Monday, February 04, 2008

Oliver Kamm

I have been enjoying the blog of Oliver Kamm. Kamm is a true rationalist. Most of my readers will be aware that people who call themselves rationalists tend to be suffering from more delusions than most. They have simply substituted what they took to be one set of myths (usually religious) for another set (usually reductionist and political). Kamm is far more clear-eyed. In fact, the only illusion he allows himself is that he is a member of the political left. And yet his main literary activity is to puncture the bubbles that make up the worldview of certain members of mainstream left.

For some of this group, to call yourself leftwing requires that you hold to certain propositions. These include that America is to blame for most of the world’s problems, that the Soviet Union was a glorious experiment that went wrong and that the Palestinians are entirely innocent of the causes of their suffering. Economically, you must be anti-globalisation, against free trade, in favour of protectionism (which you call fair trade) and impatiently awaiting the collapse of capitalism. On the domestic front, you must hate Margaret Thatcher, laud the Trade Unions, believe that the Argentine battle cruiser, the Belgrano, represented no threat to the British fleet when it was sunk during the Falklands War and blame the Middle Classes for everything that is wrong with the British education system.

As far as I can gather, Kamm does not subscribe to any of these propositions. Nor, I should hasten to add, do many people in the Labour Government, which could be described as social democratic but never as socialist. The Labour Party’s activist base, on the other hand, is well to the left of the leadership.

So Kamm is a liberal who delights in destroying the myths of the left (and occasionally the far right too, although he restricts himself to holocaust denial debunking in this respect). Anyone who enjoys forensic prose coupled with high intelligence laced with a Tabasco of arrogance will find his blog well worth perusing. He is especially strong on the continuing legends of the Cold War, especially those that seek to show a moral equivalence between the democratic United States and the tyranny of the Soviet Union.

Like many other signatories of the Euston Manifesto, on one subject he is quite misguided. As an atheist, he occasionally feels a need to be rude about religion. This has also led him to praise the recent books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I can only assume that this is one area of study where he is not as well briefed as he is in modern history and contemporary politics. Consequently, he is unable to distinguish between useful scholarship on the subject and the rhetoric that he despises in other areas. Not that he would convert; but he should be aware that the history and science of religious belief bears little resemblance to Hitchens’ and Dawkins’ caricature. Sadly, I don’t think he would consider brushing up on theological questions would be a valuable use of his time and so this flaw in his thinking is likely to be maintained.

Click here to read the first chapter of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science absolutely free.

1 comment:

Nicky Chow said...

The Palestinians are under occupation.