Reason in Revolt Now Thunders

Perhaps it is worth restating what we mean by socialism, or perhaps more precisely what I mean by socialism. You may disagree.

Socialism is the objective of creating a society which values everyone and accords dignity to each person equally; regardless of age, race, gender, appearance, sexual orientation, physical and mental ability.

That doesn’t necessarily mean rewarding everyone equally, because there may be public policy considerations for why certain professions are better remuneratated; however where liberals and socialists part company is our belief that there cannot be social equality while there is economic inequality. Political freedom and universal suffrage do not bring equality if bosses can still run their companies like dictatorships, and the most significant economic decisions are taken by private corporations, not governments.

Therefore, socialists believe that the economy should be collectively and democratically controlled. Socialism has become intertwined with the labour movement because the working class through its trade unions and collective organisation seeks to moderate the power of capital; and because the working class do not exploit anyone else. (However, throughout the history of the socialist movement there have been occasions when the sectional interests of the working class have sometimes clashed with the wider interests of the whole of society.)

There is a dividing line between the Marxist tradition and utopian socialists (some of whom also think of themselves as Marxists) in that historical materialists believe that socialism will come about through political intervention in our actually existing society, and the struggles between different groups with opposing economic and social interests; and as such progress towards socialism will involve compromises and alliances; and socialist governments will contend with very difficult economic, political and social problems, and external pressures will force priorities upon those governments that they would not have chosen.

Socialism will therefore come from the existing societies that we live in; and while there will be elements of discontinuity and novelty there will also be continuity and the legacy of the past.

A big mistake would be for socialists to uncritically locate themselves in liberal traditions of the European enlightenment, without considering the degree to which they are also historically contingent.

The enlightenment challenged mediaeval custom that relied only upon tradition and authority, and not upon reason and evidence. Now of course the philosophical school of scientific realism defends the idea that the currently accepted mature scientific theories are truth approximate, Socialists defend scientific realism as being the foundation stone of rationalism, as it underpins the capability of humanity to master its own environment and future development.

But while that philosophical truth may be universal as an idea, it is not universal as a social reality. Mature scientific theories rely upon repeatable experimentation, a level of standardisation of measurement, reliable methods of disseminating theories and debate among practitioners, and a certain level of manufacturing capability. These circumstances did not obtain in pre-industrial societies. For the majority of the European feudal era, tradition and authority were more socially effective than reason; as craft knowledge was guarded by guilds, protecting skills that had been honed through generations of particular and not universal knowledge. Scholarship, military knowledge and the exercise of political power were hereditary skills or institutionally delimited for good reason. The revolution from non-industrial to industrial society involved the creation of mass produced books and periodicals, and the introduction of state recognised educational qualifications that provided proof of skill and capability independent of personal recommendation. It also removed hereditary qualification from jobs and established ideals of social mobility.

Yet feudalism was a very successful social system, that enormously lifted the economic and cultural wealth of society over the 1000 years of its existence; indeed the enlightenment project was developed under the late feudal system, and the most socially progressive and egalitarian economists of the eighteenth century, the physiocrats, were supporters of the French monarchy.

During those centuries of relying upon tradition, rich and complex social codes and legal system crystalised around the different strands of the Christian religion, and in non-European pre-industrial societies around the other religions. People growing up within those codes indentified with them as part of their collective consciousness of who they were; rules evolved that reflected the social responsibilities necessary for stable society in the pre-industrial era, muddled up with superstitions and arbitrary customs and prejudices, and all sanctified by the authority of God and Church.

Religious custom therefore codified a great deal of traditional wisdom, alongside idiosyncrasies, and for believers it provided not only group identity, but its customs were also Divinely inspired.

Now there are two important things to note here. Firstly that the appeal to reason political liberty and equality was itself socially contextualised. The French and American revolutions of the eighteenth century retained slavery (initially abolished in France but then restored in 1802), and restricted political rights to white, male, property owners. The concepts of liberty and equality have evolved as social mores have changed, and as the contradictions between declarations of universal rights, and the reality of discrimination have developed, including of course major political struggles of the oppressed.

Even the incomplete Womens’ rights and Gay rights our society affords cannot be founded on concepts of Universality, because they are only recently won, and they have been won by political struggle within modern bourgeois liberal democracies – which means that their opponents also typically found their political and philosophical outlook on universal human rights!

Secondly the historical role of the Church in defending tradition was itself a contingent one. Whereas in Britain and Holland concepts modern political liberty were expressed in religious terms as a struggle within Christianity against tradition; in Germany Protestantism during the reformation was a reactionary ideology protecting localised princely despotism from the progressive social and economic modernisation coming from the Catholic absolutist monarchies. And in France, a state cult of secularism developed to create a collective consciousness of modern nationalism, that mythologised the idea that because the Church defended tradition in Eighteenth century France, then there should be a universal preference for secularism.

Socialists need to recognise that the privacy of the religious domain can never be fully private, because religion impacts upon marriage, divorce, child rearing, education, probate and community loyalty; as well as attitudes to gender and sexual orientation.

Religions constantly evolve, adapting to the social context that they operate within. But equally the community that co-religionists feel themselves part of may be wider than any particular nation. For example, within the Anglican communion social attitudes towards LGBT rights are widely different in Uganda than they are in Massachusetts. While traditionalists within the church are acting as a brake on Anglicanism in Britain from ordaining sexually active gay priests, the Anglican Communion is a voice counselling against homophobia in Africa. The relative importance of the different parts of that balance can only be evaluated within the Communion, and the balance between scriptural authority and social evolution can only be assessed by Christians themselves.

But we also have to understand that the social attitudes of wider society are also constantly evolving. Homophobia, racism, and sexism may even be less prevalent among church goers than among atheists.

Our aim as socialists is to focus on our objective of creating a society where everyone is afforded equal dignity, and considered of equal value. We should seek to move the social consensus in that direction; but equally we should avoid creating false polarisations where people feel forced to choose between their faith and identity; or their rights or their respect for the rights of others.

