Wednesday, January 10, 2007


There is a neocon eulogy of the recently deceased Prof. Seymour Martin Lipset here. Despite the usual adjuration de mortuis nil nisi bonum, I feel that I should say a few words to set the record straight. Lipset was a very popular sociologist and political scientist but that which is popularly believed often turns out to be wrong in the long run and I believe that the positive view of Lipset's contribution is formed by his Leftist origins rather than by the lasting value of his ideas. He started out as a Trotskyite, as did the neocons.

I should perhaps declare a personal interest before going on. Despite the effusions about Lipset's good character, my own encounter with him was unimpressive, to say the least. He agreed to mark my Ph.D. dissertation and then not only failed to do so after many reminders but also failed to return his copy of the dissertation when requested to do so. This created such delays that my Ph.D. was not awarded until 1974, even though the dissertation was handed in in 1970. And why did he behave so badly? I guess it wouldn't be because the dissertation reported research results which undermined ideas that he was identified with, would it? Rather than use new data to develop his views -- as a real scientist would -- he resorted to the old Leftist strategy of denial, just as other Leftists for decades denied the evils of the Soviet State.

The central findings of the large and international program of resarch that I undertook to test a popular Lipset idea -- that working-class people are "authoritaraian" -- were finally published in Sociology and Social Research in 1983. Lipset had used selected public opinion poll data to test his ideas but I used much more closely targeted psychometric methods. I found that there was some tendency for the workers to be conservative on some social issues but NO evidence of them being "authoritarian". See here

Lipset's idea that America was saved from its "bad side" by great men is a typical example of selective Leftist attention to group differences. Leftists will trumpet how blacks have been damaged by slavery or how homosexuals need to be protected from discrimination but acknowledging that another group -- Americans of British and Northern European origin -- have particular strengths and virtues is absolutely taboo.

One only has to look at one of the "great" men that Lipset believed "saved" America -- Frankin Delano Roosevelt, the Fascist sympathizer who turned a normal cyclic depression into the Great Depression by his attacks on business and then delivered whole nations into the hands of the Soviets at Yalta. For some of the less-publicized facts about FDR see here and here and here. The truth of the matter is that America's prosperity and pre-eminence is the product of many millions of decent and hard-working individuals. To be even more precise, the success of America comes from the respect for the individual and for the rule of law which America's immigrants from Britain and Northern Europe brought with them and which they enshrined in America's way of life and institutions. But it is "racist" to say that, of course.

And Lipset's saying that "The United States is the only Protestant sectarian country in the world" is also absurd. "Sectarian" implies severe intolerance and discrimination towards people holding to other belief systems. In fact, America would have to be one of the countries with greatest freedom of religion. It is even safe to be a real conservative in America -- though not in American universities, of course.

I could go on to say more about Lipset's twisted ideas but I have no taste for cleaning out Augean stables.



Gangland slayings in the Palestinian territories this week have pitted the Islamist gunmen of Hamas against the secular forces of Fatah. The killings defy civilised norms: in December even children were targeted for murder. But the killings also defy political common sense. Ariel Sharon's wall cuts terrorists off from Israeli targets and what happens? The violence - previously justified with the cause of a Palestinian homeland - continues as if nothing had changed, merely finding its outlet in a new set of targets. This makes it appear that Palestinian violence has never really been about a "cause" at all. The violence is, in a strange way, about itself.

Gunnar Heinsohn, a social scientist and genocide researcher at the University of Bremen, has an explanation for why this might be so. Since its publication in 2003, his eccentric and eye-opening Sons and World Power* (not available in English) has become something of a cult book. In Mr Heinsohn's view, when 15 to 29-year-olds make up more than 30 per cent of the population, violence tends to happen; when large percentages are under 15, violence is often imminent. The "causes" in the name of which that violence is committed can be immaterial. There are 67 countries in the world with such "youth bulges" now and 60 of them are undergoing some kind of civil war or mass killing.

