June 29, 2010

Blogging will be light – Vacation time!

Hello dear readers, I always appreciate your time and comments, but blogging will be light over the next few weeks. Until then, you might want to check out some of my favorite blogs (look on the right side of this page). Have a great summer!

June 24, 2010

See you soon, Italy!

Poor lads, don't go too hard on them, after all they did what they could do... Arrivederci Italia!

June 22, 2010

Immoral moralists?

There is a quote I came across some time ago that says, “Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, X, 16, AD 167). It fits well to a lot of people, except, at least to a certain extent, moralist philosophers—but Marcus Aurelius was one of them …—and theologians, but it certainly fits perfectly with politicians who play the moralist, such as, here in Italy, Antonio Di Pietro.

Why do I say this? Well, just a moment, for those who don’t know Di Pietro, he is the head of a small opposition party (“Italy of Values”) and a former prosecutor who leapt to national prominence in the days of Mani pulite (“clean hands”), the nationwide Italian judicial investigation into political corruption held in the 1990s, which led to the demise of the so-called First Republic, resulting in the disappearance of many parties. Needless to say, he is a huge moralist, but … at the same time he might not be as immaculate as one might expect. In fact, he is accused of having embezzled funds related to European elections in 2004. The funds, which were supposed to be for his party, were allegedly diverted to a private organisation of the same name. The allegations were made by a former Italy of Values member, Elio Veltri.

Of course Di Pietro (as anyone else) is innocent until proven guilty. But it was he who had always maintained that politicians must be above suspicion. It was he who had always despised  reactions such as the following one (à la Berlusconi): “There are people who have not accepted political defeat and continue to sling mud at other people.” But, this time, guess who said it

Habermas and secularisation (part I)

By Angelo

Many thanks to Rob who has invited me to contribute to this blog.

Last week Jürgen Habermas visited Ireland and received a prize from University College Dublin, where I teach philosophy to adult classes.
Habermas is considered the most important European living philosopher and belongs to the second generation of the 'Frankfurt School'. This is a group of philosophers and sociologist based in Frankfurt who, in the middle of last century, presented a criticism of capitalism (but also of Soviet socialism) often called 'critical theory'. It was an attempt to update the thought of Karl Marx taking inspiration from psychoanalysis and sociology.
Habermas philosophy is a ongoing response to the first generation of Frankfurt School theorists.

In this short note I want to concentrate on a particular idea that Habermas, who is now 81, has presented in the last years. He maintains that in the past it was commonly accepted that modernity and secularization proceed together. The more a nation embraces the principles of democracy, rights and participation, the more it becomes secular in the sense that religious ideas have less relevance in the public life. The core of the process of secularization is the separation of church and state. Habermas, who is a secular thinker, doesn't deny the importance of this separation but criticises the assumption that history goes necessarily in that direction and religion is destined to become irrelevant in the public square.
He shows that if religion has lost its traditional power in Europe, especially in terms of its ability to have a strong influence on the masses, this is not always the case in other modern western societies such as the United States and it is even less the case in the non-western world. We witness an on-growing role of religions on the world scale, a role that was not expected by theorists of the previous generation. They considered religion as a configuration of the past, which was destined to become more and more irrelevant. But Habermas reckons the continuing existence and relevance of religious traditions even in societies which are largely secularised. Europe seems to be the exception rather than the norm in this apparent coincidence of modernisation and secularisation but what will the future be like? It seems that also in Europe things are going in unexpected directions.

Here is an extract from an interview that appeared on The Irish Times:

Journalist: I used the expression “post-secular” to describe a shift in public consciousness in such predominantly secular countries as Canada, Australia, New Zealand or western Europe. Here the resurgence of religion that we are observing in other global regions has unsettled a dominant but unspoken presumption. In these countries it is no longer a cultural commonplace that religion is outdated, that it is destined to disappear with the advance of modernisation. All are now coming to the realisation that religious communities are destined to remain with us, even as the surrounding environment becomes increasingly secular.

Habermas: I associate this sociological observation with a diagnosis of a more philosophical kind. Secularly minded people should recognise religion as a contemporary intellectual formation. Over the past two millennia, western philosophy has repeatedly borrowed images, meanings and concepts from the Judaeo-Christian tradition and has translated them into its own secular language. We cannot tell whether this process of appropriation has run its course or whether, on the contrary, other semantic potentials remain untapped. Of course, such a receptive and dialogical relation is only possible towards non-fundamentalist traditions that do not close themselves off from the modern world.

