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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!
The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Monday, September 14, 2020

Links I Liked

 1. Heads or Hands?

It’s interesting that we should get 2 new books in a single month challenging one of the basic principles of our times – namely meritocracy.

That they should appear just as we began to notice the paradox of the “essential workers” (nurses, dustbin-men) earning a pittance whilst the “symbolic analysts” (in Reich’s famous phrase) sit on their backsides and rake in millions is nothing short of prescient.  

The Tyranny of Merit – what’s become of the common good? is philosopher Michael Sandel’s attack on the principle which, he argues, has led to hubris amongst the victors and humiliation amongst the losers. In 2009 Sandel delivered the prestigious BBC Reith Lecture for that year – on “Markets and Morals

 David Goodhart is unlikely to receive such an invitation (although under the present Johnson government anything is possible). His work is too challenging – if not distasteful - for well-endowed liberal cosmopolitans. He does, however, have my respectful attention.   

In his just-published Head, Hand, Heart – the struggle for dignity and status in the 21st Century, Goodhart dares to question the emphasis on the importance of university education which became such a shibboleth in the 1970s….- unlike the more sensible Germany….who have always prized and honoured practical skills and had a strong vocational training tradition.

 2. Germany as Exemplar?

I have this past week been working on an article about the Sofia street protests for a guest post the first part of which will appear tomorrow (Tuesday) on Boffy’s Blog - and then on this one.

The article asks what progress central and eastern Europe has or has not made in the past 30 years…starting with a quote from a famous little book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe” written in 1990 by the anglo-german academic and liberal statesman, Ralf Dahrendorf – to the effect that the development of effective civil society would take 2 generations (viz 50 years)    

 Dahrendorf was a brilliant Anglo-German intellectual who, more than 30 years before his “Revolution in Europe”, had written a revisionist take on “Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society” (1959 Eng trans) with which I was very taken just as I was starting my political sociology course.

A few years later he wrote a highly provocative analysis of his country - Society and Democracy in Germany (1967 Eng trans) – which argued that Germany could only then be called a “modern” society…..Nazism had at last broken the deference to authority which had until then been the country’s defining feature - this a mere 2 decades after Germany’s “Stunde Null”. The book caused quite a controversy both within and outside Germany. Geoffrey Eley was one British historian who disputed the analysis and went on to write an entire book about The Peculiarities of German History (1984)

 I’m reminded of all this by the release of yet another book about Germany - Why the Germans do it better – notes from a grown-up country

In the 1960s it was France and its planning system that many of us admired….it took another decade before we realised that the German Federal and training systems and worker representation on Boards were healthy features worth studying more closely.

It’s difficult to remember that the UK was the object of universal admiration if not envy – whereas it is now seen as a bit of a Banana Republic. Just look at the latest post on Chris Gray’s Brexit Blog – the descent into political insanity

I suppose one lesson is that all fortunes fall and rise – no one should ever give up hope on their country?

 3. Political Hubris – why we need to think seriously of Democracy by Lot

The idea of Citizen Assemblies has always impressed me – this article gives some recent examples.

It was Robert Michels’ Political Parties – a sociological study of the oligarchic tendencies of modern democracy (1911) which had alerted me in the 1960s to the insidious slide of political leadership - and made me so sympathetic to the German Greens attempts to control its leadership.  

 Pat Chalmers is one person with a vision of a different way of doing things. Author of Fraudcast News – how bad journalism supports our bogus democracies he has been campaigning for Democracy by Lot for some years.

After the recent UK and US experience of political leadership – which has allowed so-called leaders to run amok, I am at last persuaded that we do need to look seriously at this idea. We could start with this article….  

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