What I’ll be talking about this coming Friday

Christian Michel hosts talks he calls 6/20 talks, because they happen on the 6th and the 20th of the month. And this coming Friday, Jan 6th, I am giving a talk, about politics and aesthetics, and how they interact.

This is the email I sent to talk host Christian Michel, about what I will be saying, or more precisely, what I will be asking:

My talk will be about what we each think is the truth about politics, and about how that relates to what we each think is beautiful.

What are your political opinions? What are your ideas of beauty? How do these things relate to each other?

Are your political loyalties and beliefs the result of your already existing ideas about what is beautiful? Did you arrive at your political views because you think that the political world you desire would be beautiful, as you already understood that?

Or, is it more the other way around? Do your present ideas of what is beautiful result from what you have already decided is the political truth of things? Would your politics lead to a world that looks a particular way, and do you therefore consider that world to be beautiful?

Or, for you, do the causal links go in both directions? That certainly applies to me.

Or, do the above questions rather baffle you? Because for you, what is politically true and what is beautiful are two entirely separate issues? For many who, like me, call themselves libertarians, I should guess that this might be the answer, even though this is definitely not my answer.

I put my subject matter in the form of questions, because I hope that potential attenders will receive advance notice of these question, and that some attenders at least will arrive with their own answers.

I will supply introspected answers about my own political and aesthetic preferences and how they are related, a lot of them involving architecture. But I hope I will speak briefly enough to leave plenty of time for others to offer their answers to my questions. Or, of course, to say that the questions are silly, or whatever else they want to say about what I have said.

My current plan is to read out the above, and then illustrate it with some personal examples, and with some other examples that seem to be quite common, and commonly talked about.

My personal examples involve things like the extraordinary aesthetic appeal of American stuff, like their cars and their fighter jets, which got me thinking about why America actually worked better than the USSR, whose stuff seemed to be grey and dull and unglamorous by comparison. That got me started towards being a libertarian, I think, way back in the 1950s.

In a related way, I then began to observe that British public sector architecture, which set the tone of the entire architectural scene in the sixties and seventies, had that same Soviet style drabness about it. Modern architecture only became flash and glamorous, in the eighties.

All that, among other things, turned me into a libertarian. And since then, I have tended to like the look of physical assemblages of objects that strike me as embodying liberty. Skyscraper clusters and roof clutter being good examples. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be so fond of roof clutter in particular if I had more bossy tastes in politics, if you get my drift.

That’s a pretty simplified summary of some of my aesthetic-political thoughts-feelings. But it suffices to illustrate the kind of thing I’ll be talking about.

As for similar stories told by others, I am struck by how an architectural style is often regarded as ugly, while it is advancing and hence seen as threatening, but later regarded with affection, once it has been defeated and is in retreat. This happened with the New Brutalism, widely hated during its years of ascendancy, now only in the news because some now want its surviving edifices to be legally preserved.

On a huge, historic scale, this is what has happened with Norman castles. Feared and hated when built, and for centuries after. Now quaint and picturesque tourist traps. Same kind of thing with big steam locomotives, at first feared and hated, now worshipped.

Many feel threatened by the very contemporary architecture that I personally like, and that’s because they see it, as do I, as embodying the very free market (-ish) ideas that I like, and that they dislike. It’s more complicated than that. But again, you get the idea.

My intention is to rattle through what I have to say quickly, to leave plenty of time for attenders to offer similar aesthetic-political memoirs of their own.

I’m putting this here so I can link to it in emails to potential attenders. Emails work better when they are short, but when they can be lengthened, so to speak, by those reading.

If you want to know how to attend this talk, or other talks in the same series, email me (see here top left) or leave a comment and I’ll put you in touch with Christian Michel.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

A new Grand Chose for Paris

More Dezeen catching up. And this time the news is that Paris is about to get its first truly Grand Chose since the Montparnasse Tower.

Paris is, in certain Parisian minds anyway, suffering from London Big Thing Envy, and they want to change the place.