June 19, 2010

I am glad to inform you ...

I am pleased to welcome a new contributor to this blog, Angelo Bottone. Angelo is an associate lecturer at the School of Arts of the Dublin Business School, where he teaches Introduction to Philosophy, Critical Thinking, Theories of Knowledge and Philosophy of Science. He holds a PhD in philosophy at University College Dublin. He has published three books on John Henry Newman and several articles on Paul Ricoeur, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Multiculturalism, and Philosophy of Religion. He also translated Newman’s The Idea of a University into Italian. He blogs at botblog and is, from time immemorial, a good friend of WRH.

He will keep us informed and up-to-date on philosophical, religious and cultural issues. What will his first post here be about? Well, I don’t pretend to be a prophet, but something tells me that it will be about Germany’s foremost philosopher and critical theorist Jürgen Habermas, who received the Ulysses Medal from University College Dublin last week...

June 17, 2010

Good News / Bad News (from Italy)

The good news for Italy, today, is that British bank Barclays is not worried about Italy’s public finances and will continue to invest in the euro zone country. Barclays chief executive John Varley told Il Sole-24 Ore newspaper,

We had strong growth in Italy in the last 10 years. We continue to consider it a strategic country in which to invest following our guidelines: in retail and wealth, and in corporate and investment banking. The high level of debt compared to GDP is not new, while the low level of household debt is particularly reassuring.

The bad news is that Gianluigi Buffon, the starting goalkeeper for world champion Italy, Wednesday was diagnosed with a herniated disk in his back and might not be able to play again in the World Cup (he will definitely not be available for Sunday’s game against New Zealand and most probably will miss the third game of the first round, against Slovakia). “Gigi has charisma. He gives strength to others.” said Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini. And it’s the plain truth.

June 13, 2010

Turkey is rethinking its place in the world

Some fear the West has “lost” Turkey. The Mavi Marmara incident is seen as further proof of such a Turkish shift (The Economist).

June 12, 2010

Berlusconi's attack on a free press?

As all the word knows (we live in a global village, after all), Silvio Berlusconi is a controversial figure. There are those who love him and those who hate him, those who appreciate him and those who don’t. I’ve always tried to be as “objective” as possible regarding to him, but I don’t pretend to have succeeded, because—whether I like it or not—I agree with him on most issues. Let’s say that I generally favor a “dialectical approach” whose result, most of the times, is that I cannot but agree with him on the substance and disagree on the form (Ok, sometimes form is substance, I know ...). Here is an example (regarding Berlusconi’s controversial law curbing the use of wiretaps by police). Adrian Michaels in the Telegraph:

A great number of people working in the Italian judiciary behave incorrectly. Convinced that they will never secure convictions of the rich and powerful, they habitually leak their entire investigations to newspapers, so at least to hang their subjects in the court of public opinion. It is a shameful way to ride over due process, no matter how much it may seem justified.
So I have some sympathy with Silvio Berlusconi’s attempts significantly to tighten up the rules on judicial surveillance, wiretaps and leaks, even if it once again looks like the Italian prime minister is putting the machinery of state to use in the service of protecting his personal interests.

But, Michaels adds (“and it’s a big but”),

Berlusconi’s attack on the journalists who print transcripts of telephone conversations or other such information from judicial sources is completely indefensible.

Well, “indefensible” is perhaps a strong term. What about “embarrassing but understandable?” And it’s a big but.

The Year of the (Conservative) Woman

~ “LETTERS FROM AMERICA” - by The Metaphysical Peregrine ~

We had several primary elections this last Tuesday. Most notable was that Conservative women dominated.

In California former eBay CEO Meg Whitman won her primary against a strong Republican field. She’s wasn’t the most conservative of the candidates, yet the Democrats are already painting her as a ‘right wing extremist’. Of course, to them, anyone to the right of Mao, Lenin and Marx are ‘wingnuts’. She’ll be running against ex-governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown. California is a collapsed lawless state, with thousands of people and dozens of businesses leaving every week. The collapse started with Brown when he was governor 1975–1983. Nearly all the policies that have lead to the demise of the late great state of California were instituted during his administration. I was living in California those years, and was a liberal then, and even liberals knew he was a whack job; thus the nickname “moonbeam”. Whitman will be running against him in the general election this coming November.