We should feel confident of the power of liberal toleration within our society, and the institutional reinforcement of an equalities agenda through political parties, voluntary sector organisations and trade unions.

As such, religious organisations need to be encouraged to adapt to rather than oppose that agenda. To take one example, teaching of Creationism is desired by not only some Christians, but also many Muslims. The children are taught this at home anyway. A compromise could be struck with these groups where this ideology was taught to children whose parents request it; but with a required context of explaining the difference between faith based belief and evidence based knowledge.

Individuals need to be offered choice, because this allows an interpenetration of the teaching of the religions and the broader liberal and tolerant attitudes of society. This approach allows religions to evolve towards the broader consensus of society quicker. This has in fact been the broad experience of Anglicanism as the dominant form of Christianity in England. It is also the broad tradition of social democracy in Britain, and the paradox is that organised religion has less effective influence in our politics than it does in many other countries where there are stronger traditions of secularism, and a formal seperation of Church and state.

86 comments on “Reason in Revolt Now Thunders

  1. MikeSC on said:

    “That doesn’t necessarily mean rewarding everyone equally, because there may be public policy considerations for why certain professions are better remuneratated; however where liberals and socialists part company is our belief that there cannot be social equality while there is economic inequality.”

    So rather than abolish wage-labour, you’d merely have wages dictated by an authority? State-capitalism?

    In the first half of that sentence you say you don’t stand for economic equality- and then say that social equality relies on economy equality…

    “To take one example, teaching of Creationism is desired by not only some Christians, but also many Muslims. The children are taught this at home anyway. A compromise could be struck with these groups where this ideology was taught to children whose parents request it; but with a required context of explaining the difference between faith based belief and evidence based knowledge.”

    :(

  2. MichaelC on said:

    Liberalism “is the objective of creating a society which values everyone and accords dignity to each person equally; regardless of age, race, gender, appearance, sexual orientation, physical and mental ability.

    See – you are using socialism and liberalism interchangably. Socialism requires more than this – it requires emancipation through collective self-governance not just the promotion of recognition between individuals based on their “dignity” [which is orginally a bourgeois concept (see for example the account of social development in Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age”)].

  3. Andy: “To take one example, teaching of Creationism is desired by not only some Christians, but also many Muslims. The children are taught this at home anyway. A compromise could be struck with these groups where this ideology was taught to children whose parents request it; but with a required context of explaining the difference between faith based belief and evidence based knowledge.”

    There is a far simpler compromise. The schools should teach science, including scientific views of the origin of the stars and planets, and of the evolution of life. Period. If parents want to teach their children something else, in their own time and at their own expense, that is their prerogative.

    One of the things I detested most of all about school RE lessons was the lying, the hypocrisy, and the insincerity of it all. Many of the kids didn’t believe it, and in some cases, nor did the teachers. But we were all expected to pretend to believe it. What possible useful purpose will be served by expecting teachers (science teachers??) to tell conscious lies to certain children?

  4. Anonymous on said:

    I find this article interesting because I’ve always wanted to know how Andy and co’s somewhat compromised and stalinised politics actually work. Andy doesn’t understand materialism – nor for that point dialectics. The point seems pretentious unless we look at the real damage done to his politics by his ignorance.

    To start of whith his concept of socialism is totally nebulous. It binds him neither to principal nor strategic aims allowing unlimited scope for compromise. In fact the need to compromise seems to be the major theme of what Marxism is to him. His whole blurb on socialism reads like an excuse. Andy reminds me of the kind of ‘socialists’ who have begun to convince themselves that nationalising the rail and the E.U decency wage actually is socialism (chuck in some wind turbines and its a deal). These are the kind of politics that emerge from immersing yourself in a cloud of crusty old tankies who’s idea of activism is to get sozzled on Newcastle brown after the LRC conference and then sing crappy folky songs about uncle ho chi Mihn on an acoustic guitar with CND stikers on it and engraved with ‘this machine kills the SWP’.

    What about the centrality of the working class? For andy the relationship between the working class and socialism is a question of expediency. Socialist politics happen to fit the labour movement because of its composition and the nature of its demands. Its far more accurate to understand revolutionary socialism as an outgrowth of the labour movement, as the logical conclusion of the class interest. Which brings me to a question. Do you believe in revolution Andy – if so what is your understanding of revolution?

    As for the enlightenment – the major debate on its legacy seems to focus on its relationship with religion. The enlightenment is far more interesting than that fairly tired debate. Marxism represents the reaining living intellectual tradition of the enlightenment after it collapsed under the invetiable reaction of the class who carried it in its initiale phase. But Marxism also represents an attempt to overcome the limitations of the enlightenment. Marx famously stated, relying upon central tenets of hegels thought that “everything is preagnant with its opposite”. This is the nature of the enlightenment, it is both itself and its own negation simultaneously, Marxism embodys the enlightenment and the attempt to overcome its internal contradictions.

    I only mention this because understood as such the englightenment, its breakdown and Marxism are all part of an ongoing logic that leads through workers immediate demands through to unions then to collective struggle through to dual power and on to the kind of workers power which gave us the NEP and was crushed by large scale collectivisation. Obviously its not as straight forward as that – but the point remains that its all part of a single logical thread running from the neolithic revolution through to today. Somewhere in all the compromise Andy has lost that thread.

  5. tyresome points on said:

    “This approach allows religions to evolve towards the broader consensus of society quicker. This has in fact been the broad experience of Anglicanism as the dominant form of Christianity in England.”
    And here’s me thinking it’s the establishment at prayer, always willing to prop up the existing order with a little wriggle room to give it some credibilty. Or is that social democracy? I’m so confused. I wish I was taught more science at school and less ideology.

  6. Tawfiq Chahboune on said:

    Anonymous: “Andy doesn’t understand materialism – nor for that point dialectics.”

    Perhaps Andy understands “materialism” and “dialectics” perfectly well. And perhaps he finds “dialectics” fantastically pointless. Right to the end, Marx was obsessed with the Hegel and dialectics. Why he was so obsessed with such an absurd way of looking at the world is a total mystery.

