Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation, VII.

Latest post in my series at Notes on Liberty

Notes On Liberty

This post continues from the last post‘s assessment of early twentieth century British military and foreign policy in Europe, in a series of criticisms of sovereigntist-Eurosceptic assumptions of Britain’s separateness and superiority in relation to mainland continental Europe, and is rather long because bad decisions of the 1930s had consequences in World War Two, making it difficult to split the periods into separate posts. After the Treaty of Lausanne of 1926, the most notable aspect of British foreign policy was appeasement of Nazi Germany from Hitler’s accession to power in 1933 to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia beyond the Sudetenland which Czechoslovakia had been forced to give Germany in autumn of 1938. Spring 1939 represents the point at which Britain (and France) abandoned the policy of Appeasement, which had left Germany rearmed, stronger, and larger, and mobilised for war.

There had been an associated appeasement of Fascist Italy, particularly…

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Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation, VI. From the 1832 Reform Act to World War One

My latest post at the group blog Notes on Liberty

Notes On Liberty

In this post, a look at comparative growth of democracy in Europe along with Britain’s role in World War One and subsequent European diplomacy.

Britain made some progress towards extending voting rights beyond a very tiny minority in the Reform Act of 1832, which was also a law to make constituency distribution relate to the population of the time, particularly the expansion of the urban population, abolish constituencies of a few voters were the MP was in practice appointed by the local dominant landlord and even out a very inconsistent voting system, reducing the number of people who could vote in at least one case. The overall right to vote was extended from about 5 per cent to about 20 per cent of the population, which did mark a genuine shift of power from the aristocracy and put Britain in a good place in terms of comparative voting rights by…

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Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation, V: Britain and European Models

My latest for the group blog Notes on Liberty

Notes On Liberty

The last post looked at how Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws, the biggest classic of Enlightenment political thought, certainly in size and probably in importance, does not offer Britain as the model of liberty for Europe. Rounding off that argument, Germany produced its own important liberty oriented thought at the end of the eighteenth century in the work of Immanuel Kant and Wilhelm von Humboldt, in which they do not offer Britain as a model. Of course at this time Britain stood as an example of liberty, particularly in the exact period from 1792 when the French Revolution had turned highly violent and dictatorial, and European monarchies were tending to become more conservative-authoritarian in reaction.

Nevertheless, the opening phase of the French Revolution developed a much more complete vision of a equal citizens under laws they had made themselves through representative citizens than Britain itself. France was the…

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Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation, IV: Britain the Enlightenment model for a liberal Europe?

My latest post at the group blog Notes On Liberty

Notes On Liberty

Following on from last post in this series, focused on the violent formation of the nineteenth century British state, a largely political theory post on how far Britain had a special status as a model of liberalism and then democracy in Europe. Despite all the negative aspects discussed in the last post, there was of course some overall progress in Britain in creating a society and political system based on law, tolerance, individual rights, and a commercial society with prosperity spreading to all, sooner or later, though clearly much later for the afflicted groups discussed in the last post. Now it is certainly true that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and more recently, Britain has been taken as a positive example for those wishing to promote those good things in their own political community.

The trouble with the Eurosceptic-sovereignty view is that these realities are transformed into a belief…

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Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation, III: British Superiority?

My latest post at the group blog Notes On Liberty

Notes On Liberty

Continuing from my last post, before getting on to the pre-Waterloo history of Britain, some remarks on Britain as an exceptional and model state from the Hanoverian period (rule of the German Hanoverian dynasty who continued to be sovereign princes in Germany, 1714-1837) onwards. Isolating any one period as the one in which modern Britain emerges is inevitably hazardous, but there are precedents for selecting this period such as Linda Colley’s influential book, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837 (Yale University Press, 1992).

The defeat of the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 provides a good moment for the formation of modern British state, or perhaps better the moment at which a process of formation ends. The Jacobite Uprising was an attempt to restore the Catholic Stuart Dynasty, which had its starting point in the Scottish Highlands. It reached into the Lowlands and then England before being beaten back and then decisively…

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Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation, II: After Waterloo

My latest at the group blog Notes On Liberty

Notes On Liberty

The sovereigntist mythology of British history is in any case caught in a rather awkward place in claiming both a unique British role in resisting pan-European tyranny and a separation between Britain and mainland Europe. It is hard to see how both claims  can be completely true. The sovereigntist attempt to finesse this awkwardness is partly to claim that Britain played this unique role against Napoleon (well maybe Russia, Prussia, Austria and Spanish insurgents helped a little) is that Britain was in Europe to do the job and was then out again until destiny called on us to be in Europe again to beat back the Kaiser in 1914.