“The change in regulations is a historic moment,” the architects told Dezeen. “Paris is cautiously allowing tall buildings back into the city.”

Like Ken Livingstone, who did so much to make London’s recent Big Things happen, some of the Parisians angling most powerfully for Grand Choses are socialists.

But Big Things fit right in in London. In London the antiquarian tendency is weak when confronted by the We Want More Office Space tendency. But in Paris, it is the other way around. Paris already has a look that lots of people like, and scattering Grand Choses all over it will radically change that look. London has always grown in big ugly bursts of money-making, which everyone then gets used to and decides they like, so Big Things are just the latest version of a regular London process. Paris was kind of perfect in the late nineteenth century, and since then it has been half city, half museum. It was then neither bombed nor redeveloped by socialist maniacs, as London was. It will be interesting to see if this transformation of Paris can be made to stick or whether it will be stopped in its tracks once again.

The opposition is gathering. This particular Grand Chose has already been dubbed a poor man’s Shard, and in truth it really does look like a cross between the Shard and this infamous North Korean structure.

See also this earlier posting about Paris here, here.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

You can tell that drones have arrived because now they are being turned into a sport

I like cricket. And I like drones. But which is best?

There’s only one way to find out. Fight.

Actually, all the drone did there was hover, waiting to be clobbered, which, a minute and a half in, it duly was, by Chris Gayle.

What I want to see is a game where drones fight against each other. Or a war. Either would do.

Or, perhaps a demo.

A new not very big Thing in Paris

Following on from yesterday’s ruminations, in among lots of stuff that doesn’t fascinate me, including one posting about shit, is a report about Paris’ tallest building in over 40 years.

Presumably “Paris” doesn’t include La Défense, which is out on the edge of Paris. Those Big Things are very big indeed. What they’re talking about here is building Big Things in the centre of Paris.

And the thing is, this Thing not very tall at all:

In London, this sort of thing would hardly be noticed.

But the fact that this new Thing is not that big is deliberate.

“This project is not a high-rise, but embodies a shift in attitude, and this gradual increase marks a willingness to reconsider the potential of height and will change the city landscape little by little,” said the architects.

They know that if they are to get any new truly Big Things anywhere near the centre of Paris, the first step is to make some things that are not Big, but just a tiny bit bigger. First you get the opposition to concede the principle, with something that doesn’t arouse huge opposition. Then you gradually increase the heights, until finally you get your Big Things, and the opposition unites too late. And by then it’s too small, because lots of people actually like the new Big Things. This is how politics is done. And this is politics.

The last, and so far only new and truly Big Thing anywhere near the middle of Paris (other than the Eiffel Tower) is the Montparnasse Tower, which was completed in 1973. Compared to almost everything else in central Paris, before or since, the Montparnasse Tower is very tall indeed. It aroused a lot of opposition by embodying such an abrupt, even contemptuous, change of Paris skyscraper policy, and judging by what happened for the next forty years, that opposition was very successful. This time around, those who want Big Parisian Things are going about it more carefully, as the above quote shows.

Speaking of politics, who is that geezer in the picture, in the picture? A politician, I’ll bet.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Pepper-spraying drones

Indeed:

Police in India have a new weapon for controlling unruly protesters in the world’s largest democracy: pepper-spraying drones.

Yashasvi Yadav, police chief of the northern city of Lucknow, said on Tuesday that his officers have successfully test-flown the newly purchased drones with a view to better crowd control.

So, when will BrianMicklethwaitDotCom be linking to a story about how the protesters have their own drones, to attack the police drones with? Drones are not just the automation of aerial warfare. They are the potential degovernmentalisation of aerial warfare. I mean, how the hell will they stop this? Drones are ridiculously cheap compared to regular airplanes. It’s only a matter of time before no major political demonstratiion will be complete without a struggle for command of the air.

