SEVEN MYTHS ABOUT CHINA AND ITS HISTORY

By | China, Geopolitics, History, Opinion pieces for the press, Taiwan | No Comments

This Article is from The Australian March 2018 We are on the cusp of serious debates about the implications for Australia and the whole Asia Pacific world of the vast increase in Chinese wealth and power this century, not least with the repudiation of political reforms by Xi Jinping and his assumption of indefinite and all but absolute power. In order for those debates to be conducted intelligently and productively, it is vital that we think about China in a clear-headed manner. Unfortunately, the field at present is cluttered with myths about China, sedulously propagated by the Chinese Communist Party,…

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POPPER AND THE PELVIS: AN ESSAY ON CONJECTURES AND REFUTATIONS

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

  In the last issue of this magazine, it was pointed out by Todd Kliendienst (Organiser of the Karl Popper Philosophy Meetup Group, Brisbane), in a letter to the editor; that, while he enjoyed what I had written about Karl Popper, he felt obliged to point out that I was in error on a point of detail. I wrote, towards the end of the essay on Popper: Popper did not venture into the arena of biology, but a similar story holds in that regard, of course. The bold conjecture by Charles Darwin that natural selection had driven a process of…

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A SPLENDID PAEAN TO ART AND DISSENT

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

Over the past half dozen years, at least three journalists of Australian origin or based in Australia have written first class books about contemporary China. The first was Richard McGregor, in 2010. The second was Rowan Callick, in 2013. The third is Madeleine O’Dea, this year. O’Dea’s is easily as good as the other two and completely trumps (if one can now comfortably use that verb) all mealy mouthed apologetics for the repressive China of Xi Jinping. McGregor’s The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers was a brilliantly incisive expose of the huge Communist Mafia that holds the…

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THE MYTH OF A COSMOPOLITAN ANDALUSIA

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

There is a widely held belief that in Spain, during the European Middle Ages, Islam, Christianity and Judaism co-existed peacefully and fruitfully under a tolerant and enlightened Islamic hegemony. Dario Fernandez-Morera, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University, with a PhD from Harvard, has written a stunning book which upends this myth. It is comforting and even inspiring story that has been drawn upon to underpin the so-called ‘Toledo Principles’ regarding religious toleration in our time – an important point of reference. It has been used to suggest that Islam was a higher civilization than that of medieval…

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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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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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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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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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