Also in California, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina for Senate won her primary and will be running against Barbara Boxer. As a side note, I highly recommend her autobiography “Tough Choices”. This is a formidable businesswoman. She’s also a cancer survivor, and her story of overcoming that, and her overcoming the failing “good ol’ boy” culture and turning around HP, is a phenomenal story of overcoming opposition, devastating setback, perseverance and triumph. Again, she wasn’t the most conservative of candidates running in the primary, yet true the form, the Dems started the day after the election calling her a ‘wingnut’. Statists have created that as a pejorative to describe anyone that believes in lower taxes and less government.

The third candidate, Sharron Angle, won the Republican primary by a fourteen point margin against Sue Lowden in Nevada, the state where I now live. A few months ago she was at 5%, and everyone thought Lowden was for sure going to be the nominee. The turnaround was nothing less than astonishing. The surge was a result of the TEA party movement endorsing Angle. She, unlike Whitman and Fiorina, is a hard core conservative. She’ll be running against Harry Reid, the leader of the Senate, and an uber-Statist. He’s to the left of Lenin, Marx and Mao. Day after Election Day, the first poll showed Angle at 50% and Reid at 39%. In this State, Reid has a political machine like what can be found in Chicago, and is formidable. He also had tens of $millions in campaign money and Angle is starting from financial scratch. The implications of this race are national. Reid is one of the most powerful men in the country, and does not value capitalism or liberty at all. His view is that the State should control everything, and everybody should be enslaved to the state.

Those are the big three, with several other races going to conservatives and women. The TEA Party movement is being very successful in running RINO’s (Republican in Name Only) out of office, so we Conservatives are heartened. In the past year there have been several special elections due to deaths, retirements etc. and all those but one have been won by the Republican candidates. Some are RINO’s, but sometimes you have to take what you can get.

The Democrats have had complete and total control of Congress for the past four years. The forced passage along party lines of their health care bill, and 70% of the population was and is against it. They have increased the deficient by nearly $2 Trillion during that time. They’ve nationalized much of the automotive and financial industries. All of the programs the Democrats are trying to pass right now will increase taxes, increase costs, and deny liberty to citizens. The Republicans must win in November. That slogan “take our country back” has become the rallying cry, which is the same thing Democrats and fellow Statists were saying during the Bush years. (Bush, by the way, is a RINO, and other than the War on Terror, was not supported by Conservatives.) A longer but more effective slogan would be “Return to the Constitution and the Rule of Law.”

Hats off to the rise of Conservative women in the Republican Party.

June 10, 2010

An Alien in the White House?

The distance between the president and the people is beginning to be revealed. Dorothy Rabinowitz in the Wall Street Journal:

There should have been nothing puzzling about his response to anyone who has paid even modest critical attention to Mr. Obama's pronouncements. For it was clear from the first that this president—single-minded, ever-visible, confident in his program for a reformed America saved from darkness by his arrival—was wanting in certain qualities citizens have until now taken for granted in their presidents. Namely, a tone and presence that said: This is the Americans' leader, a man of them, for them, the nation's voice and champion. Mr. Obama wasn't lacking in concern about the oil spill. What he lacked was that voice—and for good reason.
Those qualities to be expected in a president were never about rhetoric; Mr. Obama had proved himself a dab hand at that on the campaign trail. They were a matter of identification with the nation and to all that binds its people together in pride and allegiance. These are feelings held deep in American hearts, unvoiced mostly, but unmistakably there and not only on the Fourth of July.
A great part of America now understands that this president’s sense of identification lies elsewhere, and is in profound ways unlike theirs. He is hard put to sound convincingly like the leader of the nation, because he is, at heart and by instinct, the voice mainly of his ideological class. He is the alien in the White House, a matter having nothing to do with delusions about his birthplace cherished by the demented fringe.

Via Instapundit and Maggie’s Notebook

June 9, 2010

Flotilla inquiry? (Updated)

The flotilla affair: does the Israeli government owe anyone an inquiry over what went wrong in what looks to have been a seriously-botched operation? If the answer is Yes, then to whom does Israel owe an inquiry (and why), and to whom it doesn’t? Here is what Norman Geras has to say about this whole issue (an enlightening read).

