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Paul can regularly be read in the mainstream press

KARL POPPER AND THE PRE-SOCRATICS

By | Critical Essays, History, Philosophy, Religion | No Comments

  If I was asked to teach an undergraduate course on Rationality 101, I would begin by introducing the students to the work of Karl Popper; especially Conjectures and Refutations, Objective Knowledge and The Open Society and Its Enemies. Indeed, a good case could be made for having such a course consist entirely of acquainting undergraduates with the arguments in these three books and inducing them to think hard about them. Between them they cover principles vital to both natural and social science. When I took first year philosophy, almost forty years ago, no such course was on offer. I…

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REASON IN WESTERN CIVILIZATION

By | Cognitive Science, Critical Essays, Psychology, Western Civilisation | No Comments

Or what it means to be a rationalist in our time For years now, I have heard people speak sceptically, even dismissively, about ‘Western logic’ or ‘Cartesian rationalism’, as if the ills of the modern world are largely to be blamed on an excess of reason in Western civilization. I feel pretty much at home in the Rationalist Society because I believe such notions are fundamentally erroneous. In writing this for readers of The Australian Rationalist, I am, in all probability, preaching to the converted, but even among members of the Rationalist Society of Australia there is, I suspect, quite…

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SUPERB HISTORY OF WAR THAT SHAPED THE CURRENT MIDDLE EAST

By | Book reviews for the press, Geopolitics, History | No Comments

  Thucydidean in tone and narrative style – dispassionate, systematic, detailed, rational and humane. Remarkable blow by blow account of the military campaign, supported by 30 detailed maps Published in French in 2013, it catches the Arab Spring and the Turkish armistice with the PUK, but misses the unravelling of the Arab Spring, the disintegration of Syria and the collapse of the brief peace between the Turkish government and the Kurdish nationalists French, but not pro-French – Valmy, Robespierre (Ali Khamenei) and Danton (Rafsanjani), but critical, detailed and slightly caustic treatment of French relations with the two warring states and…

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 IRANIAN AMBITIONS IN ARABIA PRE-DATE MOHAMMED

By | History, Islam, Middle East, Opinion pieces for the press | No Comments

  The growing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia – already at war by proxy in Syria and Yemen – need to be better understood by those making Western security policy. We are too easily distracted by the obvious and too little inclined to think deeper and longer about what is going on. The struggle between Persians and Arabs dates back a very long way and it has had outcomes in the past that may offer clues about what might unfold in the Middle East in the years ahead. Certainly, this is a clash between a Sunni Arab power and…

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LET’S INDEED HAVE A CONVERSATION ABOUT ISLAM

By | History, Islam, Opinion pieces for the press | No Comments

  Last Friday in these pages, Waleed Aly excoriated both Tony Abbott and that embarrassing buffoon running rogue in the US Republican primaries, Donald Trump. He deplored their ignorance about Islam and the muddle entailed in the conservative Catholic Tony Abbott calling for a Reformation and revolution within Islam. But then he added that ‘this isn’t really a conversation about Islam’; it’s about a dubious brand of ‘arch conservative’ populist politics. Very well, then. Let’s actually have the conversation about Islam that we have to have. Let’s begin with Waleed’s striking observation that ‘Islam’s own version of the Reformation already…

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 DUNCAN’S DILEMMAS HIGHLIGHT THE REAL PROBLEM

By | Intelligence, Islam, Opinion pieces for the press, Terrorism | No Comments

Perhaps the story of the past week has been controversy over the Director General of ASIO, Duncan Lewis, publicly rebuking a number of politicians and urging that they curb their outspokenness regarding Islam. Lewis had made two crucial points: that intemperate criticism of Islam risked inflaming Muslim opinion, making ASIO’s job harder; and that it was ‘blasphemous, to the extent that I can comment on someone else’s religion’ to suggest that Islamist terrorism springs from Islam itself. It is, surely, rather unusual for the head of the security service to rebuke senior politicians for their remarks; but that a man…

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NIALL FERGUSON’S CRITICS JUMP THE GUN

By | Biography, Book reviews for the press, Geopolitics, History | No Comments

Kissinger 1923-1968: The Idealist (Penguin Press, New York, 2015) 986 pp. Harry Gelber’s review (December 2015) of the first volume of Niall Ferguson’s biography of Henry Kissinger – Kissinger 1923-1968: The Idealist – strikes the right note in describing it as ‘the first half of what may yet turn out to be his masterpiece.’ There is no question that Ferguson is poised to deliver something special in the second volume, which, he informs me, will take at least another three years. Even this first volume is a most impressive piece of work. Yet Ferguson’s critics on the Left refuse to…

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 ‘EMBODIED SPIRIT’ AND THE FUTURE OF RELIGION

By | Book reviews for the press, Western Civilisation | No Comments

  Roberto Mangabeira Unger is a polymath of Brazilian extraction teaching at Harvard University. He has had an extraordinary career, both in the United States and in Brazil and has written many books. His book, The Religion of the Future (Harvard University Press, 2014), is a remarkable offering in several ways and ought to serve as the point of departure for a major global debate about the nature of religion and its place in the 21st century world. The book is global in sweep, deeply informed by the best scholarship on the history and philosophy of the world religions, intimately…

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CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION

By | Biography, China, Critical Essays, Geopolitics, History, Taiwan | No Comments

On the death of Zhao Ziyang and the future of China  “We Chinese people have an old weakness: we cling to some things so hard that we can’t let go…This weakness has blocked up people’s thinking, has stifled democracy and science, has aided ignorance and backwardness, and is a major obstacle to the advance of Chinese society.” Li Ruihuan (1992)[i] “Rapid economic growth is a stressful process…it churns and reorders economic and political elites. It can destabilize the political order that is responsible for the policies that sustain it, unless the political order itself evolves with the economic structure.” Ross…

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QUEMOY: AT THE FRONTIER OF THE POSSIBLE

By | China, Critical Essays, Geopolitics, Taiwan | No Comments

  Visiting the island of Quemoy, or Kinmen, as it is now commonly called, is like visiting Check Point Charlie before the Berlin Wall came down, or Panmunjom up on the militarised border between North and South Korea. It is a tiny island, 150 square km in size, set right inside a major inlet in the Chinese coast, just two kilometres from the old port city of Amoy, now the thriving special economic zone of Xiamen. Through the powerful binoculars at the Mashan Hill Broadcasting and Observation Station, on the northernmost tip of the island, you can clearly see the…

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