    Although Marx deviated a great deal from “dialectics” in many of his writings, having possibly understood its gross limitations, it is a great pity that he engaged with a futile and erroneous philosophy. But what great thinker didn’t waste his/her time on stupid theories and draw bizarre conclusions?

  7. “To take one example, teaching of Creationism is desired by not only some Christians, but also many Muslims. The children are taught this at home anyway. A compromise could be struck with these groups where this ideology was taught to children whose parents request it; but with a required context of explaining the difference between faith based belief and evidence based knowledge.”

    The trouble with this is it is based on the assumption that parents own their children and have a right to teach them that the traditional superstition that passes through their family is of equal or greater worth than rational scientific explanations.

    Parents should be free to teach their children creationism in their own time if they wish, but every child has the right to learn evolution in science classes regardless of their parents wishes.

    Othewise, what else? Do parents have a right to insist their child learns astrology rather than astronomy or alchemy rather than chemistry?

  8. Albert on said:

    Love the stuff about “Socialism is the objective of creating a society which values everyone and accords dignity to each person equally; regardless of age, race, gender, appearance, sexual orientation, physical and mental ability.”

    So in your fantasy world ugly and beautiful people will be treated precisely the same? Do me favour and have a day off (from being a c***) ty.

  9. “Socialism is the objective of creating a society which values everyone and accords dignity to each person equally; regardless of age, race, gender, appearance, sexual orientation, physical and mental ability.”

    No, that doesn’t work at all. Many capitalists have the same objective, whether you think it is achievable within capitalism or not.

  10. I’ve just skimmed some of this – will have to read it properly another time. Whether it turns out that I agree with it or not, I think Andy is to be congratulated for writing such an ambitious piece.

    It’s bound to attract a lot of bad tempered knee jerk hostility from the resident dogma mongers – and I see it already has. If only it was possible for socialists to have an honest debate in good faith on blogs like this without all this ludicrous foaming and frothing knee-jerk denunciation.

    Anonymous above, for instance – isn’t it possible to make the substantial points you are trying to get across without these finger jabbing accusations of ‘ignorance’ and other various and hideous political-thought crimes. For god’s sake.

    Thanks for the post Andy. I look forward to a proper read of it.

  11. “No, that doesn’t work at all. Many capitalists have the same objective, whether you think it is achievable within capitalism or not.”

    Why doesn’t it work? Because people disagree about it? That’s the case with most/all political positions – they are by definition controversial.

    The point is that socialists don’t believe that these things are achievable within the framework of socialism. This is an argument that has to be won. What’s the problem?

  12. “The point is that socialists don’t believe that these things are achievable within the framework of socialism.”

    I meant capitalism of course. Doh.

  13. Dora Kaplan on said:

    Another series of banal, self-refuting arguments. If you want to define moral truth as historically contingent or as relative to an individuals private conviction then it’s contradictory to advocate universal and public moral action guides like tolerance, justice and equality. The argument turns on itself and commits suicide. It’s just elementary logic.

    But my favourite thus far is:

    “A compromise could be struck with these groups where this ideology was taught to children whose parents request it; but with a required context of explaining the difference between faith based belief and evidence based knowledge.”

    Just what would the ‘required context’ be in explaining the distinction between a religous myth and a factual account of reality? I suspect the ‘religous parents’ you’re referring to want the two taught as alternative accounts on an equal footing. But that’s impossible to any teacher with a modicum of moral awareness or intellectual integrity.

    All in all, a rather risible attack on secularism and academic integrity.

  14. Is anything beyond Andy’s scope?

    Is he setting up as the new Bertrand Russell, perhaps?

    Runia mentions the delights of R.E.

    “Aren’t you SORRY for Jesus?” thundered Mr Callister, putting his heart and soul into teaching RE at Vickerstown County Primary School.

    “No,” Otto replied incautiously. “He WANTED to be crucified. It would have spoiled the story if he hadn’t been crucified.”

    This merited punishment with a ruler applied with some force to the palms of the hands and, later, a screaming match between Otto’s Anglican-Agnostic* mother and Mr. Callister.

    Otto now teaches in a country in which the young are stuffed with literally thousands of hours of religious claptrap and a great deal of moral instruction. This even continues at college level.

    The moment the young men are able to get out and try some sin, they do so.

    “Whisky! Whisky!” they yell at the stewardess as the plane gains altitude over the Gulf.

    “Do you want any ice or ginger ale?” she enquires helpful.

    “Whisky! Whisky!” they yell.

    At one time the Royal Saudi Air Force was losing more men in stabbing incidents in or near Mexican bars in San Antonio than in all training accidents put together; it needs to be explained that the RSAF was sending trainees to Lackland Air Force Base in those years.

    * Some readers may need to be told that many communicant members of the Church of England do not exactly quite believe in God. Rather an English sort of thing, really.

    The Spitting Image hymn “You couldn’t meet a Nicer Bloke than God” captures this precisely.

  15. Carole Swords on said:

    I Describe myself as a socialist.
    to me it means being opposed to all forms of oppression, also to campaign for equality.
    My religion is personal and its up to the person to choose that path.

    What is more important is who is fit to answer the question on
    What does socialism mean?
    What is the right answer that would satisfy us all ?
    I suppose we could get out our dictionary’s or thesaurus and find the right meaning of the word
    Or perhaps we could ask one of you great scholars and bloggers that have read all about Trotsky and your other little red bibles on Marks’ N’ Len as they propose to hold the true meaning of socialism?.

    Well to me there isn’t a true meaning of socialism?
    does the meaning of socialism mean more if I am more politically inclined and I can tick all the right boxes or being well read in the old masters of long dead trots that I will have a better idea on socialism ? I think not.

    we are all aware that Capitalism does collapse but sadly we are all part of it.

    But the big shock is the working classes are not all waiting for the revolution and we are all not citizen Smiths wanting Power to the people.

