Recently purchased books

Photoed just now:

Although, I should say that I didn’t actually purchase Kristian Niemietz’s book about
Socialism. I tried to buy it, at a recent IEA event, but they wouldn’t take my money and just gave me a copy. It’s very good.

Excerpt from We Now Know, here. Could have downloaded a pdf of the whole thing. But, don’t like pdfs. Prefer books.

There are more that I didn’t include. E.g. one by fake-antiques architect Quinlan Terry that is too wide. (Fake architectural antiques are a good thing. The world now needs more of this. Terry does them very well.)

Memo to self: A habit I must cultivate better is the ability to read a book, while seated in front of my computer, concentrating on the former and ignoring the latter. The internet is just too damn interesting. But books are extremely interesting also, and I love to read them. Or at least: I love to have read them.

I love Amazon. I miss remainder shops.

Now you see it now you don’t – then you do again

In that chat that me and Patrick had yesterday, about Christianity and its influence, I mentioned, for some reason, how part of the reason the Shard is shaped like the Shard is that it is also shaped like the steeple of a typical sort of London church.

The church in these photos, that I photoed the same day I photoed these photos of the Optic Cloak, is Christ Church Isle of Dogs:

The little game I played there with the two spires, as I walked back towards the middle of London from the Greenwich Peninsula, is exactly the sort of thing Renzo Piano had in mind when he designed his spire.

This is not the first time I’ve played now you see it now you don’t with a church and the Shard, aligned.

The trick is for the church to be very near, compared to the Shard.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Quimper Cathedral photos from a year ago

Earlier today, Patrick Crozier and I recorded another of our recorded conversations (by and by it will appear here). Patrick laid out the agenda which was Christianity, and how, although he could never believe in it, nenevertheless regrets the diminution of its influence on our world.

He mentioned the way the Western Roman Empire fell apart after it had been conquered by Christianity (echoing Gibbon, although I didn’t say that; he mentioned ecclesiastical architecture; he mentioned the intimate relationship between Christianity and secular power; and at one point we rather digressed, into the matter of French domestic architecture.

Here are four photos I photoed in Quimper, Brittany, exactly one year ago to the day, which illustrate these various talking points:

Photo 1.1 a history lesson inside Qumper Cathedral which covers the ground Patrick alluded to about the Roman Empire (protected by glass, hence the reflection of the stained glass window).. Photo 1.2 is a view of one of the towers of Quimper Cathedral, as seen from the other tower. Photo 2.1 is of an equestrian statue, from the same spot. And finally, 2.2, also from the same spot, is a photo looking out over the city of Quimper.

The weather could have been a lot brighter, but you are only allowed to the top of Quimper Cathedral on the one day each year, and April 29th 2018 was the day that it was

I will greatly miss Quimper and its Cathedral, now that my friends in France no longer live there. I won’t be going back on my own, just to see it but not them.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

A classic episode

Well, I sat down to do a blog posting for here after a hard day doing this and that, but, while I was doing that blog posting, I was also half telly-watching, and I chanced, on my television, upon the classic episode of Porridge in which Fletcher keeps on being disturbed and ends up pushing the padre off the balcony (into a safety net). Fletcher gets punished with three days in solitary, and the final line is him asking the governor if he couldn’t make it a fortnight.

Instead of a regular blog posting, let this be a recommendation.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog


I am now listening to this conversation between Roger Scruton and Jordan Peterson, about transcendence. While so listening, I found myself thinking back to this morning, when I listened to the first half of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, as recorded by Sir John Eliot Gardiner. I found listening to this recording to be an unsatisfying experience, which was why I did not also listen to the second half of it. For me (and I emphasise that this is only my personal take on this recording), what this recording lacks is … transcendence. To me, it sounds too brisk, too lively, too mundane, too earthly, too humdrum, too fussy. Too businesslike. Too lacking in legato. Not enough grandeur.

To repeat the point in brackets above: many, listening to this same recording, will hear exactly the virtues which, for my ear, it lacks. Gardiner himself was certainly aiming at transcendance:

That is the cover of this Gardiner recording, which is put out by Gardiner’s own label, Soli Deo Gloria, and Gardiner will definitely have approved that cover.