UPDATE 7:30 pm
This is what may be written without a blush in the contemporary liberal press: a column by Fintan O'Toole in yesterday’s Irish Times, as an example of the filth that has poured out upon Israel’s head during the time since the flotilla incident (via normblog, again).

June 8, 2010

It’s all Bush’s fault

It’s George Bush’s fault. Everything is George Bush’s fault. Why? Well, because it’s always someone else’s fault. “This is reaching the level of hilarity. Except it’s so sad,” says Steven at The Metaphysical Peregrine. And I think he is right. One might also say, yes, it would be funny, except it is happening to me, to us Americans. You have all my European solidarity—after all every country has its own Dems and liberal media…

'I killed Mgr. Padovese! Allah Akbar!'

Bishop Luigi Padovese, the apostolic vicar of Anatolia—that is the Vatican’s representative in Turkey—who was stabbed by his Turkish driver Thursday, besides being a high-level scholar and among the major experts on St. Paul, was a good and wise man. Just like another Italian priest, Father Andrea Santoro, who was killed in Turkey in 2006. And the man arrested in that case was also described as mentally unstable. Coincidence? Well, everything is possible in this crazy world, even though, to tell the truth, I don’t believe in coincidences. And I’m not the only one. AsiaNews.it:

As the days pass, new details emerge on the story of murder and the alleged "insanity" of the assassin. The doctors who performed the autopsy reveal that Mgr. Padovese had knife wounds all over his body, but especially in the heart (at least 8). His head was almost completely detached from his neck, attached to his body by only the skin of the back of the neck.
Even the dynamics of the killing is clearer: the Bishop was stabbed in his house. He had the strength to go out the door of the house, bleeding and crying for help and there he was killed. Perhaps only when he fell to the ground, was his head cut off.
Witnesses said they heard the bishop cry out for help. But more importantly, is that they heard screams of Murat immediately after the murder. According to these sources, he climbed on the roof of the house shouted: "I killed the great Satan! Allah Akbar! ".
This call coincides perfectly with the idea of beheading, making sense that it is like a ritual sacrifice against evil. This correlates with the murders of ultranationalist groups and Islamic fundamentalists who apparently want to eliminate Christians from Turkey.
Moreover, according to a Turkish newspaper, Milliyet on June 4, the murderer had told police that he his actions were the result of a " divine revelation."

As it was not enough, the timing of Padovese’s killing was significant, as the bishop was scheduled to travel to Cyprus for Pope Benedict’s visit last weekend. Yes, the timing was highly suspect. Cyprus—do you remember? A former British colony, Cyprus became an independent republic in 1960. Following violence between ethnic Greek Cypriots and minority Turkish Cypriots, Turkey invaded in 1974, leading to the division of the island between the internationally recognized south and the north, which is only recognized by Turkey.

On his first day there,

Benedict was greeted warmly by both Catholics and Orthodox, but quickly saw how tense the situation on the small island is, as a Cypriot Orthodox bishop told him that Turkey was trying to take over the entire nation.
“It has turned the Orthodox Christians of Cyprus out of their ancestral homes, where they had lived for centuries,” said His Beatitude Chyrsostomos II at an outdoor ceremony in Paphos. “They want to make everything Greek and Christian disappear from occupied Cyprus.”

And to think that when Father Andrea Santoro was killed in Trabzon in 2006, Bishop Padovese succeeded in finding words of peace and kindness: “We forgive the one who carried out this gesture,” he said at the funeral Mass. “It is not by destroying those who think differently that conflicts are resolved,” he added. “The only way to follow is that of dialogue, mutual knowledge, closeness and sympathy.” Unfortunately, in order to establish a dialogue there must be two sides, two interlocutors. Hopefully alive.

Commenting between tears the death of Bishop Padovese, Father Andrea Santoro’s sister, Maddalena, said, “I hope that eyes will open in Turkey to try to understand and comprehend what there is behind this situation. Because Muslims must also be able to accept Christians, without fearing that we wish to convert people.” In the meantime many people in the Western countries are learning something new everyday about Turkey.