    My definition on being a socialist is to have a goal not belong to a movement, in fact the majority of the working classes do not take it very seriously and leave it to the bourgeois to argue over as we all know that there idea on socialism is there idea only!. because they read it in a book

    I find life would be more bearable if we had nice people who really care and try hard to prevent all kinds of discrimination not the ones who think they know what is best for all us poor uneducated downtrodden working classes

    Sadly the revolution the trots believe in are full of flaws and I have always wondered if they ever they get there revolution

    who will write up the list of things to do

    who will organise the meeting’

    and who will phone around the foot soldiers

    I just worry for there sake as

    “Who will run it”?

    ,

  16. paul fauvet on said:

    This article is historically illiterate.

    Andy writes “The French and American revolutions of the eighteenth cntury retained slavery”. In fact, revolutionary France was the first slave-owning power to abolish slavery!

    That happened under Robespierre’s Committee of Public Safety in 1794. The revolutionary Convention welcomed its first black deputy, a former slave named Bellay from Santo Domingo (today’s Haiti), whose first speech was a demand that slavery be abolished.

    That very day the Convention declared slavery abolished, and that black inhabitants of French territories were full citizens of the Republic.

    It wasn’t until Napoleon seized power that slavery was reintroduced. I think it’s about time Andy Newman stopped slandering the French revolution!

    Andy’s ramblings about traditional christianity are also nonsense. For much of late antiquity and the Middle Ages, christianity had fairly shallow roots. It became the religion of the Roman Empire, not because it was enormously popular, but because an emperor, Constantine, converted.

    The mass of the population avoided trouble by adopting whatever supernatural ideology their rulers proclaimed. Very understandable, given that the penalties for not doing so were often torture and death.

    North Africa offers the clearest example – it switched from paganism to orthodox christianity with scarcely a blink. Then, when the Vandals invaded, the official religion became the Arian heresy. Two centuries later, as the Arab armies swept across the area, the bulk of the population became moslems, again with no sign of popular resistance.

  17. I am stunned by the lucidity of Tawfiq Chahboune’s critique of Marxism. I now recant and realise the error of my ways. Please, please, write more Mr Chahboune. you are obviously anintellectual giant. you have seen through Marxism and the Workers’ Movement in a twinkling of an eye, unlike us poor benighted fools. But not me any more, I see you are so right! Loy of ignoramus babbling and moralism on this thread.

  18. Incidentally, it occurred to me this morning that the Afghanistani people don’t need the General Will or the Popular Will, not when their elites have submitted themselves to the Will of Allah. So, that’s alright then, isn’t it.

  19. #13 Otto – You have captured the hypocrisy of officially-sponsored piety perfectly. Only secularism – the relegation of religion to the private domain – can save religion from itself, and our children from being educated in the art of doublethink.

  20. LRC member on said:

    These are the kind of politics that emerge from immersing yourself in a cloud of crusty old tankies who’s idea of activism is to get sozzled on Newcastle brown after the LRC conference and then sing crappy folky songs about uncle ho chi Mihn on an acoustic guitar with CND stikers on it and engraved with ‘this machine kills the SWP’.

    Oi, don’t tar us with the same brush! As far as I know, Andy is not and never has been connected with the LRC, though of course he and anyone else is welcome to join us at LRC conference on Nov 14th.

    I’ve been to every LRC conference (I think) since it was founded, and never seen anyone singing folk songs, or anything about Ho Chi Minh, or even any acoustic guitars – with or without CND stickers.

    Nice rhetoric though.

  21. # 15 Paul Fauvet is absolutely right. It’s odd that Andy Newman feels free to comment on something he knows little about. The early campaign against the Slave Trade, La Société des amis des Noirs, was one factor – propelled such great atheist figures such as Condorcet who wrote one of the first thorough-going criticisms of slavery. Another, covered in Robin Blackurn’s studies on slavery, was the revolt led by Touissant d’Ouverture. It is noteworthy that the Caribbean slaves looked to the French Revolution for ideological inspiration.

    While one can find Christians who campaigned against slavery – including Abbe Gregoire who was linked to the inspiring (sceptical) British Quaker and radical Clarkson – many supported it. Regarding religon generally, in the Islamic world slavery endured much longer – such as in the Islamic slave state of Northern Nigera, which under British imperialist sponsership ran on slavery until the middle of the last century.

  22. Armchair on said:

    Dogmatic atheism is un-marxist because it is, like its opposite number, a form of idealism.

    Marx realised this himself, and was critical of those who obsessed about the struggle against religion per se (Stirner, Bauer etc).

    The human race has been on the planet about a million years, during which time the overwhelming majority of people had religion of some kind. The enlightenment happened 250 years ago.

    As they say in the USA, “do the math.”

  23. Armchair on said:

    Which of course does not mean that we should downplay or forgo the struggle for secularism or against opression by forms of organised religion, or against communalism.

  24. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    Intellectuals have shown evidence of religious skepticism long before the Enlightenment. An informer report, and various rumours about the playwright Christopher Marlowe before his mysterious death in 1593 accused him of atheism. Also, some Ancient Greek philosophers seem to have been atheists, or something near atheism.

  25. #21 Armchair – a question: what exactly is “dogmatic atheism”? So far as I can see, you can believe that deities exist, in which case you are religious, or you can reject the idea, in which case you are atheist, or you can remain undecided or never think about it, in which case you are neither. But atheism as such has no dogma. That’s the whole point about it.

    You can be a fanatical atheist, which like any form of fanaticism is a bad idea, and there are plenty of atheists who are dogmatic about something else, like Marxism or some other godless ideology, which is also a bad idea. But I can’t quite work out what constitutes “dogmatic atheism”.

  26. Armchair on said:

    #24 What I mean is atheism as a beleif system in its own right, particularly of you try to impose it on others.

    I couldn’t think of a better word, although I concede that dogmatic is probably not the best.

    Mark VS- Marlow lived during the Renaisance, which was in many ways the precursor to the Enlightenment, and was not that long ago in the scheme of things.