Neverthless, tomorrow, I think I will search in my CD collection for a different and older recording of this work, a less “authentic” one, the one conducted by Eugen Jochum. This one.


During that pause, I conducted that search, so that tomorrow morning I won’t have to search, or to remember that I must so search. The CDs will be there, next to my CD player.

I also encountered, in one of the Amazon reviews of Jochum’s Bach B Minor Mass, praise for his recording of the Bach Christmas Oratorio. I also placed this next to my CD player.

Christmas is, after all, coming.

And, what do you know? The B Minor Mass gets an explicit mention in the Scruton/Peterson conversation. 1 hour 18 minutes in.

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.


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

Emmanuel Todd’s latest book – in English

Actually it’s by Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd. And it’s not that new; it was first published (in French) in 2007. But it has just been made available in English. And it is exactly the Todd book that, for several years now, I have most been wanting to read. It is entitled A Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Societies Around the World.

If it is as interesting as I hope it is, this book could finally enable Todd to make his long overdue breakthrough into the English speaking world.

And it is, as Instapundit is always saying, in the post.

In all my previous Todd googlings, I had never before come across this stuff about Todd, although I am almost certain that it has been there all along. Will read this tomorrow, or failing that, Real Soon. (And ooh look: at the top left, under where it says “NEW!!!”, there is me, and three of my Todd postings.)

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Emmanuel Todd (3): Quotes from the Introduction to The Explanation of Ideology

I have already done two postings about the French historian and anthropologist Emmanuel Todd. In the first, I sketched out Todd’s Explanation of Ideology, as described in his book of that name (in its English translation). In the second posting, I simply listed the eight families into which Todd classifies the world’s people, together with the countries in which each family type prevails.

I now want to quote Todd himself. Below are a couple of chunks from the introduction, entitled “democracy and anthropology”, to The Explanation of Ideology, translated into English by David Garrioch.

First, the first few pages of that introduction (pp. 1-6 in my 1985 Blackwell hardback edition):

No theory has so far succeeded in explaining the distribution of political ideologies, systems and forces on our planet. No one knows why certain regions of the world are dominated by liberal doctrines, others by social democracy or Catholicism, by Islam or by the Indian caste system, and others again by concepts which defy classification or description, like Buddhist socialism.

No one knows why communism has triumphed after a revolutionary struggle in Russia, China and Yugoslavia, in Vietnam and Cuba. No one knows why in other places it has failed – sometimes honourably, for in certain countries it plays an important although not dominant role in political life. In France, Italy, Finland and Portugal, in Chile before the coup in 1974, in the Sudan before the elimination of the communists by the army in 1971, and in certain Indian states such as West Bengal or Kerala, communism has a stable electoral position and traditionally enjoys the interest and support of many intellectuals.

In some areas of the world communism has made a brief but conspicuous appearance. In Indonesia it once seemed set for a brilliant future but evaporated after a military take-over and a brutal massacre. In Cambodia, a near neighbour in global terms, its performance was still more striking, rapidly developing to such murderous intensity that it destroyed itself within a very few years. One suspects, however, that these last two examples, spectacular in their power and instability, are not representative of conventional types of communism.

Elsewhere we find that Marxist-Leninist organization, while not entirely absent, is very weak and of almost no political importance: for example, in Japan, Sweden, Germany, Spain and Greece. Throughout much of the world the conquering and would-be universal ideology of the twentieth century has no real influence and is represented only by tiny fringe groups. Communism, which in Russia and China has produced Titans, in the Arab world has given birth to no more than a few martyrs and in the English-speaking world to a number of eccentrics. In most of Latin America – if we exclude Cuba and Chile – in Africa, Thailand, Burma and the Philippines, Marxist-Leninist influence is insignificant.

The history of communism is similar to that of other universal creeds: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam. It has proved rapidly successful in certain societies with which it has a mysterious affinity, only to be stopped after this initial expansion by barriers which remain invisible.

