Dissenting Radical

The Common Good: A 'Christian-Left' perspective on radical theology, progressive politics, authentic culture and sustainable living.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (as applied in practice)

“For it is by creedal orthodoxy that you have been saved, through adherence to the formulations of fourth century councils – and this not from God, but from the political needs of the emperor Constantine – by esoteric study and mental feats of semantics and logic bending, so that everyone who is able to subscribe to those things can boast.”


In sympathy for Trump supporters

Twice I voted Obama

Like a poor-boy Democrat

Didn’t want Armageddon

Or any shit like that

And I’d still vote for Bernie

If he was in the race

But now I’m for Donald

And here I make my case


On September 11th

The whole world done changed

Now we got tribulations

And economic pains

We took out Osama

But fucked up in Iraq

I’m just glad that my brother

Didn’t come back in a sack


They closed down the factory

Where I worked for a while

But now I don’t worry

Face each day with a smile

Cos Fox News said Trump’s

Is gonna get re-elected

And that Mexican wall’s

Gonna soon be erected


Well I can’t afford health care

Hope I don’t take sick

But I’m sure it won’t matter

The world’s ending quick

And when rapture comes

In a golden Cadillac

I’ll be shoutin’ for ‘Murca!’

And I won’t look back

The Far-Right’s ‘Bait and Switch’

The rise of the ‘Radical Right’ is a fascinating phenomenon. Often, people like me have spent so much time being terrified, shocked and appalled by it, and not enough time trying to understand it. For the sake of research, I have spent much of this evening listening to speeches by Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders.

Approached in a detached and dispassionate way, they make for quite interesting listening. You have to filter out a lot of nonsense, of course, but underneath it all there’s a fairly consistent message, in the form of a classic ‘bait and switch’.

This clip is a typical sample. They start with real problems: a lack of jobs and opportunites, economic depression, pressure on wages and public services, fear of crime, the sense that political and economic elites have it all stitched up for their own benefit, while ordinary people get a raw deal. They talk about these issues with a frankness and bluntness, in a folksy downhome way, that the left just cannot emulate. They tap into very real and painful grievances.

That’s the bait. And they bait well. It’s great big shiny bait that looks attractive when you live precariously on a falling wage in a run down town, where the library and the swimming pool have closed, and where you cannot get a doctor’s appointment and the school is overcrowded and under staffed.

But then comes the switch: rather than blame the neo-liberal economic policies and chronic under investment in education, infrastructure and services which have caused this mess, they kick downwards and outwards: the blame the immigrants and foreigners. They try to turn this real grievance into an unrighteous anger, and anger than can only destroy, rather than channeling it into a call for solidarity and inclusive justice. They seek not to heal, but to harm back. Not to address underlying causes, but only to scapegoat.

This is of course the classic function of the far-right in an oligarchy – to distract the people’s anger away from the real economic causes of their distress and to turn it on others.

The soft-left liberals must bear some responsibility, however, for allowing this situation to develop. It is the wholehearted acceptance of Thatcherite Reaganomics by the West’s liberal elite that is, in fact, causing the hardship and the revolt of ordinary people. People will turn to virtually ANY anti-establishment force to show their anger. I hope that liberals everywhere will begin to realise quickly that their acceptance of the ever increasing growth of corporate power, and the ever-increasing gap between the richest and the poorest, is the real cause of the rise of Trump – and of Brexit sentiment.

But there’s hope in all of this. There is scope, now as never before in the last century, for a popular movement of the left that seeks to address the real economic causes: a new New Deal coalition. It just needs to be articulated in terms that people can understand. Not in Guardian reader terms, but in Sun reader terms. We take take that which is a harmful counterfeit (neo-fascism) and replace it with the real article (social democracy), and people will flock to it.



Machiavelli: Liberation Theologian

Machiavelli is not only a much-misunderstood political philosopher, but also a very practical, hard-headed theologian of freedom and justice. We must neither fall into the despair of thinking that God is unconcerned with great causes of justice and liberation, not sit back and just wait for God to act without us. We have to actively co-operate with God in the mission of bringing peace, freedom and justice to the world. Work and pray. Trust God, and keep your powder dry. Be wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.


On Cameron’s Resignation Honours



Corrupt oligarchies act in corrupt oligarchic ways, according to their corrupt oligarchic nature. Trying to change the ways of government, without changing the nature of it, is doomed to failure. This is not a personal misdeed by Cameron; he is simply working within the internal norms of a corrupt system. Almost any other prime minister in that system, accepting those norms, would do the same. This is why a change in personnel or parties will always disappoint. Nothing short of a fundamental constitutional regeneration of the state can change its nature. From that renewed nature, beneficial changes in policy and conduct will flow.

Three Mindsets

I have a ‘Benefit mindset’. This makes life a little bit more complicated, when most institutions have a ‘Fixed mindset’ and the market encourages a ‘Growth mindset’.


Scotland: A European Nation

Scottish statehood reached its apogee, and Scottish national identity formed, during the two centuries between the Battle of Bannockburn (1314) to the Battle of Flodden Field (1513). During this time, European Christendom formed a more or less cohesive civilisation, with a common language of learning (Latin), common institutions (the Church, with its papacy and its network of transnational monastic orders and universities), and a common overarching norms and values (both in the church and in the university-trained civil lawyers, who shared a common set of presumptions based on a fusion of Christian and Aristotelian teachings).

English statehood reached its apogee in Tudor times, most notably with Elizabeth I and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. English (as opposed to British) nationhood was formed in contrast to continental Europe, at a time when the cultural unity of Europe had already been shattered by the Reformation and the vernacular Bible.

A member of the late medieval elite who forged Scottish statehood would not have been out of place in a Flanders market, a Spanish monastery, or the law school in Bologna, but out of his depth in India or China. A member of the early modern elite who forged English ‘greatness’ would have been alien in continental Europe, with its cowled monks reduced to the role of oddities in gothic literature – he might as well be in India or China. To the English statebuilder, all the world was equally ‘foreign’, to the Scottish statebuilder, there was a bond of commonality uniting Europe and separating Europe from the world beyond it.


More Brexit Blues

A further consequence of Brexit is that an EU without the UK might rush further into centralisation. The UK at least acted as a sort of internal brake on the centripedal tendencies of the federalists.

As someone who is pro-EU, but who is at heart a localist democrat and intrinsically fearful of the centralisation of power, this saddens me. I voted Remain, I want to stay in the EU, and if the UK cannot stay in the EU then at least Scotland should.

But this doesn’t mean I want everything decided in Brussels. Far from it. Centralised government is inevitably bad, corrupt and arrogant government, and democracy works best on a smaller scale.

If the EU is to gain and sustain legitimacy, it has to put limits on its aspirations for further centralisation.The idea of ‘ever closer union’ is, frankly, almost as terrifying as the prospect of Brexit.

We need an EU that has limited competencies, and which is competent within that limited range. The member sates, whose governments are responsible to national parliaments, must be the main drivers of the EU. The principle of subsidiarity (making decisions as locally as possible subject to compatibility with the common good), hitherto much lauded but little practiced, must prevail.

But none of this can be contested for unless we are in it. Finding a way to stay in has to be the priority.

Whig Internationalists for Scottish Independence

“I was not pro-independence in the Scottish referendum. However, I think that the result on Friday makes it entirely acceptable that the First Minister explores all means to secure Scotland’s position in the EU. If that means that there is a second independence referendum then it will have my full support.” (Some guy on the internet, 2016)

Scotland entered into the Union in 1707 primarily in order to avoid geopolitical and economic isolation. The aim was to be part of a larger common market, with freedom of trade and travel, with all the opportunities that provided. We will leave the UK very soon for precisely the same reason.

In 2014, Scottish independence was primarily attractive to the social democratic left, who wanted less austerity, a more solidaristic set of domestic policies, and the protection of public services. Their main grievance against the UK was that it seemed to be governed by and for the rich. This approach was attractive to the working class, who had been disappointed by the anemic performance of Blair and Brown. But the middle class, if not unsympathetic, remained mostly unconvinced.

In 2016, Scottish independence has now become attractive, too, to the Whiggish, liberal-cosmopolitan, internationalist element. It is attractive to people with second homes in France. It is attractive to businesses who do business on the continent. This is a big shift. The potential exists for the formation of a broader coalition for independence in Europe, one that brings together both the Yessers of the optimistic left and the Remainers of the pragmatic liberal centre.

Yet the politicians who were active in the No campaign in 2014 are still haivering. Today in the Scottish Parliament, Willie Rennie said he wants Scotland to be in both the UK and EU. I’m sure many share that desire. But, perhaps sadly, he cannot have it both ways. Notions of a ‘reverse Denmark’ solution or a federal UK, as advanced by Kezia Dugdale, while not perhaps inconcievable in theory, are far fetched and impracticable.

It has become an either/or proposition.  We can have a Scotland in the UK, or in the EU, but not both. We have to choose. Scotland’s next referendum, if it comes to it, should make this choice explicitly clear. To my mind, the choice is not only stark, but obvious: civis europeus sum.

We Saw the Sea

I joined up at 21 wanting a place in an organisation that did things, changed things, fought battles, and trained its people well. What I found was a glorified rugby club with a passing interest in historical reenactment, limping from one cocktail party to the next in expensive, half-broken ships unlikely to ever be used for their intended military purpose. I found too many bitter, bullying senior officers who I had no wish to emulate or become. Happy for those who love it and have picked up stripes but not for a second do I regret leaving and moving on at the first opportunity.

At least two people that I joined the navy with have been promoted to commander. From what I remember and know of them, they richly deserve it and I’m genuinely pleased for them.

For a moment, though, I had a moment of reflective pause, accompanied by a small pang of something like jealousy: what if I had stayed in general service and not broken myself in submarines? Would that be me today?

Of course, the answer is almost certainly no. I wasn’t quite the world’s worst naval officer, but I wasn’t particularly gifted either. I could never quite fit in. If I had stayed in, at best I would probably have ended up as a dishelved and demoralised passed-over two-and-a-half getting drunk and depressed in the scruffs bar every night.

At least I had the presence of mind to realise this early enough, while there was still time to get out and do something else. I tell myself that submarines is what killed the navy for me, but actually the disillusionment set in before that. I remember one day sitting in a departmental meeting in Faslane. We were talking about washing machine contracts for base accommodation or something equally dull. I looked around the room at the two Lt Cdrs and I thought, ‘wow, in six or eight years I could, if I got lucky and played my cards right, be sitting in their chair’. Then I looked at the ‘Commander S’, and thought, ‘wow, in twelve years I could be sitting in his chair’. And I realised that I’d still be in the same room, having the same conversation, about the same things – more or less.

The prospect terrified me. I wanted, at that time, adventure, excitement and the sense of making a difference, and the reality was all so very dull and pointless. I remember then thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’ll be in 2016, but I’ll never be a Commander. I’ve got to get out of this and do something different with my life’.

And here I am now, as a constitutional academic and advisor,  and (for the most part) loving it. I no longer have to pretend to be something I’m not.

I neither regret joining the navy, nor leaving it. It was a great foundation and I learned a lot, but it wasn’t for me for the long haul. I think I’ve reached a place of so much peace with this, now, that I could probably read a Douglas Reeman novel and not want to spit.


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