June 5, 2010

Francesca, or When Nothing is Impossible

Her nose smudged with the red crushed-brick powder that tops the courts at Roland Garros, Francesca Schiavone, the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam singles event, “clambered into the stands. She immersed herself into a section of Italian family and friends, some of whom drove to Paris overnight, wearing black T-shirts that read ‘Nothing is Impossible.’”

What I like most about this victory is what Francesca (nicknamed “the Lioness”), who had only won three WTA titles in her entire career, has demonstrated: “Nothing is impossible.” This means that “everybody has a chance to be who you really want to be and to do everything in your life. This is what’s happened to me,” she said. That’s so Emersonian. I definitely like that.

June 4, 2010

Afghan MP calls for execution of Christians

The “Religion of Peace” strikes again. International Christian Concern (ICC)—a Washington-DC based human rights organization aimed to help persecuted Christians worldwide—has told the ASSIST News Service (ANS) that Abdul Sattar Khawasi, deputy secretary of the Afghan lower house in parliament, has called for the public execution of Christian converts. What occasioned Khawasi’s “irritation” was a video broadcasted by Afghan television network Noorin TV showing footage of Christian men being baptized and praying in Farsi. “Those Afghans that appeared in this video film should be executed in public, the house should order the attorney general and the NDS (intelligence agency) to arrest these Afghans and execute them,” said Khawasi. As a result, according to ICC sources within Afghanistan, many national Christians are in hiding, fearful of execution.

June 3, 2010

Hey, not to forget the Florentine secretary

Do you remember the famous Machiavellian “eulogy” of mankind in the seventeenth chapter of The Prince, entitled “Concerning cruelty and clemency, and whether it is better to be loved than feared?” If you don’t, here is how it goes—brace yourselves, it’s not exactly what we could call an optimistic perspective on human nature, nonetheless please read carefully the following passage (I’ll explain why later on …):

Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life, and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you.
and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.
Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony.

The whole thing couldn’t have been formulated in a more straightforward and clear language. I said I would explain later why a careful reading of the above passage was needed. Well, you can find the reason here (Jeremy Rifkin’s “fresh ideas about human nature” …):

The new understanding goes hand-in-hand with discoveries in evolutionary biology, neuro-cognitive science and child development that reveal that human beings are biologically predisposed to be empathic. Our core nature is shown not to be rational, detached, acquisitive, aggressive and narcissistic, as Enlightenment philosophers claimed, but affectionate, highly social, co-operative and interdependent. Homo sapiens is giving way to homo empathicus.
Fresh ideas about human nature throw into doubt many of the core assumptions of classical economic theory. Adam Smith argued that human nature inclined individuals to pursue self-interest in the market. Echoing Smith's contention, Garrett Hardin wrote a celebrated essay more than 40 years ago entitled "The Tragedy of the Commons". He suggested that co-operation in shared ventures inevitably failed because of the selfish human drives that invariably surfaced.
If this is universally true, how do we explain hundreds of millions of young people sharing creativity and knowledge in collaborative spaces such as Wikipedia and Linux? The millennial generation is celebrating the global commons every day, apparently unmindful of Hardin's warning. For millennials, the notion of collaborating to advance the collective interest in networks often trumps "going it alone" in markets.

And so on. At this point, as Norman Geras puts it, one might well reply, “Not to forget the dark side, hey.” That is, “Hey, not to forget the Florentine secretary.” And you wouldn’t even need to read the eighteenth chapter (“Concerning the way in which princes should keep the faith”)—the one which “has given greater offence than any other portion of Machiavelli’s writings,” in Laurence Arthur Burd’s words—to believe me:

A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves. Those who rely simply on the lion do not understand what they are about. Therefore a wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep faith when such observance may be turned against him, and when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer. If men were entirely good this precept would not hold, but because they are bad, and will not keep faith with you, you too are not bound to observe it with them. Nor will there ever be wanting to a prince legitimate reasons to excuse this non-observance. Of this endless modern examples could be given, showing how many treaties and engagements have been made void and of no effect through the faithlessness of princes; and he who has known best how to employ the fox has succeeded best.
Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result.
For that reason, let a prince have the credit of conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody; because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it; and in the world there are only the vulgar …

And so on, just in case …

June 1, 2010


Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as Time.

~ Thomas Carlyle