The failure of political science

A simple enumeration, worthy of lonesco, of the regions and countries where communism is strong illustrates the failure of a political science at present largely dominated by utilitarian and materialist ideas. Liberals and Marxists alike now agree on the importance of economic factors in history: the public or private nature of the means of production and exchange, the level of industrial development, the efficiency of agriculture, the numerical importance of different socio-professional groups. But could one hope to find any economic characteristic which was shared by all the regions where Marxism-Leninism is strong: by Finland and Kerala, Vietnam and Cuba, Tuscany and the Chilean province or Arauco, Limousin and West Bengal, Serbia and southern Portugal, or even for that matter by Russia and China before their revolutions?

On the eve of 1917, Russia was overwhelmingly rural but had sufficient agricultural surplus and enough mineral resources to finance rapid industrial growth. China in the first half of the twentieth century was even more strongly rural, but would have had the greatest difficulty in producing any agricultural surplus at all. Even in good years she could hardly feed her population. So sparse was her industrial development that even the most hard-line Marxist would not dare to accord responsibility for the 1949 Revolution to the proletariat of the Celestial Empire. From a Marxist point of view, the China of 1949 differed from the Russia of 1917 in one vital respect: the peasants had a much clearer idea of private property than did their Russian counterparts, among whom a sort of agrarian communism, the periodical redistribution of land according to family size, was widely practised. But this difference does not really help explain these events because it invalidates the most convincing of the ‘economic’ interpretations of communism: that which portrays it as a more modern industrial version of a traditional agricultural system.

For we find Russia and China, entirely different countries, from an economic point of view, plunging with similar enthusiasm into the same political adventure only thirty years apart and with surprisingly similar results. They shared, to begin with, a single characteristic – their rural economy – which explains nothing: in 1848 when Marx called on the workers of the world to break their chains, 95 per cent of the inhabitants of the world were peasants. Ireland, Sweden, Greece, Japan, Thailand, Turkey, Mexico, all nations where communism was to remain weak, were no more developed industrially than Russia or China. The one major exception was Britain, whose working class was to remain impermeable to communist ideology for 200 years.

Theories of class struggle explain nothing. Some working classes are attracted by Marxism-Leninism and others are not. The same applies to the rural population which in some countries is open to communism, in others not. Even normally conservative bourgeois intellectuals in many countries betray the most elementary rules of class warfare and allow themselves to be seduced by Bolshevism.

Social democracy, Islam, Hinduism, and the rest

As the most crucial ideology of the twentieth century, communism has been widely studied. Traditional political science, although unable to explain its appearance in a particular country, has nevertheless managed to give a good description of it, one which also serves to define, negatively but with equal precision, its economic and political antithesis and its world-wide enemy, Anglo-Saxon liberalism. The characteristics of communism are therefore absence of elementary political, religious and economic freedoms; egalitarian subjection of the individual to the state; and a single permanent ruling party. The features of liberalism, on the other hand, are seen to be free exercise of political, economic and religious rights by the individual; abhorrence of the state, which is perceived as an administrative necessity but also as a threat; and rapid changes of the party in power as a result of the workings of an electoral system.

Anything beyond these two poles is heresy. Yet the nations which subscribe to one or other of these ideologies, to liberalism or to communism, account for only 40 per cent of the world’s population. The remaining 60 per cent have not received nearly the same attention from political scientists, and are considered conceptually irrelevant. Their ideologies and political systems are at best treated as imperfect forms, somewhere in between communism and liberalism according to the degree of economic, religious or political authoritarianism. At worst, they appear to social scientists as legal or religious monstrosities, aberrations of the human imagination that cannot be registered on the scale dictated by European political conventions whose linear structure is like a thermometer, capable of measuring only hot or cold, the degree of liberty or of totalitarianism.