  27. I suppose that the most sustained attempt at imposing atheism took place in (some of) the countries under communist party rule. For decades “scientific atheism” was on the Soviet educational syllabus. But this was a case of attempting to replace religions with sky-gods (Christianity, Islam, etc.) with a religion without a sky-god (Marxism-Leninism). It had all the defects of the more traditional state-imposed faiths (rote learning, phrase-parroting, empty ritual, gross insincerity on the part of both educators and educated), with the added disadvantage of being refutable in this present life, rather than in the hereafter.

    Atheism should never be an end in itself. Its intellectual progenitor, freethought, is the thing that is really valuable. Any attempts to brainwash people into unbelief are worse than useless.

  28. In my experience, those raised under the Soviet system or its satellites are disproportionately atheists. Not communists, generally, in fact largely liberal and capitalist. But also atheist. Which maybe suggests that it’s quite easy within a couple of generations to create or destroy a widespread belief system if desired.

    That may just be my limited experience though.

  29. #19
    “I’ve been to every LRC conference (I think) since it was founded, and never seen anyone singing folk songs, or anything about Ho Chi Minh, or even any acoustic guitars – with or without CND stickers.”

    Same here, and never ever witnessed tanks singing folk songs about Ho Chi Minh while guzzling Newcastle brown. Is there any evidence of these crimes against music and good taste? Or indeed I coulda witnessed it, suppressed the experience as it was just toooo traumatic to behold.

  30. I’d be content just to spot Andy Newman at an LRC conference, never mind the bearded guitar-playing Juchist!

  31. Shame that teh LRC isn’t composed of people supping Newcastle Brown, having communal sing-songs and doing the latest folk dance. I might consider joining it if it was that much fun. Remember please that ‘Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it.’. Also, could Andy or Tariq explain to me their theory of Imperialism.

  32. Tawfiq Chahboune on said:

    Sue R: “…you have seen through Marxism and the Workers’ Movement in a twinkling of an eye, unlike us poor benighted fools”.

    Actually, I don’t have the honour of having “seen through Marxism and the Workers’ Movement”. As a socialist, I am a strong supporter of the labour/workers’ movement. As for Marxism, it depends what you mean. It is perfectly obvious that Marx’s major writings were not only incomplete and were developing until the day he died but just possibly – the controversy of it all! – is that for various reasons Marx may have been wrong or could not comprehend the whole picture.

    And since modern “capitalism” is in many ways very different to that of Marx’s day, the approach Marx formulated/discovered needs further development – i.e. to develop the approach he left uncompleted when he died. Though basically sound, the Marxist approach needs further development. Very much like Darwin’s theory of evolution or Einstein’s theory of spacetime. Or as Michael Lebowitz nicely put it, just because Marx discovered a continent, it does not mean he mapped all its contours.

    I don’t know how much of your intellectual development is the result of dialectics. It doesn’t mean much to me. I remember once reading Marx’s dialectical approach to differential calculus. What tremendous rubbish .

  33. prianikoff on said:

    One major problem with all this stuff is that the bourgeois englightenment was on the wrong track anyway.
    Marx replaced the Hegelian idealist concept of Reason with Happiness.

  34. Paul, Andrew

    Ok,OK the French republic abolished slavery.

    But wasn’t it reintroduced it in 1802 ???

    So it was abolished for some 20 years, and then continued.

    My general point is acurate that Enlightenment values of human rights were not necessarily opposed to slavery. the American republic being the clearest example.

  35. Dora Kaplan on said:

    I see critical posts are being deleted….again. Even those that don’t mention the DDR. Remarkable! Speaking of which, isn’t it about time we had a new post on the DDR? From creationism to revisionism via cultural relativism.

    The intellectual riches of Andy Newman’s fertile mind never cease to amaze!

  36. paul fauvet on said:

    Yes, Andy, slavery was reintroduced by France in 1802 – but not by the same people who had abolished it in 1794.

    Slavery was abolished at the height of the revolution, when the most radical wing of the Jacobins were in power. It was restored when nothing of the Republic remained but the name, and Napoleon Bonaparte was consolidating his personal power.

    You surely don’t imagine that Bonaparte somehow incarnated Enlightenment ideals ?

    As for your enthusiasm for religion – surely you are aware that both Christianity and Islam went hand in hand with slavery for many centuries, and that right up until the 18th century few voices could be heard in any of the established churches condemning slavery.

    Yes, Enlightenment thinkers could be racist, and did not wage a consistent battle against slavery. The Catholic Church hierarchy, on the other hand, was perfectly consistent – consistently in support of slavery.

    As late as 1866, we find the Holy Office (aka the Inquisition) writing “Slavery itself…is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law…The purchaser [of the slave] should carefully examine whether the slave who is put up for sale has been justly or unjustly deprived of his liberty, and that the vendor should do nothing which might endanger the life, virtue, or Catholic faith of the slave.”

    I think I’ll stick with the Enlightnment and with the Jacobins.

  37. “You surely don’t imagine that Bonaparte somehow incarnated Enlightenment ideals ? ”

    Well he consolidated bourgeois rule in France, and exported the revolution to Germany and Italy. It wasn’t a counter-revolutionary return to feudalism.

    As for your remarks about the role of Christianity and Islam in justfiying slavery, nothong you say contyradicts my discussion of the role of religion in the original article, the social context of those religions has changed between then and now.

  38. #37

    Future commments from Dora Kaplan will all be deleted unless (s)he starts to actually engage in debating ideas, instead of his/her current practice of just being rude.

  39. Teaching creationism in state schools or state-supported schools is not a compromise. It is teaching lies to children. There can be no compromise on this.

  40. #13

    The penny has finally dropped that Dora Kaplan is the obsessive character aho usualy posts on other blogs as “Modernity”. He is renowned for trolling where he simply doesn’t understand the arguments of other people and repeats his points like groundhog day.

    He also consistently lies saying that we delete all critical comments here, and misrepresents other people’s poinits of view.

    Here Modernity says:

    “If you want to define moral truth as historically contingent or as relative to an individuals private conviction then it’s contradictory to advocate universal and public moral action guides like tolerance, justice and equality. The argument turns on itself and commits suicide. It’s just elementary logic.”