There is rather a lot wrong with this picture. As mentioned above, Britain shared royal dynasty with the German state of Hanover at the time of Waterloo. It had done so since 1714, when it acquired as king a Hanoverian prince…

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Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation I Waterloo

My latest post at the group blog Notes On Liberty

Notes On Liberty

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is now in the run up to a referendum on ‘renegotiated’ membership of the European Union which will supposedly return some sovereignty to UK political institutions. The date of the referendum and the details of the ‘renegotiation’, which in all likelihood will consist of changes of a secondary kind particularly since changes to the relevant treaties would trigger referendums in other EU member states with unpredictable consequence. The Conservative government is also making gestures towards repealing the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into British law and replacing it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’, and at the extreme may withdraw from the European Convention, leaving the UK as the only European nation apart from Belarus in that situation.

It looks like the Prime Minister David Cameron is happy to stay in the EU after minor…

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Abstract of paper I will be presenting at the 2105 Joint Annual Conference of the Society for European philosophy and the Forum for European Philosophy, ‘New Frontiers’ at the Scottish Centre for Continental Philosophy, University of Dundee. September 3rd to 5th, 2015.

It is a fairly ambitious abstract for a 20 minute paper, so I may end up more sketching out a project rather than getting into detailed argument, the ideal would probably be to sketch the project and then get into some detail on one aspect of it. I’ll certainly be doing some re-reading of Clausewitz, On War, over the summer along with a first reading of Girard on Clausewitz and maybe Aron on Clausewitx and I will then have more idea of how to develop what is in the abstract.


The issue of European frontiers is apparent at present in the following ways: the frontiers of the European Union in relation to European nations outside itself; the frontiers of Europe as a continent; the frontiers between transnational and national sovereignty; the frontiers of citizenship and residence rights in relation to migrants. The current situation poses both challenges and positive possibilities for a tradition of philosophical thinking about Europe that goes back to the German Idealists, with roots in Enlightenment and earlier thought. Recent discussion of Europe within philosophy have included extensive reference to Arendt on refugees, Derrida on hospitality, and Habermas’ version of a normative foundation for the European Union, largely understood as a constitutional enterprise.The discussion of refugees and hospitality is a way of framing the migration issue, while the discussion of normative foundations is a way of framing sovereignty issues. The paper will build on, and attempt to go beyond, these investigations by considering the persistence of violence at the frontiers of the European Union. The appearance of René Girard’s work on the military theorist Clausewitz, suggests a way of framing the resistance to transnational sovereignty and migrant rights with regard to  the persistence of mimetic violence, in its concentrated military forms, as well as its more dispersed general social, cultural and anthropological forms, which were considered by Girard in earlier work that should be reassessed with regard to his latest work. The militarisation of the response to non-European immigration, the growth of tension with Russia, a European nation, in pushing European countries towards security based co-operation even while trans-national sovereignty becomes more questioned, the persistence of violent frontier disputes in the post-Soviet parts of Europe, and tendencies towards political violence in Greece resulting from a European based debt crisis, all suggest that the more ethical and constitutional hopes for Europe cannot make progress without more attention to the mimetic logic, which becomes political violence, and even war, when it is not adequately recognised whether in philosophical texts or everyday discourse. The paper will investigate Girard’s relevance to these questions, and the limits of his emphasis on mimesis, and reflect on how other philosophical approaches to violence should be considered in the light of Girard’s contributions and its limits. Foucault and Schmitt will be the major points of reference here with regard to their thoughts about violence and about Europe. In both their references to Europe and to violence, sovereignty is at issue. In Foucault, sovereignty is understood in a dispersed way in the totality of power relations, while in Schmitt sovereignty is given a more legalistic context, but nevertheless with an understanding of the mobility and dispersal of issues of political sovereignty. On the basis of Girard’s most recent work and how we might understand it in relation to Schmitt and Foucault, the paper will build up a framework for understanding the frontier issues of Europe, along with the violence intertwined with them, and will attempt to suggest ways forward.

Milton on Free Political Institutions: ‘The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates’ (1649), ‘A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Courts’ (1659), ‘The Ready and Easy way to Establish a Free commonwealth’ (1660)

My latest at the group blog Notes On Liberty

Notes On Liberty

“He was, as every truly great poet has ever been, a good man; but finding it impossible to realize his own aspirations, either in religion or politics, or society, he gave up his heart to the living spirit and light within him, and avenged himself on the world by enriching it with this record of his own transcendental ideal.” (Comment on John Milton by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772-1834)

For my introduction to Milton see here, for my post on freedom of the press in Milton see here.

Milton made important arguments for the kind of political institutions which would serve liberty, as well as discussing to goal of freedom in discussion of opinion. Though there are two basic Milton texts identified here, I will not attempt to distinguish them here, let alone take into consideration every possibly relevant text by Milton. This is a period…

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