Thursday, 8 December 2016

Spectator Blogs, December 8, 2016

The mystery of Kent's disappearing Polish shops
Patrick West

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Spiked, December 6, 2016

Are cries of sexism holding back science?
Humans are not ruled by biology – that doesn't mean it's not important.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Spiked, November 25, 2016

The wrath of the Do-Gooders
Are bien pensant observers the most hateful people in politics?

Friday, 18 November 2016

TLS, November 18, 2016

Gary Hayden 
A philosophical hike through the British Isles 
224pp. Oneworld. £12.99. 978 1 78074 656 2 

Friedrich Nietzsche used to walk for up to eight hours a day, often rising well before dawn. “I am always on the road two hours before the sun comes over the mountains,” he wrote from Switzerland in 1877, “and especially in the long shadows of afternoon and evening.” His fellow philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was of a similar disposition, writing to his niece thirty years before: “every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it”. It is no coincidence that these two men, each physically and mentally tormented, were both keen walkers. 

As Gary Hayden, the author, previously, of You Kant Make It Up!: Strange ideas from history’s great philosophers (2011) observes in his latest book Walking with Plato: A philosophical hike through the British Isles, there is something about walking that soothes the spirit and frees the mind, especially for those with a less than cheery temperament. Walking with Plato has the appearance of a semi-serious travelogue, in which the author and his wife make the sometimes arduous and often dreary hike from John O’Groats to Land’s End. One might expect Bill Bryson with a dash of Alain de Botton. But Hayden, by his own admission, isn’t very interested in the landscape. He hasn’t even taken a notebook with him. It’s mostly an inventory of damp campsites and nondescript hotels, where “we lounged on the bed, ate crisps and chocolate and watched Strictly Come Dancing. But, apart from that, it’s all a blank”. 

Candid throughout about his own sombre constitution, Hayden is here, rather, on an inward journey. The physical act of trekking becomes a challenge in itself, the landscape a sideshow. He introduces us to other characters for whom the simple act of perambulation was an end in itself. The cast includes Bertrand Russell (“The secret of happiness is to understand that the world is horrible, horrible, horrible”), Charles Dickens, who composed A Christmas Carol in his head in a series of nocturnal ramblings in the winter of 1843, and Plato, who came to learn that physical vigour promotes intellectual vigour, and that the two promote psychological vigour. 

The author emerges at the end a happier man in this affable affair. “I did take pleasure in pitting myself against these obstacles, day after day, and overcoming them.” At Land’s End he surfaces as a naive, everyday Nietzsche – the philosopher who proposed that life was about accepting strife in order to overcome it. 


Spiked, November 18, 2016

The rise of the Capitalist Left
Today's self-styled radicals care more about GDP figures than people.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Spiked, October 27, 2016

How politics got personal
Why is everyone suddenly ‘ashamed to be British’?

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The Catholic Herald, October 21, 2016

Why not choose our politicians by lots?
Abolish elections and save democracy, says Patrick West

Against Elections
By David Van Reybrouck, Bodley Head, £9.99

Democracy today is in crisis. Never in modern history has there been more discontent with the democratic system in the West, with voter participation at the ballot box and party membership falling, and mistrust of politicians growing. Cynicism and apathy seem to abound. 
Yet the appetite for democracy is stronger than ever, as the emergence of protest groups and counter-mainstream populist movements bear witness. How do we resolve this paradox?
One radical solution, put forward here by Van Reybrouck, is to abolish elections and have democracy by lot. Those who legislate should be chosen at random, he says, as a means to eliminate bickering, factionalism, media distortion and corruption and to erase the distinction between the governed and those who govern.
This is not as outlandish as it first sounds. After all, we still choose juries on this random principle. And democracy by “sortition” was the norm in ancient Athens and Renaissance Venice. Our mental association of “democracy” with “elections” is but a legacy of the American and French revolutions, which borrowed the concept of elections from the papacy, in order to retain landed interests in large nation states. More than 200 years later, elections and political parties still prop up our now tottering “elective aristocracies”, he says.
There are problems, though. Sortition might have worked in small, culturally and racially homogenous ancient city states, but may not be suited to today. 
In response, Van Reybrouck argues that when citizens of all capabilities are brought together to make decisions that will affect their lives, they behave rationally and exchange wisdom and expertise. 
Having served on a jury this year, I am well inclined to believe that ordinary citizens of all hues are well suited to making responsible, sound decisions. Far from being facetiously contrarian, as it initially presents itself, Against Elections makes a compelling argument indeed.