    BUt true to form the dim bulb simply hasn’t got it.

    I am precisely not advocating tolerance, justice and equality as universal moral values, but rather as the particular and historically contingent values of liberalism in capitalism, and ones thats socialists reinforce by also campaigning for economic equality.

    So Modernity has not discovered a logical fallacy in my argument

  41. #42

    “teaching lies to children”

    lies implies that they don’t beleive it.

    In fact the issue occurs becasue the parents do beleive it themselves. The question is therefore about the limits of state and parental responsibility.

    Since the parents do not deny that creationism is a faith based theory, not can they deny the ubiquity of the mature and established scientific theory of evolution, there is no reason they should object to a cntextualisation that teaches the difference between faith and science as the origin of beleif. And the stalking horse of Intelligent Design can be treated in the same way.

  42. Andy, you assert:

    “…teaching of Creationism is desired by not only some Christians, but also many Muslims. The children are taught this at home anyway. A compromise could be struck with these groups where this ideology was taught to children whose parents request it; but with a required context of explaining the difference between faith based belief and evidence based knowledge.”

    But there’s no need for any such ‘compromise’.

    While the teaching of Creationism in our publicly-funded schools may be desired by some religious people, there’s neither any mass campaign for it nor is that ‘desire’ any bar to religious & non-religious people campaigning together for social progress.

    Those parents who want to inculcate their children in ‘this ideology’ can (as you say) teach it at home, or force / persuade their children to go to Sunday schools, etc.

    So there’s nothing to be gained whatsoever by increasing the role of religion within our school system or allowing it to be put at the service of anti-science.

  43. Andy – of course, the parents who want creationism taught believe it! But there is simply no way that a school teacher who understands biology and geology and has any integrity could teach children that the Earth is 6000 years old, that there are no transitional fossils, that the fossil record can be explained by the flood described in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, that evolution contradicts the second law of thermodynamics, etc. That’s what I mean by teaching lies to children.

    Recently news came out that a ‘creation science’ course that claimed the possible existence of the Loch Ness Monster as an example of a living fossil has accreditation equivalent to an ‘A’ level in British schools!

    I recommend the Talk.Origins, BCSE, ASA and NCSE sites (linked to on my blog sidebar under ‘Evolution’) for more information about the whole issue.

  44. # 44. Andy – if you are suggesting that comparative creation myths be taught in schools in the context of, say, history lessons (“What did the Ancient Greeks/Ancient Jews/7th century Bedouins believe about the beginnings of the world?”) then I am with you all the way. But you won’t get much support for that from pious Christian or Muslim parents, both of whom like to imagine that their favoured version of the myth is uniquely true. But your initial post suggested that you wanted it offered as a kind of optional alternative or supplement to science classes – which is something very different indeed.

  45. Shouldn’t we be teaching re-incarnation and teh legitimacy of the caste system in school lessons? They have just as much validity as Creationism. By the way, Truth values do not depend upon belief. It is unqualifiedly not true that I am not the King of France or a teapot, even though I might believe it. What about parents who sincerely believe that different races have different social and evolutionary value, should the school defer to their wishes and not operate within an overarching ideology of equality? Anyway, all those who dislike living in a tolerant and liberal-minded society, are welcome to remove themselves from it.

  46. The eductaion system in England and Wales provides for church run schools, and Jewish schools within the state sector. Parents choose to send their kids there in the knowledge that the teaching will reflect their faith. I think that is a good idea, it should be extended to other mainstream religions.

    The issues here are:

    i) should the state require all children to have the same education
    ii) does it really matter or not whether science education for some children includes faith based belief. Most children don’t go on to become evolutionary biologists or paleantologists. Indeed reflect on the fact that all of the people who currently believe in the creation myths were taught evolution at school.

    Now the probem that Ken McLeod raises is an interesting one, because if a faith school cannot attract qualified science teachers willing to teach their curriculum, that would be a wake up call for that school; and if they could only acheive it by opting for a lower academic reputation, then that would also affect parent choices.

    You shouldn’t get your knickers in a twist about this. If creationism could be taught in science lessons in some faith schools, the majority of parents would not want it, and would prefer real science. Even those who were taught creationism would also be introduced to evolutionary theory. But what it would be doing would be mainstreaming a faith subculture, rather than forcing them to home-educate, or send their children into the private sector.

  47. Andy: “The eductaion system in England and Wales provides for church run schools, and Jewish schools within the state sector. Parents choose to send their kids there in the knowledge that the teaching will reflect their faith. I think that is a good idea, it should be extended to other mainstream religions.”

    And therein lies the crux of our disagreement. I think that segregation of children on the basis of their parents’ or ancestors’ faith is divisive, leads to the ghettoisation of minorities and works against developing the mutual understanding needed to make a society with different cultures work. When extended to the children of Muslim parents, in many cities it will lead to almost complete racial segregation. In the old days, we used to call that sort of thing “apartheid” and march against it. It is very unfashionable of me, but I still think it is a very bad idea.

  48. Well I don’t think there is any evidencde that children going to Catholic, Jewish or C of E schools in England or Wales are less integrated into mainstream culture than those going to other state schools. Nor are those going to Welsh speaking schools .

    I don’t think there was much evidence of developing mutual understanding in the hammer attack at Wroughton school in the news recently (just down the road from me), where there has been some polarisation among children, notwithstanding the fact they go to the same school

    There are some anomalies, my boys go to a mainstream council run primary school, which we chose on preference to the C of E school. But it torns out that the school they go to has considerable input from conservative evangelicals that the C of E school, which is more mainstream. I regard my parental choice has been compromised by the school.

    Developing mutual understanding is a political and social aspiration that we need to work at by consciously reacing out to people, and working together on areas where we share common ground. There are no short cuts.

  49. And, answer the question please. Why not teach re-incarnation and the divinely ordained nature of the caste system? It’s just as valid as Creationism. As for the hammer attack, from what I read, those boys didn’t want to be integrated, so don’t claim that the mainstream educational system was to blame. I don’t think it is very nice behaviour to tell a lad you are going to have a one to one confrontation and then ring up an older cousin and a gang of boys, or does Andy think that is fair?

  50. Two words come to mind: Northern Ireland. Everyone goes to a faith school there. And although the education system is of course not the main cause of the social polarisation there, it certainly plays its part in ensuring the estrangement of the 2 main communities from each other down the generations.

  51. #53
    I thought it was British Government support for the Orange establishment of Northern Ireland, and its entrenched bigotry against Catholics at all levels of society, that was the cause of the problems there.

    Are you blaming Catholics for their own oppression and ghettoisation at the hands of the British/Orange establishment in Northern Ireland?

    Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with faith-based schools and no evidence to support the received wisdom they encourage sectarianism or ghettoisation.

    In fact, faith-based schools encourage and support cultural diversity and help maintain the identities of ‘minorities’ in our increasingly corporately homogonised monocultural society. This is something, I think, that ought to be encouraged and supported by the democratically-minded among us.

    Here is the Osama Saeed (of the SNP) with a few devastatingly simple observations and arguments –
    Do faith schools cause division?
    Rolled-up Trousers blog
    21 Dec 2005

  52. Joe90

    I totally agree with you Joe. I want my kids educated in white, middle class schools where they can learn my cultural values such as capitalism, protestantism and the beauty of a white, anglo-saxon heritage, love for the Royal Family and respect for our betters.

    You can send your kids to the local Scottish National Party, Irish catholic, socialist school, and Osama can send his kids to the local Madrassa.

    In each we can teach the value of living separately but at the same time, respecting difference and sharing responsibility for a harmonious, multi-cultural Europe.

  53. prianikoff on said:

    “i) should the state require all children to have the same education.”

    No.

    “ii) does it really matter or not whether science education for some children includes faith based belief.”

    Yes

  54. “Should the state require all children to have the same education?”

    No – but that’s an argument for getting rid of the national curriculum, and letting teachers decide how best to teach their subjects. It isn’t really an argument for state-subsidised ecclesiastical indoctrination.

  55. #57
    It isn’t really an argument for state-subsidised ecclesiastical indoctrination.

    – Having a secular non-religious government isn’t the same thing as having a secular education system.

    Why should bigoted atheists be allowed to tell religiously-minded parents which schools their children should be taught in?

  56. Why should bigoted atheists be allowed to tell religiously-minded parents which schools their children should be taught in?

    Quite right Joe. Let free market edunomics run free. The market knows best.

  57. I thought this was basic stuff... on said:

    Nice to see anyone who questions the value of faith schools is a ‘bigoted atheist’. Presumably that includes all the Christians who are opposed to faith schools too.

    What ‘choice’ do parents have if their local school is a faith school? Shouldn’t the local school be for everyone?

  58. #60
    Nice to see anyone who questions the value of faith schools is a ‘bigoted atheist’.
    – That’s just my experience.

    For example, Francis in the comments above, thinks that the problems in Northern Ireland are, somehow, to do with Catholic parents wanting to send their bairns to Catholic schools.

    Just to take another more famous example, Richard Dawkins, who is a prominent athiest bigot and all round middle-class bore.
    He regards parents who are, in anyway religious, as child abusers. See his book ‘The God Delusion’ for the Prof’s unproven bigotry against caring loving parents who happen not to be intolerant brainwashed athiest like he is.

  59. I thought this was basic stuff... on said:

    And all the religious people or agnostics who object to faith schools?

  60. #60

    Well in most cases there is a choice, and the irony here is that atheist parents often pretend to be religious to get their sprogs into a faith school.

    Surely it is a question of parental choice: religious people, atheists and agnostics who don’t want to send their child to a faith school should always have that option.

    But what is the harm in having faith schools which broadly conform to the same curriculum as all other state schools, but which are sensitive to the particular faith of the parents?

    This was nly considered “basic stuff” by people who uncritically accepted secularism as an aim of the labour movement – to the credit of the Labour party, that has never been its position.

  61. #63 I suppose you could have one school for each faith, or for each confession within each faith, with special part-time arrangements at more than one school for children whose parents had different faiths. You could have New Age schools as well. Not sure what to do about the children whose parents didn’t have any faith – perhaps one school for lapsed Catholics, another for lapsed Anglicans, etc… It would mean a lot of travelling, amd the streets would be pretty impassable at school run time, though.

  62. Andy – the bizarre thing is that the whole business is quite unnecessary. My son’s school is the local comprehensive. It is not affiliated with any church, although the headmistress makes no secret of her own religiosity. Judging by my lad’s homework, its RE lessons are rather bland and general, but there’s nothing much there that any parent who wasn’t a religious fanatic could object to. It doesn’t privilege anyone’s faith, nor does it set out to undermine anyone’s faith, or lack of it. The only kids who don’t go to it, by and large, are the posh kids (who go private) and the more observant Catholic kids. It serves as one of the hubs of the local community. The local kids all know each other, because they all attended the same school. It unites rather than divides. And it teaches normal science. It is far from perfect, but it is overall the sort of school the left was arguing for from the 1950s onwards. Comprehensive education. Education for the whole community. And it works. Why on earth should the left abandon that victory – one of our few victories – in favour of selection by exam, creed or any other divisive factor?

  63. #61
    But times change, and the politics of identity is now all the rage…
    – Why do athiests claim to have no cultural identity whenever the politics of decent, honest, caring parents who just happen to be religious are discussed?

    Comprehensive education. Education for the whole community. And it works. Why on earth should the left abandon that victory – one of our few victories – in favour of selection by exam, creed or any other divisive factor?
    – The victory, if there is any, is to get ‘religion’ out of the government as is now currently happening in Northern Ireland, and has nothing much to do with religion in schools.

    I don’t mind faith-schools much, and support them in many ways – but what I do mind is the official established church, the CoE, Bishops in the Lords, the Queen as the head of the British military and the British state.

    If people are concerned about sectarianism (as in Northern Ireland and the West of Scotland) then they should work to get rid of the law that says the head of the British state can’t marry a Catholic.

    all the best Francis

  64. It doesn’t work round my way. There are two schools in walking distance, both religious, so if we have a kid we’ll have to take them on a bus somewhere to school.

    Not in search of a militant atheist school, just one which teaches religion comparatively in the RE classroom and doesn’t take it further than that. I don’t think you have to be a ‘bigoted atheist’, or even Richard Dawkins, to see that as a good thing.

    It’s a nonsense to talk about every parent having a choice of schools. Are you going to ensure every catchment area in the country has a CofE school, an RC school, an Orthodox Jewish school, a Muslim school, a Sikh school, a Hindu school and a secular school? What about any Buddhists? Scientologists? Pagans? The whole idea of ‘choice’ in schooling is a crock of shit anyway. Why add more layers of shit to it?

    How about we bring back Christian charity to replace the welfare state as well?

  65. #69

    It is not about “ensuring” choice, it is about enabling groups to choose to have a school, if it is viable and desired by ther community.

    This is just a simple recognition of the competing identities that people have, which is particularly valuable for minority faiths like Judaism and catholicism – and it should be applicable to Sikhism, Islam and Hinduism.

  66. In every and every catchment area?

    What about atheists who don’t have a secular school in their area?

    Not to mention the cheek of my taxes being used to subsidise a school my children would not be allowed to attend.

  67. Well said Francis. Absolutely spot-on.

    Andy remarks at #64: “the irony here is that atheist parents often pretend to be religious to get their sprogs into a faith school.”

    There’s no irony about that, & I am very well aware of this phenomenon through my own personal experience. Of course- if the local faith school is higher up the educational ‘league table’ than the local non-faith school, very many parents will resort to almost any scam to get their children into that school.

    As they will also if the ‘best’ school in the area is a non-faith school. That’s inevitable & most understandable, given that people want to give their children the very best chances in life.

    The practical result of the imposition of ‘parental choice’ is to reduce educational equality of opportunity in society as a whole; and the added effect of religious schooling only makes this worse.

    This is one of the many examples where supposed ‘freedom of choice’ under capitalism has the actual effect of reducing equality, hence suppressing prospects for the real freedom of the majority of human beings.

  68. I suppose it boils down to this: are we in favour of comprehensive schools, or are we in favour of a patchwork of different more or less exclusive or selective schools? Old-fashioned leftist that I am, I am firmly in favour of comprehensive schooling – the more comprehensive, the better. And that means not only different academic levels studying together, but different social classes, races, and religious backgrounds.

  69. joe90kane # 62: Dawkins ‘regards parents who are, in anyway religious, as child abusers.’

    No, he does not, and you are welcome to search The God Delusion for any passage that says so.

  70. #74
    No, he does not, and you are welcome to search The God Delusion for any passage that says so.
    – Thanks for the invitation Ken but I don’t really need you or anyone else’s invitation to do so.

    From Dawkins The God Delusion
    Chapter 9
    – Childhood, Abuse and the escape from religion

    Chapter 9 sub-headings
    – Physical and mental abuse
    – In Defence of children

    Deliberately linking religious upbringing with child abuse and abusers is a disgrace.

    To put parents, teachers and schools on the same level as a Liam Brady or an Ian Huntley is beyond the pale – but then, this is ‘athiesm’ we’re talking about. Athiests think they have a licence to go around insulting the rest of society for some strange arrogant reason I’ve never been able to fathom.

    So, just to re-iterate – Muslim parents are guilty of child abuse, and Jewish people who want a Jewish school cause inequality in society.
    This is islamophobia and antisemitism.

    Athiests are so progressive in their thinking.

    One of the reasons there is so much blather about ‘faith schools’ latterly is simply due to islamophobia because Muslims are demanding state funding for Muslim schools. There was never this much noise when christian sectarians were getting their schooling supported and funded by the state.

    Now when the state is being asked to support non-christian democratic cultural diversity, it turns out, it’s a big problem after all.

  71. prianikoff on said:

    Francis King
    “” Should the state require all children to have the same education?”
    No – but that’s an argument for getting rid of the national curriculum, and letting teachers decide how best to teach their subjects.
    It isn’t really an argument for state-subsidised ecclesiastical indoctrination.”
    The National Curriculum has made education far too proscriptive.
    But”Autonomy of the teaching profession” is a rather old-fashioned sort of position.
    Traditionally, “Progressive teachers” were always isolated and sometimes victimised.
    e.g during the Burston School Strike in Norfolk.

    During this episode, the role of organised religion wasn’t exactly exemplary either.
    Striking families who rented land from the Rector for growing food were evicted and their crops and property destroyed.
    The village’s Methodist preacher, who held services on the village green on Sundays for families of the Strike School children, was censured by his church.
    A core “entitlement” curriculum needs to be combined with enough diversity to provide choice.
    Certainly teaching creationism as science should not be one of them!

  72. #77 Prianikoff: “Traditionally, “Progressive teachers” were always isolated and sometimes victimised.”

    I’m not sure that’s entirely true – I have known several progressive teachers, including members of my own family, who were neither particularly isolated nor victimised. They didn’t go around striking revolutionary postures, or anything like that, but they saw part of their mission as making children think for themselves, and got on with doing that. The best teacher at my old primary school, whom I still remember fondly, was also of that type. I remember she did a class project on the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten, who decreed a new religion for the empire a few years into his reign. Subliminal message for those kids smart enough to pick it up – religions and their deities are human inventions. She wouldn’t have been allowed to get away with it in this era of key stages, SATs and all that guff. :(

  73. prianikoff on said:

    Well, they often reached a hostile institutional modus vivendi with direly reactionary Heads, like at my old school.

    Two of the best teachers there were non-authoritarian, beery and rebellious lapsed Catholics, with Labour-leftish politics.

    As one of them used to say, with a Burnsian flourish; “Class conscious we air, class conscious we’ll be/ Till our fits on the nicks o the bourgeoisie.”

    But his advice to us in the 6th form debating society was. “vote Labour or your balls will fall off”

    (I think he was tolerated because he’d been an officer in the RAF).

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