with one another” “No? What about America and Great Britain in 1812, then?” “Oh… well, true democracies never go to war with one another.” So let’s just say that democracies seem to fight wars with one another only infrequently. But why? Perhaps because democracies like to trade and therefore develop interdependence. Perhaps because in democracies rulers are nervous that the voters won’t like them declaring war and might boot them out of office. However, that only applies if there is a free press. If the press is tightly controlled, then the voters either won’t know that there is a war, or else will only hear the narrative that the rulers want them to hear about the causes and nature of that war. This suggests that the reluctance of democracies to wage war on one another depends on their voters having not only the genuine possibility of changing their rulers, but also access to a free press, without which nobody knows what is going on in the first place.

Political philosophy is a busily active field of thought, almost as much in turmoil as the actual world. An idea much in vogue lately has been decolonization, as in “We demand the decolonization of the curriculum!” Originally decolonization meant the process whereby colonies achieved political independence, so clearly the sense of the word has changed or expanded. I’m delighted that Gustavo Dalaqua of Brazil explains it for us in context in this issue, making a compelling case for its importance as a concept. Also in our political philosophy section we’ll consider John Locke; one of history’s greatest political philosophers. He is widely seen as one of the intellectual founding fathers of Western democracy and a major influence on the framers of the United States Constitution. John Irish uses a curious and disturbing short story to discuss the nature of consent within societies and political systems, with particular reference to Locke’s social contract ideas. Phil Badger puts forward one scheme for mapping the ideological landscape of Western secular democracies and thereby throwing some light on recent political conflicts. And on the subject of political conflict, Stefan Catana looks at some famous twentieth century rebels: Marcuse, Weber, and Malcolm X. He explains their analyses of society and the techniques they used to break through complacency and inertia to bring about political reform.

Current politics engages many; enthuses some; infuriates others. As a result, many people even find themselves moved to protest, either on the streets or online. For as De Gaulle said, politics is too important just to leave to politicians.

The Plum Pudding in Danger

Our front cover by Steve Lillie was inspired by a famous Gillray cartoon from 1805, called ‘The Plum Pudding in Danger’, which depicted Napoleon and Pitt the Younger carving up a giant plum pudding representing the world. In Steve’s version, political philosophers do the carving: John Locke, credited as one of the brains behind liberal democracy, and Karl Marx (obviously). This issue does contain an article about John Locke. There is no article this time specifically about Marx, so if you bought this issue because you hoped there would be, then it looks like you’ve been expropriated by the forces of capitalism. Again.

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