Between 1988 and 2002, 900m sons were born to mothers in the developing world and a careful demographer could almost predict the trouble spots. In the decade leading up to 1993, on the eve of the Taliban takeover, the population of Afghanistan grew from 14m to 22m. By the end of this generation, Afghanistan will have as many people under 20 as France and Germany combined. Iraq had 5m people in 1950 but has 25m now, in spite of a quarter-century of wars. Since 1967, the population of the West Bank and Gaza has grown from 450,000 to 3.3m, 47 per cent of which is under 15. If Mr Heinsohn is right, then Palestinian violence of recent months and years is not explained by Israeli occupation (which, after all, existed 30 years ago) or poverty (the most violent parts of the Muslim world are not the poorest) or humiliation. It is just violence.

Mr Heinsohn's point is not that the West is "outnumbered". Nor is it that a Malthusian battle for scarce resources is under way. In El Salvador, for instance, the explosion of political killing in the 1970s and 1980s was preceded by a 27 per cent rise in per capita income. The problem, rather, is that in a youth-bulge society there are not enough positions to provide all these young men with prestige and standing. Envy against older, inheriting brothers is unleashed. So is ambition. Military heroism presents itself as a time-honoured way for a second or third son to wrest a position of respectability from an otherwise indifferent society. Societies with a glut of young men become temperamentally different from "singleton societies" such as Europe's, where the prospect of sending an only child to war is almost unthinkable. Europe's pacifism since 1945, in Mr Heinsohn's view, reflects an inability to wage war, not a disinclination.

Mr Heinsohn's theory accounts for the way "idealistic" wars of national liberation can shift imperceptibly into "pointless" civil wars - as in Ireland 90 years ago or in Africa after decolonisation or in Latin America in the 1980s or in Palestine in recent months. In a broader historical perspective, it explains how a half-dozen fast-growing European countries gradually seized control of almost the entire known world after 1485 and why the fast-growing North American colonies revolted in the 1770s, using as a pretext their "rather silly outrage over taxation without parliamentary representation in London".

If you follow this argument to its logical end point, then the religion of Islam, the focus of so much contemporary strategic discussion, is a great red herring. Islamic countries are certainly growing in importance. They will make up a quarter of the world a decade from now. Of the 27 biggest youth-bulge nations, 13 are Muslim. But if there is a clash between civilisations, it is not a civilisational clash. Religion can be a convenient rationalisation for violent people who do not want to think of themselves as conventional criminals, but this problem is not unique to Islam. In the New World 500 years ago, Mr Heinsohn notes, Spanish conquistadores, too, bowed down and prayed before carrying out slaughters.

In an interview with the Neue Zuercher Zeitung last autumn, Mr Heinsohn noted that if Germany had had the same kind of population growth as Gaza (9 children per woman) over recent decades, it would now have 550m people and 80m young men aged 15 to 30. "Do you think these 80m young Germans would be 10 times as pacifist as the 7m we have today?" he asked. "Or is it not much more likely that they would be throwing bombs in Prague and Gdansk and Wroclaw and - just like the Palestinians - saying: 'This is our land, and it was taken from us for historical reasons that we had nothing to do with'?"

Such a demographic perspective on the global unrest gives us grounds for optimism: In a few decades, the era of youth-bulge wars could be over. It is the meantime that poses problems. Should the west just wait for this wave to burn itself out? When the world is at peace, will it have been better to have kept our nose out of other people's business? Will it have been better to say we at least tried to steer the developing world through this crisis in a humane way? Iraq and Palestine are not the only places where these questions ought to be approached with a good deal of intellectual modesty.




"All the worth which the human being possesses, all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State." -- 19th century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel is the most influential philosopher of the Left -- inspiring Karl Marx, the American "Progressives" of the early 20th century and university socialists to this day.

The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialistisch)

R.I.P. Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet deposed a law-defying Marxist President at the express and desperate invitation of the Chilean parliament. He pioneered the free-market reforms which Reagan and Thatcher later unleashed to world-changing effect. That he used far-Leftist methods to suppress far-Leftist violence is reasonable if not ideal. The Leftist view that they should have a monopoly of violence and that others should follow the law is a total absurdity which shows only that their hate overcomes their reason

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