Saturday, April 25, 2015

Correlli Barnett's The Audit of War

In his 1986 book The Audit of War Correlli Barnett deals in greater depth with some of the issues he explored in his earlier The Collapse of British Power.

Barnett argues that the Second World War found Britain hopelessly unprepared for war not just in a purely military sense but as a nation. Britain’s industrial base was hopelessly antiquated and absurdly inefficient, her population largely uneducated and her leaders highly educated but with the wrong sort of education.

As Europe drifted towards war in the late 1930s Britain’s major problem was that her military planners believed that she could only win a long war, but she could only afford a short war. In fact by early 1941 Britain was technically bankrupt. The only reason the British were able to keep fighting was because the Americans were paying the bills. Ironically this left the country even more unprepared for the postwar world.

Barnett argues that Britain’s early leadership in the Industrial Revolution was largely a matter of luck. The country not only had the required natural resources in abundance, those natural resources were remarkably conveniently located. And being the first nation to go through the Industrial Revolution Britain for many decades faced no competition. As a result British industry was lazy, complacent, short-sighted, fragmented and inefficient. As Britain started to face genuine competition from rising industrial powers such as Germany and the United States British industry retreated into a fantasy world in which the best way to face the challenge of the future was to close one’s eyes and pretend it would never happen.

Britain’s workforce was abysmally uneducated and ignorant. Her captains of industry were not merely un-intellectual but anti-intellectual. Profits were kept high by keeping wages low. These problems were exacerbated by trade-union leaders who were selfish, short-sighted and bloody-minded. The nation’s leaders were the products of an education system that provided a wonderful grounding in the classics but that entirely ignored the modern world.

Barnett sees this as being partly due to the rise of a certain brand of high-minded but unworldly Christianity that encouraged emotional humanitarianism as the expense of an understanding of the complexity of the real world.

The Second World War gave rise to a number of extremely powerful, extremely persistent myths. The most pervasive was a belief in British technological superiority. After all Britain produced the world’s first jet fighter and British radar was instrumental in winning the war. Barnett systematically explodes these myths. 

For example, there is the myth of the Spitfire. After isn’t it true that the Spitfire was a world-class fighter and that it did allow the RAF to win the Battle of Britain? Barnett points out that the real story was rather different. The Spitfire was a superb design but the British aircraft industry was entirely incapable of manufacturing such an aircraft. The Spitfires that won the Battle of Britain were built with American machine tools, they were armed with American guns, most of their instruments and other vital components were American, Swiss or even German. Such high-tech components simply could not be manufactured in Britain.

British radar depended on American components. British radios depended on American components. British shells only exploded because they were fitted with Swiss fuses.

Even the extraordinarily high output of war production was an illusion, only made possible by sacrificing export industries which in turn was only possible due to the willingness of the  US to foot the bills.

And the biggest illusion of all was that the while country was pulling together. Throughout the war British trade unions did everything possible to hinder the war effort. There were continual strikes and go-slows, often over absurdly trivial incidents.

Barnett may strike some readers as being excessively harsh towards Christianity but it’s important to remember that he’s talking about a particular variant of Christianity which was in fact the ancestor of the Kumbaya Christianity which would do so much harm throughout the 20th century. Barnett might also strike some conservative readers as being rather too keen on state intervention in the economy (although Barnett is certainly no Marxist).

Correlli Barnett is always provocative, controversial and stimulating and The Audit of War is no exception. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

why Sad Puppies (and Rabid Puppies) matter

The Sad Puppies brouhaha over the Hugo Awards has been rather enlightening.

Now if you’re not a science fiction fan you’ll probably be asking what on earth are the Hugo Awards? Well they were, at one time, the most prestigious of all science fictions awards. Their prestige came from the fact that the awards were voted on by fans. If you happened to like science fiction you could buy a supporting membership at the Worldcon convention and you could vote. As a result they tended to reflect the tastes of ordinary science fiction fans. For quite a few decades the system worked fairly well. The works that won Hugo Awards up until about twenty years ago have generally stood the test of time and are generally still regarded as classics of the genre. 

Now you might think that no-one could have a serious problem with all this. And you’d be wrong. Enter the Social Justice Warriors (SJWs). The same mindless Stalinist drones who control academia, the media and these days just about every aspect of life and culture turned their attention to the Hugo Awards. And they were shocked. Many of these awards were being given to men, or heterosexual women, or even (God forbid) white people. Some (horror of horrors) even espoused vaguely conservative views. One or two even confessed to being Christians. And these evil white cis-gendered racist homophobic transphobic people were being given these awards merely on the grounds that their books were good and fans liked them. Clearly this had to be stopped.

And it was stopped. By the beginning of this decade the SJWs had effectively taken over the awards. If you failed to write books that promoted goodthink then you could forget winning a Hugo Award. If you hoped to win an award then the only safe course of action was to stick to writing books about black lesbians. There was no need to write books that were actually good, or even readable. If you subscribed to the party line you were safe. if you questioned the party line you would become an unperson.

A couple of years ago a few science fiction writers had finally had enough. They started a campaign called Sad Puppies (on the grounds that the stifling political correctness of the Hugo Awards was leading to an epidemic of Puppy-Related Sadness). The idea was to nominate a few works that were deserving of awards, works written by authors who did not  toe the party line. The idea caught on and enjoyed modest success last year. This year another campaign with similar objectives joined the fray, Rabid Puppies.

One thing that both Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies were very careful to do was to play strictly within the rules. Their intention was to demonstrate that the leftists controlling the awards had been bending the rules for years in order to ensure that only leftist-approved authors could win, so it was obviously essential for Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies to be scrupulous about not breaking any rules.

And despite the unhinged claims of the leftists that the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies were aiming to ensure that only evil white heterosexual patriarchal males would get nominated both the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies included works by women, blacks and even (gasp!) liberals among their recommendations.

The assumption behind both the SP and RP campaigns was that the leftist bullies running the Hugos would hysterically overreact to any threat to their cosy little club. Which is of course exactly what happened. The leftists responded with a vicious hate campaign, with intimidation of moderates and will libelous personal attacks.

You might be wondering why any of this matters. It matters for two reasons. Firstly, the whole affair has been a superb microcosm of the culture wars, revealing in a very clear manner the lengths to which leftists will go in order to keep control. And secondly, while this might be a very minor battlefield on a very obscure front of the culture wars it’s one of the very very few battlefields on which conservatives are actually taking the offensive.

You can keep up with the progress of the battle on the blogs of Larry Correia and Brad Torgensen, the two prime movies behind Sad Puppies, or on the blog of Vox Day, the man behind Rabid Puppies.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science

James Hannam’s 2009 book God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science effectively explodes most of the irritating and wrong-headed prejudices that unfortunately still survive in relation to the Middle Ages.

The view that is still widely accepted is that intellectual progress, which had flourished in the ancient world, came to a grinding halt when the Roman Empire in the West collapsed and did not restart until the wise enlightened humanists of the Renaissance rediscovered the glories of ancient knowledge and swept away centuries of ignorance and superstition. The ignorance and superstition are almost always blamed on the Catholic Church which supposedly rabidly hostile to scientific enquiry.

Hannam demonstrates that this is all nonsense. Firstly, while the intellectual achievement of the Greeks and Romans was certainly impressive it is surprising just how often and how spectacularly the ancients were wrong. When it came to explaining how the world works they were wrong on just about every count. It is also remarkable just how technologically backward the ancient world was. The Greeks were fascinated by the process of constructing elaborate theories but they were extraordinarily uninterested in checking to see if their theories corresponded with reality. They were also surprisingly uninterested in finding practical applications for knowledge.

The Middle Ages, by contrast, were characterised by steady progress in technology. Medieval agriculture was infinitely more sophisticated than anything the ancients came up with. Part of the problem is that the ancients were unable to use the power of animals effectively. It was not until the so-called Dark Ages that proper harnesses were developed to allow oxen and horses to pull significant loads. The ancients had no stirrups, making horses of little use even for riding. Watermills and windmills, unknown in the ancient world, increased medieval agricultural productivity. The medievals also invented the mechanical clock, and the magnetic compass. They learnt how to make paper. They invented eye-glasses.

Medieval natural philosophers like Albertus Magnus, Duns Scotus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, the famous Merton Calculators of Oxford University (Thomas Bradwardine, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead), Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa laid the foundations on which sixteenth century scientists like Kepler and Galileo built.

Hannam also debunks the myth of the Renaissance. The rediscovery of the intellectual legacy of the ancient world occurred in the twelfth century, right slap bang in the middle of the medieval period. The twelfth century also brought the work of the great Islamic scientific pioneers to the attention of western Europe. Most importantly, the European natural philosophers of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries took the achievements of the ancient and Islamic thinkers and developed them much further. There was no Scientific Revolution as such - scientific progress was steady but sure throughout the later medieval period.

The hostility of the Catholic Church to science is also mostly myth. The Church did not burn people for doing science. More often than not it encouraged them. Scientists in fact ran into much bigger problems after the end of the medieval period. Galileo was not persecuted by the medieval Church. Insofar as he was persecuted at all he was persecuted during the supposedly more enlightened seventeenth century (which really was an age of superstition and magic). And despite having ignored repeated warnings Galileo’s fate was not especially severe - he was not even imprisoned, merely sentenced to house arrest.

Critics of the Church and the Middle Ages like to bring up the burning of Giordano Bruno, but Bruno’s execution took place in 1600 long after the end of the medieval period, and he was no scientist - his doctrines were bizarre amalgams of mysticism and the occult.

Hannam’s book is both stimulating and vastly entertaining. He gives us enough biographical details to bring the great medieval natural philosophers to life while providing enough scholarly detail to make his case convincingly. This book is a model of what history should be. Very highly recommended.

the defeat of the Old Left

This post follows on from my previous post the Left’s abandonment of economics in which I pointed out the curious lack of interest that the modern Left has in economic issues.

It seems to me that this is not really a case of the Left simply not caring any more. When you have leftist political parties being supported by billionaire businessmen you have to ask what is going on. Why are mega-rich capitalists supporting the Left? The answer is simple. There is no Left any more. These leftist political parties are in fact not the slightest bit leftist. Their obsession with social justice issues is merely a smokescreen that has been deployed (very successfully) to hide this fact from the voters.

It is easy for conservatives to convince themselves that the Left has triumphed almost completely. In fact the Left has been utterly defeated.

Or it might be more correct to say that the Left has been hijacked. The parties of the Left today are faithful servants of global capitalism. But it’s not just the leftist political parties. This applies to all the looney left pressure groups, from the environmentalist activists to the feminist crazies to the pro-immigration lobby. All these groups receive massive funding from super-rich corporations and billionaires. These corporations and plutocrats do not give money to their enemies. They are not that stupid. They give money to groups that support the interests of corporations and plutocrats. The objective is not to create a world safe for feminist lesbians or transexuals or trees and baby seals. The objective is to create a world safe for super-rich corporations and billionaires.

There is today no real difference between neocons and those who describe themselves as leftists or liberals. They are all dedicated to the pursuit of policies that protect the interests of global corporations. They are all supposedly dedicated to spreading the benefits of freedom and democracy, at gunpoint, to the rest of the world when in fact what they are really doing is ensuring that any opposition to global capitalism is crushed.

The more noise the “Left” (including the politicians and the media and the various leftist  lobby groups) makes about same-sex marriage or global warming the less likely it is that ordinary people will notice the ever-growing power and wealth of global capitalism.

The irony, and the tragedy, is that the destruction of the family and of religion and of European ethnic identity and morality are merely side-effects. Everything that is worthwhile about western civilisation is being trashed simply in order to make it easier for billionaires to make more billions.

Meanwhile the supposed conservative parties abandon more and more of the few principles they have left in order to pander to the same plutocrats.

Don’t misunderstand me. I like capitalism. I believe in it. But what we have now is a dangerous mutant form of capitalism dominated by corporations with no loyalties to any nation state or to anything or anyone besides their own profits and their own power. This is not free enterprise. It is a system that is not only toxic to ordinary working people it is equally toxic to small business.

It is worth pointing out that principled mainstream leftists (yes, such a species really did once exist) used to be in favour of patriotism, morality and the family. They used to be opposed to uncontrolled immigration. They held those views because they recognised that uncontrolled immigration, immorality and the destruction of the family were bad for the working class. This was the old Left and it has been totally destroyed.

What we have now is a war of the elites against the rest of us.

This is not to suggest that the culture wars are not worth fighting. We simply need to understand that cultural marxism today is financed by super-rich individuals and corporations for their own interests. The leftist foot soldiers of the culture wars are the dupes of the wealthy elites. They do not understand that they are fighting a war on behalf of people who despise them.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

the Left’s abandonment of economics

One of the most striking changes in the political landscape during my lifetime has been the bizarre reversal of priorities on the part of both the Left and the Right. In particular, the reversal of priorities on economic issues.

From the end of the Second World War up until the 1970s the Left in general was absolutely passionate about economic issues. The Right by contrast tended to be less passionate and much less dogmatic on such issues. Everyone on the Left was essentially a socialist. The differences on the Left were between those who wanted socialism right now and those who wanted to see socialism imposed gradually. There were also differences between those who wanted full-blown absolute socialism and those who were prepared to tolerate a strictly limited degree of small-scale free enterprise - between those who wanted everything owned by the state and those who would allow the survival of small businesses (although naturally highly regulated small businesses).

In the same period the Right generally speaking favoured moderate centrist economic policies. Almost everyone on the Right accepted that the welfare state was here to stay, and most right-wingers thought that was a good thing. Where they differed from the Left was in believing that the welfare state needed to be kept within strict bounds. They were opposed to large-scale expansion of the welfare state but very few would have considered the abolition of the welfare state to be either practical or desirable. Most of those on the Right believed in free markets, but only up to a point. They were concerned about monopolies and they disapproved of cartels. They felt that some degree of government intervention in the economy was necessary. They were generally speaking suspicious of free trade on the grounds that national security required the existence of a healthy industrial base, and on the grounds that it would cause unemployment and other undesirable social consequences. Right-wingers in general were pragmatic on economic issues.

The situation today is dramatically different. The Right is divided into those who worship free markets and globalisation with obsessive zeal and those who favour Big Government because Big Government is good for Big Business.

The Left today on the other hand seems to have zero interest in economic matters. They pretty much go along with the idea of a partnership between Big Government and Big Business because that’s the policy favoured by the people who provide the funding for leftist parties. Modern mainstream leftist parties are very much parties of Big Business. In fact even the lunatic fringe of the Left is mostly funded by Big Business. As a result economic issues are now a forbidden zone for the Left.

The Left today is entirely focused on social issues. That suits Big Business perfectly. The one thing Big Business does not want is for anyone to start asking awkward questions about economic policy. People might start to notice that what is good for Big Business is not necessarily good for the country or for ordinary people. The CEOs of mega-corporations are absolutely delighted to see political debate as long as it’s confined to issues like same-sex marriage and other “social justice” issues. They don’t give a damn about social justice or same-sex marriage but these things serve the very useful purpose of diverting the attention of the media and the populace away from the subjects that might prove embarrassing, like the fact that their products are now manufactured by virtual slave labour in the Third World.

The Left’s abandonment of economics amounts to one of the greatest political betrayals in history. Leftists love to talk about how much they care about the marginalised and the vulnerable but the marginalised and the vulnerable are the people the Left has sold out.

Of course the Left has never really liked the working class. This goes back to the First World War when the working classes chose love of country over world revolution. The Left elites have hated working-class people ever since. Marxism always has been an ideology for the elites. This is one of the reasons leftists are so strongly in favour of immigration - it’s a way to punish working-class people. It’s also why the Left lost interest in economic policies that might help the working class and turned instead to manufacturing more politically reliable victim groups. Modern leftists are overjoyed by globalist capitalism because it destroys the working classes.

The leftists of the 1940s and 1950s and 1960s may have been blinded by ideologies that were never going to work in practice but at least they believed in something. They may have been wrong about many things but they were not unprincipled. The leftists of today are merely the tools of ruthless mega-corporations. The bizarre thing is that very few people seem to have noticed this happening.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

the perils of free trade

I spoke of Correlli Barnett’s excellent 1972 book The Collapse of British Power in an earlier post but this book contains so many stimulating ideas that it’s likely to inspire quite a few posts from me.

A subject that Barnett deals with that still has considerable relevance is free trade. Free trade become a kind of fetish for the British ruling classes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, just as it has become a fetish in our age.

Free trade may have had some economic advantages but it had some unexpected costs. In particular it placed Britain in a precarious situation should the country become involved in a protracted modern technological war.

Free trade had a disastrous effect on British agriculture. As a result Britain grew increasingly dependent on cheap agricultural imports. That’s no great problem in peacetime but in wartime it was always going to make the nation even more vulnerable to an enemy with the ability to menace seaborne trade. A country, for example, that built a fleet of submarines could threaten the United Kingdom with starvation.

There was also the effect on industry. Superficially you might imagine that free trade would have made British industry more competitive and more efficient. Barnett argues that it had the opposite effect. While German industry, safe behind tariff barriers, became steadily more modern and more efficient British industry languished. Protectionism, paradoxically, encouraged German industrialists to be innovative and to accept the risks involved in making the huge investments necessary to maintain a technological edge. British industry, deprived of protection, had no such incentives. British industry remained small-scale and old-fashioned.

The decay of British industry caused problems in the First World War. Britain had to buy aero engines from the French and at times was force to buy the aircraft themselves. There were severe ammunition shortages. Both were caused by the small-scale and backward nature of the industrial base.

The Australian-designed CAC Boomerang fighter
Even bigger troubles would follow in the Second World War. Throughout the 1920s and well into the 30s the British armed forces were starved of funds and allowed to run down to potentially catastrophic levels. The uncompetitive British economy, the result of the industrial decay, meant that the government simply could not afford to maintain adequate armed forces. When it finally became obvious in the late 30s that rearmament could not be avoided other problems became apparent. British industry was not up to the job. The aircraft industry was a prime example. They could design superb modern aircraft like the Spitfire but they could not build them without importing numerous vital components from other countries such as the US. As late as 1938 British armaments manufacturers were buying vital components from Germany!

In the Second World War Australia came face to face with these sorts of problems. With Britain heavily engaged in Europe she could not provide modern weaponry for Australian forces engaged in home defence. We discovered the dangers of a lack of industrial self-sufficiency. At the time Australia responded energetically enough. We even learnt to design and build our own combat aircraft - the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Boomerang fighter which proved to be an effective ground attack aircraft. Our experiences in the Second World War provided much of the impetus for the development of a modern manufacturing sector in the post-war period, a manufacturing sector that has now been largely destroyed by free trade.

Free trade can be economically advantageous in peacetime in the absence of any serious  threat. There is however a price in the form of reduced military security. If the international situation suddenly becomes dangerous the price may prove to be very high.