I wonder if people like Police Chief Yadav realise what they may be starting.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Current events | Drones | India | Law | Politics | Technology

Emmanuel Todd talking in English (about how the Euro is doomed)

About every other day Google sends me news of Emmanuel Todd, news in French. Sometimes it is news of him talking on video, in French. I can just about order a croissant in a French shop, but that’s as far as my French goes.

So, imagine my delight on learning about this video, of Emmanuel Todd talking … in English!

What he is saying is that the different family systems of Europe mean that the different nations of Europe are politically incompatible, and accordingly that the Euro is doomed. Worth a watch, if that kind of thing interests you. In particular, the way that the Euro is putting Germany in charge of France is not at all what the French elite had in mind, and this means that sooner or later the French will have to dump the Euro. But first, their elite has to explain why it made this hideous blunder in the first place. Because dumping the Euro would mean admitting they should never have done it in the first place.

Tim Evans recently gave a talk to the End of the World Club (silly name, great talks) about politics, David Cameron’s politics in particular. He said that Cameron has no problem with Britain leaving the EU, while he remains Prime Minister. Sure enough, about two days later, an email from Tim arrives, complete with the link, saying: And so it starts …

Moments intéressant.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Algernon Sidney sends for Micklethwait because Micklethwait is wise, learned, diligent, and faithful

Incoming (“A quote you may like”) from Richard Carey, who gave a great talk at my home last Friday, at my latest Last Friday, about The English Radicals at the time of the Civil War:

Here’s a quote from Algernon Sidney’s ‘Discourses on Government’, which lost him his head but gained him the admiration of Jefferson and others. Somewhere into the second paragraph, you will know why I have sent this!

The book is a riposte to one by a fellow named Filmer who wrote in support of the Divine Right of Kings, a notion Sidney found odious and false.

So, Richard having already supplied me with this excellent SQotD, penned by John Lilburne, we now have this:

Implicit Faith belongs to Fools, and Truth is comprehended by examining Principles

Whilst Filmer’s business is to overthrow liberty and truth, he, in his passage, modestly professeth not to meddle with mysteries of state, or arcana imperii. He renounces those inquiries through an implicit faith, which never enter’d into the head of any but fools, and such, as through a carelessness of the point in question, acted as if they were so. This is the foundation of the papal power, and it can stand no longer than those that compose the Roman church can be persuaded to submit their consciences to the word of the priests, and esteem themselves discharged from the necessity of searching the Scriptures in order to know whether the things that are told them are true or false. This may shew whether our author or those of Geneva do best agree with the Roman doctrine: But his instance is yet more sottish than his profession. An implicit faith, says he, is given to the meanest artificer. I wonder by whom! Who will wear a shoe that hurts him, because the shoe-maker tells him ’tis well made? or who will live in a house that yields no defence against the extremities of weather, because the mason or carpenter assures him ’tis a very good house? Such as have reason, understanding, or common sense, will, and ought to make use of it in those things that concern themselves and their posterity, and suspect the words of such as are interested in deceiving or persuading them not to see with their own eyes, that they may be more easily deceived. This rule obliges us so far to search into matters of state, as to examine the original principles of government in general, and of our own in particular. We cannot distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or know what obedience we owe to the magistrate, or what we may justly expect from him, unless we know what he is, why he is, and by whom he is made to be what he is. These perhaps may be called mysteries of state, and some would persuade us they are to be esteemed arcana; but whosoever confesses himself to be ignorant of them, must acknowledge that he is incapable of giving any judgment upon things relating to the superstructure, and in so doing evidently shews to others, that they ought not at all to hearken to what he says.

His argument to prove this is more admirable. If an implicit faith, says he, is given to the meanest artificer in his craft, much more to a prince in the profound secrets of government. But where is the consequence? If I trust to the judgment of an artificer, or one of a more ingenuous profession, ’tis not because he is of it, but because I am persuaded he does well understand it, and that he will be faithful to me in things relating to his art. I do not send for Lower or Micklethwait when I am sick, nor ask the advice of Mainard or Jones in a suit of law, because the first are physicians, and the other lawyers; but because I think them wise, learned, diligent, and faithful, there being a multitude of others who go under the same name, whose opinion I would never ask. Therefore if any conclusion can be drawn from thence in favour of princes, it must be of such as have all the qualities of ability and integrity, that should create this confidence in me; or it must be proved that all princes, in as much as they are princes, have such qualities. No general conclusion can be drawn from the first case, because it must depend upon the circumstances, which ought to be particularly proved: And if the other be asserted, I desire to know whether Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vitellius, Domitian, Commodus, Heliogabalus, and others not unlike to them, had those admirable endowments, upon which an implicit faith ought to have been grounded; how they came by them; and whether we have any promise from God, that all princes should forever excel in those virtues, or whether we by experience find that they do so. If they are or have been wanting in any, the whole falls to the ground; for no man enjoys as a prince that which is not common to all princes: And if every prince have not wisdom to understand these profound secrets, integrity to direct him, according to what he knows to be good, and a sufficient measure of industry and valour to protect me, he is not the artificer, to whom the implicit faith is due. His eyes are as subject to dazzle as my own. But ’tis a shame to insist on such a point as this. We see princes of all sorts; they are born as other men: The vilest flatterer dares not deny that they are wise or foolish, good or bad, valiant or cowardly like other men: and the crown doth neither bestow extraordinary qualities, ripen such as are found in princes sooner than in the meanest, nor preserve them from the decays of age, sickness, or other accidents, to which all men are subject: And if the greatest king in the world fall into them, he is as incapable of that mysterious knowledge, and his judgment is as little to be relied on, as that of the poorest peasant.

My googling abilities are wayward, to put it politely, but based on a fleeting mention of a Micklethwait who was the grandson of “the physician”, the physician Micklethwait does appear to have been quite distinguished. And since he’s a Micklethwait, spelt Micklethwait (without, that is to say, any terminal e), that makes him a relative of mine, or so I have always assumed.

In the course of this googling for ancient Micklethwaits, I also came across this picture, which the National Portrait Gallery has in its collection, of my paternal grandfather, who was a lawyer. Hopefully the sort of lawyer whom Algernon Sidney would have been content to consult. Grandpa Micklethwait died when I was four and I think I must have met him, or at least been shown to him, but I have no recollection of this.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd

Incoming from Craig Willy, of whom I did not know until now:

Hello Brian,

I see you’ve written a great deal on Emmanuel Todd. I have just written a summary of his big history book, L’invention de l’Europe. I thought you might find it interesting.

I also see you have the impression he mainly criticizes the U.S. for being a “hollowed out,” financialized “fake” economy. In fact he is incredibly critical of the eurozone, for that very reason, which he argues is responsible for the hollowing out, dysfunction and financialism of the French and peripheral European economies.

All the best, and feel free to share if you write anything new on Todd. My Twitter.

Craig

In response to my email thanking him for the above email, and asking if he has written anything else about Todd, Willy writes:

I discuss him a fair bit on my Twitter feed as he offends many with his criticism of Germany and euroskepticism. Otherwise I just wrote this short piece on Todd and the euro from a while back.

This I have now read. Very interesting, and I think very right. Interesting parallel between the Euro and the Algerian War.

Things appear to be really motoring on the Todd-stuff-in-English front. At last.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

After the wedding

Today, late in the afternoon, I took a walk towards Westminster Abbey, looking for things to photo in the aftermath of the public upheaval that was the royal wedding.

I know why people grumble about this wedding. It’s not that they are forced to pay attention to it. They are not. Their problem is that they don’t like how much others seem to be attending to it, without being forced to any more than they are. They don’t like the way this rather mediocre family occupies a place in British society, and in British affections, that they think ought to be occupied by a person who is – or persons who are – more politically qualified, by which is meant more political. I used to think like this, but now believe that any more “rational” arrangement of this sort would merely strengthen the power of politicians by giving them yet another hold over us, which would be bad. I still feel no reverence towards the family, but no longer favour any alternative arrangement. It’s been quite a while since I would have lifted a finger to support any change in our Head of State arrangements. Now, I might lift several fingers to keep them as they are, were the need for that ever to arise.

I don’t think the family can be expected to do anything beyond keeping the politicians away from the Head of State job, like preserving British sovereignty, or some such chimera. If the politicians are determined to destroy that, destroy it they will, and the family will tag along.

Not being a reverent sort of royalist, I had no difficulty ignoring this wedding. In order to notice it, I had to take active steps, which today took the form of wandering about London after it had finished, with my camera, to see whatever I saw.

Here is one of the photos I took, of a shop window:

And here is another shop window:

And of course, today as always, my fellow digital photographers were out in force:

Those ones were photographing the front door of Westminster Abbey. This looked to me much as it always does. But I suppose if you find the family exciting, there is something extra about photo-ing the front door of the building where one of their weddings was, only hours after it happened.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Emmanuel Todd quoted and Instalanched

A few months back I discovered that there were other Emmanuel Todd fans out there besides me, notably Lexington Green of Chicago Boyz, and James C. Bennett. Emails were exchanged, and I met up with Bennett in London. Very helpful.

Here is a big moment in what I hope may prove to be the long overdue rise and rise of Emmanuel Todd in the English speaking world. Todd is quoted here by Lexington Green, and then linked to from here. Yes indeed, Instapundit. Okay, this is because what Todd is quoted saying happens to chime in with what Instapundit wants to be saying, but … whatever. That’s how Instalaunches work.

The Todd quote:

A double movement will assure the advancement of human history. The developing world is heading toward democracy — pushed by the movement toward full literacy that tends to create culturally more homogeneous societies. As for the industrialized world, it is being encroached on to varying degrees by a tendency toward oligarchy — a phenomenon that has emerged with the development of educational stratification that has divided societies into layers of “higher,” “lower,” and various kinds of “middle” classes.

However, we must not exaggerate the antidemocratic effects of this unegalitarian educational stratification. Developed countries, even if they become more oligarchical, remain literate countries and will have to deal with the contradictions and conflicts that could arise between a democratically leaning literate mass and university-driven stratification that favors oligarchical elites.

Says LG:

Todd’s book, despite its flaws, is full of good insights. This passage was prescient. The Tea Party (“a democratically leaning literate mass”) and it’s opponents, the “Ruling Class” described by Angelo Codevilla, (“oligarchical elites”) are well-delineated by Todd, several years before other people were focused on this phenomenon.

This may cause a little flurry of Toddery in my part of the www. Not all of it will be favourable, to put it mildly, because the book quoted is fiercely anti-American, and totally wrong-headed about economics. Todd is one of those people who insists on dividing economic activity into “real” and “unreal” categories, solid and speculative, honest and delusional. Todd’s problem is that he imagines that the making of things that hurt your foot when you drop them is inherently less risky than, say, operating as a financial advisor or a hedge fund manager. But both are risky. It is possible to make too many things. Similar illusions were entertained in the past about how agriculture was real, while mere thing-making was unreal.

Todd believes that the US economy is being “hollowed out”, with delusional activity crowding out “real” activity.

The problem is that Todd is not completely wrong. Economic dodginess was indeed stalking the USA in 2002. But the explanation for the processes that actually did occur and are occurring, which are easily confused with what Todd said back in 2002 was happening, and which will hence make him all the more certain that his wrongness is right, is not that manufacturing is real and financial services unreal, but that for Austrian economics reasons (Todd appears to have no idea whatever about Austrian economics), all dodgy and speculative activities, most emphatically including dodgy manufacturing ventures, have been encouraged by bad financial policies. Todd also seems to imagine that only the USA has been guilty of such follies. If only.

Such are some of the flaws in this book that LG refers to.

But none of that impinges on Todd’s fundamental achievements as a social scientist, which I have long thought ought to resonate in my part of the www. This should help.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog