Archive for the 'Philosophy' Category

Polish bigotry – why bother?

27 November 2005

Reacting to the criticism raised by myself and others on the result of the Polish elections and cabinet formation, some people wondered why this should be of any concern to us non-citizens and non-residents. Here are my considerations:

  1. Universal values are at stake
  2. We are in the same boat together
  3. Poland could be committing a breach of contract


Voting rights for kids?

30 August 2005

With the German economy in the doldrums and half of the country without a job, German politicians are concentrating on the essentials: Wahlrecht für Kinder (voting rights for children). Well, not literally: kids would not get to vote themselves, but parents would get one extra vote together for every child they have. Several heavy weights, among them Roman Herzog (former President of Germany) and political talk show host Sabine Christiansen, have expressed support for the idea, which was brought up first by the financial expert in Angela Merkel’s campaign team, Paul Kirchhof. Latest in the row of supporters: FDP (Liberals) MEP and rising star Silvana Koch-Mehrin.

Whoever thought ayatollah Ratzinger’s enthusiastic reception in Germany by thousands of catholic youth was just an exception should now really get suspicious. I certainly do, when I see even Germany’s liberals take over the arch-conservative agenda: (more…)

Oh Ca-nada…

29 June 2005

Not immediately a European issue, but still: Canada has (once again) joined the ranks of civilised countries today, by removing a law clause that reserved marriage exclusively to heterosexuals. So far, only the Netherlands and Belgium have preceded Canada, while the Spanish government is preparing a similar change to its marriage law. The vast majority of EU and western countries does have laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but somehow exempt their marriage laws. (more…)

Idea crisis or leadership crisis?

21 June 2005

Commenting on the French referendum results, I wrote:

As motivating ideas behind European integration, “uniting again what had been separated” and “all men will be brothers” should be equally appealing in 2005 as they were in 1945 and in 1989. What the EU does seem to lack these days, as opposed to its early years, is leaders whose “magic” is able to unite the masses behind those ideas.

After the resounding Dutch ‘no’ to the EU Constitution and last weekend’s EU summit, I still believe this is the case. Here is why:

Polls conducted shortly after the referendum reveal that both French and Dutch voters support the general idea of EU integration. Whatever the right-wing (nation-state oriented) EU-sceptics say, no less than 72% of French voters are in favour of continued integration. Similarly, 84% of Dutch voters support the EU in some form or another, whereas only 16% could be considered EU-sceptics. Other, more extensive polls published only recently (France, Netherlands) confirm these figures. In short, the French and Dutch votes were directed against this EU, not against the EU. This is an important conclusion to begin with. (more…)

Values that shake the world: II – Tolerance in the Netherlands

22 November 2004

When Pim Fortuyn rose to (posthumous) power on an anti-immigrant agenda in 2001, and now again with the assaults on Muslim schools and mosques after the murder of Theo van Gogh, foreign commentators expressed surprise. That this could happen in the Netherlands, of all places – that cool little country where they legalised prostitution, pot and gay marriage – how could they hate foreigners?

The misunderstanding here is that Dutch people have a long tradition of tolerance. This is not true. The way I would put it, is that over the ages, Dutch people have not so much learned to tolerate, as well as to ignore differences.


Values that shake the world: I – Introduction

11 November 2004

Values, values, values – it is the talk of the day. It is the one thing which the political murders of controversial film maker Theo van Gogh and of populist politician Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands, the unease in European societies with the consequences of immigration, but also the controversy surrounding Rocco Buttiglione and the re-election of George W Bush have in common. Our values, say the protagonists, are “under threat”, and the upsetting events show this is true.

An increasingly frightened and insecure population yearns for solutions. And on both sides of the Atlantic, an increasingly confident political right provides them. But which values are under threat? And, most of all, where are the socially progressives in this debate?

Most of the analysis I see does not do justice to the complexity of the situation. I miss things. For instance, I do not think the Netherlands is or ever was a tolerant country. Indifferent: yes, but tolerant: no.

Secondly, I think we should distinguish between the muslim extremism that originated in the dictatorships in the Middle-East (like Bin Laden’s or Palestinian extremism), and the “new” muslim extremism motivating disgruntled youths who grew up in the West (like the murderer of Van Gogh). Their anger seems to be directed not at western policies in the East, but at western policies at home. If that is true, we are dealing with different problems, requiring different solutions.

Thirdly, “values”, in my view, is a dangerous catch-all term obfuscating our view of what they entail. Modern society, in particular its socially progressive part, have lost track of which values really underpin modern society, and have difficulty formulating them. The modern right has fewer inhibitions refering both to ‘values’ in general and to actual values like ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, or ‘respect for the individual’ – but, it seems, not always in their modern meaning. This confuses the debate, and risks taking it in a direction most people would not agree with.

I have been trying to combine all the elements I just mentioned in one big, comprehensive, analytical essay. Due to time and other constraints, however, I find it difficult to complete that analysis in the foreseeable future, or at least before the whole debate is over. Therefore I have decided to split up the essay into smaller parts which are easier to handle for me and allow me to develop my thoughts over time. It has the additional advantage that the smaller composite parts fit better into the ordinary ‘blog’ format. I may or may not revise or combine the individual parts later. Keep watching this space.

This is part I in a series on values. Next: Part II, Tolerance in the Netherlands.

Kant and Catholics (Buttiglione Blues II)

21 October 2004

“I don’t know if I would have the faith to have my head cut off for my beliefs, but I have enough faith to renounce a job in the Commission if need be,” Mr Buttiglione told the BBC last Thursday in what appears to be a pre-emptive face-saving operation. Faith, of course, is what it is all about – and discrimination: “If I should be discriminated against because I am a Catholic, I prefer to remain a Catholic.” Although in the meantime Italian government comments on the affair have, wisely, been delegated to the diplomatic Mr Frattini, others have used even stronger words to describe what is happening: “Poor Europe: the arse-fuckers (culattoni) are in the majority” (Mr Tremaglia, Minister for “italians abroad”) , “Maybe we are being faced by a sort of ‘Berufsverbot’ against Christians” (Mr Buttiglione himself), and: “It looks like a new inquisition” (Cardinal Renato Martino, giving his expert opinion).

But could they have a case? Could it be that the politically correct thought police (not my words!) is judging Mr Buttiglione, who is definitely one of the most interesting of the new Commissioners, unfairly? I, for one, would not a priori exclude that possibility, so let us try to find out.