Putting together all these misfits, all the ideologies which are neither ‘communist’ nor ‘liberal’, gives another of those comical lists which political science is capable of producing: social democracy, libertarian socialism, Christian democracy, Latin-American, Thai or Indonesian military regimes, the Buddhist socialism of Burma or of Sri Lanka, Japanese parliamentarianism, technically perfect but with the sole flaw of never changing its ruling party, Islamic fundamentalism and socialism, Ethiopian militarist Marxism, and the Indian regime which combines parliamentary and caste systems and whose 700 million subjects have in one swoop been disqualified by ‘modern’ political science.

Social science has found a justification for refusing to fit these exotic systems and ways of thinking into its conceptual framework: is it reasonable to hope to understand them when the principal mystery, that of the liberal/communist conflict, has yet to be resolved? But this argument is easily refuted: it is precisely because of the refusal to look on all political forms – whether European or not – as normal and theoretically significant that communism has never been fully understood, and nor, as a direct result, has its liberal ‘antithesis’.

Furthermore, if we move from a politico-economic definition of ideological systems to a religious one, the opposite of communism is no longer liberalism but the whole group of doctrines which proclaim the existence of a spiritual realm. For communism alone declares that God does not exist and is prepared to impose this belief on humanity. Here the liberal, pluralist systems, tolerant or agnostic on religious questions, are out of the picture. They cannot provide a conceptual framework for the increasingly violent conflict between communism and Islam in Afghanistan, or between communism and the Catholic church in Poland.

Is it, then, too much to allow that the range of political and religious ideologies spread around the world does not divide into two camps, but forms a system with many poles, and that all these poles – communist, liberal, Catholic, social democratic, Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist – are equally normal, legitimate and worthy of analysis?

A satisfactory explanation of communism must also provide the key to other world-wide ideologies. The situation is precisely that which is encountered in the natural sciences: one cannot partly understand the principle of the attractive force of matter, that of the circulation of the blood or of the classification of the elements in chemistry. To take the whole world as the field of study, therefore, is simply to apply to social science the minimum of intellectual rigour which the natural sciences take for granted. Any hypothesis must take all the forms observed into account.

And now here is the conclusion of this same introduction (pp. 16-18):

General methodology

The oppositions ideology/anthropology and social relations/human relations are particularly useful outside Europe when attempting to trace the origins of religious ideological systems. They are indispensable if one is accurately to describe ideologies which are based on ideas about family ties.

The Indian caste system is a family ideology which places each individual in an abstract and impersonal social network, the caste (or to be more precise the sub-caste), which is defined by ties of descent outside which he or she cannot marry. But the sub-caste is composed largely of people who do not know each other and who live in different places. Beneath this intellectual edifice can be seen a particular family structure, a model of interpersonal relations which produces the concept of and the need for social segregation. These two levels – social and human, ideological and familial – must be clearly distinguished if the caste system is to be placed with any precision among the various political and religious ideologies – communism, Islam, social democracy, the various forms of Christianity – which likewise define social relations between people who do not know each other directly.

A universal hypothesis is possible: the ideological system is everywhere the intellectual embodiment of family structure, a transposition into social relations of the fundamental values which govern elementary human relations: liberty or equality, and their opposites, are examples. One ideological category and only one, corresponds to each family type.

Ignoring all the accepted procedures of present-day social science and at the risk of being branded a positivist, I am going to test this theory and prove it in the same way as in any exact science: by exhaustively comparing the hypothesis and the evidence, that is by a complete examination of the familial and ideological systems experienced by the settled human groups which make up at least 95 per cent of the population of the planet. Testing the theory involves two steps.

First, a general typology of family structure must be devised. It must be both logically exhaustive, starting from first principles and setting out all the possible family structures; and empirically exhaustive, that is to say taking into account and describing all the family forms which are actually observable on the surface of the planet.

Second, it must be shown that to each family form described there corresponds one and only one ideological system and that this ideological system is not to be found in areas of the world which are dominated by other family forms (in mathematical terms one would speak of a bijective relationship between family types and political types).

A further requirement is that secondary variations in family structure within each anthropological type must correspond to secondary variations in the political or religious forms within the corresponding ideological type.

And then, to his own complete satisfaction at least, Todd proceeds to prove all that.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog